Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Avian Flu -- Puzzle or Pandemic?

While news sources today have been giving much more time to Osama bin Laden, the Palestinians, and Immigration legislation in Congress, probably the most disturbing piece of news was quickly rushed over if it was mentioned at all. It came from the island of Sumatra in the huge nation of Indonesia, and is about the possible transmission of the H5N1 virus by humans to humans.

I had to dig into the web to find more information than that, but, as is often the case, the BBC came up with a very full and very thorough story (

It would appear that beginning with the death of a woman several weeks ago, six other members of her family have gone down with the disease and subsequently died. There is no evidence of their close proximity with poultry or other birds, neither is their evidence that the virus itself has mutated. However, this puzzle has the World Health Organization flustered and worried.

As those of you who have kept up with my meanderings for a while will know, pandemics in general and the avian flu in particular have been on my mind for several years now. This, I have suggested, would be one of the great challenges to come before Christians as part of a troubled world. The question we need to be asking is whether this is just another puzzle and false alarm, or whether this might be the start of what could become a global pandemic that will take many lives.

I pray that it is not the start of a pandemic, but we as Christians and churches need to be prepared for the worst while praying for the best. I have for a while now been following the work of Dr. Tim Foggin of British Columbia, who has kept apace with the possibilities of what might happen and how churches might respond. You can get onto Dr. Foggin's list by emailing him at

Now is the time to be thinking and preparing for the consequences of such a terrible event -- putting it off will make it too late to respond effectively and meaningfully. We need also to pray that those fighting this disease will be able to quarantine it and prevent a break out from Sumatra, or wherever else a human-to-human virus might be mutating and incubating. We need also to think seriously about how we would respond in such difficult and demanding circumstances.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Can A Phoenix Fly?

One of the things that has been said to me repeatedly by liberal/progressive/revisionist (or whatever you want to call them) friends during the last three years is, "Why can't you get over what has happened?" My responses have varied, sometimes angry, sometimes self-pitying, but essentially to do with the fact that it is hard for truth and error to live in union with one another. By the standards of the breadth of universal Christianity throughout the ages (throwing in the values of Islam and Judaism also) the actions of the Episcopal Church in 2003 led down the dangerous path of error.

I have spent much of these years grieving what is as well as what might have been. One doesn't get over such pain in the twinkling of an eye, but as I have hinted before, we cannot spend the rest of our lives being mad at what happened. A former colleague of my wife's had maintained his resentment against the university for several decades, in the process turning himself into one of the grumpiest old men I have ever come across.

I recognize that tendency to grumpiness within myself and must fight it for it is neither helpful, nor constructive. I cannot spent the rest of my life mourning the folly of the Episcopal Church, as Queen Victoria spent the residue of her long life dressed in black and wishing her "dear Bertie" would come back from the dead. The Episcopal Church that once was died in August 2003, the mortal wounds being inflicted by its own governing body. Soon that body will meet again, and I doubt whether it is capable of being loyally Anglican despite the desperate desire of tens of thousands of faithful Episcopalians -- perhaps an overriding majority.

Just the thought of another General Convention after the last one stretches my grumpiness quota, and to misquote Scripture I find myself wondering, "Can anything good come out of General Convention?" But whatever misguided ecclesiastical power players come up with, we must get on with the business of being the church, that gloriously beautiful Bride of Christ. We have turned it into Cinderella with amnesia.

This is something to which I have been giving considerable thought over the last months, and which I intend to be talking about at a gathering I will be participating in later in the summer. During the next few weeks my first faultering attempts to get my thoughts into some kind of order will find their way to this forum. I will not so much be being prescriptive as attempting theologically and strategically to look for ways beyond the chaos that General Convention 2003 thrust us into -- despite the endless warnings that they received.

What I am presenting is meant to stimulate creative discussion. Faithful North American Anglicans have gone off in a variety of different directions during the last few years, and while certain courses of action have been misguided, I am trying to start where we are now rather than where we wish we were. I am hoping that we can do something in this discussion that will help us recover from the wounds that have been incurred.

There are many on all sides of this equation who want nothing better their old denomination back. What has to be said from the outset is that whatever our yearnings and desires, we cannot put the clock back and so have no option but to move forward playing the hand that has been dealt and is now on the table.

As soon as one says something like this ECUSA loyalists (especially on the left) turn on you and say that all you want to leave the Episcopal Church and do the dirty on it. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, what the left does not seem wiling to realize is that by forcing their agenda upon the church in August 2003 they themselves cut off the legs from under the Episcopal Church as we had all known it. They changed the agenda themselves, and in so doing opened the door for a discussion and decisions that were far more far reaching than they ever imagined possible. Actions have consequences, something postmodern people do not seem to realize.

August 2003 was the tipping point of something that had been happening for a long time. While the presenting issue was to do with sexuality and was focused on one particular individual who probably ought not to have been elected bishop, August 2003 was more like a swollen gland in a child's neck, which points to a much greater malaise in the whole body. As the left pursued their agenda of what they believed to be human and civil rights, they were (perhaps unwittingly) raising huge theological, ecclesiological, missiological, anthropological, spiritual, institutional, political, and cultural questions.

Pandora's box was opened and what flew out was a lot more than I believe they bargained for. However, as the old Greek myth goes, when the lid was finally forced back on Pandora's box all that was left inside was hope. It is that hope which I now find myself clinging to and am toying with. By bringing these cards into play the left have actually given us an opportunity to remake North American Anglicanism for mission in a post-Christendom and post-denominational world, we fail to pick up the challenge at our own peril. I have no idea where that might lead, but I suspect that God has something significant in store for us if we are but prepared to follow the pillar of fire through this dark wilderness night.

One of the delights of my recent trip to England was a private lunch with Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. I came away from sharing sandwiches and juice with him in his study so thankful that God had put such a sensitive and thoughtful man at the helm of the Communion at this particular moment in history. What struck me particularly was the pain he feels over the divisions in the Communion as a result of North American actions, and his determination to do all that he can to try to keep this rich fellowship of believers together.

His commitment has had me pondering for the last couple of weeks the close relationship that there has always been between unity and mission, and trying to work out what on earth that means in our present circumstances. During the last several years we who claim biblical faithfulness and orthodoxy have often responded from the less settled parts of our gut rather than with the heart and the regenerate mind. We have a huge amount of work before us, and doing it wisely and well precludes sticking out our tongues and saying dreadful things about those who disagree with us, however tempted we feel to do so. We are being tested just as much as those who stand to the left of us, God forbid that we be found wanting.

So, to my subject line question, "Can a phoenix fly?" I don't know the answer. I don't even know whether there is a phoenix left in the ashes, or what that phoenix might look like, all I know is that God is calling us to something different that builds on the foundations of the past, not sweeping them away -- whether we are still part of ECUSA or not.

My old friend and mentor, Alec Motyer, writes in his commentary on Exodus that, God "wants us to live in the courts of earth according to the rules of the courts of heaven... (therefore) we are called... to ransack Scripture to discover the distinctive features of a godly lifestyle and to follow through with a discipline of obedience to the word of God. This is what the Lord sought in his redeemed at Sinai, and it is still the calling of the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16)" (J. A. Motyer, The Message of Exodus. InterVarsity Press, 2005, pages 244-245). This is the challenge

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

When A Wanderer Returns


It always takes a few days to readjust to being back in Britain. While it doesn't take long to get used again to driving on the left hand side of the road, or to thinking in pounds rather than dollars, there are some elements of reacclimation that require more significant acclimation.

The first emotion I always feel when I arrive back here is an overwhelming sense of 'home-ness.' Whether it is the rich green fields and the hawthorn in full bloom (as it is at the moment), there is that sense of relief that comes with knowing that this is where I came from, and ultimately, as a result, this is where I belong. Yet on every trip there are the moments that tell me I am perceived as something of an interloper: like the comments of the young Muslim woman in the watch and clock department of a Birmingham store the other morning who drew attention to my vaguely mid-Atlantic accent.

Whenever I return to England, the visit begins with the romantic haze of a returning exile, and it takes five or six days to get beyond this and start seeing the country as it really is, as Oliver Cromwell put it when posing for a portrait, "warts and all." In the last few days I have found myself seeing and hearing things that make the country stack up poorly against the American South, where I have lived for more than two decades now.

What impacts me almost every visit I now make is how secularized a nation this is. Little by little over the years the trappings of Britain's Christendom heritage have been peeled away as the layers are removed from an onion. When we left some thirty years ago, for example, there was barely anywhere on a Sunday where a store would open, but the other morning in search of food for my mother-in-law, we slipped into a supermarket and discovered wall-to-wall people. I would hazard that Sundays are now a healthier business day for many British retailers than any other day of the week. The quiet English Sunday with worship as a primary option is a thing of the antediluvian past.

Then there is the way in which the churches in general, and the Church of England in particular, are pilloried. Very little of any good news about the church is shared by the media, and good news there is, but do anything that questions the prevailing values of the land and bishops, archbishops, or faithful laypeople are howled at by a ravening hoard. Last week, when the bishops and other religious leaders speaking in the House of Lords opposed the Assisted Dying bill on good solid theological grounds, they were mauled and accused of not listening to the voice of the majority.

Yet if the churches were then to start reflecting the prevailing culture, they would be accused of not doing their job properly and watering down what they believed in order to curry favor with the masses. The Church of England is not alone as the target of such criticism.

Ruth Kelly, a newly appointed minister for equality in the Tony Blair government, has been given a battering in the last few days because she is a conservative Roman Catholic and a member of Opus Dei. How can Ms Kelly do her job fairly if she holds these personal views, the critics scream, and behind that assertion is the unspoken wonderment that so intelligent and successful a person could be so benighted in her beliefs.

To the majority of native-born Brits religion is irrelevant, and it is hardly a big step from there to an increasingly ferocious opposition of things religious. It may have been there before I left this country, but these days there always seems to be a sting in the tail of this criticism that is both poisonous and barbed.

This all stems from the fact, I believe, that Britain has shed almost all its historic Christian clothing, and with that comes an increasing intolerance of faith, and in its place is put a crass materialism that I find intensely unattractive. This is not to say that the USA is not also an intensely materialistic nation, too, but in the corner of America where I live there is still enough overt faith within the public system to soften some of the harder corners of this one dimensionalism.

As I wandered around the center of the city of Birmingham the other morning I could be forgiven for being tempted to believe that Muslims are the only observant people of faith in that city. Perhaps 10% of all the women I saw were dressed in various degrees of Islamic modesty, from colorful scarves thrown with studied nonchalance over their cascades of dark hair, to total coverage in black with nothing but a slit for a pair of eyes to peer through. Such women were a profound contrast to many of their non-Muslim sisters, some of whose level of undress left virtually nothing to this lustful male's imagination -- and I am not talking just about teenage girls.

I find myself now wondering whether the onion of our Christian past in Britain has now been peeled of so many layers that little or nothing remains except materialism in all its harshness, and a sensual permissiveness that has buried within it the seeds of its own destruction. Could it be, I ponder, that we are watching the last chapter of Britain's glorious Christian heritage disappearing, and what will replace it? Islam is certainly one of the contenders, but it is certainly not the only one.

Yet there might be some straws in the wind that the worm is turning, and maybe I will cling to them and hope against hope. For example, there is a modest upturn in church attendance, and a senior cleric told me last week that there has been a surprising and significant increase in vocations to ordination. Could this be the early warning of a change in the spiritual and moral climate?

What is very clear to me is that the United Kingdom in particular, and the whole of western Europe in general, is a needy mission field. While I do not expect it to be an easy field for ministry and evangelism in the years ahead, I recognize that it is one that we ignore at our own peril. Last week we had lunch with some old friends and former parishioners and talked about 'retirement.' None of us are eager to spend our golden years tending roses, walking our dogs, or looking for new aches and pains to be hypocondriacal about.

Our conversation began focusing on our peers, rising elders who are part of a generation that has up to now not taken much notice of its soul, not taken care of its personal and familial relationships, and not saved for old age as it should have done. Could it be, we wondered together, that just as we teamed up to minister together in the Sixties and early Seventies in what was then known as Swinging London, we might now team up again and reach out in Christ's love to an older generation that is increasingly restive about its own mortality? We will see what God has in mind.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Tyranny of Choice

I spent some time yesterday watching on the BBC Parliament channel the procedings of the House of Lords. They were debating the second hearing of a bill on Assisted Dying. I did not see the whole debate by any means, which was more than seven hours long and had over eighty peers addressing the issue, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, together with other bishops and religious leaders.

I confess that I greatly appreciated both the manner and the quality of a discussion that eventually led to a fairly significant defeat of the bill, although this only delays its reintroduction for a few months. Interestingly, afterwards the BBC 24 Hour News channel did not then have a balanced discussion of what had happened, but gave six or seven minutes to the disappointed emoting of a woman whose brother had gone to Switzerland last year in order to bring an end to his own severely ill life.

While one cannot but be sympathetic with such agonies euthenasia is not the solution, for it raises far too many questions and creates far too many dilemmas for patients, families, physicians, the helping professions, and so forth. This was something that, as I listened, the proponents of this bill both on the floor of the chamber and in discussion on air, were conveniently overlooking or minimizing. Those making arguments for assisted dying constantly backed up their statements by arguing that an apparent overwhelming majority of the public think it a good idea, and, more important, people should be free to choose.

Our culture in the west is one that seems besotted with the notion of choice. Under every circumstance, it would appear, we must be as free to choose from as many options as possible, whether it be the model of car we drive, the brand of coffee we drink, or where and when we meet the Grim Reaper. The right to choose is now being as ferociously applied to the ending of life as it has for the past 30+ years been applied to the beginning of life. It is argued in both these cases that the right to choose says something about the dignity of life, I would contend that it says a great deal more about the desire for autonomy by the individual.

Euthenasia is a slippery one, because when dealing with the voluntary termination of life we are dealing with a complex set of issues. Like so many clergy I have sat with families who have been agonizing over the dying circumstances of a loved one, and the choices before them are often neither easy nor attractive -- and there is often that sense that people have been artificially kept alive beyond their capacity to cope.

However, those arguing for assisted dying in the House of Lords debate yesterday were speaking from the presupposition that a person's life belongs to them alone and, therefore, is something that they can choose to end for themselves if it becomes too much of a burden. Lord Joffe, the author of the Lords bill, wasn't too impressed by the arguments that had been put forward by religious leaders who sit in the Lords, although he rightly castigated some of the religious media for being crass.

In a society where everything has become a commodity choosing has acquired an almost tyrannical dimension. I have the right, it seems, to choose anything and everything I want, and boundaries of any kind are an unwarranted limitation on my freedoms. Putting off or putting on life, therefore, has become akin to putting off and putting on clothes at the beginning or ending of the day.

When a culture declares itself independent of God, then what is God's and is Godgiven becomes my own to do with as I like. Life is therefore something to be consumed as and when I want to do so, rather than something that is given to me by my Creator and of which I am a steward. Indeed, in the midst of this contemporary autonomy, the very notion of stewardship seems old-fashioned and out-of-place, especially if aligned with John Donne's noton that "no man is an island until himself."

The truth is that behind the arguments for euthenasia that I heard on the television from the Houses of Parliament there is ultimately a utilitarianism. When persons become a burden and cease to be useful, then they should be free to shuffle off their mortal coil and cease being a trouble to themselves and, if they have them, their loved ones.

There is little doubt that within the next few years the debate about assisted dying will be coming to an elected assembly near you, if it hasn't arrive already. The Oregonians, the Dutch, and the people of the Northern Territory of Australia, have already passed legislation allowing for controled euthenasia, and surely we are all going to be forced to engage this discussion as well.

Religious arguments were impatiently swept on one side by some in the Lords yesterday, but these really seem to be the primary bulwark that stand between us and practices that once established are open to the most blatant abuse. The questions that, perhaps, we ought to be exploring is what might be the legitimate limits of choice as well as what is the nature of life, and is it ours to do with as we please.

Monday, May 08, 2006

What On Earth Is Going On In Tennessee?

It is Monday breakfast time in Tennessee, and I expected at this moment that I would be sitting in my daughter's home in Birmingham, England, bouncing my granddaughter on my knee. Instead, due to the machinations of the airlines and the weather, I am at home and we will be making another attempt to get across the Atlantic Ocean today -- this time going through Cincinnati rather than Atlanta, and having been upgraded to the more comfortable seats "up front."

However, such unexpected time at home with nothing scheduled to fill it gives me an opportunity to ponder the last few days, which have been a marathon, and have included a failed third attempt of the Diocese of Tennessee to elect a new bishop. One bonus from the weekend is the strange sense of relief I have that one of questionable theology and ethical values was elected Bishop of California -- rather than some of the alternatives! I envy the Californians in that they were able to achieve this feat in three ballots, whereas we haven't managed to get a bishop in three meetings of the Convention.

So, what is going on in Tennessee? The truth is that we are caught on the horns of a dilemma. I think we are living with the convergence of several streams.

The first is that in August 2003 the ground shifted. The actions of the General Convention were received with anything but enthusiasm by the people of the Diocese of Tennessee. Rather than walking out the large majority of orthodox and conservative people have got themselves organized, and during the succeeding years have become a force in the diocese. This has meant major shifts in a number of the organizational facets of diocesan life.

The second is that as a diocese we have continued to attract (and develop) biblical and orthodox leadership so that today the majority of the active clergy will broadly lean in that direction. This diocese under its present leadership has been committed to a strategy of evangelism, discipleship, and growth, and the truth is that those without a biblically-shaped passion for the transforming love of the living Christ have a patchy track record and limited passion in this area of Christian ministry. We are, I think, starting to struggle with what it means to be faithful Christians in a postmodern, post-Christendom, post-denominational world.

The third is that the diocese is trapped by its past. Historically the three dioceses in Tennessee have sought a 2/3 majority in both orders to elect a new bishop; this is the first attempt to elect a bishop in Tennessee sinc 2003. What happened in Minneapolis scoured out what might be called the middle ground. The candidates in our election were not voted on in the light of who they were, but in the light of what they were perceived to represent. The outcome, therefore, was predictable polarization. Clearly, there is enormous sense in today's climate in altering the diocese's constitution to bring us into line with the rest of the church with a simple majority being required.

But we are trapped by the past in other ways, too, because retired and non-parochial clergy have the vote. It has been fascinating to see characters appear from the woodwork who haven't set foot in Tennessee for years in order to participate in an episcopal election. These priests have never met the candidates, never attended any of the any of the walkabouts, or asked any searching questions, and as a result have warped the electoral process. It is seldom that I applaud the House of Bishops, but I concur with their willingness to remove vote but not voice from their number who are no longer in active ministry. We in the Diocese of Tennessee have to come in line in the same way with this one.

What we are seeing is yesterday's tired tail wagging today's dog. The fear of many of these individuals is that the Diocese of Tennessee will leave the Episcopal Church, and for many of these retired priests do not seem to care that the denomination that they served has changed radically, neither have they listened to the responses of the candidates when challenged on this issue.

Talking with some of these older priest fascinated me, because what became clear was how lightweight and theologically fuzzy they are. As one man began a statement to me on Saturday, "It would be nice if..." and then came up with something that he did not seem to realize was way outside of the parameters of Scripture, catholic Christianity, the Book of Common Prayer, etc., etc.

I am firmly of the mind that if an ordained person does not have any responsibility or accountability to keep a diocese alive and moving forward, then that ordained person ought to be asked to prayerfully sit on the sidelines, to speak but not to vote. It has convinced me that when I retire while I intend to continue exercising a ministry, I will not engage inappropriately in the counsels of the church. I am convinced that if we were to remove this group from the electoral reckoning in Tennessee, then a very different picture would emerge.

So the task ahead of us now is to find some way of building a consensus around a candidate who is acceptable to the overwhelming orthodox majority in the diocese, but at the same time who can pick up a good proportion of the dissenting minority. I think we can see the beginnings of this happening, but no one is going to pretend it will be easy. It is frustrating that yesterday's men and women have played a dog-in-the-manger role in preventing the diocese from moving forward at a critical time, but we must accept the sovereignty of God in our circumstances and prayerfully ask him to show us how we can make something positive out of this.

This will require a lot of grace, but that grace must be accompanied by a robust theology, not the watering down to a lowest common denominator that Episcopalians are so good at. Sloppiness might solve immediate problems, but in the long term it creates a thousand other difficulties.

So, hopefully today I will head for England today to a couple of weeks of just being grandpa. While there I will be praying, dreaming, and seeking what God's will might be for us. We have clearly become a bellwether diocese, and we have to find a way of breaking free of what are now negativities from our past so that we can move forward with Gospel power into the future -- and all this within the context of leaking barque that is the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA. That is no small challenge.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Critique of Stem Cell Research

The other day there was an article published on the Episcopal News Service website regarding Stem Cells and Stem Cell Research. I shared it with Dr. D. Joy Riley, a physician, former medical researcher, and bioethicist. Joy is an increasingly important voice among orthodox Christians dealing with this issue. I asked her if she would comment on the article.

What follows is first the ENS piece and then Joy Riley's responses. I think you will find them interesting.

Richard Kew


While the debate over the many ethical implications of stem cell research rages, studies in molecular genetics, genomics and cell development continue to yield new information. One of the learnings which may be surprising to many is that the differentiation of a stem cell depends on the environment or microniche where it resides.

"What a cell's neighbors 'say' to it chemically, and what it says to its neighbors, impact what kind of cell it becomes," reported Dr. Christie A. Holland, retired Professor and Chair of Virology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Children's Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

"If context matters in ethics as well as in the development of a cell," posed Karen LeBacqz, bioethicist in residence at Yale, "we need to realize that we are talking about a different context here. It is a great pity that the debate around stem cells got framed in terms of the abortion debate. They are very different contexts."

Holland and Lebacqz were addressing the Ecumenical Roundtable on Science, Technology and the Church, as part of the program, "Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Churches, Ethics, and Politicians" presented by members from the United Church of Christ. This year's Roundtable was hosted April 27-30 by the Executive Council Committee on Science, Technology and Faith at the Emrich Retreat and Conference Center in the Diocese of Michigan.

Ron Cole-Turner, H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, led off the panel with a review of the history of the debate surrounding stem cells, and with the hope that the panel would serve as a resource for those at the meeting who may be called upon to speak to the issues in the political arena.

Olivia Masih White, who teaches biology at John Carroll University in Cleveland, reviewed the basic biology of stem cells, clarifying terms and adding "What I taught 20 years ago is completely different than what I teach my biology students now, and the best contemporary science is still changing."

Sandra Michael, convener of the Episcopal Network on Science, Technology and Faith, commented that she was glad White made the distinction between the two types of stem cells, totipottent and pluripotent. "This is rarely clarified in popular presentations on stem cells and is critical for understanding how they work."

Michael's research as Distinguished Service Professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton is in the genetics, endrocrinology and immunology of reproduction. "Just as people who aren't specialists in these topics need clear and thorough scientific explanations, scientists and clinicians need to consider the issues in a religious context as they apply the knowledge gleaned from their research."

The interplay of science, ethics and theology in the panel enabled the 40 Roundtable participants -- Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists as well as the UCC team and Episcopal hosts -- to clarify the other scientific terms which are used confusingly in politics and the popular media, as well as to explore the implications of stem cell research and therapies.

Lebacqz raised the question of just access to therapies developed from stem cell research, since the stem cell lines approved by the current administration for federal funding are not diverse enough to meet the needs of different ancestral groups. The ethics around the acquisition of eggs and somatic cells for research are exceedingly complex, and also generated discussion.

Stem cell therapies hold the promise of both increasing longevity and of improving the quality of longer lives, giving rise to another cluster of questions. Interestingly, the Working Group on Faith and Genetics in the Diocese of Massachusetts, also ecumenical in makeup and represented by several members of the Roundtable, has announced that the science of human aging and efforts to slow it will be the group's next topic for study.

Lebacqz conlcluded the formal presentaion with a series of her own theological questions. "What," she pondered, "Does being 'made in the image of God' mean in our time? For me, our dignity is relational; it has to do with communication, with being in communion with others and God." She concluded by returning to the science. As we understand more about how cells communicate and provide a context for one another, we see the resonance between science and theology deepen.


This is a proactive group; they are ecumenical in scope, but I am not sure there
is a diversity of opinion RE stem cell research. That is unclear. I mostly
take issue with such comments as these:

1) "If context matters in ethics as well as in the development of a cell,"
posed Karen LeBacqz, bioethicist in residence at Yale, "we need to realize that
we are talking about a different context here. It is a great pity that the
debate around stem cells got framed in terms of the abortion debate. They are
very different contexts."

Embryonic stem cells have, by definition, embryos as their source; in harvesting embryonic stem cells, embryos are destroyed. That is precisely what the abortion AND the ESC debates are about: embryos are human. These vulnerable humans are destroyed in both instances, with the latter utilizing them effectively for parts. Whether a calf is killed on the roadway, or cut up with a butcher’s knife for veal parmesan, the calf is still dead. The differing “context” is that of the garbage heap or the diner’s plate.

2) "Ron Cole-Turner, H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics at
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, led off the panel with a review of the history
of the debate surrounding stem cells, and with the hope that the panel would
serve as a resource for those at the meeting who may be called upon to speak to
the issues in the political arena."

Cole-Turner advocates being a resource for the political arena, although he does not say on which side. The book he edited on human cloning (Human Cloning: Religious Responses, Westminster John Knox Press, 1997) however, does support research up to fourteen days after fertilization or zygote formation, on what he terms “pre-embryos.” It should be noted that this is a term usually employed for semantic purposes; it is not a scientific term.

3) "Lebacqz raised the question of just access to therapies developed from stem
cell research, since the stem cell lines approved by the current administration
for federal funding are not diverse enough to meet the needs of different
ancestral groups. The ethics around the acquisition of eggs and somatic cells
for research are exceedingly complex, and also generated discussion."

The question of justice is a valid one, but I think this is a back door approach. The argument here is one for ESC (embryonic stem cell) research. What the embryonic stem cell research lobby wants is tax dollars in order to do research that is at least controversial. I think the real question here about justice, is, should those who understand this destruction of nascent human life for what it is have to pay for something they consider morally reprehensible? As there are no therapies to date from embryonic stem cells, the question of justice between ancestral people groups rings rather hollow at this time.

The acquisition of eggs is ethically very questionable; on this we agree. The number of human eggs required for therapeutic cloning research would be astronomical. From whence would these come? Egg procurement requires females of reproductive age, but over 21 years, in order to give consent (at least in the United States), for a procedure that entails a number of risks. In South Korea, two egg “donors” from the Hwang Woo-Suk debacle have filed suit for not being duly informed of the risks.

The acquisition of somatic cells is not typically problematic, ethically or physically, unless one has a problem with his/her cheek (mouth) being swabbed with a Q-Tip! The inclusion of somatic cells as ethically complex is somewhat spurious.

4) “Lebacqz concluded the formal presentation with a series of her own
theological questions. ‘What,’ she pondered, ‘Does being made in the image of
God mean in our time? For me, our dignity is relational; it has to do with
communication, with being in communion with others and God.’ She concluded by
returning to the science. ‘As we understand more about how cells communicate and
provide a context for one another, we see the resonance between science and
theology deepen.’”

Does this mean that only those who can communicate with others are human? How far
does this argument extend? Embryos cannot relate, so they are not made in
the image of God? What about those whose disease states render them incommunicado with others? Are they "no longer made in the image of God" or "never were in the image of God?" What about their eschatological potential for being in communion with God and others? What if they "speak" a language of angels, and not of men, so we are the ones without understanding?

These are a few of my thoughts. . .

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dreaming of a Future for North American Anglicanism

Today I intend to finish reading James Holland's huge book, Together We Stand: America, Britain, and the Forging of an Alliance. Recently published in the USA by Miramax Books, it focuses on the North Africa campaign of World War Two, when for the first time Americans and Britons effectively fought alongside each other, cooperating and even merging their resources as necessary. The northern coastlands and deserts of the African continent was where the Anglo-American special relationship was properly forged, and political and military tactics that are still being used today were pioneered in 1942 and 1943.

That extended battlefield was the test bed from which has emerged many aspects of our contemporary world, yet even as the leaders on the Allied side were fighting for their lives, and victory seemed anything but a slam-dunk, they were already talking about the sort of world they wanted when the war was over. Churchill, aided and abetted by others from half a dozen nationalities, foresaw a totally different scene than the one which had entered the conflict in 1939.

Foreseeing required dreaming, envisioning, planning, and winning adherents to the vision. When Europe and parts of Asia lay in ruins when finally the hostilities ceased, when Stalin was intensifying his grip on Central and Eastern Europe while the Soviet Union was licking its wounds from at least 20 million casualities, and when the world was reeling at the discovering of the extend of the Holocaust, many of those dreams must have seemed beyond achieving.

Yet the dreamers were not bowed down. They were thinking up the United Nations, NATO, the liberalization of world trade, the extension of human rights and freedoms, and so forth. It may seem that in the intervening years some of their initiatives have gone awry, but we cannot underestimate the good that they did at the time. Where would Europe have been today without the Marshall Plan? What would have happened to Japan if the United States had not picked its old enemy up and helped dust it down? That generation of heroes who made this happen, the Greatest Generation, were extraordinary men and women to whom we owe an enormous amount.

Those who built the world we now inhabit became and arms, legs, and heads of an older generation like Churchill, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and so many others who dreamed how such a world could be born, but knew that age and energy would prevent them from necessarily going there. Like the landowner planting acorns so that generations hence will sit in the shade of mighty oaks, so it is our responsibility to do the hard work of dreaming into being a new kind of church.

Some years ago I read Karl Slaikeu and Steve Lawhead's book, The Phoenix Factor, a helpful little manual to enable individuals survive a personal crisis and grow as a result. The book is full of good advice that I know I have used on myself and with others in my years in ministry. The truth is that even the most traumatic crisis can itself become the springboard for growth and health. In their introduction the authors write, "Crisis theory points to a remarkable fact of human growth and development: newer, more satisfying, and more productive ways of living can come about only after the old ways have died" (Page x).

This book came off my shelves several months ago as I started to think what might be beyond the crisis that the Episcopal Church has inflicted upon itself, the climax of that crisis being reached with the actions of August 2003 that have been so destructive of fellowship and of worldwide communion. It could be that there are all sorts of people thinking long and hard about this, developing a strategy, and I am just not privy to what is going on, if so then discount what I say. If not, then can those of us who are mainstream Anglicans get down to doing the kind of planning and dreaming that enabled the Allies of the Second World War to remake their world.

I tend to see a lot of anger, despair, peeling away from the denomination, finger-pointing, and downward spirals of disappointment. I confess that I have shared these feelings in great depth, and have often wondered on a month-to-month basis whether my own little mission congregation can even survive in the midst of such a troubled pond. There is one chapter of the Slaikeu/Lawhead book that is entitled, Managing Painful Feelings, and I can assure you that I have spent a long time going over some of its pages again.

"In some cases the intensity of the current crisis ties directly to the fact that it dredges up old feelings -- you are now experiencing the pain of the current crisis and the pain of a previous crisis all at the same time" (Page 83). I certainly think this has been the case with many of us who are historic Anglicans within the American Episcopal scene. August 2003 was the trigger, a boil burst and out flowed years of resentment, anger at a compromised theological education system, bitterness at mistreatment by high-handed bishops, and so forth. Like a surgeon on an old-time sailing ship in the midst of battle, we have been knee-deep in blood and guts, and wondering why we are making such little progress.

Maybe the wastelands of the Gulf Coast are a visual aid. Katrina swept through and left behind total devastation. There are now pockets of restoration, and in many places a lot of the mess has been cleared away, but the whole area is a long way from restoration, and that is not going to happen overnight. I saw a piece the other night about the recovery of San Francisco from the 1906 earthquake and fire, and it took about twenty years for the city to get back into its stride -- meanwhile Los Angeles overtook it as the greater metropolis of the West Coast. The Gulf Coast will take years to come back, and right now they are looking toward another Atlantic hurricane season. Anglicanism won't recover overnight, despite our native impatience.

The impact of August 2003 upon the Episcopal Church was not unlike Hurricane Katrina, and while there are pockets of recovery here and there, and while some of the mess has been cleared away, we can see that it will take years to build something new. Meanwhile, we face with increasing dread the prospect of the next "hurricane season:" General Convention 2006. This is likely to be preceded by another destructive firestorm coming from San Francisco and the Diocese of California this Saturday, where any notion of theological sanity seems to have been abandoned.

Yet even in the midst of this we need to be dreaming and trying to envision the sort of future that we want for Anglican Christianity in North America. If we do not start envisioning and dreaming in this way, then the likelihood that we will have little or no future. If we cannot get beyond our anger and hurt, then we will be taken down by our anger and hurt, and in the process will do great damage to the wonderful Gospel of grace that has been committed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.

If we are to rise from a crisis like a phoenix, then we need to start making radical changes -- not just outward changes, but inward changes, too. This process begins and ends on our knees. Those in the secular world who plan for the future have developed all sorts of wonderful tools to help envision what sort of future God might be calling us to, and we should learn how to make use of these. While there are encouraging islands of hope, they need to be linked together and expanded, and instead of a culture of fear and despair, the time has come to develop a strategy that has a vision attached to it that tens of thousands of lay and ordained Anglicans can focus around and move forward toward.

Such a vision will need to be looking not just three, four, or five years out, but ten, twenty, thirty, forty, and be willing to hold our course in terms of the objectives we set ourselves, despite inevitable setbacks. Mission must be the organizing principle of our work, holistic mission that is rooted and grounded in the fact that when Jesus came into Galilee and from there sent us into all the world. He came saying that with him the Reign of God planting a foothold in their midst.

The last few years have finally stripped us of our carriage trade image, and despite the posturing of the Episcopal Church Center and company, we are recognizing that we are a small and almost irrelevant denomination on the American scene. This may be a painful realization, but it is an incredible relief, too. We can now stop pretending to be chaplains to the culture, and can get on with the business of taking the transforming message of Christ into that culture. We may have lost something, but if we are missional people then we have gained a lot more.

Too long we have been living, for example, with the negative imagery of a denomination that is coming apart, if we are to be creative and effective in the future then not only do we need a vision and a strategy for tomorrow, but we must find ways to start thinking like winners again. By that I do not mean replicating the crass morale-boosting sessions that crop up in business enterprises, but by recognizing that we are under the sovereign hand of God and he who calls us will enable us to be his agents in this hard place -- and agents of transformation. He knows exactly where we are because he put us here!

I have a dream of a very different American Anglicanism some fifty years down the road, but as a sixty-year-old I know I will never see it, at least from this side of the grave. I dream of an Anglicanism that has been cleared of the debris of these turn-of-the-millennium crises, and is moving gracefully and faithfully across what will be a very different post-Christendom landscape reflecting in its love and dynamism the Good News of our biblical heritage.

I see it as an Anglicanism that is flexible and not wooden in its structures, recognizing that it needs to be moved forward by mission opportunities not held back by political in-fighting and turf-wars. I see this Anglicanism as self-giving and self-sacrificing, moving ahead without counting the cost, toughened as it engages in spiritual conflict rather than weak, flabby, compromised. I see it as a caring partner with other Christian traditions, teaching them and yet eager to learn from them.

This Anglicanism I envision will be rooted and grounded in the triune God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and thoroughly biblical. It will have thought through the biblical faith in such a way that it will have shed its Enlightenment age packaging and come up with something a lot more appropriate and beautiful for that time. Indeed, because it is missional it will be constantly willing to test all its theology and attitudes against Scripture, modifying them where they are found wanting.

I suspect it will also be instinctively global, engaged in mission with Anglicans in orther parts of the world, and welcoming Anglicans from far away places to share the mission with us. It also has every possiblity of being flamboyantly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural.

I do not believe that a compromised Anglicanism will have survived in anything but small pockets here and there. Endowments can keep religious institutions alive for a long time, and there will always be those who prefer their faith to be tamed or undemanding. However, I believe the confusing tangle on the orthodox side of the spectrum now will have reached a far greater degree of order and cooperation. We need to remember that division is a characteristic of the Enlightenment approach to Christianity, not the more centrapetal approach that will prevail in these, by then, far post-Enlightenment days.

Slaikeu and Lawhead write, "You know you have successfully resolved the crisis when the crisis event has been woven into the fabric of your life in such a way that you are ready to face the future and get on with the business of living... There is a big difference in people who have integrated the crisis event into their lives and those who have not. Those who have are looking ahead: those who have not are directing their main energies backward toward the past" (Pages 202-203).

I like the look of the Anglicanism that I dream of, and I pray that my generation can, like the Churchills and Roosevelts of the World War Two era, set the trajectory that this future might face, leaving it for the next generation to put flesh and sinew on these bones. If we are to do this, then there is much inner work that we need to get done in fellowship with Christ and one another, and then a lot of planning and dreaming.

Perhaps our mental image needs to be that of King David and the Temple. Forbidden by the Lord to build his Temple in Jerusalem, David said, "Well, at least I can provide the materials for my son to do what is barred to me." So, he made preparations, but it was Solomon who did the building. Let us pray that in the days ahead orthodox Anglicans will stop taking it out on one another and starting sitting down at the table together and say, "Now, how do we rise like a phoenix from these tragic circumstances that have been thrust upon us?"

This, I believe, is the godly way forward.