Monday, December 30, 2013

A Year-End Post to Gladden the Heart

As 2013 draws to a close, this Facebook post from "Exit 6", a brewpub in Cottleville, Missouri -- not far from where Christopher Johnson hangs out, so he ought to know it -- just brings a heap of joy to this old lawyer's heart:

Sometimes lawyers just get too high and mighty for their own good, and it takes the common man to bring them down a notch or two. Next time you're there, CJ, please hoist one to them from the Curmudgeon!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Don't Forget the Christmas Posts

Christmas has been the occasion for a number of posts in the past, in which I discuss the scientific and astronomical evidence for the Star of Bethlehem, the real date of the Nativity and Herod's subsequent death, and the virgin birth of Jesus as the rarest ever of rare XX-males.

Rather than repost them, here is the index page where you may find them all linked.

And here is the link to one of my favorite musical meditations on the miracle of Christmas.

Enjoy, and have a very holy and merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Everlasting God and Changing Man

Once again, the Bible is under attack from this secular age.

Those who express its message most clearly bear the brunt of it, but at the same time, they are precisely the ones best able to bear the brunt of it, because of their clear understanding of the inherent authority of Holy Scripture, and consequently of the place it has in their daily lives. For them, there can never be any question of retreat, or of backpedaling.

For Christians -- committed Christians, that is -- accept the authority of Scripture.

What does that mean? Let us unpack the statement a bit. (My apologies for the seemingly elementary stuff that follows, but given the media brouhaha over one man's understanding of the Bible, it seems best to leave nothing for assumption, or presupposition.)

Why does Holy Scripture have authority for Christians?

Because Christians view Scripture as God's Word. In short, Scripture has authority because God's Holy Spirit is behind it.

And just what does that mean -- "The Holy Spirit is behind Scripture" -- or, as 2 Tim. 3:16 has it, "All Scripture is God-breathed ..."?

It means that, in the words of our Catechism and Ordinal, "Holy Scriptures ... contain all things necessary to salvation": that God's Holy Spirit speaks to us through His Holy Scriptures, and that our reception of His Holy Word leads us to right belief in Jesus Christ our savior, which is necessary to our salvation at the end times.

All right -- we have established that Holy Scripture derives its authority from the fact that the Holy Spirit (God) is behind it. But who interprets Scripture?

That is on its face a simple, but in reality a deeply complex, question. Let us first examine what "interpret" means in that context, by asking just who is doing the interpreting.

First of all, we may all agree that humans -- "Man", in the Biblical sense -- interpret Scripture, because all of God's other creatures are incapable of doing so. (Which fact points to an inescapable truth about the differences between Man and animals in God's creation.)

And what is also true about humans (again, as opposed to animals), according to Scripture?

Humans are, according to Scripture and tradition, fallen beings who have been made in God's image -- meaning that they have a God-given capacity to receive and understand His Holy Word, but also that their instincts and desires lead them away from the truths of Scripture.

And that points up a constant danger about humans interpreting Scripture.

To interpret Scripture is, after all, nothing less than to make the Word of God meaningful to one's fellow humans -- to allow them to see it in context, to apply its lessons to their daily lives, and to be able to employ it as a guide to their own faith, and thus to their ultimate salvation.

But if Man is the one interpreting Scripture (and only Man can do so), then Man has to be certain that his interpretation is faithful to God's purpose in giving us Holy Scripture, and not fashioned to advance one of Man's special interests or desires that go hand in hand with his being a fallen creature.

How can Man accomplish this difficult and risky task?

First and foremost, by constantly acknowledging and submitting to the triune God's authority that speaks through Scripture.

This means that Man may never presume, in matters of Scripture, to speak on his own "authority."

How does Man distinguish God's authority from his own? The answer is very simple.

Man has to get his ego out of the way in order to allow the Holy Spirit to speak through him. It is all too easy to pretend, like the "Wizard of Oz", to speak from behind a curtain that hides the fact that it is Man, and not God, who is speaking. Indeed, one aspect of Man's fallenness is his desire to to be seen by other men as on a par with God (see, e.g., Gen. 3:5, 11:4).

It is also all too easy to put oneself on a par with the Holy Spirit, and to claim that (through oneself) "the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing ..." -- with the obligatory reference to John 16:12-13. Again, given that both God and His purpose for Man are unchanging, there can be no "things" that are new (i.e., not previously taught in Scripture), but only a newer and deeper understanding of God's Word that is inspired through the Holy Spirit.

We said earlier that "Man has to be certain that his interpretation is faithful to God's purpose in giving us Holy Scripture" -- how can fallen Man manage to understand God's purpose in giving us Holy Scripture?

Again, to ask the question is to answer it: God's purpose -- the only purpose -- for His gift of Holy Scripture to Man is so that Man may be saved from Hell through belief in Jesus Christ, by faithful application of His Holy Word. Anything that misleads, or detracts from that purpose, cannot be from God -- but is from (the fallen side of) Man.

The next question to ask is this: can God's purpose for Holy Scripture ever change with time?

Again, the answer is simple -- but so easily avoided by Man's desire to be important in his own right, and not through his bearing God's image. Since God does not change, but is the essence of all that is permanent and unchanging, then His purpose, both in giving us Holy Scripture and in all other things, cannot change with time.

But Man changes with time, and Man then falls into the trap of thinking that because he changes, so God must change -- and so, therefore, must God's purposes for Man.

It should be obvious by now that such a notion is not of the Holy Spirit, but solely of (fallen) Man. Reject it utterly: God's purpose for Holy Scripture does not, and cannot, ever change.

Notice also the right relation of Jesus Christ to Holy Scripture: after God gave His only Son, that all who believe in him may not perish, but have life everlasting -- after that was accomplished, God then saw to it that we would have a complete Holy Scripture -- the record of the presaging of His only Son over the centuries, and then of His eventual incarnation and mission upon Earth, in fulfillment of the centuries of presaging -- all for Man's salvation, mediated through the Holy Spirit and God-breathed Scripture.

The formula for salvation can therefore no more change with time than can God Himself.

Now let us apply a particular test to our conclusions thus far, and see how they hold up.

The age-old question of slavery in the Bible is raised again and again today as an example of how Man's (!) interpretations of Scripture change to suit the times. Supposedly (the argument goes) God's purpose for Holy Scripture in the time of Jesus and His disciples was, among other things, to support and reinforce the institution of slavery in the Roman Empire, and that we (fallen, but still more enlightened) 21st-century humans have come to see that God's purpose has changed, so that Holy Scripture no longer supports slavery -- or at least, no longer may be interpreted to do so.

Again, though, it is not God (or the Holy Spirit) who has changed since the first century A.D., but Man.

That is, Romans saw nothing particularly wrong with slavery, while we (enlightened) Christians of today see that slavery is demeaning, inhuman, and, well -- un-Christian.

But the Bible did not change between Roman times and now -- the text of the Bible (as near as we can establish it) has remained the same through the centuries. As has God's purpose for it.

What has changed is Man's interpretation of it. Formerly, some Christians in Roman times (as well as Christians even as late as up to the American Civil War) might have read St. Paul to endorse their view of slavery, while now Christians read St. Paul as urging us to transcend slavery, and accept that "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus ..." (Gal. 3:28).

That does not mean that first-century Christians' reading of the words of St. Paul was always in accordance with God's purpose for His Holy Scriptures -- even if we could transport ourselves back in time and witness firsthand how they each interpreted his words. Again: neither Scripture nor God's purpose for it has  changed between St. Paul's time and today. What has certainly changed is Man's interpretation and application of Scripture.

Was the Bible "less right" or "less true" in St.Paul's day than in our own? How could it be, since its words have remained the same? To make such an accusation is to accuse Man, and not the Bible.

The Bible's message was there all along -- and that is why it would have been wrong then, and wrong now, to interpret the words of St. Paul as reflecting God's favor upon the institution of slavery. ("Wrong" in the sense of "not in accordance with Holy Scripture".)

The lesson to draw from all this, therefore, is not that Man's changing interpretation must accordingly be more trustworthy as we approach the present times. As noted at the outset: Man is fallen. That means he alone, and on his own, can never be trustworthy. What is trustworthy, has always been trustworthy, and will forever be trustworthy, is God's Holy Word.

In sum, the evidence that man's interpretation of Holy Scripture has changed between the first and the twenty-first centuries attests to nothing other than Man's changeability over time. And that changeability, it must be stressed, is due to Man's fallen nature.

One may be thankful for some of the changes in Man's understandings of Scripture -- we no longer feel compelled to burn people at the stake for heresy, to take just one example. But in our cockiness, we imagine that all of our differences from earlier ages has to do with an indefinable notion of "progress" -- that in some unmeasurable way, Christians alive today are "better", "more advanced", "more enlightened" -- you supply your own term -- than those of bygone days.

Nothing could be further from the truth, given Man's changeability over time. There is no Biblical guaranty that Man will become less sinful as time goes on. Each age has to find its own way to the proper reception of God's Holy Word. All of the present evidence, indeed, is that Man just finds ever newer ways in which to stray from the path God has always intended for him.

Thus whenever you read a sentence like "St. Paul could never have understood the modern-day concept of sexual orientation," simply ask the basic question: who is asserting that as "truth"? The answer in every case, I guarantee you, will not be a citation to God's unchanging and Spirit-breathed Word, but instead will trace back to the "authority" of some mortal and fallen Man, who expresses the conceit that he "understands" more than St. Paul ever did -- and thereby promptly demonstrates his fallenness.

And why focus the question on St. Paul's understanding of the issue, anyway? St. Paul, though a saint, was a fallen man, just like all of us. True, he had a personal encounter with the risen Christ -- and so in that sense, his words may be taken as "closer to the source" of their derivation.

What St. Paul wrote is Holy Scripture! His words, therefore, need no other authority than that they are, for Christians, God-breathed -- that is, the Holy Spirit is behind them. And given that truism, we should be focusing, not so much on what St. Paul "intended" by writing them, as rather on what God purposes for us to receive in reading or hearing them.

And not just us today -- but Christians in the first, second, third and fourth centuries, and continuing right up until today, and onward until the Second Coming. God's purpose in giving us access to Paul's words is eternal and unchanging -- we interpret them at our peril if we detract thereby in the slightest from that constant purpose.

And so that must be our litmus test in judging whether a given interpretation of Holy Scripture "comes from the Holy Spirit", or "comes from Man." As noted, only Man can interpret Holy Scripture, but in doing so, Man has to get out of the way, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, allow God's purpose for Man to come through.

It is illogical, therefore, to contend that the Holy Spirit meant (through Paul) the same eternally purposed words to be applicable only to a distinct point in time, namely, the first-century world of temple prostitutes. That would be to say (for Christians) that He meant Paul's words in a different sense, for a different time. Such differing senses are of Man's creation, because the Holy Spirit does not change His message with time. If the hearer of the same message reacts differently, then it is the hearer who is responsible for the differences, if the message comes from the same triune God.

This is the great fallacy that underlies all of the present divisions in the Church over "sexuality."

If man's sexuality has evolved from the first century -- and let us grant, for the sake of argument only, that it may have -- then that fact of change is no reason to jettison the concept of "God's Word", and to substitute in its place "Man's current reading of God's Word."

If man's sexuality evolved as supposed, then God must have foreseen and anticipated that evolution -- otherwise, God is not God Eternal. And that is the main point: God is the same God -- for first-century Roman Christians who had slaves, for Spanish priests of the Inquisition who burned heretics, and for Christians today who urge all kinds of sexual license outside of Christian marriage. God still speaks the same timeless words, and it is futile (and self-contradictory) to suppose that He spoke them less clearly at an earlier time, or with less purpose, than He still speaks them today.*

The present-day revisionist interpretations of Holy Scripture's passages dealing with sexuality thus fail to pass the test of being consistent with the unfailing, eternal purpose for Christians that must infuse those passages. They are fashioned so as to apply differently to the same words in different times. They diminish the constancy of God's Word to serve changing Man, and thus attempt to evade Man's necessary submission to God's eternal purpose for him.

In sum: the failures of Christians regarding slavery are not the failures of the Bible -- they are the failures of Man. Likewise, the failures of Christians regarding sexuality are not the failures (or inadequacies) of the Bible -- they are again the failures of fallen Man.

The entire argument for allowing the consecration of persons in a same-sex union as bishops or priests is not based upon the traditional interpretation of Holy Scripture -- because that interpretation was based on Scripture itself: a bishop, for example, "must be above reproach, the husband of one wife ..." (1 Tim. 3:2).

The argument instead has to depend upon that interpretation having changed over the centuries -- but then the argument depends, as shown above, on Man's changeability, and not on God's.

All of the ink being spilled in the secular media about the "outmoded messages" and "current irrelevance" of the Bible is, therefore, nothing new under the sun. In his fallen propensities, Man seems with each generation to have to re-learn, and re-acknowledge (which is the true sense, by the way, of "re-ligio" -- "a binding again [to]") the authority of Holy Scripture.

The bottom line is this: Christian Man, being a fallen creature, often discerns but feebly God's eternal purpose for him, through his contemporary interpretations of Holy Scripture. All such attempts to discern God's purpose must proceed from the understanding that Man's discernment is fallible, and may be in need of (severe) correction at any point in time.

At the same time, however, Christian Man may take comfort that God's purpose for him is unchanging and eternal. Therefore, if he is not clearly receiving God's message for him through Holy Scripture just now, he may know that he must keep trying, and keep submitting himself to its authority, in hope for a better and deeper relation to it in the future. Remember: God's Holy Word does not change -- only Man himself does.

Whether or not such later understanding of Holy Scripture is truly "better" may be evaluated by an objective test: does it continue to cohere with God's eternal purpose for mankind -- as reflected through St. Paul and the other New Testament authors, and as reflected through the words and life of God's only Son?

And by that objective test, any argument for the interpretation of Holy Scripture which depends for its validity on the assumption that the Holy Spirit meant differently in an earlier age than He means today, or that He spoke in days past with a lesser understanding of Man than as Man has evolved to the present time, is per se invalid: it contradicts and demeans -- for Man's sake -- God's unchanging aspect.

*And let us not, please, drag out the old "shellfish" canard in supposed refutation of this point. Once again, God's words in the Pentateuch remain the same today as they were when first recorded (allowing for human errors of transcription) -- and there are still men and women who follow them just as strictly today. Only they do not call themselves Christians, because they do not recognize the New Testament as Holy Scripture. Jesus' atoning sacrifice, and the doctrine of salvation which it gave to the world, established once and for all time a different path for Christians to follow. By the same token, the stakes for Christians have increased: Hell is a greater horror than Sheol.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Night Thoughts Away from Home during Christmas Season

Nightfall finds me in a strange town, where I've never stayed before, in need of lodging as I travel. It is the Episcopal Church (USA) litigation (a term which should be an oxymoron, but which sadly isn't) that brings me here, just ten days before Christmas.

What a contrast! The town is full of lights, decorations, music and good cheer. Families are out with their children, taking in the sights, shopping for gifts, and sipping hot mulled cider while nibbling on gingerbread. But I am here alone, en route to a preliminary skirmish before the battle royal in mere weeks that will decide the fate of thousands -- at least at this first (trial court) stage.

I share readily in the town's festive mood, smiling at perfect strangers and wishing them all "Merry Christmas." What is it about Christmas that brings out the best in friends and strangers alike?

First of all, no one wants to be a dour old Scrooge -- or if they do, the rest just chuckle at them, and refuse to let sourpusses spoil the season's cheer.

Second, the good cheer is contagious, like nothing else in the world. It builds and builds as it travels through the streets, sweeping up all in its wake. And once one catches it -- well, one would have to be a real Scrooge to resist its power and charm.

But third and most magic of all, it is at Christmas when humans show that they are -- every one -- made in God's image. The lights, the trees, the gifts and decoration, the laughter and joys -- they are the outward and visible signs of God's most precious gift to us, which is ours to savor every day of our earthly lives, whether we appreciate it or not.

For it was freely given -- and for the sake of that great gift, God sent His only Son to dwell among us so that we might have the hope of eternal life with Him Who made us in his very image. What could make us more complete? What more ever could we have asked for, in our wildest imagination?

Think for a moment: those who do not (yet) know God, and Jesus Christ as their Savior, have no reason to be merry at Christmas -- yet many are anyway, without asking or trying to divine the reason. But what you and I know, and they may not (yet), is that it does not take Christmas to let out the best in us. For Christians, the joy and good cheer is there at any time we wish to celebrate our having been made in God's image.

God loves us! Through His Son, we are saved! That is good news for any day of the year, no matter how bleak or empty it may appear to someone on the outside, or (like Scrooge at the start of Dickens' story) on the fringe looking in.

So -- especially in this season -- I hope those of you who delight in the Gospel will be extra-sensitive to those who could use some of the Good News. There is no magic recipe, for each of us shares what we know in the way we do best. In the same way, you will choose the opportunity when it seems just right for the other person -- after all, you were born for this moment! The point is to see God's image in the other, and to let that spark of recognition kindle your God-engraven heart as you recognize one of His own, in need of His Good News.

As for me, tomorrow I must put on the armor of light and sally forth to combat. Even secular warriors, however, withdraw from the front to be with their loved ones at Christmas. So do not extend your sympathies: in just a few days I shall be back by my own hearth, in the bosom of my extended family, and celebrate with them the most holy message of Christmas -- the best part of which is that it is all year round.

God bless us, every one!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fr. Hunwicke on the Anglican Flaw

One blogger to whom I have long linked at the right (under "LiturgiCannon") is Fr. John Hunwicke, formerly the rector of St. Thomas' in Oxford, and now incardinated in the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. He is an unimpeachable scholar of Church Latin and Greek, and is a constant source of new insights regarding our common liturgy (Catholic and Anglican).

In a recent post, Fr. Hunwicke has, as usual, pierced to the heart of the matter -- the "matter" being the currently disordered state of the Anglican Communion. The amazing part is that he wrote and first published the post in 2010, when he was still a priest in the Church of England. I hope he will not mind if I quote here for you the salient parts (omitting the scholarly backup; all italics are in the original), but be sure to go to his own blog and absorb the whole thing, on his own terms and presentation. My point here is to highlight his incidental insight into the problems which currently beset our Anglican Communion -- thanks to ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada.

He begins by tracing a logical parallel between a diocese (led by a bishop) and the Church Catholic ("Universal"), led by the Church of Rome:
Recently, a fashionable Orthodox hierarch, commenting on the dialogue between Rome and the Orthodox Churches, expressed the view that, while Orthodoxy may have things to learn from Rome about a Universal Primacy, Rome had things to learn from Orthodoxy about Intermediate Primacies. How very reasonable. Everybody learns from everybody else's insights and we end up with Wholeness. The essence of Ecumenism.  
Except that it's rubbish. The New Testament - well, I mean the Pauline Letters - knows two usages of the term ekklesia. There is the local Church - the Church, let us say, in Corinth. That is how S Paul uses the term in his earlier correspondence. But, without abandoning that usage, in Colossians and Ephesians ... he writes also of the Church as a universal body. 
This is a most valuable insight into the ecclesiology of St. Paul (or in Fr. Hunwicke's British usage, "S Paul"). Now look what Fr. Hunwicke does with that distinction:
In later ecclesiology, that gives us the Local, 'Particular', Church; which means, not the Church in some country or region, but a Christian community with Bishop, Presbyterium, Diaconate, and Laos [laity]. Then there is the Universal Church; and the late, great, Dom Gregory 'Patrimony' Dix showed that the role played in the Local Church by the Bishop is closely paralleled by the role played in the Universal Church by the Church of Rome (among other evidence, he illustrated this by examining the language used in the epistles of S Ignatius of Antioch about the bishop in relation to the Local Church, in comparison with that used about the Roman Church in relation to the Universal Church). 
All right, the parallel has been drawn. But how does it mean that the traditional Eastern Orthodox Patriarchies differ in ecclesiological function from the Church of Rome? Back to Fr. Hunwicke's explanation:
The Local and the Universal Church exist as entities jure divine [by divine right]. Indeed, they are in a sense the same entity, because in the Local Church the Universal Church subsists in its entirety .... Intermediate Primacies - such as Patriarchates - do not exist by divine right. They may be given a theological rationale in terms of Incarnational Theology: that is to say, an association of local churches may laudably express forms of spirituality adapted to the instincts of particular cultural groupings (one thinks of the Eastern Churches of particular rites). And Patriarchates and Major Archbishoprics may make organisational good sense. I do not deny that and I do not refuse respect to the Patriarchates of Byzantine and Oriental Christianity. But an Archbishopric or a Patriarchate does not exist in the primary ecclesiological sense in which Universal Church and Local Church exist.
But Rome's primacy in the Church Catholic does not stem from its initial identification with the center of the Roman Empire -- it took the ascendancy of the Emperor Constantine to give rise to that claim. No, the primacy of Rome's Church rests entirely upon St. Peter -- the one disciple singled out by Jesus, upon whom He based His Church Catholic:
Dom Gregory Dix then went on to show that the belief in the Primacy of the Roman Church existed at a very early date and, when described, was seen in terms of the Petrine status of the Roman Church. He pointed out that there is no evidence in the early centuries of the notion that the Roman Church acquired its status from its location in the Imperial City. This would have been improbable; as Dix says, no other cult (not even that of Dea Roma) assigned primacy to its group in the city of Rome; and early Christianity, far from respecting the city of Rome, loathed it as the Whore of Babylon which slaughtered the Saints....  
The Roman Primacy is not the institution of Patriarch written larger. It is something sui generis or it is nothing. Now: you may not agree that Rome does have a universal Primacy. You may prove this negative to your own entire satisfaction. But you will not thereby have proved that 'Intermediate Primacies' - Patriarchates and the like - do have status jure divino. You'll have to come up with another set of arguments to establish that.
And no doubt many of us Anglicans may not agree that Rome has a "universal Primacy" -- otherwise, why do we insist on remaining Anglican (while many of us still see ourselves as "Catholic")? But one has to admit that Fr. Hunwicke has a point: there is nothing about the See of Canterbury -- or the Patriarchy of Alexandria, Jerusalem or Constantinople -- that lends to any of them the color or status of having been established by anything akin to Christ's ordination of St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome.

So you may or may not agree with Fr. Hunwicke thus far -- and that is all right, because he is now -- may God always bless him -- happily and fully a part of the Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain. It is his next point to which I wish to draw your specific attention. Here is his lead-in (remember, it was written when Fr. Hunwicke was still an Anglican):
I for one applauded the move of John Paul II to explain that Episcopal Conferences, unlike the Universal Roman Primacy and unlike the Local Primacy of the Bishop in his own Church, do not have any existence by divine right. And I very much doubt if the papal title 'Patriarch of the West' is any older than the Byzantinising of Pope Gregory I. And so when Benedict XVI, as one of his first moves, divested himself in the Annuario Pontificio of the title 'Patriarch of the West', "Goodie", I cried, "at last we have pope who knows what he isn't"
And here is his clincher (again, emphasis is always in the original):
We Anglican Catholics know what Intermediate Primacies can lead to if left without a check or a balance. They can lead to the mess that the Anglican Communion finds itself in. They lead to the concept of the Infallible Local Synod whose heretical decisions are irreformable.  
They can lead to self-righteous schism.

"Self-righteous schism" -- there is no better term to describe the results of General Convention 2003 and the Episcopal Church (USA) since, under the unchecked apostasy of the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. (Canadian Anglicans, you may cast your own stones here.)

The contrast between the catholicism of the Petrine Church, and the self-righteousness of ECUSA and ACoC, could not be made more stark. Pray for them both, that they may return to the catholic path of their honorable forebears.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Not Bragging, Just Informing --

The fact is that if you had read this when it posted on September 26, 2009, you would have been four years ahead of the curve on the healthcare debacle.

The surprising thing is that the media was spotting the lie back then, too -- but the story went nowhere, and their coverage soon went on to other things.

President Obama is not serious about fixing what's wrong, people -- he is just going through the motions. If you want or need private health insurance, you're going to have to track it down all by yourself (you could enlist the help of an independent broker-agent). But this government is NOT going to bring it to you on a silver platter. I have to wonder whom they are aiming to please.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rump Diocese Tries "Hail Mary" Pass in South Carolina

Let's see ... when you're on your own 20-yard line, it's third down and still ten to go, you're behind 7-0 and there's just 30 seconds left in the half, what do you do as quarterback?

You send your ends out wide and long and hope to connect with what is called a "Hail Mary" pass.

Now in the current litigation in South Carolina, the drive by ECUSA's team to move the ball into federal court has been blocked at every maneuver. They are stuck back on their own 10-yard line, with just a few dozen seconds left on the clock. (The case in South Carolina's Court of Common Pleas for the County of Dorchester is due to go to trial early next summer; all discovery in the case has to be completed by February 7.) 

And so what do they decide to do?

The defendant rump group (but not yet ECUSA itself) throws a "Hail Mary" pass -- a motion to add, at this late date, four new defendants and eighteen new claims against those defendants, who are Bishop Mark Lawrence, James Lewis, Jeffrey Miller and Paul Fuener. The Rev. James Lewis serves as Bishop Lawrence's Canon to the Ordinary and Executive Secretary to the Diocesan Convention; the Revs. Miller and Fuener have both served as President of the Standing Committee of Mark Lawrence's Episcopal Diocese.

The very first claim the rump group seeks to assert demonstrates the flaw in the entire motion: it is a claim for alleged breach of "fiduciary duty." The theory of the claim is that Bishop Lawrence and the three additional priests each took vows upon their ordinations which imposed upon them "fiduciary duties ... to adhere to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church ... and of the Diocese ...".

It should be obvious to almost anyone that priests who break their ordination vows, or who violate the Constitution and Canons of the Church or of one of its Dioceses, cannot be sued in the civil courts for those actions; that is the entire purpose of Title IV ("Ecclesiastical Discipline") of the Canons. Indeed, Canon IV.19.2 as ECUSA currently observes it says, in no uncertain terms (my emphasis):
No member of the Church, whether lay or ordained, may seek to have the Constitution and Canons of the Church interpreted by a secular court, or resort to a secular court to address a dispute arising under the Constitution and Canons, or for any purpose of delay, hindrance, review or otherwise affecting any proceeding under this Title.
I fail to see, therefore, how the rump group could have authorized the motion to add additional parties to state any claim for breach of the Constitution and Canons -- or indeed, for breach of any fiduciary duties owed to the Church whatsoever. In the words of the Fifth District Appellate Court in Schofield v. Superior Court (2010) 190 Cal.App.4th 154, 165, such questions are "quintessentially ecclesiastical" -- they are issues "the First Amendment forbids us from adjudicating."

Provisional Bishop vonRosenberg must have authorized the filing of this pleading on behalf of his group. That group contains the very same people who brought disciplinary charges against Bishop Lawrence for canonical violations less serious than this. Will they now prefer charges against Bishop vonRosenberg? Don't hold your breath -- it's another case of "one rule for thee, another rule for me." The Canons are for use only against orthodox clergy who try to remain orthodox. The hypocrisy of it all, however, should be plain to any outsider.

So as to the first claim, at least, the motion to add new parties and state new claims violates not only ECUSA's own Canons, but the First Amendment, as well. What about the other claims?

The second ("Breach of Contract") fares no better. The "contracts" it alleges are wholly ecclesiastical ones: Bishop Lawrence's undertaking to perform the duties of a bishop, and Canon Lewis's undertaking to be a priest. Dismissed!

The same fate awaits the third through the seventh claims, which are all based on the "ordination vows and declarations" of the proposed Additional Parties.

Beginning with the eighth claim for the tort of conversion of property, however, the motion commits a new fundamental error: that of mistaking the actions of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina for the individual actions of Bishop Lawrence and the other three priests. Paragraph 152 baldly asserts:
152. Through unlawful ultra vires corporate manipulation, the Additional Parties converted the Diocese's property to their own use for a new religious organization conforming to their own personal religious beliefs.
Aside from the fact that the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina is in no way "a new religious organization", but one which has existed under South Carolina law for over 225 years, the complaint of "conversion" would have to be asserted against it, and not the named individuals. If, as alleged, the acts in question were done on its behalf and for its benefit, then that is the entity to hold liable. (And of course, the Episcopal Diocese is already a party, and a claim for "conversion" has already been asserted against it in the lawsuit.)

The same objection lies for the ninth claim ("fraudulent transfers"), because the quitclaim deeds to parish properties were signed by the Additional Parties not in their individual capacities, but only as officers of the entity (the Diocese) which was quitclaiming any interest in the properties.

The tenth, twelfth, and thirteenth claims each seek the removal from their respective offices of, and other sanctions against, the Additional Parties -- for the same kinds of non-justiciable conduct complained of in the first seven claims, so they should go nowhere. And the eleventh claim ("Judicial Dissolution") in reality seeks no relief against the Additional Parties individually, but only against the Episcopal Diocese; it likewise is a non-starter.

The fourteenth and fifteenth claims simply repeat against the Additional Parties the same claims of trademark infringement which Bishop von Rosenberg sought unsuccessfully to assert against Bishop Lawrence in federal court. Again, as alleged, these claims mistake the corporate actions of the Episcopal Diocese for the individual acts of the defendants.

The sixteenth claim is based on a South Carolina statute (Sec. 33-31-180) with which I am unfamiliar, but which appears to call upon the courts to decide questions of religious doctrine in violation of the First Amendment, and if so, would today be unconstitutional (though perhaps not when it was originally passed).

The seventeenth claim is not a separate claim at all, but simply alleges that the defendants participated in an unlawful conspiracy -- but to do what? To commit the ecclesiastical acts alleged earlier, which are not capable of being examined in the civil courts. 

And the last claim is one for declaratory relief, based on all the preceding allegations. It should meet the same fate as the action alleged for declaratory relief in the Schofield case:
The dispute set forth in the request for declaratory relief in the first cause of action ... is quintessentially ecclesiastical. Accordingly, the trial court erred in adjudicating that cause of action and, upon proper motion, must dismiss that cause of action.
I am not familiar with South Carolina procedure, so I cannot say whether Judge Goodstein will take up these deficiencies on the motion to amend (add parties and claims) itself, or only after the amended pleading has been filed. Either way, I fail to see how this "Hail Mary" pass has any chance of success in court.

Monday, November 25, 2013

This Time, There Is No Sorcerer to Save Us

In the previous post, I traced the trend in this country away from the hard money we started with -- gold and silver coins -- to their replacement with paper promises (called Federal Reserve Notes). This trend occurred despite the complete absence of any grant of power to Congress in the Constitution to print paper money.

Well, strictly speaking, of course, it isn't Congress that prints the Notes. The Federal Reserve authorizes their issuance, and it is the Bureau of Engraving and Printing that does the job. But the Federal Reserve acts with the statutory authority of Congress, and it is Congress who declared the Notes to be "legal tender for all debts, public and private." Its power to do so was resolved long ago, in a series of decisions known as The Legal Tender Cases.

The course away from hard to paper money followed by the United States has been the same as that followed by the rest of the world. And the reasons for adopting paper money schemes have been almost uniformly the same, in country after country: to pay the costs of war.

The last time the world was on a true hard money (also called "commodity money") system lasted from 1879 to 1914. The United States, which had mostly redeemed in specie all of its "greenbacks" issued to finance the Civil War (nota bene), went back on the gold standard in 1879 (and joined Britain, France, Germany, and many other countries in doing so).

But World War I disrupted the finances of the European powers, and one by one they went off the gold standard. The United States continued to redeem (domestically) its money for gold until 1933, when FDR thought he could help the country out of the Great Depression by massive deficit spending. (It is a little-known and -appreciated fact that President Hoover had already embarked on a similar course in 1930. Just like FDR, however, he was unable to put people back to work solely by increasing government spending. The difference is that the electorate held Hoover accountable, while it reveled in FDR's machinations.)

The United States continued to exchange dollars for gold, and vice versa (at the new FDR-established price of $35 per ounce), internationally. (By Executive Order, FDR forbade Americans from holding gold; Congress did not lift the ban until 1975. That was what Americans thought of gold all those years -- while one by one, the domestic gold mines shut down, as after about 1950 they could no longer produce the metal and make a profit at only $35 per ounce.)

Before the Second World War was over, in July 1944, delegates from all 44 Allied countries gathered at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire to work out the form of a post-War international monetary system. A return to the gold standard was unworkable, because the United States (as a result of the War) held most of the world's gold reserves, due to its having steadily bought gold since 1933 at $35 per ounce.

Under the leadership of Britain's Sir John Maynard Keynes, America's Harry Dexter White, Henry Morgenthau, and others, the delegates created the so-called Bretton Woods system that governed international trade and finances from 1945-1971. All foreign currencies were pegged (within a fluctuating range of ten percent) to the U.S. Dollar, and the United States agreed to convert Dollars to Gold at the official rate of $35 per ounce. At the time, it is estimated that the United States held approximately 20,000 metric tons in gold reserves (the bulk of it in New York and at Fort Knox, Kentucky), or 75% of the world's then total.

The Bretton Woods system worked until Lyndon Johnson decided to fight two wars at once: the Vietnam War, and the War on Poverty. By 1968, he had to ask Congress to remove the last requirement for sound currency: at that time, the Federal Reserve was required to keep a gold reserve equal to 25% (reduced from 100% in 1913) of all dollars in circulation. But President Johnson needed more dollars for his programs, and so Congress obligingly removed the requirement that they be backed by gold.

One should take note of what President Johnson told Congress when he made his request (my emphasis added):
Speculation generated by the strains on the international monetary system has caused further drains of gold from international reserves--much of it from our own. As a result, U.S. gold reserves have declined to about $12 billion.
Our commitment to maintain dollar convertibility into gold at $35 an ounce is firm and clear. We will not be a party to raising its price. The dollar will continue to be kept as good as or better than gold.

I am therefore asking the Congress to take prompt action to free our gold reserves so that they can unequivocally fulfill their true purpose--to insure the international convertibility of the dollar into gold at $35 per ounce.
  • The gold reserve requirement against Federal Reserve notes is not needed to tell us what prudent monetary policy should be -- that myth was destroyed long ago.
  • It is not needed to give value to the dollar -- that value derives from our productive economy.
  • The reserve requirement does make some foreigners question whether all of our gold is really available to guarantee our commitment to sell gold at the $35 price. Removing the requirement will prove to them that we mean what we say.

I ask speedy action from the Congress -- because it will demonstrate to the world the determination of America to meet its international economic obligations.
Congress obliged, in March 1968. The drain on U.S. gold reserves continued as inflation mounted everywhere, but the price of gold stood fixed at $35 per ounce. And thus, just three years after Johnson's message to Congress, President Nixon closed the international gold window, in August 1971.

That was a momentous change -- not just for the United States, but for the entire world.

First, the price of gold was no longer a constant; it floated higher with fears of inflation, and soon soared to over $800 per ounce.

Second, because gold could float, so now could the dollar -- and eventually, so could all of the other national currencies that tried to remain pegged to the dollar. This began a new era of "currency wars," from which we still have not emerged.

Third, and perhaps most consequential, the Federal Reserve now had no restraint on its ability to print and circulate its dollar notes and credits, as it monetized more and more of America's debt (check the huge rise in M2 since 1980 in the chart shown in the previous post, as well as the corresponding rise in total credit [debt] since 1971).

But there was a fourth, and unforeseen, consequence of freeing the dollar from its backing in gold. As countries exported their goods to the United States, their exporters received payment in dollars, which they could not use in their own country -- they needed to exchange them at their banks first.

All of those dollars coming into a foreign country, however, could not be exchanged on the open market without causing a spike in the exchange rate of that country's currency against the dollar. (It is the old law of supply and demand -- if suddenly everyone wants to exchange dollars for francs, pounds, marks or lira, then the price of those currencies relative to the dollar will go up.)

If the exchange rate, say, for the franc increased, then French wine would become more expensive in the United States, England and other wine-consuming countries, and France would export less of it. This would hurt French wine producers, and the politicians and central banks were determined not to let that happen.

In order to prevent any increase in their exchange rates, the central banks of each country printed more of their own money to exchange for the flood of dollars coming in. By doing that, they artificially held down the exchange rate, and kept the price of their exports low for other countries.

The money so printed was, however, central bank money -- so it was just printed without any backing of any kind, and it increased the (domestic) supply of each country's own currency, which over the longer run was inflationary for that country.

And what did the central banks do with the dollars that they received in exchange? They invested them -- in the only markets where huge amounts of dollars could be invested -- in the United States. These dollar investments from abroad balanced the trade deficits that the United States was running with many foreign countries, and helped to fund our government's deficit budgets, as well as push up the price of both equities and bonds (which meant that interest rates, which moved opposite to the price of bonds, fell lower).

Now contrast this post-Bretton Woods situation with how things worked during Bretton Woods: if the United States ran a trade deficit with, say, France, then the French did not have to print new money to offset the effect of the new dollars flowing in, because they could immediately exchange all those dollars for gold. Because of its gold backing, the exchange rate of the dollar for the franc remained relatively constant (depending on the vicissitudes of France's own fiscal and monetary policies).

Thus the biggest and least foreseen consequence of the United States going completely off the gold standard was the huge, inflationary increases in foreign currencies that resulted from central banks' attempts to keep their currencies from appreciating against the dollar. A recent estimate of the amount of new paper money added to the world economy in this way is $11.7 trillion. And so long as China, for example, keeps running a trade surplus with the United States while artificially holding down the yuan, there is no end of this paper money inflation in sight.

The $11.7 trillion of new foreign money has to be added to the trillions of new dollars being created by the Federal Reserve -- now more and more through so-called Quantitative Easing.

The result is that the world is awash in paper money, with nothing to back it except people's willingness to continue to accept it in exchange for goods and services.

Moreover, the world does not need all this new paper money, because its economies have not grown in tandem with their money supplies.

How can any Keynesian or monetarist continue to defend such a system? Both of those theories were developed when gold backing imposed a restraint upon the creation of new paper money. And now all restraint is gone -- it's not unlike the tale of the sorcerer's apprentice (in the version with porridge, rather than Goethe's poem, employing a broom and water -- though either version will suffice to make the point).

We know how that tale ends -- the sorcerer comes back, spanks his apprentice and stops the endless production of porridge from his magic pot. The village cleans up the mess, and life goes on as before.

Unfortunately, there is no "sorcerer" this time to wave his magic wand. Our elected representatives continue to operate the country without any kind of a budget, and our monetary authorities continue to enable their irresponsible actions. And the supply of money and credit just expands and expands ...

How can this all end? In the next post, we will take a look at some likely scenarios.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Say "Goodbye" to the Dollar and "Hello" to Debt

It is time for a further update to my earlier series, which I naïvely called "The People's Money." Money, as most people still understand that word, used to belong to the People -- that is, the monetary unit of the country, the Dollar, was defined by the peoples' representatives in Congress. So that made it fair to say that the Dollar was "the People's Money."

But no longer. It is time to wake up and grasp where this country -- along with the rest of the world -- is going.

And here is a wake-up question: When is the last time you either saw, or held in your hands, a real true United States Dollar?

Some people may interpret that as a trick question -- fair enough. So let us define our terms, just as Congress did, beginning at the beginning. Under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution as ratified in 1789, and as the language has remained ever since, Congress has the legislative power "to coin Money, [and to] regulate the Value thereof ...".

In 1789, there was already a silver coin in circulation which Americans called the "dollar." It had been established as a coin when Spain governed whole portions of the new world, and the pre-U.S. Continental Congress had already, in 1785, defined those coins (actually, "pesos", or "pieces of eight") as the American unit of currency. (The name "dollar" came from the German "[Joachims]Thaler", used to describe a popular coin of that country by its valley ["Thal"] of origin.)

Thus it required no great leap of imagination for the first Congress of the United States, in 1792, to adopt a uniform Dollar as the new country's unit of currency, and to define it in law as a coin consisting of exactly 371.25 grains (Troy) of fine silver, or 24.75 grains (Troy) of gold. Note the official exchange ratio thereby established, for silver to gold, of 15 to one (changed to 16:1 in 1834, to reflect a decrease in the value of silver). And that was how America got its Dollar.

Paper money also circulated before and after the Revolution, but it had a much poorer reputation. Having no intrinsic value like a gold coin, a paper bill was backed only by a promise to redeem it, either on demand or at some future time, in specie (gold or silver). The Continental Congress used paper bills to finance the Revolutionary War, but it had no power to coin money on its own, and the "continentals" so called were supposed to be redeemed by the collective States. So many were printed, however, that the promise could not be kept -- hence the phrase "not worth a continental."

After the revolution, paper notes were issued both by the first two Banks of the United States, as well as by individual State-chartered banks -- but the effect of Gresham's Law was substantial, so much so that the U.S. Government actually stopped minting gold coins for a while in 1816-17, due to their being hoarded rather than circulated. This did not help the money supply keep pace with the developing country.  The resulting squeezes -- called "panics" because no one could get their "money" out of banks, many of which failed -- led to a widespread distrust of "paper money."

The Constitution is curiously ambiguous about the subject of money and currency. As noted above, it gives Congress the power to "coin" money -- but what about the power to print paper money? Also, in Art. I, Section 10 the States are prohibited from making "any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts ..." (emphasis added). That same Section prohibits the States from "coin[ing] Money, [or] emit[ting] Bills of Credit" (i.e., paper notes).

The Founding Fathers would not appear to have contemplated the use of anything but gold and silver coins as lawful money, or as legal tender for the satisfaction of public and private debts. But it was not perfectly clear: for example, while the individual States could not issue paper bills, or make anything but gold and silver coin legal tender, nothing was said about the United States itself being unable to do so. And when that issue came to the fore was in 1862, right after the Civil War had begun. One commentator set the scene in these words:
... a civil war was then raging which seriously threatened the overthrow of the government and the destruction of the Constitution itself. It demanded the equipment and support of large armies and navies, and the employment of money to an extent beyond the capacity of all ordinary sources of supply. Meanwhile the public treasury was nearly empty, and the credit of the government, if not stretched to its utmost tension, had become nearly exhausted. Moneyed institutions had advanced largely of their means, and more could not be expected of them. They had been compelled to suspend specie payments. Taxation was inadequate to pay even the interest on the debt already incurred, and it was impossible to await the income of additional taxes. The necessity was immediate and pressing. The army was unpaid. There was then due to the soldiers in the field nearly a score of millions of dollars. The requisitions from the War and Navy Departments for supplies exceeded fifty millions, and the current expenditure was over one million per day. The entire amount of coin in the country, including that in private hands, as well as that in banking institutions, was insufficient to supply the need of the government three months, had it all been poured into the treasury. Foreign credit we had none. We say nothing of the overhanging paralysis of trade, and of business generally, which threatened loss of confidence in the ability of the government to maintain its continued existence, and therewith the complete destruction of all remaining national credit.
The solution was for the United States itself to issue its own paper money -- called "greenbacks" due to the color of one side. There was, as noted, insufficient gold and silver to back them up; but that did not stop Congress from declaring them "legal tender" -- indeed, it is extremely doubtful whether creditors would have accepted them without that official status. Like continentals, greenbacks were a future promise to pay in specie, backed by the "full faith and credit" of the United States. And unlike continentals, all of the greenbacks which people later chose to redeem were redeemed in specie. Knowledge that they could be so redeemed left millions of them in circulation, long after the War was over, simply because of their convenience in comparison to heavy, bulky coins.

This being America, there were inevitably multiple lawsuits brought over the authority of Congress (a) to issue paper bills in the first place, and (b) to declare them legal tender for all debts. In a remarkable series of decisions between 1871 and 1884 which changed the course of this country forever, first a bare majority, and later an 8-1 majority, of the United States Supreme Court eventually ruled that Congress had the implied authority under the Constitution to do both.

As a result of the Legal Tender Cases, we now have a tripartite division of money in this country: there are coins; Treasury bills, notes and bonds; and Federal Reserve Notes (which I fully described in this earlier post). Treasury paper is not really "in circulation", so it is not, strictly speaking, money -- but it is debt, and as we shall soon see, debt is the new money.

United States coins in circulation no longer have any silver in them, because the price of silver is too high (due to the devaluation of what people still erroneously call "the dollar"). The last real "silver" dollar was the Eisenhower dollar, issued from 1971 to 1976. Even though they contained just 0.3161 Troy oz. of real silver (that's 9.83 grams, compared to the 371.25 grains, or 24.0566 grams, in the 1792 silver dollar), that much silver would be worth (at today's $20 / oz.) about $6.63 -- which is why you no longer see any Eisenhower dollars in circulation.

And now you know the answer to the question I asked at the outset. There are no real dollars left in circulation; the last partial one was issued in 1976. Our "money" consists of base metal alloys molded into traditional shapes, special pieces of paper printed with colored ink, and electronic bookkeeping entries maintained by computers.

What, you might ask, do all of these forms of "money" have in common?

Answer: They have no intrinsic value of their own. They represent only promises -- promises to  exchange something for them in the future. And what is that "something"?

It is just new promises for the old ones. When you take a dime or a dollar bill into a bank, you cannot get gold or silver, but just a newer alloy dime or a newer paper "dollar."  If you buy a Treasury note and keep it until maturity, you are paid with more paper "dollars" -- actually, Federal Reserve notes.

Notes are a form of debt -- they evidence a promise to pay a debt. All of our present money, therefore, is nothing but debt.

Given this unarguable fact, it no longer makes sense to speak just of "the money supply" -- M1, M2, M3 or the like. For those traditional measures simply count currency in circulation (plus some types of deposit accounts). Here, for instance, is the latest chart showing the growth of M2 over the past 33 years:

As you can see, this "measure" of "money" accounts for only about $11 trillion worth. But now, take a look at the chart of total public and private debt in this country ("public debt" includes what is owed by the federal, State and local governments; "private debt" is consumer and household debt owed on mortgages, credit cards, retail accounts, and the like -- but not what you borrowed from your brother-in-law):

Do you see that index on the left? The graph of M2 was reaching $11 trillion, but this graph is pushing sixty trillion "dollars" -- more than five times as much. All of that money is what we Americans owe to ourselves and others. As you may know from recent headlines, the total official U.S. debt is pushing $17 trillion, or just about 30% of the total. Who, then, owes the other 70%?

Logic tells us that if it is not government debt, then it must be corporate and household debt, and logic is correct. Given that the gross value of all goods and services produced last year in the United States ("GDP") was just about $17 trillion as well, we then have a good yardstick, as follows:

Total U.S. government debt amounts to about 100% of GDP; but

Total private and corporate debt amounts to about 235% of GDP;

So all in all, total U.S. debt of all kinds amounts to about 340% of GDP.  We owe, in other words, 3.4 times what we make in a year. Does that sound healthy?

And that is just officially recognized debt. If you add in the M2 number -- because all of that currency and those deposits represent a form of debt too, remember (just not "official debt") -- then total debt comes to nearly seventy trillion, or over 400% of what we make annually. And that says nothing about all the "unfunded debt" -- a misnomer, if there ever was one, because as just explained, all of our current debt is unfunded -- in the form of future pension and welfare liabilities.

This level of debt became possible only when the country went off the gold standard -- domestically in 1968, and internationally in 1971. Before that time, international debts had to be settled each year in gold, so that a country's ability to obtain credit depended on how much gold it had in reserves. If a country exported more than it imported, it received gold (or dollars, then accepted as its equivalent, because each dollar could be exchanged for gold) to make up the difference. But if it purchased abroad more than it sold abroad, it had to pay out its gold (dollars) to other countries.

And the same was true domestically, until 1968 -- any dollar notes printed by the Federal Reserve could be exchanged for the official equivalent in silver coin (not gold, because FDR had outlawed the private possession of gold in 1933 -- a ban which Congress did not lift until 1974).

Removing the backing of gold and silver from our money was the final step in cutting us loose to pile up no end of debt. Making paper "money" legal tender was the first; but turning it into truly just paper promises was the last.

And while the government has been borrowing like crazy recently, so have we -- remember that private debt outstrips public debt by more than two to one. Do we have any moral grounds for demanding that the government observe a "debt ceiling" when we ourselves lack the will to do so?

I hope I have succeeded in demonstrating how profound a shift has occurred in this country since the 1960s. Money that we traditionally think of as money is money no longer. It is better to call it what it is, namely, debt -- or promises to pay in the future. And because it represents just promises, it is easy to rack up: debt is out of control, as the second chart above illustrates.

Where will it all end? Where can it end? No one can say for sure, because we are in uncharted territory. In future posts in this series, I will explore some of the shorter- and longer-term consequences of this profound shift in our way of thinking and acting about money.  



Monday, November 18, 2013

God's Grace Visible: the Story of a Christian Mom That Went Viral

Perhaps you have received an email or a link containing this text of an open letter to President Obama:
Dear President Obama, 
I wanted to take a moment to say thank you for all you have done and are doing. You see I am a single Mom located in the very small town of Palmer, Texas. I live in a small rental house with my two children. I drive an older car that I pray daily runs just a little longer. I work at a mediocre job bringing home a much lower pay-check than you or your wife could even imagine living on. I have a lot of concerns about the new "Obamacare" along with the taxes being forced on us Americans and debts your are adding to our country. I have a few questions for you, Mr. President. 
Have you ever struggled to pay your bills? I have. 
Have you ever sat and watched your children eat and you eat what was left on their plates when they were done, because there wasn't enough for you to eat too? I have. 
Have you ever had to rob Peter to pay Paul, and it still not be enough? I have. 
Have you ever been so sick that you needed to see a doctor and get medicine, but had no health insurance because it was too expensive? I have. 
Have you ever had to tell your children no, when they asked for something they needed? I have. 
Have you ever patched holes in pants, glued shoes, replaced zippers, because it was cheaper than buying new? I have. 
Have you ever had to put an item or two back at the grocery store, because you didn't have enough money? I have. 
Have you ever cried yourself to sleep, because you had no clue how you were going to make ends meet? I have. 
My questions could go on and on. I don't believe you have a clue what Americans are actually going through and honestly, I don't believe you care. Not everyone lives extravagantly. While your family takes expensive trips that cost more than most of us make in two-four years, there are so many of us that suffer. Yet, you are doing all you can to add to the suffering. I think you are a very selfish and cold-hearted man, who does not care what is best for the people he was elected by (not by me) to represent, but more so out for the glory of your name attached to history. 
So thank you Mr. President, thank you for pushing those of us that are barely staying afloat completely under water and driving America into the ground. You have made your mark in history, as the absolute worst and most hated president of the United States. 
God have mercy on your soul! 
Sincerely, Yolanda Vestal 
Average American
Your Curmudgeon learned about the letter thanks to another blogger -- apparently it has gone viral, with literally millions of links and likes and translations into foreign languages.

Being curious to verify the existence of the author "Yolanda Vestal", your Curmudgeon went hunting on the Internet. And tracked down a story that is even more amazing than the fact that this letter -- which expresses the simple resentment that millions of Americans feel -- went viral.

For the truth is that the author, Yolanda Vestal, is a single mom in Palmer, Texas. And until a month ago -- October 18, 2013 -- her Facebook page (under the name "Yolanda Burroughs-Vestal") was no different from any of millions of similar pages.

But then -- on October 17, 2013 -- and being the dedicated Christian that she is, she saw fit to share this most elemental of accounts on her timeline (note that she uses "mum" both for a corsage, and for the lucky recipient of it):
So yesterday, I was at the homecoming [chrysanthe]mum supplies store and this little boy (around 6th or 7th grade) was shopping and carefully picking out things to make a homecoming mum. Then he ended up standing right in front of me in line as we waited to check out. As they rang up the items I watched him as he smiled in excitement as he told the lady he had saved to buy the stuff to make this girl at school a mum. Then in an instant that baby's smile went to a sad face looking at the ground when the total came up....he was short about $11. I stood there watching him scramble through his pockets for more money, but he had none. He started to walk away and I said, "Hey young man, I got the rest, just give her what you have." His look was at first shock, then that sweet smile returned. He thanked me over and over. He was grateful and his expression showed it. 
I'm not sharing this for any glory, but just as a reminder to pay it forward. God takes care of us, so often using others to do so. I know there is/was a sweet boy proudly giving a girl a homecoming mum today....and that makes my heart so happy!!!
"I'm not sharing this for any glory" -- well, true: her Facebook post about her Christian act of random kindness received just 21 comments from her friends, remarking on her generosity and how she made that boy's day.

The next day -- October 18 -- she posted (from her mobile phone!) the text of her "open letter" to President Obama, quoted above. It went up on her page just before 10:00 am, and by 10:30, it had received a number of standard "Likes" and "Shares" from her friends.

Until about 1:30 pm, everything looked like a normal Facebook post, but then something amazing kicked in. Every comment added to her post started receiving dozens and dozens of "Likes", and the "Shares" for her post began to rocket into the tens of thousands.

As of today, that original October 18 Facebook post has 3,482 "Likes" and 87,942 "Shares." The text of her letter has been re-quoted on thousands of additional blogs, including a number in foreign languages.

A review of her subsequent Facebook posts shows Yolanda Vestal's simple surprise and humility about all the publicity she has garnered, and documents her unsought rise to Internet celebrityhood.

Does Yolanda, however, need to marvel at the workings of God's grace?

Given her natural and spontaneous response just the day before to the little boy who needed to make his girlfriend a "mum" for the prom -- I don't think so.

For me, the objective evidence here of the Internet (which in this instance does not lie) demonstrates for all who choose to see how simple acts of instinctive charity -- responding at a basic human level to that which is "written on our hearts" -- can be the vehicles of His bringing grace to the many.

Soli Deo gloria.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

ECUSA and Diocese of Chicago Gang Up on Quincy Parishes

Yes, on the site of the Diocese of Chicago and those that reprint its press release, you will read a headline such as: "Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and Episcopal Church File Suit in Peoria", but not at this blog. Here we call them as we see them -- and this latest lawsuit is simply an outrageous attempt to bludgeon the already cash-starved Anglican Diocese of Quincy and its member parishes and missions into submission. Worse, it comes right after the Anglican Diocese prevailed at trial over ECUSA on many of the same issues raised in this new lawsuit.

 Take a look at the complaint as filed. The lies in the plaintiffs' press release are evident from the very caption at the start of the complaint. They claim to be suing "to clarify the legal status of the parishes and missions whose leaders left the Episcopal Church in 2008," yet have they named those parishes? No, they have not: instead, in typical blunderbuss fashion, they are going after the individual rectors of those parishes, as well as Bishop Morales and the members of the Diocese's standing committee and corporate board (whom they personally sued in the case they already lost).

Another lie in the press release (emphasis added): "Among the assets are the properties of St. George's Episcopal Church in Macomb, Grace Episcopal Church in Galesburg, Trinity Episcopal Church in Rock Island and Christ Episcopal Church in Moline." That last church, however, is not mentioned in the complaint; nor is its its rector (whom, again, they sued in the suit they lost, but in his capacity as a trustee and member of the Standing Committee).

Confused? I cannot blame you -- this newest lawsuit is simply a mess: a mishmash of mostly old allegations from the earlier lawsuit, and some new ones thrown in just to see if they can get away with it.

No one appears to have actually read the complaint before filing it. Otherwise, how could they have let this contradiction pass? In paragraph 2, they allege (my emphasis added):
In 2013, this plaintiff [Diocese of Chicago] became the successor by merger to the Diocese of Quincy of the Episcopal Church, which until that time was a separate subordinate and constituent unit of the Church and an unincorporated association with its principal office in Peoria, Illinois. Unless otherwise specified, the term "Episcopal Diocese" used herein shall refer to the Diocese of Quincy before it merged with plaintiff Episcopal Diocese of Chicago
Then, in paragraphs 74 and 75 they allege(again, my bold):
... that the Episcopal Diocese and its Parishes and Missions remain subordinate and constituent parts of the Church and the Episcopal Diocese for all purposes ... 
... that the defendants take the position that they are properly in control of the governance of the Episcopal Diocese ...
So, which is it? Is the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy defunct, or not? Did it merge into the Diocese of Chicago in September 2013 as alleged, or does it continue to "remain [a] subordinate and constituent part of the Church for all purposes"?

And how can the plaintiffs allege with a straight face (paragraph 3) that "Defendant Alberto Morales ... holds himself out as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese"??

He most certainly does not; Bishop Morales is the diocesan of the Anglican Diocese of Quincy, which is as far from the Episcopal Church as one can get and still stay sane. (And please note, once more, how they refuse to name the entity they want to take over -- the Anglican Diocese. Instead, they sue the people who hold office in it.)

Are you beginning to perceive just how ridiculous is the picture presented by this pleading? You have a current Diocese of ECUSA, into which a former ECUSA Diocese (well, not really -- just a Potemkin one, hastily erected for purposes of litigation) merged, suing the people they claim are still operating that former entity.

Question: Then who agreed to the merger?

And what was the entity that merged with the Diocese of Chicago? Was the merger just a sham?

There are no logical answers to those questions, and that is just one problem with this complaint.

Here is another. In its prayer for relief (at the very end), the complaint seeks (among other declarations by the court):
( c) declare that the defendants do not hold any offices or positions of authority of the Episcopal Diocese or any of its Parishes and Missions and are not the directors or officers of the Illinois not-for-profit corporations called The Diocese of Quincy and The Trustees of Funds and Property of the Diocese of Quincy; 
( d) declare that the directors and officers of the Illinois not-for-profit corporations called The Diocese of Quincy and The Trustees of Funds and Property of the Diocese of Quincy are those persons elected by the Synod of the Episcopal Diocese and recognized as such by the Church and the Episcopal Diocese; 
(e) declare that the clergy and lay officers and other leaders of the Parishes and Missions of the Episcopal Diocese are those elected or appointed pursuant to the Constitutions and Canons of the Church and the Episcopal Diocese and are recognized as such by the Church and the Episcopal Diocese.
And here is a portion of Judge Ortbal's ruling handed down just over a month ago:
Based upon the response and counterclaim, TEC asserts that the actions of the DOQ through their respective Directors and Trustees were contrary to the Constitution, Canons and Prayer Book ofTEC and have sought a declaration by this court that the counterdefendant Directors and Trustees of DOQ are not in fact the directors of those entities. It further sought a declaration that those directors elected by the Synod of the EDQ remaining loyal to TEC were in fact the directors of those corporate entities. Those are inherently ecclesiastical questions which this court has no authority to determine.
Undeterred by Judge Ortbal, they are asking a different judge in a different county of Illinois to decide what he held a civil court cannot decide, without becoming too entangled in First Amendment matters of how people exercise their religion. Good luck with that.

Finally, the lawsuit ignores that the individual parishes and missions did not just leave ECUSA; the Diocese did. Those parishes and missions were members of that Diocese, and necessarily went with it. And Judge Ortbal found that the Diocese had acted properly in leaving, so as to retain control over its assets and property. So if the Diocese left properly, and if the parishes and missions were simply its members who went along with it, how can it be said that the propriety of their having left has not already been decided?

That last observation should dictate that this new lawsuit should be stayed in its entirety, pending the outcome of the current appeal from Judge Ortbal's decision.

The problem, however, is that to deal with this new lawsuit as it ought to be dealt with will cost money. To prepare and file a proper challenge to it will take thousands of dollars that the Diocese (with its funds just re-frozen by the appellate court) does not currently have at its disposal. And this, no doubt, is what Bishop Lee must be counting on when he writes in his press release:
... ultimately we still hope that God will use even these legal proceedings to bring us to a place of reconciliation and mutual respect in Christ.
You might start, Bishop, by having "mutual respect" for what the Anglican Diocese already won in court.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Coming Bailout of Obamacare

"Houston, we have a problem."

Peter Ferrara, the author of this disturbing analysis in The American Spectator, is an expert on the long-term problems of Social Security and other government welfare programs. His conclusion about the coming death spiral of Obamacare:
The pool the insurers end up covering, then, will be a lot more like the pool of all burnt down houses for fire insurers discussed above. The premiums the insurers receive from this adversely shrunken pool will not remotely cover the costs of that pool. Hence they will be facing bankruptcy next year, absent another taxpayer bailout of hundreds of billions. So the choice will be that, or socialized medicine, including the government death panels we see in every other country weighed down by this “enlightened” last century albatross.
There's really not much more that can be said. First the socialists wreck the healthcare insurance industry, then they cast the blame elsewhere, clamor for a taxpayer bailout to fix the mess they've created, and then use that bailout (à la GM) to put the entire system into the government's hands.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield, 1938-2013: Requiescat in pace

October 29, 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is with a heavy heart but a joyful spirit that I must share with you the passing of our beloved brother, the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield. Bishop Schofield died peacefully at home sometime last night sitting in his favorite green chair and was found this morning by friends. My heart is heavy because I am selfish and desire my brother by my side, but also joyful because I know that at this moment he has heard the words of our Lord, "Well done good and faithful servant." I can picture +John-David sitting at the banquet table of our Lord with his sister and parents who have gone before him.

As I write this note to you all I am in Rome with my wife, but will be returning home as soon as humanly possible. Dean Carlos Raines has anointed Bp. Schofield and begun the sad task of making funeral arrangements. We have nothing specific to share with you at this moment, but will let you know as soon as possible what the arrangements are for Bp. Schofield's funeral.

God Bless you all!

Bishop Eric Menees

Oh God, whose mercies cannot be numbered: Accept our prayers on behalf of thy servant John-David, Bishop, and grant him an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of thy saints; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

[From here.]

[UPDATE 11/04/2013: The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey shares his reminiscences of Bishop Schofield.]

Quincy Funds Frozen Again; Defense Fund Needs Help

As I explained in this earlier post, the Anglican Diocese of Quincy was successful in obtaining a judgment that it had sole title to its bank accounts and real property. The Episcopal Diocese of Quincy had already merged into the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago by the time the judgment was entered, so the only adverse party left before the court was the Episcopal Church (USA), represented by the Presiding Bishop's Chancellor, David Booth Beers, and by her Special Assistant for Litigation, Mary Kostel, as well as by local counsel Thomas B. Ewing, of Lewistown. They filed a motion to stay the effect of the judgment, i.e., to keep the Diocese of Quincy's funds in National City Bank in Peoria frozen pending appeal.

It should be noted that ECUSA never went through the formal steps to attach the Diocese's funds. It never submitted a motion for prejudgment attachment, or a declaration of hardship and necessity, and it never posted any bond. Mr. Beers simply wrote a letter to National City Bank purporting to advise it of the Church's claim on the funds, and stating that the Church would "hold [National City Bank] accountable for any dispositions made ... of such funds ...". The Bank responded by putting a hold on all of Quincy's accounts pending an order of court.

Thus the Diocese of Quincy was forced to file a lawsuit against ECUSA in order to try to recover the use of its operating and trust funds. That was in January 2009 -- nearly five years ago, when there was approximately $2.3 million in National City Bank. By the time judgment was entered, the untouched funds had grown (due to accumulated interest and appreciation) to about $4.1 million.

After Judge Ortbal heard ECUSA's motion for a stay pending appeal, he ordered that the judgment be stayed as to all except the sum of $1.1 million, which he directed the Bank to release so that the Diocese could pay deferred expenses, including its local counsel's legal fees. However, ECUSA objected even to this amount being released, and took its case to the Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeals in Springfield, Illinois.

It filed an emergency request for stay with that Court, citing the need to act before Judge Ortbal's limited stay could be carried into effect. Notwithstanding that the appeal had not yet been docketed with that Court, and notwithstanding that there was no opportunity for the Diocese of Quincy to file any kind of response to ECUSA's request, the Court of Appeals obliged, and issued a blanket stay on all funds of the Diocese pending the outcome of the appeal.

The Diocese's attorneys filed a motion to reconsider with the Court of Appeals, and pointed out that they had not been given a chance to be heard; nor had the Court required ECUSA to post any kind of bond for the stay -- all standard requirements for the issuance of any stay. On October 24, the Court summarily denied the motion for reconsideration without holding a hearing.

Needless to say, these summary actions by a single motions judge on the Court of Appeals are troubling, due to the lack of due process and fair play which they evince. And the consequences to the Diocese of Quincy, which had looked forward to being able to pay some of its bills, are considerable. ECUSA has no lack of funds to pay its attorneys during the appeal, but Quincy does not enjoy that luxury. Ever since 2009, it has had to survive on current donations. And ever since 2009, its local attorneys have gone largely unpaid for all their work.

Now the Diocese has put out an appeal for contributions to its Defense Fund in order to provide for some payment for the ongoing work of the appeal. (Note: your Curmudgeon has donated all of his legal time and expenses to the Diocese, and does not stand to benefit in any manner from the Quincy Defense Fund.) If the reader of this post is in any position to help with a contribution to the fund, which is administered by the American Anglican Council, he or she may send a check made payable to that organization (with a memo: "Quincy Defense Fund") to:

Mark Gamage
3914 W Crimson Road
Dunlap, IL 61525

On behalf of the Diocese of Quincy and its hard-working attorneys, I thank all those who can help, and ask the rest of you for your ongoing understanding and support.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Finally - a Clear Explanation of What's Unfixable about Obamacare

For weeks now, I have been reading accounts from all corners of the Web about why the Obamacare Website is not functional: there were too many people attempting to use it all at once; there were 500 million lines of code, and they couldn't all be tested before rollout; the code produces a "denial of service attack" on the site itself, etc., etc. All the result of partial guesses, but not the whole truth.

Now from a comment left at a site called Marginal Revolution by a certain Dan Hanson (h/t: Powerline blog, who [following an incorrect link at the MR site, wrongly credits the comment to Dan "Weber"]), there emerges clarity about the fatal flaw behind Obamacare. For the site to be able to give the would-be purchaser of insurance accurate pricing information, it first has to connect with a series of government and private servers:
The real problems are with the back end of the software. When you try to get a quote for health insurance, the system has to connect to computers at the IRS, the VA, Medicaid/CHIP, various state agencies, Treasury, and HHS. They also have to connect to all the health plan carriers to get pre-subsidy pricing. All of these queries receive data that is then fed into the online calculator to give you a price. If any of these queries fails, the whole transaction fails.  
Most of these systems are old legacy systems with their own unique data formats. Some have been around since the 1960′s, and the people who wrote the code that runs on them are long gone. If one of these old crappy systems takes too long to respond, the transaction times out.
In other words, the Obamacare site crashes because it can't get timely responses from some of the much older computers serving government agencies, which use completely different code, data formats and processing. So fixing the Obamacare site will actually mean fixing the older computers? Others at the MR site suggest that one can incorporate "timeout" failures into the coding, requiring purchasers to check back in later, but Mr. Hanson says that will not solve the main problem:
When you even contemplate bringing an old legacy system into a large-scale web project, you should do load testing on that system as part of the feasibility process before you ever write a line of production code, because if those old servers can’t handle the load, your whole project is dead in the water if you are forced to rely on them. There are no easy fixes for the fact that a 30 year old mainframe can not handle thousands of simultaneous queries. And upgrading all the back-end systems is a bigger job than the web site itself. Some of those systems are still there because attempts to upgrade them failed in the past. Too much legacy software, too many other co-reliant systems, etc. So if they aren’t going to handle the job, you need a completely different design for your public portal.  
A lot of focus has been on the front-end code, because that’s the code that we can inspect, and it’s the code that lots of amateur web programmers are familiar with, so everyone’s got an opinion. And sure, it’s horribly written in many places. But in systems like this the problems that keep you up at night are almost always in the back-end integration. 
The root problem was horrific management. The end result is a system built incorrectly and shipped without doing the kind of testing that sound engineering practices call for. These aren’t ‘mistakes’, they are the result of gross negligence, ignorance, and the violation of engineering best practices at just about every step of the way...
"Horrific management" does not begin to describe the problems with Obamacare. They began with a bill that was passed solely by Democrats in Congress, in violation of the rules and without any opportunity to read what was in it, and that had been drafted mostly by the lobbyists for, among a myriad of special interests, Big Insurance and Big Pharmaceutical -- who wanted to ensure that their clients would gain, and not lose, from the politically popular (but financially very costly) changes being made in coverage requirements.

They continued with a hare-brained scheme to subsidize the huge increase in costs by forcing everyone to purchase the new insurance, so that premiums paid by the young and healthy would offset the premiums for those with pre-existing conditions and other health disabilities. Enforcement would also be supported by the fact the insurance companies would have to cancel millions of existing policies in order to replace them with ones having all the fillips and curlicues required by Obamacare.

Example: a 61-year-old single male has his perfectly adequate health insurance policy canceled because Obamacare requires that he purchase a new policy which includes maternity coverage.

The law is so bad that Obama has already riddled it with exemptions for political cronies -- including Congress itself -- and now is talking about extending the deadline for the mandate to purchase coverage. (Never mind that he has no power to do that under the current law, and never mind that if he does so, the insurance companies will find themselves in an unsustainable position.)

What more proof is needed that Big Government should be kept away from health care? But the liberals in Congress who brought about this disaster aren't interested in proofs. They are interested only in wielding more power. They never admit to being the cause of failure. Instead, the more the failures mount, the more they will clamor for Government simply to take it all over, and eliminate the need for private insurance of any kind.

This is why the 2014 Congressional elections will be critical. Currently, the liberals have the White House and a majority of the Senate, but not the House. My hope is that, due to systemic and structural faults in Obamacare that will be irreparable before those elections, the liberals will be given their walking papers by an increasingly infuriated electorate. Or is Obama already ahead of us, and will H.L. Mencken once again prove him to be right?