Thursday, February 28, 2013

The coming liberal exodus?

Will the Left wing of the United Methodist Church throw in the towel and split? Some of them say they should because they mow realize that they have lost the denominational fight to establish "anything goes" in sex as a doctrine of the Church.

The clarifying moment was at last summer's General Conference of the UMC. The GC meets for only two weeks every four years. It is the only body that can set denominational doctrine, policy or set polity. And last summer,
Delegates affirmed the denomination’s official teaching that sex is “only” for marriage and that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching” (¶161F of the Book of Discipline) by a significantly larger margin than the previous General Conference. For the first time, activists opposed to biblical teaching ultimately gave up on even contesting UMC policies aligning required behavior of clergy and denominational officials with this stand.

This happened despite the fact that for their General Conference efforts, such activists received massive funding from secular political sources, launched a massive, months-long project of lobbying delegates, pursued unprecedented outreach to overseas delegates, brought an army of colorfully clad volunteers, had biased allies strategically placed in key General Conference leadership positions, and even received the prominently touted partial support of celebrity, former evangelical pastors Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter.
The Left has been trying to have the UMC approve homosexuality every four years since 1972. Their efforts have never prevailed, but their failure at 2012's G.C. was so severe that now, for example,
... the New York and California-Nevada Annual Conferences, which have long been dominated by sexually liberal theological radicals, separately adopted resolutions, each of which was entitled “A Study Committee for an Inclusive Conference,” protested General Conference’s continued orthodoxy on homosexuality, and established a committee to study structural alternatives for liberal United Methodists. The California-Nevada resolution explicitly floats the creation of a new, unorthodox Methodist denomination as one possibility. True to its separatist spirit, the New York resolution mandates the inclusion of representatives of about every caucus within that conference, of which there are many, with the singular exclusion of the evangelical Wesley Fellowship.
Like the US Congress, the number of delegates to the GC is set and the delegate shares are recomputed every quadrennium based on membership figures within each constituent Conference (think, diocese). Unlike the Congress, though, the GC includes delegates from overseas areas because the UMC is a near-worldwide denomination.

The largest non-US delegation is from Africa, where the UMC is growing handily. African sexcual mores tend to be very traditionalist and Africans' fealty to the letter and the spirit of biblical teachings  is generally much stricter than Americans'.

In 2012, 44 percent of the delegates were from overseas, with the huge majority of them coming from Africa. Every delegate I talked to agreed that there is a high probability that foreign delegates will be the majority in 2016 and absolute certainty they will in 2020.

So the American Methodist Left sees the writing on the wall and understands that their pro-gay platform has no future within the doctrine, practice and polity of the UMC. But will they split from the UMC in significant numbers?

Time will tell, but these comments struck me as rather perceptive:
Will the Liberals actually leave the United Methodist Church? It’s hard to believe… they seem to rely on the endowments of past generations to survive because they have no message of truth of their own worth preaching.
Here’s why I think this is mainly talk: conservatives give more money to the church than liberals, and liberals don’t want to leave that kind of funding and assets behind.
It may all come down to money. What a surprise.

Source: Talk Grows of Liberal Exodus from UMC

Are you tougher than a Boy Scout?

Scout camps are not exactly Ranger school, but as my Eagle Scout son emailed me,
"We had to get up in the morning at at 10 o'clock at night, half an hour before we went to bed, kill raccoons and o'possum for the morning stew, swim across piranha-infested rivers for exercise, hold targets for the other boys' rifle practice, twenty-six hours a day, week in, week out -- and when we got back our scoutmaster would kill us and dance on our graves singing hallelujah."
And you try to tell the young Scouts today that, and they don't believe you.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

"What Makes a Dead Church?"

The Protestant religious landscape in my town is punctuated by two ongoing trends: new church plants bustling with young families and established congregations that are plateaued or in decline. The newer churches almost all uphold traditional church teachings, but utilize non-traditional buildings for worship and meet at non-traditional times. Some, but not all, of the plateaued or declining churches are more liberal in their theology. Regardless of if they are traditionalist or revisionist, these older churches are leasing their church buildings to pre-schools and other non-church groups and feature graying congregations.

With this backdrop from my local community in mind, Associated Baptist Press caught my attention this week with a story about a church in Decatur, Georgia which is about to be shuttered, demolished, and re-developed into a shopping center. Once drawing 500 persons on a Sunday, Scott Boulevard Baptist Church is now down to less than 50 members, most of which are rapidly aging.

To be clear, the congregation, affiliated with the moderate-liberal Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, isn’t dissolving. Having secured a lease agreement with a nearby church, Scott Boulevard will continue on without their facility of 60 years. But the article establishes the downward trajectory of the church.

“Congregational aging, if unplanned for, can be gut-wrenching,” the article reads. “And it’s likely in store for more congregations who fail to track the intersecting trends of giving and aging that eventually forced Scott Boulevard from its property.”

Understanding churches like Scott Boulevard is important for those of us in thriving, younger congregations. We don’t want our churches to fade away, and it is clear that once a church enters a predominantly-elderly death spiral, it is hard to reverse it. Young pastors have a saying that “it is easier to give birth than to bring something back to life,” hence the preference for church planting over revitalization in so many Evangelical publications and conferences.

Congregations like my own do not offer large campuses. Programmatically, we tightly focus on a few specific outreach areas — such as staffing the food bank collection from the farmer’s market — that pale in comparison to the expansive ministries of larger churches. But one-quarter of our congregation is children, and young parents seem willing to endure inconveniences if it means a quality children’s program and being surrounded by a peer group interested in building families.

Scott Boulevard’s story reminded me of two Baptist congregations in my town. One was never large and failed to cultivate children’s programs, by default directing any new families who arrived at the church to another (thriving) Baptist congregation a few blocks north. The small congregation dissolved, sold its building to another church, and placed the revenue from the sale in the hands of a Baptist mission organization. It was a God-honoring exit, but not what they had probably hoped for.

The other church, housed in a large building, once attracted over 1,500 persons on a Sunday. In the 1970s they failed to adapt to changing demographics – namely, an influx of northerners and immigrants – and the congregation is now down to about 50 persons. I am told that every young church plant in Arlington has hopefully inquired about moving into the church building.

At IRD, we note that many fading congregations proclaim liberal theologies that are not in accord with traditional church teachings. But while theological traditionalism is almost always a prerequisite for a large, vibrant congregation, it is not the only element.

Children’s small groups before or partly during the Sunday service (let alone youth ministry) can seem like a nuisance or not even on the radar for more elderly members. But if a congregation is not built around small, sustainable church practices that may at first seem inconvenient to some members, it risks unexpectedly finding itself in the graying death-spiral that is forcing Scott Boulevard out of its home.
What Makes a Dead Church | Juicy Ecumenism - The Institute on Religion & Democracy's Blog:

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Friday, February 22, 2013

"The scandal of the Evangelical mind . . ."

... is that "We Are Not Allowed to Use It."
The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that degrees, books, papers, and other marks of prestige are valued–provided you come to predetermined conclusions.
Biblical scholarship is the recurring focal point of this type of scandal.
*Sure, dig into evolution and the ancient context of Genesis, but by golly you’d better give me an Adam when you’re done.
*Knock yourself out with scholarship on the Pentateuch, but make sure at the end of it all you affirm that Moses basically wrote it.
*Be part of cutting edge archaeological studies, but when you’re done we want to see you affirm the historicity of the exodus and conquest of Canaan pretty much as the Bible describes them, regardless of what others say.
*Do whatever work you need to do, but when the dust settles, explain how your conclusions fit with inerrancy.
The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that doctrine determines academic conclusions.
Sort of like politics these days.
Link: The Deeper Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: We Are Not Allowed to Use It

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Roman Hoard

Not to be confused with "horde," which is a mass or crowd of people, the Roman Hoard is an enormous number (more than 15,000 and counting) of ancient Roman silver coins buried in the soil of old Britain at least 1,700 years ago.

Excavation and restoration have been under way for some time. Now some coins are on display in the British Museum. There is simply no way to calculate the value here. "Irreplaceable" can't be priced.

The hoard in May 2012 in the conservation lab, excavation underway.
The Beau Street Hoard: counting ancient money « British Museum blog

Iwo Jima Deconstructed

The battle for Iwo Jima started this week in 1945.


The battle is justly regarded as one of the most savage of the entire second world war. It is the battle of which Adm. Chester Nimitz observed, "Uncommon valor was a common virtue."

Was the entire rationale for invading Iwo to provide an emergency landing strip for B-29s returning from bombing mission over Japan? This is a widely-accepted view, and until I re-studied the history, one that I held myself. Yet according to Naval Academy historian Robert S Burrell, pre-invasion planners never considered the idea of using Iwo as an emergency strip ("Worth the Cost? Justificaton of the Iwo Jima Invasion"; see also "Rethinking the Iwo Jima Myth," by Max Boot.).

The horrific casualties the Marines suffered taking Iwo Jima are well known, especially the 6,821 killed, who accounted for one-fourth of all Marines killed in action during the war. One account of the battle says that by the war's end the strip had saved the lives of 30,000 airmen, more men than were killed and wounded taking the island. In fairness, the 30K figure is the high estimate, based on the fact that 11 men crewed a B-29 and no one knows for certain how many bombers landed there. A lower estimate is that 2,220 bombers landed, making the number of airmen saved about 24,420. Either way, it's more than the number of Marines who died taking the island.

One of the repulsive things (of many) about war is the sanguinary calculus like that of comparing the number of Marines who died with the number of airmen saved and then trying to answer, was it worth it. Would the families of the Marines say yes, and would the airmen say no?

Be that as it may, Burrell's article about the battle makes it untenable to continue believing that Iwo Jima was invaded to provide an emergency bomber strip. That it turned out to be one was a happy bonus to the island's seizure. Seizing the airstrip was indeed the objective (there was nothing else of interest on the island) but it's intended use was principally not as an emergency base for Superfortresses but as a base for American long-range fighters to escort B-29s over Japan.

However, fighter operations the Army Air Force had envisioned for Iwo Jima never panned out. Iwo Jima was about 750 miles from the main Japanese island of Honshu, where most B-29 targets were. A round-trip mission from Iwo was thus 1,500 miles. Theoretically, a P-51D Mustang could fly 2,000 miles unrefueled, but in practice from Iwo such ranges were mostly unobtainable because of air maneuvering over Japan and the fact that winds to and from Japan were often extremely strong, requiring fuel use that the fighters couldn't spare. In fact, a number of fighters were lost from weather alone. As well, the P-51 had primitive navigation equipment, even for its day, making the fighters' ability to link up with the bombers difficult and fuel consuming.

Moreover, one of the greatest limiting factors of fighter escorts from Iwo was the human factor. The B-29 was heated with a pressurized crew cabin. Compared to the unheated, unpressurized P-51, the bomber crews flew in comfort. The punishment on the fighter pilots' bodies was compounded by the extremely high altutudes they flew to escort the bombers, usually more than 30,000 feet. This was several thousand feet higher than fighter pilots flew in Europe while escorting B-17 and B-24 bombers. The round trip from Iwo to Japan and back was nine hours, most of which was spent in a physically battered state.

A grand total of only 10 escort missions were flown from Iwo Jima before the whole idea was scrapped. And yet gaining Iwo as a base for fighter escort was practically the sole reason the Marines were sent to take the island.

The first B-29, "Dinah Might," to land on Iwo Jima. The battle was still in full swing when it landed.
A number of historians argue that the "emergency airfield" reason for invading Iwo Jima was post-war rationalization for the attack. The first bomber to use Iwo Jima did make an emergency landing while the battle still raged. Newsreel crews filmed the landing, servicing and subsequent departure of the bomber, and these reels, shown in stateside theaters, did more than anything else to cement the notion that Iwo Jima was invaded just for that purpose. But the pre-invasion planning documents don't address this facet.

There is also the fact that of the 2,000-plus bombers that landed on Iwo, probably only a small minority were making actual lifesaving landings. So the figure of 24K-30K airmen "saved" is suspect to begin with. Most of the bomber landings on Iwo were made during training flights, scheduled refuelings or to await the passing of bad weather over the target in Japan. Of the true emergency landings, there can be little doubt that a large number of the planes would have made it back to Marianas, since the B-29 could fly with any two of its four engines running.

So was the invasion of Iwo Jima actually necessary? Burrell says no, and documents why all the explanations for its necessity don't hold up. The widely-held reason for the invasion - emergency landing strip - wasn't the actual reason. There were in fact very few benefits otherwise for seizing the island. Its utility as a fighter base and bomber staging area was very limited and turned out to be superfluous to the rest of the war.
I found the short essay below by Charles A. Jones (Col. USMC-ret.), whom I have know well since 1973 - we were classmates in college and have kept in contact since. It is online here.
June 26, 2006 
The Lore of the Corps: a 5-minute history lesson 
‘Dinah Might’ was first bomber to land on Iwo

By Charles A. Jones
Special to the Times 
After the famous flag-raising on Feb. 23, 1945, perhaps the most memorable image from Iwo Jima was the first B-29 emergency landing on the island.

One reason for capturing Iwo was to provide an emergency landing strip for B-29 Superfortress bombers flying to or from Japan.

Less than a month after the Marines’ Feb. 19 invasion of the island, the first B-29 landing was highly symbolic. Returning from a mission over Tokyo on March 4, 1st Lt. Raymond Malo landed “Dinah Might” at Iwo’s Motoyama Airfield No. 1. Fighting still raged — Marines held half the airfield, the Japanese the other. Malo landed on the Japanese side but stopped on the U.S. half.

Several photographs show Marines and sailors surrounding the plane. Prominent tail markings indicated the aircraft was with the 9th Bomb Group, 313th Wing, 21st Bomber Command, 20th Air Force.

The plane was repaired and took off the same day. It returned to Iwo on April 12 heavily damaged and was eventually abandoned. But the March 4 landing boosted troop morale.

For Field Musician Charles Adams of the 5th Marine Division, it “was quite an experience.” During the landing, his unit was fighting along the west side of the airfield.

The landing emphasized the differences between aerial and ground combat. A battalion commander, Maj. Shelton Scales of the 4th Marine Division, watched the plane appear from the south and circle Mount Suribachi so closely that he thought it would crash.

In photographs, the Dinah Might dwarfs onlookers. When Scales went to examine her, he thought the plane was “the size of [a] monster.” The infantry world is small; infantrymen focus only on the ground they occupy. For aviators, the battleground is the sky.

The landing, as well as the ability to make other landings on the island, contrasted attitudes about Iwo.

Infantrymen cursed its ground because they faced the possibility of death there.

Aviators, who faced danger during takeoffs in planes loaded with bombs and fuel, flights to and from Japan, mechanical problems and landings in damaged aircraft, were relieved to be there; for them, the island represented safety.

On an April 15-16 night mission over Kawasaki, the 9th Bomb Group lost four crews, the most for any mission. One was Malo’s, who was flying another B-29. It crashed into the sea off Japan, killing 10 crewmen; one was captured but fatally burned during a prison fire.

At least two B-29s carried the name Dinah Might, but for infantrymen on Iwo, only one mattered; its first landing was a victory in a grim battle that would continue for many days.
Maybe I will ask Charles to reconsider his second paragraph, but as historian Burrell points out, that historically-false reason for taking the island has become received wisdom and is hardly questioned except for specialists like him. Charles father, Elmer, btw, was a radar observer for B-29 “Double Trouble,” which landed on Iwo Jima twice, once for repair and once for fuel.

Here is the USMC documentary of the the battle.

Monday, February 18, 2013

What makes them think it's Jesus?

This portrait is of . . . whom?

The Associated Press: Ohio school board votes to keep Jesus portrait up:
JACKSON, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio school district decided Tuesday night to keep a portrait of Jesus hanging in the school where it's been 65 years, denying a federal lawsuit's claim the portrait's display unconstitutionally promotes religion in a public school. 
The Jackson City Schools board offered a constitutional justification of its own in voting 4-0 to keep the portrait up in its middle school, saying it must protect students' free speech rights. The vote drew cheers and applause from the dozens of people gathered in the elementary school gymnasium. 
After huddling with attorneys in closed session for more than an hour, the school board said the portrait belongs to the student group that put it up, the Hi-Y club. The portrait's frame is inscribed with the club's name and the Christian-based service group is the portrait's owner, not the school, the board said.
So there is a portrait of a man hanging in the school that the ACLU and presumably some others have challenged in court as a violation of the Establishment Clause because, they say, it is a portrait of Jesus.

Why do they think that? To say that it or any other representation of a man's face is a portrait of Jesus is as valid as saying that someone has a photograph of Charlemagne.

There is no such thing as a portrait of Jesus. No one knows what Jesus looked like. No one who knew him in person has been alive for more than 1,900 years. There has survived no contemporary, reliable description of his appearance.

A few years ago, Time magazine ran a cover story on what Jesus probably looked like, based on ethnic lineages of first-century Judeans. The cover featured this portrait:

The image was made by forensic anthropologists in Britain working with the skulll of a verified first-century Judean man. Popular Mechanics also reported on this image:
Using methods similar to those police have developed to solve crimes, British scientists, assisted by Israeli archeologists, have re-created what they believe is the most accurate image of the most famous face in human history. 
But the anthropologists never said that Jesus actually looked like this. The image's features are best understood as generalized features of Judean men during Jesus' day. The image is presented as one of Jesus' likely general, not specific appearance.

So the ACLU goes to court to have a federal order to take down a portrait of Jesus in a school. I say again: on what basis can the ACLU claim that the identity of the subject of the portrait is Jesus? After all, the most common modern representation of Jesus (the first picture of this post) bears little resemblance to the only (disputed) historical (but nonbiblical) description of Jesus:
The only physical description of Jesus that does exist is from a copy of a letter from the Roman consul Lentulus to the Roman Emperor Tiberius.  This document was discovered in a Monastery with copies of other ancient documents.  According to the copy of the letter, the original letter from the consul was dated to the 12 year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius.  Scholars have historical verification that a certain Roman consul named Lentulus was in Judea at the time of Jesus' trial and crucifixion. His influential family is mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus in his book Antiquities of the Jews. Scholars are divided, however, as to the authenticity of the letter.  Lentulus' letter is presented an official report to the Emperor Tiberius.  In his letter Lentulus describes the condemned man named Jesus of Nazareth as having: a noble and lively face, with fair and slightly wavy hair; black and strongly curving eyebrows, intense penetrating blue eyes and an expression of wondrous grace.  His nose is rather long.  His beard is almost blonde, although not very long.  His hair is quite long, and has never seen a pair of scissors.....His neck is slightly inclined, so that he never appears to be bitter or arrogant.  His tanned face is the color of ripe corn and well proportioned.  It gives the impression of gravity and wisdom, sweetness and good, and is completely lacking in any sign of anger.  (Holy Land Magazine, Franciscan Holy Land Press, Spring 1998). Whatever information Tiberius received concerning the strange progress of events concerning the death of this Jew, he was shaken enough to present a shocking suggestion to the Roman Senate.  There is some historical evidence to support the claim that Tiberius was so convinced of Jesus' resurrection from the dead that he attempted to have Him declared a "god", but the Roman Senate refused to approve this provincial Jew's admission to the Roman pantheon of gods.
(Italics original) The historicity of this description is disputed, however, and not generally accepted by historians.

Update: The thought occurs to me that the school's Hi-Y club should just get an art student to draw or paint a representation of a first-century Judean man and hang it on the wall with no claim of a particular identity of the man represented. Then let the ACLU try to prove that it is of Jesus. Of course, the ACLU would first have to prove that it knows what Jesus looked like to begin with. Or maybe the club and school could just use that defense now.

Jesus is served

John 6.5-14 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people t...