As a celebrity is someone who is famous for being famous, so the news is what is declared to be news. And nobody declares with such influence as our local paper, the Times. People who have tracked the issue over the years will find little that is new in the Times' report, but it is nonetheless significant that this is the lead story one week before the twenty-fifth anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The two-column headline is, “Public Still Backs Abortion, But Wants Limits, Poll Says. A Notable Shift From General Acceptance.” It may be only a one-time shift for the Times, but it is a notable shift in that paper's reporting of the abortion story.
The Times/CBS poll shows that only 15 percent of Americans say abortion should be permitted in the second trimester, and that falls to 7 percent support for abortion in the last three months of pregnancy. The unlimited abortion license established by Roe is thus supported by only 7 percent of respondents. Moreover, 50 percent say that “abortion is the same thing as murdering a child,” while 38 percent do not say it is the same thing as murder. One-third of the 50 percent, however, say that “abortion is sometimes the best course in a bad situation,” while many of the 38 percent who are not prepared to say it is murder do think abortion is a bad thing that should be permitted only in bad situations.
Although not particularly new, such findings have to be very painful to the Times, which for more than thirty years (going back to the 1960s' agitation for “liberalized” abortion law) has been a relentless advocate of abortion on demand. The spin that the Times puts on the story is fascinating. The story reports that 80 percent of respondents support measures such as parental consent and a waiting period for abortions, but then notes that 60 percent say that “the Government should stay out of decisions on whether abortion should be legal.” So who is going to determine what is legal if not the government? Making the best of unwelcome news, the gist of the Times' report is another variation on the “personally opposed but” theme. The point is that while people are personally turning against abortion they don't want it to be a political issue; ergo, don't change the abortion regime of Roe v. Wade.
Toward the end of the long account we read, “If advocates on both sides have made little progress, it could be partly because of their image.” This is followed by the observation that anti-abortionists are widely viewed as extremists while abortion-rights advocates are thought to be reasonable. The Times story is as incoherent as some of the opinions it reports-such as murder being the best course in bad situations. Given the position of the Times and other extremist proponents of abortion rights over the last three decades, it is patently false to suggest that “both sides have made little progress.” The position of the reproductive rights advocates has been thoroughly routed in the arena of public opinion.
Remember that that position aimed at an absolute exclusion of the question of the unborn child and an acceptance of abortion not just as a regrettable necessity but as a liberty to be morally affirmed. The new poll asks, “Is abortion more of an issue involving a woman's ability to control her body or an issue involving the life of a fetus?” Forty-five percent say “life of the fetus” and 44 percent say “control of her body.” Change the question to refer not to “the fetus” but to “the unborn child” and we know from other polls that the 45 percent would likely jump to near 70 percent. Substitute “whether the woman wants the baby” for “a woman's ability to control her body” and the disparity is even greater.
For the pro-abortion lobby, the January 16 headline story is a tacit admission of crushing defeat. Not that the Times editorial board or the other advocates of the unlimited abortion right are about to give up. As is evident in their don't-give-an-inch defense of partial-birth abortion, they will fight every step of the way. The heartening fact is that they are now forced to admit that, despite a quarter century of all-out effort by almost every opinion-making establishment in the country, the American people overwhelmingly reject the idea that abortion should be permitted for any reason (or no reason) throughout the entire course of pregnancy-and, in the case of partial-birth abortion, beyond. Support for the regime established by Roe is so low as to approach a poll's margin of error. Twenty-five years after Roe, the moral, cultural, and political dynamic is moving, step by difficult step, toward the goal of “every unborn child protected in law and welcomed in life.” The prospect of reversing the monstrous rule of Roe is at long last within sight.
Veteran ecumenist Paul Oestreicher of Coventry Cathedral in England recently suggested that the World Council of Churches (WCC) has an obligation to examine its record during the Cold War years. This prompted a defensive response from Konrad Raiser, General Secretary of the WCC: “In retrospect we might have done more publicly. But we would continue to defend without apology what we did to draw the churches of Eastern Europe into the ecumenical movement, in full recognition of the limitations of their position, to draw them out of isolation . . . accepting that this could only be done within certain narrowly defined limits, but within these limits to do as much as possible.” As has been amply documented over the years, working within those “narrowly defined limits” meant that for decades the WCC cooperated with the Communist-controlled churches of the Soviet empire in not protesting, and frequently advancing, the political and ideological purposes of their masters.
More specifically, the WCC routinely denied or belittled religious persecution in Eastern Europe. When forced to acknowledge specific instances of persecution, the WCC claimed it was working on the problem through “quiet diplomacy,” and loudly condemned public protest as anti-Communist hysteria. In almost every crucial conflict of political or military policy between the Soviets and the Western democracies, the WCC took the side of the Soviets. In the absence of heroism, the Eastern churches had no choice but to serve as mouthpieces for Soviet “peace and disarmament” propaganda. The WCC's collusion was freely chosen-in some cases out of a sincere desire to keep the Eastern churches “engaged in the ecumenical movement.” In other cases, one can only assume that the main players in the WCC agreed with the Soviet position or for some other reason were willing to play the part of what Lenin called communism's “useful idiots.”
Among the chief experts on what happened during the Cold War are the dissidents who have been so thoroughly vindicated. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn made no secret of his contempt for the WCC, but there is hardly a dissident alive who did not at the time view the WCC as guilty of complicity in the oppression of his people. The WCC never wearied of its agitation for “coexistence” with the Soviet empire, on the assumption that communism was a permanent feature of world history. In its public statements and literature, the WCC repeatedly put the burden of blame for the Cold War on the West, called for “understanding” of Soviet reactions to alleged Western aggressions, mocked the idea of “the free world,” and frequently championed the moral superiority of the measure of justice achieved by regimes such as the Soviet Union and Maoist China. Such is the unhappy record that makes urgent Paul Oestreicher's call for a thorough accounting.
Such an accounting must be undertaken with care. The purpose must not be vindictive or to score points against a now beleaguered institution. The goal is to learn what happened and why, to repent of wrongs done in the sure knowledge of forgiveness, and to attain a measure of wisdom in trying to prevent such evils in the future. The modern ecumenical movement that began in 1910 and gave birth to the WCC, along with the WCC's notable achievements in Faith and Order, should, as much as possible, be kept distinct from its political and ideological role during the Cold War. In the past year, the publication of The Black Book of Communism has caused an enormous stir in France. Many have been compelled to reexamine their history as active supporters or apologists for an evil that took no less than 100 million human lives. Christians should not be the last to engage in self-examination leading to repentance and newness of life.
To be sure, evangelical Protestants and others who opposed the ecumenical movement will be tempted to gloat over the sins of the WCC, and some will certainly not resist the temptation, but that is an embarrassment to be borne. Dr. Raiser says he would welcome an honest accounting and gives assurances that the archives of the WCC are open to independent researchers. One hopes that there are responsible scholars who will take him up on that offer. They will not have to begin from scratch. Over the last half century a substantial literature has grown up around the WCC and its part in the Cold War. The WCC and its defenders dismiss much of that literature as polemical, and much of it indeed is. To be fair, there was a great deal to be polemical about. But honest criticism, although sometimes hard to take, should not be confused with polemics.
Admittedly, some might think the needed research is a waste of time. Let the dead bury their dead, it is said, assuming the WCC is either dead or moribund. For all its institutional difficulties and diminished influence, I believe that assumption is wrong. The WCC remains the principal organization linking the oldline Protestant churches of the West with Eastern Orthodoxy. In addition, the WCC is of great importance to Protestant communions in the poor world, especially in Africa and Asia, where the mainline denominations are typically more vibrant and orthodox than in Europe or the U.S. We Americans must resist the inclination to think that the free-fall of the mainline/oldline bodies in this country is representative of the state of, for instance, Methodism, Anglicanism, or Presbyterianism around the world.
Whatever its reduced circumstances and influence, the WCC will likely be around for a long time and it deserves to be taken seriously. Even were it to go out of business tomorrow, which it won't, a new generation of Christians deserves a thorough, fair, and scrupulously honest account of an institution and a movement that represented, apart from the Catholic Church, the most public face of world Christianity during the long twilight years of one of the most momentous contests in human history.
Students of American religion have been saying for a hundred years that Lutheranism is “the sleeping giant” of American Protestantism. It has become something of a cliché, but that does not deter Robert Benne, no stranger to these pages, from taking up again the question of why Lutherans, of whom there are more than ten million in this country, seem to be so underrepresented among our cultural, intellectual, and political elites. This Benne calls “the Lake Woebegone syndrome” made famous by Garrison Keillor, who is now himself a Lutheran.
There are exceptions to Lutheran anonymity, to be sure, such as Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago and Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale, as well as, according to Benne, this scribe “in his earlier Lutheran incarnation.” Of Neuhaus he writes, “Indeed, in the field of religion and public life it is difficult to name a more influential figure in American life.” That's going much too far, but it's nice to know one has not been disowned by his Lutheran friends (not that I ever had occasion to worry about that). Then too, Benne notes that there is Chief Justice William Rehnquist and national political figures such as Ernest Hollings, Paul Simon, and Edwin Meese, but after that one really starts to reach.
Benne thinks Lutheran reticence has to do with justification by grace, from which follows an aversion to anything flashy in the good works department. And there are other factors: “Thus, Lutherans are not only receptive in terms of grace; they show a similar posture in the categories of time and space. They receive with gratitude the ‘places' they have been given. In them they express a marked ‘dailiness' that is often unrecognized by a world that celebrates the unusual and dramatic. It is in the ordinary times of work, play, love, and worship that the Christian life is lived. Add together these three elements-justification by grace, locatedness, and dailiness-and you do not have the formula for world-beaters in the public sphere. Glory and power are not Lutheran concepts; bearing the cross is a more likely one. Further, they do not worry overmuch about their election and signs of the same. They are less likely to think they are glorifying God in their callings than humbly helping their neighbor. They shun the schemes of works righteousness so heavy in some forms of Protestantism. They don't even make the ‘decisions for Christ' that some of our more Pelagian brothers and sisters are wont to make. Indeed, the Lutheran tradition may tend to make them footsoldiers of the Lord rather than his generals or colonels. Certainly, they may have a few of those elite and perhaps a few more sergeants and lieutenants. But their piety is more fit for humbler things. They take seriously the paradoxical nature of life on earth.” In any event, Benne is not going to let the low visibility of Lutherans keep him awake at night. “The most helpful engagement with the public world might be through faithful husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, workers and teachers, doctors and lawyers, volunteers, pastors, and laity. Without the healthy ‘small platoons' that these Christians sustain, there won't be any public life worthy of the name anyway.”
Because of the Oklahoma City bombing and other events, there is a new debate (or a renewed old debate) about the wisdom and morality of capital punishment. Of particular interest are exchanges between such as John DiIulio (against) and Walter Berns (for) in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. One of the major protagonists in the debate writes to ask, “What is the official position of the Catholic Church on capital punishment?” This is what I wrote him in response, and perhaps it will be of wider interest:
“Ah yes, the ‘official' position on the death penalty. The position of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops is resolutely opposed to its use, full stop. But theirs is not the official position in the sense of binding doctrine. The present state of doctrine is suggested in Evangelium Vitae, the teaching of which has been incorporated also into the Latin text of the Catechism.
“The right of the state in justice to execute criminals is not denied. EV suggests that the only legitimate reason to do that is if there is no other way to protect society. In this connection, the encyclical makes no reference to retributive justice, which has been an important part of the Catholic tradition's teaching on the death penalty and on punishment more generally. EV does not explicitly deny the claims of retributive justice, but their absence from the argument is undoubtedly significant.
“In addition, the Holy Father is unmistakably clear in stating his judgment that, at least in advanced societies, circumstances very seldom, if ever, justify the use of capital punishment. The proponents of capital punishment can and do make the argument that this is merely the Pope's prudential judgment regarding contingent circumstances, and therefore not normative teaching. They can and do contend that the death penalty is necessary to protect society. Before EV their position was in the mainstream of magisterial Catholic doctrine, and it is certainly a position that is still permissible and within the bounds of the Church's teaching.
“What we may be witnessing here is what Cardinal Newman called the development of doctrine. The critical question, I believe, is retributive justice, and the policies that that entails. I do not expect that question to be definitively addressed during this pontificate, but I may be wrong about that.
“So where does all this leave us? A conscientious Catholic who supports the use of the death penalty in anything but the most extraordinary circumstances must give due consideration to the fact that the bishops conference, and most likely his own bishop, strongly disagree. He must give most particular consideration to the fact that the Pope disagrees, and may be declaring as doctrine that ‘extraordinary circumstances' is defined as circumstances in which there is no other way to protect society. Moreover, such a Catholic must be prepared for the possibility that the Church is moving toward a definitive moral prohibition of capital punishment, in which case wholehearted assent to such teaching is required.
“Can a Catholic with rightly formed conscience support the use of the death penalty? Yes, but reluctantly and in narrowly limited cases. Can a Catholic with rightly formed conscience support the prohibition of the death penalty? Most certainly yes-as a matter of policy and prudential judgment informed by the Church's teaching but not, or not yet, mandated by the Church's teaching.
“That at least is my understanding of the state of the question. I hope this is helpful and am following with interest the renewed debate on these matters.”
Paul Johnson (whose big history of the American people, just published, will be receiving attention in these pages) has had enough. Paul Johnson specializes in having had enough of a lot of things. And most of the time he is right. He is right, for instance, about this growing fashion of apologizing for what people did in the past. I gather that President Clinton has dropped the idea of an official apology for American slavery, and a good thing, too. People who did bad things should apologize, and sometimes they do. “By contrast,” writes Johnson, “the modern fashion has not one iota of genuine sincerity in it.” “These are bogus apologies by people who had nothing to do with the events deplored and lose nothing by saying they were wrong. They are an attempt to gain moral kudos at the expense of the long dead.”
Nor does Johnson approve of some of the moral judgments being made. “The Spanish Church is said to be pondering an apology for supporting Franco during the civil war. As Paul Claudel pointed out in a famous poem, the Spanish Reds, under Stalin's orders, murdered and tortured to death twelve thousand priests, monks, and nuns, as well as burning down hundreds of churches, long before Franco came on the scene. It was his arrival which prevented the church's total destruction. It was not only right, it was imperative that it support him, quite apart from the fact that he kept Spain out of the war, gave it forty years of peace and a middle class, and laid the foundations of its present prosperity.”
If, on the other hand, judgments are to be made, Johnson has some nominations of his own. For instance, he fondly hopes the French will get around to apologizing for Napoleon, who was responsible for the deaths of two to four million people, “which, granted the smaller population of those days, puts him right in the Hitler-Stalin-Mao league as a mass killer.” But, in general, Johnson is against the surrogate confession business altogether. “There is something repellent, as well as profoundly unhistorical, about judging the past by the standards or prejudices of another age. Let the dead bury the dead. Or at least let us not dig them up.”
One hates to dash cold water on Mr. Johnson's fine polemic, but he goes a blast too far when he says John Paul II is implicated in the trend he deplores. “It is a pity,” he writes, “that the Pope, whom in most respects I revere, is taking part in this charade.” He mentions the Pope's apologies on anti-Semitism and the Galileo unpleasantness, and is worried about a rumor that an apology for the St. Bartholomew Day massacre is under consideration. “Why can't he leave this to the Guises and the Valois, if their descendants are still around?” asks Johnson. “It is none of his business.” Then, succeeding in his effort to be outrageous, he adds, “Anyway, there are some of us who believe that massacres of Protestants are not necessarily, or always, a Bad Thing.”
But sins committed by Christians is very much the business of the Pope. It is the business of all Christians. As Mary Ann Glendon has pointed out in these pages (see “Contrition in the Age of Spin Control,” FT, November 1997), there is a real danger that others will unfairly exploit the confession of Christian sins. And Jean Duchesne (see “Letter from Paris,” FT, February 1998) has noted that Catholic bishops in France confess the sins of Catholics during the Vichy era to God, not to those who demand that the Church apologize, although the confession is made in their hearing. Johnson's problem is in confusing the Church with secular institutions such as the nation-state. In Tertio Millennio Adveniente and elsewhere, John Paul II is saying that the Church must cross the threshold of the millennium on her knees if she is to walk upright in the next century. Christianity is a corporate thing. In the Church, the dead are not dead; in Christ we live in communion with all who are in Christ-past, present, and future. We are implicated in the weakness of the sinners as, happily, we are implicated in the holiness of the saints.
St. Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:26-27). The Christian cannot say “I” without saying “we.” One of the most compelling prayers of the Mass is spoken by the priest immediately before the Sign of Peace: “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church.” While the Church eschatologically understood as the Bride of Christ is sinless, it is composed of sinners. We confess the sins of the sinners, beginning with our own, as we invoke the virtues of the saints, knowing that we are all, by God's grace, sinners forgiven. The grace of forgiveness is the nub of the difference between what the Pope is saying and what is being said by those who “attempt to gain moral kudos at the expense of the long dead.”
In both instances there is an assumption that we today view some things as wrong that were not viewed in the same way by those who went before us. Any temptation to think that this makes us morally superior people should be checked by the awareness that they clearly understood to be wrong much that is today approved or viewed with indifference. On one side of the ledger are items such as racial segregation and anti-Semitism; on the other are items such as abortion, divorce, homosexuality, and irreligion. But the fact that there are both advances and regressions in moral understanding is not the main problem with Paul Johnson's essay.
What Mr. Johnson is rightly protesting is the sacralization of politics, a subject on which he has written intelligently in the past. The state or nation commits the fallacy of misplaced ecclesiology, pretending to be a corporate person comparable to the Church. Unlike the Church, presidents and other public figures have neither the competence to judge nor to absolve. Unlike the statements of the Pope, their confession of the sins of others is a “charade” thinly disguising an assertion of moral superiority. A nation and state can deal with crime and clemency. Sin and forgiveness are the business of the Church. It is a distinction that ought not to be lost on someone ordinarily as astute as Paul Johnson.
I don't think I've ever run an entire piece from another publication, but this is no ordinary piece. The following editorial in the January 26 issue of National Review, reprinted with permission, bids fair to become a classic in the literature of a dispute that, more than any other, will determine the fortunes of the American experiment. See if you don't agree.
A quarter century has passed since the Supreme Court struck down the laws of every state in the nation, in the name of a constitutional right to abortion it had just discovered. In Roe v. Wade, the Court prohibited any regulation of abortion in the first trimester, allowed only regulations pertaining to the health of the mother in the second, and mandated that any regulation in the third make an exception for maternal health. In the companion case of Doe v. Bolton, the Court insisted on the broadest definition of health-economic, familial, emotional. Legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon describes the result as the most radical pro-abortion policy in the democratic world. It permits abortion at any stage of pregnancy, for any reason or for no reason. It has licensed the killing of some thirty-five million members of the human family so far.
The abortion regime was born in lies. In Britain (and in California, pre-Roe), the abortion lobby deceptively promoted legal revisions to allow “therapeutic” abortions and then defined every abortion as “therapeutic.” The abortion lobby lied about Jane Roe, claiming her pregnancy resulted from a gang rape. It lied about the number of back-alley abortions. Justice Blackmun relied on fictitious history to argue, in Roe, that abortion had never been a common law crime.
The abortion regime is also sustained by lies. Its supporters constantly lie about the radicalism of Roe: even now, most Americans who “agree with Roe v. Wade“ in polls think that it left third-term abortions illegal and restricted second-term abortions. They have lied about the frequency and “medical necessity” of partial-birth abortion. Then there are the euphemisms: “terminating a pregnancy,” abortion “providers,” “products of conception.” “The fetus is only a potential human being”-as if it might as easily become an elk. “It should be between a woman and her doctor”-the latter an abortionist who has never met the woman before and who has a financial interest in her decision. This movement cannot speak the truth.
Roe‘s supporters said at the time that the widespread availability of abortion would lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies, hence less child abuse; it has not. They said that fewer women would die from back-alley abortions; the post-1940s decline in the number of women who died from abortions, the result of antibiotics, actually slowed after Roe-probably because the total number of abortions rose. They said it would reduce illegitimacy and child poverty, predictions that now seem like grim jokes.
Pro-lifers were, alas, more prescient. They claimed the West had started down the slippery slope of a progressive devaluation of human life. After the unborn would come the elderly and the infirm-more burdens to others; more obstacles to others' goals; probably better off dead, like “unwanted children.” And so now we are debating whether to allow euthanasia, whether to create embryos for experimental purposes, whether to permit the killing of infants about to leave the womb.
And what greater claim on our protection, after all, does that infant have a moment after birth? He still lacks the attributes of “personhood”-rationality, autonomy, rich interactions-that pro-abortion philosophers consider the preconditions of a right to life. The argument boils down to this assertion: If we want to eliminate you and you cannot stop us, we are justified in doing it. Might makes right. Among intellectuals, infanticide is in the first phase of a movement from the unthinkable to the arguable to the debatable to the acceptable.
Everything abortion touches, it corrupts. It has corrupted family life. In the war between the sexes, abortion tilts the playing field toward predatory males, giving them another excuse for abandoning their offspring: She chose to carry the child; let her pay for her choice. Our law now says, in effect, that fatherhood has no meaning, and we are shocked that some men have learned that lesson too well. It has corrupted the Supreme Court, which has protected the abortion license even while tacitly admitting its lack of constitutional grounding. If the courts can invent such a right, unmoored in the text, tradition, or logic of the Constitution, then they can do almost anything; and so they have done. The law on everything from free speech to biotechnology has been distorted to accommodate abortionism. And abortion has deeply corrupted the practice of medicine, transforming healers into killers.
Most of all, perhaps, it has corrupted liberalism. For all its flaws, liberalism could until the early seventies claim a proud history of standing up for the powerless and downtrodden, of expanding the definition of the community for whom we pledge protection, of resisting the idea that might makes right. The Democratic Party has casually abandoned that legacy. Liberals' commitment to civil rights, it turns out, ends when the constituency in question can offer neither votes nor revenues.
Abortion-on-demand has, however, also called into being in America a pro-life movement comprising millions of ordinary citizens. Their largely unsung efforts to help pregnant women in distress have prevented countless abortions. And their political witness has helped maintain a pro-life ethic that has stopped millions more. The conversions of conscience have almost all been to the pro-life side-Bernard Nathanson, Nat Hentoff, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. The conversions of convenience have mostly gone the other way, mainly, politicians who wanted to get ahead in the Democratic Party-Jesse Jackson, Dick Gephardt. The fight against abortion has resulted in unprecedented dialogue and cooperation between Catholics and Protestants, first on moral values and now on theological ones. It has helped transform the Republican Party from a preserve of elite WASPs into a populist and conservative party.
True, few politicians of either party-with honorable exceptions like Henry Hyde, Chris Smith, Jesse Helms, Bob Casey, Charles Canady, and Rick Santorum-have provided leadership in the struggle. Not because opposition to abortion is unpopular-throughout the Roe era, 70 percent of the public has supported laws that would prohibit 90 percent of abortions-but because politicians, and even more the consultants and journalists and big-money donors to whom they listen, tend to move in elite circles where accepting abortion is de rigueur and pro-life advocacy at best an offense against good taste. Since everyone they know favors legal abortion, they understandably conclude that everyone does. But there is progress even here. The pro-abortion intellectual front is crumbling. Supporters of the license increasingly concede that what they support is, indeed, the taking of human life. Pro-lifers, their convictions rooted in firmer soil, have not had to make reciprocal concessions.
There can be little doubt that, left to the normal workings of democracy, abortion laws would generally be protective of infants in the womb. The main obstacle on our path to a society where every child is welcomed in life and protected in law, then, remains what it has always been: the Supreme Court. There abortionism is well entrenched; and last year the Court appeared to slam the door on the legal possibility of a congressional override of its decisions on abortion or anything else. By defining a practice at odds with our deep and settled moral convictions as part of the fundamental law of the land, the Supreme Court has created a slow-motion constitutional crisis. This is what comes of courting death.
• The President showed up, as did the chairman of the Federal Reserve. A very dapper Rev. Jesse Jackson, in his best vested pinstripes, told Alan Greenspan he appreciated his coming to the party. “You raised my stock, thank you very much.” That is not all that was raised. Two brokerage firms gave Mr. Jackson's privately held company, Rainbow/PUSH, $40
0,000 to pay for the two-day bash on Wall Street, the ostensible purpose of which was to promote minority hiring in the financial world. There was, in addition, a dinner for 450 on the floor of the stock exchange with a charge of $500 per head and entertainment by singer Roberta Flack. The next day was a lunch at $35
0 per guest. Asked what the conference had achieved, Mr. Jackson alluded to the history of slavery: “For 250 years blacks were listed as commodities. There are these definable, quantifiable gaps in our economy. The investment gap, the education gap, and the trade gap in our economy. Wall Street stands to gain if it closes the gap.” Meanwhile, both Wall Street and Mr. Jackson do handsomely from the unclosed gap. In return for what is merely money, the business culture of cool is supplied with sumptuous entertainment delicately seasoned with a hint of demand for social justice. It all comes down to supply and demand, with Mr. Jackson supplying the demand for public certification that Wall Street has a conscience, however undemanding. And to think that there are those who doubt the infinite creativity of capitalism.
• Like many students of Hans Urs von Balthasar, I have never been able to quite understand his devotion to the thought of Adrienne von Speyr, a friend and mystic to whom he declared himself so greatly indebted. At times he went so far as to say that the greatest part of his own work is simply an inadequate attempt to give theological expression to her insights. What she published on her own is interesting but, frankly, does not seem that remarkable. An exception is the forty-page appendix to Balthasar's book Our Task (Ignatius), in which he explains their collaboration and the secular institute that they founded together. The appendix is Balthasar's record of her vision of a visit to heaven in which she came to understand the relationship between Christ and Scripture. “He does not want to have his life at his own disposal. It was in the will of the Father that he lived his life; it was the Father's will that in his life he revealed; and it was according to the Father's will that he let himself be resurrected. So he does not want to be in charge of his life now, like someone who has had some experience and constantly talks about it. No, it is part of his perfect self-giving that he continues to be given in heaven, in the sense that he entrusts the story of his self-giving to the Spirit. It is entrusted to the Spirit, who henceforth does not work on his own but with the cooperation of Christians. The Spirit has been received by them, with them he blows, and through them he wants to waft through the whole world. The Scriptures contain no retractions on the part of the Son. The Son does not say, ‘It was different from this, more could be said about it,' or ‘No human being will ever know what I went through in the temptations,' or ‘I could have told the whole story better myself,' and so on. No, it is an essential part of the Spirit's role in the redemption of the world that this portrayal and exposition and inspiration are his work.” That is a heavy-duty reflection. It strikes me as having the additional merit of being true. Of course it means that Jesus does not need Norman Mailer to help him tell the story as it really happened. More important, it suggests that there is something fundamentally misguided in biblical scholarship that tries to “get behind” the scriptural account and its reception by the Spirit-guided community of faith. I cannot say that Adrienne von Speyr received this insight while on a visit to heaven. God and Adrienne von Speyer-and now, I would like to think, Balthasar-know whether that is the case. But it is an insight very much worth pondering, as is the entire appendix to Our Task.
• Preparing Sunday Without the Eucharist is a new title from the Liturgical Press. In places where there is no priest to say Mass, the booklet will “help preparation teams prepare fulfilling celebrations.” Uh huh. Contra those who exaggerate the “priest shortage,” often in the service of advocating married and women priests, there are relatively few places in the U.S. where Mass is no longer said for want of a priest. Almost everywhere the problem can be overcome by driving a distance comparable to driving to the mall. It is to be feared that Sundays without Mass are favored by people who like to make up their own rituals, and by those more attached to their place of meeting than to the One who meets us in the Eucharist. The need for fulfilling noncelebrations is virtually nonexistent.
• I gather that versions of the following have been zipping around the Internet for some time now. For the edification of our readers, the editors submit this synthesis of several versions. Inevitably, this will inspire further variations. We may consider publication of the most inspired.
“Why did the chicken cross the road?”
To get to the other side.
For the greater good.
It was a historical inevitability.
Tomás de Torquemada:
Give me ten minutes with the chicken and I'll find out.
Because that's the only kind of trip the Establishment would let it take.
Because if you gaze too long across the Road, the Road gazes also across you.
National Security was at stake.
The confluence of events in the cultural gestalt necessitated that individual chickens cross roads at this historical juncture, and therefore synchronicitously brought such occurrences into being.
In order to act in good faith and be true to itself, the chicken found it necessary to cross the road.
The possibility of “crossing” was encoded into the objects “chicken” and “road,” and circumstances came into being which caused the actualization of this potential occurrence.
Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road crossed the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.
To actualize its potential.
If you ask this question, you deny your own chicken-nature.
It was the logical next step after coming down from the trees.
Because it could not stop for death.
Ralph Waldo Emerson:
It didn't cross the road; it transcended it.
Johann Friedrich von Goethe:
The eternal hen-principle made it do it.
To die. In the rain.
We are not sure which side of the road the chicken was on, but it was moving very fast.
Out of custom and habit.
This was an unprovoked act of rebellion and we were quite justified in dropping fifty tons of nerve gas on it.
‘Cause it @#%&* wanted to. That's the @#%&* reason.
Pyrrho the Skeptic:
You tell me.
Due to the loveliness of the hen on the other side, more fair than all of Hellas' fine armies.
Henry David Thoreau:
To live deliberately . . . and suck all the marrow out of life.
Because of an excess of phlegm in its pancreas.
So that its subjects will view it with admiration, as a chicken which has the daring and courage to cross the road boldly, but also with fear, for who among them has the strength to contend with such a paragon of avian virtue? In such a manner is the princely chicken's dominion maintained.
Deregulation of the chicken's side of the road was threatening its dominant market position. The chicken was faced with significant challenges to create and develop the competencies required for the newly competitive market. McKinsey, in a partnering relationship with the client, helped the chicken by rethinking its physical distribution strategy and implementation processes. Using the Poultry Integration Model (PIM), McKinsey helped the chicken use its skills, methodologies, knowledge, capital, and experiences to align the chicken's people, processes, and technology in support of its overall strategy within a Program Management framework. McKinsey convened a diverse cross-spectrum of road analysts and best chickens along with McKinsey consultants with deep skills in the transportation industry to engage in a two-day itinerary of meetings in order to leverage their personal knowledge capital, both tacit and explicit, and to enable them to synergize with each other in order to achieve the implicit goals of delivering and successfully architecting and implementing an enterprise-wide value framework across the continuum of poultry cross-median processes. The meeting was held in a park-like setting, enabling and creating an impactful environment which was strategically based, industry-focused, and built upon a consistent, clear, and unified market message and aligned with the chicken's mission, vision, and core values. This was conducive towards the creation of a total business integration solution. McKinsey helped the chicken change to become more successful.
• There is so much money and bother to be saved. For instance, Forum Letter (Lutheran) notes that two seminaries recently offered a continuing education course that promised to explore “subjects such as understanding the relationship between racism, sexism, and heterosexism.” Editor Russ Saltzman comments: “That's a no-brainer. Who wouldn't understand the relationship? All sexist racists are heterosexuals. Easy, wasn't it? And think of the money we saved on tuition, travel, registration, and ideologically mandated mental adjustments.” Obviously, Pastor Saltzman does not appreciate the havoc that would be inflicted on contemporary seminary education by such reckless application of Dr. Johnson's advice to clear the mind of cant.
• Canadians are very nice. That proposition meets with almost universal agreement, and Canadians are typically nice enough to ignore the slight hint of condescension that accompanies it. This is a question taken up by Aspects of the Canadian Evangelical Experience (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997) which is reviewed by Preston Jones. Evangelical Protestants in Canada tend to maintain a low profile, and one reason for that is that they don't want to come across as “Americans.” Those American evangelicals are so awfully aggressive, individualistic, and rowdy, and the Canadians are determined that evangelicalism there not be viewed as an American export. On all this Preston offers an astute observation: “A tough dilemma indeed; a dilemma I won't pursue any further except to raise this point: American evangelicals have been rightly criticized for acting as though American individualism is the stuff of Christian orthodoxy. What Canada's evangelical intellectuals might do well to consider is if their own community of faith has comparably misconstrued Canadian conformism as a Christian virtue.”
• A billion here and a billion there, as the late Senator Dirksen said, and pretty soon you're talking real money. If Ted Turner ever coughs up the billion dollars he so grandiosely pledged, that might soon be the case also with the United Nations, but for the moment it's a million here and a million there. General Karl Paschke, a Germany foreign service officer, has the thankless task of heading up the anti-corruption office at the UN. Questionable expenditures in catering, food purchases, and air charter services, plus the widespread putting of no-show relatives in posh jobs, are widespread practices, and the general acknowledges that his office is able to cope with only a fraction of the monetary infractions, but he is pleased to report that last year he was able to recoup $30
million, which may send the message that there are, after all, some limits to what the organization will tolerate. In addition, there are too many instances of sexual abuse and violence, but such problems do not lend themselves to easy definition. The report said, “In the multicultural environment of the United Nations, beliefs and practices often clash, and officials are wary of wading into cases in areas murkier than stealing money.” Multiculturalists are in a bind. They can't very well claim the UN is a school for the forging of a universal ethic, but neither do they want to take the public position that embezzlement, rape, and nepotism is a small price to pay for the multicultural world they champion. Apparently General Paschke is of the old school, but for the foreseeable future his office is not prepared to go any further than suggesting, with due respect for the culturally constructed ethics of “the other,” that it really is not appropriate, as they say, to steal money. Don't knock it. It's a beginning.
• On any list of really great books on American history, one must put Eugene Genovese's Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974). Genovese was a hard-core Marxist who stuck with that quasi-religion until the bitter end. In an essay, “The Question,” in the 1994 issue of the leftist Dissent, it was evident that the break was coming. There he wrote: “No one should be surprised that none of our leading historical associations have thought it intellectually challenging to devote sessions at their enormous annual meetings to frank discussions of the socialist debacle. . . . The pezzonovanti of our profession have more important things on their minds. When they can take time away from their primary concern (the distribution of jobs, prizes, and other forms of patronage), they are immersed in grave condemnations of the appalling violations of human rights by Christopher Columbus. I know that it is in bad taste to laugh, but I laugh anyway. I would rather be judged boorish than be seen throwing up. Our whole project of ‘human liberation' has rested on a series of gigantic illusions. The catastrophic consequences of our failure during this century-not merely the body count but the monotonous recurrence of despotism and wanton cruelty-cannot be dismissed as aberrations. Slimmed down to a technologically appropriate scale, they have followed in the wake of victories by radical egalitarian movements throughout history. We have yet to answer our right-wing critics' claims, which are regrettably well documented, that throughout history from ancient times to the peasant wars of the sixteenth century to the Reign of Terror and beyond, social movements that have espoused radical egalitarianism and participatory democracy have begun with mass murder and ended in despotism.” In 1995, his scholar wife, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, entered into full communion with the Catholic Church, and shortly thereafter Eugene Genovese, who had left the Church at age fifteen, returned home.
• “Francis Schaeffer represents that part of evangelical Christianity that has always been ill at ease with the world in which it finds itself. One can no more imagine Francis Schaeffer playing golf with the high and mighty than one can imagine Mother Teresa shopping for furs in I. Magnin.” That's from an issue of Christianity Today featuring “Our Saint Francis.” Fourteen years after his death, the influence of Schaeffer through the “graduates” of his L'Abri (“The Shelter”) community in Switzerland seems to be flourishing everywhere. Many thought his son Frank would be heir to the ministry, but he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy some years ago, and seems to have turned very bitter toward his father's legacy. Nonetheless, the work continues. A while back I lectured at the Schaeffer Institute that is attached to Covenant Seminary (Presbyterian Church of America) in St. Louis. It was a long-delayed occasion to pay public tribute to Schaeffer. He was in many ways an autodidact, with some of the intellectual eccentricities that come with that, but for a generation of evangelical Protestants he championed the redemption of the mind as well as the heart. In this cause, his influence among evangelicals is probably second only to C. S. Lewis. Through his films and lectures, Schaeffer dramatically posed the question of what was becoming of the human race and almost single-handedly alerted evangelicals to the significance of the abortion debate. He did not use the language of John Paul II about “the culture of death” versus “the culture of life,” but that was the gist of his message, and his effective delivery of that message was a critical factor in bringing about the ever-growing alliance between evangelicals and Catholics in the great cultural tasks of our time. As our evangelical friends do not usually say, Requiescat in pace.
• Whatever is going to happen to the Catholic Church when it runs out of priests? The answer, according to Robert G. Kennedy, professor of management at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, is that the “priest shortage” is greatly exaggerated. The absolute number of priests in the U.S. peaked in 1966 at about 60,000, compared with 48,100 today, but the more important figure is the number of priests relative to the Catholic population. In 1966 there were 780 Catholics per priest, today there are 1,272 per priest. The perceived priest shortage is in large part a result of the enormous growth in the number of Catholics. In 1966 there were many times more seminarians, but that was under an older seminary structure when the great majority dropped out before ordination. Plus, many who were ordained left active ministry after a few years. The “defection” rate twenty-five years ago was more than three times what it is today. Although data from back then are somewhat shaky, Kennedy thinks the number of Catholics per priest in 1900 was about the same as today. Although there are signs that the number of ordinations are now on the increase, in order to reduce significantly the number of Catholics per priest over the next decade, there would need to be three times the number of ordinations there are at present. The chief reason for that is not the declining number of priests but the increasing number of Catholics. Much of the slack has been taken up in recent years by the ordination of more than twelve thousand permanent deacons, so that the number of clergy (priests and deacons) is now higher than it was in 1966. Kennedy ends on this hopeful note: “Moved by concern over the declining number of priests, people often wonder what is to become of the Church. The answer may be that it is becoming more like the Church envisioned by [the Second Vatican Council], a Church less directly dependent upon priests to do its work but more strongly animated by their leadership.” At the same time, he recognizes the obvious: “We may never really have enough priests for everything we might find worth doing.”
• There is a letterhead organization that is given millions of dollars by big foundations such as Ford and Rockefeller to do only one thing, attack the Catholic Church for its teaching on human sexuality. If letterhead organizations can have subsidiaries, a subsidiary of Catholics for a Free Choice is Catholics for Contraception. In the name of the latter a big ad appears on the op-ed page of the New York Times criticizing the bishops' opposition to the Clinton Administration's promotion of abortion and contraception in foreign aid programs. The ad features the picture of a bishop's mitre under the heading, “Worn correctly, it can prevent unintended pregnancy, AIDS, and abortion.” The depiction of a bishop's mitre as a condom is typical of the meretricious tactics of Catholics for a Free Choice. I wish I could say it is a new low for the New York Times.
• From across the political spectrum comes high praise for a 136-minute video, Waco: The Rules of Engagement. The documentary is very deliberately low key, and all the more disturbing as a consequence. The 1993 killing of the eighty-six men, women, and children at Waco must be indelibly imprinted upon the national memory. Some would dismiss the event as a bizarre aberration, and there were no doubt elements of the bizarre and aberrant. But in a larger sense, Waco was a moment of truth, revealing, admittedly in an extreme form, the consequences of a pervasively perverse understanding of government power and religious freedom. The most accurate and accessible account of the Waco tragedy is still Dean Kelley's “Waco: A Tragedy and Its Aftermath” (FT, May 1995). But I warmly recommend for personal viewing and group discussions Waco: The Rules of Engagement, which is available for $25
from Somford Entertainment, 8778 Sunset Blvd., 2nd floor, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
• The Supreme Court let stand a ruling of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that a person can be fired for incorrect views on homosexuality. The Rev. Eugene Lumpkin was fired from the San Francisco human rights commission when he refused to retract this statement made in an interview: “It's sad that people have AIDS and what have you, but it says right here in the Scripture that the homosexual lifestyle is an abomination against God.” Lumpkin sued, claiming that “The right to religious belief and profession is absolute.” The Circuit Court disagreed, saying he had a right to state his views but that the First Amendment does not “assure him job security when he preached homophobia while serving as a city official.” Apparently the judgment would be the same were he a Catholic who publicly affirmed the Church's position that homosexual desire is “objectively disordered.” Writers in these pages such as Hadley Arkes of Amherst have been criticized for suggesting that the day is coming when serious Christians and Jews who do not conform to court-imposed opinions will be excluded from public and private employment. It is happening.
• “Brazil: A Gracious People in a Heartless System” is a new mission study published by the National Council of Churches. It attributes Brazil's miseries to “the world capitalist system” and urges the liberating embrace of animist cults derived from Africa and of “ecclesial base communities” devoted to revolutionary change. The Christian gospel proclaimed in Brazil's churches is, the study reproachfully notes, a “foreign import.” Indeed it is that for all of us, except for the dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land.
• If you think we have problems in the U.S., spend some time in Canada. At least that's the view of Iain Benson, who heads up the Centre for Renewal in Public Policy. (I believe it was David Frum who said that Canada is to American liberalism what Cuba is to the American automobile industry-a place where ideas are kept running decades after they should have been scrapped.) Benson notes that the “People's Republic of British Columbia” recently rammed through a marriage law that changes the definition of “spouse” to include same-sex couples, and he looks enviously toward Hawaii, “where they still have a functioning (if chaotic) democracy” and the people will get a chance to vote on a similar change later this year. The center is producing some first-rate materials on education, family policy, and religion in public. You might want to check them out by writing Mr. Benson at the Centre for Renewal in Public Policy, 130 Albert St., Suite 510, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5G4.
• The question was whether homosexual couples could hold “commitment services” in the chapels of Emory University, a school connected with the United Methodist Church. (Some years ago, a president of Emory said, “I can get away with calling Emory a Methodist university, but all hell would break loose if I said it was a Christian university.”) After “four months of prayer, discussion, and research” (it says here), the answer is yes, but only if an ordained campus minister from one of the school's approved twenty-four religious groups presides at the ceremony. At present only the Reform Jewish and United Church of Christ chaplains allow such same-sex ceremonies. So after months of study and soul-searching the trustees of Emory have made a clear moral judgment: Same-sex commitment ceremonies without the benefit of university-certified clergy are wrong. Who says we're losing our grip on moral absolutes?
• He was a nominal Catholic and she a nominal Jew. After the divorce, she turned toward Orthodoxy and he joined up with an evangelical Protestant church. She is trying to raise their ten-year-old daughter Jewishly but on his weekends he takes the girl to Sunday School. She brought suit and the State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ordered him to cease and desist. The conflict between the parents' religious commitments is an excessive burden on the child, the court ruled. The denial of the father's and the child's free exercise of religion is not an inconsiderable matter, but some obviously think it a reasonable price to pay for judicial rescue from the messiness of life. Attorneys are pondering an appeal.
• The defeat and marginalization of American fundamentalism during the 1920s-the presumed end of fundamentalism is most indelibly imprinted in our cultural chronicles by the debacle of the Scopes trial-is taken for granted by almost all scholars of American history. In recent years the standard account has been usefully complexified by writers such as George Marsden, and that revisionism is now strengthened by Joel Carpenter's Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (Oxford University Press). An essential part of that revival was the rediscovery of the missionary imperative during the 1920s and 1930s, a rediscovery later intensified by the experience of World War II. This is an aspect of evangelical-fundamentalist history that seems to have been ignored. Carpenter writes: “Especially for North American evangelicals, the triumph of the Allied forces arrayed around the world excited the missionary imagination, and so did the technological mastery that made these operations possible. Furthermore, the experience of tens of thousands of born-again soldiers and sailors, trained and transported at government expense to serve in faraway lands, led them quite naturally to a greater missions awareness. And thanks to veterans' educational benefits and the abundance of surplus war goods, government spending provided additional support for a missions surge.” We will be giving more attention to Revive Us Again in these pages. It is a book that should not be missed by those who want to understand our contemporary religious situation, which has been shaped and is being shaped in large part by the creative evangelical use of a culture based on a market economy that lends itself to the success of para-church enthusiasms that work around, and frequently against, the denominational structures that were once the bulwark of American Protestantism.
• So it turns out that Forrest Carter, author of the best-selling The Education of Little Tree, was really Asa Carter, segregationist, Ku Kluxer, and speechwriter for former Gov. George Wallace. This is something of an embarrassment to Hollywood, which has just turned the book into a movie. Little Tree, one gathers, is an exquisitely correct story about the superiority of Cherokee ways in contrast to our stiflingly oppressive society. Richard Friedenberg, the director, says the late Mr. Carter has more than made amends for the sins of his earlier life. He notes that the story deals “with the strength of the family and not necessarily with traditional families.” In addition, “the handful of blacks and Jews in Carter's books are depicted sympathetically.” “The bad guys are, almost without fail, rich whites, politicians, and phony preachers,” says Friedenberg. So lay off this Carter guy; he was clearly on the side of the angels.
• Actress Susan Sarandon won an Oscar, and fifteen years ago she won an alumni achievement award from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She has given the second award back because CUA declined to give an alumni award to her friend, the actor-director Joseph Sicari. The university cited the fact that Sicari is a founding member of Act-Up, the homosexual activist group that, among other things, trashed a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Ever alert to the freedoms on which this great republic is founded, Sicari accused the school of conducting “a Catholic witch hunt,” according to the Washington Post. Returning her award, Sarandon told the university, “If you are following the tenets of the Catholic Church, you should have mine back, too.” During her years there as a student, it apparently had not been brought to her attention that an institution named Catholic University might have some connection with the tenets of the Catholic Church. Or perhaps her comments simply reflect a Hollywood mindset that cannot distinguish between a witch hunt and strong disapproval of the disruption of divine services. To that mental incapacity Catholics used to more commonly apply the marvelously apt term, invincible ignorance.
• William Kristol and Robert Kagan can take great satisfaction from the lively response to the debate they launched in a 1996 Foreign Affairs article, “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy.” In contending for a new vision of American greatness, they criticized, inter alia, John Quincy Adams' caution that America ought not “go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” Why not? they asked. “The alternative is to leave monsters on the loose, ravaging and pillaging to their heart's content, as Americans stand by and watch.” Walter McDougall, editor of the foreign policy journal Orbis, is not buying. Writing in a newsletter of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, McDougall says: “I cannot let any slap at John Quincy Adams go unavenged. ‘Why not?' ask the authors rhetorically. Here's why not: because if you go abroad in search of monsters, you will invariably find them even if you have to create them. You will then fight them, whether or not you need to, and you will either come home defeated, or else so bloodied that the American people will lose their tolerance for engagement altogether, or else so victorious and full of yourself that the rest of the world will hate you and fear that you'll name them the next monster. And by the way, was it not Ronald Reagan who reminded America in such moving cadences of its calling to be an exemplary City on a Hill? Kristol and Kagan also fail to quote the sentences that immediately follow Adams' ‘go not abroad in search of monsters.' The reason not to is that to do so ‘would involve the United States beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, avarice, envy, and ambition. . . . America might become the dictatress of the world, but she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.' The road to hell, that is, is paved with good intentions, as we Vietnam veterans know. I bear no grudge against Kristol or Kagan. I even agree with them that the U.S. must play a leading role in the world, affirm its values without apology, and recommend them to all mankind. But I believe that the American people and Congress are already, to their credit, on board for an engaged foreign policy, that the quarter of a trillion dollars in our annual Pentagon budget is no trifling sum, and that premature, imprudent crusades are the best way to play into the hands of real ‘isolationists.' Above all, I fear that the sins of commission that excessive zeal may provoke are more dangerous in our present era than any sins of omission borne of inordinate prudence.”
• Reviewing Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works, Daniel Robinson of Georgetown finds wisdom in Matthew Arnold's response to Darwin's claim that our ancestor was “a hairy quadruped, with pointed ears and a tail, probably arboreal in his habits.” Possibly true, said Arnold, but “there must have been something in him that inclined him to Greek.”
• No rest for the wicked. The ACLU is ever busy in its effort to turn the public square into a religion-free zone. Suit has been filed against the city of Stow, Ohio, because the city seal depicts a Bible and a cross. And against the State of Ohio for its motto “With God All Things Are Possible.” The ACLU says the phrase is “distinctly religious in meaning and philosophy and violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1 of the Ohio Constitution.” For many years extreme strict separationists said they were willing to put up with things such as “In God We Trust” on our coins, or “one nation, under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Going after such vestiges of religion would cause too much of a political ruckus, and, anyway, nobody really thinks they represent serious statements of religious belief. But now that seems to be changing. Perhaps because the ACLU perceives that many people do take such symbols seriously, or perhaps because it is more confident of winning in the courts.
• The headline is somewhat misleading, “Canada Church Leader Admits Doubts.” Actually, it seems that the Rev. Bill Phipps, elected last August as Moderator of the United Church of Canada, is a devout traditionalist of a tradition that has almost reached its well-deserved extinction. Nonetheless, he disturbed some of the Christians in the UCC by announcing in a newspaper interview, “I don't believe Christ was God.” Jesus, he opines, is a “window to God.” Like Rudolf Bultmann of mixed memory, it appears that Mr. Phipps came across an electric light switch and therefore concluded that Jesus did not actually rise from the dead “but had a profound spiritual impact upon his followers and for centuries since.” According to the AP story, his remarks met with considerable opposition in some quarters but were welcomed by “lapsed Christians and followers of other faiths who welcome Phipps' views as an opportunity to reconsider Christ's significance in an increasingly multicultural society.” Phipps, who is an anti-poverty lawyer and proponent of the “social gospel,” does not claim to be a theologian but thinks the controversy a very good thing. “I'm willing to bet that in Canada there will be more talk about who Jesus is than for many decades. I think that's wonderful,” he declared. The UCC began in the 1920s as a merger of Methodists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians. Some more Presbyterian Presbyterians did not go along, and it is common to find separate Presbyterian churches in Canadian towns. Since its founding, the UCC is proud of being in the avant garde, having first ordained women in 1936 and deciding in 1988 that homosexuality is no impediment to ordination to its ministry. The Rev. Peter Wyatt is the guardian of doctrine, so to speak, for the UCC, being secretary of theology, faith, and ecumenism. Unfazed by the Phipps fracas, he says the UCC's “commitment to diverse interpretation of Christ's message is a valuable alternative to the divisions unleashed by fundamentalist passions worldwide.” Seldom, for instance, does one hear of Unitarians killing one another over fine points of dogma. Seldom, come to think of it, does one hear of Unitarians at all. Of course the atheists have been rather bloody this century. The UCC avoids such extremism by keeping a window open to the God question for those who might be interested. As for Mr. Phipps, his interest is in turning attention away from his theological views and toward “the social implications of Jesus' teaching.” This year the UCC is launching a program titled “Christ and the Moral Economy.” Apparently, Christ shares Phipps' outrage that Canadians still have the poor among them. “It's an absolute obscenity that there are homeless people in the city of Calgary-one of the most booming economies in the world,” says Phipps, thereby demonstrating that he has not lost his hold on moral absolutes. The program will attend to the needs of the homeless of Calgary by, as it says here, challenging “the worldwide emphasis on market competition and focusing on reducing the gap between rich and poor.” Ever on the cutting edge, the UCC is rumored to be thinking of calling its bold new approach to economics “socialism.” One wishes the Rev. Bill Phipps and those of like mind long life. They are valuable historical artifacts, and a useful reminder that everything changes except the avant garde.
• For many years Gallup and others have been collecting data on church attendance, and the more or less steady report is that 50 percent of self-identified Catholics and 40 percent of self-identified Protestants go to church in any given week. Then Mark Chaves of the University of Illinois hit on the idea of checking out how Catholic dioceses and other church institutions reported attendance, and claimed to find that the standard figures are greatly inflated. Chaves says the figures for Catholics and Protestants are more like 27 percent and 20 percent respectively. After looking at the numbers-crunching details and discussing comparative methodologies with George Gallup, my own view is that the standard figures are much more reliable. For an exchange on this question, especially as it touches on Catholic attendance, readers might want to consult the September 12 and November 21, 1997 issues of Commonweal.
• In a 1990 book on religion in Russia, Michael Bordeaux, the formidable founder of Keston College, tells of a central committee meeting of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which had been given the names of 200 Soviet Christians imprisoned for their faith. The committee declined to take up their cause. As one member explained, “What are 200 people in a country of 200 million?” The WCC finds itself in a similarly, shall we say, ambiguous posture toward religious freedom in the post-Communist era. According to Keston News Service, a forthcoming visit to Russia by general secretary Konrad Raiser will focus on “ecumenical relations” rather than the restriction of freedom imposed by the new law on religious organizations signed by President Boris Yeltsin in September 1997 (see Lawrence A. Uzzell, “Letter from Moscow,” FT, January 1998). The new law strongly favors and is strongly supported by the Russian Orthodox Church. Catholics and others remain under tight control by the state. At the same time, the Russians, along with other Orthodox churches, are increasingly unhappy with the Protestant-dominated WCC. The Georgian Orthodox Church has already withdrawn from the WCC and Dr. Raiser is understandably eager to stem any Russian moves to follow suit. He reportedly will not raise embarrassing questions about the law's discrimination against non-Orthodox Christians. With the end of Soviet communism so much has changed. One constant would seem to be the WCC's indifference to religious freedom.
• In January of 1997, Sri Lankan theologian Father Tissa Balasuriya was lionized in sectors of the Catholic press when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) notified him that he had incurred automatic excommunication for espousing heresy in his writings. As noted in these pages, he was much celebrated at the time for his defiance of Church authority. Almost exactly a year later, on January 15, Father Balasuriya was reconciled with the Church in a ceremony conducted by Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando of Colombo. He said, “I realize that serious ambiguities and doctrinal errors were perceived in my writings and therefore provoked negative reactions from other parties, affected relationships, and led to an unfortunate polarization in the ecclesial community. I truly regret the harm this has caused.” Those of a suspicious bent might parse that statement as being something less than a clear admission of error. They should stifle their suspicion. The important thing is that a prodigal has returned, which is the pastoral purpose of CDF. Celebrity is for fifteen minutes. Salvation is forever. Nor is there any evidence that Fr. Balasuriya enjoyed his celebrity status. “This entire episode has been very painful for me,” he said upon his reconciliation. “It has caused pain to the Christian community and to many others who have been directly or indirectly involved in this situation.” He said that he assumed CDF was acting according to the rules, “even though I was hoping for a more direct and personal dialogue [about my writings].” To the extent that hope was justified and disappointed, CDF, too, might draw lessons from this unhappy episode now happily resolved.
• Published in Britain, William Oddie's The Roman Option (HarperCollins) received a very hostile review in the Tablet by a party who was sharply criticized in the book. More interesting than the ethics of choosing reviewers, the RC bishops conference of England and Wales issued a statement criticizing the book, specifically the claim that Cardinal Hume and Cardinal Ratzinger favored allowing Church of England parishes that entered into communion with Rome to retain a large measure of liturgical and other customs. Oddie claims that the majority of English and Welsh bishops opposed Hume and Rome, but the conference statement says the bishops were unanimous in taking the course they did. In support of his interpretation, Oddie quotes Cardinal Hume in a 1993 interview: “This could be a big moment of grace, it could be the conversion of England for which we have prayed all these years. I am terrified now we are going to turn round and say we do not want these newcomers.”
• Lawrence Cunningham reviews Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow's The Crisis in the Churches (Oxford University Press), which is about, mainly, the failure of people to give enough money to support all that churches want to do. Cunningham writes: “For all of the research that Wuthnow put into this book, it is amazing to me that most of what he found, at least from my perspective as an observer of the Catholic scene, could have been deduced from personal observation, conversation, and an eye toward Catholic publications. . . . I was somewhat unfairly reminded of a quip of the late Eric Sevareid: sociology is sometimes just slow journalism.”
• My Lutheran theologian friend Robert Jenson says he tries to go to meetings of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) to stay abreast of liberal Protestant theology. CTSA got some attention last year when it issued a report challenging the Church's teaching that it has no authority to ordain women to the priesthood. Now Father Matthew Lamb of Boston College has published an article suggesting that we should not confuse CTSA with Catholic theology. While claiming to have as many as 1,500 members, only about 20 percent attend meetings at which their vote is the voice of the entire CTSA. At the last meeting Sister Margaret Farley, whom Crisis magazine reports is a supporter of the pro-abortion group “Catholics for a Free Choice,” was elected president with 10 percent of the vote of the CTSA membership. Fr. Lamb offers some other findings of interest: “More than 80 percent of the 1,385 dissertation titles in the 1996 CTSA focus on theologians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among the twentieth-century Catholic theologians, studies on Karl Rahner exceed those on Bernard Lonergan, Edward Schillebeeckx, Yves Congar, Hans Urs von Balthasar, M. D. Chenu, and Henri de Lubac put together. There are more studies on Paul Ricoeur and Paul Tillich than on Marcel, Gilson, Maritain, and Congar put together. There are more studies listed of Barth than of Balthasar; more on the Reformation than on the Council of Trent. More members list themselves as students of process theology than of Thomism; more listings cite Wolfhart Pannenberg than Ignatius of Loyola; more are concerned with human or civil rights than natural law. There are more listings on feminism and women's studies than on Christology or the Trinity; many more on spirituality (over four hundred) than on the Holy Spirit (fewer than forty). Themes associated with liberation or world religions far outweigh those dealing with the priesthood or the Magisterium.” All of which leads Fr. Lamb to ask some pertinent questions about the CTSA and the state of Catholic theology in the presumably Catholic academy: “How many of its members have an adequate formation in Catholic theological traditions? For example, how many have studied monastic and patristic theologians, medieval and Counter-Reformation theologians? How many members know the differences between Catholic and Protestant theological and doctrinal traditions? Indeed, how many of its members have studied the new Catechism of the Catholic Church? These are not antiecumenical questions. One of the major concerns of ecumenically engaged theologians, both Protestant and Catholic, is the need for the coming generation of theologians to know their own ecclesial traditions well.”
• “I write this in desperation, having no idea where the next sentence will come from. But it's the night before press day and I can't put it off any longer.” So begins Michael Farrell, the new editor of the National Catholic Reporter. It's not an easy job, but you can see that the next sentence did come, and the next, and the next. “At NCR,” he continues, “we start with blank pages every week, and everyone knows the doubts a blank page can sow in the human head. Is there anything worth saying? Even if there is, what do you know about? Can't you for once write it elegantly and with clarity?” Excellent questions all. He concludes by reflecting that maybe the answers don't really make any difference, but “In the meantime, we are putting out NCR for ourselves and for you, all of us sort of holding hands and standing on what we think is a stretch of high, dry ground and saying to the world that we're here, actually alive, at this time, and that we count.” Do not despair. We see you, left high and dry, sort of holding hands. You are there. Actually alive. At this time. Message received, Michael. (I hope somebody out in Kansas City is keeping a pastoral eye on this guy.)
• Late-breaking news is not our shtick in these pages. Thus, apart from this mention, the absence of any reference to the all-sleaze-all-the-time reports on the President's zipper problems. If, as almost all informed parties seem to believe, Mr. Clinton has during his term of office had sex with one or more women other than his wife, and if he has directly looked the American people in the eye and lied through his teeth in denying it, and if the American people know this and still allow him to continue in office, I promise critics who say I have an excessively hopeful view of the American character that I will engage in an agonizing reappraisal of my position. Enough said. I will not be surprised if events have overtaken this comment before it appears in print.
• Germain Grisez of Mount St. Mary Seminary in Maryland is without doubt one of the most impressive moral thinkers working today. I am inclined to say one of the most influential as well, but resistance to his work among non-Catholic and dissenting Catholic thinkers is still strong. Everybody in moral theology, however, has to have at least a passing acquaintance with his two volume The Way of the Lord Jesus (vol. 1 is Christian Moral Principles and vol. 2 is Living a Christian Life, with a third volume soon to appear, all published by Franciscan Press, Quincy, Ill.). The immediate reason for mentioning all this is a book forthcoming from Georgetown University Press and edited by Robert George of Princeton, Natural Law and Moral Inquiry: Ethics, Metaphysics, and Politics in the Work of Germain Grisez. The book is composed of heavy-duty scholarly exchanges between Grisez and his critics (and admirers), but I thought you might like a little personal note that Grisez appends to his response: “Whenever I come back to my favorite airport, Baltimore-Washington International, I pass under an official message of the State of Maryland: ‘Welcome to Maryland! Enjoy your visit!' and my heart is warmed by the reminder that, though Jeannette and I reside permanently in Maryland, we will not live there forever. Despite the danger that the U.S. Supreme Court will find Maryland's welcome inconsistent with the First Amendment, this state, at least, officially reminds its returning citizens that Maryland is not their real home, that we are only visiting and can look forward to a better, a heavenly home. I have tried to keep this thought at the center of my theology, and have striven to tie my treatment of specific issues tightly to hope for heaven. My ultimate criticism of alternative approaches to moral theology is that they do not do this very well, if at all, and so are not helpful in guiding and encouraging people to seek God's kingdom. But in the end nothing else matters for theology or, what is more important, for any of us struggling through this vale of tears.” The only philosopher or theologian who can finally be trusted is one who knows where home is.