Monday, January 16, 2017

On Naming the President in Prayer

Let it be said first of all that a quick glance through the BCP shows there is little expectation that the president be payed for by name. Of the seven forms for the prayers in the eucharist, only two (Rite I and Form V) even offer an option for naming him; neither does Prayer 19 ("For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority") among the miscellany in the back. (A correspondent informs me that the Great Litany does expect the name to be used.)

And yet. Consider the following miscellaneous prayers:

  • 6. For our Enemies
  • 26. For those who suffer for the sake of Conscience
  • 28. In Times of Conflict
And consider what we pray for concerning our president: "Grant [him] and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear." If we pray so for a president whose policies we support, how much more so for one whose views we deplore?

In the midst of the upcoming elevation of the despicable Donald Trump, we thus have the following missive from the rector of that bastion of liberal churchmanship, All Saints Pasadena: "I have made the change to remove the president’s name (while continuing to pray for him by title) and beginning to pray for the president-elect (though not by name)." The excuse he gives for this is that "[his] name is literally a trauma trigger to some people – particularly women and people who, because of his words and actions, he represents an active danger to health and safety." OK, well, that is nonsense. First of all, I don't think it is really true; I have too many overly dramatic (which is to say perfectly normal) elderly southern female relatives to take that seriously. Again, I say, I join with those who oppose him, most of his platform, and the culture of greed, amorality, and self-service which he represents. But just upon hearing his name? Take some Buck-u-uppo, for crying out loud. Or perhaps our clergy should follow the example of the priest who slaps his gibbering fellow passenger in Airport. Catering to such drama-mongering is just bad all around.

But in any case, this concern provides a convenient excuse for a political snub of the president-elect. All Saints has dabbled in politics quite a bit over the years, to the point of attracting some federal interest back in 2004. And I suppose, on one level, that casuistry obligates them to do so, even though they are very often wrong. But this simply comes across as petty.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Numbers: 2015

Things have been a bit mad here, and thus the naysayers have beaten me to the punch in announcing yet another 3%+ loss in Average Sunday Attendance, so let's go to the ten year numbers! Yes, we've got'em here, at least for membership and ASA.

Things are made a bit difficult with the merger of Quincy into Chicago, but as it turns out, counting all 1139 attendees in 2005 as lost is not going to be the worst number here, not by a long shot. Ignoring them, the big losers by percentage are (as anyone can guess; put your hand down, Mr. Virtue, and give someone else a chance) Ft. Worth, San Joaquin, South Carolina, and Pittsburgh, ranging from 71.2% to 80.7% losses. The next three big losers were all in Province 9. The worst domestic diocese that didn't split was Western New York, at 41.8%; the only non-losers were Haiti, Puerto Rico, Nevada, Central Ecuador, Taiwan, and Littoral Ecuador, which makes Nevada the only positive note among domestic dioceses. The ASA percentage loss for the church as a whole, 26.1%, is close enough to the median as to not matter.

And if those numbers are bad, the absolute losses are in many respects worse. The median diocese in 2005 had an ASA of approximately 5200, and three of the five splitters were well above that, with South Carolina in the top quintile. Now one of them is gone, three of them are in the bottom quintile, and only (again) South Carolina somewhat above that, as losing over three quarters of the diocese still left a sizeable remainder. Meanwhile, the next largest loser was Virginia, at 9083 fewer people no longer attending church in the diocese; that's a third of 2005 attendance, more or less. Well, there is not a whole lot of pattern to the losing dioceses, except that if you look at it by province there's Four (the South), there's Eight (the far west), and then there's everywhere else. Province Two looks OK until you take out Haiti, which is large and atypical in almost every way; with Haiti out, provincial losses jump from 23% to 27%.

Right now I don't feel like digging though ten years of Red Books to add up the various inputs and outputs, but my sense is that the shift from when I last did that for 2007 numbers is not that huge. What I found back then was that the numbers suggested (but did not prove) that the primary source of losses was middle-aged people leaving. That is certainly what happened in five dioceses. And recall this old chart:

Extending the graph to the right isn't going to change much; the jump from holding our own to losing 2-3% a year in 2002-2003 hasn't been undone.

The Crusty Old Dean has some discussion of this, some realistic (I think his prediction of 400K ASA in a decade is pretty accurate) and some not. It's important to a lot of people to dismiss theology as a factor, but I don't see how the supposed stability of the Unitarians has much weight in this: after all, everyone has expected doctrinal spinelessness from them since, oh, 1785. Everyone knows which people, in their not-already-round-the-bend parish, are holding on for dear life, hoping that they die or move before the next rector trashes things. The universal reaction to setting the revision machinery in motion, except for the hyper-progressives, was "oh hell," because everyone can see that the point of revision is to force Enriching Our Worship on the church as a whole.

But anyway, there are other numbers this time, perhaps more depressing. We have numbers on active priests in domestic dioceses by age, which show (as a previous analysis showed) that our clerics are old: the average age over the whole church is 59, and the numbers in some dioceses are far worse. Looking at the map below, you can see that the dioceses with older priests tend to lie in the west, while the dioceses with younger priests tend to lie along the Mississippi; the exceptions tend to include large urban areas.

If equal numbers of priests were ordained at every age, the average age of priests would be about 55. This is unrealistic on the high end because (one suspects) few bishops are willing to ordain someone who can only serve a few years, and because many priests will die or retire before the canonical limit of 72. But the numbers show that in most dioceses there are few young priests. San Joaquin has no priests under 45; Delaware, with 45 active priests, is the largest of six dioceses with but a single priest in this age group. Nationally, 15% of active priests are under 45. More striking are the numbers in the 65 and up range. In thirteen dioceses at least half the priests are in this age group, the most extreme being Eastern Oregon with 71%. These dioceses tend to be smaller and more rural; they show up as an intense red in the map.

It says something that, the other categories being broken out by decade, there's no "under 35" category. And indeed, a chart showing the number by age, with each bar proportional in area to the percentage of the whole, shows how lopsided things are:

This distribution is almost consistent with taking the "equal ordinations at every age" scenario and raising the minimum age to 35, which indeed produces a mean age of 59. But the clergy compensation report adds some interesting detail, for it does break out the 35-and-under numbers, and furthermore, it only counts full-time clergy, which constitute 69% of the total. Of the part-timers, 74% are 65 or older, and they constitute 69% or those in that age group, and 23% of all active priests. This report shows full time priests under 35 at 4%, and a little math shows that if all 43 part-time under-45 priests were in the younger group, this group would constitute 4.5% of all priests.

OK, so our priests are old, and our old priests are largely part-timers. But here we have another table breaking out active priests according to employment status. Here we see wild differences between dioceses. At one extreme we have Dallas, in which 80% of priests serve a single parish full-time, and at the other we have Northern Michigan, in which 91% of its priests are non-stipendiary, and which has no parish served by its own full-time priest. Nationally 55% of active priests serve a single parish full time, another 27% serve one parish fill time, 6% serve multiple parishes, and 13% are non-stipendiary, but this is an inadequate picture of how parishes are served, because there are many parishes which are served by retirees, and many large parishes have multiple full time priests (and indeed in a few dioceses there are more full time priests serving single parishes than there are parishes). What is more surprising is that the differential between male and female priests in full time positions varies a great deal. Nationally half the women and 57% of the men are in full time positions, but there are many dioceses where the women are more likely to be full time, and there isn't a lot of pattern to this: Eau Claire has few full-time positions but 50% of its female priests are in such positions, while in New Jersey, where 60% of the priests are full time, 80% of the women in the diocese occupy such positions. (Mind you, this works out that there are only two active women in Eau Claire.)

So, does this add up to anything? On one level, it's hard to say. We don't have statistics for what the priesthood looked like in 1905 or 1925 or 1955, but it's a reasonably safe bet that it was younger (and of course all-male and mostly white), and that a far smaller proportion of it was part-time. It goes without saying that its members were more likely to hold orthodox theological views, never mind traditional views on sexuality. But in terms of numbers, there's no arguing that things were not better then; the failure of growth would not be seen until the mid 1960s. As a universal, national Anglican church, we are failing.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Prescient Screwtape

Or at least his amanuensis: Tom Nichols on how C. S. Lewis anticipated our culture of treason. And it goes beyond that. I was pleased to see that public pressure (or at least the president-elect's ability to read the public) caused congress to recant its evisceration of its ethic review processes. But consider this passage:
Angry people, confused by not enough education and too much information, or unwilling to face their own poor choices in life, or bearing vague grudges about the forces that always seem to deprive them of the right job, or mate, or status among their peers, cheer on a Snowden or a Manning as a kind of self-actualizing exercise.

They’re happy that someone’s finally sticking it to the Man, or the system, or the Coca-Cola Corporation, or whomever they resent for not giving them a round of applause every morning just for getting dressed without help.

I can’t say I’m certain why this is happening. Some of it, I think, is from years of marination in an American culture that once celebrated excellence, self-reliance, and success, and now demands more “democratic” values like “equality” (meaning mediocrity), “community” (meaning conformity), and “education” (meaning pissing away a few years studying the deep works of Jay-Z at Georgetown). Add to this a therapeutic obsession with never “demeaning” others, and you have the alchemic makings of an explosion of insecurity and anger.

And is this not how the presidential election was decided?

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Marked With the Name

Give praise, you servants of the LORD;
praise the Name of the LORD.
Let the Name of the LORD be blessed,
from this time forth for evermore.
From the rising of the sun to its going down
let the Name of the LORD be praised.

Today we observe a holiday of varied names, New Years Day notwithstanding. In old prayer books it was forthrightly titled the Feast of the Circumcision, as that rite is prescribed for the eighth day of a Jewish boy's life. Nowadays, perhaps, we are shy of such a messy, fleshly observance, and we remember it chiefly as day on which Jesus was named; in the Roman Rite they observe the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But today I will start from that older name.

Now the covenant of circumcision is not the covenant made at Sinai; no, it goes all the way back to Abram, and indeed was made on the day when God named him Abraham, meaning “father of many”. Circumcision is the mark of the men of Israel: to be uncircumcised was to be cut off from God's people. And thus Jesus, like every Jewish boy, was so marked in his flesh and given his name, the name of Salvation—for that is what “Jesus” means.

Thus, through the rest of the New Testament, we hear appeals to that name: “in My name”, “for My name's sake”, “because of My name” says Jesus, and then, in the Acts, we read of the disciples healing in the name of Jesus Christ. What does it signify? It means authority, to the demons; it is a vexation, to the authorities; it yields power, in the hands of the apostles; and it is identity, to the people of the Cross. We are baptized in a holy name, the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit, the name of the Lord, the Almighty; it is this baptism which is our circumcision, which marks us as Christ's own forever. The members of the Church, the body of Christ, are known to the world as Christians; we are his, and we go into the world in his name.

This name alone are we given for salvation, and no other, as Peter preached. At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow; in the end of days, all shall know him as the only Son of God, the righteous judge of all souls. The Name of Jesus signifies what we proclaim before every baptism: “There is one Body and one Spirit, one hope in God's call to us; one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.” The Christian faith is not a philosophy; it is not a merely advice for arranging one's life. It is reliance on the one man in whom God has been realized and through whom the divine plan is made manifest.

Moses had to ask for God's name, and that name is so hallowed that no Jew will say it, or even, outside the synagogue, say “LORD” in its place. But we have a name which, though also sacred, we may say without fear, indeed in triumph. There is no shame in the name of Jesus, though the world deride it and ridicule those who proclaim it. No, in this name there is life and light, and therefore in assurance of our salvation, let us turn to the altar and proclaim the faith of the apostles, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Words We Pray

Neil Alexander has an interesting reflection on the pending revision of the Book of Common Prayer, particularly in terms of where we stand with the language of the 1979 version. What is interesting is how much ground he ends up giving to a conservative and possibly even a little reactionary revision. He admits, for instance, that "even after 40 years of Rite Two, a substantial group in our church still prefers traditional language as embodied in Rite One," and continues, "the pastor in me would be loath to take away the possibility of traditional language from those eucharistic communities of our church who desire it."

He goes a bit astray, though, in discussing the assembly of the 1979 book, and the way in which he strays is instructive. One can read in Hatchett (between the lines a bit, I must admit), that Rite II Prayer A is far and away the most hammered-on new material, and that the collects and many of the prayers represent the oldest material. And it shows: material which came later in the process is invariably weaker and less felicitous. The modernized versions of old prayers and collects tend to be the most pleasing to the ear; the older new material tends to be the most direct and taut. So when he says that "{t}he 1979 Book of Common Prayer embodies the liturgical and sacramental thinking of the mid-1970s": that is surely incorrect. One need only look at The New Liturgy, published in 1966, to see the complete outline and even some of the language of the new rite in place; in particular nearly every proper preface listed would be familiar to a Rite II congregation, albeit in post-Jacobean language. Prayer A itself is basically the rite first published in Services for Trial Use (the "green book") back in 1970, tweaked but without substantial changes for the 1976 proposed book. The BCP we ended up with represented the tail end of postwar liturgical thought, not the radicalization of the 1970s.

What was current in 1979 was the kind of radfem thinking which drove Enriching Our Worship and which leads to Bishop Alexander's remark about "pronouns". It was then still largely an idea within academia, but theologians are within academia, and liberal theologians, even before the book became final, were repeating Mary Daly's ideas approvingly. And it's these impulses which are sprinkled throughout his essay, in coded language. In particular, there's this passage: "That said, for many, the language of Rite Two is quite dated and needs to be revised, particularly with respect to gender-inclusive language. Many of us, myself included, would hope that a revision would mine the depths of Holy Scripture for even more expansive language for God." OK, well, that's where the problem lies. There have strong objections to nearly every rite promulgated thus far in interests of supplement or revision, and they are rooted in the fact that "inclusive language" has consistently meant God-language which every prior generation would have held plainly heretical. While the language of Rite II in places has no precedent within the tradition, what that new language says is entirely within the catholic tradition. What EOW says is not within that tradition: that is, after all, why it says what it says, because a certain line of modernist thinking rejects what traditionally has been said. That is the very heart of the revision problem: it appears to be impossible to come up with a rite which satisfies the "inclusive" faction but which can still be counted orthodox by those for whom "inclusion" is not their issue, and the only way that conflict is going away, it seems, is by driving traditionalists off or waiting for them to die, rather stepping up to catholic criticism of the novel god-language.

And back to those pronouns. My issue here is that, for the sake of a conspicuously neoPlatonist theory about the sex/genderlessness of God, we increasingly cannot say the words of scripture, because they do not conform themselves to that theory. I already have a huge philosophical problem with current talk of gender and sex, because the tendency is to absolutely demand and then utterly deny the equality of the sexes in adjacent sentences; on that level I simply cannot enter into the way these things are being talked about, because I immediately find myself unable to talk at all and make any sense.. Gender/sex as it relates to God is unknowable. But that is something of a side issue, whereas for a Protestant the supreme objection is that this doesn't come from scripture. Yes, I know: there are instances where feminine similes are used for the action of God, but that is not the same thing as the core God language. Jesus calls Him "Father", and who are we to gainsay Jesus? We need to learn to live with this, and not count ourselves more enlightened than the second person of the God Himself.

Looking at how I've seen Rite II used over the years, it seems to me that the structure has stood the test of time. Nobody except maybe a few Anglo-Catholics wants to make any changes to that, and I think that the "mays" and "shoulds" could be whittled down to reflect usual practice. There is a lot of polishing that could be done, particularly in getting rid of the "well tell God what he does" construct and in (yes, you knew I'd get to this) Prayer C. I think Bishop Alexander is right in the need for more discussion of the ordinal, but not in a good way. But already we have six options for Sunday Eucharist, and I'm not seeing how we need more-- except to allow theological deviance.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Tolerating Traditionalists

From the Covenant site comes the following:
We all are thinking about the future, and the place of “traditionalists” in the Episcopal Church. While we are tolerated, it is not yet clear what is being tolerated: we as individuals or the view we represent. I am assuming that the church has made its decision for the foreseeable future. Why would the church allow a bishop or a diocese to hold a contrary view? Can it accept reasons for such a minority stance as valid and if so, why?

I submit that, in these terms, the conflict is lost. I map out, in any diocese north and east of Virginia (including my own), as a "traditionalist" simply for insisting that the words of the 1979 BCP be used without alteration. And I am fine with that, but if doing what the canons say to do is something that has to be tolerated, lawlessness is the order of the day. It is not traditionalists who should be in need of toleration, but those who wish to deviate from tradition.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

American Apostasy

The following passage is commonly attributed to Adrian Rogers, one time president of the Southern Baptist Convention:
You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is about the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.
Rogers did not originate this passage; whatever his immediate source, it first appeared in The Cross and the Flag, a virulently anti-Soviet magazine put out by Gerald L. K. Smith, a one-time Disciples of Christ minister who fell into politics, riding the coattails first of Huey Long, then of Father Coughlin, and finally, perhaps, of Strom Thurmond, who wisely refused to acknowledge him. A virulent antisemite, his other views seemed to shift depending upon whose star to whom he had hitched his own. To take this present tract, Smith wrote it in 1957; but in the mid '30s he was the heir to Huey Long's "Share Our Wealth organization, whose aim was largely antithetical to Lewis's later views. Indeed, there is a certain timeliness to the movement's theses, but the later Lewis surely could not condone its redistributionist and tax-heavy principles.

Lewis's other claims to fame were the revival of Eureka Springs and the highly regrettable "Christ of the Ozarks" which he made the centerpiece of his facilities there, but this squib on economics was picked up and passed around by other right-wing agitators, which I must presume is where Rogers found it, rather than alongside Lewis's holocaust-denying rants. Now really, even considering the sorry state of economics, a cleric cannot justify taking this kind of passed-from-hand-to-hand political propaganda and proclaiming it as the word of God.

But as I was trying to find time to finish this post, the dismissal of national charity write above was rudely upstaged by a clip of Donald Trump talking about handling (so to speak) women. Incredibly, that paragon of virtue Ralph Reed blew the matter off with this response:

I’ve listened to the tape, my view is that people of faith are voting on issues like who will protect unborn life, defend religious freedom, create jobs, and oppose the Iran nuclear deal. I think a 10-year-old tape of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of concerns.
Meanwhile, the head of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, came through with this principled statement:
My personal support for Donald Trump has never been based upon shared values, it is based upon shared concerns about issues such as: justices on the Supreme Court that ignore the constitution, America’s continued vulnerability to Islamic terrorists and the systematic attack on religious liberty that we’ve seen in the last 7 1/2 years.
And here we are. In the words of Brent Orrell: "It represents the complete subordination of ends to means; the ugly reality is that this leadership will support anyone who claims to support their issues (mainly abortion and marriage) no matter how laughable those claims of support are and how insupportable the behavior and character of the candidate who makes them." Anyone who has seen Trump in action over the years knows that, when it comes to sexual morality, he has none whatsoever. He is nothing but appetite mixed with egomania and a taste for cruelty, governed by no other principle. Yet these "leaders" are willing to sail with him.

And yet nearly half the country is willing to vote for this man, who is so devoid of any Christian virtue that the only sins he cannot be seen to embody are those for which he has not developed a taste. The Seven Deadlies? He all but exemplifies the lot. Nothing he says or does seems to perturb them, and my impression is that they share his collapse into pre-nursery-school amoral impulsiveness. It hardly matters if these people go to church (and My impression is also that they don't) because it doesn't seem to register on them at all. Christianity is nothing more than not-Islam (and probably not-Judaism), a faint cultural marker that involves no religion.

Not that I am going leave the left out of this. Clinton, however duplicitous and evil you think she is personally, represents a program of civil charity which, if ill-advised, poorly executed, and intrusive, at least has some consonance with the teachings of Jesus. But as I've said before, the church's participation in this seems dictated by secular, essentially atheistic culture which is always in peril of stepping away from the gospel. An Atlantic article on the first presidential debate referred to it as "post-Christian" and noted that the faithfully Methodist Clinton avoided, as usual, the language of faith, which those of us in the same social class knows is the way it is done now. And it isn't as though Clinton's "deplorables" don't have a legitimate grievance with the power structures taking advantage of them, and it isn't as though progressive charity towards these people is influenced by their repugnant racism, sexism, and general classlessness. Trump is not their champion no matter how he pretends so, which leaves them with pretty much nobody. And there is no reason not to think that the upper middle class's drift into irreligion is going to be halted, and that even such charity as is thought of now will also fade.

This, then, is the American apostasy; and it presents a major challenge to evangelism. Religion, left or right, is increasingly just someone telling you not do do what you want, and nothing more. Even moral therapeutic deism, the default faith of Americans only a decade ago, is quickly losing ground to utter lack of relationship to God, so that even strident atheists, even agnostics may be held more religious. How do you articulate the divine message in the face of this? "Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again" is a proclamation which simply goes in one ear and out the other.