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Posts Tagged ‘tradition’

After 800 Years, the Barons Are Back in Control of Britain

King John, surrounded by English barons, ratifying the Magna Carta. (photo: Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

By George Monbiot, Guardian UK, 17 July 12

The Magna Carta forced King John to give away powers. But big business now exerts a chilling grip on the workforce

Hounded by police and bailiffs, evicted wherever they stopped, they did not mean to settle here. They had walked out of London to occupy disused farmland on the Queen’s estates surrounding Windsor Castle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that didn’t work out very well. But after several days of pursuit, they landed two fields away from the place where modern democracy is commonly supposed to have been born.

At first this group of mostly young, dispossessed people, who (after the 17th century revolutionaries) call themselves Diggers 2012, camped on the old rugby pitch of Brunel University’s Runnymede campus. It’s a weed-choked complex of grand old buildings and modern halls of residence, whose mildewed curtains flap in the wind behind open windows, all mysteriously abandoned as if struck by a plague or a neutron bomb.

The diggers were evicted again, and moved down the hill into the woods behind the campus – pressed, as if by the ineluctable force of history, ever closer to the symbolic spot. From the meeting house they have built and their cluster of tents, you can see across the meadows to where the Magna Carta was sealed almost 800 years ago.

Their aim is simple: to remove themselves from the corporate economy, to house themselves, grow food and build a community on abandoned land. Implementation is less simple. Soon after I arrived, on a sodden day last week, an enforcer working for the company which now owns the land came slithering through the mud in his suit and patent leather shoes with a posse of police, to serve papers.

Already the crops the settlers had planted had been destroyed once; the day after my visit they were destroyed again. But the repeated destruction, removals and arrests have not deterred them. As one of their number, Gareth Newnham, told me: “If we go to prison we’ll just come back … I’m not saying that this is the only way. But at least we’re creating an opportunity for young people to step out of the system.”

To be young in the post-industrial nations today is to be excluded. Excluded from the comforts enjoyed by preceding generations; excluded from jobs; excluded from hopes of a better world; excluded from self-ownership.

Those with degrees are owned by the banks before they leave college. Housing benefit is being choked off. Landlords now demand rents so high that only those with the better jobs can pay. Work has been sliced up and outsourced into a series of mindless repetitive tasks, whose practitioners are interchangeable. Through globalisation and standardisation, through unemployment and the erosion of collective bargaining and employment laws, big business now asserts a control over its workforce almost unprecedented in the age of universal suffrage.

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Why the Hierarchy Fears the Nuns

By Frank Cocozzelli, Talk to Action, 25 June 12

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, speaks in Ames, Iowa, during a stop on the first day of a nine-state Nuns on the Bus tour. Their fight is with a Republican proposed federal budget they say hurts the poor and needy. (photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

In recent weeks we’ve watched the Vatican try to stifle a vital part of the Catholic Church: the nuns. Indeed, the Church fathers seem to have become quite unhinged in their efforts to quiet women who have dedicated their lives not only to Catholicism, but to betterment of all.

Why is this? Its simply because the good Sisters have the ability to redirect the Church to a place where conservative men do not want to go.

Chris Hedges once wrote “faith is how we treat each other.” Perhaps no other group of Catholics embodies Hedges’ definition of faith than the various orders of Catholic nuns. The women’s orders and individual nuns perform a wide range of services; from teaching in parochial schools; to providing health care; to making great contributions in theology. It has often been nuns who reported their suspicions of priestly pedophilia and forced transparency in how these matters were handled.

Nuns have also been at the forefront of a potential Catholic remonstrance. Is it any wonder that the hierarchy and their friends on the Catholic Right are trying to reign them in?

The Vatican has revealed itself in the current spectacle as more reactionary than conservative. Even the suggestion of discussing progressive takes on dogma is often denounced as heresy. Arguably, moderate and liberal Catholics live in a new reign of terror whose principal players are Bernard Law, disgraced former Boston Cardinal; Cardinal William Levada, Prefect for the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura; and well-placed, movement conservative-friendly bishops and cardinals in cities such as Madison, Wisconsin, New York and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

These clerics apparently recognize that the nuns could become a rallying point and potential leadership for reform for those of us unhappy with the turn away from Vatican II’s Aggiornamento – “bringing up to date” that has occurred since the ascendancy of Pope John Paul II.

In fact, that is exactly how many of us who oppose the reactionary doctrine and culture trickling down from the hierarchy see the nuns’ potential for leadership. They are not a dissident lay group such as Call to Action, but part of the institutional Church. It would be a change from within.

While many in the hierarchy are courting reactionary movements such as Opus Dei and SSPX, groups that seek a more insulated, doctrinaire – and smaller Church.

But the sisters toil in the real world; rubbing elbows with everyday people; dealing with the grey issues of life. This provides them with perspectives sorely missing in the Vatican, notably women’s points of view. The nuns understand pregnancy; they understand glass ceilings; they live with being marginalized by gender. And they see how related injustices play out in the lives of real people.

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Canada had lost sight of religious freedom as human right, Baird says

By CAMPBELL CLARK, Globe and Mail, May. 25, 2012

Foreign Minister John Baird told a U.S. audience that Canada went soft on defending fundamental rights like religious freedom some time after the Second World War, but he argued the Harper government is showing a stiffer spine now.

In a speech promoting Ottawa’s plans to open an Office of Religious Freedom in the Foreign Affairs department, Mr. Baird spoke of the “moral call” that people like his grandfather answered in fighting the Second World War.

“And yet, after the war, some decision makers lost sight of our proud tradition to do what is right and what is just,” he said in a draft of the speech. “Some decided it would be better to paint Canada as an honest broker. I call it being afraid to take a clear position, even when that’s what’s needed.”

Mr. Baird was speaking to the Religious Liberty Dinner, an annual fixture on Washington’s busy political dinner schedule organized by religious-liberty associations and the Seventh Day Adventist Church – and for the first time ever, hosted at Canada’s Embassy.

Mr. Baird was invited, according to government officials, as a nod from organizers to Canada’s plans to open a $5 million-a-year Religious Freedom Office, inside Foreign Affairs, some time this year.

The plans for the office, with a projected budget half as big as its U.S. counterpart, has been criticized by some as an attempt to appeal to religious conservatives in Canada.

Mr. Baird said the office will “help our diplomats around the world support religious freedom.”

His speech argued that defending religious freedoms cannot be separated from defending other basic human rights.

Mr. Baird’s speech mentioned the persecution of religious groups including Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, Ahmadiyya Muslims, and Baha’i. But it dealt most extensively with the targeting of Jews and Christians.
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Coming Out As a Heretic

Not religious, not spiritual, not atheist—what’s left?

By KATE BLANCHARD, 10 May 2012, Religion Dispatches

Heresy has not always been a good option

I could very much relate to the recent NPR story about a Christian minister losing her faith. Like her, I once counted myself among the über-faithful but then “fell away” in my twenties. Despite marrying a clergyman and spending lots of time in theological school, I never made it back to the one true way.

But there is a major difference in my story and this minister’s story, which is that she has embraced the name “atheist,” while I cannot bring myself to do so.

This reluctance is not because I have anything obvious to lose. Being an atheist would not cause any new familial strife; and unlike the pastorate, my career does not demand any particular religious orthodoxy. The major issue for me is an aversion to militant secularism, akin to some people’s aversion to “organized religion.” The new atheism, of the sort that has celebrities, conventions, media outlets, or protest marches, is not simply about doubting the existence of traditional deities. It is more often about intellectual elitism, and sometimes even outright racism toward people whom Christopher Hitchens referred to as “semi-stupefied peasants in desert regions.” Orthodox secularism, it seems, is about feeling superior to those poor, deluded souls who still cling to religion—that weird little psycho-social appendix left over from some earlier stage in human evolution.

Other common categories don’t seem to fit well either. The ever-popular “spiritual but not religious” implies a particular type of interior life—one grounded in emotion and experience more than cognition. A Jewish friend of mine calls herself “religious but not spiritual,” but this doesn’t seem to work as well in a Protestant framework, where individual faith is emphasized over ethnicity or outward traditions. The “Emerging Church” is a possible refuge, but it still strikes me as vaguely imperialistic; and try as I might, I simply don’t see myself among the so-called “rise of the nones.”

Thus, for folks who are unorthodox but aren’t atheists, who care about metaphysics but who aren’t mystics, perhaps the good old-fashioned term “heretic” will satisfy. The kind of heresy I’m talking about here is what Thomas Aquinas defined as “restricting belief to certain points of Christ’s doctrine [as determined by the Roman Catholic hierarchy] selected and fashioned at pleasure.” (I would question only the implication that heretics are unique in “selecting and fashioning” their beliefs “at pleasure.”)

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Methodists Vote to Keep Homosexuality “Incompatible”

by CANDACE CHELLEW-HODGE, May 3, 2012, Religion Dispatches

The United Methodist Church voted today to keep intact its section in the Book of Discipline that call homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and sanctions only heterosexual marriage. New wording would have removed those passages.

The vote came after a debate that became contentious when one African delegate compared homosexuality to bestiality and declared that God would not create humans as gay or lesbian.

During the vote, supporters of the petition to change the Book of Discipline stood at the edges of the convention floor, or the “bar” as the church calls it. As the debate continued, many delegates moved from their seats to join the members on the margins to show their solidarity. In the end the petition failed to pass.

When the conference reconvened after a break, those who supported the petition remained in the hall, singing as business began again. The presiding bishop, Michael Coyner of the Indiana Conference, shut down the meeting, calling the LGBT advocates a “security concern.”

The morning’s vote and actions by the bishop were a disappointment to David Braden, the director of development for the Reconciling Ministries Network, which works for the full inclusion of LGBT people into the UMC:

“We grieve that the United Methodist Church really had the opportunity to live into inclusive gospel of Jesus Christ and live into its tagline of Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds and extend its welcome to LGBT people and unfortunately, chose not to do that. We grieve that UMC continues to harm and discrimination against LGBT people. We’re already here in the United Methodist Church and we will continue to be that shining light on top of the hill to show the world what it means to be UMC, and that is to welcome all people.”

Even if this petition failed, said Daniel Viana, a Brazilian-born music minister at a small conservative Hispanic UMC in Chicago, the presence of LGBT people and their allies at the convention is a strong witness to just how active the LGBT community already is in the church.

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Vatican Reprimands a Group of U.S. Nuns and Plans Changes

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN | Published: April 18, 2012 | The New York Times

The Vatican has appointed an American bishop to rein in the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States, saying that an investigation found that the group had “serious doctrinal problems.”

The Vatican’s assessment, issued on Wednesday, said that members of the group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, had challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” During the debate over the health care overhaul in 2010, American bishops came out in opposition to the health plan, but dozens of sisters, many of whom belong to the Leadership Conference, signed a statement supporting it — support that provided crucial cover for the Obama administration in the battle over health care.

The conference is an umbrella organization of women’s religious communities, and claims 1,500 members who represent 80 percent of the Catholic sisters in the United States. It was formed in 1956 at the Vatican’s request, and answers to the Vatican, said Sister Annmarie Sanders, the group’s communications director.

Word of the Vatican’s action took the group completely by surprise, Sister Sanders said. She said that the group’s leaders were in Rome on Wednesday for what they thought was a routine annual visit to the Vatican when they were informed of the outcome of the investigation, which began in 2008.

“I’m stunned,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters. Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.

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The Anglican church can start afresh

The recent vote against the Anglican Covenant is hugely significant. But are the bishops ready to listen?

Diarmaid MacCulloch |, Sunday 25 March 2012

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, who has insisted that the worldwide Anglican communion has a future despite divisions over homosexuality Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA

Something very significant in the history of the Church of England happened on Saturday. An absolute majority of dioceses in the Church of England, debating diocese by diocese, voted down a pernicious scheme called the Anglican Covenant. This was an effort to increase the power of centralising bureaucracy throughout the worldwide Anglican communion. However much the promoters denied it, the principal aim was to discipline Anglican churches in the United States and Canada, which had the gall to think for themselves and, after much prayer and discussion, to treat gay people just like anybody else.

Diocesan synods voted against the covenant, often in the face of great pressure from the vast majority of English bishops, who frequently made sure that the case for the covenant dominated proceedings. The bishops also exerted a certain amount of emotional blackmail, suggesting that if the scheme didn’t pass, it would be very upsetting for the archbishop of Canterbury (cue for synod members to watch a podcast from said archbishop, looking sad even while commending the covenant).

Well, it didn’t work, and now those particular bishops need to consider their position, as the saying goes. Principally, they need to consider a killer statistic: as the voting has taken place in the dioceses (and there are still a few to go), the pattern has been consistent. Around 80% of the bishops have voted in favour of the covenant, but the clergy and laity votes have split around 50-50 for and against, with votes against nudging ahead among the clergy. That suggests an episcopate that is seriously out of touch, not just with the nation as a whole (we knew that already), but even with faithful Anglican churchgoers and clergy in England.

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First Ever Challenger for World Bank President Pleas for Level Playing Field, Global Shift

Published on Monday, March 26, 2012 by Common Dreams

Okonjo-Iweala : ‘My biggest hope is that this will be a fair contest’

Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks during a media briefing in Pretoria in this March 23, 2012 (Photo: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)

Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been nominated to run for World Bank President by African leaders from Nigeria, South Africa and Angola. The nomination comes as an unprecedented challenge to the US nomination — this year’s Jim Yong Kim.

The World Bank president has traditionally been selected by Washington, according to an ‘informal agreement’ between Western powers. Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination comes as an unconventional challenge to the process. “Okonjo-Iweala, a respected economist and diplomat, painted the convention as a vestige of a bygone era,” Reuters reports.

Okonjo-Iweala has used the platform as a plea for a fair process whereby ’emerging economies’ may have a stronger voice in the global institution. “We’re not asking the U.S. not to compete, we’re just asking for a level playing field where candidates can be evaluated on their merits,” stated Okonjo-Iweala.

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Is Christianity dead in the water? Are churches merely nostalgia-filled relics?: Ken Gallinger

By Ken Gallinger, March 15, 2012. The Star

Many people have a deep understanding of life as something “given,” but they have lost the language to say that this is a gift from God, and they have lost the institutional relationship to the church says Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches. PETER MORRISON/AP FILE PHOTO

Is Christianity dead in the water? Is today’s church merely a nostalgia-filled relic? Norway’s Olav Fykse Tveit is general secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches; Lois Wilson is a past president of that body, as well as a former Canadian senator. We met in a coffee shop to discuss those questions:

The great cathedrals of Europe are mostly museums; churches across Toronto are sold off as condo sites; those still open are largely empty. Is the church finished?

Tveit: There is an increasing number of Christians around the world but the growth is mainly happening in the global south. If you look at Europe and North America, churches are not in good shape. Many people have a deep understanding of life as something “given,” but they have lost the language to say that this is a gift from God, and they have lost the institutional relationship to the church.

Wilson: I have 12 grandchildren, and they don’t want to be part of religious institutions, thank you. But they have questions about the meaning of their lives. What’s this all about? The trouble is that, in North America, the culture has moved along and the church has not kept up; it’s become irrelevant. I deplore the inward religious self-examination that’s become popular; faith is linked to yoga and walking in the woods; it’s not linked to where people are struggling, suffering and dying. That’s what it’s got to relate to if it’s going to matter.

Olav, you’re speaking in Toronto this week on “The Unity We Seek.” My impression is that Christians are so busy shoring up their own churches they couldn’t care less about unity with others. Am I wrong?

Tveit: Churches do a lot of things together, but unity, or ecumenism as we call it, is not talked about very much.

Wilson: Christians have mostly narrowed the discussion down to “some of my best friends are Lutherans”.

Tveit: Still, we are called to seek unity, just as we are called to seek justice and peace.

But Christians I hang out with are embarrassed by the actions of other Christians – for example, the right-wing stuff we hear coming out of Republican/Christians in the States these days. The anti-feminist agenda, the so-called “war on women”, and so on. What do you say about that?

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A Quiet Struggle Within the Gay Marriage Fight

By MATT SMITH | February 18, 2012 | The New York Times

Worshippers at a service at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. Clergy members and the church are in a battle of their own over gay rights. Noah Berger for The Bay Citizen

Straight couples dressed in tuxedoes and pastel-colored gowns were forced to wait in a hallway outside the San Francisco recorder’s office on Tuesday as 10 Bay Area Christian leaders sat in a circle inside singing “We Shall Overcome,” “Chapel of Love,” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.” It has become an annual Valentine’s Day protest of the city’s inability to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples, an authority that is on hold until appeals of a court’s decision to strike down California’s gay marriage ban are exhausted.

“We’re just going to keep knocking at the door until justice is available to all people,” the Rev. Karen Oliveto, a Methodist pastor of San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Church, said after sheriff’s deputies handcuffed her and her fellow protesters and led them to jail.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit earlier this month upheld a decision declaring Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, unconstitutional. The ruling represented a milestone in the secular struggle over gay rights. In the shadow of that struggle, however, a quieter battle is being waged within churches over whether gay people can be married and ordained.

Long before the issue of same-sex marriage grabbed the spotlight, liberal Protestant pastors in Northern California were fighting against church rules prohibiting ordination and marriage of homosexuals. That internal church struggle is broadening nationwide.

In recent years, mainline Protestant denominations — which are different from evangelical Christian churches that read the Bible as literal truth and emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus — have one by one changed rules that had prohibited marriage and ordination of gays and lesbians. The Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ at one time all barred same-sex wedding ceremonies and ordination of gay clergy members, but they have changed those rules over time.

The last holdout among major mainline Protestant groups has been the United Methodist Church,

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Heteropolarity, security, and diplomacy

For the past few hundred years, high-level statecraft has been concerned mainly with attempts at balancing power in an ever-changing world. We’ve gone from a bipolar system dominated by the US and USSR to American unipolarity. And now? America’s prestige is hemorrhaging. Welcome to the state of ‘heteropolarity.’ This is a whole new game.

By Daryl Copeland, 19 January 2012, Embassy –

Two great powers? Not any more. US president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill in 1941. UN Photo

Almost a decade ago, at an annual conference of the International Studies Association, I heard my colleague James Der Derian from Brown University use the word heteropolar to describe the new world order. I had not come across the term before, and was uncertain as to its precise meaning. Still, it struck me at the time as an original idea, and those are rare. It lodged in my mind.

I took a first crack at developing the concept in Guerrilla Diplomacy, where I defined heteropolarity as: an emerging world system in which competing states or groups of states derive their relative power and influence from dissimilar sources: social, economic, political, military, and cultural. The disparate vectors that empower these heterogeneous poles are difficult to compare or measure; stability in the age of globalization will therefore depend largely upon the diplomatic functions of knowledge-driven problem solving and complex balancing.

In preparation for a forthcoming conference at the London Academy of Diplomacy, I have been trying to further elaborate the implications associated with the emergence of a heteropolar world order. Those with an interest in the evolution of international relations may find the line of argument worth pursuing.

For the past few hundred years, high-level statecraft has been concerned mainly with attempts at balancing power in an ever-changing world. From the age of European empires through to the end of the Cold War, the indicators of national power—armies, navies, missiles, warheads, economies, populations, territories—were carefully calculated, and then balanced and codified in an attempt to engineer stability. Numbers were important; alliances were made and treaties entered into for purposes of expressing or extending agreed balances. When imbalances arose, as they inevitably did, negotiations were re-opened. If the talks failed, war usually ensued.

And so was world order, however punctuated by periods of great upheaval, fashioned.

From the Congress of Vienna through the Treaty of Versailles and beyond, the search for international security turned on the efforts of diplomats to calibrate power in a way that produced a workable form of equilibrium. The threat or use of armed force served as the international policy instrument of choice and the ultimate arbiter in dispute resolution. For the likes of Metternich, Castlereagh, and Bismarck, not to mention Churchill, Stalin and Kissinger, power was essentially a function of the ability to compel your adversary to submit to your will. Stability was engineered by fine tuning relationships within and between alliances, first in a multipolar, and then, following the Second World War, in a bipolar system dominated by the US and USSR.

All of this changed with the implosion of the Soviet Union and the advent of American unipolarity in the early 1990s. This was a triumphal, if fleeting moment…

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A Canadian link to the new royal yacht proposal backed by David Cameron

Patrick Wintour, political editor |, | 16 January 2012

The £60m yacht has so far found £10m in backing from financial leaders in Canada and an unnamed £5m private donation.

David Cameron has backed the plans for a new royal yacht. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/EPA

David Cameron has swung behind plans for a new, privately funded royal yacht that will double up as a university of the seas, and provide accommodation for royalty in the ship’s stern.

Cameron has endorsed the idea after lobbying from the higher education minister David Willetts and the education secretary Michael Gove. The idea, at one point described by Gove as a gift from the nation to the Queen on her diamond jubilee, also has the backing of the Prince of Wales and Princess Anne, according to letters sent to the prime minister by Willetts.

Downing Street sources said the prime minister regarded the idea as excellent, and discussions have been held with Portsmouth city council for the yacht to be berthed in the south coast port.

The £60m yacht has so far found £10m in backing from financial leaders in Canada and an unnamed £5m private donation.

Cameron’s enthusiasm comes despite a storm of protest after the Guardian revealed ministers had recently discussed taxpayers paying for the yacht as a “present” to the Queen – prompting critics to accuse the government of being out of touch with the nation’s economic priorities.

After the leak of a December-dated letter from Gove lobbying fellow cabinet ministers for a royal yacht to the Guardian on Sunday, government officials have released further letters showing that ministers have been urging the prime minister to back the plan since September. The plan for the yacht is the brainchild of Rear Admiral David Bawtree, a former naval base commander in Portsmouth.

In the Commons on Monday Gove angrily denied he supported any public funding for the yacht, although the letter leaked to the Guardian showed he did at least at one time see public funding as the chief option. The education secretary’s office insisted that Gove had, in an earlier letter, rejected the possibility of public funding.

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Capitalism and Loneliness: Why Pornography Is a Multibillion-Dollar Industry

US women adjusted to new roles in the marketplace. Unfortunately, men did not make comparable changes. They held on to the privileges that came with men’s provider roles and women’s full-time service in the household.

29 December 2011 | by: Harriet Fraad and Tess Fraad Wolff, Truthout | Op-Ed

(Photo: Dave 77459 / Flickr)

Massive social changes in the US labor force and in commerce have transformed the economy and powerfully affected personal relationships. Since 1970, we have changed from being a society of people connected in groups of every kind to a society of people who are too often disconnected, detached and alienated from one another.

One is the loneliest number, and in their personal lives, Americans are increasingly alone.

What Has Happened to Us?

In the 1970s, the American dream of 150 years duration ground to a halt. From 1820 to 1970, every US generation did better than the one that preceded it. In the 1970s, computers began to replace millions of US jobs. International communication systems became so sophisticated that factories could be moved overseas, allowing the livelihoods of more millions of Americans to be outsourced. Civil rights and feminist gains had given women and minorities access to a depleted job market. Militant left trade union movements or political parties were not there to protest. Wages flattened. Profits rose with productivity and the share distributed to the top rose, rather than being distributed in wages. Wealthy banks issued credit cards with high interest rates that allowed them to make even more money on funds formerly paid out as salaries.

Men were no longer paid a family wage. Families suffered. Women poured into the labor force to make up for lost male wages. Until this point, most women’s work was primarily labor in the home: creating domestic order and cleanliness, performing childcare, and providing social and emotional services for the family. After the 1970s, the majority of women worked outside of the home as well as within it. Now, practically all women work outside the home, currently constituting almost half of the labor force.

Before the movements for racial and gender equality, the best jobs were reserved for white males who were an overwhelming majority. Within our racist and sexist labor force, white men had what ultimately amounted to two wage bonuses: one for being white and another for being male. Beginning in the 1970s, it was no longer necessary to give financial bonuses to white men. Indeed, it was not necessary to pay higher wages to any workers in the US labor force. Workers’ salaries flattened even as they increased their efficiency. This meant that ever more profit was made and accumulated at the top.

American white men lost a good deal of the male hegemony that accompanied steady jobs and wages that could support a family. When millions of manufacturing jobs were outsourced, our economy became a service economy. Neither the greater physical strength nor the higher levels of aggression associated with males are particularly welcome in a service economy. Heterosexual personal relationships that had developed on the basis of a male provider income could not hold. Those gendered roles were sexist and limiting. However, they could have been transformed politically without economically and psychologically traumatizing the American people.

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Virgin Mary’s surprise pregnancy test in billboard a shocker

Anita Li | Dec 16 2011 | The Star

St. Matthew-in-the-City, an Anglican church in Auckland, New Zealand, has attracted controversy for this advertisement of the Virgin Mary with a positive pregnancy test.

The Virgin Mary is pregnant and it’s an unpleasant — even shocking — surprise.

At least that’s how she is depicted in a controversial new billboard erected Tuesday by St. Matthew-in-the-City, an Anglican church in Auckland, N.Z.

Swathed in blue, green and red robes, a shocked Mary clasps her hand over her mouth while looking at a pregnancy test.

“Regardless of any premonition, that discovery (of being pregnant) would have been shocking,” vicar Glynn Cardy and associate priest Clay Nelson wrote on the church website. “Mary was unmarried, young and poor. This pregnancy would shape her future. She was certainly not the first woman in this situation or the last.”

The billboard has sparked outrage, with many comments on the church’s website condemning the image as clashing with the gospel account of Jesus’ birth in which Mary has given her assent to God.

“Please reconsider repenting on what you have just created,” wrote Nader Mansi from California. “You are contradicting the Bible itself (which) you claim to side with.”

One commenter, identified as Peter from New York City, had harsher words for the church: “The image you have generated is grotesque, blasphemous and profane, and at once assails me most personally and very publicly because it attacks my faith.”

The church has said the billboard is intended to provoke debate, a goal that Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, supports.

“Getting people to think about the real and deeper meaning of these events is a really good thing,” Feheley said. “Will it make some uncomfortable? Of course it will. But any thought-provoking ad does that.

“I see nothing wrong with churches using creative advertising,” he said, adding that as a parish priest, he once produced a poster that said: “This Christmas, introduce your children to the real Madonna.”

St. Matthew’s invited commenters to think up captions for the billboard as a way to promote conversation, Cardy and Nelson said.

Some suggestions include: “Holy Mother of God . . . Oh that’s right, it’s me,” “If I say I’m a virgin, Mum and Dad won’t kill me,” and the more contentious, “Now, which way to the abortion clinic?”

The image of Mary holding a pregnancy test isn’t your typical billboard image, and neither is St. Matthew-in-the-City your typical church.

Self-described as a proponent of “progressive Christianity,” it provides same-sex blessings and civil unions, and says it doesn’t expect its followers at church. “Our weekly worship services are like a bonfire on a hill around which travellers stop for a while,” its website said.

St. Matthew’s is no stranger to controversy. In 2009, it put up a billboard depicting Joseph lying beside Mary in bed, with the headline: “God is a hard act to follow.”

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Americans: Undecided About God?

By ERIC WEINER | December 11, 2011 | The New York Times

Copyright The New York Times Esther Pearl Watson

THE holidays are upon us again — it sounds vaguely aggressive, as if the holidays were some sort of mugger, or overly enthusiastic lover — and so it’s time to stick a thermometer deep in our souls and take our spiritual temperature (between trips to the mall, of course).

For some of us, the season affords an opportunity to reconnect with our religious heritage. For others, myself included, it’s a time to shake our heads over the sad state of our national conversation about God, and wish there were another way.

For a nation of talkers and self-confessors, we are terrible when it comes to talking about God. The discourse has been co-opted by the True Believers, on one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us?

The rest of us, it turns out, constitute the nation’s fastest-growing religious demographic. We are the Nones, the roughly 12 percent of people who say they have no religious affiliation at all. The percentage is even higher among young people; at least a quarter are Nones.

Apparently, a growing number of Americans are running from organized religion, but by no means running from God. On average 93 percent of those surveyed say they believe in God or a higher power; this holds true for most Nones — just 7 percent of whom describe themselves as atheists, according to a survey by Trinity College.

Nones are the undecided of the religious world. We drift spiritually and dabble in everything from Sufism to Kabbalah to, yes, Catholicism and Judaism.

Why the rise of the Nones? David Campbell and Robert Putnam, of the University of Notre Dame and the Harvard Kennedy School, respectively, think politics is to blame. Their idea is that we’ve mixed politics and religion so completely that many simply opt out of both; apparently they are reluctant to claim a religious affiliation because they don’t want the political one that comes along with it.

We are more religiously polarized than ever. In my secular, urban and urbane world, God is rarely spoken of, except in mocking, derisive tones. It is acceptable to cite the latest academic study on, say, happiness or, even better, whip out a brain scan, but God? He is for suckers, and Republicans.

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The real math behind Attawapiskat’s $90 million

By Chelsea Vowel | National Post | Dec 4, 2011

Attawapiskat band office Wikipedia/ Attawapiskat Band

Prime Minister Harper is apparently scratching his head about where $90 million in federal funding to Attawapiskat has gone. There is much talk about lack of accountability, and no one knowing what happened to the money.

Let’s start with some simple math.

First, $90 million is a deceptive number. It refers to federal funding received since Harper’s government came into power in 2006. In the 2010-2011 fiscal year, Attawapiskat received $17.6 million in federal funds (PDF). The document linked to shows the breakdown of federal funds in case you wanted to know how much is allocated to things like medical transportation, education, maternal health care and so on.

Thus, $90 million refers to the total; the average is about $18 million per year in federal funding since 2006.

[As an aside, you will often see the figure of $34 or $35 million in funding given to Attawapiskat on a yearly basis. This refers to total revenues. As noted, federal funding was $17.6 million, and provincial funding was $4.4 million. The community brings in about $12 million of its own revenue, as shown here. So no, the ‘government’ is not giving Attawapiskat $34 million a year.]

Okay fine, but where did it go?

Attawapiskat publishes its financial statements going back to 2005. If you want to know where the money was spent, you can look in the audited financial reports. This document (PDF) for example provides a breakdown of all program funding.

Just getting to this stage alone proves the falsehood of the claim that there is no accountability and no one knows where the money goes.

But $90 million could have built the community 360 brand new houses!

Assuming, as Grand Chief Stan Louttit of the Mushkegowyk Council has stated, that a new house costs $250,000 to build in Attawapiskat (with half of that being transportation costs), then yes, 360 new units could have been provided by $90 million.

However, this money was not just earmarked for the construction of new homes.

An important fact that many commentators forget (or are unaware of) is that section 91(24) of the Constitution Act of 1867 gives the Federal Crown exclusive powers over “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians.”

You see, for non-natives, the provinces are in charge of funding things like education, health-care, social services and so on. For example, the Province of Ontario allocated $10,730 in education funding per non-native pupil in the 2010-2011 fiscal year. For most First Nations, particularly those on reserve, the federal government through INAC is responsible for providing funds for native education.

How is this relevant?

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Kirk seeks to deny same-sex marriage to other communities

By staff writers, 2 Dec 2011, Ekklesia

Affirming Christians and equality advocates have expressed disappointment at the Church of Scotland’s negative response to the Scottish Government’s consultation document, “The Registration of Civil Partnerships, Same Sex Marriage”.

The Kirk, Scotland’s largest Presbyterian denomination, made a statement yesterday through its Legal Questions Committee, claiming that the Government’s proposals to allow non-religious people, smaller churches, liberal Jewish groups, Quakers, the Pagan Federation and Unitarians to celebrate lesbian and gay unions undermines society and the traditional meaning of marriage.

Scott Rennie, an openly gay minister at Aberdeen’s Queen’s Cross Church, commented: “While the Kirk may not yet be in a position to celebrate equal marriage itself, it is disappointing that it has used its voice to deny the possibility to any other religious community.”

“It seems there is still a long way to go before gay people, and their loving relationships, are valued by the Church of Scotland,” he added.

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: “I find it difficult to fathom why the Church of Scotland seeks to impose its view on the whole of society when we do not seek to impose our views on it.”

The latest Scottish social attitudes survey found that 60 per cent of Scots agreed with gay men and lesbians have equal marriage rights, against 19 per cent who opposed it.

SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that her administration is still likely to press ahead with reform, which will allow same-sex unions but will not in any way force the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church or others – including fundamentalist groups – who oppose same-sex marriages, to perform them.

The Kirk’s statement reads as follows:

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Dying woman challenges Canada’s assisted-suicide law

Gloria Taylor Canadian Press file photo

Keven Drews | Nov 13 2011 | The Spec.Com

VANCOUVER It’s been nearly 20 years since Canada’s laws on assisted suicide have been challenged by a terminally ill person, and now a similar right-to-die case has thrust the issue back into the spotlight.

On Monday, lawyers for Gloria Taylor, 63, will be in B.C. Supreme Court to argue against laws that make it a criminal offence to help seriously ill people end their lives.

In August, the Farewell Foundation lost its court battle to have the laws changed because its plaintiffs were anonymous, but in a separate case, Judge Lynn Smith agreed to fast track a trial for Taylor, who wants a doctor-assisted suicide.

She suffers from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, an incurable illness that gradually weakens and degenerates muscles to the point of paralysis.

Taylor is one of five plaintiffs in the case, which also includes family physician Dr. William Shoichet, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Lee Carter and her husband, Hollis Johnson. The couple took Carter’s mother to Switzerland two years ago so she could die with the help of a doctor.

“Lee and Hollis feel they could be criminally prosecuted for assisting her mother and that’s why they are challenging the laws,” said B.C. Civil Liberties lawyer Grace Pastine, adding Kay Carter suffered from spinal stenosis, which involves a narrowing of the spine.

“She was essentially going to end up lying in a hospital bed, flat like an ironing board.”

While advocates for doctor-assisted suicide say it’s time for Canada to amend the laws, opponents argue the issue raises serious concerns about abuse by people who stand to gain from the death of someone who may not be in a position to provide consent to assisted suicide.

The right-to-die, or euthanasia, debate last arose in 1993 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 5-4 against Victoria resident Sue Rodriguez’s battle to change the law. She also had ALS and died illegally the following year with the help of an anonymous doctor.

Sheila Tucker, one of the lawyers involved in Taylor’s case, said the Kelowna, B.C., woman is relatively mobile and uses a scooter to get around, but recently fell and hurt her ribs, and that could worsen her condition.

Tucker said that since the Rodriguez case, other jurisdictions, including Oregon, Washington and Belgium, have adopted laws to protect people from being influenced or pushed into planning their own deaths.

“An absolute prohibition is no longer constitutionally feasible now that there’s evidence of workable systems,” Tucker said.

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Spiritual But Not Religious: Listening To Their Absence

Posted on September 20, 2011 by diana butler bass

Over the past few weeks, a debate has been roiling on the web about people who claim to be “spiritual but not religious,” a.k.a., “SBNR.” Kicked off by the Rev. Lillian Daniel (who is, in full disclosure, a friend whom I admire), a pastor in the mostly-liberal United Church of Christ, who confessed in a Christian Century column that SBNR “bored” her and expressed a preference for the more robust forms of faith found in traditional religions, an argument is raging between those who find meaning on non-churchy spiritual paths and those who think that the word “spiritual” is an excuse to skip religious services and opt out of community.

The debate certainly surprised many, especially because of the critical tone of Pastor Daniel in the initial article regarding SBNR folks. After all, mainline Protestants are a generally genial lot, not given to launching spiritual attacks on other peoples’ spiritual practices. A preemptive strike on contemporary spirituality would far more likely come from the quarters of the neo-Calvinists or fundamentalists than a UCC minister.

But I was not entirely surprised. In the last year, I have been working on a book (Christianity After Religion, forthcoming HarperOne) about contemporary trends in religion and spirituality. I have spent countless hours studying polls and surveys on American faith life. Recent data makes one thing perfectly, undeniably clear: American religion has changed in remarkable ways in the last decade, revealing an erosion of belief, practice, and identity in nearly every denomination, almost all congregations, and most every religious institution or organization.

Once upon a time, when reporters or scholars used the word “decline,” it was always in tandem with the phrase “mainline Protestant.” No longer. Mainline Protestant churches, evangelical Protestant denominations and congregations, and the Roman Catholic Church are all experiencing declines of membership, commitment, influence, and resources. Indeed, sociologist of religion Mark Chaves remarks that the “burden of proof has shifted to those who want to claim that American religiosity is not declining.”

There is, however, one quadrant of American faith that is growing—and it is growing rapidly—the unaffiliated, those who claim no membership in a traditional church or faith group, and many of whom consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” In 1970, the unaffiliated were about 2% of the population; by 2008, their ranks had risen to some 16%. According to a 2011 survey, that number now stands around 20%.

What does this mean? When pollsters ask Americans how they identify themselves, the four largest religious groups in the United States are: Evangelical Protestants, 25%; Roman Catholics, 22%; Unaffiliated (including SBNR), 20%; and Mainline Protestants, 17%. Evangelical, Roman Catholic, and mainline percentages are down; unaffiliated Americans are up. Way up. (An aside: The question can be asked differently, and in that case, the SBNR rises to 30%.)

In a very real way, the SBNR are the new competitor group in the American religious economy—the upstart on the faith scene. And their rapid growth is a specific criticism and rejection of the other groups.

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Faith under construction

For decades, United Church member Murray Malcolm tried to build a solid theological foundation. He read dozens of books and attended church faithfully. Today, he’s still trying to fit the pieces together.

By Murray Malcolm, The United Church Observer

Janusz Kapusta/Stock Illustration Source/Getty Images

When I was much younger, I expected that by this time in my life I would be a lot wiser than I feel right now. Furthermore, I expected that the increased wisdom would be especially noticeable in matters of the soul, all the religious and spiritual and churchly issues that have touched my life. It hasn’t worked out that way, and when I began to catch on that the universe was not unfolding in the way I thought it should, my first impulse was to find somebody or something to blame.

Attaching blame has not been an entirely fruitful exercise, although I did renew my respect for the wisdom of the cartoon character Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” But I am left with the feeling that something is seriously out of joint. Maybe I’m not asking the right questions.

Over the years, I think it’s fair to say that we worked diligently at religious stuff. (I am using the pronoun “we” because in every United Church congregation I’ve belonged to, there were a few people who had questions like mine. I always felt that we made up a loose band of like-minded folks, and there was a fair measure of comfort to be found in their company. I still think of this small, scattered group as being on a common journey. So, I use “we.”)

It was obvious from the beginning that The United Church of Canada was the only possibility for us. The literalist churches were out of the question. As 12-year-olds, a week of vacation Bible school in the hands of smiling zealots convinced many of us that there had to be an alternative. We agreed that the dogma and doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church was not only suffocating but, in many of its particulars, repugnant. And so on. In the end, the United Church offered the only possible church home for many of us, and that was where we settled.

On the whole, it was a good choice: we had our children baptized, just in case; we taught Sunday school, also just in case; we got involved in assorted social justice issues. We came to see that washing dishes in the church kitchen, working at the yard sale and repainting the Sunday school classrooms really could advance God’s kingdom, even if only a little. Those activities consumed a lot of our time.

When we had a few hours for reflection, it seemed scholarly instruction and serious study opportunities for adults were few and far between. We knew there were gaps in our knowledge of Scripture, but we were confident they would be filled in, so long as we continued as members.

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Mayor Ford won’t march in Toronto Pride parade

June 22, 2011 | CBC News

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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he will not be marching in this July’s Pride parade because it conflicts with long-standing plans to spend that time at his family cottage.

“I’m going up north … I’m going to be up at the cottage,” said Ford on Wednesday when asked by a reporter if he would be attending the parade.

Ford told reporters on Wednesday that as much as it’s been a tradition for the mayor to march in the parade, it’s been a Ford family tradition to head up to the cottage in Huntsville on Canada Day.

“Since I [was] a little boy we always used to go up north to our cottage and I’m carrying on the tradition that my father had,” he said, adding he went to the cottage last year during the municipal election campaign.

The Toronto Pride Parade will be held on July 3 and is the culmination of the city’s well-known Pride Week, a 10-day festival celebrating sexual diversity in downtown Toronto.

Former Mayor David Miller and his predecessor Mel Lastman both attended the parade.

Coun. Krystyn Wong-Tam personally invited Ford to the parade, offering to have him participate as a member of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians). She told CBC News she was disappointed he will not attend.

“There is a message being sent that you are mayor of certain types of people and not everyone is welcome to Rob Ford’s City Hall,” she said.

Coun. Janet Davis called Ford’s decision an “appalling embarrassment.”

“By refusing to attend Pride, I think the mayor has sent a very clear message that the LGBT is not welcome here in Ford’s city.”

Wong-Tam pointed out that the parade is only one part of Pride Week and said she hopes the mayor can find time in his schedule for other events.

“Pride week is literally a 10-day-long celebration,” said Wong-Tam. “If the mayor can’t fit the parade in his calendar, perhaps there’s another event he can participate in. He can’t be busy for the 10 solid days.”

A study commissioned by the city determined the festival, the largest of its kind in Canada, generated 600 jobs and $94.3 million for the city economy in 2009.

The study also found the festival generated $4.1 million in municipal taxes that year.

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Gunfire marks second night of Belfast rioting

The Associated Press | Jun 22 2011 |

NORTHERN IRELAND A mural showing two Ulster Voluteer Force members covers a wall on Wednesday on the mainly Protestant Newtownards Road area of East Belfast, Northern Ireland, after overnight sectarian violence in the area. Police said about 400 people were involved in last night's unrest in the Short Strand, a small Catholic community in a predominantly Protestant area of east Belfast. Peter Morrison/The Associated Press

BELFAST, Northern Ireland – Police in Northern Ireland on Wednesday blamed an outlawed Protestant paramilitary group for starting two nights of rioting that saw hundreds of masked youths hurl bricks, bottles and gasoline bombs and left three people with gunshot wounds.

A photographer was shot in the leg during the unrest in the Short Strand, a small Catholic community in a predominantly Protestant area of east Belfast.

The Press Association agency said its photographer was in stable condition at Royal Victoria Hospital. The agency did not release his name. Other journalists on the scene said a youthful gunman had shot at photographers covering Tuesday’s night’s violence.

Police said about 400 people were involved, from both sides of the sectarian divide, but that Irish Republican Army dissidents were responsible for the gunfire.

Masked and hooded youths threw bricks, bottles, fireworks and other missiles at each other, and at armoured police vehicles. Police fired more than 60 plastic bullets at the marauding youths.

Police Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay blamed the Ulster Volunteer Force, a group that declared a cease fire in 2009 and said it had disarmed.

“Their hands are upon this, whether by direction, by omission or commission,” he said.

Sectarian tensions typically flare in the build-up to July 12, a divisive holiday when tens of thousands of Protestants from the Orange Order brotherhood march across Northern Ireland. Last summer, more than 80 police officers were wounded during four nights of riots in Catholic districts of Belfast.

This year’s violence is among the most intense in years, but confined to a small and historically tense area of Belfast.

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Rainbows banned at Mississauga Catholic school

Andrea Houston | June 07, 2011 | Xtra!

Leanne Iskander and Taechun Menns setting up the rainbow cupcakes at St Joe's Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga. (Meagan Smith of St Joe's)

Despite a ban on any rainbows at the St Joseph Catholic Secondary School anti-homophobia event June 3, the student organizers found a creative way to get their message across: hiding rainbows inside the cupcakes.

Leanne Iskander, 16, who founded the school’s “unofficial” gay-straight alliance in March, tells Xtra the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board put the kibosh on displaying any rainbows at their information booth.

“We brought signs and posters with rainbows, and we were told that we can’t put them up,” says Iskander, who was recently named the 2011 honoured dyke and youth grand marshal. “They said rainbows are associated with Pride. There’s so many other things that a rainbow could be. It’s ridiculous.”

The teacher who delivered the news told Iskander the decision came from the board. “The board wasn’t there, but they knew about the event,” she says.

Since rainbows couldn’t be displayed openly and proudly, the students baked rainbows into the cupcakes by dying the batter in a rainbow of colours. The cupcakes were sold for 50 cents each, raising about $200 for charity.

But the students couldn’t donate the money to any gay, lesbian or trans charitable organization, such as the LGBT Youth Line. “We asked if we could donate to the money to the Youth Line and the board said no. We were told to donate to Covenant House, a Catholic homeless shelter.”

Bruce Campbell, spokesperson for the board, could not be reached for comment.

Casey Oraa, chair of the political action committee for Queer Ontario (QO), has been supporting the students since they first submitted the GSA proposal. He says the rejection of the rainbow flag and the board’s insistence on benefiting a Catholic charity rather than one chosen by the students proves administrators have no interest in diversity.

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Bullying battle hides gay agenda

by Pauline Kosalka | June 6, 2011 | The Interim – Canada’s Life and Family Newspaper

Catholic parents fight separate system to maintain moral teaching

Ontario bishops have issued a memo urging Catholic school boards to set up clubs explicitly aimed to counter “bullying related to sexual orientation,” even though they banned the establishment of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) at Catholic schools just months ago. Meanwhile, parents at the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) are speaking out against a draft equity policy formulated in line with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy (EIES) that they fear fails to affirm Catholic teaching about homosexuality in schools.

Sections 2357 and 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church state that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” and that “under no circumstances can they be approved,” although homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.” The Vatican also warned that recognizing “sexual orientation” as a category to protect from discrimination “can easily lead to regarding homosexuality as a positive source of human rights.”

In 2007, the Ministry of Education under openly lesbian Minister Kathleen Wynne created, with the help of gay lobby groups and activists such as EGALE Canada and Chris D’Souza, a Catholic equity trainer who supports same-sex ‘marriage’ and once said that those who do not agree with recognizing sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination should “move to another country where they don’t have the laws that protect us.”

A spokesman for Campaign Life Catholics (CL Catholics) told The Interim that the policy advocates “a militant gay agenda” and seeks to “undermine and overthrow Catholic moral doctrine in the area of homosexuality.” According to Suresh Dominic, the policy mandates accepting, and not just tolerating “diversity” and even pushes schools to celebrate gay pride parades, create GSAs (“despite the fact they are known to be centres of homosexual activism”), and use texts written by homosexuals. Self-identifying homosexual students are to “see themselves reflected in the curriculum,” which could involve celebration of the homosexual lifestyle. In another document presenting guidelines for policy implementation, teachers are encouraged to “modify personal beliefs … that are inconsistent with … inclusive education principles.”

As of May, 28 out of 29 Catholic school boards have implemented the Catholic version of the EIES approved by Ontario bishops which, according to CL Catholics, has “no teeth at all to protect the faith.” One of the most noted cases was the Halton Catholic District School Board, where a new slate of trustees, under pressure from gay lobbying and the mass media, rejected the school’s previous authentically Catholic equity policy that was in line with Catholic teachings.

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Does religion belong at AA? Fight over ‘God’ splits Toronto AA groups

Leslie Scrivener | The Toronto Star | June 6, 2011

Catholic priest Fr. Pete Watters has been sober for 50 years. He says belief in a higher power, God, is essential to getting sober in Alcoholics Anonymous. Photographed at St. Andrew Church in Oakville on June 3, 2011. STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR

It uses “fellowship” to help chronic drinkers quit the bottle. But there is little fellowship in a schism that splintered the Alcoholics Anonymous umbrella group in the GTA this week.

At issue is this question: Do alcoholics need God?

On Tuesday, Toronto’s two secular AA groups, known as Beyond Belief and We Agnostics, were removed or “delisted” from the roster of local meetings. They’ve disappeared from the Toronto AA website and will not be in the next printed edition of the Toronto directory.

The dispute started when Beyond Belief posted an adapted version of AA’s hallowed “Twelve Steps” on the Toronto website. They removed the word “God” from the steps, which are used as a kind of road map to help drinkers achieve sobriety.

“They took issue with a public display of secular AA,” says Joe C., who founded Beyond Belief, Toronto’s first agnostic AA group, 18 months ago. (In keeping with AA’s tradition of anonymity, members are identified by first names only.)

It proved popular enough that a second group started up last fall; it took its name from a chapter in the AA bible entitled Alcoholics Anonymous, commonly known as the Big Book. The group, We Agnostics, had only recently completed the paperwork to be part of AA before being booted out.

“What is unusual is that this didn’t happen in some backwater, but that it happened in a liberal, democratic, pluralistic place like Toronto,” says Joe.

The name of God appears four times in the Twelve Steps and echoes the period in which they were written — the 1930s. It invites those seeking sobriety to turn themselves over to God, who will remove their “defects of character.” They go on to speak of God’s will for the recovering alcoholic.

“They (the altered Twelve Steps) are not our Twelve Steps,” says an AA member who was at Tuesday’s meeting of the coordinating body known as the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup. “They’ve changed them to their own personal needs. They should never have been listed in the first place.”

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God Is Not a Christian

By Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Reader Supported News, 02 June 11

The following is excerpted from the Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s new book, “God Is Not A Christian: And Other Provocations.” This talk also comes from a forum in Britain, where Tutu addressed leaders of different faiths during a mission to the city of Birmingham in 1989.

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu share a lighthearted moment at a panel discussion at the University of Washington in Seattle, 04/15/08. (photo: File)

They tell the story of a drunk who crossed the street and accosted a pedestrian, asking him, “I shay, which ish the other shide of the shtreet?” The pedestrian, somewhat nonplussed, replied, “That side, of course!” The drunk said, “Shtrange. When I wash on that shide, they shaid it wash thish shide.” Where the other side of the street is depends on where we are. Our perspective differs with our context, the things that have helped to form us; and religion is one of the most potent of these formative influences, helping to determine how and what we apprehend of reality and how we operate in our own specific context.

My first point seems overwhelmingly simple: that the accidents of birth and geography determine to a very large extent to what faith we belong. The chances are very great that if you were born in Pakistan you are a Muslim, or a Hindu if you happened to be born in India, or a Shintoist if it is Japan, and a Christian if you were born in Italy. I don’t know what significant fact can be drawn from this – perhaps that we should not succumb too easily to the temptation to exclusiveness and dogmatic claims to a monopoly of the truth of our particular faith. You could so easily have been an adherent of the faith that you are now denigrating, but for the fact that you were born here rather than there.

My second point is this: not to insult the adherents of other faiths by suggesting, as sometimes has happened, that for instance when you are a Christian the adherents of other faiths are really Christians without knowing it. We must acknowledge them for who they are in all their integrity, with their conscientiously held beliefs; we must welcome them and respect them as who they are and walk reverently on what is their holy ground, taking off our shoes, metaphorically and literally. We must hold to our particular and peculiar beliefs tenaciously, not pretending that all religions are the same, for they are patently not the same. We must be ready to learn from one another, not claiming that we alone possess all truth and that somehow we have a corner on God.

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Egypt’s Christians Fear Violence as Changes Embolden Islamists

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK | May 31, 2011 | New York Times

Coptic Christians, many of whom have felt less secure since Egypt's dictator stepped down, held a sit-in May 19 in Cairo. Ed Ou for The New York Times

CAIRO — The headline screamed from a venerable liberal newspaper: Coptic Christians had abducted a young Muslim and tattooed her with a cross. “Copts kidnap Raghada!”

“They tied me up with ropes, beat me with shoes, shaved my hair,” Raghada Salem Abdel Fattah, 19, declared, “and forced me to read Christian psalms!”

Like many similar stories proliferating here since the revolution, Ms. Abdel Fattah’s kidnapping could not be confirmed. But for members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, the sensational headline — from a respected publisher, no less — served to validate their fear that the Egyptian revolution had made their country less tolerant and more dangerous for religious minorities. The Arab Spring initially appeared to open a welcoming door to the dwindling number of Christian Arabs who, after years of feeling marginalized, eagerly joined the call for democracy and rule of law. But now many Christians here say they fear that the fall of the police state has allowed long-simmering tensions to explode, potentially threatening the character of Egypt, and the region.

“Will Christians have equal rights and full citizenship or not?” asked Sarkis Naoum, a Christian commentator in Beirut, Lebanon. A surge of sectarian violence in Cairo — 24 dead, more than 200 wounded and three churches in flames since President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall — has turned Christian-Muslim tensions into one of the gravest threats to the revolution’s stability. But it is also a pivotal test of Egypt’s tolerance, pluralism and the rule of law. The revolution has empowered the majority but also opened new questions about the protection of minority rights like freedom of religion or expression as Islamist groups step forward to lay out their agendas and test their political might.

Around the region, Christians are also closely watching events in Syria, where as in Egypt Christians and other minorities received the protection of a secular dictator, Bashar al-Assad, now facing his own popular uprising.

“The Copts are the crucial test case,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch here, adding that facing off against “societal pressures” may in some ways be ever harder than criticizing a dictator. “It is the next big battle.”

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Catholic school debate too spicy for politicians

Politicians won’t mess with system that works, even if it’s unfair

By Moira MacDonald ,Toronto Sun, Sunday, May 29, 2011

No question — in this day and age, Ontario’s public funding of Catholic education to the exclusion of all others is fundamentally unfair.

I write that as someone with some admiration for the Catholic system, although I am not Catholic.

Catholic schools do as good and sometimes a better job educating kids than secular public schools. They are generally grounded in clearly articulated values (most good, though some conflicted, like accepting gays, but condemning their behaviour), unlike public schools, often caught in a maelstrom of moral relativism, for fear of offending someone.

And Catholic schools offer one of the few slivers of competition that serve to keep secular public schools a little honest, especially in an era when all school boards have to work hard to attract and keep their students due to declining enrolment.

But John Tory is living testament to the fact most Ontarians do not support fixing the unfairness — at least not by extending public funding to other religions’ schools, which is what Tory proposed. His 2007 provincial election campaign, as leader of the provincial Conservatives, was fought on moral high ground. He recognized the unfairness and tried to do something about it.

He was trashed at the polls.

The question I was left with was: Are most Ontarians fine with the unfairness? Or, would most support eliminating the constitutionally-protected Catholic system completely?

The organizers behind this weekend’s One School System Network conference believe it’s the latter. On Saturday they held a day-long conference in Toronto to talk about different reasons why moving to a single public school system is the right way to go.

Speakers were diverse — including Malcolm Buchanan, a former teacher union leader with ties to the NDP, Frank de Jong of the Green Party, Homa Arjomand, a former Iranian and advocate against Sharia law, and Andrea Houston, the writer at gay newspaper Xtra who broke the story on the Halton Catholic school board’s bid to ban government-encouraged “gay-straight alliances.”

Considering a provincial election is four months away, “we want to mobilize our supporters,” Justin Trottier, one of the conference organizers told me. “This is not a partisan activity … Ideally, we want to find supporters in all of the parties.”

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Burnaby’s policy on homophobic bullying meets opposition from parents

SUNNY DHILLON | Globe and Mail | May. 24, 2011

Tired of the taunts and afraid of the ever-increasing shoves, Kaitlin Burnett considered giving up on school after her Burnaby classmates learned she was a lesbian.

Ms. Burnett went on to receive her diploma, but only after switching schools because of the incessant bullying. Now 25 and preparing for graduate studies, the community activist said the high school experience appears to be somewhat easier for today’s youth.

So it was all the more surprising when a policy by the Burnaby School District to address homophobic bullying by giving teachers material that would allow them to instruct students on its impact met opposition from a parents group that said it smacks of indoctrination.

“All it will do is teach tolerance and acceptance and help students to understand that LGBTQ people are part of their community and are not to be feared,” Ms. Burnett said of the proposal, known as Policy 5.45.

“You can’t teach someone to be gay any more than you can teach someone to be straight.”

The policy, which is still in the draft stage, was developed over a two-year period. The goal as stated in the document is “to ensure that all members of the school community learn to work together in an atmosphere of respect and safety, free from homophobia.”

But a group called Parents’ Voice has spoken strongly against the policy and launched numerous protests, the latest of which was scheduled for Tuesday evening.

Gordon World, one of the group’s spokesmen, said the policy isn’t necessary because the district’s code of conduct already includes sexual orientation as a protected right. He also accused the district of failing to consult parents properly.

In a news release, Parents’ Voice blasted the school board for what it called a “hidden political agenda.”

“We’re simply saying that this gives too much breadth and width to activist teachers to preach, to indoctrinate, to unduly influence minds that are still in the formative stages,” Mr. World said in an interview.

When asked what the outcome of this scenario could be and whether it would lead to more gay youth, Mr. World said he couldn’t speculate.

When asked if homosexuality is a choice, the bike business owner said he was unsure.

“In some instances, it would appear that there is a lifestyle choice that is made, be it something traumatic or be it hard-wired in,” he added.

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Readers rage about ‘genderless’ infant

Jayme Poisson | 24 May 2011 |

GENDERLESS Kathy Witterick, 38 and David Stocker, 39 are raising their four month old child, Storm, to be genderless. The haven't told anyone, even their parents and closest friends the gender of the child. They have two older children Jazz, 5 and Kio 2. in Toronto. STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR

A Saturday Star story about a Toronto couple who have chosen to keep the sex of their baby a secret has elicited a rush of responses from readers.

“Never has an article left me so upset. These parents are turning their children into a bizarre lab experiment,” wrote Heather Reil in an email.

“The world around us has been set by thousands of years of social evolution. To try to undo this evolution through your child is very selfish and very inconsiderate to the child,” said Wayne Leung.

“Footloose and gender-free” told the story of Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, a couple who lives in Toronto’s Junction Triangle neighbourhood with their three young children, who believe a child’s sex should not determine his or her place in the world. The couple wants 4-month-old Storm to grow up free from strict social norms about males and females, so they have shared his or her sex only with sons Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2, a close family friend and the two midwives who helped deliver the baby.

While criticism from readers has been intense and at times vicious, some readers have offered support to the couple.

“The choices of Kathy and David so similarly match who I hope to be as a parent. The words of their child Jazz are so inspiring. They addressed many of the societal challenges I face everyday,” wrote Brian Cauley. In the pages of Jazz’s handmade journal, in pink and purple lettering, are the phrases: “Help girls do boy things. Help boys do girl things. Let your kid be whoever they are!”

“To the people who question it as a social experiment, I say that breaking social norms is not synonymous with bad parenting. Many modern practices were frowned upon as a social experiment once,” RyderJH commented on, pointing to interracial friendships and teaching girls to read and have career ambitions as examples.

The article has gone viral, with parenting blogs and chat forums retweeting and reposting.

“For most people, gender is bedrock. When two parents challenge that bedrock, as Storm’s parents have, it makes everyone anxious,” said Diane Ehrensaft, a California-based psychologist and author of Gender Born, Gender Made. “When we are anxious, we strike out. It’s as if the world has started spinning and we’re trying to get our bearings.”

Ehrensaft thinks keeping Storm’s sex a secret is not the best way to go because she worries the parents are denying the child a way to position himself or herself in a world that is defined and divided by gender. What she does support is Witterick and Stocker’s efforts to remove socially-defined gender constrictions from their child.

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Why Are Pro-Lifers Targeting the Girl Scouts?

by Alizah Salario | May 21, 2011 | The Daily Beast

They sell cookies, they earn merit badges, they—promote abortion? Alizah Salario on how two teens from Texas are accusing the Girl Scouts of creating boot-stomping, sexualized radicals.

Getty Image

As devoted members of their local troop, sisters Tess and Sydney Volanski once held the Girl Scouts of the USA in high regard. Even when the girls reached their teens, they intended to stay affiliated with their close-knit troop throughout high school and earn the organization’s prestigious Gold Award. But when these sisters from Texas learned what they call “jaw-dropping” information about the GSUSA—an organization they say helped them develop strong friendships and hone their leadership skills for nearly a decade—their plans quickly changed.

The Volanski sisters now believe that the Girl Scouts has a “pro-abortion mind-set” and a “radical feminist agenda.” It’s a belief that prompted them to abandon the organization in March 2010.

“While we recognize the many good things about the Girl Scouts, we had to ask ourselves: Will we stand for our beliefs, for the dignity of life, the sanctity of marriage, modesty, purity? Or will we remain true to the Girl Scouts? We cannot see any way to truly do both,” they state on their website.

To spread the word, the Volanskis started the “Speak Now Girl Scouts” blog (the name is a nod to the title of a Taylor Swift album) to document the ways in which the organization supposedly pushes its radical agenda. They say this includes everything from providing information about reproductive health and birth control, to lauding leaders like Margaret Mead and Hillary Clinton. “The core of our mission is to spread awareness of the truth, and hopefully more media coverage will accomplish that,” said Sydney Volanski in an email to The Daily Beast.

Is this beloved, century-old institution really churning out sexualized radicals along with Thin Mints and merit badges? Does the Girl Scouts organization have a “pro-abortion mind-set”?

The GSUSA officially maintains a neutral position on abortion and birth control. Because the organization has a two-tiered leadership structure, however, local or regional chapters have the autonomy to partner with organizations of their choice, which may include, say, Planned Parenthood affiliates (or, for that matter, conservative organizations).

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For First Time, Majority of Americans Favor Legal Gay Marriage

by Frank Newport | May 20, 2011 |

PRINCETON, NJ — For the first time in Gallup’s tracking of the issue, a majority of Americans (53%) believe same-sex marriage should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages. The increase since last year came exclusively among political independents and Democrats. Republicans’ views did not change.

1996-2011 Trend: Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?

These results are based on Gallup’s May 5-8 Values and Beliefs poll, which has tracked attitudes toward legalizing same-sex marriage each year since 2004, adding to Gallup’s initial polling on the topic in 1996 and 1999.

This year’s nine-percentage-point increase in support for same-sex marriage is the largest year-to-year shift yet measured over this time period. Two-thirds of Americans were opposed to legalized same-sex marriage in 1996, with 27% in favor. By 2004, support had risen to 42% and, despite some fluctuations from year to year, stayed at roughly that level through last year.

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How Fox News Outfoxes Americans

By Danny Schechter | May 13, 2011 |

To understand how so many average Americans can be duped into embracing right-wing positions that go against their own interests, you must look at how Fox News (and right-wing media outlets) use faux populism and phony outrage as propaganda techniques, a topic explored by Danny Schechter in this guest essay.

Grrrrrrrr. You can almost hear the growling in the background as the masters of attack politics go into action, virtually every hour on the hour, on the Fox News Channel.

The issues they focus on are carefully selected by top executives and then broken down into highly politicized message points. Their dominant emotion is annoyance as expressed in sarcasm and scowling; contempt is the underlying attitude.

In the Fox view, the other side is usually not just wrong but plain stupid, almost unbelievable in its softheaded naiveté and distance from reality.

A “what do you expect” question invariably tops off the argument which always ends with the Fox host a winner and the Democrat or social critic a loser on every level.

Standing on a podium driven by self-righteous certainty, the finger pointers view the people they talk about, and talk down to, as below the intelligence threshold of people even worth arguing with.

In this universe, hyping the extreme and outrageous seems to attract audiences as Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck have proven. That leads to higher ratings and, the real goal, higher revenues.

Clearly they feel it is their duty to play Paul Revere who warned Colonial America that “The British Are Coming.” They warn their faithful against political deviations that might lead them astray.

What is hard to recognize or often realize is that the topics chosen are calculated as part of a strategy of using emotionally tested wedge issues to politicize by polarizing.

Political scientist Alan Abramowitz argues that polarization is good for America in his new book, The Disappearing Center:

“All the indicators we have show that polarization has actually contributed to increased engagement in politics, because people do perceive important differences and they think that there are big stakes in elections.”

He was asked if he thinks this is healthy for a democracy:

“Well, up to a point. I think that a certain degree of polarization is healthy in a democracy. It clarifies the choices people have in elections, and it helps voters to hold the parties accountable for their performance.”

At the same time, other political analysts say, “The more polarized political parties are, the less most of us care about the political process.”

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United they fall

Charles Lewis, National Post · May 14, 2011

United Church of Canada Moderator Mardi Tindal - photo by Aaron Lynett/National Post

The United Church of Canada, which was formed 86 years ago with the grand vision to bring Protestants together “in one glorious national church,” is undergoing one of the most precipitous slides in modern religious history.

In the midst of a breathtaking erosion in its membership, the church is undertaking what some call a great experiment to redefine itself through an intense engagement with the surrounding secular world: Whether it be through advocating for the environment, fighting for the rights of homosexuals to marry or taking on the cause of the Palestinians, the church has attempted to blur the boundaries between religion and the broader society.

Supporters believe this strategy will eventually right the ship because they are following the word of God to engage in the world.

To others, though, the United Church is engaged in a self-destructive act, aiming to be so many things to so many people that it will morph into just another social advocacy group disconnected from 2,000 years of Christian tradition. Critics say there is a severe lack of orthodoxy, lax demands on belief and even too much latitude for ministers who can question the existence of God and the divinity of Christ.

Connie denBok, a United Church minister in Toronto, is among those who despair that the church has become so much of the world, so focused on popular issues, that it is evolving away from the core of Christianity.

“In the 1960s and ’70s, we became embarrassed about Jesus. And so we distanced ourselves from Jesus, and the point is, without Jesus there’s no point in having a church. iTunes has better music and the NDP has better policies; everything else we do now somebody else does way better. The only thing we can do is this Jesus thing,” she said.

“I would say that the United Church no longer has many unifying factors.”

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In Historic Vote, Presbyterians to Allow LGBT Clergy

May 11, 2011 | By Candace Chellew-Hodge | Religion Dispatches

The Presbyterian Church (USA) will begin ordaining gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender clergy this summer after a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries voted to approve Amendment 10-A.

The amendment removes language from the Presbyterian Book of Order – inserted in the late 1990s to prevent LGBT people from serving – that those called to be ministers, deacons, or elders are required to “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”

The new language gives congregations the leeway they need to “examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office” and makes no mention of celibacy or relationship status. It does not mean that LGBT people must be ordained, but gives each presbytery the choice to do so if it wishes.

“What this does for LGBT people in the church is it creates an open way. People cannot be discriminated against in a categorical way because of their sexual orientation or marital status. This is an amazing moment in the life of the PC(USA),” Michael Adee, the director of More Light Presbyterians, told RD.

More Light has been working since 1974 for full equality for LGBT people in the denomination.

The Associated Press reports it was “the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, based in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., [that] cast the deciding 87th vote Tuesday night. Sixty-two presbyteries have voted against the measure and balloting will continue, but the majority needed for ratification was secured in Minnesota.”

Not everyone within that presbytery was happy with the vote according to The Minneapolis Star Tribune: “It’s very unfortunate we have to have this discussion today,” said Peter Hwang, a member of the Korean Presbyterian Church. “I think we should be ashamed of ourselves. This homosexual issue is breaking our church. We need to abide by Scripture.”

Despite the opposition, that final vote, according to Adee, means that the new amendment will go into effect on July 10.

After the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) lifted its celibacy requirements in 2009, allowing LGBT people to be ordained as ministers, many churches pulled out of the denomination in protest. Fox News reports that “about 100 of the 11,000 [Presbyterian] congregations had already broken away ahead of the vote.”

Adee doesn’t expect there to be a large exodus from the denomination after this ratification, mainly because of polity differences between the Presbyterians and the Lutherans. The ELCA made the change at a national meeting – but the Presbyterians were forced to have meetings and conversations about the issue and ratify the amendment presbytery by presbytery.

“Thousands of people had faithful conversations about ‘what does it mean to be the church?’ and ‘what does the Bible really say about this?’, so I think the cultural change will be further along for the Presbyterian church because of this long process,” Adee said.

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Royal Wedding Ceremony Quite Dated, Hats Notwithstanding

Mary E. Hunt | May 4, 2011 | Religion Dispatches

This weekend’s royal wedding shored up the British monarchy for a generation or three. Its impact on Christian theology was equally stabilizing for the status quo. More’s the pity. I will leave the political questions for another day, but I cannot let one third of the world watch a Christian marriage ceremony without mentioning several troubling matters.

Three stand out: First, while much was made of the fact that Kate would not vow to “obey” William, she was still escorted by her father (the mother looked on), “given” in marriage to her husband by her father via the priest. The father literally handed (by the hand) her over to the priest who then handed (gave her hand) her to her husband. After decades of feminist theology this is as far as we are? I thought Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was a theologian first. Surely he knows something about how offensive it is to think of any woman being “given” to any man or vice versa. That they embrace one another mutually in a covenant makes more sacramental and social sense even if one is royalty and the other not.

Second, at the ceremony’s end the presider pronounced the couple “man and wife.” Every commentator I heard repeated it piously as if it were true. What happened to the husband? Some will argue that it is a matter of translation, but so are a lot of sexist images from the Bible and church history. Now we try to call things by their names. “Husband and wife” is a more accurate description of the reality and something that signifies the equality of the two. Small matter? Yes, only if you are not the wife.

Third, and this also passed most watchers by, the persistent use of exclusive language for the divine—I know the Book of Common Prayer is not gender neutral—made a traditional ceremony even more dated than it needed to be. So many references to Father, Son, Ruler, King for the divine made it a feminist theologian’s nightmare. Or, to be creative about it, here is a wonderful object lesson for our students about how God-language works to reify power structures. Now the world has concrete evidence that the problem feminists have been referring to is not simply about gender but about power. Here is a beautiful example of how baptizing the status quo takes place. Look at how effective such language is to reinforce and reinscribe monarchical rule. Add a frilly hat or an airy fascinator, darling, and God’s in “His” heaven and all’s right with the world.

Lest any reader think I am still grousing about not being invited, let it be known I arose at 4AM to watch from the splendor of my own pillows. The pageantry was second to none, making even the weekend’s beatification of John Paul II look a little pale. No one, simply no one does hats and fascinators like the Brits. Even the horses are a little more gussied up in England. The Queen herself set the pace with a yellow outfit from head to toe. One commenter suggested that she looked like a Peep, those pastel marshmallow treats, but I thought it became her and fit the occasion. So there.

Let me stipulate further that I was not expecting a barefoot in the park kind of wedding. I know the Church of England has its standards. Still, it was sad to see that despite all the talk about young royals and their more populist ways that religion would once again be the still point in the universe, that which hasn’t changed for centuries.

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