Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

30 November 2006

An African prelate for England?

Archbishop Sentamu
Dr. Rowan Williams may well be remembered one day as the Archbishop of Canterbury who was unable to prevent the Anglican Communion splintering. His probable successor, Ugandan-born Dr John Sentamu, currently Archbishop of York, could go down in history as the man who infused a sorely-needed gospel message into a dying Church of England. Damian Thompson has published a fascinating analysis of the relationship among three prelates here: The archbishop's days are numbered. Much as the Irish reputedly re-evangelized Europe after the fall of the western Roman Empire, so might Africans come to re-evangelize a secularized Europe. Pray God this might come to pass.

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Defending Cuban labour leaders

Earlier this month two Redeemer alumni testified before a House of Commons subcommittee on human rights concerning the plight of imprisoned leaders of a suppressed independent trade union in Cuba. For those interested, a transcript of their testimony has been posted here.

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I spoke too soon. . .

Perhaps Turkey, with its poor record on religious freedom, would fit into Europe after all, if this story is any indication: Court upholds Nazi-era ban on homeschooling.

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27 November 2006

Turkish protest

Some 25 thousand Turkish citizens spent yesterday strengthening their country's case for admission to the European Union.

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English irregularities

Why is it that someone who practises astrology is not an astrologist? . . .that those studying theology are not theologers? . . .that one who studies biology is not a biologian?

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25 November 2006

Harper puts his foot in it too


The Conservatives have long had a reputation for being also-rans to the dominant Liberal Party. Now Prime Minister Stephen Harper appears bent on following in Liberal leadership-hopeful Michael Ignatieff's footsteps by moving to recognize "Quebeckers" (not Québec!) as a nation. Historian Michael Bliss believes that this constitutes nothing less than an attack on Canada. Although I disagree with Bliss's vilification of asymmetrical federalism, I believe his analysis of the implications of the different uses of nation in the Canadian context is worthy of note.

Later: Theresa was a bit alarmed reading the National Post's headline: "Canada under attack." This set the stage for Daddy to teach her two lessons: (1) the persistence of Québec separatism; and (2) the reality of editors using deliberate overstatement to sell newspapers. This conversation will surely make our eventual talk about the facts of life seem dull by comparison.

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23 November 2006

Global solidarity expanded

On the first of this month, two umbrella labour organizations, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL), disbanded to form a single body, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Because the Christian Labour Association of Canada was a member of the WCL, which had christian and pluralist roots, it is now de facto a member of ITUC, something which it shares, ironically, with those unions affiliated with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).

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Lebanon in crisis

I suppose we are justified in assuming a causal connection between this and this. Perhaps it's time to put away our automobiles and take the bus.

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Norge-Bulgaria 10/11

Given my ethnic Greek background, I am thoroughly accustomed to asymmetrical metres such as 5/4 and 7/8 time. All the same, I found that the rhythm of this delightful piece, composed by a Norwegian in the Bulgarian style, didn't come easily and took some time to pick up on. It alternates measures in 10/8 and 11/8 time.

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Recent publications

For those interested, here are four articles of mine that have recently come out:
  1. "Socialism," in the New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics;
  2. "Center for Public Justice" and "Russell Amos Kirk," in the Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Politics; and
  3. "Persuaded, Not Commanded: Neo-Calvinism, Dignitatis Humanae, and Religious Freedom," in Catholicism and Religious Freedom.

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21 November 2006

Vexillologist honoured by Queen's representative


The Right Rev. Ralph Spence, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara, has been awarded the title of Herald Extraordinary by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada. Bishop Spence thereby becomes a member of her household. Whether he will actually be moving in to Rideau Hall remains unclear.

Incidentally, Spence designed the crest for Redeemer University College (shown at left) some 25 years ago.

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20 November 2006

Wallis on religion and democracy

This is from last friday's entry by Jim Wallis on the God's Politics blog:

I believe that religion does indeed have a great contribution to the nation’s moral discourse on public life, but religion must be disciplined by democracy. That means that we don’t claim that our religious authority must be everyone’s or dictate their moral or political fate. Rather, religious people must win the debate, just like everybody else, about what is best—not for the religious community or only faith-inspired citizens—but for the common good [emphasis mine].

For a brief moment some thirty years ago, I was an enthusiast for Wallis' approach. This was long before he published a best-seller, and it was just before his flagship magazine, the Post-American, changed its name to Sojourners. I was enamoured by its vaunted radicalism and prophetic tone at a time when I was becoming disillusioned with the American civil religion so many Christians in that country accepted at face value.

Now I freely admit that I have changed in the ensuing decades (albeit not on civil religion), but I find myself wondering whether Wallis himself has modified his message since then. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but to argue that "religion must be disciplined by democracy" simply does not sound all that prophetic to me. Of course I understand what he's trying to get at with the above-quoted paragraph. Nevertheless, he seems to be making democracy the grand arbiter of what sorts of claims by people of faith are acceptable in the public square.

Furthermore, he ignores a long tradition that sees democracy in some sense as part of the problem. One thinks in this respect of the warnings of Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill against the dangers of majoritarian tyranny. Indeed it would seem more "prophetic" (if I may be permitted that word) to recognize that a democracy undisciplined by a christian worldview is itself a potential danger to the common weal, as Robert Kraynak argues in the first part of his Christian Faith and Modern Democracy.

In his recent review of God's Politics, Paul Marshall points out that the Old Testament prophets called God's people back to obedience to his law. By contrast, contemporary Christians claiming the prophetic mantle are usually not similarly focussed. Wallis in particular is hardly proclaiming "thus saith the Lord" to his compatriots. Quite the contrary, he is urging people of faith to temper their claims for the sake of the common good, whatever he might mean by this.

Yet if all people are in the grip of some faith, whether or not it is conventionally labelled religious, why then would Wallis' warning not also extend to the followers of secularizing political ideologies claiming for themselves hegemony over the public square? Should liberalism and socialism also be "disciplined by democracy"? Or is the problem only with those who believe in a transcendent God with the temerity to tell his image-bearing creatures how they ought to live? If Wallis holds to the latter position, then one wonders what exactly he is calling people back to and in what sense he might still profess to be engaging in prophetic activity.

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A change of heart?

Rumour has it that my friend Gideon Strauss will shortly be posting this sign in his office:

Farmers feed cities

Next thing you know he'll be wearing overalls and a straw hat to work.

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18 November 2006

The lost art of cursive handwriting

I was recently astonished to discover that many of my students appear not to be able to write in cursive. This hampers them during examinations when time is of the essence and they need to write quickly. When I was an undergraduate back in the dark ages, we wrote out, not only our exams, but our term papers in longhand, typing them up only when we had them completed and properly edited. Nowadays it seems that everyone composes on the computer keyboard, as, admittedly, do I myself. This article confirms my impression that Cursive [is] nearly a lost art. I would be interested to know how many readers of this blog, especially the younger ones, actually write in cursive.

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15 November 2006

On hypocrisy . . . again

From Robert T. Miller:

A man is not a hypocrite because he violates a moral norm in which he sincerely believes. President Clinton, I am sure, believes that adultery is wrong, and he violated the norm against it in his dalliance with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky; but this made him an adulterer, not a hypocrite. Similarly, decent parents think they ought to be patient with their children, but an overworked mother who snaps at her child at the end of a long day is guilty of impatience, not hypocrisy. Violating norms we sincerely accept does not make us hypocrites. If it did, hypocrisy would not be a peculiar kind of wrongdoing but a concomitant of all wrongdoing.

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'Why are there wars?'

As indicated some days ago, last sunday I preached a sermon with this title at the Church of St. John the Evangelist. Anyone interested in receiving a copy of the text (to which I did not entirely stick) is welcome to contact me and I will send it via email attachment.

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13 November 2006

Big breakthrough

This might well be more significant than the development of the personal computer or the blackberry: CSIRO develops air guitar t-shirt. And just in time for Christmas when we're all puzzling over what to give our young male friends and relatives. Here's the company's podcast describing this groundbreaking invention.

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10 November 2006

Ecclesial oversight . . . or the lack thereof

The Ted Haggard case calls attention to an important issue addressed in this Associated Press article: US evangelist sex scandal raises questions about 'superstar' megachurch pastors. I myself have never been an enthusiast for independent church congregations, especially of the "megachurch" variety. There is something unhealthy about a huge congregation revolving so heavily around one person's ministry. There is often little oversight, and certainly not from outside the congregation, since there is no denominational machinery that might provide it. At its worst this sort of arrangement can produce a cult of personality. However, I think the second statement below is not entirely accurate:

Nearly all megachurches are independent from a denomination — an asset for their flexibility, but a liability when it comes to checks on power. By contrast, mainline Protestant denominations vet clergy credentials and have elaborate systems of church tribunals, similar to civil courts, that discipline errant ministers.

I do not know what the word errant is intended to convey here, but the larger protestant denominations have mostly given up on the idea of doctrinal error, even in their own leadership. The Anglican Church of Canada, as just one example, has no means of reining in a rogue bishop. The irony is compounded when one considers that the Greek word επίσκοπος (bishop) literally means overseer, thus raising that ancient question of who will oversee the overseers. Unfortunately the Anglican Church has not answered this adequately in its own ecclesiastical polity.

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09 November 2006

In Canadian terms. . .

George W. Bush now has a minority government and is in the process of shuffling his cabinet.

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08 November 2006

Hypocrisy: the unforgivable sin?

To be honest, I had not heard of the Rev. Ted Haggard until his name made it into the news a few days ago. The one-time pastor of New Life Church and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals has resigned both positions, admitting to having committed sexual indiscretions. By now this is an old story and very nearly a cliché: the publicly visible evangelical leader who is brought down amidst charges of hypocrisy, an occasion for schadenfreude amongst those who dislike the man's message and now apparently have further reason to ignore it.

Three years ago in this space I asked: "Have you ever noticed that when charges of hypocrisy are levelled against someone, it is almost always in the interest of loosening standards rather than tightening them?" Indeed I quite like what Francis J. Beckwith has to say in The Case of Ted Haggard, an article worth reading in full:

For Jesus, hypocrisy is clearly wrong, but it is a wrong intimately tied to a type of moral and spiritual triumphalism, just the sort that one finds in the writings of those who gleefully celebrate the moral failings of Pastor Haggard. Those who think of the detecting and condemnation of hypocrisy as sport, which is the dominant understanding of the liberal-secular chattering class, are not serious about the wrongness of hypocrisy. For such seriousness requires a tragic understanding of the human condition, that one is just as susceptible to sin's temptation as any other, and that it is only by God's grace and the support of the church that we can find forgiveness, redemption, and the strength to carry our cross. But the liberal-secular chattering class does not believe any of this. So, their detection and condemnation of hypocrisy is disingenuous at best and mean-spirited at worst.

A sinner has fallen, and for that we should mourn. It is certainly not a cause for smugness or superiority in those so eager to condemn. Contrary to popular opinion, hypocrisy is not the unforgivable sin. Nor is sexual sin. With repentance of both comes forgiveness in Jesus Christ, which should be our prayer for Haggard.

Later: I had not seen these videos when I wrote the above entry. Admittedly, these make it difficult not to conclude that Haggard is guilty of wilful deception more than mere hypocrisy. Still, my prayer is for his repentance and restoration.

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06 November 2006

Which PR? Part II

In my previous post on this topic, I argued for adopting a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system for Canada, and offered two reasons. More reasons follow below.

You have two votes
Third, although it is not necessarily an intrinsic part of MMP, the German variety provides for a 5 percent exclusion clause. German citizens have two votes, one for a local candidate representing a single-member constituency and another for a party list, as shown at right. Although many Germans split their votes, casting one for a deputy representing one party while voting for another party's list, they tend to cast both votes for the same party. If a party wins fewer than 3 single-member seats and less than 5 percent of the vote on the list side, it will receive no party-list seats at all. If, however, the party receives 3 or more single-member seats or succeeds in getting more than 5 percent of the list seats, it will receive the full number of seats to which it is entitled on the list side. The end result is a parliament that is roughly proportional, though not precisely so.

The reason for the exclusion clause is to prevent splinter parties and extremists from cluttering up the Bundestag. In the aftermath of the Second World War, when Germany had suffered through a dozen years of nazi misrule, a mechanism seemed necessary to prevent a resurgent national socialist party from entering parliament, as well as to put a premium on co-operation amongst would-be partisan groupings within the context of larger and more broad-based parties. This, it was hoped, would prevent the sort of cabinet instability plaguing the Weimar Republic between 1919 and 1933. More than half a century later, we can judge that MMP in Germany has been a success.

Admittedly, it has not succeeded everywhere. The Russian Federation has used a form of MMP since 1993, along with an exclusion clause. Unfortunately, because most political parties there tend to revolve around the personalities of local figures rather than around a programme commanding a nationwide following, up to half the electorate has gone unrepresented because their parties have not succeeded in surmounting the hurdle posed by the exclusion clause. As a consequence, next year's parliamentary elections will be contested on a straight party list system, which is almost certainly not appropriate for a country as large and diverse as Russia. We'll see how it works when the time comes.

Fourth and finally, MMP is more likely to be accepted within the North American context than, say, STV or a provincial/state party list system, as favoured by Skillen. Because single-member seats would continue to be contested, it would be less disruptive of something with which voters are by now thoroughly familiar. At this point, I would tend to favour dispensing with a party-list vote altogether and simply compensating with additional seats those parties with fewer seats than would be justified by their proportion of the popular vote. The end result would be not precisely proportional, but certainly more proportional than is currently the case. Little would change for the voters themselves, but they would know that, with their "losing" votes being combined to create extra seats, they would not be wasting their votes, as they effectively do now. This would almost certainly boost voter turnout in the two countries.

I might add that past editorials in The Globe and Mail have been on-side of adopting MMP here in Canada. Here in Ontario a Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform is getting off the ground, and public consultations are to be held. British Columbia went through a similar exercise, and a referendum last year came close to mandating the adoption of STV, largely through Nick Loenen's efforts.

I wonder, however, if it might be better for Ontario citizens to vote initially on the principle of PR versus FPTP, and then, if the former is approved, hold a second preferential ballot on the form of PR to be adopted. Some of the no votes in BC might have come from people who liked PR but disliked STV. Let's not make the same mistake here.

There is, of course, a possible drawback in adopting PR within the Canadian context, where we are accustomed to single-party "majority" governments that generally have the support of only between 38 and 43 percent of the electorate. Our last two governments have been single-party minority governments. If PR were adopted, we would probably never have another majority government again. Yet we could not keep having elections every year or so. This is where we reach the limits of institutional reform and where our developing unwritten constitution would have to fill in. Though we Canadians have had little experience with multiparty coalition governments, we would have to overcome our reluctance to see one party consorting with the "enemy" and consider this possibility. In fact, such coalition governments would be necessary if the political system as a whole is to continue functioning properly.

In the meantime, I plan to follow the work of the Ontario Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform, and I may even make a submission.

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05 November 2006

Why are there wars?

At the Locke Street Festival some weeks ago, the Church of St. John the Evangelist invited passers-by to write on a flip chart any question they might wish to ask God. One of these was "Why are there wars?" Noting that I would be participating in a workshop on war and peace at the upcoming ICS Worldview Conference, David Anderson, the rector, asked whether I would address this question in a sermon on sunday, 12 November, the day after Remembrance Day. I agreed to do so and will thus preach at next sunday's 9.30 am service. All are welcome to attend. The church is located at the northwest corner of Locke Street and Charlton Avenue here in Hamilton.

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02 November 2006

Dijkema doings

I am pleased to announce that Mr. Brian M. K. Dijkema will be teaching Canadian Foreign Policy (POL 308) at Redeemer University College during the winter term of 2007. Mr. Dijkema is a graduate of Redeemer's political science programme and is currently working for the Christian Labour Association of Canada. He will shortly be receiving a master's degree from the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto.

If you have a paper copy of today's National Post, please see page A-21 where Dijkema has published an opinion piece titled, Cheering on a Dictator. Here is the summary: "Cuban workers have no rights. So why does the communist regime enjoy the support of the Canadian Labour Congress?"

Congratulations are due to Mr. Dijkema for both of the above items.

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