I’m not so sure that the World Council of Churches is in any position to criticize people for "shallow theology" but….here is what was said recently by the head of the WCC about megachurches.
A clear word of truth and affirmation for life from the Pope. I appreciate the fact that unlike the recent LCMS CTCR document on these same issue, this statement doesn’t mince words nor indulge in hand-wringing niceties or nuances, but simply says what must be said clearly and without any ambiguity.
A new article by Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto.
A report from Ecumenical News International on the status of Christians and other religious minorities in Iran….
Ecumenical News International
Daily News Service
27 February 2006
US watchdog group decries status of religious minorities in Iran
By Chris Herlinger
New York, 27 February (ENI)–A US religious freedom watchdog
commission says it is "deeply concerned" about what it calls a
worsening situation for religious minorities in Iran.
"A consistent stream of virulent and inflammatory statements by
political and religious leaders and an increase of harassment,
imprisonment, and physical attacks against these groups is clear
evidence of a disturbing, renewed pattern of oppression," the US
Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a
The commission, created in 1998 by the US Congress to monitor the
status of freedom of thought and of religious practice outside
the United States, provides independent policy recommendations to
the US government.
Michael Cromartie, the chairman of the commission, said the
pattern of rhetoric in Iran appeared to be similar to that during
the early years of the Iranian revolution which, he said,
preceded years of severe human rights violations against members
of non-Islamic religious minorities, particularly the Baha’i
Cromartie said that in recent months members of Iran’s Baha’i
community have again been harassed, physically attacked, arrested
"Christians in Iran increasingly have been subject to harassment,
arrests, close surveillance, and imprisonment," says the
statement carried on the US commission’s Web site on 27 February.
"Over the past year, there have been several incidents of Iranian
authorities raiding church services, detaining worshippers and
church leaders, and harassing and threatening church members." It
cited an evangelical pastor who remained in prison even after
being acquitted by an Islamic court on charges of apostasy, or
rejection of faith.
Conditions for religious minorities were already severe before
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumed office in August
but have since worsened, Cromartie said.
Ahmadinejad and other leading Iranian government officials have
triggered international condemnation during their first six
months in office for public remarks either casting doubt or
denying the Holocaust against European Jews during the period of
the Second World War.
The commission urged the US government to accelerate efforts to
address the human rights situation in Iran, though it
acknowledged there are few available policy options because the
United States does not have direct diplomatic relations with
Iran. [366 words]
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Reproduction permitted only by media subscribers and
provided ENI is acknowledged as the source.
Ecumenical News International
PO Box 2100
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Tel: (41-22) 791 6088/6111
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by Dan Phillips on the Pyromanics blog
Unusually emphatic disclaimer: This is satire (săt’īr’
– "A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through
irony, derision, or wit"). One hopes that every item is ponderable; the
only thing I don’t mean at all is the title — and I really, really don’t mean the title. All clear? Tongues in cheek, then. Here goes:
For the most part:
People come to you for help — instead of assuming that, if you really
knew your job, you would intuitively know they needed help, and come to
them without being asked.
2. Everyone immediately tells you, to the best of his ability, what his or her actual issue is.
3. Everyone who asks you a question really wants to hear the answer.
4. Everyone who asks you for help really wants to he helped.
5. Everyone who calls you really does want his/her computer to work the very best it can.
6. You and your callers agree that computer bugs and problems are bad, and should be done away with.
When you identify viruses, spyware, unwanted popups, and crashes as
"bad," and target them for elimination, the folks you help don’t accuse
you of being harsh and judgmental.
8. Nobody who calls you is actually in love with the computer problems and misbehaviors they’re experiencing.
When you identify a computer malady you want to eradicate, nobody can
wave a book or point to a Big Name who argues that it is actually the
latest, greatest "thing" in computers, and should be earnestly sought
after, cherished, cultivated, and spread abroad.
Nobody who calls you for help thinks that he’s hearing a little voice
in his heart telling him that what you’re saying is just so much smelly
11. Everyone to
whom you give sensible counsel will hear, heed, remember, and follow
that counsel — they won’t insist on "feeling an inner peace" before
12. Everyone thinks you do crucial, important, and respectable work; nobody assumes that it is because you can’t get a "real job."
13. Everyone assumes you’re well-trained, know what you’re doing, and know at least some things they do not already know.
14. While you are expected to be knowledgeable and competent at what you do, you are not expected to be perfect.
Most times, you know immediately when you’ve helped someone; you don’t
have to wait six months, six years, or six decades, to see whether your
fix has “taken” or not.
On the worst day, if you do even a half-decent job, you can go home
knowing for certain that you’ve really helped 5, 10, 15, 20 or more
17. If you don’t know the answer, it’s probably on Google. Somewhere.
When you discover a new, better, more effective way to accomplish the
goals you share with the folks you help, they’re happy — not angry at
you because it’s different from "the way we’ve always done it."
19. The people you help don’t care how you’re dressed.
20. The people you help don’t care how many committees your wife does or doesn’t head up.
21. The people you help don’t hold your children to standards their children couldn’t even spell.
22. The people you help don’t periodically form secret committees and whisper-campaigns to get you ousted.
The people you help don’t all assume they know how to do your job
better than you do, while actually knowing next to nothing about it.
24. Everyone is fairly clear on what your job actually is: fix their computer so they can get back to work, or work better.
The people you help evaluate you by whether you do or do not do your
actual and well-defined job effectively — not by how you "make" them
26. The people you help aren’t judging you as inferior to a beloved support technician who died ten years ago.
This should prove interesting….
An interesting and well done article on the philosophy that underlies the success of Robert Schuler’s ministry and how things are going to work out under his son, who has now formally taken over the ministry from his father.
Father Patrick Reardon, an Orthodox priest, offers helpful insight into the problem that tempts Christians. There is a notion out and about that truly one can only discuss idolatry in the context of polytheism, but a person who is a "monotheist" and that is commonly how Judaism, Christianity and Islam is understood, may not necessarily said to be an idolater, since all three religions worship the same God, or so it goes. Let’s read what Father Pat has to say about that . . .
March 5, 2006
Father Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings
There is a glaring fallacy in the contemporary presumption that idolatry is found only in polytheism. I admit, of course, that all polytheism is necessarily idolatrous, but it seems not to have occurred to most folks that the confession of one false god is just as idolatrous as the confession of several. Monotheism is no defense against idolatry.
This modern misunderstanding about idolatry, moreover, is the twin and steady companion of another, the strange fancy that all monotheists necessarily confess the same divinity.
Arguably the clearest spokesman for the latter fallacy may be that C. S. Lewis character who forthrightly declared, "Tash is another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash."
The telltale line in that discourse, I submit, is "We know better now." On matters respecting God, I can’t think of anything we know better now.
The character that made that proclamation was, of course, the Ape in Lewis’s The Last Battle, and it really was an apish thing to say. Although I have heard his thesis proclaimed times out of mind (and even alas, by those who call themselves Orthodox Christians), it cannot stand up to two seconds of critical reflection.
Let us recall that monotheism made its appearance in this world in the same voice that identified the one God’s essence with His existence, "I am the One Who Is." When Moses heard that auto-identification, perhaps he did not have a clear idea, at first, what it meant (and modern biblical scholars still argue about it!), but he faithfully recorded the words, and the faithful have been thinking about them seriously ever since.
Typical of the faithful in this respect was St. Gregory of Nyssa, who interpreted the words to mean that God revealed Himself as "the Existent One" (Against Eunomius 2.4). The same writer reflected further, "all things depend on Him Who is, nor can there be anything that does not owe its existence to Him Who is" (The Great Catechism 25).
Gregory asserts two things in these texts. First, it is of God’s very being that He exists, which is to say that God exists of Himself. Latin terminology calls this the aseity of God (a se="of Himself"), meaning that He exists by reason of Himself. Second, this aseity pertains to no other being. Whatever exists, besides God, exists only because of God.
This twofold thesis enunciated by St. Gregory of Nyssa (chosen at random, really, because all the Church Fathers that spoke on the subject said the same thing) indicates two reflective approaches to the true God, both of them unique to the biblical revelation.
Let us observe, moreover, that Christian thinkers have converted both of these theological considerations into apologetic arguments for the existence of God.
First, there is God as Being in Himself. Now it is a fact that no pagan philosopher ever thought to identify God as Being. This historical fact is perhaps difficult for us to appreciate, because the history of Christian reflection has so accustomed us to a proposition unknown to ancient pagan thought.
After about a thousand years of pondering this thesis, some Christian philosophers were ready to convert it into an argument for God’s existence. It is a deductive, a priori argument that begins with identifying God as the One Who, if He exists, must exist. Put in its simplest form, the argument runs something like this: If He Who must exist can exist, He does exist. This is called the Ontological Argument, which reasons from the idea of God to the existence of God.
Leaving aside the question of its validity, the striking fact about this argument is that it never occurred to anyone outside of the data of biblical revelation. Some pagan thinkers adopted it afterwards (the recently lamented Charles Hartshorne being a notable example), but it was Bible-believers, significantly, who thought of the argument first. Nor is there is any reason to believe it would have entered anyone’s mind except for that voice on Sinai.
Second, there is God as the cause of all that is not God. This approach to God is more developed in Holy Scripture, which teaches in many places that He is the Maker of all things.
This thesis, too, provided an argument for God’s existence, an inductive, a posteriori case known as the Cosmological Argument. This line of reasoning, which is found explicitly in Holy Scripture itself, endeavors to discover an explanation (or efficient cause) for the existence of those things that do, in fact, exist. The existence of these non-necessary things (things that don’t have to exist) is sought in some Maker that caused them to exist, and this Maker we call God. We find this argument briefly elaborated in Wisdom 13 and Romans 1.
Both of these approaches to the existence of God are based in the voice from Sinai, which in which God identified Himself as the Existing One, the One Who, needing nothing from us, nonetheless decided to talk to us.
The recent post of a sermon by Pastor Cwirla elicited a criticism from a fine Lutheran pastor. You can read the comment he made by going to Pastor Cwirla’s sermon. The pastor was questioning why we it seems we must always have a "slavish" reference to the liturgy in every sermon it seems from Pastor Cwirla. Well, count me "guilty" of the same "slavishness." I can’t help but mention the means of grace when I preach, for, as Pastor Cwirla observes in a response, how can we avoid mentioning precisely how this is all "for you"? Update: The pastor who posted the "criticism" of Pastor Cwirla was in fact doing so in jest! The joke’s on me for sure. But…I think it is a good conversation to have for I do know that some among us raise this criticism from time-to-time. The issue is this: is preaching the means of grace a slavish liturgical preaching, or … is it lavish preaching of the giftts of Christ?
Pastor Cwirla dug up a quote from another Lutheran preacher who had these remarks to make when he was preaching on the healing of the Paralytic.
"It is also the evil spirit’s doing that we find ourselves dead in the water spiritually; otherwise our hearts would be joyful and comforted. For think what it would mean if we rightly and truly believed that what Christ here says to the man sick with palsy, he is saying to you and to me every day in baptism, in absolution, and in public preaching, that I must not mistakenly think that God is angry and ungracious toward me. Shouldn’t that cause me to stand on my head with joy? Wouldn’t that make everything sweet as sugar, pure as gold, sheer everlasting life? The fact that this doesn’t happen for us proves that the "old Adam" and the devil drag us away from faith and the Word." (Martin Luther, Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Trinity) quoted from "The House Postils," Eugene Klug, tr. (Baker, 1996), vol 3, p. 82
Pastor Cwirla then observes:
Luther here makes the same point. What Christ did for the paralyzed man, He does for us through Baptism and Absolution. In fact, you might say that every miracle of Christ, including resurrection from the dead, is worked for us through the Word and the Sacraments.
What say you friends??? Is it possible that in an over-reaction to preachers who do in fact follow a
slavish formulaic pattern of always finally making the whole point of the sermon the reception of the Lord’s Supper we are in danger of neglecting truly quality means of grace preaching? For fear of being one of those who finds the Lord’s Supper in every reference to bread in the New Testament, are we neglecting proper pointing of our folks precisely to those means by which the Holy Spirit creates faith in those whom He will, with the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, as we confess in our Augustana, Article V? Are we perhaps tempted to "de-flesh" the Word made Flesh and avoid referencing precisely where it is, and how it is, that He comes to us today with grace and mercy, through those very humble, concrete means He has given? Is that "slavish liturgical preaching"? My concern is that when we preach a "means free" sermon we are reducing the Faith to a concept, a pious wish, a fine idea, a noble truth, but not what it is: flesh and blood reality, or rather Flesh and Blood reality.
Clearly what is incorrect liturgical preaching is making the point of every sermon nothing *other* than talking about taking Holy Communion. That lack of balance is wrong. I’ve read too many sermons like that, that seem to fall over themselves, skimping on real Law and neglecting the Gospel, thinking that by speaking only of taking Communion they are somehow covering the Redemption of Christ….yes, yes…that is not good. Nor is there any place for sermons that shy away from preaching sanctifcation. I’ve said plenty there. But….we need also to guard against "means free" preaching.
Ecumenical News International
Daily News Service
22 February 2006
Openly homosexual church leaders urge inclusive Christianity
By Maurice Malanes
Porto Alegre, Brazil, 22 February (ENI)–A group of openly
homosexual church leaders meeting during the assembly of the
World Council of Churches have advocated a more inclusive
Christian faith that embraces people of all sexual orientations.
"We are here, because we do not wish to be segregated or
isolated," said the Rev. Nancy Wilson, moderator of the US-based
Metropolitan Community Churches. "And we are here to encourage
the churches to do justice within their own communions when it
comes to people with HIV/AIDS; and those who are lesbian, gay,
bisexual or transgendered."
She was delivering a message during a 20 February service at the
chapel of the Pontifical University of Rio de Grande do Sul in
Porto Alegre, Brazil while speakers in another venue at the ninth
assembly of the World Council of Churches were debating church
The Metropolitan Community Churches was launched in 1968 to
minister to ‘gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. It
has since grown to include 43 000 adherents in almost 300
congregations in 22 countries.
"We come to the WCC as a denomination and movement of people who
have been healed and transformed by the powerful touch of a
living Saviour, whose mercy and love have reached where the
institutional church would and could not reach," said Wilson.
Also as the service was held, South African Anglican Archbishop
Desmond Tutu was delivering an address to the main session of the
assembly in which he stated that "gay, lesbian, so-called
straight, all belong and are loved" by God.
"I struggled against racism because it sought to prejudice
someone because of something about which they could do nothing,
their skin colour," Tutu later told journalists. "I could not
keep quiet so long as people were being penalised about something
which they could do nothing about * their sexual orientation."
In her message at the service of the Metropolitan Community
Churches, Wilson said she and others in the denomination could
empathise with the persecution experienced by Christian Dalits,
once called untouchables, in India, who also brought their
stories to the WCC assembly.
Wilson also highlighted the murder in the last 18 months of 12
gay men in Jamaica, some of whom were HIV/AIDS workers and
community organizers and lamented that "no one in the government,
university or the churches is speaking up, offering support or
shelter or help".
She stressed that the Metropolitan Community Churches was at the
WCC gathering "to publicly call on the WCC and its member
churches to repudiate violence against people for their sexuality
or their HIV status." But she added, "We came, even more, because
we have so much to offer to the wider church and community * and
because the Lord is upon us." [465 words]
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provided ENI is acknowledged as the source.
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Mark 2:1-12 / 7 Epiphany B / 19 February 2006 / Holy Trinity-Hacienda Heights
In Nomine Iesu
house to overflowing. Jesus was in town. The people flocked to hear
him. All kinds of people – the curious, the devout, the skeptical, the
religious. They were all there, packed into a little house, spilling
out onto the street. And Jesus did what Jesus always does – He
preached the Word.
Four men came to the house. They were
carrying their paralyzed friend on a pallet, a kind of flat board with
handles. No motorized wheelchairs back then. No handicapped access.
No way to push through the crowd to Jesus. They decide to dig through
the roof and lower the man on his pallet down with a rope to the feet
of Jesus. Imagine being the owner of the house. Mark says that Jesus
“came home.” Perhaps it was back to Peter’s mother-in-law. You invite
Jesus to your home, next thing you know the whole town is in your
living room and some strangers are digging a hole through your roof.
It takes all the romance out of “house church,” doesn’t it?
is impressed. He sees their faith, their stop-at-nothing, determined
trust in Him, that He could do something for their paralyzed friend.
He does a surprising thing, an outrageous thing, something He hadn’t
done before. He says to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” He
Do you think that’s what the four friends had in
mind when they carried their paralyzed buddy to Capernaum and dug
through the roof and lowered their friend to Jesus? Is what what they
had in mind? An absolution? “Your sins are forgiven?” No, they were
thinking healing, miracle. They were expecting Jesus to lay His hands
on their friend and say the healing word and their friend was going to
walk home. Or perhaps climb up to the roof and help them fix the hole.
did you expect when you came to this house today? A miracle perhaps?
Answers to your problems? Peace in your life? Success? Happiness?
What did you hear? What did Jesus say to you? “I forgive you all of
your sins.” Scandalous, outrageous.
“Blasphemous!” say the
religious types, the teachers of the Torah. Who does this Jesus think
He is? God? Only God can talk like that. Only God can forgive sins.
is an outrage to our religious sensibilities. That’s why a lot of
so-called “progressive churches” have stopped using it in their
services. You don’t hear confession and absolution talk anymore.
People say, “That’s no way to start a service. What a downer. Admit
that your a sinner. And then some guy in a bathrobe says, ‘I forgive
you all of your sins. What’s up with that?”
“Cheap grace” goes
the religious protest. Forgiveness can’t be that easy. You have to
earn it, right? Repent. Change. Promise to be good. What did the
paralyzed man do? He did nothing. He was carried by others on a
board, lowered to Jesus. St. Mark doesn’t record a word from the
paralyzed man. Could he talk? No prayer, no confession, no promises.
He wasn’t even there to be forgiven; he was there for Jesus to fix his
That man is a perfect picture of each of us. Spiritually
paralyzed, unable to move one little step in a Godward direction. We
have to be brought to Jesus, as babies brought to Baptism. We are
paralyzed in sin and death. There is nothing more paralyzing than
death, is there? We can’t move. Sinful by nature, sinful in thought,
word, and deed. Unable to free ourselves. Can you say to a paralyzed
man, “You need to get yourself to a doctor, son?” No more can you say
to a sinner, “You need to get yourself to Jesus. You need to give your
heart to Jesus. You need to decide to follow Jesus.” Nonsense. The
dead are paralyzed.
I have a little problem with the English
translation in our liturgy that has me say, “Lift up your hearts,” and
you reply, “We lift them up to the Lord.” Lots of lifting going.
Lifting those hearts up to heaven. Feel the burn. Liturgical
aerobics. The Latin simply said, Sursum corda. “Heart up.” And the
people said, Habemus ad Dominum. “We have them to Lord.” No lifting.
Just open, empty hearts waiting like the paralyzed man on his mat
looking up into the eyes of Jesus.
“You were dead in sin.” Not
kind of sick, dead. Not sort of limplng, paralyzed. Laid out. Dead.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made
us alive with Christ even when we were dead in trespasses – it is by
grace (gift, undeserved kindness) that you have been saved.” (Eph
“Your sins are forgiven.” Literally, “your sins are
loosed.” The chains have fallen off. The weight on your shoulders is
lifted. Your sins are Jesus’ burden now. You can’t have them
anymore. They’re His, and He died with them. Those are words of
freedom and life. They lift you out of the paralysis of sin and death
and set you on your feet. If all that Jesus had done for the paralyzed
man that day was say, “Your sins are forgiven,” that would have been
more than enough. Remember what the Catechism says: “Where there is
forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Everything you
need is in those absolving words of Jesus.
Jesus knew the
scandal of those words. He knew what people were whispering in the
back rows of the crowd. He knew what those religious experts were
muttering under their breath. “Who can forgive sin except God alone.”
Jesus addresses them. “Which is easier to say to a paralyzed
man: “Your sins are forgiven,” or “Arise and take your pallet and go
home”? So which is easier? You’d say, “Well, forgiveness because all
you have to do is say words, right?” Oh yeah? Try it next time
someone sins against you, and you pray the Our Father, “forgive us our
sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” To forgive isn’t easy.
It cost Jesus His life on a cross, His blood shed for the sin of
world. Absolution doesn’t come cheaply. It’s free to us, costly to
Jesus. And so for that matter are the words, “Arise and walk.” Those
words too cost Jesus His life, who bore our sicknesses and sin in His
They are both for God alone to say. That’s right.
And Jesus, standing in the middle of that crowded house with the hole
in the roof, is God in human flesh, the Word Incarnate, whose words are
Spirit and life. The God who said through the prophet Isaiah:
“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Is 43:25)
looks down at the paralyzed man lying there on his board and says, “I
say to you, arise, take your mat, go to your house.” Jesus’ words do
what they say and say what they do. The man arose and immediately
(everything is “immediately” in Mark) he took his pallet and in full
view of a whole house full of people walked out. And the people were
astonished and glorified God. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
we could talk to that crowd, we might say, “You ain’t seen nothing
yet.” You think that was something? Watch when Jesus dies on a cross
and rises from the dead three days later. That’s how the world will
know for certain that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive
sins. He got up and walked out of His tomb three days after He died to
pay for your sins.
In many ways this house is like that house
where Jesus raised the paralytic. Perhaps not quite so crowded, though
we can always hope. And we don’t have to cut through the roof to get
to Jesus. He’s accessible to each of you in the water of Baptism, in
the words of forgiveness, in the Supper of His Body and Blood, in the
preached Word which has the authority of Jesus, the Son of God, who
died and rose from the dead.
Nowhere else can you see water be a
Baptism, a new birth, a washing of sin. Nowhere else can you see a man
forgiving sin with the authority of Christ. Nowhere else can you eat
bread that is the Body of Jesus and drink wine that is His blood.
Nowhere else but in the church that is gathered by the Spirit, the
congregation which is open to heaven.
It took four men to bring
that paralyzed man to Jesus, to dig through the roof, to lower him on a
rope. Four faithful men. Do you know what we call that? Evangelism.
Mission work. Bringing the sin-paralyzed to Jesus, bringing them to
the house where Jesus is. They won’t come on their own. They can’t.
They’re paralyzed. They can’t come to Jesus. They have to be brought
by those who have been given ears to hear, mouths to speak, legs to go,
arms to carry. That’s the church scattered in mission, bringing the
sin-paralyzed to Jesus so that they too might hear those loosing words,
“Your sins are forgiven.”
What Jesus did for that paralyzed man,
He does for you gathered here today. He forgives your sin. And on the
Last Day, by that same Word and authority, He will raise you from your
grave. You ain’t seen nothing yet. Now you must hear it, and believe
In the name of Jesus,
Bedrock of a Faith Is Jolted
DNA tests contradict Mormon scripture. The church says the studies are being twisted to attack its beliefs.
By William Lobdell, LA Times Staff Writer
From the time he was a child in Peru, the Mormon Church instilled in Jose A. Loayza the conviction that he and millions of other Native Americans were descended from a lost tribe of Israel that reached the New World more than 2,000 years ago.
"We were taught all the blessings of that Hebrew lineage belonged to us and that we were special people," said Loayza, now a Salt Lake City attorney. "It not only made me feel special, but it gave me a sense of transcendental identity, an identity with God."
A few years ago, Loayza said, his faith was shaken and his identity stripped away by DNA evidence showing that the ancestors of American natives came from Asia, not the Middle East.
"I’ve gone through stages," he said. "Absolutely denial. Utter amazement and surprise. Anger and bitterness."
For Mormons, the lack of discernible Hebrew blood in Native Americans is no minor collision between faith and science. It burrows into the historical foundations of the Book of Mormon, a 175-year-old transcription that the church regards as literal and without error.
For those outside the faith, the depth of the church’s dilemma can be explained this way: Imagine if DNA evidence revealed that the Pilgrims didn’t sail from Europe to escape religious persecution but rather were part of a migration from Iceland — and that U.S. history books were wrong.
Critics want the church to admit its mistake and apologize to millions of Native Americans it converted. Church leaders have shown no inclination to do so. Indeed, they have dismissed as heresy any suggestion that Native American genetics undermine the Mormon creed.
Yet at the same time, the church has subtly promoted a fresh interpretation of the Book of Mormon intended to reconcile the DNA findings with the scriptures. This analysis is radically at odds with long-standing Mormon teachings.
Some longtime observers believe that ultimately, the vast majority of Mormons will disregard the genetic research as an unworthy distraction from their faith.
"This may look like the crushing blow to Mormonism from the outside," said Jan Shipps, a professor emeritus of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who has studied the church for 40 years. "But religion ultimately does not rest on scientific evidence, but on mystical experiences. There are different ways of looking at truth."
According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an angel named Moroni led Joseph Smith in 1827 to a divine set of golden plates buried in a hillside near his New York home.
God provided the 22-year-old Smith with a pair of glasses and seer stones that allowed him to translate the "Reformed Egyptian" writings on the golden plates into the "Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ."
Mormons believe these scriptures restored the church to God’s original vision and left the rest of Christianity in a state of apostasy.
The book’s narrative focuses on a tribe of Jews who sailed from Jerusalem to the New World in 600 BC and split into two main warring factions.
The God-fearing Nephites were "pure" (the word was officially changed from "white" in 1981) and "delightsome." The idol-worshiping Lamanites received the "curse of blackness," turning their skin dark.
According to the Book of Mormon, by 385 AD the dark-skinned Lamanites had wiped out other Hebrews. The Mormon church called the victors "the principal ancestors of the American Indians." If the Lamanites returned to the church, their skin could once again become white.
Over the years, church prophets — believed by Mormons to receive revelations from God — and missionaries have used the supposed ancestral link between the ancient Hebrews and Native Americans and later Polynesians as a prime conversion tool in Central and South America and the South Pacific.
"As I look into your faces, I think of Father Lehi [patriarch of the Lamanites], whose sons and daughters you are," church president and prophet Gordon B. Hinckley said in 1997 during a Mormon conference in Lima, Peru. "I think he must be shedding tears today, tears of love and gratitude…. This is but the beginning of the work in Peru."
In recent decades, Mormonism has flourished in those regions, which now have nearly 4 million members — about a third of Mormon membership worldwide, according to church figures.
"That was the big sell," said Damon Kali, an attorney who practices law in Sunnyvale, Calif., and is descended from Pacific Islanders. "And quite frankly, that was the big sell for me. I was a Lamanite. I was told the day of the Lamanite will come."
A few months into his two-year mission in Peru, Kali stopped trying to convert the locals. Scientific articles about ancient migration patterns had made him doubt that he or anyone else was a Lamanite.
"Once you do research and start getting other viewpoints, you’re toast," said Kali, who said he was excommunicated in 1996 over issues unrelated to the Lamanite issue. "I could not do missionary work anymore."
Critics of the Book of Mormon have long cited anachronisms in its narrative to argue that it is not the work of God. For instance, the Mormon scriptures contain references to a seven-day week, domesticated horses, cows and sheep, silk, chariots and steel. None had been introduced in the Americas at the time of Christ.
In the 1990s, DNA studies gave Mormon detractors further ammunition and new allies such as Simon G. Southerton, a molecular biologist and former bishop in the church.
Southerton, a senior research scientist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia, said genetic research allowed him to test his religious views against his scientific training.
Genetic testing of Jews throughout the world had already shown that they shared common strains of DNA from the Middle East. Southerton examined studies of DNA lineages among Polynesians and indigenous peoples in North, Central and South America. One mapped maternal DNA lines from 7,300 Native Americans from 175 tribes.
Southerton found no trace of Middle Eastern DNA in the genetic strands of today’s American Indians and Pacific Islanders.
In "Losing a Lost Tribe," published in 2004, he concluded that Mormonism — his faith for 30 years — needed to be reevaluated in the face of these facts, even though it would shake the foundations of the faith.
The problem is that Mormon leaders cannot acknowledge any factual errors in the Book of Mormon because the prophet Joseph Smith proclaimed it the "most correct of any book on Earth," Southerton said in an interview.
"They can’t admit that it’s not historical," Southerton said. "They would feel that there would be a loss of members and loss in confidence in Joseph Smith as a prophet."
Officially, the Mormon Church says that nothing in the Mormon scriptures is incompatible with DNA evidence, and that the genetic studies are being twisted to attack the church.
"We would hope that church members would not simply buy into the latest DNA arguments being promulgated by those who oppose the church for some reason or other," said Michael Otterson, a Salt Lake City-based spokesman for the Mormon church.
"The truth is, the Book of Mormon will never be proved or disproved by science," he said.
Unofficially, church leaders have tacitly approved an alternative interpretation of the Book of Mormon by church apologists — a term used for scholars who defend the faith.
The apologists say Southerton and others are relying on a traditional reading of the Book of Mormon — that the Hebrews were the first and sole inhabitants of the New World and eventually populated the North and South American continents.
The latest scholarship, they argue, shows that the text should be interpreted differently. They say the events described in the Book of Mormon were confined to a small section of Central America, and that the Hebrew tribe was small enough that its DNA was swallowed up by the existing Native Americans.
"It would be a virtual certainly that their DNA would be swamped," said Daniel Peterson, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, part of the worldwide Mormon educational system, and editor of a magazine devoted to Mormon apologetics. "And if that is the case, you couldn’t tell who was a Lamanite descendant."
Southerton said the new interpretation was counter to both a plain reading of the text and the words of Mormon leaders.
"The apologists feel that they are almost above the prophets," Southerton said. "They have completely reinvented the narrative in a way that would be completely alien to members of the church and most of the prophets."
The church has not formally endorsed the apologists’ views, but the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — http://www.lds.org — cites their work and provides links to it.
"They haven’t made any explicit public declarations," said Armand L. Mauss, a church member and retired Washington State University professor who recently published a book on Mormon race and lineage. "But operationally, that is the current church’s position."
The DNA debate is largely limited to church leaders, academics and a relatively small circle of church critics. Most Mormons, taught that obedience is a key value, take the Book of Mormon as God’s unerring word.
"It’s not that Mormons are not curious," Mauss said. "They just don’t see the need to reconsider what has already been decided."
Critics contend that Mormon leaders are quick to stifle dissent. In 2002, church officials began an excommunication proceeding against Thomas W. Murphy, an anthropology professor at Edmonds Community College in Washington state.
He was deemed a heretic for saying the Mormon scriptures should be considered inspired fiction in light of the DNA evidence.
After the controversy attracted national media coverage, with Murphy’s supporters calling him the Galileo of Mormonism, church leaders halted the trial.
Loayza, the Salt Lake City attorney, said the church should embrace the controversy.
"They should openly address it," he said. "Often, the tack they adopt is to just ignore or refrain from any opinion. We should have the courage of our convictions. This [Lamanite issue] is potentially destructive to the faith."
Otterson, the church spokesman, said Mormon leaders would remain neutral. "Whether Book of Mormon geography is extensive or limited or how much today’s Native Americans reflect the genetic makeup of the Book of Mormon peoples has absolutely no bearing on its central message as a testament of Jesus Christ," he said.
Mauss said the DNA studies haven’t shaken his faith. "There’s not very much in life — not only in religion or any field of inquiry — where you can feel you have all the answers," he said.
"I’m willing to live in ambiguity. I don’t get that bothered by things I can’t resolve in a week."
For others, living with ambiguity has been more difficult. Phil Ormsby, a Polynesian who lives in Brisbane, Australia, grew up believing he was a Hebrew.
"I visualized myself among the fighting Lamanites and lived out the fantasies of the [Book of Mormon] as I read it," Ormsby said. "It gave me great mana [prestige] to know that these were my true ancestors."
The DNA studies have altered his feelings completely.
"Some days I am angry, and some days I feel pity," he said. "I feel pity for my people who have become obsessed with something that is nothing but a hoax."
By Uwe Siemon-Netto
Chanting a mantra has always been thought of as a religious activity, though certainly not as one we would consider Christian. Lately, though, reciting a mantra seems to have become a favorite exercise of Neo-Darwinists and their disciples in the media. Here is how it runs: "Intelligent design is shoddy science."
Now I don’t pretend to be a scientist, I am just a guy with some sense of logic. If a man with a Ph.D. in mathematics and another one in philosophy, plus a Master of Divinity degree not from some evangelical Bible college but Princeton Seminary posits the idea that a designer might have been at work at the origin of the universe, then we might at least have the prudence not to dismiss him outright as a moron.
I am talking about William Dembski here, author of the book titled, Intelligent Design, and one of the leading figures in the growing movement bearing that name. It is a movement that discerns in the characteristics of the living world a suggestion of a designer’s handiwork. This would contradict Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution according to which the complexity of living beings resulted from random developments, such as mechanisms of mutation, hereditary variations and natural selection.
Perhaps I would be less incensed by the lockstep assault against Intelligent Design, or ID, if this offensive did not smack of Stalinism, to borrow a metaphor from my friend Gerald R. McDermott, a professor of religion and philosophy at Roanoake College. Like Stalinists, ID opponents consign ID proponents to an intellectual Siberia, McDermott says, and that’s where they are meant to rot until doomsday.
This is what happened to Dembski, who would presumably have been silenced for life if it weren’t for the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which philosopher Daniel Dennett of Tufts University recently badmouthed as a propaganda organ of the religious right.
The funny thing is that the remaining priests of the anti-ID cult committed to a materialistic worldview are primarily biologists meant to study life, which if truth be told is still confounding science especially as it has never been replicated in a test tube.
Cosmologists studying the universe are less and less certain about the hypothesis that the world evolved accidentally. "Every day, we make new discoveries showing the breathtaking beauty of the cosmos, making it simply impossible to rule out divine authorship," says Bruno Guideroni, director of the Paris Institute of Astrophysics.
"We don’t know except by faith whether the Universe began by accident or on purpose. The most notable astrophysicist on earth said the choice is yours," Larry Leonard editorial director of the Oregon Magazine, wrote recently. Leonard was of course referring to Stephen Hawking, who holds the Lucasian chair of astrophysics at Cambridge University in England, a chair once occupied by Isaac Newton.
Martin Luther once suggested that reason, the operative principle of the temporal world and therefore science, can actually inform you that there is a God; only of reason presumes to tell you who and how God is will it become the Devil’s whore. Enter reasonable practitioners of sciences more open to exploring the purpose of the living world. Among them are many mathematicians, scholars like Dembski or my friend Charles Ford, who teaches math at St. Louis University.
"Do scientists have a calling from God? If so, what is their calling?" I asked Ford. He replied, "Scientists are called to discover the structures of the created order. In doing this, how are they serving their fellow man? "Well, they enable technologies that serve humans." Scientists are thus in a position similar to historians. "It is their calling not to allow methodological blinders to keep them from seeing what’s under their noses," McDermott explains.
But that’s precisely what is happening. Often methodological blinders prevent scientists from intersecting with theology, including pastoral care, even though this would clearly benefit of humanity. Once recent example is the discovery by Keith Jensen, a Canadian biologist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, that two particular elements of evil, envy and Schadenfreude (taking pleasure in somebody else’s misfortune), are exclusive properties of the human species.
So now biologists and economists are mulling over this phenomenon, which Jensen found is not present in man’s nearest relative, the ape, and was therefore not passed on to humans in an alleged evolutionary process. So what’s going on here? Humans can do evil deeds, chimps can’t? Does this mean we won’t be able to eradicate evil by genetic engineering first tested on monkeys?
Christians might be forgiven for howling with laughter: ever heard of original sin? Ever heard faithful theologians mention the one and only antidote to evil, namely, faith in the crucified and risen Christ?
But as Ford says, "When science becomes detached from the acknowledgement of a Creator, it becomes destructive." Indeed it becomes evil because by purging the world of its Creator, scientists would end up at the tope of the pile; scientists would then be masters over life and death. In theological terms, this would amount to self-deification, in other words a singularly ugly kind of idolatry.
Having said this, I take pleasure in giving ID critics a little of their own medicine. In railing against Christians, philosopher Dennett opined in an interview with the German magazine, Der Spiegel, about their sacramental theology: "The idea that the bread is symbolic of the body of Christ, that the wine is symbolic of the blood of Christ, that’s not exciting enough. The idea needs to be made strictly incomprehensible: The bread IS Christ’s body and the wine IS his blood. Only then will it win in competition against the more boring ideas simply because you can’t get your head around it. It’s sort of like when you have a sore tooth and you can’t keep your tongue off it."
Now, that’s what I call shoddy. It is shoddy theology. Any theologian daring to opine as primitively about science as Dennett opined here about theology would be laughed clear out of the academy for life. And rightly so.Uwe Siemon-Netto, Ph.D., D.Litt
Dr. Holger Sonntag provided the following remarks as a comment on the Lutheran/Eastern Orthodoxy post, but it truly deserves its own blog post.
Could we try to see the urge to "go east" by some as pointing to a deficit among Lutherans? In other words, has the notion of "true visible church" receded so far into the background of our ecclesial consciousness / conscience that we, quite honestly, don’t care much about it anymore? Does this transform the church into some "platonic idea" our Confessions deny it to be (Ap. VII-VIII:20), so that now folks look for surrogates elsewhere?
The Lutheran confessions emphatically include the visible church by defining the church as the assembly of believers among whom the gospel is preached purely and the sacraments are given accordingly (AC VII:1). They don’t engage in speculation about believers outside the true visible church (they don’t deny them, for sure: God does work in mysterious ways) or the concommittant speculation: how much truth is enough? The focus clearly is: preaching God’s gospel in its truth and purity and giving Christ’s sacraments rightly. That’s where true believers will be found because God’s word (and that’s, as far as we are concerned, God’s PURE word, of course) will not return void. Do we have the same kind of promise for the impure word and sacraments without falling into some sort of magical thinking (just reciting the "words" will do it, regardless of how many layers of false teaching / meaning cover them)?
So, what about the "Eastern Catholics"? They do seem to offer a compelling "visibility" that lures people away from the true doctrine. Do we just say: "Visibility — impossible / not necessary!" Or do we offer an alternative vision of visibility? I think we should, and could, do the latter. We just have to state unequivocally wherein the church’s visibility consists: not in gold-clad prelates or ancient-language liturgies, or in holiness of life, but in true preaching and true sacraments.
Luther and the Confessions do not allow us to become "ecclesial existentialists" who are content with external nothingness (faith in heart is plenty…). That would be a super-human church, or enthusiasm. They point us, instead, to the pure marks that God has given his church (and God’s church can only be the true visible church), so that individuals would know where to find God for certain and join God’s people for the sake of their salvation.
In response to a certain warm enthusiasm for Eastern Catholicism, we need to focus on keeping the marks of the church pure (and visible/central) and on pointing people to them. That certainly starts, as Rev. Cwirla pointed out, in the local congregation. But local congregations don’t live on islands. They are (or aren’t) in fellowship with other congregations; by fellowshipping with others they basically form one big congregation/church gathered around one pure gospel in word and sacraments, as scattered as true individual congregations might be across time and space (cf. Ap. VII-VIII:20).
One underlying question is: Can the true visible church, as defined above, ever disappear? If it can, and some believe it can (including Walther), then it’s maybe not our primary concern (as it was Walther’s) to keep God’s church visible, as much as we can (by preaching the truth; admonishing the erring, etc.). Then we’re perhaps content to let it slip into the invisiblity of our heart’s faith and then say: Well, there’s just no one who can be right all the time! God knows his children … Endorsing American denominationalism (a form of Pietism) is the almost unavoidable outcome. But how long can true faith live on the impure gospel and sacraments? Can we apply God’s promises to impure word and sacraments (cf. only Ap. VII-VIII:30f.: without unity in pure word and sacraments "there can be no faith in the heart"!)?
Martin Chemnitz, and it seems also Melanchthon, held that the true visible church would not utterly vanish from world history and that the true visible church is necessary for there to be the invisible church (faith requires, as far as we know, the pure word; only the pure word is God’s word). At times, the true visible church on earth would be very small, but it would never be conquered by hell’s forces, thanks to God’s promises (Mat. 16; 28). Chemnitz dedicated his life to defending it and keeping God’s truth visible in this world’s kingdom of lies; certainly, God’s promises given to the true visible church upheld him in his struggle (if the true church doesn’t have God’s promise, why fight for it??).
Luther did the same; he too believed that, according to God’s promise, "a Christian holy people is to be and to remain on earth until the end of the world" (AE 41:148), which he then defined quite along the lines of AC VII: this "Christian holy people" is recognized by the fact that it possesses God’s word purely preached(some have it only with straw, though; but some completely pure, see Ap. VII-VIII:20-21); the pure sacraments etc.
Luther and the confessors of the Lutheran church believed that doctrine could be kept pure, not just "pure mostly." In pure doctrine and the other pure marks, and in people gathered around them in (outward) unity (can’t sift out hypocrites on earth), God’s church is visible for the joy and edification of God’s holy people.
Can we earnestly hold this out as a real, gospel alternative to other attempts to "visibilize" the church (gold, statistics, success, holiness of life, ancient liturgies)? Or have we grown content with church as a mere "platonic idea" existing in our memories or books?
Mary did not become Superwoman when she died. She has been given no
miraculous powers to hear the prayers of humans on earth. Our Lord told
us where to place our hope. Recall the time a woman cried out, nearly
in a swoon. " ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you! Blessed are the breasts that you sucked!" [Luke 11:27]. What did Jesus say? "Yes, blessed indeed and worthy of all praise, glory and honor. Beseech her kindness! Implore her mercy! Flee to her protection in the hour of your need!" No, rather, our Lord said, "Rather, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!" [Luke 11:28]. The Dear
Lady who bore the Word of God, herself tells us what we are to do, "Whatever
he says, do it." [John 2:5]. Christ never said, "Pray to my mother" or "Put your hope in my mother’s prayers."
Let us truly honor Jesus’ mother by keeping our eyes fixed firmly on
her beloved Son! Forget her? Never. Honor her? Always. Remember her? Absolutely. Follow her example of devotion to Christ? Yes. But pray to her? Never.
The next time you hear a person who has embraced Eastern Orthodoxy, or Roman Catholicism, tell you that prayers to Mary are "no big problem" and suggest they are but expressions of devotion to Christ….well, here are several examples that refute that claim, these all happen to be from EO sources, but one can easily find hundreds of similar examples from RC sources as well.
First, a prayer at the Icon of the Theotokos.
Prayer at the Icon of the Theotokos
Tenderness springs forth from you, O Theotokos, make us worthy of compassion. Look upon sinful people, reveal your power for ever as we hope in you and cry aloud: Hail! as did the Archangel Gabriel, Chief Captain of the Bodiless Powers. Amen.
Or…note this explanation of why the Orthodox pray to Mary. This is so patently absurd, it boggles one’s mind that anyone would confuse asking a fellow Christian to pray for you and praying to the Blessed Virgin, who is now enjoying her eternal rest, awaiting with all the faithful departed our Lord’s return on the Last Day, praying to her to save us.
Not that we think she or any of the other saints have magical powers or
are demigods. When we sing "Holy Theotokos, save us", we don’t mean
"save" in an eternal sense, as we would pray to Christ; we mean
"protect, defend, take care of us here on earth," Just as we ask for
each other’s prayers, we ask for the prayers of Mary and the other
saints as well. They’re not dead, after all, just departed to the other
side. Icons surround us, in part, to remind us that all the saints are
joining us invisibly in our worship.
One can find dozens of examples of the heretical prayers offered to Mary by the Eastern Orthodox. Let’s look at one example, this from a book from the Russian Orthodox Church. Is this prayer "no big deal"? It is benign? Is it merely asking Mary to put a good word in for us with her son? Setting aside for the moment the assumption that Mary now has super-human powers, just look at this prayer and ask yourself if this is merely asking Mary to mention us to her Son.
With divine workings dost
Thou preserve and shelter from incursions of the enemy those that
lovingly celebrate Thine all-glorious (name of the event) and
call unto Thee: Thou art our strength and stablishment and Thy Son our
God is the God-becoming delight, Whom adoring we say: Jesu
all-powerful, save our souls as Compassionate One! To-day being divinely
gathered together let us praise the Theotokos. most holy Virgin, many
are thy grandeurs and abyss-full are thy wonders, for thou art holy
protection, praise and glory and source of healing unto us also that
celebrate thy holy (name of the event); wherefore praying we say: O Jesu all powerful, save our souls as Compassionate One. Do thou, O most holy one,
with thy honourable supplications both shelter and preserve, and unto
the enemies — as fearful and unsubduable shew those that make a
festival of thy (name of the event), that we may call unto thy Son: O Jesu all-powerful, save us as Compassionate One ! [Glory ...Both now ...Tone 6.As with a most brilliant circle, with thy (name of the event),
O most holy Theotokos, the Church of God bath been surrounded and
shining for joy and secretly exulting doth to-day call aloud unto thee,
O Sovereign-Lady: Hail thou — O precious diadem and crown of God’s
glory ; hail — the only fulfilment of the glory and the eternal
gladness ; hail – the haven unto those that flee to thee, mediatrix
and the salvation of our souls.