The Anglican Curmudgeon

Now 815 Steps In: +Bruno Has Gone Too Far

6/29/2017 8:15:00 PM
The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, Presiding Bishop of ECUSA, has now interposed his pastoral authority in the Title IV disciplinary proceedings against Bishop J. Jon Bruno, diocesan of Los Angeles, about which I wrote most recently here.

He has issued, effective immediately today, the following "Partial Restriction" on the ministry of Bishop Bruno:
Partial Restriction on the Ministry of a Bishop

In recent days, I have learned of actions that, in my view, may threaten the good order and welfare of the Church. I have learned that, earlier this year, the Rt. Rev. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, entered into a contract for sale of property (the “St. James property”) that is central to a disciplinary matter now pending under Title IV of the Canons of The Episcopal Church, in which Bishop Bruno is the Respondent. According to Bishop Bruno’s submissions in that disciplinary matter, the contract for sale of the St. James property sets the closing date as July 3, 2017.

Bishop Bruno’s actions and intentions regarding an earlier attempted sale of the St. James property are currently under review in the pending disciplinary matter. I am deeply concerned that his act of entering into a new contract for sale of the same property, while his approach to the earlier sale is still under review, has the potential to undermine the integrity of the Church’s disciplinary process. The secrecy with which the recent sales contract was undertaken adds to the potential for undermining the integrity of the Church’s disciplinary process.

Accordingly, in order to protect the integrity of the Church’s disciplinary process and, thereby, the good order and welfare of the Church, and pursuant to Canons IV.7(3), (4), and IV.17(2), I hereby place the following partial restriction on the exercise of his ministry until the pending Title IV matter has been finally resolved:
During the period of the restriction, the Bishop, acting individually, or as Bishop Diocesan, or as Corporate Sole, or in any other capacity, is forbidden from closing on the sale of the St. James property, or otherwise selling or conveying the property or contracting to sell the property, or, in any way assisting in the sale or conveyance of the property.
This restriction is effective immediately. Nothing in this restriction is intended to express any opinion about the merits of the pending Title IV proceeding.

This document shall be served upon Bishop Bruno today and shall inform him of his right to have any objections to this restriction heard pursuant to Canon IV.7.

(The Most Rev.) Michael Bruce Curry

XXVII Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
It would appear that this restriction moots +Bruno's rather cheeky appeal of the Hearing Panel's sanctions order of June 17 (see the update to this earlier post), because now it does not matter whether his appeal is upheld or denied by the full Disciplinary Board: +Bruno cannot close escrow on the St. James the Great property in Newport Beach without subjecting himself to new disciplinary proceedings and sanctions instituted by the Presiding Bishop.

At the same time, knowing +Bruno's stubbornness and refusals to yield to authority (he was a former policeman), I would not be surprised if he goes ahead and closes escrow anyway (assuming the buyer does not back out in light of these developments). His corporation sole is in law the record owner of the property (thanks to the fecklessness of the diocesan Board and Standing Committee). Therefore in the eyes of California civil law, +Bruno is on paper, at least, capable of conveying good title to the property, whether his doing so violates an ecclesiastical order or not.

Caveat: While he may be able to sign a deed conveying title, the holding of the California Court of Appeals in the first Bishop Schofield case may give ECUSA the right to sue for the return of the property, since by now the proposed developer in Newport Beach is fully aware of the proceedings against +Bruno, and could not be treated as an innocent, bona fide purchaser without notice. That is why any sensible title attorney knowing that case would urge extreme caution on the buyer's part.

Bishop Bruno also has, reportedly, a further $25 million or so of property in escrow which is not affected by either the sanctions order or the Partial Restriction. (See the earlier post linked above for details.) There is no telling at this point just what he may stand to realize personally if one or more of these escrows closes, because he has refused to disclose (in violation of his duties as a fiduciary to his Diocese and its governing bodies) any particulars of any pending deal.

Which is why ECUSA's attorney leading the prosecution of disciplinary charges against +Bruno, Jerry Coughlan, has called for a "forensic audit" of +Bruno's corporation sole in his 16-page response to +Bruno's appeal of the sanctions order (link downloads a .pdf). The response makes for very colorful and interesting reading. It outlines the same primary case for protecting ECUSA's disciplinary jurisdiction over +Bruno that the Partial Restriction does, and in the process characterizes +Bruno as a "rogue bishop", the role of which he certainly has acted until now.

[UPDATE 06/29/2017: Church Attorney Coughlan has now filed an amendment to his earlier response in which he calls for the Panel to apply its extreme sanction, and depose +Bruno from his see outright. If the Panel were to do so, it should probably exercise its prerogative to make the deposition effective retroactively, as of the date it noticed the public hearing on the complaint against +Bruno, since it was after that date that +Bruno entered into his secretive contract for sale. Removing +Bruno from his office as of that date would cancel and render invalid any contract he entered into subsequently.]

So, as foreseen long ago on this blog, we may be coming to the ultimate showdown -- a contest of authority between an ostensibly autonomous diocesan bishop and the national body's presiding bishop, who in 2009 was given pastoral authority for the first time ever over other ECUSA bishops by the changes adopted in that year to Title IV at General Convention. (Those changes to the disciplinary rules were one of the reasons Bishop Mark Lawrence and his Diocese of South Carolina cited for their decision to withdraw from ECUSA.)

It is too early to say how this matter will play itself out, because there are now very strong forces gathering on both sides. I will update further as I believe appropriate.

+Bruno Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place [UPDATED]

6/24/2017 1:28:00 AM
The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, has landed himself in a difficult spot. As detailed in this earlier post, he entered into a contract in 2015 to sell the property of St. James the Great in Newport Beach to a developer for a price of $15 million, without bothering to inform its parishioners beforehand. When the congregation and its vicar protested, he changed the locks and kicked them out.

This being Bishop Bruno, litigation soon ensued -- between the parish and its Bishop, and between the original donor of the church's property (who sought to enforce a restriction on the use of the property for anything besides church purposes). The parishioners also brought charges of fraud, misrepresentation and "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy" against +Bruno before the national body's Disciplinary Board for Bishops, as detailed in this earlier post.

The litigation grew nastier, as narrated in this post. Matters even began to sour between Bishop Bruno and his own Diocese's convention. Eventually, the original purchaser pulled out of the contract (because of the litigation, no doubt), +Bruno rejected all attempts at mediation / conciliation with the parishioners, and the Disciplinary Board's review panel ordered the matter (over +Bruno's hypocritical objections) to a full-blown, public hearing, which took place over three days at the end of March of this year. (You can read the day-by-day accounts of the proceedings at this site, if you choose. With my departure from ECUSA, I have pretty much stopped chronicling all the desultory conduct that goes on in the name of that body.)

In the civil courts, meanwhile, +Bruno achieved mixed results. The parishioners' lawsuit to stop him from selling the property was dismissed, but his suit against the original donor has not fared well. On February 24, the Court of Appeal reversed a decision by the trial court which had denied the donor's motion to strike +Bruno's "slander of title" claim against it. The decision ordered the trial court to strike the claim from the lawsuit and award the donor its attorneys' fees and costs incurred as a result of its filing. The fees and costs will have to be paid out of the Bishop's own corporation sole, since it was the plaintiff against the donor. In another ruling, the trial court found the original donor had failed to record a renewal of its deed restriction as required by law to keep it enforceable. That freed +Bruno to sell the property, but by then (as we now learn -- see below) the original buyer had backed out.

After the disciplinary hearing concluded on March 30, the hearing panel took the matter under submission for briefing before issuing its decision. The Bishop's attorneys asked the panel to dismiss all charges against him, while the attorney prosecuting the charges asked the panel to find him guilty and suspend him from active ministry for up to a year while fashioning a remedy that would foster reconciliation -- for which +Bruno to date has shown no interest whatsoever.

On June 14, before the panel had issued any decision, one of the complainants submitted colorable evidence that +Bruno had entered into a new contract to sell St. James while the disciplinary proceedings were going on. The panel asked +Bruno's attorneys to disclose to it whether he was under contract with a buyer or not, and when they gave evasive replies, the panel issued a sanctions order on June 17 directing +Bruno not to sell or contract to sell the property until "further order of the Hearing Panel."

Now comes word from Anglican news sources that on June 22, +Bruno's attorney sent an email to the panel in which she disclosed that Bishop Bruno had signed a contract to sell the property to another developer -- just three weeks after the disciplinary hearing (the purchaser signed the contract a month later). She explained that neither +Bruno nor his attorneys could respond substantively to the panel's inquiry earlier because he had been bound by a "confidentiality clause" in the purchase contract, which the parties had just agreed to modify so that he could disclose the fact of the sale. (You may read the details here and here.)

Other sources are now reporting that not only is +Bruno selling the St. James church property, but also its rectory and a huge commercial property which his corporation sole owns in Anaheim. The total sales which he reportedly has currently in escrow come to approximately Forty Million Dollars ($40,000,000).

In his desire to recoup the money he has squandered on over twelve years of litigation -- against parishes, their clergy, and (as shown above) generous donors to his Diocese -- Bishop Bruno has now landed himself between a rock and a hard place. He is under a direct disciplinary command not to complete the sale of St. James. But his contract with the purchaser provides that he will be in default -- and liable for damages and costs -- if he does not sign the deed in escrow.

Can the Hearing Panel actually block the sale? No, it cannot, since it has ecclesiastical jurisdiction only, and that is over Bishop Bruno, not the purchaser. But it can certainly discipline him for flouting its order. Such discipline could include suspension from his ministry (he will reach mandatory retirement age in late 2018), or even deposition (a drastic step he has not hesitated to take in the past against dissident clergy).

Will the Dennis Canon's trust provisions affect the marketable title to St. James property? Again, no: the Canon applies only to property in the name of a parish, and not to property held by a corporation sole or by a Diocese. (That was the ruling of the Fifth District Court of Appeal in the San Joaquin case last year.)

However, it appears from the latest stories linked above that the new purchaser runs the risk of displeasing the City Council of Newport Beach, if it tears down the church to put up some industrial or commercial complex -- for which it will need a zoning change. So the developer may find it convenient to let +Bruno out of his contract, after all.

There is no doubt that +Bruno's underhanded conduct has thrown a monkey wrench into the deliberations of the Hearing Panel. By selling the property while the disciplinary panel was considering his case, +Bruno in effect attempted to bypass its authority to maintain the status quo until it reached its final decision. No court likes to be told that a defendant has acted on his own, and surreptitiously to boot, to alter the status quo while the court has the matter still under submission.

Do not expect, therefore, that Bishop Bruno might wiggle out from this dilemma unscathed. It may cost his corporation sole still more money, and it may cost him his bishopric. I will update this post when the Panel renders its decision.

[UPDATE 06/24/2017: Bishop Bruno has filed with the Disciplinary Board for Bishops an appeal of the Hearing Panel's sanctions order. The attachments to the appeal dispel some of the mysteries surrounding his dealings with the Newport Beach property. We learn:

1. The original purchaser pulled out of the sales contract in early November, 2016.

2. At that time, Bishop Bruno was contacted by other "potential purchasers." Though there was no express canonical jurisdiction of the Diocesan Standing Committee over the Bishop's corporation sole, Bishop Bruno sought and received on November 16 the consent of the Standing Committee to a future (unspecified) sale of the property, in order to obviate one of the disciplinary charges against him (that he had entered into a contract to sell the property without obtaining the consent of the Standing Committee as required by the national canons in the case of sales of property by a Diocese).

3. The discussions with purchasers crystallized into the present buyer, which signed a "Due Diligence and Confidentiality Agreement" with the Bishop on April 19, 2017, and then entered into a formal purchase and sale agreement on May 25, with escrow to close on July 3.

4. The "colorable evidence of a pending sale" furnished to the Hearing Panel by one of the complainants consisted of a screen capture of an online property reporting service that indicated a title insurance policy had been ordered from Fidelity Title for the property on June 6, 2017 -- a sure sign that an escrow had been opened. (I assume there are similar title policies ordered for the other sales which the "Save St. James" group has reported as pending, making up the $40 million total mentioned in the post.)

5. Bishop Bruno turned down a request earlier this year from a long-time parishioner at St. James to allow her mother's ashes to be interred there in accordance with her dying wishes. The parishioner appealed to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, but was told it was a decision which Bishop Bruno alone could make, as the Presiding Bishop had no authority over him.

6. Bishop Bruno is utterly non-repentant about keeping his dealings with the property out of the purview of the disciplinary proceedings. Once the initial sale complained of fell through, he believed there was no restraint of any kind on his ability to enter into a new sales contract for it.

7. He has asked the full Disciplinary Board to set aside the sanctions order of June 17, so that he will not go into default under his current sales contract.

Some further observations on these disclosures:

A. The "consent" by the Standing Committee (both the one in 2015 and the one in November 2016) was a meaningless gesture. In neither instance was the Standing Committee given any particulars about the sale, so its "consent" was uninformed, and for outward form's sake only.

B. We still do not know the amount +Bruno has contracted to accept for the church property, or for any of the other properties he is selling: $40 million is just an educated guess, based upon tax roll values. Nothing could demonstrate more clearly +Bruno's determination to keep all particulars of his dealings as a corporation sole from both his Standing Committee and his Diocese as a whole.

C. The Standing Committee is itself complicit in these matters, and acts as a willing rubber stamp for anything +Bruno decides to do. It has requested that he amend the articles of his corporation sole to provide for oversight and consent of its property dealings, but that is only a request -- as was the request the Convention made to +Bruno to disclose the finances of his corporation sole. He has thus far ignored both of them.

D. By virtue of his office, Bishop Bruno stands in a fiduciary relationship to his Diocese and to its governing bodies. A fiduciary under law has a duty to act in utmost good faith toward those who have put their trust in him. +Bruno's secretive conduct is the polar opposite of how a fiduciary is supposed to act toward those in his charge. For him, it's all about the money: business comes first, and to hell with fiduciary duties that get in the way.

E. Thus far, the complainants are the sole members of the Diocese who are trying to compel Bishop Bruno to observe fiduciary standards of conduct, and they are a decided minority. The Hearing Panel is their last resort. The Diocese of Los Angeles is receiving exactly the kind of fiduciary care that it asks for -- especially after its Board voted in May 2014 to transfer the Newport Beach property to the corporation sole, where it could be sold without +Bruno having to account to anyone.

F. Bishop Bruno's claim that the Panel "lacks jurisdiction" to direct him not to sell the property, while accurate in a church constitutional sense, ignores his fiduciary duties to the church of which he is an episkopos -- the Greek word for "overseer" or "guardian", used since the earliest days to describe the role and functions of a bishop. The Panel most certainly can sanction him for breach of his fiduciary duties toward his Diocese and its governing bodies, because such breach is the essence of "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy." If you can't put your trust in a man ordained to serve God, whom can you trust?

G. The whole charade of this matter puts ECUSA's Title IV procedures to the ultimate test. It brings into sharp relief the actual autonomy of dioceses and their bishops in relation to the national body itself, which is surprisingly weak in light of how recent Presiding Bishops and their Chancellors have sought to portray its supreme authority in civil litigation over church property. Oh, yes -- the Presiding Bishop and hired attorneys will swoop down upon any hapless rector and parish (or bishop and diocese) who dare to try to leave ECUSA, and drag them into never-ending and ruinously costly litigation, regardless of the harm done to its reputation. But let one of their own have his sovereign authority to act in his own diocese be challenged, and just watch how effete ECUSA will be in response. It has taken over a year to bring Bishop Bruno to this point, and he still defies the authority of the disciplinary bodies to hold him accountable for his conduct unbecoming. (It is ironic that the ENS is currently carrying a lead story on how bishops learn to be bishops.)

The proof will be forthcoming shortly. First the Board will act on the appeal (it has been asked to do so by next week, when Bishop Bruno is obligated to sign escrow papers to close the sale), and then the Hearing Panel will have to agree upon a final decision. Well, not really "final", because then there will be a motion for reconsideration, followed perhaps by a further appeal. You get the picture.


6/2/2017 6:27:00 PM
In the face of yet another onslaught from the never-Trump, ever-snorting boars (actually, bores) in the media, echoed by world so-called leaders from Europe and elsewhere, and by the brainwashed Democrats who can still commandeer a platform for a statement, it is time to pour another dose of cold reality onto the overheated political front.

Briefly: behind the Gadarene rush to condemn President Trump's announcement that he will no longer abide by the provisions of the Paris Agreement signed by President Obama is nothing more than political posturing. The campaign is designed only to spread rampant disinformation in an effort to undermine Trump's public support.

At the same time, the remarkable breadth and effrontery of this campaign is highly revealing of the motives of those behind it. There is no science (understood properly, as a prediction of what will happen when a process is repeated) to back their claims. Instead, there is a consensus of the like-minded and like-motivated, around the moniker of "climate change" (after all, who in his right mind could disagree that the climate changes over time?), that is propped up by highly flexible (and debatable) computer models.

And now that President Trump has had the gall to question the validity of their unsupported (and unsupportable) consensus, the elites and their media are in an uproar: an uproar based on fear of exposure, and not on facts (because there aren't any facts -- only elaborately constructed, and continually revised, computer models). I shall not boost their Web traffic by linking in this post to all the stories they have generated. You may, as Claude Rains would say, round up the usual suspects by going to Huffington Post, MSNBC, CNN or the New York Times, and take it from there.

In short, Obama signed the Paris Agreement as a hollow gesture to his Potemkin legacy, and now Trump has decided he won't play along with the charade. 

You will never read the whole truth in the mainstream media. So those of you who find your way to this obscure outpost on the worldwide Web may thank the luck (or chance) that brought you, because here you will find nothing but the unvarnished truth, as always -- no matter how unpalatable it may be. Qui potest capere capiat.

Let me begin with some unvarnished facts.

First, the so-called "Paris Agreement (or Accord)" of 2015 is called that, because it is not a full-fledged international treaty. It is more akin to a "gentlemen's agreement" between those who signed it as to the levels of greenhouse gases they will individually (as leaders) strive to meet on behalf of their respective countries. (I say "strive", because the Agreement contains no consequences for signatories who fail to reach their own set goals -- see below.)

Second, because it is not a treaty, it is not legally binding on any country whose leader signed it. Instead, it contemplates only a series of implementation measures to be adopted by the signers at future sessions, subject to formal ratification and adoption by the respective governmental bodies of their individual countries.

Third, in the United States, our Constitution gives legal effect only to a treaty that has been signed by the President and ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. (See Article II, Section 2 for the language.) All else is ephemeral: what one President signs, a later President may revoke.

President Obama signed the accord, but he never submitted it to the Senate for ratification. So it has no legal force on the United States, and never has had. It was only his personal commitment to the other signers to lower CO2 gas emissions, and that commitment ended when he left office. Trump was in no way legally bound to continue to honor it -- and now he has announced he will not.

Thus the vocal opposition to Trump's announcement is not based in law, or on any other justifiable ground. The measure of it is simply the degree to which the globalists are outraged that any public figure should attempt at this date to thwart their agenda. (After all, they managed to persuade the heads of 197 countries to climb on board initially, and now those heads have secured official ratification in 147 instances.)

In other words, their bobbing balloons having been punctured, the "climate change" enthusiasts are now emitting a gaseous pollution of their own into the atmosphere. The collective phenomenon is so unique to our experience that I have had to invent a new word for it: "Trumphooey".

Inclusivity Revisited

5/24/2017 11:13:00 PM
In lieu of an update while I still explore my alternatives, I am reposting this 2014 article, because I deem it most relevant to the decisions I face just now in evaluating what it truly means to join an "inclusive" church. Obviously, ECUSA has not achieved all that it expected from its plan to "broaden" its outreach while deposing those who dared to oppose its progressive agenda.

There is no future for those who would strive to remain orthodox within the oppressive atmosphere of ECUSA. This post from 2014 says it all:

Consider the following Canon of the Episcopal Church (USA), Canon I.17.5:
No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.
(There is a similar Canon applying to the discernment process for would-be clergy.) The words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity and expression" are the most recent additions to the list of grounds upon which Episcopalians are called not to discriminate. As this Canon's predecessor stood from its adoption in 1964 (at the height of the civil rights movement) until 1982, it read:
Every communicant or baptized member of this Church shall be entitled to equal rights and status in any Parish or Mission thereof. He shall not be excluded from the worship or Sacraments of the Church, nor from parochial membership, because of race, color, or ethnic origin.
With only slight rewording in 1982, the threefold grounds of "race, color, or ethnic origin" remained untouched until General Convention 1994, when the categories were expanded by one Resolution (1994-C020) to include "national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age." Most recently Resolution 2012-D002 added the categories "gender identity and expression."

What we see here is a progression from characteristics which define every human being, to characteristics that define only broad segments ("national origin, marital status, ... disabilities or age"), to ones that are much narrower ("sexual orientation" -- meaning, of course, "other than heterosexual"), and concluding with a category that characterizes a tiny minority indeed ("gender identity and expression").

Paradoxically, however, there appears to be an inverse relationship between the number of persons who could be placed within a given category and the sub-categories within that category.  Thus "marital status" breaks down into categories of single, married, divorced or widowed. Likewise, "race" and "ethnic origin", while capable of many gradations, are still defined by less than a dozen boxes on the census forms. But as Facebook (the largest social media site on earth) now is recognizing, there are no less than 58 sub-categories of "gender identity and expression."

Episcopalians point to this progression of smaller and smaller categories as one of increasing inclusivity. "There will be no outcasts in this Church," said Presiding Bishop Browning in 1986.

At the same time, the Episcopal Church has, since around 2000, been alienating hundreds of thousands of churchgoers, and deposing nearly a thousand of its clergy. What single characteristic do you think best identifies with those who have left or have been forced to leave?

If you responded "orthodoxy in tradition and belief," you would be correct.

And that fact speaks volumes about the Church's "inclusivity."

When the disenfranchised minorities pressed over the last ten years for their listing in the anti-discrimination Canons, where were the voices speaking up for the orthodox? It's a good question.

One could certainly put forth a modest proposal to rectify this increasing discrimination against the orthodox by those in ECUSA. It would propose to amend Canon I.17.5 (and its clergy counterpart) to read as follows:
No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, orthodoxy of belief or practice, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.
I can see people at once objecting: "How do we define 'orthodoxy of belief' or 'orthodoxy of practice'?" To which the obvious answer is: "Difficulty of definition was not an objection to adding the words 'gender identity and expression' in 2012, so why should we get hung up on definitions? Judging from the number of clergy being deposed, the Church leadership has no difficulty whatsoever in discerning just who is 'orthodox'."

Consider: we already have attacks on bishops and other clergy who do not march with the LGBTs, or who do not speak out enough against anti-gay laws, or who will not back same-sex marriages and blessings. (Does the word "homophobe" sound familiar?)

The addition of these words to the Canon would at least furnish a basis for trying to limit or end such attacks. They would also create a "safe harbor" for those who read their Scripture as it had been read for at least two thousand years before General Convention 2003.

And do you know what? That is exactly why such an amendment would never be adopted at General Convention.

For those now in charge of the Church want to keep up the pressure on the orthodox to go elsewhere. They are all for inclusion, but not of the traditional or orthodox. Those who once held power must apparently pay for the years of oppression they (albeit unintentionally) inflicted on minorities -- simply by being who they are, and upholding their traditional understandings of Holy Scripture.

It is Father Neuhaus' Law in spades: "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed." The tendency to limit orthodoxy by making it optional, and then to proscribe it altogether, cannot be stopped so long as the new liberalism of self-identity holds sway.

And why is that? In the essay just linked, Fr. Neuhaus gives a very perceptive explanation:
Orthodoxy, no matter how politely expressed, suggests that there is a right and a wrong, a true and a false, about things. When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy’s good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others.
I think Fr. Neuhaus has it exactly right. To adhere to tradition is to adhere to standards of right and wrong. People could disagree over particulars, and it was possible to have debates about the finer points. But no longer:
With the older orthodoxy it is possible to disagree, as in having an argument. Evidence, reason, and logic count, in principle at least. Not so with the new orthodoxy. Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, “My Identity.” Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity. In this game, identity is trumps. An appeal to what St. Paul or Aquinas or Catherine of Sienna or a church council said cannot withstand the undeniable retort, “Yes, but they are not me!” People pack their truths into what Peter Berger has called group identity kits. The chief item in the kit, of course, is the claim to being oppressed.
Oppression means that there are victims and oppressors, and the latter must pay for their sins against the victims. But first, they must forced to acknowledge the error of their orthodox ways. Are they against "being inclusive" or "being accepting"? Who would dare so be? So hit them with guilt -- after all, they are rich, white Episcopalians:
The proponents of truth-as-identity catch the dissidents coming and going. They say their demand is only for “acceptance,” leaving no doubt that acceptance means assent to what they know (as nobody else can know!), [and] is essential to being true to their authentic selves. Not to assent is not to disagree; it is to deny their humanity, which, especially in churches credally committed to being nice, is not a nice thing to do.
The culture of identity, however, is one of increasing fragmentation. For very few others can have shared all the experiences you have gone through to make you what you are -- i.e., there is no longer any common ground of experience. And the lack of common ground is the ultimate barrier to consensus and agreement on going forward. Appeals to past tradition and Scripture fall on deaf ears:
This helps explain why questions such as quota-ized representation, women’s ordination, and homosexuality are so intractable. There is no common ground outside the experiential circles of identity by which truth is circularly defined. Conservatives huff and puff about the authority of Scripture and tradition, while moderates appeal to the way differences used to be accommodated in the early church (before ca. 1968), but all to no avail. Whatever the issue, the new orthodoxy will not give an inch, demanding acceptance and inclusiveness, which means rejection and exclusion of whatever or whomever questions their identity, meaning their right to believe, speak, and act as they will, for what they will do is what they must do if they are to be who they most truly are. “So you want me to agree with you in denying who I am?” By such reasoning, so to speak, the spineless are easily intimidated.
Those who are not intimidated simply grow weary of the endless attacks on their orthodoxy, and the  stridency of those behind the attacks. But both kinds end up leaving -- not just in the hope of finding peace and quiet, but also because being constantly on the defensive is both spiritually debilitating and physically stressful. Religion is not supposed to consist of confrontation, of having continually to justify your faith while being called a "bigot", a "homophobe", and worse.

For traditional conservatives, religion used to be a communal affair. You were baptized in the church, married in the church, and given a funeral in the church -- in the midst of your community. (Indeed, that is the only reason, for example, we know when William Shakespeare was born, when he married, and when he died: the dates are all due to carefully preserved parish records.) The church was, for better or worse, the thread that linked all of your significant life events.

But the point was not that you made the church; instead, you came to the church in all humility, as an infant, and the church thereafter sheltered and supported you as you passed and marked each of life's milestones. It had its own authority, derived from the community that comprised it and the God they  worshipped, while you derived from it the nourishment that came from being part of that community which worshipped God. Nevertheless, it is due to man's fallen nature,which makes him think that he does not need God to help him, that man eternally tries to remake the church in his own image.

There is much more to commend in Fr. Neuhaus' essay of six years ago. Not least is his longer view, in which he contrasts the forces behind today's identity-liberalism with the forces that gave rise to the Anglo-Catholic movement in the 19th century. Both took on their respective cultures. While the latter was transformed in the process, we are unfortunately not yet able to see just what kind of transformation the current ideology will undergo.

Nevertheless, the two movements differ greatly in their essential goals. Anglo-Catholics sought to travel the via media of Anglicanism on a path toward the ultimate reconciliation of Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The modern crop of identity-liberals have no common goal other than to celebrate their own individuality, and to make others respect (and even honor) it. It is difficult to see, at this juncture, just how a church can stay together when the center no longer holds.

Turnings -- a Series (I)

4/25/2017 12:22:00 AM
Spring has been slow to come to the Sierras this year. Interspersed with periods of cold and freezing, we have experienced the heaviest rainfall thus far in our recorded history. It is raining even more as I write. The official season will not end until September 30, so the new record being set will keep pushing higher until then.

The copious precipitation is keeping, and will keep, our meadows and fields greener longer than ever this year. Normally they start to turn brown in early to mid-May (which is the usual start of California's "dry" season). The wildflowers are running riot, and the birds and the bees have plenty to do before the weather warms up.

With spring this year came Easter, of course. And with Easter came some significant changes in your Curmudgeon's household.

I still link to this post on the masthead of this blog, because it describes a significant milestone for me: it marks the date I decided I could no longer be a member of ECUSA, due to the blasphemous marriage rites adopted by the House of Bishops in General Convention. Although I had been a member ever since my earliest years (I was baptized into our local parish as an infant, and started singing in the choir at the age of four), June 30, 2015 marks the date when I became a wanderer in search of a denomination. ECUSA itself was irretrievably corrupted, and the choices available within even an hour's driving time were severely limited.

I still cherish nothing but warm feelings for the parish that raised me, and as they remain fully orthodox, I have trespassed upon their generosity by continuing to attend Sunday communion there. But the dichotomy of being now a guest in what was once my home has caused the connection I felt since childhood to be lost. It used to be a coherent part of a larger body for me, but now appears (I speak only for myself) disembodied. Moreover, the parish is undergoing a transition to a new (and as yet unknown) rector, and what it will be like in another year's time is very much an open question (in which I have, for the first time, no role to play).

Meanwhile, my dear wife of forty-five years patiently suffered through this time of limbo with me, until finally she could drift untethered no longer. Following up on an interest that she had developed from our attending a conference of the American Chesterton Society, she began taking instruction last year as a candidate who would follow in the path of that great man (and his wife). At an Easter vigil ceremony on April 15 this year, she was formally received into our local Roman Catholic Church.

And so for the time being (just as the Chestertons were, because Frances was too Anglican to follow G.K. into Catholicism immediately), we are a denominationally divided household. Though we both may of course still attend services and sit and pray together, I cannot take communion any longer with my wife, as she can no longer take communion with me. (If there were an Anglican Ordinariate parish within driving distance, our joint decision might be far less difficult.)

This temporary state of affairs has spurred me to look into just why it must be so. Of course I know the historical reasons, but I know just as certainly that there will not be any denominations after the Second Coming. So if we as Christians will not look to them in the future, why exactly do we have need of them and their arbitrary boundaries now? Salvation is a matter of faith through God's grace -- even the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics have reached agreement on that much. The other things that divide us are things that the Second Coming will render irrelevant, such as the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, or the catechism, or the prayer book.

Blogging has fallen away precisely because of my preoccupation with these (for me) vital questions. With the five hundredth anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation this year, I have been spending my available time going back through the history of those momentous times, in an effort better to understand how we Christians all ended up where we are today.

Scholars appear to agree that Luther did not intend to start a new denomination, but his own temper and acerbity provoked his opponents to meeting his attacks with wounding parries of their own. Nevertheless, there was not just one Reformation between 1517 and 1648, but many, once Luther gained the princes' attention (with the help of the printing press), and once the momentum he built up then spread across national borders.

There was no one driving force behind these individual movements. Instead, it appears to be a case of many pressures having built up to the point that the customary boundaries of religion and society could not withstand the internal and external onslaughts from so many directions at once.

Likewise, as we today appear to be heading into the end times, there are many currents that threaten, just as they did in the 16th century, to overwhelm and engulf what traditional religious outposts remain to provide society's glue. The secular forces of today are allied as they have never been before by their common contempt for the principles of orthodox Christianity -- by which I mean the faith once handed down to us by the saints. For that matter, the defenders of those principles appear as few and far between.

It is too early in my explorations for me to say whether I will eventually be able to bid Anglicanism goodbye, since its spirit still runs strong in my veins -- no matter how much the weak-willed Welbys of the world appear bent on diluting it. But as I foreshadowed in many posts here long ago, the tocsin is now sounding the passing of the Church of England; its days as a single denomination are numbered. And once the mother salt loses its saltiness, of what use is it to the rest of us Anglicans?

Although I have long considered myself in the tradition of Anglo-Catholics, it is the patrimony of Cranmer, Hooker and Jewel -- and their identification with the Catholic traditions that came before -- that I cherish more than any label of the service that I attend. I respect those worthies' attempts to stay Catholic (i.e., retain the saltiness of their mother church) within the bounds that the English monarchy's own selfish desires set for them. And Sir Thomas More remains one of my great heroes precisely because he refused to yield up to the demands of his monarch his faithfulness to his church.

Luther, though, is a different story. For one thing, unlike the other heroes I have been mentioning, he was inseparable from his own ego, even while he no doubt believed in his heart he was unable to do (or stand) other than as he did. But his sheer inability to see other points of view made him into a one-note record: he either drowned you out, or drove you away, and he cared not which, just so long as you ceased offering opposition to his views. There was nothing to admire in his scorn for Erasmus, who tried so hard to keep Luther from burning all the bridges that originally tied him to Catholicism. After their final and very public rupture in 1526, the rest is history. And western Christianity has never recovered, but become only more and more splintered.

So as I continue with my readings and researches, I hope to put before you from time to time some preliminary results, as well as pointers toward future and further inquiries, along my path to a new discernment. I invite you, as always, to share your civil comments and insights as you are moved to do so by what appears here. And I thank you for your patience and indulgence as this old dog tries to find a place where he may lay his head. Please keep us in your prayers -- may God bless you all.

Episcopal Church Forms Title Company, Acquires Law Firm

4/1/2017 2:01:00 AM
Unable to obtain title policies any more on any of the thousands of properties held at the national, diocesan or local parish level, the Episcopal Church (USA) announced plans today to use part of its endowment to establish its own company to provide title insurance for its members. At the same time, ECUSA announced it has acquired a national law firm in an effort to control its litigation expenses, which reportedly are out of control.

"The [title insurance] problem appears to be with our [so-called] Dennis Canon," said a Church spokesperson at the national headquarters in New York City. After a full review of the more than 90 cases in which the title to church property has been disputed in the last sixteen years, the national association of title insurance companies recommended last month that no further title policies be given to any parish, diocese or other entity affiliated with ECUSA, or to any person purchasing property from any Church unit.

"All we have been told," the spokesperson continued, "is that multiple uncertainties over the meaning, application and effect of the Dennis Canon, as demonstrated by the extremely variegated reception it has had in State courts across the country, make it impossible for title companies reasonably to assess the risks of insuring such properties. And without being able to assess the risks, they are unable to set any premiums for such coverage. So, if a property was ever at any time arguably under the strictures of the Dennis Canon, they just won't issue a policy for it any more."

Asked whether it was a problem that the Dennis Canon purports to create a nationwide trust in favor of ECUSA that is unrecorded in any State, the spokesperson admitted: "We understand that is a significant part of the problem, yes."

And why can't the Church simply proceed to record trust documents in every State, to get around that problem?

"Well, that's why we resorted to the Canon in the first place," the spokesperson responded. "We simply could never count on the over 7,000 individual parishes across the country agreeing to sign such documents. So we just created the trust on our own -- and it worked very well for the first twenty years, because no one ever noticed what we had done. But ever since that case in South Carolina -- the Wiccam case, or whatever its name was -- there have been nearly a hundred cases brought either to enforce or to nullify Dennis Canon trusts."

"And we've reached a decision, just like the title companies, that we can't continue in this fashion. So we're forming our own Title Insurance Company of The Episcopal Church for Terrae Omni Ecclesiae -- that Latin part means 'all Church properties'.  That abbreviates as TICTECTOE, which we think is rather a handy mnemonic for our clergy and vestries."

In a separate announcement today, ECUSA gave a nod to its burgeoning litigation activity on all fronts, which to date has included: (1) filing suit against its own Church Insurance Company; (2) being sued by its own former employees; and (3) bringing suit against the donor of one of its most valuable properties, to say nothing of (4) suing over 90 of its former parishes, dioceses, bishops, and clergy. The statement released from its 815 Second Avenue headquarters reads as follows:
The Episcopal Church (USA) is pleased to announce its acquisition of the national law firm of Dewey Sooem and Howe, in order to bring the handling of all civil and ecclesiastical litigation under one roof. "We see this as a natural continuation of our policy to serve Jesus by having all our legal matters handled in house," said Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

In order to avoid violating legal professional norms, all partners in the famed firm have agreed to accept priestly orders in the Church; associates will be ordained as deacons. While the salaries they will be paid will not even approach what they had earned in their own firm, a partner said off the record that they were handsomely compensated by the buyout, and further that, as clergy, they could now look forward to the extremely generous benefits paid by the Church Pension Fund.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry stated that the $160 million expense of the acquisition will be offset by future savings in fees paid to outside law firms in the various States, which Curry said had cost the Church and its 110 dioceses over $60 million to date. "We will make up the cost in just five to eight years," he said. "From that point forward, litigation for the Church will be an addition to our bottom line, instead of the constant subtraction it has been till now. Moreover, when not busy with litigation, the firm's members will be available for us as supply priests for all the new missions we are hoping to establish in the coming years. So from our point of view, it's all win-win."

Slouching Towards Socialism

3/25/2017 7:54:00 PM
It seems I am constrained to commenting these days on politics. (Religion news is akin to reporting that "there is a Beast slouching towards Bethlehem.")

The recent fiasco in Congress over repealing and replacing Obamacare was the result of an inability to obtain agreement, even among so-called "Republicans", that more welfare is not the answer to what is plaguing the American Republic.

That proposition should have earned the unqualified assent of every Republican Congressperson elected to office last November. That it did not is the measure of the State's degeneration to date, under both parties.

During Obama's eight years, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed dozens and dozens of measures repealing Obamacare. They went nowhere, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic President Barack Obama.

But now, when Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress, they were unable to undo the regulatory disaster that is Obamacare for once and for all. Why?

The answer may not be popular, but here it is, in plain black and white:

Obamacare is welfare, plain and simple. Americans are hooked on welfare (the government paying for things that people used to obtain privately, whether on their own or though private charity). Rather than simply pass a bill repealing all of Obamacare, the Republican leadership tried to replace the welfare of Obamacare with a new form of welfare. And they could not get all of their colleagues in the party to agree to it -- because there are still some Republicans, at least, who think that subsidizing health care is not the proper function of the federal Government.

There are two major reasons why that stance is correct.

First, Government-run welfare programs are a guaranteed road to deficits and disaster. Look at how well Obamacare has fared, and look at the 225-plus years of the U.S. Postal Service. The reason is plain, but no bureaucrat will admit it: in welfare run by the government, there is no accountability to the bottom line. The tab for any and all deficits is simply picked up by "the taxpayers."

Second, people naturally value things only as they have to pay for them. Paying people's medical costs for them -- even with the absurd "deductibles" recently set under Obamacare -- keeps them from learning what are the real costs of the health care that they demand. And paying so that pre-existing conditions will be covered without question guarantees that people will not ever pay for health care coverage before they have need of it. Once again, the taxpayers are left with the deficits.

Notwithstanding those self-evident truths, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (and President Trump) tried to railroad through the House a replacement for Obamacare that would have kept Americans on medical welfare. The only thing to lament is that there were so few genuinely conservative Republicans who voted to block their attempt. But at least it was enough for the moment.

As America sinks ever deeper into the mire of unaccountable and unaffordable government, may those who see clearly come to dominate the current trend and reverse its course. We have not come this far only to abandon all that we stood for when we declared our independence, and to succumb again to serfdom under a (this time, self-imposed) tyranny.

Obamacare should indeed be repealed (along with the restriction of offering insurance across State borders). But there is no necessity whatever to replace it, and certainly not at the federal level. Let those States who have a majority of socialists vote in their own welfare programs, and let the markets decide what works best.

About that Ninth Circuit Opinion

2/10/2017 3:54:00 PM
First: Like the original non-decision by Federal District Judge James L. Robart, the 29-page order by the Ninth Circuit on Thursday does not qualify as a genuine decision on the law. Neither one of them cites or discusses the basic statutory authority for the President's Executive Order. They simply brush right past his authority in order to reach conclusions on issues that are really beside the point until one has addressed the scope of the President's powers in this area -- which are about as extensive as they can be. (See this article for a full explanation.)

Second. Although upholding the States' standing on a very narrow ground involving attendance / employment at State universities, the Ninth Circuit panel ignored US Supreme Court precedent that requires that a plaintiff demonstrate standing for all of the claims being asserted. (See the author's second point in the article just linked.) The States had no basis in fact whatsoever to present claims on behalf of foreign refugees seeking to come here; nor did they have standing to argue on behalf of other aliens who had no university-related visas (the vast majority of aliens affected by the EO). That fact did not stop either court from ordering a halt -- nationwide -- as to either the 90-day ban (for aliens from seven countries) or the 120-day ban on refugees.

Third: "Could the President have issued an order that simply banned all Muslims?" asked Judge Canby of the panel. The question was irrelevant to the issues actually involved, since the EO nowhere uses the word, and as even another member of the panel pointed out, it still allowed in the vast majority of the world's Muslims. Moreover, whether one practices Islam is beside the point -- no one has ever urged keeping an alien out based on his or her professed religion. The question displays a basic liberal confusion between the religion of Islam (whose followers are called "Muslims"), and the (non-religious, at least in my book) doctrine of jihad against infidels, which sanctions terrorism. Most of the jihadis who engage in terrorism will tell you that they are also Muslims -- but again, that is why one would not want to define terrorists by the religion they profess. The EO was aimed at seven specific countries that sponsor and inculcate terrorism. It was thus not aimed at any religion per se, but at specific places of origin. The made-up issue of "religious discrimination" in the EO is a giant red herring, designed to mislead. And it certainly sucked in the panel, right along with Judge Robart.

In sum: One could say the courts told the executive branch: "You are (probably -- since this was just a TRO) guilty of overreaching. Under our system, only the courts can overreach. We can stop you, but you can't stop us."

Or perhaps Ben Stein of the American Spectator says it best of all:
What that court did on Thursday was the equivalent of Japan suing FDR in 1941 saying that if the USA went to war against Japan many Japanese would be killed and wounded. Therefore, Japan argued, the due process rights of the Japanese would be violated and the court must enjoin the U.S. going to war. Incredibly, this court in Seattle said Thursday that foreigners who were neither citizens nor residents had due process rights against the USA. This is obvious nonsense.
Yes, the EO was poorly considered, poorly drafted and poorly implemented. But the response to it by our judicial branch has been simply disgraceful. No one involved in this sorry spectacle has any reason to be proud of what they did. And there is no reason at all to continue the circus for one moment longer.

May better days be ahead.

A Taste of Their Own Medicine?

2/9/2017 1:28:00 AM
The ever-litigious bunch at 815 Second Avenue, the New York headquarters of ECUSA, may be getting a taste of their own medicine. Or it may just be a case of litigation inculturated beyond the point of no return: the litigators at ECUSA have been sued by the Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, one of their own (and a former lawyer in his own right), who worked there as Chief Operating Officer until the Presiding Bishop terminated him last April.

The complaint, unusually filed in Alabama's Mobile County Circuit Court (see remarks below), makes for an absorbing read (or maybe that's just a lawyer talking): you may download it here. (A big tip o' the Rumpolean bowler to The Living Church, which first broke the story.) It names ECUSA and its corporate arm, the DFMS, as defendants, along with 30 unidentified "John Does", who allegedly participated in some manner in the actions alleged.

Herewith are some pertinent extracts, with my annotations in between:
6. Bishop Sauls has served in a number of leadership capacities in his career in the Episcopal Church. For more than four years, he served as the Episcopal Church’s Chief Operating Officer, under two Presiding Bishops. Both of those Presiding Bishops have praised his work performance. In the annual performance evaluations of Bishop Sauls, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, by whom Bishop Sauls was appointed Chief Operating Officer, complimented his “creative and deeply effective leadership as COO”. Bishop Jefferts Schori’s successor, The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, who took office in November 2015, has stated publicly that DFMS was never more effective than under Bishop Sauls’s leadership.  
7. Sauls, however, is the victim of a wrongful conspiracy via a calculated, determined, and prolonged series of acts in furtherance of the conspiracy, as carried out by individuals employed by the Church, and others outside the employment of the Church, who repeatedly have attacked the office and person of Chief Operating Officer, including by measures calculated to undermine the authority, stature, and leadership of the Plaintiff and his former office, as part of a scheme to elevate the stature and authority of the President of the Church’s House of Deputies and to constitute that position as an office to be regarded and treated, in respect to Church governance and the exercise of authority over the staff and resources of the Church, as co-equal with the office of the Presiding Bishop.
Got that? Bishop Sauls is alleging that he lost his position due to "a determined and prolonged ... conspiracy ... to elevate ... the President of the ... House of Deputies ... as co-equal..." That would be the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, who indeed is named in the next paragraph.

I won't copy all the details of that and the next five paragraphs, but will just summarize them. According to Bishop Sauls, the Rev. Jennings and her (unnamed) cohorts in 2014 twice accused him of official misconduct, but he was exonerated each time following two costly ($500K!) outside investigations, plus another internal one. Nothing daunted, the conspirators then introduced legislation (horrors!) at GC 2015 to change his position to one that serves at the will of the Executive Council, instead of at the will of the Presiding Bishop -- but that legislation also went nowhere.

Nevertheless, the attacks by the Rev. Jennings resumed as soon as new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry assumed the duties of his office late in 2015. Paragraph 14 of the complaint gives some small inkling of what may have been irking the President of the HOD (my bold added for emphasis):
14. In particular President Jennings attacked, as she had on numerous previous occasions, a policy instituted by Bishop Sauls requiring that every DFMS staff member notify him, as COO, or the Deputy Chief Operating Officer, of any contact or communication received by any such person from any member of the Executive Council or from the President of the House of Deputies.
It appears as though Bishop Sauls was running a very tight ship at 815 (as he is reported to have done when he served as Bishop of Lexington, before coming to New York). He wanted to know about every single contact that the Rev. Jennings or any member of the Executive Council made with any of his staff. And perhaps that was one straw too much for the determined Rev. Jennings:
15. The John Doe Defendants’ wrongful conduct persisted into late 2015 and 2016, when new false charges prompted yet another investigation of alleged misconduct by Bishop Sauls. The objective again was to attack Bishop Sauls, for the further purpose of elevating the authority of the President of the House of Deputies over the Presiding Bishop. Such an alteration in the governance of the Church, in Bishop Sauls’s view, would have far-reaching and extremely harmful consequences for the Church, impairing and impeding the ability of its leadership to carry out their management functions and mission of the Church.
The outlines of the turf battle at 815 are now clear. By way of background, the reader is reminded that rivalry between the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies goes back to the relationship between former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and former HOD President Bonnie Anderson -- over issues of turf and budget. (Notice how Bishop Sauls makes an appearance in that latter story, as well.)

The details of putting the conspiracy into action, leading up to the suspension and eventual dismissal of Bishop Sauls by the Presiding Bishop, are alleged in paragraphs 16 through 25 of the complaint. Along the way, the chief litigators for ECUSA, David Booth Beers and Mary Kostel, make brief appearances -- such as this one (from paragraph 16, with my emphasis added):
In November and early December 2015, during a meeting of the Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice, the Chancellor to the Presiding Bishop, David Booth Beers, a lawyer in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Goodwin Procter LLP, commented on upcoming disciplinary matters, stating that there were two such matters that “would be ugly.”
(Note that word "disciplinary," when as we shall see, ECUSA never brought any disciplinary charges against Bishop Sauls.) And then this confrontation is alleged:
18. At the noon meeting [on December 9, 2015], Mr. Beers told the Plaintiff and his colleagues that the allegations against them were grim and serious, including charges of racism, sexism, retaliation, sexual harassment, and creation of a hostile workplace. Mr. Beers and Ms. Kostel declined to provide any details. According to Ms. Kostel, the charges were “too inchoate” for the Church to be able to say anything more, but were “choate enough” to warrant placing the three on leave and under investigation. Mr. Beers warned that the Church planned to engage an independent investigator, and that the Presiding Bishop wanted the investigation concluded quickly. Mr. Beers ordered Bishop Sauls to exit his office by 5:00 p.m. on that day, and return his office access key card, barring him from TEC premises. In an attempt to further frustrate any search for the truth, Mr. Beers instructed Bishop Sauls to have no further contact with any officers, employees, or staff of DFMS.
[Note: I love that resort to the non-existent word "choate" as a supposed antonym for "inchoate". Ms. Kostel apparently never argued a case in front of Justice Scalia.]

This is conduct we have all become familiar with, through many posts here about ECUSA's litigation tactics. Bishops swoop into parishes, fire the vestry, order the rector out, change the locks, and most often do so without warning or explanation. The irony should not be lost -- now the friendly folk at 815 did it to three of their own! And still without providing any details or explanation to the victims!

The remainder of the allegations have to do with the attorneys for the parties jockeying over the wording of the public statements that the Church released -- first in December, when the suspensions of Bishop Sauls and two of his staff were announced, and then in April of this year, when their terminations were announced after an arduous investigation. It should be noted that although the investigation exonerated Bishop Sauls of all charges, he alleges that to this date he has never been informed by anyone at 815 just what the charges against him were. As a result, he alleges, ECUSA's highly public announcements gratuitously ruined his reputation.

One last, telling detail from the complaint (paragraph 26, with my emphasis):
The Presiding Bishop offered no explanation for this decision [to dismiss him] other than remarking to Bishop Sauls, during a private meeting between them on April 4, that “things are too broken,” and that “there were people who wanted your head.” At the outset of their meeting, one of the first things that the Presiding Bishop said to Bishop Sauls, was: “Stace, you’ve been through hell,” a characterization that the Plaintiff then considered, and continues to consider, as a gross understatement of what he had endured.
The complaint asks relief from the court for (1) breach of contract (i.e., the Employee Handbook at ECUSA); (2) libel and slander against him; (3) failure to reimburse his attorneys' fees and expenses incurred as a result of the investigations, which exonerated him; and (4) intentional interference with his prospects for future employment in ECUSA.

Paragraph 48 indeed contains a litany of seven positions for which Bishop Sauls has subsequently sought employment, only to be turned down -- including even by "a small parish with average Sunday attendance of about 30..." (!). He alleges that his difficulties in landing a job are due to all the bad conduct by 815 in publicizing anonymous charges before they were even investigated, with such resulting damage to his reputation that anyone Googling his name will not want to hire him. (Well, Google does tell quite a tale -- not all of it, however, related to his time at 815, but even going back to his tenure as Bishop of Lexington.)

It is very unusual for a complaint like this, involving a New York resident against a New York religious corporation, to be filed in a circuit court of Mobile County, Alabama. The complaint explains (paragraph 44) that as a result of the accusations against him, Bishop Sauls hired a southern law firm whose Mobile, Alabama office ran up most of the bills for which he is seeking reimbursement. (Notably, they are not his attorneys for the lawsuit -- perhaps because their earlier bills have not been paid.) Because ECUSA operates in all 50 States it of course may be sued there, but it remains to be seen whether the Alabama court will find sufficient connections there to entertain the suit. (Watch for ECUSA's attorneys to file a motion to dismiss the case to force the plaintiff to refile it in New York.)

The complaint is notable for other things which it does not say. In particular (presumably because Bishop Sauls maintains ECUSA has never disclosed the basis for the charges against him), there is no mention of the infamous hidden tape recorder incident. That discovery came at a meeting of the Executive Council, held just three weeks before the suspensions, when the Council went into executive session (without Bishop Sauls or other staff present) to discuss, among other things, the amount of housing allowance to be given to clergy on ECUSA's staff, including Bishop Sauls). Despite the close proximity of that incident to the suspensions, the only indications the complaint gives of the charges brought are the ones quoted in paragraph 18 above.

So what does all this amount to? There are a number of preliminary observations that can be made.

It is impossible to escape the intent of the complaint to portray the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings as a major schemer and conspirator in the downfall of Bishop Sauls. It is understandable that he does not want to lay charges against his former boss, but the allegations made in the last paragraph I quoted above give the appearance of a Presiding Bishop who has surrendered to the forces with which he is contending, and is not fully in charge as the chief executive.

Essentially, as per Bishop Sauls, the President of the HOD wants to function in ECUSA's polity as a "co-equal" with the Presiding Bishop (see paragraph 7 quoted above). Doing so means commandeering more of the national budget, and adding to her staff. Those designs brought the Rev. Jennings directly into conflict with Bishop Sauls, whose job was to oversee the executive portion of the budget, and whose power, prestige and authority could be undermined by any diminution in the stature of Presiding Bishop or his office.

It is also to be noted that in their joint statement to the staff at 815 about the lawsuit, Presiding Bishop Curry and President Jennings allude to the fact that they tried to buy off Bishop Sauls with a "good faith and compassionate [severance] offer, [which] was not accepted. The Presiding Bishop, as a steward of church resources, felt that he could not go beyond that offer and explain it in good conscience to the church." (Well, how does Bishop Curry feel now about having to explain all of these unsavory allegations to his flock?)

Compassion at the top, in other words, goes only so far -- but the fact he received no severance package or reimbursement is why Bishop Sauls appears now to have to reckon with a large unpaid legal bill. And that may well have forced his hand in bringing the lawsuit.

So in the end, as with so many other things involving ECUSA these days, it's all about money. The good folk at 815 spent probably around a million dollars on outside investigations of Bishop Sauls -- three times -- without a single result. But they could not provide enough of a severance package to prevent the airing of some rather unsightly laundry, and would rather spend more of their trust funds on fighting a lawsuit. And this is an organization that still styles itself a Christian church.

Exacerbating Disunion

2/6/2017 4:28:00 PM
This is ostensibly a blog covering matters Anglican, but the news from that front has been so desultory that till now I have refrained from writing about it.

Essentially, the Anglican Communion is sundered, and is no longer accurately described as a "Communion." It should be restyled "the Anglican Disunion."

There is no single cause of the brokenness, but certainly one major cause has been the lawlessness of ECUSA. (That is one acronym for what was formerly the Episcopal Church of the USA, of which I was once a regular member; it also referred to itself as "TEC." Now those initials -- for me, at least -- stand only for the words "The Episcopal Congregations [in the USA]", since a denomination that has made blasphemy part of its official rites is no longer entitled to be called a church).

Those who need more background will find at this page links to all the previous posts here describing the breakup process.

A year ago January, as reported in this post, the Archbishop of Canterbury managed to gather most all of the Anglican Primates at his see for a discussion about the state of the Disunion. The outcome of that discussion was an agreement "requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity."

Just three months afterward, the Anglican Consultative Council (a deliberative body in which lay persons, clergy, bishops and Primates all take part as elected representatives of their respective denominations) held its sixteenth triennial meeting in Lusaka, Zambia. Representatives from ECUSA attended, but refused to honor the Primates' requirement to abstain from certain deliberations of the Council having to do with "doctrine or polity." Nor did the Council bar them from doing so.

The Episcopal delegates not only refused, but they gloated about the Council's refusal even to consider the Primates' requirement. In an open letter they sent to ECUSA after the meeting, which was published in the official Episcopal News Service, they reported that although Archbishop Welby had communicated the results of the January meeting to the Council, "ACC members seemed to have little energy for answering the primates’ call for consequences".

(Needless to say, a number of the Primates not in attendance at ACC-16, including mainly the ones affiliated with the organization known as GAFCON, treated this "lack of energy" as a personal betrayal of them by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He has constitutional authority over the ACC as its permanent President, and certainly could have brought their requirement up for a vote. Instead, he simply mentioned it in his report to the ACC, and failed to push it after that.)

Thus just as they flouted Resolution 1.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference in 2003, when they approved the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson contrary to that Resolution, and just as they have repeatedly, in the years since, rejected all calls to change their course, ECUSA is determined to walk apart from the former Communion while keeping up the pretense that their actions have not turned it into a Disunion. ("How could it be a 'Disunion'?" I hear them asking. "We still attend all its meetings!")

Not only do they insist on exercising their full authority and rights when it comes to participation in Anglican-wide affairs, but they rub it in the GAFCON Primates' faces every chance they get. For instance, Archbishop Welby has invited all Anglican Primates (with the exception of ACNA's, whom he had invited the previous year) to another meeting at Canterbury next October. Just last week, the official news organ of the Anglican [Dis]union published a story about his invitation, and his expectations for the meeting. In the process, they rather loosely characterized ECUSA's actions at ACC-16 in Lusaka (by serving up what is called "Anglican fudge" to describe what happened).

The ECUSA delegates to that meeting issued a response challenging the story's accuracy, and ACNS had to add some further explanation by way of making the fudge thicker. (See the updated story here, and the explanation at the end. What ACNS added is the last sentence to the next-to-last paragraph.)

The upshot is that ECUSA once again saw to it that the other Primates were told in no uncertain terms that ECUSA had never yet acceded to their demands, and was not about to change its course.

Needless to say, the GAFCON Primates (who had already signaled that they would be unlikely to accept Archbishop Welby's invitation, in view of what they saw as his betrayal, above) were amused neither by ACNS's waffling, nor by ECUSA's response.

Where are we, then? Nothing really has changed since last January. There is supposedly a "Task Force" at work trying "to maintain conversation among [the Primates] with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, [and] healing the legacy of hurt . . ." It met last September and according to the ACNS story linked earlier, is due to meet again this year.

Well, as they say, good luck with that. For the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to try to keep the conversation going by appointing ECUSA's Presiding Bishop to the Task Force. Doubtless that was an act of good faith taken just after the meeting last January, after the Primates had agreed (in their Statement just linked) on their "unanimous desire to walk together."

But that desire to walk together was expressed before ECUSA and its ACC delegates -- once last April, and now again just last week -- reiterated their determination not to yield one inch, to walk apart, and to stick it to the other Primates who had called for ECUSA's discipline.

It's a little hard to carry on a dialogue when one of the parties continually shouts the others down, and rejects any consensus.

When the Primates representing a majority of the world's Anglicans do not show up for the ABC's meeting next October, the ones who do attend will probably express regret at the absences, and then go on with their meeting. They will not, however, hold ECUSA accountable for the breakup it has caused.

And by rights, of course, if both the ABC and ECUSA's Presiding Bishop were to abide by the requirements laid down last January, then Archbishop Welby should not have invited the Most Rev. Michael Curry to attend this year, and the latter should not accept the former's invitation. But he will -- so ECUSA's defiance of the agreement reached at the Primates meeting last January, and the ABC's betrayal of his colleagues, will continue right into October and beyond.

The separation will by then be a fact of life, and each side will thereafter just meet on their own. As foretold long ago by the Primates who met in an urgently called session in London in October 2003:
To this extent, therefore, we must make clear that recent actions ... in the Episcopal Church (USA) do not express the mind of our Communion as a whole, and these decisions jeopardise our sacramental fellowship with each other. . . If [Bishop Robinson's] consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA).

The Left Engulfed

1/30/2017 11:57:00 AM
Your Curmudgeon could barely manage to look at the Internet this morning. Everywhere one clicked were stories and screaming headlines about the worst calamity ever to hit the country since Donald Trump took the oath of office (er, that would be exactly ten days ago).

A mere ten days, and the left has already turned the dial up to 11? Tomorrow at 8 PM Eastern, the President will announce his nominee to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Scalia. Will the ensuing clamor drown out all that has gone before? We moderates wait with bated breath.

In the meantime, as an initial antidote to the absurd freakout over the President's immigration order, please read this sober assessment of its real impact, in light of similar actions by four previous presidents, as we go forward.

Then, if additional smellling salts are needed, perhaps gentle laughter might be the best medicine.

No Need to Drown in a Sea of PC

1/15/2017 1:54:00 PM
It was entirely foreseeable, but unavoidable nevertheless. The Sea of Political Correctness, fed since November 9 by the tears of the self-righteous, is now engulfing its devotees and followers. Vainly casting about for safe spaces where they may continue to breathe air unsullied by what they perceive as the sulfurous emanations of their opponents, they are gasping, choking and sinking as wave after wave of fresh emotional outbursts crashes over their heads.

The sad thing is that it is all a mirage of their own manufacture. Political correctness is the ultimate vanity of the self. The self presumes to judge others as unworthy of it, or as threatening to it, or even as indebted to it -- in other words, political correctness builds up the self at the expense of the other. Ask yourself: just who is it who makes the determination of what is and is not "correct"?

The phenomenon is the prime example of what Elias Canetti described in 1960 in Crowds and Power:
A man stands by himself on a secure and well defined spot, his every gesture asserting his right to keep others at a distance. He stands there like a windmill on an enormous plain, moving expressively; and there is nothing between him and the next mill. All life, so far as he knows it, is laid out in distances — the house in which he shuts himself and his property, the positions he holds, the rank he desires — all these serve to create distances, to confirm and extend them....

These hierarchies … exist everywhere and everywhere gain a decisive hold on men’s minds and determine their behavior to each other. But the satisfaction of being higher in rank than others does not compensate for the loss of freedom of movement. Man petrifies and darkens in the distances he has created. He drags at the burden of them, but cannot move. He forgets that it is self-inflicted, and longs for liberation. But how, alone, can he free himself?
(My emphasis added.) How, indeed? Canetti's insight was that in such individual acts of discrimination, and in the psychological, self-induced fears that they generate, crowds have both their genesis and their reason for existing:
Only together can men free themselves from their burdens of distance; and this, precisely, is what happens in a crowd… Each man is as near the other as he is to himself; and an immense feeling of relief ensues. It is for the sake of this blessed moment, when no-one is greater or better than another, that people become a crowd.
So it is with political correctness. An individual's fear of being viewed as "different", or as a victim, or as inferior, weak or helpless, dissolves when that individual can link up with others of like mind and form a crowd which possesses the collective power of their groupthink: they can express a condemnation of the source of their fears that has the illusion of being well-nigh universal. "Everyone agrees that ...  " "No one would ever be so cruel as to think that ..."

Despite the seeming power of a crowd, it is ephemeral and illusory. So long as it has a defined direction, it can continue to grow. But if it splinters into groups headed in different directions, or meets an insurmountable barrier, it breaks up, dissolves, and loses its apparent collective force.

And that is what we are witnessing in the aftermath of the election. The politically correct crowd was so certain of its ability to name the next President that it shattered on the shoals of the Electoral College. It has been unable since then to re-form under a single, agreed leader. It is instead trying to coalesce under a common hatred of the successful candidate. Hatred, however, like fear, needs a crowd in which to dissolve, and a crowd needs direction -- which is supplied by a leader.

As the successful candidate has demonstrated time and again, the best defense against political correctness is to refuse to play along with its illusory power -- indeed, to do the very opposite of what it "commands" in any given instance. By saying and showing that the emperor has no clothes, the bubble of the illusion is popped, and sober reality steps in.

But it is not enough just to prick the balloon of political correctness. The reality that replaces it has to be a genuine reality, or else it, too, will devolve into just another variety of PC miasma. And to be genuine, that reality has to be experienced as having its own integrity -- as possessing an inherent guiding force that derives from its goals, and from the means employed to achieve them.

Such a reality has been but dimly encapsulated in the campaign slogan "Make America great again." It needs to be fleshed out with concrete programs of proposed legislation and executive actions that are designed once more (as they were at the country's outset) to foster American exceptionalism, in order to allow both Americans and others to be comfortable with a world leader that seeks no one's subjugation, no territorial conquests, and no applications of force save in the defense of America herself, or of her allies.

We are not there yet. Such a program has not yet taken discrete form.

But there is every reason to hope that a beginning has been made -- is being made as I write -- and that, with God's grace, America may truly once more show the way in its humility, in its decency, and in its willingness to serve without expectation of reward.

And in the meantime, it will not hurt to pray for those currently drowning in the sea of their own political correctness: that they may shake off their self-absorption and fear, and emerge onto the firm, dry land of an America that could put them to good purpose as well.

The End Times in Jesus' Own Words - Pt. IV

12/24/2016 3:43:00 PM
On this last day of Advent season, it is fitting to conclude this series with a post on the second coming, or parousia, of Jesus. We begin with a short review of the points Jesus made in his discourse to his disciples on the Mount of Olives in the last week of his earthly life -- the clues to when it would happen (of which the first point below is the most important):

  • “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36 ESV)
  • “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.” (Matthew 24:15-18 ESV) [Note: This and other clues referred to in the two previous posts on the Great Tribulation indicate that there will first have to be a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.]
  • “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:11-12 ESV)
  • “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14 ESV) [Compare Rev 14:6: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”]
  • Jesus then makes clear that He will come again, in glory, at the end of the times of tribulation described so vividly in John's retelling of the vision Jesus gave him in the Book of Revelation (Matthew 24:29-30 ESV, with my emphasis added):
    Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 
    This event will happen, however, very suddenly: “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:27 ESV) Compare the elements of Jesus’ description of his parousia with the John’s description of the events following the breaking of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-17 ESV):
    When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
    Compare also these passages with those in the Old Testament -- starting with the ancient words of the prophet Joel:
    The Day of the LORD (Joel 2:1-2, 3:14-16 ESV) 
     Blow a trumpet in Zion;
    sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
    Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
    For the day of the LORD is near
    in the valley of decision.
    The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.

    The LORD roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth quake.
    But the LORD is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the people of Israel.
    (See also the other OT “Day of the LORD” passages -- Amos 5:18-20, Zeph. 1:7, 14-18, Ezek. 30:3, Obad. 15, and Mal. 4:5 referenced on pp. 7-8 of the second downloaded handout for this series.)

    In John’s Book of Revelation, this “Day of the LORD” commences with the blowing of the last (seventh) shofar, which is the signal for the seven angels to empty their seven bowls of the wrath of God upon the unbelievers who have survived all the wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues and other catastrophes up to that point (Rev 11:15-19, and ch. 16).

    This time there will be no survivors. All who refuse to repent undergo the most disastrous calamities, cursing God the whole time, until at the end they are slain by the Lord Himself at his triumphant second coming, to become carrion food for all the remaining birds of the earth. The Beast and his False Prophet, who led the unbelievers into resistance, are cast into the everlasting lake of fire (Revelation 19:17-21 ESV):
    Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.  
    It is a terrifying finish to such an awful Tribulation. Jesus makes clear, however, that those who have remained alive and faithful to him up to that point will be spared what the unbelievers go through, in words that follow immediately after those quoted above as Mt 24:29-30. For in Mt 24:31, Jesus says (my emphasis):
    And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
    There is your “Rapture” -- notice how it dovetails neatly with Paul's description of the same event in 1 Cor. 15:51-52 (my emphasis again):
    Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
    See also Paul's description of the Rapture in 1 Th. 4:14-17, quoted in the third post of this series. It, too, dovetails with the passages just quoted.

    Jesus and Paul both tell us, therefore, that the part of the Tribulation which Christian believers will be spared is its final days, when God's wrath spills out upon those left on earth. There is no warrant, as I have pointed out in describing the many passages that refer to the deaths of believers during the days of the Antichrist and his False Prophet, and the rewards which those who die for their faith will receive in heaven, for assuming that Christians will be raptured before the Great Tribulation begins.

    To teach otherwise, I submit, is to become one of those “many false prophets [who] will arise and lead many astray,” as Jesus predicts in Mt 24:11. Moreover, such a false assurance, when it proves to be untrue, may well be the occasion for the “falling away” of many believers predicted for the start of the Tribulation in Mt 24:10. (If, on the other hand, I am wrong in my reading of the passages about the Rapture in relation to the Tribulation, then at least it will not matter -- Christians will be saved before having to undergo any of the Tribulation! But the same is not true the other way around.)

    Chapter 20 of John’s Book of Revelation is our only source for the events that will take place after Jesus’ parousia (Rev 20 ESV):
    Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. 
    Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. 
    And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
    The final part of John's vision, recorded at the Messiah’s own command, describes “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1-8 ESV):
    Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. 
    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 
    And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
    And thus we conclude this series of posts covering the End Times, as related in his own words by Jesus to his disciples, and as shown by Him to his faithful servant, John (Rev 22:20):
    He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” 
    With John, we may therefore say in closing: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

    A blessed and merry Christmas to you all.

    The End Times in Jesus' Own Words - Pt. III.B

    12/22/2016 11:03:00 AM
    B. The “Great Tribulation” - Other Perspectives from the Bible

    In the previous post in this series, we examined what Jesus had to say about what he called “the Great Tribulation” in Mt 24:21 -- a time in the future “such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” [Greek: eos tou nun oud’/kai ou me genetai]. We observed that based on the events to date in recorded history, these words could not be interpreted as having been fulfilled at some point before the present. Such a time of trial and tribulation, if Jesus’ prophecy is correct, would have to belong to the future.

    In this post, I want to demonstrate from other sources in the Bible that Jesus was not taking liberties with Old Testament scripture, or going out on a limb, when he foretold the time of the “Great Tribulation.” (To follow the discussion below, you should have before you the second handout downloaded from the link in the previous post; if you have not yet downloaded it [a .pdf file], you may do so here.)

    Most scholars agree that this time of great tribulation, which Jesus says will occur shortly before He appears in glory at his second coming (Greek: parousia), can be identified with the “time of Jacob’s troubles” spoken of by various authors in the Old Testament (see page 4 of the second handout linked above). I will not go into the details, but in reading these passages (Jer. 30:7, Dan. 12:1-4, Zech. 14:1-2) anyone should be able to see the degree to which they support Jesus’ description given earlier.

    The principal Biblical testimony as to the horror of the “Great Tribulation”, however, comes from the last book of the Bible. Often referred to mistakenly as “the Revelation of St. John the Divine,” as the King James version titles it, its proper title when translated from the Greek is: “The Revelation of Jesus the Messiah to John.” Thus the things revealed in this book stem from Jesus the Messiah; John is the amanuensis.

    There is much, however, that can confuse the present-day reader of Revelation -- it is a style of writing called “apocalyptic literature” which has no parallel anywhere else in the New Testament. (The word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek ἀποκαλύπτω [apokalypto], a verb which carries the meaning of “to disclose, uncover, make known; reveal”.) The hallmark of apocalyptic writing is an abundance of vivid imagery, visions and fantastical descriptions -- something akin to how one would describe a dream that one felt was prophetic, yet whose meaning went beyond our ordinary understanding.

    Revelation is perhaps the one book in the Bible that gains most in our understanding by being read and listened to aloud. Like the famous radio script of Orson Welles, The War of the Worlds, the  words, symbols and events as narrated stimulate our imaginations and mental abilities as no other part of the Bible can, even to the point of overwhelming our ability to synthesize the whole of it -- and hence leaving us uncertain and confused by what the author intended to convey.

    The key to making sense of such writing is to realize that it presents a narrative that is not linear -- from one event to the next, in a rational, chronological sequence -- but rather is cyclical in character, in the form of an ever-widening spiral. There are many objects and events presented in groups of seven (the lampstands, the churches, the seals on the scroll, the angels, the trumpets, the bowls of wrath), and these form the basis for the structural cycles around which the book presents its message of how the End Times unfold, on all levels at once.

    Thus John was not describing End Times events from a single vantage point. He constantly shifts his perspective from that of earth to that of heaven and back again. Things that he narrates as happening on earth have simultaneous parallels in heaven, but the two tracks are circular instead of linear. They keep looping back on themselves, and instead of returning to the same point, each cycle takes us to a new level of intensified distress, calamity and destruction that leads inevitably to the final replacement of heaven and earth by a whole new creation. In each cycle John presents to us, it is the seventh and final stage that is either the climax of what came before, or else the transition to the next level of upwardly spiraling intensity. I shall try to illustrate these points in the discussion that follows.

    The handout linked above presents (pp. 4-6) most of the text of Revelation chapters six through nine, parts which in my opinion depict and corroborate principal elements of the Great Tribulation that Jesus described in much more abbreviated fashion to his disciples in the Olivet Discourse of the synoptic Gospels (reviewed in the three earlier posts in this series). The excerpts begin with the unsealing of the scroll, and continue up to the point of the blowing of the last (seventh) trumpet.

    The text is presented without chapter and verse numbers so that the reader may experience its impact  as a verbal whole, whether as read aloud or internally. I suggest you read it through aloud to yourself (or others, as well) before starting on the commentary that follows. It will also help to review the corresponding passages from the Olivet Discourse that precede it, on pages 1 through 3 of the second handout.

    The apocalyptic cycles that we encounter in this reading are the unfolding of the End Times scroll in heaven, as Jesus Christ (the Lamb who alone is worthy to do so) breaks its seven seals, with each unsealing followed by a calamity on earth. The breaking of the seventh seal takes us to a new level of intensified events and the start of a new apocalyptic cycle -- the seven angels who are each to blow a shofar, a ceremonial rams-horn trumpet. These in turn generate another series of woes on earth, up until the silence (in heaven) before the seventh angel sounds his shofar.

    Remember, as one would experience things in a dream, these events are not occurring on a linear timescale. What is more important to John's vision is that he experiences them on many planes and dimensions all at once, but he can narrate them only sequentially, as they come to his memory in the retelling of what Jesus Christ and the heavenly angels revealed to him. The key to understanding his presentation is, as I say, appreciating how the various cycles of events overlap and interrelate.

    The groups of seven also may be analyzed (if it seems helpful) into a group first of four, then of three. Thus with the breaking of the scroll's seven seals, the first four correspond to the celebrated “four horsemen of the apocalypse”, which I submit signify the events Jesus described (Mt 24:8) as “the beginning of the birth pangs.” The first two horsemen bring conquest and war (“wars and rumors of wars” in Mt 24:6), while the second two bring famine and death (“plagues and famines” in Lk 21:11).

    With the breaking of the fifth seal, the scene shifts suddenly from earth to heaven, and we see all “the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the word of God and the testimony they had given.” These correspond to the passages in Mt 24:9-10, Mk 13:9 and 11, and Lk 21:12-16, in which Jesus warns that his followers will suffer betrayal and death on account of the testimony they give of their faith.

    I omit discussion of the sixth seal in this cycle, because it parallels the “Day of the Lord” texts which I propose to address in my next post. As is characteristic of the events toward the end of a given cycle, they serve as a ramp to the next level in the increasing spiral of intensity. In this case also, the breaking of the seventh seal provides the transition to the next group of seven calamities, as the seven angels “who stand in God’s presence” prepare to take up their trumpets.

    With each blast of a trumpet, the tribulations on earth intensify. Apart from the the “great signs and wonders” of Mt 24:24 and the flashes of lightning in Lk 17:24, John’s imagery here goes beyond what Jesus gave specifically in his Olivet Discourse, although He described it in Mk 13:19 more generally as “a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will.”

    As with the seals, so the first four trumpets relate to terrible physical calamities occurring on earth. The fifth trumpet involves a shift of scene -- from earth not to heaven this time, but to the Abyss, from which smoke and hordes of stinging locusts come forth. The sixth trumpet presages, as we shall see, the Day of the Lord again, and the seventh trumpet ramps us up to the next level of intensity: the seven bowls of God’s wrath, poured out in judgment on those remaining unrepentant on earth:
    The rest of the people who survived these plagues did not repent of the works of their hands or stop worshiping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see, hear, or walk. They did not repent of their murders, their deeds of witchcraft, their acts of sexual immorality, or their thefts.
    Beginning with his text in what we know as chapter 10, John mingles images of the heavenly and earthly events surrounding the parousia of the Messiah with the earlier events preceding it. Thus in Rev 10:6-7 the angel “standing on the sea and the land” announces:
    … there will be no more delay; on the contrary, in the days of the sound from the seventh angel when he sounds his shofar, the hidden plan of God will be brought to completion, the Good News as he proclaimed it to his servants the Prophets. 
    But in chapter 11, John shows the outer court of the Temple still in the possession of Gentiles as the two witnesses God has sent to convert and punish them are given 1,260 days in which to accomplish their mission. We are again in the days of the Great Tribulation, in which the two beasts (elsewhere called the Antichrist and the False Prophet) make their appearance, slay the two witnesses, and then have a final 1,260 days to impose their degradations (including the “mark of the beast”) on mankind and their defilements upon the Temple (ch. 13).

    Chapter 14 again contains a description of the events immediately preceding the parousia, including a total destruction of Jerusalem, “Babylon the great” (identified as Jerusalem in Rev 11:2 and 8) -- which has become polluted entirely with the sacrileges and desecrations committed in the final days of the Great Tribulation, including the murder of tens of thousands of those who remained faithful unto death, to receive their reward in heaven. (See Rev. 6:11, and 13:10 [“This is when God's holy people must persevere and trust!”].)

    Note (for those who believe the Rapture will take place before any of the faithful have to suffer through the Tribulation) how many of God's faithful elect are described as meeting their mortal deaths on earth during these final days. It is difficult to read any kind of dispensation for Christians into all of these passages -- and wait until we consider Jesus’ own words about the Rapture in the next post.

    These events with the two beasts and Babylon, keep in mind, are best read as an overlay on those already described above, associated with the seals and the trumpets. They are all happening in parallel, although John describes them (as he has to) in separate passages of his book (remember: chapters and verse numbers came much later; the original had neither, like the excerpts given in the handout).

    In such a tumult of catastrophic images, it can be difficult to draw precise parallels, or establish a definitive timeline. But that is not the point. Unlike the authors of the Gospels, John in Revelation is not giving us a narrative of events, but more of a kaleidoscope of what he saw and heard all at once in the vision Jesus gave him of the final days. The emphasis is on the sheer magnitude of the horrors that befall the unrepentant and the stiff-necked, even as those horrors multiply and intensify around them. John contrasts those images with the beatific faithfulness, even unto death, of Jesus’ followers, and the blessed and joyous reception that constitutes their reward in heaven.

    The next and final post in this series will focus on the terrifying “Day of the Lord” as foretold in the Old Testament, and the parousia as Jesus describes it to his disciples, and shows it to John in his vision.

    The End Times in Jesus' Own Words - Pt. III.A

    12/18/2016 12:24:00 PM
    A. The “Great Tribulation” - a Necessary Condition for its Occurrence

    We continue our study in this Advent Season of End Times phenomena, based primarily on what Jesus is reported to have said about them. In Part One, I gave a background for the principal address we have from Jesus on the End Times -- the so-called Olivet Discourse, which forms the 24th and part of the 25th chapters of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, along with its parallels in Mark ch. 13 and Luke chs. 12, 17 and 21. The three versions of the Discourse may be viewed in a parallel column format, with the text color-coded to the specific questions asked by the disciples at the outset, in this downloadable .pdf document (which I refer to as “the first handout”).

    In Part Two, I showed how Jesus responded to his disciples’ questions about when Herod’s Temple would be destroyed as Jesus had prophesied, and what particular signs would act as harbingers of that event. That was a prophecy that saw its fulfillment in A.D. 70, or about forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection -- within the lifetimes of many of those that heard him make it (Mt 24:34, Mk 13:30, and Lk 21:32).

    Now in this Third Part, I want to focus on Jesus’ words about what is called (after his own description of it) the “Great Tribulation” -- a time of trial and persecution (whose details we will take up in the next post) for many professing Christians. Jesus not only gives a fearsome description of this time, but he also provides (as with the destruction of Herod’s Temple) certain signs and warnings which will signify that the Great Tribulation is about to begin. As we shall see in a later post on this topic, his description of the timing of the Great Tribulation provides what should be a definitive answer to the prevailing question of these days: when will Christians still living be seized and carried up to meet their Lord in Heaven, given that St. Paul reported (“by a word from the Lord”) how that event would occur in 1 Th. 4:14-17:
     14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
    Among Evangelicals particularly, this event is known as “the Rapture” (and was the basis for the so-called, and highly successful, “Left Behind” series of fictional books by Pastor Tim LaHaye and novelist Jerry Jenkins). Evangelical books and websites are filled with discussions of whether or not the End-Times Rapture will occur so as to rescue all believing Christians from undergoing the severe tests of the Great Tribulation that Jesus prophesies will take place. The defenders of each position have elaborate scriptural citations and arguments to support their contentions.

    In keeping with the theme of this series, I do not propose to go into any great detail about the Rapture, or to enter into any debates with the various schools of thought as to whether it will take place before, in the middle of, or just at the end of, the Great Tribulation. When Christians are so divided over what Scripture says to them, it seems best to focus instead on just what Jesus says about the Rapture, after we first look at what he said would precede it.

    For purposes of following along with this analysis, you may wish to download the second handout, a .pdf file at this link. There is no color-coding this time, as we are looking at just that part of the Olivet Discourse that was addressed to the third of the disciples’ four questions to Jesus: “What will be the sign of your coming again?” (Mt 24:3). This was actually the first question that Jesus addressed -- see the earlier discussion in Part One (and see the green-colored text in the first handout linked above).

    Jesus gives in this discourse a description of signs and events that will lead up to the climax of his parousia, or second coming. The events are fairly routine at first, but then they intensify with prophecies of the betrayal, persecution, torture and execution of his followers. [Nota bene:  these followers who suffer during the End Times for Jesus’ sake cannot be Jews who still await their Messiah -- they will be Christians. Hence you should take with a large grain of salt any exegesis of the Olivet Discourse that holds it to teach that Christians will be spared the sufferings of the Great Tribulation.]

    He precedes his account of those terrible events with a strong warning (Mt 24:4-5; see Mk 13:5-6, Lk 17:8):

    And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.”
    He repeats this warning in Mt 24:10-11 and Mt 24:23-25 (parallels at Mk 13:21-23 and Lk 17:23), so a Christian ignores it at his or her peril. When we come to what the Book of Revelation says about the time of the Great Tribulation, we may better understand what underlies Jesus’ prophecy in Mt 24:10 that “many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.” In other words, contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, the End Times will put Christian faith, and Christian believers, to the severest of tests.

    The signs that will precede those terrible days, in addition to the appearance of many false prophets who will mislead Christian believers, will be “wars and rumors of wars -- nation will rise up against nation ... and in various places there will be [plagues and] famines and earthquakes” (second handout, pp 1-2). Such things will be bad enough, Jesus says, “but [they] are merely the beginning of birth pangs” (Mt 24:8).  

    The betrayals (by family members!), lawlessness, apostasies and persecutions, says Jesus, will multiply as the End Times approach: Christians will be brought before the courts, they “will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony”, and they “will be flogged and even killed ...” (2nd handout, p. 2). Even these awful happenings, however, will still not be the sign of the Great Tribulation that precedes the Messiah’s second coming.

    Jesus invokes the prophet Daniel to describe what will be the most reliable sign of the approaching time of terror (Mt 24:15-20; 2nd handout, pp. 2-3):
    15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation’ which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet [Dan. 9:27, 11:31, 12:11], standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18 Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 Pray also that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath...”
    Before we consider the context of this invocation of Daniel’s ancient prophecy at this point in Jesus’ discourse, it behooves us to consider the words He says that immediately follow the prophecy Matthew quoted in vs. 15-20 [Mt 24:21-22, with my emphasis added]:
    21 “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will [Greek: eos tou nun oud’/kai ou me genetai]. 22 Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”
    Luke, writing later than Matthew (and Mark), cites a different version from the one that Mark and Matthew give in their Gospels (Lk 21:23-24):
    23 “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled...”
    In my previous post, I pointed to the differences in Luke’s text of Jesus’ prophecy (written, most probably, after the Romans had destroyed the Temple), and commented how it showed signs of having been tailored to fit the facts of the Roman assault on Jerusalem and its Temple in AD 67-70, as well as its centuries-long aftermath (the “time of the Gentiles”, when no Jew was allowed to return to Jerusalem). In a certain sense, I noted, the version that Matthew and Mark gave of Jesus’ Temple prophecy could also refer to the Temple’s destruction by Titus, because that event was preceded by a desecration of the Temple by the Zealots in AD 66, exactly as Jesus had predicted, and came to pass within the lifetimes of his disciples.

    In addition, however, I explained how prophecies in the Old Testament could often be taken to have a dual fulfillment: applying both to the times of the Old Testament author, and to the times of the New Testament (e.g., Isaiah 7:14 -- included in the Old Testament reading for today). 

    Given Jesus’ phraseology (which I have put in bold above), I submit that a fair exegesis of these two passages shows that his prophecy of “an abomination of desolation [in the sense meant by the prophet Daniel]”, i.e., a desecration of the high altar, or innermost space, of the Temple at Jerusalem, could also refer -- given Jesus’ additional prediction of an unprecedented “Great Tribulation” following upon that desecration of the Temple -- to a future “abomination of desolation” erected in a future Temple at Jerusalem, i.e., one that is yet to be built.

    Supporting this exegesis of Mt 24:15-20 and Mk 13:14-19 is the simple fact that the invasion of Jerusalem by Titus’ forces in AD 70, and their subsequent destruction of the Temple and slaughter of as many as a million Jews, could not then qualify as having resulted, even if Jesus’ prophecy could be interpreted as applying to Jews who did not then accept him as the Messiah, in “a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor never will ...” (Mt 24:21). To cite just one subsequent example, Hitler’s extermination program in World War II resulted in the slaughter of some six million Jews. 

    What is more, the persecution of Christians for their faith by the Romans in AD 90-325 did not even remotely compare to Hitler’s massacre of the Jews in 1939-45, nor (I submit) to the worldwide persecution of Christians that is occurring everywhere as I write this, from the ACLU in America to Boko Haram in Nigeria, which worldwide persecution even now is accelerating.

    The final buttress for this exegesis of Jesus’ prediction in Mt 24:21 concerning a “Great Tribulation” that has not yet occurred is found in his very next sentence (24:22, with my emphasis added):
    “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”
    Jesus says that the days of the Great Tribulation will be “cut short” for the sake of the elect, i.e., those who will share eternal life with him after the horrors of “those days.” In other words, for the sake of God's elect, the final days of the Great Tribulation will be cut short -- by the parousia, the Second Coming of the Messiah, our Lord. His prediction in Mt 24:21, therefore, has not yet occurred.
    Moreover, whether or not Jesus’ prophecy of a terrible time beginning after Daniel’s “abomination of desolation” is read as applying to Jews in Israel in AD 70 or just to a future time for Christians after AD 70, there has been no recent such “abomination” (since there is no Temple in Jerusalem capable of desecration in these days) which could serve as Jesus’ sign for the beginning of the End Times.

    I ask that you suspend judgment on this point for now; I will return to it when we address the further testimony provided by the Book of Revelation. For purposes of this exegesis, let us assume that Jesus was making a prophecy, not only as to the Temple of Herod that stood most impressively solid in His own time, but also as to some future Temple upon Temple Mount that the Jews would erect at some much later time.

    If that assumption is correct, then it follows as a matter of logic that the Temple must first be rebuilt upon Jerusalem's Temple Mount before it may be desecrated for a third time -- by the AntiChrist, or his False Prophet, or by whomever (see again my future discussion of the Book of Revelation on this point). And since the Temple has not yet been so rebuilt upon Temple Mount (albeit the plans for its erection are ready to go), I maintain that there is no way, according to Jesus’ own words, that this age is yet approaching the End Times that Jesus described to his disciples.

    If my reading of Matthew 24:15 is not correct, then Mt 24:15-20, as well as Mk 13:14-18, apply only to the generation that was alive at Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in AD 33. We then are left with St. Luke’s rather open-ended version of Jesus’ prophecy, as quoted earlier (with my bold emphasis):
    “... for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled...”
    Under this reading of the Gospels, one has to ask: “What are the ‘times of the Gentiles’, and how can one determine when they have been fulfilled?”

    And once again, I submit that logic dictates the answer, like it or not.

    For the phrase in Luke’s Gospel -- “the time of the Gentiles” -- coupled with Luke’s phrase “Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by [those same] Gentiles”, cannot refer to anything other than the Roman occupation of that city which started in AD 70, succeeded by Muslim occupation of Jerusalem and its Temple Mount until this very day. Thus even if we take only St. Luke’s version of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse as our guide to when the End Times will begin, we see that such an era will commence only when Muslim occupation of the Temple Mount has ceased. 

    And for that to happen, Israel will have to prevail in another war to drive Muslims once and for all out of all Jerusalem, including her Temple Mount -- and another Temple will need to be rebuilt upon its original site, in which all Jews may worship once again as they did in the times of Jesus. Only then will the prophecies of Jesus as to the fulfillment of “the times of the Gentiles” in Jerusalem come to pass.

    So under either path of exegesis -- relying upon just Sts. Mark and Matthew, or relying upon only St. Luke, we arrive at the same endpoint: the End Times may, according to Jesus’ own words, take place only when there first has been built upon Temple Mount a third Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

    We have thus arrived at the necessary condition for the End Times (and the Great Tribulation) to commence as described by Jesus in his Olivet Discourse. In my next post, we will corroborate the above analysis from the eyewitness of John as given in the Book of Revelation, and will delve further into the details of the Great Tribulation itself. 

    The End Times -- in Jesus' Own Words (II)

    12/9/2016 5:25:00 PM
    If you have not done so yet, you may read the first post in this series here. There you will find an overview of the plan for this series, together with a link to download (.pdf) a parallel-text version of Jesus' Olivet Discourse, delivered to his disciples on the Tuesday evening before He was crucified. You should use that downloaded handout to follow what is below.

    We begin our dissection of the Olivet Discourse with the last two of the four questions put to Jesus by his disciples, after he prophesied to them that the huge and magnificent Temple in which they had just been would be torn down one day, "with not one of these stones left upon another." Jesus had referred to the Temple complex as "all these things" (in Greek, ταῦτα πάντα [tauta panta]), and the disciples used the same phrase when (according to the Gospels of Mark and Luke -- see page 3 of the downloaded handout) they asked him two questions (Mk 13:4, Lk 21:7):

    1. "Tell us, when will these things happen?"

    2. "And what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled"?

    Neither of these questions, however, is the one to which Jesus responds when he starts his discourse. As shown by the color-coding in the handout, he did not get around to addressing the specifics of when the Temple would be torn down until page 7 (Mt 24:15-16, Mk 13:14, Lk 21:20-21). He first warned them that there would be a distinctive sign as a precursor to the Temple's destruction: in Matthew and Mark's versions, it is what He called "the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION standing in the holy place/where it should not be".

    This was an explicit reference to the earlier desecration of the Temple that Daniel had foretold, and that took place at the hands of King Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC, just before the time of the Maccabees. Antiochus had gone so far as to slaughter a pig on the high altar. So to just what event was Jesus referring that occurred before the Romans finally stormed, burned and tore down the Temple in AD 70?

    For answer, we have to consult The Jewish Wars of Josephus, the first-century historian of the events culminating in the Temple's destruction. He describes the desecrations that occurred when a band of Zealots and brigands took over the rulership of the Temple, and dislodged the priests who had been in charge before:
    (147) Now, the people were come to that degree of meanness and fear, and these robbers to that degree of madness, that these last took upon them to appoint high priests. (148) So when they had disannulled the succession, according to those families out of whom the high priests used to be made, they ordained certain unknown and ignoble persons for that office, that they might have their assistance in their wicked undertakings; (149) for such as obtained this highest of all honors, without any desert, were forced to comply with those that bestowed it on them. (150) They also set the principal men at variance one with another, by several sorts of contrivances and tricks, and gained the opportunity of doing what they pleased, by the mutual quarrels of those who might have obstructed their measures; till at length, when they were satiated with the unjust actions they had done towards men, they transferred their contumelious behavior to God himself, and came into the sanctuary with polluted feet.

    (151) ... Those men made the temple of God a stronghold for them, and a place whither they might resort, in order to avoid the troubles they feared from the people; the sanctuary was now become a refuge, and a shop of tyranny. (152) They also mixed jesting among the miseries they introduced, which was more intolerable than what they did; (153) for, in order to try what surprise the people would be under, and how far their own power extended, they undertook to dispose of the high priesthood by casting lots for it, whereas, as we have said already, it was to descend by succession in a family. ...
    (155) Hereupon they sent for one of the pontifical tribes, which is called Eniachim, and cast lots which of it should be the high priest. By fortune, the lot so fell as to demonstrate their iniquity after the plainest manner, for it fell upon one whose name was Phannias, the son of Samuel, of the village Aphtha. He was a man not only unworthy of the high priesthood, but that did not well know what the high priesthood was; such a mere rustic was he! (156) Yet did they hale this man, without his own consent, out of the country, as if they were acting a play upon the stage, and adorned him with a counterfeit face; they also put upon him the sacred garments, and upon every occasion instructed him what he was to do. (157) This horrid piece of wickedness was sport and pastime with them, but occasioned the other priests, who at a distance saw their law made a jest of, to shed tears, and sorely lament the dissolution of such a sacred dignity.
    This defilement of the Temple by Zealots and brigands took place in AD 67, even before Titus and his soldiers began their siege of Jerusalem. When Jesus warned of a desecration of the Temple, he was a Jew, speaking to fellow Jews. The readers of Matthew and of Mark would have understood the significance of the events described by Josephus, because only fully qualified priests were ever allowed to perform the sacrifices at the high altar of the Temple, and to serve there. Replacing those priests with fools and buffoons chosen by lot, and having them "perform" the priestly functions as untrained as they were would have been seen by Jews in Jerusalem as being on a par with Antiochus' "abomination of desolation."

    It is also the consensus of most scholars that the Gospels of Mark and Matthew were most likely the first to be written, around AD 60 -- before the Romans sent a retaliatory force into Israel. So those authors did nothing more than report Jesus' prophecy, along with His account of what would happen to the Temple just before its destruction, but they most likely did not have the advantage of hindsight.

    When Luke wrote his Gospel, however, the siege and destruction of the Temple was most probably already an event in the past. Moreover, his audience was not so much Jews as it was educated Greeks -- with the events of AD 67-70, the Jews had been driven out of Jerusalem, and had begun the process of separating themselves from Jewish Christians. (They of course had nothing in common with Christians who were Gentiles, like the people for whom Luke probably wrote.)

    What corroborates these statements is how Luke changes the words of Jesus in describing what precursors would be a sign of the impending destruction of the Temple (and, by implication, Jerusalem). He has Jesus say (Lk 21:20): "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near." The feats of Titus and his soldiers in taking first the citadel of Jerusalem and then also of Masada were, by the time Luke was writing, known around the civilized world.

    Another clue to the timing of Luke's Gospel is in the details he adds to Jesus' warning to Jews to flee the city once the sign foretelling her destruction appeared. Matthew and Mark have Jesus saying  "then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains." (It should be noted, again in corroboration of the early date of the composition of their Gospels, that Josephus does not record the presence of any Christians remaining in Jerusalem when Titus' armies surround the city. And the early Christians have no stories that have come down to us about any trials or tribulations they endured in its siege.) Luke then adds these words to those in the other two Gospels (21:21-24):
    ... "and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written shall be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
    This wording almost certainly draws upon Luke's knowledge that after putting to the sword all the defenders of the city and its Temple, the Romans exiled from Jerusalem all the Jews who survived the siege, and scattered them to other lands. After Titus did this, only Gentiles could occupy Jerusalem. Even if Jews had been allowed back, they would no longer have had a Temple in which to make sacrifices. Their rabbis declared a halt to the sacrifice of animals -- which, since there still is no Temple in Jerusalem, continues to this day.

    There is one final passage in the Olivet Discourse which I believe pertains to Jesus' remarks about the future destruction of the Temple. It is found in all three synoptic Gospels, and has been the occasion of much prophetic speculation. I refer to Jesus' words at Mt 24:34, Mk 13:30, and Lk 21:32 (page 12 of the downloaded handout, with my bold emphasis added):

    "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place."

    There is that tell-tale phrase of Jesus again: tauta panta, or "all these things." As we saw above, when he first used it he was referring to his prophecy about the destruction of the Temple. Thus, even though this passage comes much later in the three Gospels, and comes in the midst of Jesus' discussion about the eskaton or End Times, it must be taken to refer back to his original prophecy. In direct answer to their first question quoted above, Jesus was telling his disciples that some of them would still be alive when the Temple was destroyed.

    Those who take the passage to apply to when the End Times will occur are, due to the lapse of nearly 2,000 years since Jesus first said those words, forced to invent elaborate theories like the whole structure of Dispensationalism -- with its "Church age" acting as a kind of comma between the time of Jesus' prophecy and the start of the final period before His second coming. I do not propose to go into any detail on that subject, because I think that such an application of the passage is misguided, given what we have in the original Greek ("tauta panta").

    I also am mindful of the fact that many of the prophecies in the Old Testament had a double significance -- they would apply not only to the time when the prophet made them, but also to the time of Jesus. An example is the famous verse in Isaiah 7:14 -- "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son ..." Thus many students of eschatology (or End Times) believe that Jesus' prophecy about a destruction of the Temple will recur during the fighting leading up to the Battle of Armageddon.

    For that to happen, of course, the Temple would first have to be rebuilt upon Temple Mount, and the Islamic structures now occupying that site would have to disappear. We are obviously not there yet, although the Middle East remains a powder keg that could ignite a full-scale war between Israel and its Arab neighbors at any time.  If war breaks out, we well could see Israel take full control of Temple Mount, and the religious pressure on the government to remove the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque, to allow the rebuilding of the Temple to occur, would be simply enormous.

    This completes my exegesis of the parts of the Olivet Discourse that deal with Jesus' words about the fate of Herod's Temple. In the next few posts, we will look closely at the main subject of that Discourse, namely the Second Coming of Jesus, and the harbingers which lead up to that momentous day.

    The End Times -- in Jesus' Own Words (I)

    12/5/2016 6:11:00 PM
    As mentioned in my previous post, I prepared for Advent a series of three talks for our local parish forum on the subject of the Eskaton, or End Times. The series focused just on what Jesus Himself told his disciples on that topic, as we learn from the synoptic Gospels and the Book of Revelation. Amid all the evangelical hullabaloo about the Rapture, the Four Blood Moons, the Shemitah and the like, it is a good thing to revert to the Most Knowledgeable Source and see what He had to say about His own Second Coming.

    The three sessions were roughly divided this way: the first dealt with the harbingers of the last days; the second with the specific period referred to as "the Great Tribulation", and the third was devoted to Jesus' descriptions of the events around his prophesied return to earth after that Tribulation. As we shall see, the account given in the Gospels is a greatly condensed version of the fuller vision of these events that Jesus shared with John in the Book of Revelation.

    I shall follow a slightly different plan in this series of posts, since those three subjects are simply too complex for each to be contained in the space of a single blog article. As I did in the forum, I shall start with the Olivet Discourse. That is the name given to Jesus' fifth and final teaching recorded in Matthew's Gospel (ch. 24), which he delivered while sitting with his disciples on the Mount of Olives, outside the walls of Jerusalem on Tuesday evening of the last week of his life. In contrast to his earlier teachings as reported by Matthew (e.g., the Sermon on the Mount in ch. 5), the Olivet Discourse was a private exchange; there was no surrounding crowd of followers.

    Jesus and his disciples had just exited the Temple, after He had delivered a diatribe against its scribes and Pharisees, whom he had denounced as "hypocrites" and a "brood of vipers" (Mt 23). As they were going toward the gate to the Mount of Olives, his disciples called his attention to the splendid architecture of the Temple. Jesus astonished them with his reply: "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another -- which will not be torn down” (Mt 24:2).

    This prophecy provoked the disciples into asking a series of questions about when "all these things" that Jesus foretold would come to pass. The Greek phrase ταῦτα πάντα (tauta panta, "all these things") turns out to be the key to unlocking the discourse that follows, as pointed out by R.A. Morey in his book, The End of the World according to Jesus: The Mt. Olivet Discourse and The Book of Revelation (Millerstown, PA: Christian Scholars Press, 2010).

    For in response to Jesus' prophecy, his disciples ask him four separate questions, seriatim. (You can just imagine the words tumbling out, from first one disciple, then another and another.) Matthew's Gospel, however, gives us only three of them. For the fourth question, we have to go to the parallel passages in Mark 13:3-4 and in Luke 21:7. Taken in logical order (but not in the order narrated), and using boldface font to emphasize the disciples' use of the phrase tauta panta (sometimes just tauta alone) to refer to the destruction of the Temple), the four questions are these:

    1) "When will these things happen?"
    [Mt 24:3; Mk 13:4; Lk 21:7]

    2) "What will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled"
    [found only in Mk 13:4 and Lk 21:7]

    3) "What will be the sign of your coming [again]?"
    [found only in Mt 24:3]

    4) "What will be the sign of the end of the age?"
    [found only in Mt 24:3]

    The last two questions, as you see, are reported only by Matthew. To understand how that could happen, one has to go back to the way Matthew structured his Gospel, mainly as a teaching narrative. Unlike Mark, who wrote for Roman Christians and laid out a narrative of action ("this happened . . . and then this ... next this ... immediately this took place"), and unlike the careful Luke, who took pains to research and craft an historically accurate narrative for his audience of educated Greeks, Matthew wrote for his fellow Jews, and wanted to demonstrate to them what a great rabbi Jesus was.

    So he collected (as mentioned) all of Jesus' teachings into five great discourses and reported those as narrative units -- regardless of whether Jesus said those things sequentially or not. His Olivet Discourse collects (conveniently for us) all of what Jesus had to say about the End Times, and puts it together to make a unified teaching.

    That does not mean, however, that Matthew presents Jesus' End Times teachings in a logical, or even in a straight narrative order. Nor does he have Jesus (as a modern teacher or professor might do) take up first one question and answer it fully before going on to the next. Instead, we find upon analysis of Matthew's 24th chapter (and the first 12 verses of ch. 25) that the answers to each of the questions are somewhat intermingled. Despite Matthew's best intentions, therefore, a modern reader can easily get confused, and fail to understand just which question Jesus is addressing at which point in the Discourse.

    To make the Discourse easier to follow, I have hit upon the device of using differently colored fonts to make clear just which passages I believe go with which question. In what follows, I stress that my choices of which color to use when is my own subjective opinion. Others could arrive at other choices, and have other opinions about the proper flow and sequence.

    Nevertheless, we have to make a start, and so I shall provide a link below to the handout I created for the first forum session, in which the four questions are colored blue, light brown, green and red, respectively, and then the text of Matthew 24:4-25:12 is colored to match them, along with the respective parallel passages (as far as they go) from Mark and Luke. (You may download the handout as a .pdf file from this link.)

    As we make our way through the analysis, we will find certain clues that the different authors provide as to when their respective accounts were written. The troops of Titus razed the Holy Temple of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, after putting to the sword all of the Jews who remained inside to defend it against the Romans' siege and subsequent storming of its ramparts. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew are  believed to have been written before that momentous event, when Jesus' words about it were still a prophecy to those who heard them.

    But the Gospel of Luke was most likely written as the last of the three synoptic Gospels, after all Christians had left Jerusalem because of its invasion and destruction. We can use the details of the Olivet Discourse that each author includes, as well as the ones he leaves out in comparison, to help us relate what is narrated to that author's unique perspective, and to shed a little more light on the whole of what Jesus said about the End Times.

    And now another point of clarification: as we shall see, a good part of the Discourse relates to the answers that Jesus gave to the first two questions listed above -- concerning the destruction of the Temple, and the signs when that was about to occur. Since that event actually came to pass in A.D. 70, and we are now in A.D. 2016, only the most determined amillenialist (i.e., one who sees the entire spectrum from Jesus until now as a progression toward His eventual return, without regard to specific prophecies in the Bible) would contend that Jesus' prediction about the fate of the Temple was part of his teachings about the "End Times." Rather, I shall employ that phrase to refer only to the future days preceding the actual parousia, or "Second Coming", of Our Lord. (As I mentioned, the Greek term for those days is "the Eskaton"; the same term in Hebrew is "acharit-hayamim".)

    Thus in the posts that follow in this series, we shall start first with the two questions referring to what would happen in A.D. 67-70, and then deal with the latter two questions in the later posts, that will also address the text of Revelation. Until my next installment appears, therefore, you are free to study the whole Discourse as shown and color-coded in the linked handout; my more detailed comments as to each question and response will be reserved for the post(s) that deal with that particular part of the account as given by the three synoptic Gospels.

    Sundry Remarks (and a New Blog for You)

    11/30/2016 10:34:00 AM
    Out of the gallimaufry of Weblogs that I track in my categories in the columns to the right, one of my favorites is the Rev. Dr. Hunwicke's Mutual Enrichment. He is classed under the very few liturgical blogs ("Liturgi-cannon" in my jargon, also explained at the right) that I follow, and though he certainly excels at that topic, he frequently comments on Catholic matters, since he has left the Church of England to become a priest in the Anglican Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. So he could equally be classified among the more numerous (Anglo-)Catholi-cannon in the far right column, but I prefer to keep his link where it can be the crowning ornament in a far less crowded category.

    Today, Fr Hunwicke (the British like to dispense with periods after titular abbreviations) pointed us to another Catholic (that is, Anglican Ordinariate) Weblog of which I had, to my regret, been unaware before. It is called ignatius his conclave -- apparently the Brits don't always need capital letters, either -- and I commend it wholeheartedly to your attention. By scrolling down to the bottom of the blog's home page, you may begin with the earlier posts and proceed sequentially to the most recent one, at the top.

    You will be treated to a fine snapshot of the current consternation that surrounds the goings, comings and latest sayings of Pope Francis I on the topic of (among others) divorce and remarriage, and in particular, the Pope's refusal thus far to acknowledge or respond to five questions put to him by four senior cardinals, that asked him to clarify statements made in his most recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris laetitia ("The Joy of [Family] Love"). But you will also experience the gentle art of British satire, subtly practiced by a master. I have added it to my blogroll of (Anglo-)Catholi-cannon, where I intend to follow it regularly.

    After all, things in the Episcopal Congregations (i.e., ECUSA) have just not been as comment-worthy lately (we are still waiting on word from the courts in South Carolina and Ft. Worth!) as what has been happening across the Tiber. To be sure, the satirists like Christopher Johnson still have their occasional field-day with the utterly vacuous outpourings from those the Congregations have chosen as their spokespersons, but your Curmudgeon has lost his taste for a sport that amounts to shooting fish in a barrel. Likewise, the desultory coming apart of the Church of England (foretold quite some time ago on this blog, and again here) is no subject for either joy or sport. When looked at too closely, it generates only despondency.

    And as the Episcopal Congregations and Church of England go, so goes, as Dr Kirk of the newly linked ignatius blog puts it, the "Anglican soi-disant Communion", or Anglican Communion (so-called). The GAFCON group is struggling to preserve its core, but "turning and turning in the widening gyre, ... things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world..."

    So perhaps, drawing on the inspirations provided by superior bloggers like Drs Kirk and Hunwicke, your Curmudgeon will start a series of posts that tries to draw back and portray the wider picture of what is going on. Did Yates have a prescient vision when he wrote these words?
    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand. 
    (Or did he rather have a vision in 1921 of what turmoil the election of 2016 would engender? [He who has ears, let him hear.])

    For my local parish, I have been doing a series of presentations on "The End Times -- in Jesus' Own Words." Amid all the evangelical hullabaloo about the Rapture, the Four Blood Moons, the Shemitah and the like, it is a good thing to revert to the Most Knowledgeable Source and see what He had to say about His own Second Coming. I hope you will find the series instructive -- I will start working on it right away, and post as time permits. Until then, keep up to date by following the blogs linked at the right, and use the Guide to This Site to understand how we got to this point.

    The Professor Is Right Again

    11/9/2016 1:13:00 AM
    Professor Helmuth Norpoth of Stony Brook University on Long Island correctly called this election for Donald Trump back in February, when everyone -- and I mean everyone -- was confident that Trump would lose by a big margin. Later in the season, he was joined by a different professor using a different model, but who went contrary to the popular trends and predicted the same result.

    The biggest loser in this election was not Hillary Clinton. She lost, and lost decisively, to be sure -- but the professors' models predicted she would lose, and they've been infallible in past elections for decades. (Of course, as I write this, she has declined to concede, and no doubt will seriously consider trying to mount an Al Gore-style challenge in the closest States. So be it -- there is no one, not even Bill, who at this point could convince her to stand down if she has decided not to. UPDATE 11/09/16: Hillary called Trump in private to concede the race, we are told -- she did not make a speech.)

    No, the biggest loser -- actually, losers (to use a term beloved of our President-elect) -- are (1) the Beltway elite; and (2) the mainstream media -- who gave it everything they had, and still fell way short.

    The Beltway elite -- everyone from the K Street lobbyists to the RINOs to, sad to say, Paul Ryan -- know that Donald Trump is beyond their power to control. His unpredictability spells their ruin (witness the debacle that Wall Street will endure tomorrow, as I write this some eight hours before the markets open). [UPDATE 11/09/16: From a reported deep plunge in after-hours trading, mirrored on several world markets, the Dow Jones has recovered nicely -- it seems that Wall Street suddenly sees good prospects with the news of Trump's victory, rather than the dire consequences predicted by the left.] Their cozy arrangements, consultancy contracts, special breaks in legislation that they themselves write -- all this will be out the window with a Trump administration, and they will have to go begging for jobs and sources of revenue. (Note that the District of Columbia went 93% for Clinton, and just 4% for Trump; there were similar percentages in the neighboring affluent counties of Maryland and Virginia.)

    It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch -- because they way underestimated how much their haughty arrogance had angered the rank and file of the American public. (A friend reminded me of a highly prescient Doonesbury cartoon ridiculing one of Trump's earlier feints toward a run for the presidency. One of the Doonesbury regulars acidly remarks: "Who's going to be his constituency? The forgotten a--holes?")

    Exactly, Mr. Trudeau; exactly. Spot on. And I know you will keep it up.

    As will the second crowd of biggest losers, the mainstream media. The difference between them and the beltway elite, however, is that they will be unable to recognize how much ground they have lost.

    Starting tomorrow, it is child's play to predict the memes that will dominate the post-election mainstream media: "Trump will need to 'reach out' [one of their favorite mantras] to heal the divisions he has caused with this election . . ." "The world will become a good deal more scary with a Trump at the helm -- he could land us in a war with Russia . . .". "Trump will be bad for business and the economy, because no one can predict what he will do . . .". "Trump will destroy what it took President Obama so long bring about that is beneficial to this country: Obamacare, Dodd-Frank financial restrictions, environmental limits on growth and emissions, restraining global warming and the melting of the icecaps (remember the poor polar bears!), bringing peace and security to the Middle East, putting Israel in its place, raising the minimum wage, solving the immigration problem, regaining the world's respect for our country in the United Nations and in foreign affairs . . ." and on and on and on, ad nauseam.

    It is my dearest hope that with each repetition of these vacuous liberal mantras, the mainstream media will lose ever more and more of their readers and listeners, to the point where they, too, will have to look around for other lines of work.

    And last but not least, James Comey's stalwart agents in the field may finally be able to investigate some people worthy of their attention: start with Comey's former boss, Loretta Lynch, and her attempts to squelch the ongoing investigations into Hillary's violations of our secrecy laws; move on to Patrick Kennedy and the whole corrupt bunch at the State Department who lied about Benghazi and then have been enabling and hiding Hillary's outrageous and dangerous disregard for our security; then to the IRS and its illegal targeting of conservative non-profit groups; then to Eric Holder and his scheme of gun-running, while also letting others get away with voter intimidation; and ...  oh, yes -- did I mention a certain former Secretary of State? And her husband? Who together enriched themselves by selling access and favoritism at this country's expense? And broke all the laws about charitable organizations in the process?

    Who knows where all this is going to lead, indeed? Certainly not the entrenched elite, nor their lapdogs, the mainstream media.

    Mind you: I do not blindly endorse Mr. Trump and his ways. (Indeed, I agree with C.S. Lewis, who once wrote: "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busibodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some time be satisfied; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own consciences.") Mr. Trump will have to mind his manners a lot more, and surround himself with advisers who are much more knowledgeable than he is in particular areas. But that is what businessmen who are promoted to head up major corporations traditionally do.

    No, what I am celebrating tonight is the radical shakeup of the Washington establishment. They have needed it for a long, long time.

    And no one can assure us that a shakeup of this magnitude will be totally beneficial in all ways -- some things that are truly good may perish along with so much else that is so bad, and deserves to come to an end. As I have maintained throughout this campaign, America is under God's judgment -- which is why we were presented with the Hobson's choice we had. We are not out from under that judgment yet, because America has not yet turned back from its ways, and repented of its manifold sins and wickedness. Whether it will do so under its new government remains to be seen.

    So fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a riveting ride.

    Election Developments - as Predicted

    10/29/2016 4:39:00 PM
    As I predicted in my previous election posts here, there have been new surprises emerging just before we head to the polls (for those of who who have already voted by mail -- well, all I can say is that I warned you). The malign media, of course, are pushing exclusively the new Trump accusers that have come out of the woodwork after 20 or so years -- because they believe that just now their unsupported allegations can finally receive attention? I call them "malign", because they are doing their best to decide the election for the rest of us, making it unnecessary for us to exercise our duty as citizens of this republic. They don't care a fig for the republic, but only for what unrepublican power and influence they can assert over the rest of us.

    But now comes FBI Director Comey, whom the Democrats have deliberately placed between a roack and a hard place. With a bevy of newly discovered emails, thanks to the cupidity of former Congressman Weiner, his enabling spouse, and her employer, he had just two choices: keep silent and release his bombshell after November 8, or speak up now and say: "It's too soon to say how bad this is, but it's serious enough to deserve a good look, and I shall keep you informed as I am able."

    Notice how absolutely silent the President and his Attorney General are remaining, even though now is the time, if it is not too late, for them to announce the appointment of a special prosecutor.

    Which brings your Curmudgeon to his main point: What business did the Democrats hope to achieve by allowing and then nominating a candidate to run for President who was the chief target of an FBI investigation?

    As this article makes clear, the Democrats knowingly did so well in advance of the start of the primaries. So they have made their bed, and now they will have to lie in it.

    It is actually poetic justice, because the Democrats exploited an ongoing FBI investigation to influence public opinion in advance of the 1992 election, as explained in this article.

    Thus I repeat my advice: keep your powder dry until November 8. We probably haven't seen the worst of it yet.

    How Should a Christian Vote? (Part II)

    10/25/2016 11:57:00 AM
    This post continues from where I left off in my previous post.

    As noted, your voting decision becomes easy if you are in one of the States that in all likelihood will strongly favor one candidate over the other (see the color-coded map here: solid deep blue States [115 electoral votes] are expected to go for Clinton; solid dark red States [49 electoral votes] are expected to go for Trump). Whether you want to go with the flow or contrary to it, your vote will not make any difference to the outcome, so you might as well vote your conscience.

    In very probably the same category are the States that are seen on the same map as either "likely Clinton" (medium blue; 54 electoral votes) or "likely Trump (medium red; 41 electoral votes). While a surge of new first-time voters, or a major development in the race, could change the predicted outcome, the results will probably not change if nothing else changes between now and November 8. So I would recommend that Christian voters in these States bide their time, and take the measure of the mood in their given State on November 7 before deciding finally how to vote. If nothing has changed by then, your decision will likely matter as little as it would have in one of the "solid" States. But if there is a change of opinion strongly in one direction or the other, your vote could become more important in proportion to the extent that the race has tightened up.

    People in the so-called "battle-ground States" (see the States colored gray on this map) are expected to decide (as of this writing) the fate of no less than 140 Electoral College votes, while those in the States depicted as "leaning" one way or the other (light blue States, 103 votes; light red States, 36 votes) will determine a further 139 votes. Together, they make up more than half of the electoral college -- and this is why they are so crucial.

    It is in just these States, because the margins are so close (down to single digits), that the polls are least to be trusted, for the reasons I gave in this earlier post. (Let me be precise: the polls as to these States are probably correct in showing that the race is tight. But they are likely incorrect in predicting a specific outcome that is still 14 days off.) Any new developments in the campaigns will likely have their greatest effect in these States, again because the margins of victory are already seen as so close.

    The job of the Christian voter is twofold. The first aspect of it is to cast his vote, as discussed in Part I above, objectively for the best-qualified candidate, determined after a careful analysis of each in light of the abilities that this country will need in the next four years for leadership. This part of the job can be carried out now, without waiting for Election Day, because the candidates' abilities will not change between now and then. They are what they are.

    The second aspect of the task is a little trickier: it is to make his or her vote, so determined, count to the greatest degree possible.

    What does that mean? Consider elections (such as Florida's in 2000) which are won by just a few thousand votes, or even less. If such a result seems possible in your State this November, then both as a Christian and a citizen your duty is not just to vote yourself, but to see to it that other Christians (or secular friends with whom you see eye-to-eye politically) turn out to vote as well. This could mean volunteering to take people to the polls on Election Day, or help with candidate phone banks in the days leading up to November 8, or similar assistance in turning out the vote for your chosen candidate.

    Note that I am not urging you to bring to the polls only voters who think, and who will vote (to the extent they will freely tell you) as you have decided to vote. Remember, you have no right whatsoever to ask a person to tell you how they intend to vote -- they may certainly volunteer that information, but otherwise it is strictly private.

    No, what I am saying is that you should first assist your fellow Christians in going through the same careful analytical steps that you have, if they are willing to see their duty to do so, and then assist them in casting their vote to the extent they need assistance. Your duty as a Christian goes at least that far toward your fellow Christians, whether you know how they will decide or not.

    Next, you may -- and should -- certainly assist any other non-Christian friends of yours, again in exactly the same manner, to they extent they are willing to receive your assistance.

    And of course, you may see it as your Christian duty to join a given campaign in order to get out the vote for a particular candidate -- that, too, is certainly allowed if you have done your objective analysis beforehand. ("Objective" in this sense is a relative term that depends on the individual exercising the very best talents and skills for impartial analysis which God has given them. There will be no one "objective" answer that is the same for everyone, since not everyone has the same talents, or exercises them in the same way. God asks only of each of us that we do our very best.) 

    And thus the third Christian principle comes into play, in these States where the race will be close: it can be summed up in the phrase God helps those who help themselves. Yes, this nation is under God's judgment, and yes, this election is in His hands. But Christians who are situated to make a possible difference in the outcome cannot remain passive and fulfill their obligation to serve Him as best they are able.

    Now, having said all the foregoing, I want to take this analysis one step further, and show how a Christian who has objectively decided that neither of the major candidates would be a suitable leader for this country may still -- in certain key States, at least -- be able to affect the outcome of this election. To do so, however, will require a separate post, because the analysis will have to get a little technical.

    How Should a Christian Vote? (Part I)

    10/24/2016 12:26:00 PM
    We are only about two weeks from the presidential election. While I strongly believe that how any citizen votes is a private matter between them, their conscience, and (if they profess to be Christian) God, I cannot help but take note of a good deal of moral confusion concerning what Christian principles require of us in making a decision on how to exercise our freedom to vote.

    The first thing I have to stress is that in the United States of America (at least), your vote is private. No one has the ability to compel you to disclose anywhere, at any time, how you voted. So if you are Christian, how you vote in this election is really a matter only between you and your faith.

    That said, there is a necessary distinction between how you privately exercise your privilege to vote, and how you urge others (publicly or privately) to exercise that right.

    If, for example, you choose to speak out and advocate how others should vote, then you are under a moral (Christian) obligation not to mislead or deceive. You cannot urge others to vote for Candidate A on certain grounds, and then privately vote for Candidate B on different grounds (such as that while Candidate B is less desirable, he has promised you a position in his government if he gets elected).

    Thus, faced with the execrable choice we have in this presidential election, absolutely no one could fault you if you choose to vote in private for some minority candidate who has none of the moral deficiencies of the candidates advanced by the Republican or the Democratic parties. By voting in secret for the candidate whom you truly believe to be best qualified for the position, you are doing your duty as an informed citizen, and no one can blame you for doing that.

    But once you take it upon yourself to advocate how others should vote in this election, you have a far greater responsibility: you must be true to the principles you espouse, even though your individual vote still by law remains secret, and cannot be disclosed for any reason. The accountability here required of you is that of Christianity itself, since even if no one else knows, God knows how you voted, in relation to how you told others to vote.

    With those principles laid down, let us see how a Christian might propose to deal with the quandary of whom to vote for in the current presidential election.

    Perhaps the first principle a Christian ought to apply is this: Judge not, lest ye be judged. A Christian has no business comparing himself to a candidate, and voting according to whether he considers the candidate inferior (or superior) to himself. Candidates must be evaluated on their own merits as to their abilities to lead our country; let God decide which ones are morally fit. (Needless to say, a lack of morals has not in the past operated to keep candidates from being elected President.)

    The second Christian principle would be this: Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. Although I have said many times that this election is in God's hands, and that this country is under His judgment, that does not mean a Christian should decline to vote. It is every citizen's duty to vote. And as I just noted, citizens must exercise their vote based on criteria that evaluate the candidates according to their abilities to lead this country for the next four years -- not on whether a candidate is of a given sex, or race, or religion.

    Those are the basic Christian principles that apply to voting for President in this election. But they are necessarily general; what is lacking is an application of them to specific facts and circumstances.

    If, for example, you reside in a State such as I do, which is overwhelmingly predicted to go for one of the two major candidates, you have a light burden, because the State's total vote is out of your hands. You are free to vote your conscience, and leave the outcome to God's providence.

    But if you are in one of the States expected to be more closely contested (and you should know by now if you are), then your vote will count for much more. You should analyze the candidates carefully, using the criteria mentioned earlier: what are the candidates' agendas? Their legislative proposals? Their proposed appointees to the Supreme Court, and to their Cabinet? How well can they be expected to deal with the Congress that is likely to be elected? Will they support a more balanced budget? How well can they be expected to deal with various foreign leaders? If an armed conflict breaks out somewhere in the world, how are they most likely to respond, and will that be good for America?

    It might help you to set up a checklist of all the appropriate criteria you can think of, and then systematically and objectively rate the candidates you are considering using those criteria. I use the word "objectively" advisedly -- considerations of political correctness have no place in your decision.

    That is enough for this first post. In my follow-up, I will go through more of the technical details of the Electoral College and how various State-by-State results might affect the outcome of the race -- and consequently, how Christians in certain States may choose to vote.

    Why the Polls Will Prove Wrong

    10/17/2016 8:18:00 PM
    First off -- I want to assure those who have come to this blog only recently that its customary fare is not politics. Because that topic is normally so desultory, it usually does not provide the dose of leavening which I have decided (on my own, thank you) is the measure of a good blog.

    However, once every two or four years, and certainly just before a presidential election, I make an exception. As we near Election Day this November 8, more of my posts will be devoted to that rite than to the traditional topics otherwise addressed here -- such as religion, the state of the Anglican Communion, the latest outrage from the (amalgamated) Episcopal Congregations in the US of A, and so forth, and so on.

    And actually, I have to say: right now, the Presidential election is a rather lively topic, because it keeps shifting with every cycle of the news.

    To listen to the mainstream media, the election is already over -- Hillary has won, and it's just a matter of her adding even more States to her unstoppable haul than the number she has already bagged -- a number which (they assure the gullible) is more than sufficient to guarantee her a majority in the Electoral College.

    One has to take into account, however, the sources of these claims, which are mostly the polls conducted by all the interested organizations -- from independent polling outfits to the major news media themselves.

    To see what might be wrong with their data, consider this question: just how does a poll-taker obtain (and record) a voter's supposed preference for a particular candidate?

    The best overall summary I have found on how polls are conducted is presented in this set of FAQs. Read it through carefully, and note the following takeaways:

    1. Polls are ordered and approved by the customer, not by the voters themselves. This is perhaps the biggest source of bias: the customer gets the final say on how, and to whom, the poll questions are phrased, and those two factors determine in large part how the questions are answered.

    2. Polls reach, for the most part, only those of us who still have land lines (not cell phones). This obviously leaves out most of the younger generation, for the reasons noted in this report.

    3. There is no reliable method to coordinate the number of potential voters polled with the number of them who will actually vote in the election. Again, as explained in the FAQ linked above, the accuracy of any poll in this regard will depend on what questions and what survey audience the customer agreed to pay for -- and even then, there is no guarantee that someone who tells a pollster that he or she "intends to vote" will actually do so. This is why the most accurate polls historically have been based on the exit polls taken of persons leaving the polling booths -- but you will learn of those only late on Election Day, and even then they are still subject to inaccuracies, because many voters will not agree to be so polled.

    4. How the pollsters decide to call numbers does not guarantee a representative sample of actual voters. This is perhaps the biggest source of error of all in published polls compared to actual election results. People contacted who disclose that they have not voted in recent elections, for example, may be excluded from the tallies because on the basis of such an answer, they are not a good fit with those who may fairly be expected to vote in this next election.

    5. This election is not your "typical" election. The next election will not be any "election as usual" -- may we all please agree on that? There are, I dare say, more people now motivated (by a lack of any sense of connection, by feelings that they have previously been excluded and discounted, by mainstream media propaganda that their votes could just not matter in any case, etc.) to vote in this election, who have not felt any compunction to do so previously, than the ones whom the pollsters will manage to reach by their limited methods.

    In conclusion: take the daily "poll" news with a very large grain of salt, and do not let the headlines affect your voting decisions. Note that the poll results advertised (for the reasons given above) almost certainly will not include the opinions of these people, nor (thank goodness, in this case!) of these people (who will never, you may be confident, vote in any election).

    Do not, therefore, think you should not bother to vote because the mainstream media all declare this election is already in the bag for Hillary Clinton. They are trying simply to predetermine the outcome by discouraging you from thinking that your vote could, and will most likely, matter: there are, for instance, far more interesting scenarios that could play out in the weeks to come.

    But those alternative scenarios are highly dependent on one thing: that YOU get out and vote. So do not become despondent, and do not let the media's barrage make you believe that your individual vote could not possibly matter: it does, and will, particularly with regard to the future of this country.

    And for those among you who are still not decided just how you should vote, don't worry. The election is still 21 days away, and a lot can, and will, happen, before you have to make your choice. Your Curmudgeon is willing at this point to declare that on no account could he ever consider recommending voting for the status quo, because to contemplate such a continuation of everything as it has been thus far is, to say the least, depressing beyond measure.

    At the same time, he is keeping his powder dry, because he fully expects that by the time November 8 comes around, the picture will be a lot clearer (if not improved). So say tuned, and keep praying for your country.

    Dialogue of the Self in Modern Times

    10/8/2016 11:22:00 PM

    Q. Is Donald Trump crude, and coarse, and pompous?

    A. Indubitably.

    Q. But we knew that about him already, correct?

    A. Yes.

    Q. So what is “new” in regard to a tape of his crude and coarse remarks made in 2005?

    A. Nothing.

    Q. So how can the left [sc. the Democrats and their camp-followers] claim this development as “news”?

    A. They can’t. But that doesn’t stop them from doing it anyway, since they see a political advantage. 

    Q. And just what is the political advantage they see?

    A. That they can trumpet [pun intended] how crude, and coarse, and pompous Mr. Trump is.

    Q. Wait — we already knew that, right? [See first question.]

    A. Right. Just as we already knew that former President Clinton used his position to exploit women, and on occasion to assault, batter and even rape them -- with no fear of reprisal.

    Q. So what possible advantage can they gain from raising as “new” something that everyone already knew, and that is hypocritical of them to boot?

    A. Ah, now you’ve gotten to the heart of the matter.

    Q. I have?

    A. Yes. The God of PC [Political Correctness] demands from His devotees incessant sacrifices of the same thing over and over again. Thus the left can once more (ad nauseam) profess and show how much they adore their God of PC: they kneel and prostrate themselves before His altar, but are careful to offer only their political opponents (and never one of their own) for sacrifice. Those on the right, on the other hand, are left [pun intended] — with a quandary.

    Q. What quandary?

    A. They don’t relish worshiping the God of PC — but they will, and will sacrifice even their own chosen candidate if that’s what it takes to get themselves re-elected. And that’s why so many of the right have chosen this particular moment to abandon their previous [albeit lukewarm] support of Mr. Trump.

    Q. And just where does that leave Mr. Trump?

    A. Just where you now find him: gazing in the pool, admiring his own reflection, and not caring a fig for what anyone else may think -- all the while that his erstwhile “supporters” desert him in droves. 

    Q. That’s not a very pretty picture.

    A. It’s not. But politics is never pretty. If you wanted Mother Teresa for a candidate, you could never have gotten her, because half (or more) of the electorate would have rejected her just for what she stood for, namely the welfare of everyone else but herself. The majority of those motivated to go to the polls today ask only: "What will this (or that) candidate do for me?"

    Q. Well, even if that's so, what's wrong with that? Shouldn't they vote based on which candidate can deliver the most for them?

    A. That approach renders them incapable of placing themselves in anyone’s shoes but their own. Consequently they end up with candidates whose vision likewise cannot extend beyond their own selves, e.g., Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In short, they get just those whom they have asked for, and whom they certainly deserve.