Monday, January 23, 2023

The Short-Sightedness of Today's Leaders: Why We Need to Think Long-Term

Midjourney AI
We dream of a better world, and barely plan for tomorrow. Thinking decades ahead seems lost on this present age. 

It's no secret that many of today's leaders tend to focus on the short-term. Politicians have to worry about getting elected every few years, so they tend to focus on policies that will please the electorate in the immediate future. They have strong incentives to really exaggerate and polarize the electorate, to the serious harm of the nation, in order to expand and firm up their support base. Corporations, meanwhile, are under pressure to deliver consistent quarter-by-quarter growth in order to please shareholders. Recently we've seen this with the massive layoffs in the tech industry, which are driven not by real necessity, as I see it, but out of a need to show the shareholders that they'll do anything to maximize profit. And for some religious groups, the belief that we're living in the end times can lead to a sense of apathy about the future. 

That last point is one that I want to expand on a little before proceeding. I can imagine someone reading that and say 'not all religions,' despite the fact I clearly wrote 'some religious groups.' The fact is that it's even worse than that with evangelicals and Pentecostals. Within the religious right in the US there is a strong anti-intellectual streak derived from a Bible that condemns the wise, which, when combined with ridiculously detailed end times beliefs, leads them beyond apathy to antipathy towards efforts to make the world better. 

This short-sightedness is a problem, because climate change and other global challenges are issues that require long-term thinking to solve. We can't keep kicking the can down the road and expecting future generations to deal with the consequences.

Imagine a world where politicians think at least 100 years into the future when they make policy decisions. Imagine if corporations focused on sustainable growth, rather than short-term gains. And imagine if religious groups put more emphasis on stewardship and care for the earth, rather than just waiting for the end times to arrive.

We need to elect politicians who have a long-term vision, and hold corporations accountable for their impact on the environment and society. And as individuals, we need to start thinking about the long-term consequences of our actions. I, for one, want to be a good ancestor. This doesn't mean we ignore the problems of today or let injustice slide. It means look to the far future and act in the present accordingly.

Only by thinking long-term can we hope to create a sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Dyeus: The Indo-European Sky Father

This is a fascinating explanation of where we are in understanding the origin of Indo-European by way of tracing back the identity of the "Sky Father." The description from YouTube is below the video.
Description:
In this video, we explore the Proto-Indo-European Sky Father. A deity revered by many cultures throughout history. From the Greek Zeus to the Roman Jupiter, the Sky Father god represented the celestial day-lit sky. Hosted by Dr. Andrew M. Henry. 

Bibliography: 
David Anthony, "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language," 2007. 
Ranko Matasovic, "A Reader in Comparative Indo-European Religion," 2018. 
Mallory and Adams, "The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World," 2006. 
West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth, Oxford Press, 2007. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

An Interview with Rev. Andre Hensley

The video below was filmed in 2008, so before smartphones. Perhaps that's why it sort of like a hidden cam video. A couple interviews Rev. Andre Hensley, president of the Universal Life Church, and so far as I can tell, the interview was on the up-and-up. Given that Rev. Andre looked at the camera at least once, I'm figuring it must be okay. In any case, it provides some interesting insights from his perspective on the Universal Life Church, at least up to that time. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Will the Real Universal Life Church Please Stand Up?

Midjourney AI
Over the past several months I've blogged a few times about the schism taking place in the United Methodist Church. Really, this isn't anything new for Protestantism. We didn't get to the point of having thousands of Protestant denominations by everyone getting along! Did you know, though, that there have been splits in the oldest denomination offering ordination to anyone for life and for free? The Universal Life tradition currently has two major divisions, and possibly a handful of smaller spin-off groups.

It's hard to say how many smaller organizations claim the Universal Life Church name without being affiliated with the headquarters in Modesto, California. Some may have started out as chartered congregations and then decided to do their own thing. Internet searches turn up little branches of the church, but it's hard to quantify them, as it's unclear how many are still active, and there's currently no centralized list with which I'm familiar. There is, however, a very strong competitor in the space, and that's the ULC Monastery. 

In 1995 a ULC minister named Dan Zimmerman started a website for his congregation, which was called Universal Life Church/ULC Monastery, Inc. It was based out of Tucson Arizona. Rev. Zimmerman requested to be authorized to accept and forward to the ULC HQ any ordination requests received on his site, so that people could be ordained by our church through that method. Authorization was granted, and it's my understanding that at that time the ULC HQ didn't have a site of its own, so it made sense to open up that channel. Besides, Rev. Kirby Hensely always emphasized that one of the most important duties of ULC ministers was to ordain others on their request. 

In 2005 Zimmerman asked one of his members to assist with operating part of the site from Seattle Washington. In 2006 they had an internal management dispute, so Brother Dan did the responsible thing and closed his site on 08/01/06. At that time the ULC HQ authorization for them them to take ordination requests online was revoked. after that, the Seattle people carried out a sort of  hostile takeover of the Monastery website and changed it to be themonastery.org. They proceeded to call themselves the Universal Life Church Monastery Storehouse, Inc. This church continues to this day, and seems to be operating under the name "Universal Life Church Ministries," although you'll still see the Monastery name in use. They are a separate organization that is not affiliated with the original Universal Life Church with headquarters in Modesto, California. 

If you were ordained by the Universal Life Church prior to 2006 and contact the Monastery, they will tell you that due to a database change they don't have access to ordinations prior to that year. However, they will issue you a replacement credential with the date you provide, and it includes a notation at the bottom with a date that the ordination was allegedly 'renewed.' In legal terms, that's the actual ordination date for the Universal Life Church Ministries, as they did not have the Modesto-ordained minister on record prior to that date. Anyone familiar with the Universal Life Church as Rev. Kirby J. Hensley presented it would know that ordination is 'for life,' and therefore no 'renewal' is needed. 

Technically, I suppose there was a database change in 2006. It was a brand new database for a new organization not affiliated with the original Universal Life Church. However, it seems deceitful to me for the ULCM not to be transparent about what's going on. Further, the Monastery when on a buying spree over the intervening years and has obtained and put to use numerous domains bearing the Universal Life Church name in some form, as well as domains like 'getordained.com.' Some of those domains are attached to stand-alone websites that communicate on the backend with the Monastery but look a little different up front, while others simply redirect to one of the ULCM sites. Meanwhile, the only domain connected directly with the ULC HQ is ulchq.com.

Now, to be clear, the ordinations offered through the Universal Life Church Ministries/Universal Life Church Monastery are perfectly valid for officiating legally-recognized weddings. If you were ordained through that denomination of Universal Life, you are still ordained...just not by the Universal Life Church that Rev. Kirby J. Hensley founded. In practice this shouldn't ever matter to to you. However, it might be worth asking whether you want to support such an organization. That's entirely up to you.

The Universal Life Church international headquarters is definitely lost in the online shuffle, and not only because the Monastery owns and uses so many domains, dominating search results. So far as I have seen, the Universal Life Church in Modesto doesn't do any online advertising. Further, the official website is badly outdated and broken. The store shows items out of

stock which are not, and there's no new information about current happenings listed. The page navigator at the top also behaves very oddly, making it necessary to use the page links in the footer to get around the site. 

There is a page at ULC.net which was previously authorized to carry official ULC courses, but that is no longer the case. There are other materials available through that website, but unfortunately these are reportedly not being fulfilled. The ULC HQ has been receiving calls from people who have ordered through that site and never received their orders, even after months of waiting. Since it's a separate site and the store is not connected to ULC HQ, there's really nothing they can do.   

So there you have it. Religious division takes place even among the mail order ministry/online ordination denominations. As is often the case, in my experience, it's less about doctrine and beliefs, and more about personalities and control. More's the pity. 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

A Split Among the Arkansas United Methodists

Valley Grove by McGhiever (CC BY-SA 3.0)
There's trouble among the United Methodists of Arkansas, and it's no surprise.

If you've looked over some of my recent posts here you'll know that the current split happening the United Methodist Church holds a certain fascination for me. It was the denomination of my maternal grandfather, and when I was growing up Catholic it was one of only a few Protestant denominations that I'd heard of in northeast Missouri. Locally the two best known churches were Southern Baptist and United Methodist, although we did have a tiny Church of the Nazarene congregation as well as one or two Assemblies of God. Beyond my background, it's intriguing to me as an observer of human sociology. What people believe, how they behave toward one another, and what holds them together or pushes them apart is to me the core of human religious social dynamics. 

Having finished college at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas (way back in 1999), it caught my eye recently when I saw Cabot and Searcy mentioned in connection with some United Methodist difficulties. It seems that this past November the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church refused to ratify disaffiliation agreements for three churches in which there was a super-majority in favor of leaving. The churches in question are located in Jonesboro, Cabot, and Searcy. I don't know if I ever went to Jonesboro, but I doubt it. Searcy I got to know quite well, living there for two years. As for Cabot, I drove through there on my way to either Jacksonville to visit a church or to Little Rock to do some shopping. 

The Jonesboro and Searcy United Methodist parishioners have opted to sue for their freedom, since the conference wouldn't give it to them. The Cabot UMC took a path I find much more interesting. The majority, who wanted to go the independent, conservative route, simply left. The final Sunday as a single congregation was on Christmas, and the very next week 320 now-former members gathered at a local school for worship separately. They left behind only 130 people at Cabot United Methodist Church, and evidently only one of their pastors stayed on. 5 choir members were left, which was not enough for them to continue. Even the organist was gone. 

On the brighter side, some wealthy individual stepped up anonymously to pay off the mortgage on the UMC building, giving them some security as they sort themselves out. There was evidently even enough left over to help with some expenses in the meantime, giving the church some runway. Additionally, a university student was found to play the piano for worship, and 16 people have expressed interest in joining the choir. With fewer people, some of the more timid are perhaps finding the courage to step up and take a more active role. 

What I find darkly amusing, on the other hand, is the optimistic view about church growth that the pastors of the two groups are expressing to the press. The lead minister of the split-off group cited "research" that he believes indicates that "new churches reach new people." In reality, new churches tend to attract people who are already believers and looking for a new church. Similarly, the minister of the UMC parish that remains was quoted as saying that "[b]iblically, churches split and more people come to know Christ [as a result]. So that's not a bad thing." I'm not sure where the 'biblically' part comes in, unless he's talking about the conflict between Paul and Barnabas over Mark, which resulted in each going his own way in preaching the Gospel. That feels like a little bit of a stretch in terms of application in this case.

The general reality for Christianity in America today is that it is in decline. As evangelicals continue to oppose human rights in favor of a puritanical view of morality. take a hateful stance against those who differ from their vision of the world, and attempt through Christian nationalism to regain coercive power over others, their mask is off and more people are seeing the ugly truth. While I believe that both of these specific churches may well find a way to grow again along their own paths, the demographic trend away from their beliefs, whether mainline or evangelical, will only continue to decline.

And that's good for all of us. 

See Also:

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

How Evangelicalism Dominated the United States

Midjourney AI
You really should read through the article "More people have noticed Christianity’s decline in America" by Cassidy McGillicuddy. It seems as though I've been reading many of the same books and articles as her, though she's managed to synthesize all of it far more coherently than me. I just want to comment on a few parts of her excellent writing on the topic of the decline of Christianity in the United States.

In Nonverts, Bullivant points out that America may have lagged behind other secularizing countries because of how patriotism got indelibly linked with intense Christian faith. To be atheistic, to criticize Christians’ stranglehold on government and culture for any reason, was to implicitly declare oneself a traitor—and even the enemy of all that was good. In particular, Americans linked communism, which was their big enemy during the Cold War, to atheism.

That's exactly what happened. During that time, to not be attending a church was pretty much the same as declaring oneself an atheist and potentially a communist, both of which were considered anti-patriotic. In the post-WWII era, there was no room for dissent when it came to declaring America 'great.' This was so much the case than many atheists reportedly found a safe haven in Unitarian churches. It gave them the appearance of respectable church-going, without the dogma or even necessary affirmation of faith in God. 

One of the Christian leaders who came to prominence in those same days, Billy Graham, became a powerful voice for decades by asserting the imagined links between faith, American-style democracy, and patriotism. The high-level politicians he advised, like Dwight Eisenhower, came to “evoke faith as a weapon against communism, just as Graham had done.” 

A few months ago I read "One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America" by Kevin M. Kruse and was shocked at a few points. One of the biggest learnings from this was the major role Billy Graham played in steering the United States into rampant patriotic evangelical Christianity. When he passed away in 2018 the media and some politicians kept referring to him as "America's pastor," and he became the first religious leader to lie in honor at the United States Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C. I thought it was strange that he'd be called the nation's 'pastor' since he was in practice more of an evangelist, and his sermons were always evangelistic but not pastoral. As his son Franklin Graham took the spotlight more and more, I took deep offense at what I thought was a contrasting, hateful viewpoint coming from him. He seemed in practice nothing to me like his father. Now I know how wrong I was.

Billy Graham used every bit of influence he could muster to promote conservative evangelical hegemony. He was in deep with Richard Nixon, and while he may have softened some later in life, he was certainly a lifelong believer in the Republican Party and the necessary tie between Christianity and American patriotism. He should receive the lion's share of the credit for laying the foundation of Christian nationalism in the United States today.

Very quickly, the internet connected people. It also gave them spaces to build communities of their own that entirely lacked Christian control and oversight. In those spaces, doubting Christians could network with other doubters and find answers. Often, these were not the hand-waving “Sunday School answers” that their church leaders gave—or approved. When these Christians deconverted, their online communities provided them with space to deconstruct their beliefs and discuss their frustrations.

This is something I've heard time and again from ex-Mormons in particular. Before the internet it could be quite difficult to find opposing views to the religious faith in which one was raised, especially if the person lived in an area dominated by a particular religion. This is especially true of Utah, where a little over 60% of the population holds membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This condition of being sheltered religiously holds true in other places as well though, such as the American South, where fully 76% identify as Christian. 34% of those are white evangelicals. In such places even the public libraries can be short on material that goes against the dominant local narrative. With the advent of the internet people have been able to find and share information, and critical thinkers with questions soon become doubters and, in many cases, unbelievers.

At the same time as McGillicuddy highlights, it isn't just about shared information. People have formed and found communities online that share their perspectives and identities. When I was in my early and mid-teens the consumer internet was still a few years away, so all my reading about other religious beliefs was very solitary. No one that I knew shared the same interest as me. Had the internet been available, I might have made a different decision than leaving the Roman Catholic Church for mainline  Protestantism and then evangelical Christianity, because in addition to information I could have found people to identify with and bounce ideas off of. This is vitally important now for the most vulnerable teens, such as LGBTQ+ youth who have religiously conservative parents. Conformity for them means fewer conflicts, while coming out while they are teens can lead to expulsion from the home or even being sent off to a Christian youth home in hopes of making them deconvert. The internet provides them access to support to keep it together, hopefully, until they are old enough to safely move away from home. 

When I was growing up I was taught that the United States was the "land of the free" and that we didn't have an established church. It was a point of pride. And yet, we had the next worst thing in a religio-political ideology that maintained coercive control over our lives. Most simply accepted it as the way things were. No more is this the case, and as far as I'm concerned, evangelical Christianity can't die out fast enough. 

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Friday, January 13, 2023

Projeto Querino (Podcast)

Podcast do projeto Querino. Em oito episódios, a série mostra como a História explica o Brasil de hoje. Uma história que talvez você ainda não tenha ouvido, lido ou visto. Idealizado e apresentado pelo jornalista Tiago Rogero, o podcast é uma produção da Rádio Novelo.

O projeto Querino é apoiado pelo Instituto Ibirapitanga.

Para conteúdos adicionais, acesse: http://projetoquerino.com.br/

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Highlighting the Saint Leo DBA Program with Dr. Dale Mancini, Current Students, & Alumni (Podcast)

Eventually, someday, I would like to obtain a Doctoral degree. I had thought for a long time that it would be a Doctor of Ministry, since my early ambitions in life were to be a minister. While that degree is still a possibility, the Doctor of Business Administration is, for me, a very attractive alternative. However, I wouldn't recommend anyone in my line of work obtain a DBA either early in mid-career. Ageism is real, and the last thing I need as I approach my 50s is something to justify being told that I'm 'too senior' for a role. No, for me a DBA is a captstone to a career, something that should lead to consulting work or, in my case, contribute to ministry capabilities. Specifically, since I'm planning to shift into non-profit work, with a view towards community development, the management and leadership expertise that comes with earning a DBA could be very worthwhile. 

Episode Description

In this episode of the Saint Leo 360 podcast, we feature a recording from a recent information session on the Saint Leo DBA program. The discussion features information on the program from Dr. Dale Mancini, director of this doctoral program, along with testimonials from current students and alumni of the program. They covered:

  • The benefits of earning a doctoral degree and how a terminal degree can greatly benefit graduates in the job market
  • Why the Saint Leo DBA program stands out
  • Admission requirements for those interested in applying
  • When students can start the Saint Leo DBA program at certain times throughout the year
  • Examples of courses and topics covered in the program
  • How supportive the faculty members are who teach in the program
  • Success stories from current students enrolled in the program and alumni who have completed it
Learn More about the Saint Leo DBA Program

Check out the Saint Leo DBA program page to learn more about this unique doctorate program offered by Saint Leo University.

Have additional questions about this program? Contact Dr. Dale Mancini, director of the Saint Leo DBA program, at (352) 588-7199 or at dale.mancini@saintleo.edu.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Chaplaincy on the Rise

Midjourney AI
As the United States becomes increasingly 'spiritual but not religious,' we're seeing a steep decline in church attendance, leading over time to church closures. It's quite possible that the COVID-19 pandemic has expedited the process. Since humans are creatures of habit, once we get out of the habit of going to church we might lose it for good. Still, people aren't necessarily becoming atheists on their way out the church door. What turns us off is dogma and hypocrisy, but that doesn't leave us automatically believing that there is no spiritual reality. And, even people like me who no longer embrace supernatural beliefs find value in a form of secular spirituality. So while we're losing houses of worship, there is a type of ministry that continues on: chaplaincy. 

Dr. Anne Klaesyen is a Leader Emerita of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, and she is also Humanist Chaplain at New York University (NYU) and Ethical Humanist Religious Life Adviser at Columbia University. I got to know her while I was an organizer and then board member for Sunday Assembly NYC, which for a time before it shut down met at the Ethical Culture building on Central Park West in New York. She is deeply knowledgeable and very personable, and so I was amused to read the following last year in an article:

When Anne Klaeysen first applied to be the humanist chaplain at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, in the mid-2000s, the deans interviewing her went straight to the point: “The other chaplains want to know,” they said, “if you’re a religion-hating atheist.” Klaeysen readily assured them that no, she didn’t hate religion, but wasn’t surprised by the assumption. 

While now in 2022 it's practically commonplace for Humanist chaplains to serve in universities and other settings (although the US military, dominated by evangelicals, continues to refuse to acknowledge them), but just over a decade ago it was considered highly unusual. In reality, the beliefs of the chaplain are not at the forefront (at least, they really shouldn't be) in an interaction with someone seeking their services. Whether a Humanist, United Methodist, Sikh, or whatever else, the chaplain is there to walk with the individual or family through a challenging time. The chaplain facilitates discernment within the scope of the worldview of the people they are serving. 

In interviews I conducted with chaplains in greater Boston, all said they work around end of life care, and almost all engage with people’s big-picture life questions – what one chaplain described to me as people’s peripheral vision, the questions hovering just out of sight until a crisis forces them into view. Rather than offering answers, chaplains offer a listening ear. Describing her work in a hospital, one explained her role as creating “a bit of a holding space” and to “validate what a person is feeling and give them some sense of hope or stability in the midst of chaotic times.”

According to our recent survey on demand for chaplains’ services, about half of people who connected with a chaplain did so in health care settings, including hospices. Respondents said that chaplains listened to them, prayed, offered spiritual or religious guidance, or comforted them in a time of need. “He was just so compassionate with my mom and I when we lost my grandfather, and it was a sudden loss,” one participant recalled of meeting with a chaplain. “I knew then God had sent him there to help me deal with the pain and loss.” Another said: “We talked for hours and he truly seemed to understand the path my life had been on. I will never forget his kindness!”

Others said chaplains helped them negotiate conflict, advocated on their behalf, or directed them to resources. Loss, mental and emotional health, death and dying, and dealing with change were frequent topics of conversation. Respondents described chaplains as compassionate, good listeners, knowledgeable, helpful and trustworthy. Those who were not religiously affiliated interacted with chaplains in similar ways as those who are not. (Wendy Cadge)

When I was in my early 20s the ministry training program I was in took a field trip of sorts to a hospital, where we learned about the chaplaincy program. I found it all very interesting, and gained a respect for the type of work they do. At the same time, I was certain it wasn't for me, because I wanted to be able to share my faith (at the time I was evangelical), and I was already committed to mission service in Brazil. Now, in my late 40s (and as a Humanist), it's no longer so far-fetched for me to imagine going into that line of ministerial work. It would be good to simply be there for people, using professional tools and techniques that have been proven to help. 

None of this is to say I'll be quitting my day job any time soon, nor that it's my ultimate career goal, but if I were a young person considering ministry now I'd definitely look more to chaplaincy that parish ministry. Parish openings are drying up with the decline of organized religion, while institutions will no doubt continue hiring chaplains to attend to the spiritual hurt of clients as part of their overall care.

See Also:

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The United Methodist Church Split (Video)

The following video explains quite well the current situation with the division in the United Methodist Church. As much as I thought I already knew, this brought even more to my attention. For example, I hadn't heard of the Methodist Collegiate Church as an alternative comparable to the Global Methodist Church. Personally, it looks to me like further confirmation of my belief that new denominations form instead of churches and ministers going to other existing denominations because of a need for control. 

Monday, January 9, 2023

Making a Ministry Through Online Ordination

Most of the time it seems that people apply for ordination online for one of two reasons. Either it's a joke to the people involved, or it's a practical matter of being able to officiate weddings. Really, in the United States the only ceremony that would legally require an ordained minister is marriage, since it has an impact on vital statistics and public records. Baptisms and other religious ceremonies need no government support, and so could be performed by anyone. I wonder how common it is for someone to seek ordination through the Universal Life Church or another, similar group to do so with the intention of actually starting a ministry. As I've already noted elsewhere, there is more prestige (though it's diminishing, in our secularizing society) in being traditionally ordained than through an online organization, and formal preparation tends to produce more effective or at least more enduring ministries. That said, here are some ways I think a person could make a go of valid ministry starting only with ULC ordination.

First, someone in underserved areas can fill a niche. For example, in many rural areas it is common for there to only be ministers of a conservative evangelical profile available. If an engaged couple wants to get married without the baggage of that specific religious viewpoint, options can be few. The same goes especially for same sex couples in such area. A person with a valid ULC ordination could offer wedding services to suit the couple, without discrimination. Further, if the minister is established in the area, she can offer other services as well over time, such as christening, baptism, baby naming, child welcoming, funerals/memorials/celebrations of life, and more. Without necessarily having to organize a local church, such a minister could provide all the traditionally-available rites, perhaps with some major modifications to suit the people involved, and have a sustained ministry. This could be viewed as a business, or as an earnest ministry to the wider community. Or, both.

Second, as I have highlighted previously, if someone wishes to become a Board Certified Chaplain, there is a way to do that that includes the Universal Life Church. The original ULC, based out of Modesto, California, is able to endorse chaplains for this purpose. No other ULC body currently has this ability. So, if someone were to want to really make a career out of chaplaincy (outside of the US military, which still doesn't recognize any ULC ministers), this would begin with being ordained through ulchq.com. Then the future chaplain would need to enroll in an accredited MDiv program or similar as well as complete a few units of Clinical Pastoral Education. These are all outlined on the website of the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC). Along the way the student chaplain will be making the connections needed to progress in the field, so that by the time they apply for certification with the APC, calling on the ULC for endorsement, they'll already be pretty well along in their new career. 

Third, a ULC minister could go the traditional route of starting a new congregation. It wouldn't have to be affiliated with the ULC formally. In reality, if someone already has enough people to legally incorporate, the ULC ordination shouldn't really be necessary. The church board can simply vote to ordain someone as a minister, if that's how the bylaws are written, and it will be a legal reality. 

There are ways to enter ministry without taking the long road through a traditional denomination, but to make it really work a great deal of effort will still be required. 

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Online Ordination No Threat to Traditional Ordained Ministry

Midjourney AI 2022
So-called 'online ordination' doesn't make a lot of traditionally trained and ordained ministers very happy. At least, that's what I've picked up on over the years online. I get it, to a certain extent. Ministers in mainline denominations (United Methodist, Presbyterian Church, Episcopal, etc) are generally required to complete a Master of Divinity degree at an accredited theological school, as well as complete internships and perhaps a unit or two of Clinical Pastoral Education. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to be ordained can just log onto the Universal Life Church website and submit a request for ordination in a minute or so. Submitting the request through that specific site means that the aspiring minister need not even pay. A certificate will arrive free of charge to the address provided. With free ordination, for life and without any real requirements, it's only natural that other ordained ministers would feel that their calling is being diminished. However, I don't see it that way, and here's why.

First, ordination through a more traditional route is far from a solitary venture. Where the person seeking ordination online or through the mail is having that experience alone, someone seeking to become a minister along more conventional lines is engaged throughout the process with other members of their faith. For example, when I was 17 or 18 I told the pastor of my Presbyterian Church (USA) parish that I sensed a calling to ministry. The first step for me was to meet with the session, which in that polity is the governing body of the local parish. I explained to them what I was thinking and feeling, and we discussed next steps. Had I continued along that path I would have been introduced further up the chain as time went on, as I pursued first a bachelor's degree, and then an MDiv. Though the exact procedure varies from denomination to denomination, in general there is always a social aspect to one's journey into ministry. 

Although I have thus far only witnessed two ordinations in my Unitarian Universalist tradition, in both cases there were people present giving testimony, in a manner of speaking, to the preparation the ordinand went through, and the good things they did along the way. In both cases, friends, family, and parishioners gathered to witness and celebrate the ordination. 

None of what I have described would apply in the case of ordinations through an online application. Ordination in every other setting is truly a communal experience.

Second, the ordained minister in a more established denomination has a network and resources available that is not present for ordained ministers with the Universal Life Church or the Church of the Latter Day Dude. Along the road to ordination the traditionally ordained minister will have formed a network in seminary and within the denomination upon which they can rely. Further, the denomination provides access to resources for ministry that can prove quite useful. Meanwhile, the best the ULC or others have to offer are unaccredited, honorary degrees and a smattering of books and materials. There is no real network of contacts, either. In times past these had online forums, and whatever they were worth, they're gone now. Once again, the online ordained minister is left disconnected from any larger body of believers and clergy.

Third, the higher requirements of the mainline denominations tend to produce better-prepared clergy. By that I don't mean that they are necessarily more evangelistic or effective at church growth, by any means. If that were the case, the mainline churches would have been dying for all these decades. What I do mean is that if I had to choose between seeking counsel with an Episcopal priest or a nondenominational Pentecostal preacher, I'd go with the former if I wanted some level of competence. That's not what a lot of people want, though. People want easy answers, and the easiest answers come from people who take the Bible literally (when it's convenient for them, of course) and never learned to think more deeply. But let's look at this from a less negative angle.

When I was in college, studying for Christian service, I had intended to go for a Master of Divinity. In fact, that was part of a personal commitment I made when I decided to 'answer the call' to do mission work in Brazil. I wanted to be thoroughly prepared, to know the Bible inside and out, and be equipped to serve in every way I could. I was encouraged in this decision by someone who, hearing about it, told me that historically the missionaries who lasted longest overseas through a particular sending agency were those with higher levels of ministry preparation. However, when I graduated with my Bachelor of Ministry degree in late 1999, I was tired of academia and anxious to get to 'the mission field.' So I packed up and headed off to Brazil, where I only remained a few years. I've always regretted not having spent the extra time to prepare, not just academically, but also socially and through experience ministering more in the United States. 

Ordained ministers of traditional denominations are not threatened by online ordination, unless of course they're concerned about officiating weddings and funerals as a supplementary revenue stream. So far as I can tell, the main practical reason anyone ever gets ordained through the internet is in order to legally officiate a wedding. They have no intention of starting a church, and they certainly couldn't compete with traditionally ordained ministers for pulpits. After all, denominations have their own search and call policies, and most local parishes aren't going to be interested in hiring someone with no preparation whatsoever. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

1968 Uniting Conference of The United Methodist Church (Video)

As the breakup in the United Methodist Church proceeds, maybe it's worth seeing how the denomination started.

The Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) and the Methodist Church (MC) came together in 1968, in a time when such mergers seemed to have been fashionable. In 1957 the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church merged to form the United Church of Christ, and in 1961 the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America consolidated to form the Unitarian Universalist Association. There were others as well, before and after. The EUB/MC merger made sense, as both were Arminian, Holiness denominations with a similar outlook. Both had bishops, practiced infant baptism, and affirmed core orthodox Christian beliefs. 

The present split doesn't seem to be specifically between representatives of the two merged faith groups. Rather, this is a division with roots in the late 1800s, when modern critical scholarship of the Bible reached the United States and began to be taught in seminaries. Over the years the camps that have formed are essentially 'progressive' vs 'evangelical,' and this goes for Protestantism in the United States generally. Within the United Methodist Church it became manifest through the organization of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, committed to promoting evangelical doctrines within the United Methodist Church. 

While the evangelicals had a bone to pick with their progressive or 'liberal' counterparts within the UMC, the issue mostly just simmered under the surface. With the move toward fully welcoming and affirming lgbtq+ folks, including in marriage and ordination, the evangelicals felt that a line had been drawn. After all, their denominational Book of Discipline expressly forbid such practices, but this was being ignored in some parts of the church. 

Looking back at this video from 1968, the optimism is palpable. I can't help but wonder if, after the impending split is formalized, the United Methodist Church won't seek a further merger with another body. 

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Youth Groups Without Dogma

In a recent article for OnlySky, Rebeka Kohlhepp introduces us to Evolve Youth Group, which is described as [a]n offshoot of California’s Atheists United." In the article she shares from her interview of Bella Harris and facilitator Evan Clark, who co-founded the group in 2021. This is a 'secular' youth group, so let's see how each of the founders describe it.

Bella:
Midjourney AI 2022
"We’re a nonreligious-based youth group — a group that provides a safe space for nonreligious teens that want to have some sort of community, but don’t want to be part of a church. Evolve is really an organization that exists to give kids a place to do some of the things youth groups do, like community service, fun outings, or just hanging out and having something to identify with, outside of the boundaries of 'religion' and 'atheism.'"

Evan: "Evolve Youth Group is a place for curious and dynamic high school students to bravely explore new ideas and learn about the world in a safe and inclusive community. We organize communicable and social events where youth can explore fellowship, identity, and ethics, as youth."

Very cool, and I like it. I also would just like to note that they are essentially describing the youth group of the Unitarian Universalist congregation where I'm a member. The youth program at Beacon UU in Summit, New Jersey doesn't have a proselytizing agenda, nor is any sacred scripture or set curriculum used. When my son was in high school he was an active participant, and they gathered to sing, discuss their lives, and have fun. It was a welcome escape from their regular high school routine and an opportunity to be themselves. 

As someone who spent around two decades in evangelical circles, I know how hard it can be for exvangelicals to believe that such a youth group exists in a 'church' setting. And yet, it does. Also, while I'm sure that other UU youth groups also don't participate in purity culture (we're more this-world affirming, emphasizing consent and responsibility), it's always possible that others have more of that "UU woo woo" I've heard atheists complain about from time to time. 

Weirdly, Bella and Evan don't seem to be entirely on the same page about how Evolve Youth Group is unique. In answer to the question, "What sets Evolve apart from similar groups," here's how each responded.

Bella: There aren’t really any similar groups. We are similar to a religious youth group in that we do activities and hangouts, but we don’t have any agenda or push any ideas on anyone. You don’t even have to be nonreligious or an atheist.

Evan: While amazing institutions like Ethical Culture Society, Camp Quest, Unitarian Universalists, and the Satanic Temple have developed incredible youth programs over the past 100 years, we found an underwhelming amount of programs that directly targeted atheist or agnostic high school students. Not only that, most programs are adult-led, class style programs. We’re wildly focused on keeping our program youth-led.

So, the way I read that, Bella doesn't think there are any other groups that are non-religious and which also welcome people who aren't 'nonreligious or an atheist." Meanwhile, Evan acknowledges that such exist, but that there haven't been enough "that directly targeted atheist or agnostic high school students." It sounds like they are saying two very different things. Meanwhile, I agree with Evan that many are probably adult-led and have a class format, but I have no experience of such, as the UU youth groups in my part of the country are mostly student-led and are not classes.

What I'm saying is that a lot of the time the atheist movement is reinventing the wheel and calling it something new, and this is one of those instances. I'm all for non-dogmatic youth groups, whether affiliated with Atheists United, Ethical Culture, the UUA, or whatever else. I definitely could have benefited greatly from such a group in my youth. Let's just not pretend that it's a new concept, because it definitely isn't.

Friday, December 30, 2022

The Future of Denominational Identity for Schismatic United Methodists

Midjourney AI 2022
This past October (2022), I blogged about why I think it is that evangelical denominations with virtually identical belief systems don't merge. To me, it comes down to power. I have used this as a way of understanding the birth of the Global Methodist Church (GMC) as an alternative for evangelical ministers and parishes of the United Methodist Church (UMC). In general terms, I still believe I'm right about that. However, there is a case to be made for departing UMC churches not all going to existing denominations. Let's consider this in two parts: denominational culture and pastoral care.

In an article dated December 9, 2022, Thomas Lambrecht explored a few options for churches leaving the UMC. For the sake of the discussion he highlighted some top existing contenders from within the conservative Wesleyan sphere: Free Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan Church, and the Congregational Methodist Church. 

Lambrecht notes that while the Free Methodist Church is allowing UMC congregations that join them to retain their property without a trust clause, all future property acquired will be subject to one. The Church of the Nazarene and the Wesleyan Church both require a trust clause, and the Congregational Methodist Church does not. This is important because it's the trust clause causing all the difficulties for parishes to leave the UMC, as all property owned by a local UMC congregation is legally held 'in trust' for the purposes of United Methodism. Therefore, while all the members of a parish could disaffiliate and leave, the property would still belong to the denomination. Thus, a way has had to be made for parishes to leave and retain their property, after meeting certain conditions. UMC congregations joining the Church of the Nazarene or the Wesleyan Church would immediately be subject to the same condition with their new denomination, something they might reasonably be hesitant to accept. 

More importantly in practical terms, if the GMC were not an option, and the bulk of departing parishes were to join existing Wesleyan denominations, these could easily be overwhelmed.

Size considerations and unique denominational distinctions were important factors in the need to start the Global Methodist Church. If all the disaffiliating United Methodists decided to join one of the existing Methodist denominations, it would be very difficult. 400,000 United Methodists joining the Nazarenes would create a church of 1.037 million in the U.S., of which 39 percent would be former United Methodists. If they joined the Wesleyan Church, there would be 634,000 members, of which 63 percent would be former United Methodists. We would dwarf the Free Methodists or Congregational Methodists.

It is unlikely any of those denominations would welcome that many new members from another denomination. The impact would be devastating on the culture of the receiving denomination. It would be like having a congregation of 100 members experience 65 or more new members joining it all at once. Those new members would want to have a significant voice in how the church is organized and run, which could cause resentment by the existing members and would unquestionably change the character of the congregation. Avoiding this awkwardness was one of the primary drivers in the need to start the GMC. (Lambrecht 2022)

When two denominations merge it is only to be expected that the culture will change in some ways. That's part of the understanding going into it, and often a cause of concern for some involved. When the American Unitarian Association  (AUA) and the Universalist Church of America (UCA) consolidated in the mid-20th century, there were plenty of Universalists raising alarms about how their identity would get lost in the resulting denomination. After all, the UCA was much smaller than the AUA. In the long run their concerns have probably been proven true in some cultural sense, although the Universalist heritage in the UUA is often lifted up in the sermons and RE lessons I've heard. 

What's under consideration here, though, is not so much a merger as a migration. Indeed, if that many form UMC people and parishes were to join a much smaller denomination, the existing culture would be challenged and long-term member churches would likely feel outvoted. It could be a formula for disaster. 

Under the heading of 'pastoral care' there is something else to consider. I've listened to podcast interviews of UMC evangelicals preparing to leave, either for the GMC, another denomination, or into some nondenominational standing. One thing I've picked up on among the ministers is a deep concern for the well-being of the departing churches and their members. In all the controversy it's possible for ecclesial politics to dominate so much that pastoral matters are neglected. What I've heard, especially from GMC-aligned ministers, is how efforts are being made to minister to each of their churches, bringing everyone along. Of course this only makes sense from a practical standpoint, as they need every congregation they can get. The revenue model depends on it. 

At the same time, I have no reason to doubt the honorable intent of the GMC-aligned ministers to take care of the people for which they feel responsible. In a migration to another denomination this might not be so much the case, as the receiving denomination wouldn't have as deep an understanding of what people and churches have gone through along the way. It will not be business as usual for the departing UMC parishes for some time, and they will require attention to stabilize and proceed effectively.

All of the above I've written from a fairly sympathetic standpoint, but don't let that fool you. Ultimately the real reason for the split, despite the spin being placed on it by the schismatics, is the matter of fully included lgbtq+ folks in the life of the church, including in weddings and ordination. Departing churches and ministers are opting for exclusion, and wherever they go will be fostering environments hostile to people who do not conform to their notion of 'godly' human sexuality and gender identity. They will christen and confirm children, some of which will discover with time that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or in some other way not in line with the 'traditional' ideas about human sexuality espoused by their churches. They will be made to feel less-than, told that they are 'broken,' and left with the option of leaving or trying to deny who they are. 

I do not truly wish the GMC or any alternative or future manifestation of evangelical Methodism well. I hope that, instead, they come to realize their error or simply fizzle out into nothing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Human Exploration From Ancient to Cosmic

Humans are born explorers.

When I was 11 or 12 a friend sent me a letter with a schematic for a raft (this was in the days before email and text messages). He came to visit his grandparents in the country from time to time, and we had kicked around the idea of taking a raft down one of the larger creeks in the area. His plan had small logs lashed together with cord, and milk jugs for additional buoyancy. I didn't make much of his plan, and we never attempted it. In retrospect I came to realize that his design was actually quite good, and could have worked. Except, of course, that the creek we wanted to use it on was usually too low and full of debris to allow passage of such a craft. 

What motivated us then was a sense of curiosity and adventure. Had the creek been of sufficient size, and had we actually made the raft, we would have drifted through woodlands and farmland, not unexplored wilderness. To us, though, that didn't matter. So when I read recently that members of the homo erectus species, our forebearers, had sailed to the Aegean Islands 450,000 years ago, I can't say I was surprised. It was delightful to learn, of course. 

Homo erectus had a remarkably good run. Their earliest appearance was about 2 millions years ago, and the last population of them was likely in Java about 108,000 to 117,000 years ago. From them various other species descended, eventually including our own. 

Certainly high among their motivations for making such journeys over open water must have been a need for resources and space. As populations grow so do the demands on local resources, and so the more adventurous must set out to look for new lands and means to live. They must have had some form of language in order to coordinate their efforts, and surely they must have dreamed of opportunities across the seas. They also would have known loss, as they learned the hard way what wouldn't work to travel the waters, or as storms or other events ended journeys prematurely and in the depths.

Across the ages this spirit of adventure has often come at a price, particularly when there were already people inhabiting a 'new land.' Such was the case in the Old World, and so it has been in the New. Can we learn from those terrible mistakes? As we look out at the stars, many of us dream of our species finding its way there. Certainly our solar system has abundant resources, from the energy pouring forth constantly from the sun, to the metals in asteroids and gasses in outer planets. 

Will we find life as well? While certainly no planet in our system is like earth, abundant with diverse forms of life, there could be microbial life beneath the surface of Mars, or even multicellular life in one or the other of certain moons of Jupiter or Saturn. NASA takes care now when exploring other worlds not to contaminate them with life from our world. Even a little microbial life from earth could turn out to be invasive in other non-terrestrial environments. 

Perhaps, in the long stretch of time it will take for us to learn to navigate beyond our solar system, we will also develop the ability to live at peace and not merely take by force what we want. I wonder what those archaic humans would make of us, their descendants, having made it all the way to the moon? It would surely be incomprehensible for them. And yet, in a very real sense, they live on in us, and so lives on their courage to push beyond the horizon. 

Monday, December 26, 2022

A Path to Professional Chaplaincy Through the Original Universal Life Church

There is no easy way into professional chaplaincy, nor should there be. It is a serious profession that touches the lives of people in their most vulnerable moments. Solid preparation is only to be expected. However, I don't think that the formality of ordination should be that difficult. 

Standards for chaplains vary depending on the institution and field. For example, hospice chaplains tend to have the lowest requirements, although that's not always a given, while military chaplaincy is likely the most stringent. Hospitals are all over the place on basic requirements. Often, if someone really wants to make a career of chaplaincy outside of the military, it's better to have more education as well as to be properly endorsed. 

It's great to be part of a professional organization, like the Association of Professional Chaplains. However, being certified with this group includes having been ordained by a recognized religious body, which poses a problem for people not affiliated with an organized religion. Humanists in the United States can pursue chaplaincy through The Humanist Society, but what about everyone else? Someone might suggest the Unitarian Universalist Association, but the requirements for becoming an ordained and fellowshipped UU minister are rather onerous, on top of the standard requirements for professional chaplains. Unless you are really keen on being a Unitarian Universalist chaplain, coming from that perspective and representing that faith, you'd be better advised to look elsewhere. Another possibility, about which I have blogged before is The Chaplaincy Institute

Perhaps the most direct route would be through the Universal Life Church. Yes, this is the church that's known for 'online ordination,' but hear me out. There are actually multiple organizations with some variation of the ULC name, including one based out of the northwestern United States that dominates Google results. That would be Universal Life Church Ministries, also known as the Universal Life Church monastery. That organization cannot help you with becoming a professional chaplain. For that, you need to go to the original Universal Life Church based out of Modesto, California, which was founded in 1962 by Rev Kirby J. Hensely, and which is now led by his son, Rev Andre Hensely. 

The original ULC has a very humble, practically broken website, located at ulchq.org, and yes this is the church which is recognized by the Association of Professional Chaplains for endorsements. So, to start down the path to professional chaplaincy without all the stress and confusion of extra hurdles set forth by a denomination, get ordained with this ULC, then follow up with the Association of Professional Chaplains for exactly what they need from your ordaining body. Andre at the ULC will be able to sign off on a letter for you. That is, assuming you have met the other requirements of the APC.

The APC expects you to have a graduate degree in theology, social work, or psychology, along with 4 units of Clinical Pastoral Education. Really, you need these before ordination will even matter. The best route is probably to go for a Master of Divinity through an accredited seminary, obtaining the units of CPE along the way. A good seminary program will steer you in the right direction as you work to become a chaplain. 

Now, if you already have the degree and CPE requirements fulfilled, but just lack ordination and professional certification, you know your options. Hopefully it's clear that the more direct route from there is probably the Universal Life Church based in Modesto

Saturday, December 17, 2022

What Really Divides United Methodists

Although I am not, nor even have been, United Methodist, my maternal grandfather was a lifelong member of that denomination. I suppose when he was born it was the Methodist Episcopal Church, which then merged with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and the Methodist Church before then coming together with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church. In any case, it was his tradition, but his children were raised Roman Catholic, and so also was I. Still, I've maintained an interest through the years in this denomination, and the current schism happening is hard to miss in the press. It's a significant split, and about more than lgbtq+ inclusion.

The United Methodist Church has for years gone the way of the mainline Protestant denominations generally in accepting the conclusions of critical biblical scholarship (rightly so, I would say), and also going easy on the historic marks of orthodox faith. That is to say that, beyond questions of biblical authorship and so forth, mainline Protestantism has been very open to reinterpreting Christian language in ways that sounds orthodox but really isn't. For example, one never knows if a mainline Protestant preacher means the same thing as the people in the pews when they say 'God.' While the parishioners may think of God as three persons in one being, or simply a stern but kindly old man in the sky, the pastor is crossing his or her fingers as they say 'God,' meaning instead something along the lines of pantheism, panentheism, a force, or a symbol of the highest good. Or, who knows, maybe they actually mean the trinitarian God of the ancient ecumenical confessions. The same goes for terms like 'incarnation' or 'resurrection.' What a mainline minister means by those words is often very different from what a conservative evangelical preacher would mean, and the former will not go out of their way to make sure you understand the difference.

The most notable instance came in 1844 when Northern and Southern Methodists divided into different denominations over the question of whether a bishop could own slaves. Many historians cite it and other big denominational divides around the same time as signs that the U.S. was heading to civil war. (Taking stock after a season of disaffiliations, UMNews)

I do not think it is correct to compare the current split with that leading up to the US Civil War in the 1800s. Perhaps chief among the many reasons for that is the fact that something very fundamental is involved this time around. In the 1800s it was a very serious matter indeed, that of whether it was possible for someone to be a good Christian and enslave other human beings. Today the matter most loudly under discussion is whether to extend to lgbtq+ folks all the rights and privileges of membership, including marriage and ordination. Certainly that is also a human rights issue. A key difference, I believe, from the 1800s split and this one, is that in that of the 19th century everyone still believed fundamentally the same things about God, the Bible, and the Christian faith. Critical biblical scholarship was certainly on its way, but it was not a significant issue at the time. Even when the divided churches then reunited in the 20th century, when such scholarship was in full bloom, the two denominations were not that far apart doctrinally. This time it is different. 

The human mind is flexible in matters of religion. People are capable of believing in historic trinitarian Christianity and also understand that the Bible is not a word-for-word inspired text. Furthermore, people are also able to come to a place where they see committed same-sex relationships as holy within the framework of that essentially orthodox Christian faith. So, while I think it is possible that in a couple of generations, or even less, most evangelicals will say that of course same sex marriages are valid and good, that does not mean that they will let go of orthodox claims about God, Jesus, and the Christian faith. Thus, even if the newly formed Global Methodist Church does someday take the stand I've described, they will still be far apart from the United Methodist Church, assuming the latter continues on the course of welcoming alternative interpretations of fundamental Christian doctrines. 

Then again, I don't know the future. It would be very nice if all this energy wasted on debating the particulars of religion, or arguing against the rights of human beings to live their own lives peacefully in the way that they wish, could be spent on solving the real problems facing our species. Climate change comes to mind, as does racism, militarism, and so much more.

Friday, December 16, 2022

A Piece of Universal Life Church History

Below is a page of information about the Universal Life Church that was sent to the newly ordained in 1969. Things have changed quite a bit since then. There are now multiple organizations either claiming the Universal Life Church name or simply doing what it does, offering ordination to anyone who seeks it. The original church in Modesto lives on, though the website (ulchq.com) has not been updated in quite a long time and is broken in places. When you search for the denomination what you get is Universal Life Church Ministries, a distinct organization not affiliated with the Modesto-based church. It's the one likely responsible for most ordinations these days, although if you want to become a Board Certified Chaplain they couldn't help you. The Modesto church is the one that endorses people for chaplaincy with the Association of Professional Chaplains. 

In any event, enjoy this look at how things were.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Christening a Child Under the Auspices of the Universal Life Church

The only ceremony that requires a duly ordained or endorsed officiant in order to have legal standing in the United States is the wedding. That is, assuming the couple won't be seeking out a civil servant like a judge or justice of the peace for their event. State laws vary about whether officiants need to register or not, but in every one there is recognition of religious leaders as people empowered to perform a legal wedding ceremony. The other rites, ordinances, or sacraments of any religious society are unregulated, for the simple fact that the secular state has no interest in baptisms and the like. Only marriage requires a change to a vital statistic. Still, some folks feel better about being given the green light to officiate other ceremonies. One example can be found in the video below, where a father christens his child, having been ordained by the Universal Life Church.

Now, to be 100% clear, anyone can baptize someone without being ordained. Whether it will be considered 'valid' depends on who you ask. The ceremony you'll see below meets all the requirements of the Roman Catholic Church, for example, in that the father uses water with the intention of doing what the church does in baptism, and using the correct words. That he mentioned the Universal Life Church is essentially irrelevant. However, if you ask the pastors of most nondenominational evangelical churches, or really any Baptist churches, they will tell you that this baptism is meaningless, because the child doesn't understand what is going on and the form is incorrect. Although water is used, the word for 'baptism' in the New Testament means 'immersion.' The early church only baptized consenting adults, and only by immersion, until sometime in the third century of the Common Era. 

What matters here, however, is that the ceremony was meaningful for the family. As a Humanist celebrant I wouldn't christen a child, but I would gladly officiate a child welcoming if that's what someone wanted. These types of events can be valuable as ways to maintain a sense of family cohesion and tradition, while celebrating the addition of someone new to the family. In fact, in the event of an adoption a child welcoming ceremony could be very worthwhile as well. 

In any event, do enjoy the video below, as it provides some perspective on how people make meaning and find ways to honor traditions without ceding ground to organized religions. 

Friday, November 4, 2022

Playing Loosey-Goosey With Scripture to Keep the Faith

Efforts to adapt Christianity for the current age continue, and we're definitely seeing a trend in how some scholars now present the Bible. It's one that doesn't really win me over.

When I was evangelical there were three characteristics of mainline Protestantism were especially bothersome to me. First, there was the tepid commitment to the faith. The first Easter I was a Presbyterian I was shocked and a little disgusted at how many strangers turned up for the service. They were unknown to me, but other parishioners knew them as holly and lily Christians who only showed up twice a year. Even the regular church-goers seemed absolutely clueless about the Bible.  Second was the seemingly permissive attitude toward sex. Premarital sex was no problem, and the push was already then towards acceptance of LGBTQ folks. In my young, conservative mind, that was proof positive that they had no regard for 'scriptural standards' of morality. Third, the Bible commentaries by 'liberal' scholars seemed to focus heavily on how the Bible was not divinely inspired, or at least not reliable historically or otherwise.

Contemporary progressive Christians, and particularly those coming from evangelical backgrounds, are finding ways to understand the Bible as something other than flawlessly inspired. At the same time, they're putting a positive spin on the facts that much of what the Bible represents itself to be simply isn't so. Consider, for example, how Dr. Peter Enns describes it.
Summarizing, he accepts the Bible as a 'human' document in the same sense that orthodox Christianity accepts Jesus as a 'human.' That is to say, Jesus is described as fully human and fully God, and that while he was on Earth in his mortal life he was subject to all the mental and physical limitations of any human being. The same is said to be true of the Bible, which is fully divine and the word of God, while at the same time being subject to the limitations of the people of the times in which it was written. 

Now, take a listen to how Dr. Daniel McClellan, a Latter-day Saint and scriptural scholar, talks about the Book of Mormon.
@maklelan

This one’s more for the Latter-day Saints out there.

♬ original sound - Dan McClellan
Basically, it's the same thing, right? The Book of Mormon might be sourced from a record of ancient people in the Americas (or maybe not), but it was written in the language of 19th century America and for the people of that time.

It's all rather convenient. Nothing has to be accurate, or truly of the origin it claims, and people can continue believing the same things. The argument Enns makes for God stooping down to speak to people in the ways that they could understand is all well and good, until you consider the absolute cruelty of it. If there were an omnipotent, benevolent being communicating with ancient humanity, why didn't he warn them directly about hygiene, or provide tips on safer child birth methods? The rules of clean and unclean in the Hebrew scriptures were ceremonial and inconsistent in places with modern scientific understandings, so don't even bother with that. Further, how could such a being not be able to find a way to communicate more clearly with humanity to avoid all of the misunderstandings among us over what the Bible means?

This is how religion works, though. It's not a real thing. It's human values, tradition, and imagination that lives in our heads and is expressed through the works of our hands. It is supremely malleable, and so as scientific understanding advances, people will think differently about religious beliefs and work out ways to make it still be meaningful in ways that they want. Sure, there will always be fundamentalists who decide to subsist in the squalor of their own ignorance, and yes people who favor an evidence-based worldview will continue to walk away from Christianity and similar religions, but there will also still be those who hold to the larger claims of the faith while thinking about the fundamentals in ways that permit doing so. 

We are an odd bunch, us human beings. So committed to our habits and symbols that we'll contort our minds every which way to hang on to them. It's fine with me, because it's part of being human. At least, so long as it doesn't lead to hatred and violence. We've had quite enough of that in the name of religion.