Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Thesis Nailed to the Regensburg Door

That's the title of an article I just published in Sacred Tribes Journal 7.1 (Spring 2012). It is one of several articles in that issue dealing with the new book by my friend, Stephen H. Webb, Jesus Christ, Eternal God (Oxford University Press). Here's how my article begins (notes omitted):
In his learned and provocative tome, Jesus Christ, Eternal God, Stephen H. Webb plows the soil of hallowed ground. He broaches a topic that most classical theists have considered a settled question for quite some time, namely, that God is by nature the immaterial ground of being. Webb concludes, most remarkably, that matter is one of God’s perfections, and for that reason, God—not just the post-incarnational second Person of the Trinity—is embodied.

He does not offer a simple argument, with a few premises and a conclusion, as one is accustomed to seeing in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion. Rather, his case is in the form of an extended engagement with a variety of figures in the history of Christian theology and American religion, including Origen, Arius, St. Augustine, Nestorius, St. Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, and Joseph Smith, Jr.  Along the way, Webb finds the time to discuss issues in science, metaphysics, and philosophical anthropology.

This is not to say that Webb does not offer any arguments.  It just means that in making his case he takes special care in trying to account for points of view with which he disagrees while properly situating his own position in the history of Christian thought and philosophical theology.

Consequently, it would be sheer folly for me to attempt to offer an assessment of Webb’s case that claims to capture his remarkable tapestry of philosophical and theological engagement. For this reason, I will limit my task to raising three questions in order to draw critical attention to what I believe is the operative assumption that drives Webb’s case for an embodied God: Christianity can be dehellenized and still remain Christianity.

You can read my article here. The entire issue may be accessed here.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ash Wednesday at Baylor

One of the many reasons I love Baylor. Here's an announcement that is on the Baylor website:

Ash Wednesday worship service

Feb. 20, 2012

On February 22nd, there will be an Ash Wednesday service in Miller Chapel at 12:20. For centuries, Christians have observed Ash Wednesday on the first day of the Lenten season, a time of deep introspection, intentional discipline, and preparation as Holy Week approaches. On Ash Wednesday, Christians receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads. The mark is made with ashes from burned Palm branches saved from the previous year's celebration of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Our service is co-sponsored by the Chaplain's office and The Catholic Student's Association. Father Anthony from St. Peter's and Burt Burleson will be presiding.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Catholic Social Thought and the HHS Mandate

That's the title of my most recent piece at The Catholic Thing.  Here's how it begins:
As almost everyone on earth now knows, Professor Obama has offered his “compromise” to the HHS regulations that require that all employers, including most religious employers, that provide health insurance to their employees must include coverage of contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients free of charge.

It was a faux compromise. The insurance company, not the employer, must inform the employee that these options exist, while the insurance company is required to provide these services “free of charge.” But, as one group of scholars stated, “it does not matter who explains the terms of the policy purchased by the religiously affiliated or observant employer. What matters is what services the policy covers.” And because there’s no free lunch, the insurance company’s cost undoubtedly will be passed on to the employer.

Nothing of substance has changed. The religious employer whose conscience forbids him to materially cooperate with acts he believes are intrinsically evil must purchase employees health insurance that includes services it believes are intrinsically evil.

Nevertheless, several individuals and groups have applauded this “compromise.” Washington Post writer E. J. Dionne, for instance, wrote a thoughtful column in support of the president. The Catholic Health Association initially praised the President, but now seems to be backpedaling a bit, while Catholics United offers unwavering support.

Although each claims to be committed to Catholic Social Thought (CST), when one reads the relevant encyclicals, what emerges is not a theological brief for the HHS mandate and its faux compromise, but rather, something quite hostile to it.

>>>continue reading

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Contraception and Catholicism: What the Church Really Teaches

That's the title of a piece authored by University of South Carolina philosopher, Christopher Tollefsen, who this year is serving as a Visiting Fellow in the James Program at Princeton University. The essay published this morning on National Review Online. Here's how it begins:

Catholic teaching on contraception is at the heart of the controversy over the Health and Human Services mandate. Catholic hospitals and universities are unwilling to purchase insurance plans that provide contraceptive coverage. To critics, this unwillingness borders on the irrational; accordingly, they see little value in protecting the freedom of Catholic hospitals and universities to act in accordance with their beliefs.

Catholic teaching about contraception is, however, not irrational; nor is it founded, as some have claimed, on irrelevant distinctions such as that between what is natural and what is “artificial.” Rather, two lines of argument are to be found throughout the tradition of Catholic, and more generally, Christian, thought on this issue that together show the teaching to be plausible and, in the view of many, true.

>>>continue reading

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Read All About It!: President Obama to exempt religious organizations..[+Update]

from the list of tax-exempt non-profits that a citizen can work for in order to have the government forgive the student's college loan. Read all about in the Washington Post On Faith blog. Here's an excerpt:
Are clergy and teachers of religious faith/thought public servants? Is their work on par with that of others who work for 501c3 non-for-profit groups and for government agencies? It used to be, but as of January 31st, the federal government has changed its mind about that.

Although not known to most people, the federal government maintains a program called Public Service Loan Forgiveness. According to that program, after ten years of public service work, any remaining federal student loans remaining for that worker would be forgiven. But what counts as public service?

Until the end of January, the government definition was clear and inclusive....

So after telling us that pretty much everything qualifies, even going out of its way to highlight that neither the type of work nor nature of the organizations matters, the government slips in the fact that if faith or worship are part of your work, you don’t qualify. What?!

Do read the whole thing. (HT: The Anchoress). In response to a claim in the combox, the following comes from Hot Air:
Update: I’ve had a couple of e-mails from readers who sent the link to the statutory language for the PSLF, which doesn’t indicate any changes to the law itself since October 2009 (not 2008, as one of them wrote), although there is no indication what changed at that time.  However, the administration’s PSLF fact page did in fact change on January 31, 2012, with the addition of that restriction on eligibility.  Someone wanted to make sure that people working at religious organizations knew they don’t qualify for PSLF at about the same time the White House announced the HHS mandate, and the message is pretty clear that they intend to enforce that restriction.  Either way, the fact remains that this administration is treating religious exemptions very differently based on their preferred outcomes.

The Dangers of Anti-Sharia Laws

That's the title of a well-reasoned article published in the March 2012 issue of First Things.  Authored by the University of St. Thomas Law School professor Robert K. Vischer, here's how it begins:
The law in several states now requires pro-life pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill, Christian adoption agencies to place children with same-sex couples, and religious entities to pay for their employees’ contraceptives. The list of such violations of religious freedom keeps growing, along with the insistence that religious beliefs be kept private. The recent spate of “anti-Sharia” initiatives is just the most politically popular example of such threats.

Though popular with secularists and religious conservatives, anti-Sharia legislation does not defend against theocracy but calls into question our society’s fundamental commitments to meaningful religious liberty and meaningful access to the courts. These commitments have been relied on by generations of Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, and Jews, and to try to remove them for Muslims both is unjust to Muslims and sets a dangerous precedent for other religious groups.


I think Professor Vischer is spot on, and I have shared similar concerns with my students at Baylor.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wall Street Journal: Birth-Control Mandate: Unconstitutional and Illegal

David Rivkin and Ed Whelan write in the Wall Street Journal (15 February 2012):
Last Friday, the White House announced that it would revise the controversial ObamaCare birth-control mandate to address religious-liberty concerns. Its proposed modifications are a farce.

The Department of Health and Human Services would still require employers with religious objections to select an insurance company to provide contraceptives and drugs that induce abortions to its employees. The employers would pay for the drugs through higher premiums. For those employers that self-insure, like the Archdiocese of Washington, the farce is even more blatant.

The birth-control coverage mandate violates the First Amendment's bar against the "free exercise" of religion. But it also violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That statute, passed unanimously by the House of Representatives and by a 97-3 vote in the Senate, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. It was enacted in response to a 1990 Supreme Court opinion, Employment Division v. Smith.

>>>continue reading

Monday, February 13, 2012

Two Key Questions that Unlock the HHS "compromise" debate

  • Do religious-based organizations, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, and businesses owned by devout religious believers including Catholics, Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, and Muslims, have the right under Obamacare to negotiate an agreement with an insurance company so that the insurance policy the employer offers to its employees does not include contraception, abortion, sterilization, etc.?

  • Does an entrepreneur under Obamacare have a right to create an insurance company that in fact meets the needs of such employers?

If the answer to each is "no," then Obamacare violates a fundamental right. If "yes," then the problem is solved and the debate is over. But since the HHS regulations allow a narrow exemption for some religious organizations--e.g., churches, synagogues, mosques--that means that the answer to the questions is probably "no."

The Right Not to Do Wrong and the Politics of Ruse: Matthew Franck on the HHS "accommodation"

Over at Public Discourse, Matthew J. Franck, the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution of the Witherspoon Institute, has published a clear and informative account of why President Obama's HHS accommodation is deeply flawed. What I like about Franck's essay is that he addresses some of the objections raised by some defenders of the accommodations on this blog and elsewhere.  Here's an excerpt:
As I say, non-religious Americans will not be able to claim the protection of our constitutional principles of religious liberty in this matter. But they, no less than their religious fellow citizens, have consciences at stake—which are under assault by the Obama administration, if they happen to have moral scruples about abortion. For no one can be rightly coerced by the state to be directly complicit himself in the commission of a wrong. This goes for any businessman, employer, insurance company, or individual implicated in this complex web of coercion.

This is not, by the way, anything like the argument sometimes heard that “I should be able to withhold the share of my tax dollars that goes to” some purpose the speaker strongly disapproves on some moral ground. Our representative government collects taxes, and spends the public fisc, on those purposes that are deemed, by the processes of majoritarian democracy and the rule of law, to be part of the common good. When Caesar spends his coin, even though much of it is raised by taxing the faithful, the taxpayers are not individually ensnared in the commission of any wrongful acts from which they may claim a right to disengage themselves. Their responsibility as citizens, in such a case, is to try to turn Caesar toward doing right instead of wrong. This is the principle involved in consistent federal refusals to fund abortion directly (the Hyde Amendment) or to fund the destruction of embryos for research (the Dickey-Wicker Amendment).

Please do read the whole thing.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

HHS mandate UNACCEPTABLE!: list of signatories grows on the Snead, Glendon, George, Garvey, and Levin letter

(HT: K-Lo at NRO)

I mentioned, and republished, this letter two days ago on this blog when it contained only the signatures of its original signatories.  The Becket Fund has now published the letter as a pdf online.  You can get it here. But, as my fellow patheos blogger K-Lo states, "keep an eye here ... for periodic updates on the letter on the mandate Notre Dame’s Carter Snead has been organizing since Friday. It is an impressive list.. and still growing." I am proud to have placed my own name alongside those of such accomplished men and women.


Here is the list of names that appear in the letter as of high noon CST on February 12, 2012:

Archbishop Chaput: "HHS mandate insulting and dangerous"

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia had this to say in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services refused on Jan. 20 to broaden the exception to its mandate that nearly all Catholic employers must cover contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization in their health-care plans.

An "accommodation" offered Friday by the White House did not solve the problem. Instead, it triggered withering criticism from legal scholars such as Notre Dame's Carter Snead, Harvard's Mary Ann Glendon, Princeton's Robert George, and Catholic University of America president John Garvey, along with non-Catholic scholars including Yuval Levin, the religious liberty law firm the Becket Fund, and numerous Catholic and other organizations.

Many Catholics are confused and angry. They should be.

Quite a few Catholics supported President Obama in the last election, so the ironies here are bitter. Many feel betrayed. They're baffled that the Obama administration would seek to coerce Catholic employers, private and corporate, to violate their religious convictions.

But it's clear that such actions are developing into a pattern. Whether it was the administration's early shift toward the anemic language of "freedom of worship" instead of the more historically grounded and robust concept of "freedom of religion" in key diplomatic discussions; or its troubling effort to regulate religious ministers recently rejected 9-0 by the Supreme Court in the Hosanna Tabor case; or the revocation of the U.S. bishops' conference human-trafficking grant for refusing to refer rape victims to abortion clinics, it seems obvious that this administration is - to put it generously - tone deaf to people of faith.

>>>continue reading

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cardinal George of Chicago: "We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law."

The following is an open letter authored by Francis Cardinal George, the Catholic Archbishop of Chicago. It is addressed to the Catholics of his diocese:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: I write to you concerning a most serious matter that negatively impacts the church in the United States directly, and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Jan. 20 that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those “services” in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.

In so ruling, the administration has seemingly ignored the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. As a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics must be prepared either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.

We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens because of their religious beliefs. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights. All that has been built up over so many years in our Catholic institutions should not be taken away by the stroke of an administrator’s pen.

This order reduces the church to a private club, destroying her public mission in society. In generations past, the church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same.

Therefore, I would ask of you two things. First, as a community of faith we must commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible.

Second, I would also recommend visiting to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty, and how to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the administration’s decision.

A letter similar to this is being sent to their people by diocesan bishops around the country. I thank you for your consideration of this unprecedented challenge to religious liberty. You and your families are in my prayers; please keep me in yours.

Sincerely yours in Christ, Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I. Archbishop of Chicago


Friday, February 10, 2012

Return to Rome Special Posting: Catholic Bishops-only internal briefing on the HHS regulations "compromise"

The Whispers in the Loggia blog (WITL) has obtained a bishops-only internal briefing that was circulated soon after President Obama's announcement of his HHS regulation "compromise." According to WITL, what follows "is the text of tonight's internal, bishops-only briefing, obtained by Whispers and signed by the aforementioned quintet: the conference president, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, and the bench's committee chairs for Pro-Life Activities, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston; Doctrine, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington; Domestic Policy, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, and the newly-formed arm on Religious Liberty, Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport." Here is the briefing:

USCCB Response to HHS "Compromise": Unacceptable

Here's the text:

Bishops Renew Call To Legislative Action On Religious Liberty

February 10, 2012

Regulatory changes limited and unclear

Rescission of mandate only complete solution

Continue urging passage of Respect for Rights of Conscience Act

WASHINGTON – The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have issued the following statement:

The Catholic bishops have long supported access to life-affirming healthcare for all, and the conscience rights of everyone involved in the complex process of providing that healthcare. That is why we raised two serious objections to the "preventive services" regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in August 2011.

First, we objected to the rule forcing private health plans — nationwide, by the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen—to cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion. All the other mandated "preventive services" prevent disease, and pregnancy is not a disease. Moreover, forcing plans to cover abortifacients violates existing federal conscience laws. Therefore, we called for the rescission of the mandate altogether.

Second, we explained that the mandate would impose a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of those who consider such "services" immoral: insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage. We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders—not just the extremely small subset of "religious employers" that HHS proposed to exempt initially.

Today, the President has done two things.

First, he has decided to retain HHS's nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients. This is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern. We cannot fail to reiterate this, even as so many would focus exclusively on the question of religious liberty.

Second, the President has announced some changes in how that mandate will be administered, which is still unclear in its details. As far as we can tell at this point, the change appears to have the following basic contours:

·It would still mandate that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write. At this point, it would appear that self-insuring religious employers, and religious insurance companies, are not exempt from this mandate.

·It would allow non-profit, religious employers to declare that they do not offer such coverage. But the employee and insurer may separately agree to add that coverage. The employee would not have to pay any additional amount to obtain this coverage, and the coverage would be provided as a part of the employer's policy, not as a separate rider.

·Finally, we are told that the one-year extension on the effective date (from August 1, 2012 to August 1, 2013) is available to any non-profit religious employer who desires it, without any government application or approval process.

These changes require careful moral analysis, and moreover, appear subject to some measure of change. But we note at the outset that the lack of clear protection for key stakeholders—for self-insured religious employers; for religious and secular for-profit employers; for secular non-profit employers; for religious insurers; and for individuals—is unacceptable and must be corrected. And in the case where the employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage, that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer's plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer. This, too, raises serious moral concerns.

We just received information about this proposal for the first time this morning; we were not consulted in advance. Some information we have is in writing and some is oral. We will, of course, continue to press for the greatest conscience protection we can secure from the Executive Branch. But stepping away from the particulars, we note that today's proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions. In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters. The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.

We will therefore continue—with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency—our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government. For example, we renew our call on Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. And we renew our call to the Catholic faithful, and to all our fellow Americans, to join together in this effort to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all.


HHS "compromise" is Unacceptable, says former Vatican ambassador, Catholic University of America president, and others


The following public letter was issued today by Mary Anne Glendon (former United States Ambassador to the Vatican), John Garvey (President, Catholic University of America), Princeton scholar Robert P. George, Notre Dame law professor Carter Sneed, and Yuval Levin of the Ethics & Public Policy Center. Right now the letter is being circulated and in the process of acquiring many more signatories. I am proud to say that I signed it only moments ago when it was sent to me via email. It is a strong rebuttal to the HHS regulation "compromise" offered earlier today by President Obama.  The letter reads:
Today the Obama administration has offered what it has styled as an “accommodation” for religious institutions in the dispute over the HHS mandate for coverage (without cost sharing) of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. The administration will now require that all insurance plans cover (“cost free”) these same products and services.  Once a religiously-affiliated (or believing individual) employer purchases insurance (as it must, by law), the insurance company will then contact the insured employees to advise them that the terms of the policy include coverage for these objectionable things.

This so-called “accommodation” changes nothing of moral substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience which gave rise to the controversy.  It is certainly no compromise.  The reason for the original bipartisan uproar was the administration’s insistence that religious employers, be they institutions or individuals, provide insurance that covered services they regard as gravely immoral and unjust.  Under the new rule, the government still coerces religious institutions and individuals to purchase insurance policies that include the very same services.

It is no answer to respond that the religious employers are not “paying” for this aspect of the insurance coverage.  For one thing, it is unrealistic to suggest that insurance companies will not pass the costs of these additional services on to the purchasers.  More importantly, abortion-drugs, sterilizations, and contraceptives are a necessary feature of the policy purchased by the religious institution or believing individual.  They will only be made available to those who are insured under such policy, by virtue of the terms of the policy.

It is morally obtuse for the administration to suggest (as it does) that this is a meaningful accommodation of religious liberty because the insurance company will be the one to inform the employee that she is entitled to the embryo-destroying “five day after pill” pursuant to the insurance contract purchased by the religious employer.  It does not matter who explains the terms of the policy purchased by the religiously affiliated or observant employer.  What matters is what services the policy covers.

The simple fact is that the Obama administration is compelling religious people and institutions who are employers to purchase a health insurance contract that provides abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization.  This is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand.  It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept as assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick.

Finally, it bears noting that by sustaining the original narrow exemptions for churches, auxiliaries, and religious orders, the administration has effectively admitted that the new policy (like the old one) amounts to a grave infringement on religious liberty.  The administration still fails to understand that institutions that employ and serve others of different or no faith are still engaged in a religious mission and, as such, enjoy the protections of the First Amendment.


John Garvey, President, The Catholic University of America

Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University

Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

O. Carter Snead, Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame

Yuval Levin, Hertog Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center


Best explanation of the HHS "compromise": it's a shell game

It is the intellectual version of being short-changed. Here's what Ace says at Ace of Spades HQ
So here's how this works.

I'm an insurer. Here were your two options, before Obama's brilliant solution:

I could cover your employees for x dollars.

If you want birth control/abortifacient coverage, we'll add that rider for y dollars. So this option is x + y dollars.

Obama's genius solution is:

Hey, we'll cover your employees for x + y dollars as a baseline. But we'll toss in abortifacient coverage for 0 dollars.

Uhhh... That x+y is what it cost to have base insurance + birth control/abortifacient coverage. All that's being done here is that people are lying about the costs -- now the insurer and the contracting party lie and pretend the base insurance cost is x + y (which it isn't; it's x) and also pretend the cost for the birth control coverage is 0 (which it isn't; it's y).

All Obama's doing is mandating that employers enter into a contract with insurers in which both parties pretend that the base cost of the service is higher than it is, and that abortifacient coverage now costs zero dollars.

Obama's mandate solution is now just to force the conscience-objectors to lie about it.

The old mandate was just to provide abortifacents. The "solution" just adds a new mandate on top of that one: That you lie about that fact in a legal contract.

This new "solution" is the same one you had before: You always had the option to lie to yourself that you were not part of the abortion providing industry, if you liked.

The only change is now that option is mandatory.

Obama's actual policy doesn't change, nor does the coercion against you. Just a new coercion is added -- that you lie about it -- to insulate him from the political consequences of his policy.

Your religious liberty, protected by an Enron-like accounting trick.  This is precisely what is meant when you hear the words, "add insult to injury."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Another Beckwith-like Apostasy to Rome?: A misrepresentation of my reversion to Catholicism

I recently came across this blog post at the site, Thoughts of Francis Turretin: "Another Beckwith-like Apostasy to Rome." The author writes:
You may recall that some time ago, Francis Beckwith made waves by secretly rejoining the Roman communion, while continuing in his role as president of Evangelical Theological Society. Sadly, we can add to that another similar tale. Mr. Jason Stewart was an OPC pastor. According to a letter provided by his (now former) presbytery:
Whereas the date Mr. Stewart entered into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church (January 10, 2011) evidences a studied commitment to that church’s doctrine and practices while he remained a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and

Whereas, in contravention of his ordination vows (FOG XXIII.8. (1-4)), Mr. Stewart did not disclose his change of convictions to his Presbytery until March 10, 2011, thus deceiving both the Presbytery, and the congregation of Trinity, Easton, and

Whereas Mr. Stewart has refused to be dissuaded from his course,

Therefore, in accordance with Book of Discipline V.2.b (1), Presbytery erased his name from its rolls, recorded the circumstances in its minutes, and communicated this action as a form of discipline (BOD V.2) to the congregation of Trinity, Easton with exhortation and encouragement toward a godly response to these events and to Mr. Stewart.

One wonders whether his new-found comrades at the Roman blog, Called to Communion, are aware of the facts of his conversion experience. In his account, he characterizes the events as: "Our decision to leave Presbyterianism for the Catholic Church surprised many." I'll say!

We will pray for repentance and restoration of Mr. Stewart (the erasure by Presbytery is de facto deposition and excommunication). Until that time, however, he ought to consider himself outside the visible and catholic church, and under threat of eternal judgment.

The reason for posting this point publicly, of course, is to draw attention to the issue of deception alleged by his former presbytery. I don't expect that this will matter to the Called to Communion team, but it ought to matter to seekers of truth. It helps to demonstrate the principle announced by the apostle, that they went out from us, because they were not of us. It also helps to qualify the credentials that are being used to promote his "conversion story" ("OPC Pastor ...") - yes, he managed to infiltrate the presbytery - but his manner of departure shows the sort of person he was.


I can't speak to the facts surrounding the case of Mr. Stewart, but it is not analogous to mine at all. First, days before I was received into the Catholic Church, I resigned my ordination with the United Evangelical Churches. (I relate this on page 63 of my book Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic [Brazos Press, 2009]; oddly, the UEC's "tenets of faith" are not inconsistent with Catholicism). So, I was not an ordained Protestant minister upon my reception into the Church. Second, upon being both received into the Catholic Church through the sacrament of reconciliation on April 28, 2007 and publicly during Mass the next day (April 29, 2007), I informed by mail the executive committee of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) of my decision.  In that letter I told the committee that I thought I could as a Catholic remain as President of ETS.

Because the ETS is an academic society and not an ecclesial communion, it has no ordained leadership. In fact, it's doctrinal basis ("The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory") is so minimal that it allows for a wide range of Christians as members who could not in good conscience be ministers in the churches of other members. So, for example, an ordained Presbyterian elder, an ordained Anglican priest, and an ordained Mennonite minister may all be members of ETS, but none can be clergy in the other's church. Although TurretinFan is clearly correct in implying that no Catholic can in good conscience be an ordained Presbyterian minister, it is not clear that a Catholic can not in good conscience be a member of ETS. For this reason--given the ETS' bare-bones doctrinal basis--I thought a reasonable argument could made for Catholic membership. But, as I note in Return to Rome as well as in my blog posts at the time (see here and here), I resigned both my presidency (on May 5, 2007, seven days after I was received into the Church) and my membership (on May 7, 2007) for prudential reasons. There is, of course, a strong argument to be made that Catholics can not to be members of ETS.  Nevertheless, it is an argument to which I respond in both Return to Rome (chapter 5) as well as an article I published in 2009 in the Josephinum Journal of Theology, "Evangelical and Catholic."

I have no aversion to reading criticisms of my journey and arguments as to why I am wrong about ETS and Catholicism. But I will not let stand misleading depictions of my reversion and the issues that were at play at the time.

Update: Jason Stewart responds in the combox:
As we entered the Catholic Church, we were concerned not to disturb the Presbyterian identity of Trinity OPC, nor upset the stability and peace of the members, nor proselytize as we exited, and, therefore, we did not make our decision public. We did not want our personal decision to instigate an ecclesiastical donnybrook as we departed the OPC. On a personal level, we were certainly willing to make public our reception into the Catholic Church, but not at the expense of the congregation of Trinity OPC. We tried to find the most charitable and peaceable balance we could between the welfare of the congregation and the spiritual welfare of our family. It is unfortunate that the presbytery has chosen to place the worst possible interpretation on our decision, labeling it deception. Such was not our intention in following the path we did. Until last night, I was unaware of the presbytery’s ruling as the presbytery had not formally communicated this information to me. All I knew was that they had honored my request for erasure as I happened to see the erasure published in the November issue of the New Horizons magazine (2011). I’ll end by stating that our eagerness to be received into the Church was owing to our not wanting to remain any longer in schism from the Church Jesus founded.

Just as I suspected, though I did not want to speculate in my original post. So, I am delighted that Jason has written this. It turns out that Jason, just like me, assessed his situation in light of a variety of factors, wanting both to enter the Church as soon as possible while not needlessly offending his Protestant friends. This is the behavior of a Christian and a gentleman.  This makes TurretinFan's judgment of Jason all the more egregious and unChristian. It is, of course, not surprising that those who most vigorously deny that charity must accompany faith work tirelessly to ensure that their public lives do not betray that conviction.

Not a Good Argument for the HHS Birth Control Mandate

In response to the new HHS regulations, about which I have written several entries (see below), some have responded by pointing out that most Catholics practice birth control in defiance of the teachings of their Church. I've got news for you: Catholics also commit adultery, lie, cheat, steal, and sometimes even become Protestant. I suspect that there are also Mormons who drink coffee, Orthodox Jews who sneak bacon bits on their salads, and Southern Baptists who make the occasional visit to their friend Jack Daniels.

However, none of these interesting and salacious facts about non-practicing believers would justify the government coercing their religious communities to underwrite adultery, lying, cheating, stealing, counter-conversions, caffeine intake, non-kosher culinary practices, or drinking hard liquor.

It amazes me that otherwise intelligent people--those who would clearly see the injustice of the government requiring Al-Qaeda members held at Guantanamo Bay to serve pork to non-observant Muslims--cannot see the injustice of the government requiring a Church that believes it is wrong for itself to serve birth control to anyone forcing that same Church to serve birth control to everyone.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Planned Parenthood's Hostages

That's the title of a piece that was published in this morning's Wall Street Journal. It is authored by two friends of mine, Robert P. George and O. Carter Snead. Robby is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program at Princeton University. Carter is professor of law and the incoming director of the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame. You can read it here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The New Anti-Catholicism: Occupy the Vatican

That's the title of my latest column over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
The old anti-Catholicism found its expression in the mid-nineteenth century when the first large wave of Catholic immigrants arrived in the United States. Some of these immigrant groups had set up their own private religious schools. Many non-Catholic Americans, however, believed that Catholic schools indoctrinated students in superstitions that were inconsistent with the principles of American democracy. Therefore, in order to make sure that such schools would not receive government funding of any sort, federal and state legislation was proposed that forbade the use of public resources for “religious,” i.e. Catholic, purposes.

>>>continue reading