Children of the Tribes

Pacific Standard:

Shuah Jones, 15, stuffed clothes under her bed blankets in the shape of a body, grabbed her diary and Bible, and crept downstairs. Wearing a long blue linen skirt and clunky buckled sandals, she opened the door, slipped outside, and paused to look back at her house: a historic residence in Plymouth, Massachusetts, known as the Blue Blinds, where she lived with other members of her church. Good riddance, she thought. On the street she broke into a run toward the only payphone she knew of, at a gas station near the center of town, half a mile away. She’d never been outside alone at night before. As she sprinted down the main drag, Court Street, men in bars called out and wolf-whistled. She was terrified. When she reached the phone, she called her brother Noah, who told her to wait for him in a parking lot next to the Blue Blinds, so she ran all the way back. He was an hour away. She hid in a bush, heart thumping. When at last he pulled into the lot, she leaped into his car.

“Just breathe,” he told her as they drove away. “Breathe.”

The Invisibility of High Churches

Interesting piece:

The point is that in the end nobody, at least nobody with a proper command of church history, believes that their church today, in visible outward terms, is the same as the apostolic church in terms of both belief or practice. The Eastern Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky condemns what he calls “a harmful primitivism” in the Vincentian Canon to believe only what has “always” been believed.

What does this discussion on the fact of change have to do with the visibility of the Church? It boils down to the incompatibility of two claims:

(1) My Church does not Change.

(2) My Church is Substantially Visible

However, if one accepts that in historical and empirical terms there is a difference between one’s church’s past and one’s church’s present, then the two claims are incompatible. One can maintain that one’s Church does not change, but must sacrifice the visibility of the Church and not identify the Church with every visible act or writing of the Church. The alternative is to maintain that the Church is substantially visible but deny that there has been any visible change. This alternative however is basically untenable in the light of what we know now about the writings of the early church and in the light of the historical facts and empirical differences.

Presbyterians, Race, and the Old Testament

Matthew Tuininga being interesting:

The primary problem with southern Presbyterian defenses of segregation was not that they assumed an individualistic view of sin but that they embraced a spiritualized, even neo-platonized understanding of the Gospel. Like their Presbyterian forebear Thornwell, men like Gillespie, Richards and Smith insisted that the spiritual kingdom of God does not take concrete social expression. In other words, their political theology suffered from an under-realized eschatology even more than it did from some sorrt of American individualism.

While this under-realized eschatology led them to conceive of the expression of the kingdom in this life in individualistic terms, it also led them to a greater reliance on the Old Testament as the best source of biblical insight regarding social and political life. Lucas points out that the spirituality of the church doctrine did not lead southern churches to avoid speaking toward political matters; it simply made them selective in the issues that they addressed.

I would make the point more specific by suggesting that the doctrine led them to prioritize the Old Testament over the New Testament as a source for political insight. The Old Testament rendered plausible the theological defense of a thoroughly communitarian and segregated vision of political life, while the rejection of the social and political relevance of the New Testament rendered its more radical and inclusive social ethics moot. Thus southern Presbyterians read Pentecost through Babel, and the unity of the nations in Christ through the division of the nations from Israel, rather than the other way around. Only by interpreting the gospel through the law could they imagine that church membership, let alone justice within political society, could legitimately be constituted on the basis of race.

Read part 2 here. Part 3 has not yet been published.

The Child Preachers of Brazil

Via the NYT:

It was fall in Brazil, and rain drizzled under a gray moon. The faithful were beginning to arrive at the International Mission of Miracles, a Pentecostal church in the poor and working-class city of São Gonçalo, 10 miles from Rio de Janeiro. In front of the church, which was located between a supermarket and an abandoned lot, a banner staked in the muddy ground advertised a young girl named Alani Santos, whose touch could heal.

Inside the boxy, bright room, a boy played gospel songs on a turntable while the opening preachers gave sermons. Two home-goods-store employees — still wearing their aprons and name tags — took their usual seats. A man in a soccer jersey rocked a crying toddler in a plastic chair. In the back, Levan Lomsadze, a 24-year-old from the Republic of Georgia, paced nervously; he had flown from the Caucasus to Brazil in the hope that Alani could cure his severe speech impediment. Sergio Teixeira, 33, rushed in late; lean and tall, with imitation Nikes on his feet and a muay Thai tattoo on his arm, Teixeira had taken the day off from a temp job painting gates to travel to the church by bus from his home on the outskirts of Rio. Though it was only 20 miles away, the trip through jammed traffic on shoulderless roads had taken nearly five hours.

After the room filled with about 60 people, Pastor Adauto Santos, Alani’s father, took the stage. Heavyset and slow-moving, he was dressed in a navy blue three-piece suit. Adauto built the Mission of Miracles himself, partly using materials he repurposed from odd jobs. It was modest — uncovered fluorescent bulbs glared over the white tile floor — but had a few regal touches, like sliding Plexiglas doors, a large multicolored banner showing Jesus rising above a saturated blue sky and, in the shed that served as the church office, a chair decorated to look like a throne, with hand-stapled leather and gold paint.

The Latest on Rome and SSM

From the NCR:

A one-day study meeting — open only to a select group of individuals — took place at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Monday with the aim of urging “pastoral innovations” at the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family in October.

Around 50 participants, including bishops, theologians and media representatives, took part in the gathering, at the invitation of the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of Germany, Switzerland and France — Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Bishop Markus Büchel and Archbishop Georges Pontier.

One of the key topics discussed at the closed-door meeting was how the Church could better welcome those in stable same-sex unions, and reportedly “no one” opposed such unions being recognized as valid by the Church.

Participants also spoke of the need to “develop” the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and called not for a theology of the body, as famously taught by St. John Paul II, but the development of a “theology of love.”

One Swiss priest discussed the “importance of the human sex drive,” while another participant, talking about holy Communion for remarried divorcees, asked: “How can we deny it, as though it were a punishment for the people who have failed and found a new partner with whom to start a new life?”

Wilson and Leithart Debate the Church

Littlejohn sums up an interesting conversation:

Wilson kicked things off with an opening statement taken more or less straight out of the redoubtable Paul Avis’s magnificent Church in the Theology of the Reformers. Wilson noted that although Luther and Calvin focused their ecclesiology primarily on “defining the center” of the church, its communion with Christ through word and sacrament, from early on in Protestantism, there was a temptation to try and draw the circumference, by adding the “third mark,” discipline. Given that it is the very nature of discipline to be boundary-policing, it ought be no surprise that those who most stressed the use of discipline as a “third mark” were often quite preoccupied with defining the circumference of what counted as right discipline, and thus what counted as the church. Wilson sensibly observed that, although you won’t hold on to sound word and sacrament for very long without decent discipline (just as you mightn’t have a good garden for very long without a fence), that still leaves discipline as clearly a matter of bene esse, rather than esse.

Of course, Wilson did not note what Avis goes on to note, which is that even word and sacrament can come to be treated as circumference-markers, rather than center-definers, if you lay too much stress on the adverb “rightly” that goes along with them in the Augsburg Confession—the “word rightly preached; the sacraments rightly administered.” It goes without saying that they must be rightly preached, but if we feel like we have to decide just what counts as “rightly” to know what is and isn’t a church, then we may quickly get caught up in a lose-lose game of mutual excommunication. So I would’ve pointed out, but Wilson did only have a few minutes for his opening statements, so fair enough.

Will Pope Francis Break the Church

Douthat in the Atlantic:

In 1979, almost a year into the papacy of John Paul II, a novel called The Vicar of Christ spent 13 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. The work of a Princeton legal scholar, Walter F. Murphy, it featured an unlikely papal candidate named Declan Walsh—first a war hero, then a United States Supreme Court justice, and then (after an affair and his wife’s untimely death) a monk—who is summoned to the throne of Saint Peter by a deadlocked, desperate conclave.

Once elevated, Walsh takes the name Francesco—that is, Francis—and sets about using the office in extraordinary ways. He launches a global crusade against hunger, staffed by Catholic youth and funded by the sale of Vatican treasures. He intervenes repeatedly in world conflicts, at one point flying into Tel Aviv during an Arab bombing campaign. He lays plans to gradually reverse the Church’s teachings on contraception and clerical celibacy, and banishes conservative cardinals to monastic life when they plot against him. He flirts with the Arian heresy, which doubted Jesus’s full divinity, and he embraces Quaker-style religious pacifism, arguing that just-war theory is out of date in an age of nuclear arms and total war. (This last move eventually gets him assassinated, probably by one of the governments threatened by his quest for peace.)

Reviving a Dead Language

This is a project to get excited about:

This Easter season, we are pleased to announce the launch of the Davenant Latin Institute, our largest project to date. Responding to the urgently-felt need among many seminarians and graduate students for instruction in theological Latin, we have worked to develop a program of online courses that can prepare these students for serious engagement with the vast library of untranslated early Protestant texts. It is our hope that not only will these courses be a blessing for many students in their studies, but that they will help equip an army of translators who will bring many of these texts back into the church  in the coming years.  (To read more about the importance of this work, read Peter Escalante’s brief essay.)

The Price of Church Splits

From Get Religion:

Sometimes a news story drags on bit by bit, piece by piece, over the years and becomes so tedious that reporters miss the dramatic cumulative impact. It also doesn’t help that long, slow-developing, nuanced religion stories have been known to turn secular editors into pillars of salt.

So it seems with the lawsuits against conservative congregations and regional dioceses that have been quitting the Episcopal Church, mostly to join the Anglican Church in North America, especially since consecration of the first openly partnered gay bishop in 2003.

The Religion Guy confesses he totally missed the eye-popping claim last year that the denomination has spent more than $40 million on lawsuits to win ownership of the dropouts’ buildings, properties, and liquid assets. If that’s anywhere near accurate it surely sets the all-time record for American schisms. And that doesn’t even count the millions come-outers have spent on lawyers.

The Church’s Newest Doctor

First Things on Francis’s odd choice:

This week, Pope Francis did something unprecedented. (One could perhaps write that sentence every week.) He named, as a Doctor of the Universal Church, a tenth-century Armenian mystic called Gregory of Narek. Now, as the Catholic Church already recognizes thirty-five other Doctors of the Church, a designation that indicates saints who have made particular contributions to theological learning, you might wonder what’s so unprecedented about it. I’ll tell you.

Gregory was a priest in the Armenian Apostolic Church. As a formal matter, the Armenian Church and the Roman Catholic Church have been out of full communion since the fifth century. By the time Gregory was born, the two churches had already been divided for about five hundred years. So Pope Francis has named, as a saint of particular theological distinction, someone from a separated church—someone who was not, in fact, a Catholic at all.

The churches separated over Christology. The Armenian Church declines to accept the Council of Chalcedon (451), which declares that Christ has two separate, but conjoined, natures, human and divine, a position known as diophysitism. Like her sister Oriental Orthodox Churches, including the Coptic and Syriac churches, the Armenian Church holds instead that Christ has one combined human-divine nature, in which the human and divine nonetheless remain distinct, a position known as miaphysitism.