October 31, 2014

Presbyterian Church to Ordain Gays as Ministers

This article has a bias. For example:

Chaves said his father, a voting member of his presbytery, was persuaded to vote for it due to the vitriol of opponents.

The best commentary however are provided by Fr. John Peck on Journey to Orthodoxy. Fr. John writes that Christians have conflated pastoral ministry with the demand by the homosexual lobby for moral parity. He concluded with this passage from scripture:

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, “We will not walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16).

Source: Yahoo News | HT: Journey to Orthodoxy

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The Presbyterian Church voted on Tuesday to allow the ordination of gays, becoming the fourth Protestant denomination in the United States to make the move that experts say reflects a larger cultural shift.

The debate over whether gays should be ordained as ministers has led to sharp divisions within several Protestant faiths. Some 100 congregations out of 11,000 have left the Presbyterian church in the past five years, including a few large ones, church sources said.

A majority of the 173 regions, or presbyteries, supported the long-debated change in the constitution of the 2.3-million member Presbyterian Church (USA) that will permit gay candidates to be ordained clergy, elders and deacons, church sources said.

The move eliminates a requirement in the constitution that clergy live “in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”

The 87th, and deciding, vote was cast on Tuesday by the liberal Minneapolis-St. Paul presbytery. Already, 19 presbyteries that voted against a similar amendment two years ago had switched sides.

“They’re making this change amid a larger cultural change. General public opinion on gay rights is trending pretty dramatically in the liberal direction,” said Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology, religion and divinity at Duke University.

“There is no practical reason to do it,” such as a shortage of ministers, Chaves said. “It’s a matter of principle on both sides.”

Chaves said his father, a voting member of his presbytery, was persuaded to vote for it due to the vitriol of opponents.

Other mainline Protestant denominations in the United States to drop their prohibitions on gay clergy are the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and The Episcopal Church. The move by The Episcopal Church has opened rifts in the American church and in the larger Anglican Communion to which it belongs.

The United Methodist Church, a mainline Protestant denomination, continues to wrestle over the issue. The United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church broke new ground in the mid-1950s when both faiths approved the ordination of women.

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

Comments

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    Here in Brazil, last week, the Judiciary usurped the Legislative prerrogatives and issued an approval of all requests for homossexual civil union, despite the explicit Constitutional definition of marriage as being between a man and woman.

    Not only that. they have prepared a “gay kit” with five videos to be mandatorily showed in all schools where teenager gays, lesbians and transvetites in school are shown as cool and their “sexual orientation” as “just” one more trait like height, hair color etc, including a lesbian kiss. Only cruel, evil, ignorant people would find any problem in a “natural” trait. That, to preteens and young teens.

    Obviously, the same people campaigning for this, are campaigning to take all Christian symbols from public space, despite the Catholic religion being practically the founder of the country. Apperantly, while homossexualism is “just a trait” like any other to be sang and praised by government funding, faith in Christ is a despicable vice that must be locked in the basements of society.

    Just horrible.

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    It will be the death of the culture. Homosexuality is an inversion, a turning in on oneself, like kissing a mirror that reflects back the image of yourself. It’s psychic suicide. Those who hate the repudiation of the radical autonomy that the serpent preferred in the Garden have finally found the unitive vice strong enough to carry their radicalism into culture.

    (Autonomy. Gr. auto-nomos: self-law.)

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    Mark L says:

    “Death of the culture”? What does that mean exactly? What culture are you referring to? I know many gay people. Some of them are actively involved in charitable foundations and are dedicated to their families. Many of them even oppose abortion.

    The rhetoric of people like yourself is becoming more unbelievable every day as more people come to know other decent gay folks at work and within their families and who do not buy in to this notion that gays are out to “destroy the culture”. Either you’ve been reading too much propaganda put out by the AFA, or you don’t get out much.

    When it comes to civil gay marriage, explain this to me: does the government not essentially sanction the heretical Mormon faith by providing tax exemptions to it? Is this not a government endorsement of a ludicrous religion (no, cult, really)? Mormons even go door-to-door trying to convert people! If a gay couple did that, they’d probably wind up with a double-barrel shotgun pointed at them in many areas of this country. Yet, the government’s endorsement of Mormonism doesn’t impose Mormonism on Catholics or Orthodox believers. It doesn’t infringe on the rights of Catholics or Orthodox ( and religious faith is, indeed, a chosen lifestyle). How is the government sanctioning of gay marriage any different?

    In terms of the Bible, well, yes the Bible condemns homosexual conduct. It also condones beating your slaves and nowhere condemns the practice in either the Old or New Testament, despite the fact that Christians credit themselves with coming to the conclusion that keeping people in involuntary servitude and treating them inhumanely was an affront to their dignity.

    Exodus 21:20-21 “And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.
    Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

    Col 3:22 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”

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      Scott Pennington says:

      Mark L,

      I agree with you about two things:

      1. The normalization of homosexuality, in and of itself, will not “destroy the culture”.

      and

      2. Neither the Bible nor the Christian faith can be plausibly construed to forbid slavery. However, it is also true that they do not mandate slavery but they do explicitly condemn homosexual conduct in both the Old and New Testaments.

      From there we digress though. The government does not sanction any particular faith by providing tax exemptions to religious organizations. It has long been a maxim in American politics that the power to tax is the power to destroy. So long as religious organizations don’t endorse particular candidates or particular parties (explicitly) they are safe from taxation.

      It is interesting that you compare homosexuality to religion, speaking about what might happen to gays if they went door to door to “convert” people and likening marriage for gays to tax exemptions for religion. It is not the first time I have heard gay rights supporters do this and it is indicative of the way they view homosexuality and the gay rights movement.

      As far as the Mormons are concerned, while I don’t share their theology, there is much overlap between us in terms of morality. I can, however, see where the vitriol directed against them by the gay rights community comes from in light of some of their recent political activity out West.

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    When men turn to men, they cease being men (not the same thing as ceasing to be male). Culture cannot survive without real men. It’s that simple.

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      Mark L says:

      Fr. Jacobse: I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you mean. Do you mean they are not “masculine”? I know several gay men who served in the Marine Corps. They are not in any way effeminate, and apparently, there are many, many other gay men in the military. Do you mean gay men are refusing a role that makes men more fully men (i.e., fatherhood)? Many do, it is true. If that is what you mean, perhaps you have a point, but I’m not sure that denying the role of parenthood is a problem exclusive to homosexuals.

      Scott: Do you not see an analogy in the freedom to practice what many view is a distorted, perverted religious way of life and the freedom to share one’s life with someone of the same gender? I understand the religious opposition to it (although I disagree with it), but I don’t at all get the political opposition to it.

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        Scott Pennington says:

        “Do you not see an analogy in the freedom to practice what many view is a distorted, perverted religious way of life and the freedom to share one’s life with someone of the same gender?”

        Not at all. In the one instance, you’re talking about the freedom to engage in ones religious beliefs and practices. In the other instance, you are basing the right to marriage or civil union upon the sexual desires of individuals. Not all sexual desires are created equal – – hopefully we can agree on this in light of the fact that there are people attracted to their close relatives, to young children, to animals, to inanimate objects, etc. We call these attractions perversions. Same sex attraction falls into this category. I’m sure pedophiles are genuinely attracted to children, it’s just that the inclination is perverse so we condemn it (At least most of us do at this time, what the future may hold is anyone’s guess. Homosexuality used to be viewed as perverse by the vast majority of people, someday NAMBLA might be mainstream. If that sounds far fetched, consider the ancient Greeks.).

        Heterosexual attraction serves the purpose of reproduction. The sexual organs of the two genders compliment each other and create new human beings. Thus we can deduce that such attraction is normal, even necessary. The fact that there are infertile individuals is irrelevant. The type of the activity is what is in question, not the particular manifestation of it.

        Informal surveys done at reparative therapy sessions indicate that 75% or more of the men who go to them were molested by men as children. It is not far fetched to posit a causal connection there. We know that such behavior can result in pedophilia being passed along to the victim so that they experience that desire as adults as well. No one has ever documented a “gay gene”. It is life experience that makes one homosexual. Were that not true, it still would not militate against considering it a perversion. There are those born with chromosomal abnormalities who are inclined to aberrant behavior as well. Being born that way does not mean that society should allow them to act on such inclinations.

        Mormonism is not “perverted”. Homosexuality is. Now, Mormonism may be “distorted”. It’s certainly heretical. However, it is definitely more morally sound than mainline Christianity.

        A religious objection is a political objection. People evaluate their position on “social” issues by reference to their own moral code. The moral code of real Christians does not admit the acceptability of homosexual sexual activity. In fact it condemns it quite explicitly as evil. Those who separate their religious beliefs from their public political positions are usually not particularly religious in the first place and simply pay lip service to their church’s moral teaching.

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    Men were not made to copulate with other men. The rectum is not a sexual organ. Homosexual relationships are naturally sterile (parenthood is not denied to homosexuals, it’s a biological impossibility; with heterosexuals childlessness it’s a problem of infertility, not sterility). Cultures tolerate homosexuality (the “in the closet” paradigm is a good working compromise), none that sanction it survive. Men who copulate with other men have a deficit in their own masculine self-identity (it doesn’t matter if they are Marines).

    These are undeniable brute facts.

    Slavery in scripture is different than the slavery of, say, the Old South. Paul and the rest of scripture speak of a slavery of benevolent ownership. It was part of the economic structure of the time and not considered unjust, even by the slave. Injustices occurred of course, but they were adjudicated by laws other than those you quoted about slavery. American hear the word slave and immediately think it means a white landowner beating a black laborer.

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    Scott Pennington says:

    American slavery was based on the biblical pattern. The Israelites were allowed to enslave their own people for up to seven years (but only permanently if the slave agreed). They were allowed to enslave foreigners permanently. The first we called indentured servitude, the second chattel slavery. And I doubt it’s any more realistic to ascribe “benevolent ownership” to the Israelite owners of foreign slaves than the American ones. Sin is ubiquitous. The case against slavery on the basis of Christianity is simply not there (that’s not to say that one can’t be invented from whole cloth, as the abolitionists did). That does not mean that slavery is anywhere mandated in the bible. I’m glad we grew out of it, but it is not inherently unchristian.

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    Rob Zechman says:

    Scott writes: “I’m glad we grew out of [slavery], but it is not inherently unchristian.”

    If the institution of slavery was and is morally neutral at worst (as you seem to imply), why care either way? You’re correct about the abolitionists, of course, but it seems they were appealing to values that transcend the letter of the Law. Such arguments call for moral nuance, something that fundamentalism doesn’t seem to ever allow.

    Fr Jacobse is correct in one sense: making homosexual conduct the norm would pretty quickly end society. I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that, however. Most men naturally find intimacy with the opposite gender appealing. Some men simply do not. Now, perhaps a few can marry and have a tolerable marriage. For most humans, however, while marriage does involve “duty”, it should probably embody a bit more than that if it’s to have any expectation of enduring for any length of time.

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      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      Rob, men need the fellowship of men. They always have. Men learn how to be men from other men. Once they have a sense of their own manhood, then they can have a stable relationship with a woman. And, women, if they know how to be women, end up humanizing the men. This is a difficult road, but life, to be meaningful, is difficult. Every generation up to ours knew this, and most other cultures knew it too.

      Where homosexuality gets it wrong is that it eroticizes male intimacy. It makes the male the object of sexual attraction. This indicates a serious interior disorder, what the Catholic Church calls an “objective disorder” and they are right. It completely subverts the design, the right ordering on the inside that enables a man to become a man. It makes healthy male to male relationships impossible to acheive.

      Did you know that most homosexuals who long for a stable relationship with another man usually stops having sexual relations with him? Eroticizing the relationship subverts it. It does not strengthen it. If they want the relationship strengthened (and appropriately so), they come to see that the erotic dimension is a destabilizer.

      For that reason I think that homosexuality has more to do with sexual addiction than orientation. I don’t think there is such a thing as homosexual orientation, that is, an internal structure that mirrors normative heterosexuality. This is not to say that some men only have desire for other men. Clearly they do. It just means that desire is something different that our native interior makeup (design).

      As for slavery, the abolition of slavery was an exclusively Christian enterprise. It shows how Christian morality (the deeper sense of the value of a human person) overturned an institution that for centuries was an accepted fact of human existence, even by other Christians. The reason you see it tolerated in scripture is because the institution was so deeply grounded in the social fabric that overturning it was unthinkable. It would be like thinking that the sky should be green instead of blue. That it was overturned is a remarkable achievement in moral progress, and if you study your history you will discover that the entire notion of progress is exclusively Judeo/Christian in origin. (Read this book: History of the Idea of Progress.)

      In our day, especially people who criticize Christianity, tend to read history anachronistically. In other words, they take moral values that we hold as self-evidently true (like opposition to slavery) and read them back into history in order to castigate Christians. What they don’t realize is that without Christianity, slavery would still be here. In fact, the progress we enjoy (fillings in your teeth, artificial knees, a grocery store full of food, and a thousand other things) have their grounding in a world view (including the scientific system) that is at bottom Christian. Read some books on the history of science for example. There were be no scientific system without the deep structure precepts (things like linear time that makes the idea of progress possible, things have a beginning and and end — Genesis to Revelation, and so forth) that draw from Christianity. This too explains why the Christian West developed as it did while the rest of the world lagged behind. (Even now they still rely on Western advancement to advance themselves.)

      BTW, the moral progress was not just limited to slavery. You see it other things like care for the poor, the sick, child labor laws, the building of hospitals and so forth. (If you really want to understand how radical the Christian moral vision was in the pagan world read David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions.)

      In reading history anachronistically then (historians call it the fallacy of presentism), people lose touch with the past, particularly the foundation precepts and ideas that informed it, and as a result lose touch with the present as well. They don’t know where they came from because in rejecting the precepts, they blind themselves to the reasons why things are the way they are today. It’s like disowning your parents. After a while you lose your sense of who you really are. That’s one reason why there is so much moral confusion in our day.

      One more thing and i don’t mean this antagonistically. You said that that:

      For most humans, however, while marriage does involve “duty”, it should probably embody a bit more than that if it’s to have any expectation of enduring for any length of time.

      …which makes me wonder if you are married. Are you?

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        Rob Zechman says:

        Fr. Hans: To answer your question, I have not. However, my parents (both active and devout Catholics) have been married over 25 years: while I know their faith has played a role in the success of their marriage, I also know that they both find something unique and special about the other that attracts them to the other. Love is more than attraction, of course: to profess to love someone but be unwilling to shoulder some of their quirks and habits and to run away from some of the messiness intrinsic to all human relationships is no love at all (spouse or even friends). Yet, to say that there can be no bit of “self” involved in a relationship (especially marriage) seems unrealistic: there has to be some sort of a match in terms of personality, intellect and even physicality. Otherwise, we may as well consider marriage simply a social necessity and return to arranged marriages where the peculiar personalities and characteristics of each person are irrelevant: any person will do – just do it.

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          Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

          After 25 years you really get to know the other person. It is great having people in your life; it is great having several people in your life for you whole life, spouse and children looking forward, parents and siblings looking back. The older I get I see it really is about family, and I wish I would have understood that better when I was younger.

          But marriage is about family too. Primarily its about having someone there. “It is not good for man to be alone…” is one of the first assertions about human relationships in scripture.

          As for the rest of your comments, I have seen time and time again that for the believer, the Lord seems to have His hand in this somehow. If you are ready, often the right person comes into your life somehow. People told me that when I was single and I didn’t really believe it — until it happened. Now I tell everybody what others used to tell me. I don’t think it happens though until it is time. For me it happened when it was time. In fact (don’t try this home), my wife and I got engaged three weeks after we met. That was 20 something years ago.

          Don’t try to figure out marriage. I don’t mean to be insulting here, but unless men are married, they don’t really have a clue. They think they do, but they really don’t. Ask anyone who has been married for a while. They will tell you the same thing.

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            Scott Pennington says:

            The thing is that apparently married men (and women) don’t have a clue either, else there would not be such a high rate of divorce. You could get at least two different answers from somebody who has been married for a while. Both of them might say, “You have no idea what it’s like.” One would mean it in a positive way, the other in a sharply negative way.

            I’m sure it’s nice being married for over 20 years. The trick is to get there. The duty (or better “commitment”) is indeed necessary for most couples and that is the thing that is lacking in today’s society because the churches have abdicated their responsibilities to explain what marriage is, why infatuation is not love but a fleeting feeling and why boredom or falling out of love is not a reason to divorce.

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            Harry Coin says:

            Aye! — Fr H: “I don’t mean to be insulting here, but unless men are married, they don’t really have a clue. They think they do, but they really don’t. Ask anyone who has been married for a while. They will tell you the same thing.”

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          Scott Pennington says:

          Actually, Rob, arranged marriages were much more stable (and probably more harmonious) than modern ones. Some of the older Greek ladies in our church (the ones from the old country) had these type marriages. They had the opportunity to refuse of course, but the whole thing was arranged. Generally they’re widows who never divorced their husband. The reason is that each of the spouses knew their respective roles.

          I don’t seriously expect that anyone will have a substatial positive effect on Western marriage unless Christendom is revived (Christendom being that Christian morality is the law of the land). Given that none of the churches, including the Orthodox Church, have any remote intention of pursuing that, about all we can expect is more of the same – – even among Christians. Divorce rates in the churches don’t vary much from among secularists.

          It’s actually entertaining that we compare the moral climate in our culture (divorce, abortion, feminism, cohabitation, illegitimacy, etc.) with the way things used to be and lament that these things are with us and seek to combat them through “education” and “conservative” politics within a decadent culture. The reason that all of these things were actually rare was that the society as a whole attached a strong stigma and legal sanctions against such behavior. Unless you reinstate that climate, you don’t really have a chance at making serious progress. Since very few want to, you get the culture that the people want.

          Ugly, huh?

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        Scott Pennington says:

        “As for slavery, the abolition of slavery was an exclusively Christian enterprise.”

        The Greek Stoics were consistent opponents of slavery. The slave trade was first abolished in China before the birth of Christ.

        Nonetheless, the wave of abolitionism that began in the late 17th century and lasted throughout the 19th had nothing to do with Christianity, anymore than the Chinese invention of gunpowder had anything to do with Buddhism. Abolitionism was justified in Christian terms, but this was pure fiction. The “the deeper sense of the value of a human person” in Christianity was seen to be quite consistent with the institution of slavery for a very long time. That should indicate to reasonable people that developments to the contrary had an outside source, or at least one not intrinsic to Chrstianity.

        “The reason you see it tolerated in scripture is because the institution was so deeply grounded in the social fabric that overturning it was unthinkable.”

        It was not unthinkable. Slaves were freed from time to time. The Jews prohibited indefinite involuntary servitude for their own people. To say that it was so deeply grounded in the social fabric that overturning it was unthinkable is precisely the same thing as saying that the early Christians saw nothing whatsoever wrong with it. It is not “tolerated” in Scripture. It is assumed to be normal. Paganism and idolatry were also deeply grounded in the social fabric, as was emperor worship. Why challenge these and not slavery if Christianity was opposed to it? Incidently, the argument that “the culture was to blame” is the same one liberal “Christians” make in favor of feminism and the normalization of homosexuality. God could have changed the culture. In other ways, He did.

        “What they don’t realize is that without Christianity, slavery would still be here.”

        Slavery coexisted quite symbiotically with Christianity for a very long time without any real criticism on the part of the Church. What ended slavery, by and large, throughout the world was industrialization combined with notions of individual autonomy stemming from the Enlightenment.

        It is not plausible to suggest that there is anything intrinsic to Christianity that inevitably led to the abolition of slavery. The fact that slavery is provided for in both the Old and New Testaments, accepted as normal by the Fathers and that it persisted in Christian societies for over 18 centuries is conclusive proof that the idea is false. You can make a case for anything, just not plausibly. More than anything else, the notions of the Enlightenment, that man is the measure of all things, the notion of freedom being a right – a worldview as hostile to Christianity as to slavery – combined with the emergence of industrialization, gave rise to the abolition of slavery. Christianity was just window dressing.

        “As for you who are slaves, with respect and reverence you shall be subject to your masters as replicas of God.” – from the Didache, the letter of the Apostles

        “Slaves are to be admonished not to despise their masters, lest they offend God by their proud opposition to His ordinance. Masters are also to be admonished that they offend God by priding themselves on His gift to them.” – Pope Gregory the Great

        “Masters contribute greater benefits to their servants than servants to their masters. For the former furnish the money to purchase for them sufficient food and clothing, and bestow much care upon them in other respects, so that the masters pay them the larger service . . . they suffer much toil and trouble for your repose, ought they not in return to receive much honor from you, their servants?” – St. John Chrysostom

        “Astonishing! Where has he put slavery? As circumcision profits not, and uncircumcision does no harm, so neither doeth slavery, nor yet liberty. And that he might point out this with surpassing clarity, he says “But even if thou canst become free, use it rather,” that is, rather continue as a slave. Now upon what possible ground does he tell the person who might be set free to remain a slave? He means to point out that slavery is no harm but rather an advantage.” – St. John Chrysostom, commenting on I Corinthians 7:21-24

        Now, I don’t deny that there are isolated passages from certain fathers, Gregory of Nyssa, for example, that take a negative view of slavery. If it didn’t manifest itself as a serious conviction for many centuries after the foundation of Christianity, it is not due to anything inherent in Christianity, i.e., the catholic faith – “that which has always been believed by everyone everywhere”. Christianity itself is not the source of every development within Christian societies. People generate other ideas. They may be optional offshoots of Christianity – ideas developled by Christians which are not intrinsic to the faith. If you want to give Christianity the credit for abolishing slavery, please give it consternation for Communism, Nazism, the French Reign of Terror, the Klan, segregation, etc.

        This whole line of reasoning, that all advancement, science and goodness came from Christianity reminds me of the saying the Muslims have about Muhammad: Some one asked him if a particular saying attributed to him was something he actually said. He replied that all good and wise sayings are his.

        I’m not saying the people have not written books arguing the case for the Christian foundation of all good things. I’m just saying that other people have written books arguing for the Jewish origination of all good things, the Muslim origination of all good things and the Irish origination of all good things. Such ideas belong in a different genre than serious inquiry.

        It would be nice to hear people, especially clergy, defend Christianity for what it is, rather than what they would wish it to be.

        After the Ceaucescu goverment fell in Romania, the story goes, a monk came running overjoyed to his abbot shouting, “There’s been a revolution!” The abbot calmly replied, “Calm down, we have been ruled by sinful men and we will be ruled by sinful men. There has only ever been one revolution in human history, and that was an empty tomb.”

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          Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

          The “the deeper sense of the value of a human person” in Christianity was seen to be quite consistent with the institution of slavery for a very long time. That should indicate to reasonable people that developments to the contrary had an outside source, or at least one not intrinsic to Chrstianity.

          Christianity is not an ideology Scott, not a fixed system. Culture has been Christianized, but that does mean that all institutions and social habits conform to the deeper reaches of the Gospel and the moral vision that it offers. It doesn’t and slavery is one example. There is such a thing as moral progress in culture, and in Western/Christian culture the well from which the deeper sensibilities drew is indisputably Christian. That’s why slavery, even though compatible with Christian culture for many years was finally understood as incompatible. It also is the reason why we see developments in care for the sick, orphanages, child labor laws, all the things that make civilization more civil. There was a time when people thought it was moral to let 10 year old children work 16 hours a day. Where do you think the moral sensibility that practices like that were unjust came from?

          I think it is the notion of progress you are objecting to. That Christian moral values drove abolition is indisputable. That abolition was a movement that had its genesis in Christian circles is indisputable as well. That slavery was seen as compatible with culture before that has no real bearing on the intrinsic immorality of the institution itself.

          Read David Bentley Hart’s “Atheist Delusions” to understand how powerful this moral sensibility really is. Then read Carl Becker’s “Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers” to understand how even the foundational categories of thinking the scorners employed depended on the Christianity they ostensibly rejected.

          Christianity is not a power-bloc, an ideology, or political system.

          After the Ceaucescu goverment fell in Romania, the story goes, a monk came running overjoyed to his abbot shouting, “There’s been a revolution!” The abbot calmly replied, “Calm down, we have been ruled by sinful men and we will be ruled by sinful men. There has only ever been one revolution in human history, and that was an empty tomb.”

          True, but that “one revolution” is also what enables us to see Ceauscescu as the monster that he was and finally overthrow him. Rendering death dead as Christ did, tells us a whole lot about the value of life and the obligation we have to nurture and defend it. It’s a relative good Scott, but relative good that has the final good as its referent has value. So sure, the monk is right, but it speaks to man freed from Ceaucescu’s prison only in a general way. That man already knows man is sinful. He’s seen the depravity first hand. And, despite the monk’s admonition, living free is still better than life in prison. Relative judgments matter.

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            Scott Pennington says:

            “Culture has been Christianized, but that does mean that all institutions and social habits conform to the deeper reaches of the Gospel and the moral vision that it offers.”

            If the saints of the Church, not the government or common people, took over a thousand years to realize this, then it most certainly does mean that slavery “conforms to the deeper reaches of the Gospel and the moral vision that it offers.” It’s absurd to suggest that Christianity is intrinsically opposed to slavery when you have the Apostles in the Didache endorsing it.

            “There is such a thing as moral progress in culture, and in Western/Christian culture the well from which the deeper sensibilities drew is indisputably Christian. That’s why slavery, even though compatible with Christian culture for many years was finally understood as incompatible.”

            It was not nor is it incompatible with Christian culture. It may be incompatible with the idealism of post-Enlightenment, post-industrial culture. But that has nothing to do with Christianity.

            “There was a time when people thought it was moral to let 10 year old children work 16 hours a day. Where do you think the moral sensibility that practices like that were unjust came from?”

            Human empathy (which, despite the highly partisan authors you like, was not a Christian invention). In ages past, children worked on farms with their parents as soon as they could do so responsibly. There was no Christian obection to that. You’re talking about a problem of industrialism.

            “That Christian moral values drove abolition is indisputable.”

            Just because you state a thing is “indisputable” does not make it either more or less likely to be so. These are values that the writers of the Old and New Testaments, the Fathers, the Apostles themselves were unaware of or did not feel militated against slavery. I’m sure you know better, of course. Anti-slavery is not a Christian value, per se. It can’t ever be. It was not Christian moral values that drove abolition. It was the sentiments of certain Christians that had nothing of substance to do with Christianity. Most of them were Protestants. It is not possible – – not possible – – to make a serious argument against slavery from the Bible. They were doing nothing more than reading their own sentiments, at odds with countless generations of Christians before them, into the religion when it just wasn’t there.

            “That slavery was seen as compatible with culture before that has no real bearing on the intrinsic immorality of the institution itself.”

            Utterly wrong. If Christians, saints, Apostles did not see it as being intrinsically immoral, then it isn’t. No doubt it is preferable to have no slavery, especially given modern economies. No doubt most everyone would rather be free than a slave. But there is nothing in Christianity opposed to the institution. You find yourself in the position of accusing men much holier than you of serious sins because they showed no inkling of sharing your sentiments and speculations on this subject. I’m sure you can rationalize that away. And I’m sure that’s all it would be, a rationalization.

            “Read David Bentley Hart’s “Atheist Delusions” to understand how powerful this moral sensibility really is. Then read Carl Becker’s “Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers” to understand how even the foundational categories of thinking the scorners employed depended on the Christianity they ostensibly rejected.”

            Fr. Johannes, please quit suggesting I read this or that book whose authors you happen to be in agreement. If you can’t make your own case, you don’t have one. If they’re stating substantially the same thing as you are, my reply to them would be the same. I am not easily persuaded by Christian cheerleading of things that are absurd on their face.

            For example, you will find medical care facilities going back to the ancient Egyptians and and to ancient India. Pre-Christian Romans also had such facilities. This type of activity increased somewhat under early Christianity in Byzantium and Western Europe.

            Muslims started building hospitals during the 7th century. That they were originally staffed by Christians only means that Christians at the time had knowledge of medicine that the more primitive Islamic community lacked. Hospitals spread in the Islamic world and they even developed mental health treatment facilities.

            But real hospitals did not appear until – – you guessed it – – the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was fundamentally a movement away from Christianity. The religion of “Christians” in the leading countries of the Enlightenment was increasingly speculative, dubious of many Christian truth claims, and essentially an emerging humanism. If you delve somewhat deeper into the writings of Adams or Jefferson you will get a clearer picture of the fact that their Christianity was at best cultural and they were much more inclined to be freethinkers, regardless of what church they belonged to. That was what was in the air. It was in that environment that what we think of a modern advances took place.

            But that is due to a wearing off of Chrisitianity. If it were due to anything intrinsically in the religion, it would have developed much sooner and out of piety. It did not. That is actually indisputable. What you are ascribing to Christianity is really a product of a “losing of religion”. I won’t dispute that this decay of Christendom had some benefits. But taking a look at its end result makes me think that we have paid too high a price.

            What you posit is a Christianity that never knows what actions are sinful or not. It is remeniscent of the “evolving standards of decency” pontificated by the liberals on our Supreme Court. It has no substance but willfulness.

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            Scott Pennington says:

            Fr. Johannes,

            I stand corrected on one point: Although I new about medical facilities in Byzantium, I did not know that they were in the mold of modern hospitals. What I’d read was obviously regarding Western hospitals.

            As to the first Muslim hospital in Damascus, I was a few years off, it opened in 707.

            As to the rest,

            “But the Enlightenment philosophes were more dependent on Christianity than you realize.”

            I never suggested that they were not dependent on Christianity. I suggested that they went beyond and afoul of Christianity.

            “Christianity is the soil and water of Western Culture. But if you perceive this statement only in polemical terms, if you fail to comprehend the foundational presuppositions that shape and direct culture (even the anti-culture that characterizes modernity), then Christianity is reduced to what you promote most: a moralistic system that needs to be imposed from the top down.”

            I have never once suggested that Christianity was not the “soil and water of Western Culture”. It’s just that other things have grown there (the French Revolution, Marxism, etc.) which are also offshoots of Christianity, but are not Christianity. Same with anti-slavery. Not that anti-slavery is a bad idea, just that it owes no more to Christianity than other spinoffs. That is not to say that Christians did not justify their anti-slavery in terms of Christianity. It’s just that they did so without any justification.

            I also have never reduced Christianity to a moral (nor moralistic) system. You’re chasing phantoms of your own creation. However, I do believe that morality is a serious enough matter to impose it by law. Again, if you think about it, you would agree. Our laws against murder, rape, etc. are all “moralistic” and “imposed”. But we’ve had the discussion ad nauseum. I see that it really hasn’t done you much good.

            “If that’s the case, then why did Christ choose the way of the Cross? Why not call down the twenty legions of angels instead?”

            Well, actually Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. I’ll answer your question if you explain why God appeared to Constatine (with his legions), or used empire as a vehicle for the spread of Christianity. Also please answer why He has cursed every democratic country with anti-Christian moral degeneration, not in the sinfulness of the people, but in twisting the standards of what is right and wrong?

            There’s no answer to any of that.

            “So the slavery question is merely one of economic pragmatism?”

            You have a true gift for libel which you have exercised on many occasions. In comment 8 below I made clear to Rob that since I prefer to be free and most people do, it seems to me better if there is no slavery. The power that a master has over a slave can be easily abused. Though there is nothing unchristiian about having such power, it is more prudent in my opinion if that particular power did not exist. Admittedly that sentiment is the product of modern culture. It was most definitely not the teaching of the Church, and for so long that it cannot ever be. I do not defend slavery as contemporary policy. But, of course, I did not suggest the only thing militating against slavery was economics.

            What I actually wrote, rather than what you might have wanted me to write, was:

            “No doubt it is preferable to have no slavery, especially given modern economies.”

            You might want to look in a dictionary to distinguish the concepts of “especially” vs. “only”.

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          Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

          But real hospitals did not appear until – – you guessed it – – the Enlightenment.

          Nope. You really need to study your history more Scott (that’s why I suggest books you should read). Hospitals (of the kind that developed into what we have today) had their genesis in Byzantium. In fact, St. Basil is credited with bringing them into being (along with orphanages). (Where did the 7th century Muslim claim come from? That hardly seems credible.)

          Read: Byzantine Hospitals. Fr. Morelli also covers some history in his article: The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing, see the section “A Short History of Healing in the Church.”

          Further, the Enlightenment is not the monolithic bogey-man you portray it to be. Yes, the hostility towards Christianity is indisputable. Yes, currents were unleashed still operative today. But other currents countered it. For example, historians ask why the virus unleashed by the French Revolution never jumped the English Channel. Some argue that the answer is the Great Awakening in England. It saved England from the French bloodbath. (This is also when and where abolition began.)

          But the Enlightenment philosophes were more dependent on Christianity than you realize. The question about Christ and culture runs deeper than polemics, a point that better thinkers than you understand/understood (Pope Benedict, Pat. Kyrill, Met. Hilarion, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Paul Johnson, Winston Churchill, Robert Nisbet, Roger Kimball, Roger Scruton, Fr. George Florovsky, Robert P. George to name a few off the top of my head). That’s why I recommend Carl Becker’s “The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers.” It’s not that Becker agrees with me. It’s that I agree with Becker. He’s a far better teacher and thinker than I am — or you.

          Christianity is the soil and water of Western Culture. But if you perceive this statement only in polemical terms, if you fail to comprehend the foundational presuppositions that shape and direct culture (even the anti-culture that characterizes modernity), then Christianity is reduced to what you promote most: a moralistic system that needs to be imposed from the top down.

          If that’s the case, then why did Christ choose the way of the Cross? Why not call down the twenty legions of angels instead?

          One more thing:

          No doubt it is preferable to have no slavery, especially given modern economies. No doubt most everyone would rather be free than a slave. But there is nothing in Christianity opposed to the institution.

          So the slavery question is merely one of economic pragmatism?

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          Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

          As to the first Muslim hospital in Damascus, I was a few years off, it opened in 707.

          Again, do you have a reference for this? This hardly seems credible. Most likely the hospital was staffed by Christians.

          I have never once suggested that Christianity was not the “soil and water of Western Culture”. It’s just that other things have grown there (the French Revolution, Marxism, etc.) which are also offshoots of Christianity, but are not Christianity. Same with anti-slavery. Not that anti-slavery is a bad idea, just that it owes no more to Christianity than other spinoffs. That is not to say that Christians did not justify their anti-slavery in terms of Christianity. It’s just that they did so without any justification.

          When you approach Christianity as a philosophical structure or moral system, your statement makes sense but only superficially. The French Revolution and Marxism are not an “offshoot” of Christianity (“offshoot” is a vague term here), although they are certainly a product of Western/Christian culture, that is, dependent on the deep structure categories provided by Christianity that shaped and directed the development of Western culture. I’m not going to go into a discussion here of how they actually transvalued Christian values, but there is a world of difference between the moral vision informing the French Revolution and Marxism (nascent totalitarianism), and abolition. That should be crystal clear.

          Nevertheless, I asked you if the slavery question was only a matter of economic pragmatism. You answered:

          Admittedly that sentiment is the product of modern culture. It was most definitely not the teaching of the Church, and for so long that it cannot ever be. I do not defend slavery as contemporary policy. But, of course, I did not suggest the only thing militating against slavery was economics.

          In other words, you really didn’t answer the question. I didn’t ask you about your private sentiments or social dynamics. I asked you on what ground, if any, ought slavery to be outlawed? From what I can discern, there is no moral ground. Your only answer seems to be the one I supplied: economic pragmatism.

          Moving on,

          However, I do believe that morality is a serious enough matter to impose it by law. Again, if you think about it, you would agree. Our laws against murder, rape, etc. are all “moralistic” and “imposed”.

          Well, yes, of course. This is a given. But law follows culture, and religion is the ground of culture. If culture shifts, law will shift and the consensus that exists that allows the “imposition” will erode. Authoritarian decrees might impede lawlessness of a season, but it certainly will not stop decline. From another direction, you invest a lot of hope in authorities who themselves depend on factors from which they derive their authority that they cannot control. The only other option is that a nation becomes authoritarian or, God forbid, totalitarian.

          That’s where your call for top down authority always breaks down. It can’t change the hearts or minds of men. (That too, in case you are wondering, is why Christ choose the way of the Cross and did not call down twelve legions of angels.)

          One more thing:

          Although I new about medical facilities in Byzantium, I did not know that they were in the mold of modern hospitals.

          Not sure if this was a slip of the tongue, but hospitals in Byzantium were not in the mold of modern hospitals. It’s the other way around.

  8. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Scott Pennington says:

    “If the institution of slavery was and is morally neutral at worst (as you seem to imply), why care either way?”

    Rob,

    “Not inherently unchristian” means what it means and no more. I base that on the fact that in the Bible there is no prohibition of slavery but rather a social structure (in the Law of Moses) that approves of and defines the practice. Moreover, some of the Church Fathers explicitly approve of the practice and counsel slaves to be obedient and work well for their masters. From that I have to conclude that the practice of slavery is “not inherently unchristian”.

    That does not mean that I don’t believe that being free (i.e., relatively speaking, no one is free in the absolute sense) is preferable to being a slave. Logically, then, it is better if everyone is free.

    My objection is to the tendency of modern Christians to read their own moral beliefs into Christian doctrine despite overwhelming evidence that some of these moral beliefs are of quite recent vintage and were foreign to earlier generations of Christians. When someone says the Christianity is opposed to slavery, he is either ignorant or lying. That, of course, does not mean that individual Christians, including myself, cannot oppose slavery.

    Enlightenment/American ideals and beliefs are not necessarily Christian ideas and beliefs. If they were, they would have been adopted in Christian lands long, long ago. We tend to confuse American love of “liberty” and “freedom” with some Christian imperative. The inner logic of the United States might have made a showdown with slavery inevitable. But that has nothing to do with Christianity, just Americanism. Some American Christians (most intensely evangelicals) wrap the Spirit of ’76 up in a nice little bundle with their religion into One Thing. This is not really any different than the ethnocentric Hellenism that some Greeks practice. Not to pick on the Greeks, though. Some Slavs also mix nationalism and Orthodoxy into an inseparable alloy. In point of fact, mixing Christianity with Americanism is worse in a way.

    The internal logic of Enlightenment Liberalism necessarily leads to the adoption of unchristian and immoral policies. At least it has in every single place it’s been put into practice as a political system. That is the inherent weakness of conservative American Christianity. A house divided against itself cannot stand and no man can serve two masters. Belief in representative government and liberty (Americanism) guarantees that Christian morality will never prevail.

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    Jim says:

    I don’t like how the article says “The Presbyterian Church” as if there is only one. This is the PCUSA denomination they are talking about. It is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the US, but it is not the only one. Not all Presbyterians belongs to this group. Actually, I went to a PCUSA church for a couple years, and the vast majority would never support this decision. It is always the higher ups that are corrupt and follow the latest intellectual fads.

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      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      Jim, that’s the title they gave the article and was probably calculated to make the vote seem universal. As I mentioned in my introduction, the article carries a bias. Nevertheless, I just posted a new article on the same topic and gave it my own title that recognizes the distinction you made in your comment.

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    Eliot Ryan says:

    The muddled mess and the confusion of this world is due to the fact that many believed the world’s lies and bought into satan’s scheme. And the biggest lie of all is “You only have one life, live it to the fullest!” Man forgets that his goal is to acquire eternal life and angelic nature. To the sinful beastly male, his transitory unions with women or men is enough.
    .
    As long as people are not like angels, the family is necessary during our earthly awaiting of Heaven. Marriage is a favor done to human nature and to life propagation.
    .
    The saint rises to a much higher level by reaching chastity of his own will.

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    Eliot Ryan says:

    Scott: Freethinkers? Thinking does not take place in a vacuum and every “freethinker” has been influenced by other “freethinkers” of the past and the present. There is a “flow of thoughts” or a “net of thoughts” and we are exposed to it directly (when reading something) and indirectly (when we accept “evil telegrams” or we are being “inspired”).
    Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity was inspired by a dream. In the dream he was speeding down a steep mountainside on a sled and noticed that the stars above him were refracting light into spectra of colors that he had never seen before. Meditating on that dream he came up with the thought experiment through which he worked out the principle of relativity. The Russian chemist Mendelev discovered the periodic table method of classifying elements according to atomic weight while dreaming.
    Frederich Kekule discovered the chemical structure of benzene in a reverie or day-dream of a snake seizing its own tail. Hence, he went on to say: “Let us learn to dream, gentlemen, and then we may perhaps find the truth.” Other dream-inspired creations include literary masterpieces and music compositions. Even precognition appears in dreams.

    We are not able to distinguish our own thoughts from the thoughts that come from outside of us.

    …. thoughts are on all sides. If revealed, they would turn out into a tremendous net. And everyone has a radio station in his inner being. Man is a much more precise apparatus than a radio station, or a TV set, it’s just that its function is disturbed. What a precise being a man is! How divine! But we do not know how to appreciate that. We do not know how to join the source of life and feel the joy of life. But we always let enemy impute to us… Lord revealed to St. Anthony the radius of thoughts surrounding us. When he saw them, he sighed: “O, Lord, who can pass through this?” And a voice he heard: “Only humble and gentle ones”. They touch only such. They comprise merely of peace and silence. Divine radiuses, a sign of an absolute divine power. They do not join anything negative. (Elder Tadej of Serbia)

    .
    This is why I prefer to read what has been revealed to the Holy Fathers.
    .
    You say that “I won’t dispute that this decay of Christendom had some benefits. But taking a look at its end result makes me think that we have paid too high a price.” What are the benefits then and why all the hypocrisy and all the lies? Armed conflicts and invasions are still happening; world hunger continues and epidemics are still erupting in many corners of the world; people (born and unborn) are being killed.

    The perfect holy man, who gave away his life and showed that he can also create it, raising people from the dead and making the blind see (Luke VII, 22), is only Jesus.
    Why is it that medicine does not recognise Him? Even more, it doesn’t even mention Him!” (Fr. Arsenie Boca)

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      Scott Pennington says:

      Eliot,

      “Freethinkers” means more than “free thinkers”. The first term refers to those unrestrained by any firm allegiance to an orthodoxy. Or, as Websters defines it: one who forms opinions on the basis of reason, independent of authority; especially one who doubts or denies religious dogma.

      “What are the benefits then and why all the hypocrisy and all the lies?”

      On this, you have a point. Perhaps I should explain a little more precisely what I had in mind: There were many advancements in the West that coincided with the Enlightenment. Scientific and medical knowledge and the treatment of individuals in more benevolent fashion by legal systems are a few of the things I had in mind. Whether this was simply the evolution of human knowledge and empathy as our technical prowess grew or directly emanating from the doubt and rejection of orthodoxies, I can’t say for sure. However, what I do know is that the anthropocentric worldview that emerged from the Enlightenment is not Chrisitan and has had many tragic unchristian results.

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        Eliot Ryan says:

        People think they are something, they think, they know. This is simply not true. Everything has been revealed to us from eternity. Man has no idea that he is a weapon in hands of evil spirits. “We always have a boss: Either God, or the devil and our passions.”
        Man has freedom only as regards his choices: we can think and decide whether we want to do good or not.
        .
        This is why Christ did choose the way of the Cross instead of calling down the twenty legions of angels. He said “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Morality enforced by law won’t save souls. God gives time and plenty of hints to all reasonable beings to come to their senses and join the absolute good, absolute love…

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    Rob Zechman says:

    Interesting thoughts, Scott. I must wonder, though: to what extent should morality be enforced by law, and whose moral guidelines should we use? The parable of the rich man and Lazarus seems to imply that a lack of empathy and generosity on the part of the wealthy is a vice worthy of Hell, but I’m sure you’re not suggesting that a socialist government is more “Christian” than a capitalist one, are you? Excessive drinking may be immoral, but what powers do we give the government to prevent this from happening in the privacy of one’s own home?

    I understand the theory behind your ideas (excessive liberty leads to license and vice), I’m just not sure how this plays out in real life.

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