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Cold War Law and Order: The Presbyterian Journal On the Vietnam War and Protests, 1965-1975   7 comments

Confession of Faith PCUS

Above:  The Cover of a 1973 Reprint of the Southern Presbyterian Confession of Faith, with Amendments Through 1963

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Book from the Library of Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Today, while transferring an electronic copy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Book of Occasional Services (1999) to a DVD-R, I found a paper I researched and wrote seven years ago, finalizing almost seven years to the day, at the end of my short and unpleasant tenure as a graduate student in the Department of History at The University of Georgia (UGA).  The paper still holds up well and is, of course, an example of thorough documentation.  Thus I have edited it very slightly before posting it here and adding a few pictures.

A historical notice:  The Presbyterian Journal helped to bring the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) into existence in December 1973, functioning as a sort of midwife.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 9, 2013 COMMON ERA

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A Related Post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/devotion-for-the-nineteenth-and-twentieth-days-of-easter-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Cold War Law and Order:

The Presbyterian Journal on the Vietnam War and Protests, 1965-1975

There is a right to dissent and this right must be preserved.  But when dissent is expressed in perverse forms, men make a mockery of this basic right and in so doing destroy patriotism and defile the memory of those who died to preserve the right to dissent.

The Presbyterian Journal, 31 May 1967[1]

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…patriotism itself requires us to be self-critical of our national life….We must obey God rather than men.

–Faith and Patriotism Majority Report,

Presbyterian Church in the United States, 1973[2]

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The Vietnam War opened an ideological chasm founded upon concepts of patriotism in American society.  The conflict in Indochina raised profound and controversial questions about dissent and the definition of responsible citizenship.  For example, should one support the war du jour by military service or other means?  In early twenty-first century America, contemporary prominent politicians’ actions as young men of draft age have dogged them on the election stage.  The differing experiences of William Jefferson Clinton, John Forbes Kerry, and George Walker Bush bear testimony to this fact.  Many men, such as those named above, made decisions and pursued courses of action that violated certain definitions of patriotism and nationalism.[3]

According to many religious conservatives, citizens were obliged to obey governments, which God had appointed.  This seemed especially important during time of war.  Yet, according to an opposing point of view, Hebrew prophets had challenged authority figures.  Thus, obedience to civil authority did not necessarily fall within the realm of faithfulness of God.   This ideological conflict, which the Vietnam War prompted, ignited debates about patriotism and theological orthodoxy within the southern Presbyterian Church in the United States.  The denomination, which divided in 1973, debated these and other issues from the middle 1960s to the early 1970s.  Patriotism and orthodoxy were not isolated concerns; they played out against a backdrop of civil rights, civil disobedience, abortion, and the roles of women in church and society.  The Church was changing, and many conservatives wanted to freeze time or to roll back the clock.[4]

Many of these conservatives and reactionaries read and/or wrote for The Presbyterian Journal, which extolled virtues of fighting Communism and obeying authority.  This right-wing patriotism excluded public dissent, which allegedly aided and abetted the enemy.  Thus, the Journal condemned denominational affirmations of civil disobedience and denunciations of the war.

The Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (PCCSA) formed at the First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Georgia, in December 1861.  This action created a sectional body more conservative than any of its “northern” (actually national) counterparts.  Until the 1930s and 1940s, mainline Presbyterian denominations were relatively conservative by early twenty-first century standards.  Whether national or sectional, they condemned Sabbath breaking, drinking, evolution, and artificial contraception.  By the middle twentieth century, however, standards had relaxed and social concerns beyond individual vices assumed prominent places in denominational programs.  The southern Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), successor to the Confederate Church, changed later and more slowly than its main competition, the national Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA).[5]

The Presbyterian Church in the United States began to liberalize in the 1930s.  Once unthinkable propositions found receptive homes among many ecclesiastical leaders.  For example, Neo-Orthodoxy, with its emphasis on Christian-inspired social activism, became increasingly acceptable in official circles during the Great Depression.  Surely, advocates said, the PCUS must begin to address social injustices.  Toward this end, the 1934 General Assembly, or annual convention, created the Committee on Social and Moral Reform.  Just two years later, the Committee condemned war, economic injustice, lynching, and racial segregation, as well as the traditional targets of gambling, drinking, and Sabbath entertainments.[6]

The existence of the Committee on Social and Moral Reform represented a departure from the traditional Southern Presbyterian standard of faith and doctrine.  In 1861, when the PCUS formed as the Confederate Church, theologian James Henley Thornwell proposed the Spirituality of the Church, or ecclesiastical non-interference with issues he defined as secular, and therefore reserved to the government.  The Church’s mission, he claimed, was spiritual, not political.  This approach to moral concern defined “spiritual” so narrowly as to exclude matters such as slavery and economic exploitation.  Thus, for example, the Church had authority to quote the Scriptures and to comment on the moral justifications for slavery yet had no grounds to tell any government what to do with regard to the peculiar institution.  In essence, the Spirituality of the Church supported the status quo—initially slavery but later Jim Crow and eventually the Vietnam War—by not questioning it.[7]

The Presbyterian Journal (The Southern Presbyterian Journal until 1958) supported the old theological order the Spirituality of the Church represented.  The first issue, that of May 1942, rejected social activism, especially concerning civil rights.  The Southern Presbyterian Church belonged to the Federal Council of Churches, a left-leaning ecumenical alliance and one of the forerunners of the National Council of Churches.  The Federal Council had issued anti-segregationist statements and insisted that its member bodies encourage racial equality.  In response Dr. L. Nelson Bell, a former medical missionary and the founder of the Journal, wrote, “The Federal Council has caused confusion and resentment by constant meddling, in economic, social, and racial matters.”[8]

The Journal published many defenses of segregation and condemnations of civil rights leaders and activists for over twenty-five years.  According to the Journal, racial segregation was Biblical.  Thus, the races should not mix publicly or illicitly.  In addition, no law could correct racial injustice.  Only “mutual love, forbearance and Christian courtesy” could do that.  Thus, according to the Journalers, civil rights leaders and advocates, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., were extremists.  The Journal’s editorial policy changed slightly in November 1966, when the magazine ceased to defend segregation.  Nevertheless, the publication continued to print the term “civil rights” in quotation marks and to condemn civil rights laws and social Christianity, whether in the form of the Social Gospel or Neo-Orthodoxy.[9]

The anti-Vietnam War movement overlapped with the civil rights movement in two important ways.  First, certain key figures, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., participated in both.  Second, both featured civil disobedience.  And the Journal objected strenuously to King and civil disobedience.  The magazine’s editorial board expressed this contempt clearly after King’s April 1968 assassination.  “Martin Luther King,” they wrote, “was not a man we admired.”  According to the magazine, everything J. Edgar Hoover had said about King was correct; the dead reverend had been a subversive.  The editorial then affirmed equal opportunities regardless of race and deplored civil disobedience:  “Until law and order prevail, social justice will never be perfected.”[10]

The Journal writers argued against the official declarations of their denomination, which they considered too liberal.  These conservative (sometimes even reactionary) voices contended that pacifism, liberal church activism, civil disobedience, antiwar protests, and other alleged forms of lawlessness indicated moral and spiritual decline and decay in the nation and the Southern Presbyterian Church.  This point of view contained Cold War containment elements, for it argued that Communist domination constituted the ultimate alternative to supporting the war effort and obeying the law.

Several official and unofficial actions prompted such tirades.  For example, the Presbyterian Church in the United States had condemned the Vietnam War and endorsed civil disobedience, a tactic of both the antiwar and the civil rights movements, which the Journalers opposed.  The 1966 General Assembly had affirmed the rule of law, recognized the existence of unjust laws, and stated that civil disobedience was justifiable when it constituted the only way to express one’s grievances.  A majority of delegates to the same gathering recommended negotiations to end the war and stated that the U.S. should not bomb civilian targets.  These actions, according to Morton H. Smith, a founding father of the Presbyterian Church in America, violated the Spirituality of the Church.  The Journal argued that Chapter 33 of the Westminster Confession of Faith forbade such political statements.[11]  The germane section of that chapter read:

Synods or councils are to handle or to conclude nothing but that which is ecclesiastical:  and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth unless by humble petition in cases extraordinary; or by way of advice for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required to by the civil magistrate.[12]

Apparently, critics focused more on the first part of this quote than on the second portion, which follows “unless.”

Official opposition to the Vietnam War continued.  In 1967, the Standing Committee on Church and Society, successor to the initial social concerns committee, posed seven rhetorical questions about the war.  They asked whether one could reconcile Christian love for the Vietnamese with support for the war.  The 1968 General Assembly urged the federal government to respect the right of individuals to object to military service conscientiously.  The objection, printed in the Minutes without comment, affirmed that the federal government ought to respect this right but that the Church had no right to address this issue or to assist objectors.[13]

The Southern Presbyterian Church continued to address the war anyway.  The 1969 General Assembly affirmed the denomination’s 20-year-old stance regarding conscientious objection when it urged the federal government to provide non-combat alternatives to objectors.  The following year, the General Assembly reminded objectors who belonged to the PCUS to register with the Office of the Stated Clerk, which administered the denomination, so they could receive assistance in finding community service projects.  The body almost called for an immediate end to the war in 1971, but protests from the floor prevented that.  Finally, in 1972, Ben L. Rose, the Moderator, condemned the war as immoral.[14]

Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the Journalers’ least favorite people, had also condemned the war.  He had begun to criticize the Vietnam War as early as March 1965.  The war, King said, was accomplishing nothing.  Furthermore, war itself, not North Vietnam, was the enemy.  Yet King saved his strongest statements for 1967 and 1968.  He argued that the imperialistic war sapped economic resources from Great Society programs.  Furthermore, according to King, the conflict manipulated poor black youth, whom white society had denied equality, and sent them into harm’s way overseas in the name of guaranteeing the freedom of others.  Even worse, the minister contended, the war killed Vietnamese civilians and still solved no problems.[15]

King had received an invitation to speak at a Christian Action Conference at the denomination’s conference center at Montreat, North Carolina, in August 1965, a year and a half before his full-throated opposition to the Vietnam War.  Even then, this invitation prompted protests at the General Assembly.  The majority of delegates rejected demands to rescind the civil rights leader’s invitation or even to invite opposing speakers.  L. Nelson Bell, a delegate to the 1965 General Assembly, dissented from the denomination’s action on the floor and in the Journal’s pages.  Peaceful protests exceeded the Church’s jurisdiction and were inconsistent with Christian witness, he said.  Besides, the invitation would “prove a source of deep misunderstanding and added difficulty” for many Southern Presbyterian ministers.[16]

The Christian Action Conference did not provide salve for critics’ concerns.  King called the recent Watts riot a “class revolt” and condemned police brutality and economic conditions as causes for the riot.  African American Dr. Gayraud S. Wilmore, the Director of the “northern” United Presbyterian Church’s Commission on Religion and Race, also spoke.  He praised nonviolent direct action as a way of confronting evil, whose “incompatibility with the Kingdom of God” it demonstrated.  The Conference affirmed the King-Southern Christian Leadership Conference wing of the civil rights movement, which the Journalers opposed.  Editor G. Aiken Taylor referred to this incident six years later, as the Presbyterian Church in America, which the Journal was helping to create, gestated.  He listed evidence of perceived doctrinal drift (his grievances) in the Southern Presbyterian Church by category.  Taylor included the King appearance at Montreat under “Church and Society,” along side 1967-1971 official and unofficial antiwar activities.[17]

Book of Confessions UPCUSA

Above:  The Cover of the 1967 Edition of the United Presbyterian Book of Confessions

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Book from the Library of Kenneth Randolph Taylor

            The more liberal and “northern” United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., with whom the Southern Presbyterians were slowly approaching reunion, issued its new confession of faith, The Confession of 1967.  This document became controversial in part because it opposed racism and the Vietnam War.[18]  Regarding war, the Confession said:

God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of peace, justice, and freedom among nations which all powers of government are called to serve and defend.  The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace.  This search requires that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across every line of conflict, even at the risk of national security, to reduce areas of strife and to broaden international understanding.  Reconciliation among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, diverting their manpower and resources from constructive uses and risking the annihilation of mankind.  Although nations may serve God’s purposes in history, the church which identifies one way of life with the cause of God denies the Lordship of Christ and betrays its calling.[19]

In the tradition of Dr. King and The Confession of 1967, William A. Benfield, Jr., a former moderator of the Southern Presbyterian Church, participated in a March 1971 ecumenical delegation of U.S. churchmen who traveled to Paris and spoke with the negotiating teams.  The church leaders did this as part of the “Set the Date Now” initiative, which demanded an end to the war by 31 December 1971.  Benfield assured PCUS critics that he had done this as a private citizen and that he had spent no church funds on the mission.  This did not assuage the Journalers, who accused Benfield and his partners of consorting with the enemy (Vietnamese Communists) and of being egotistical and naïve.  According the critics, the visiting clergymen should not have meddled in international affairs above their heads.[20]

In addition, many liberal clergymen and seminary professors (Southern Presbyterian and otherwise) opposed and demonstrated against the Vietnam War.  Some of them based this position on pacifism or assisted young men in draft evasion.  The National Council of Churches, to which the Southern Presbyterian Church belonged, also opposed the war.  According to the Journal, these liberal churchmen and organizations committed treason or were Communist dupes or were just naïve, yet were definitely subversive.[21]

The Journalers called these religious antiwar activists “so-called men of God” who conducted a “vicious campaign” against U.S. policy in Vietnam.  Furthermore, the war was justifiable because it was a battle for freedom against satanic Communism.  Thus, according to these critics, antiwar activists were “sinister” for two main reasons.  First, social Christianity was so concerned with this life that its goals were akin to Socialism and Communism.  And many of these activists were social Christians.  Second, the antiwar movement allegedly gave aid and comfort to the enemy, and was therefore treasonous.  Real, patriotic Americans and Christians supported the war effort, many Journal articles and editorials claimed.[22]

The Journal’s pro-war and anti-protest arguments contained several overlapping segments.  First, God was either smiting or rebuking the United States for assorted sins.  These transgressions included diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, social Christianity (as in the Social Gospel and Neo-Orthodoxy), pornography, sexual indulgence, greed, and ecclesiastical support for civil disobedience, the anti-war movement, and other protests.  According to the Journalers, all of the above constituted the abandonment of what had once made the nation great.  According to Memphis, Tennessee, businessman Robert M. Metcalf, Jr., Calvinist doctrines and Puritan values had made America strong.  Their “sickness and death” as “effective influences in American life” had allegedly rendered the nation impotent and devoid of the “spiritual and moral backbone” required to resist international Communism.[23]

The specter of Communism vexed these verbose members of Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority.”  A November 1965 editorial summarized the Journal’s tone:  “Liberal religion doesn’t think America should be engaged in war.  Especially against the Communists.”  Liberalism was apparently a satanic strategy, for it had the same effect on the Church as Communism had on nations—destruction.  Liberalism, of course, allegedly equaled confusion and unbelief.   Furthermore, much of the content (antiwar, pro-civil rights, etc.) of much United Presbyterian and National Council of Churches material was supposedly more socialistic than theological, and thereby undermined the foundations of Christianity.  This theological drift had allegedly compromised the execution of the war and weakened the U.S.A.’s resolve to fight Communism.  The premature end of the Vietnam War and the “destruction of righteousness and justice at home” would certainly doom the nation within a few years.[24]

With stakes that high, academic freedom for professors who engaged in or encouraged civil disobedience seemed unacceptable.  According to the Journalers, civil disobedience threatened law and order, and thereby imperiled the U.S.A.’s existence.  Certainly, (literally) right-thinking men of God had to rise up and save the nation from such a fate, the handiwork of “so-called ‘intellectuals’” and traitors.  To cloak treason as “freedom of speech” was apparently to pave the road to dictatorship.  And the liberal churches, including the PCUS, were supposedly participating in this process.   They had allegedly forgotten to balance responsibility with freedom.  According to the Journalers, antiwar protests were irresponsible, as was civil disobedience in all but a few cases, for it degenerated into lawlessness easily.[25]

The Journalers also condemned pacifism.  They wrote that war was horrible yet sometimes necessary.  In addition, pacifism was allegedly un-Christian because it proceeded from a false assumption—that peace could come from a source other than God.  Furthermore, pacifism, no matter how commendable as an ideal, was supposedly unrealistic, and victory was preferable to surrender.  The Journalers also opposed lawbreaking, which they considered another troublesome aspect of pacifism.  Apparently, anarchy would result if too many people were to resist conscription.  The consequences would be dire:  this would weaken the nation and aid and abet Communist conquest.[26]

Two extended examples from the Journal brought certain apprehensions and attitudes into sharp relief.  The first was the youth program for the week of 24 September 1969.  The biblical text was Romans 13:1-7, which speaks of obeying civil authority.  The Reverend B. Hoyt Evans, author of the program, listed six obligations of citizens:  to understand constitutional government, to vote, to obey laws, to serve on juries, to be willing to serve in the military, and to pursue legal changes in unjust laws.  The program stated, “…it is the revealed will of God that we be loyal and obedient citizens, and there is always blessedness in obeying God.”  Evans stressed law and order in a turbulent time.[27]

Almost two years later, the Journal published an advertisement from Great Commission Publications, of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a mainly northern conservative denomination.  The advertisement for Sunday School curriculum featured a line drawing of a boy leaning back in his chair and sporting a malicious facial expression.  The text read:

Student Unrest

in your

SUNDAY SCHOOL?

Plagued by “activists” and minor forms of student “violence” in class?  Is indifference to traditional Bible lessons undermining your attendance?

We can’t guarantee to revolutionize your Sunday School. All we do is offer materials to help teacher and student alike to discover what God’s Word says to the revolutionary ideas of the modern scientific age.

It’s a totally new concept in Sunday School curriculum—the Bible in perspective—and its built into a brand new course for juniors.  Whether you want to make a revolution in your Sunday School—or fight one—send for your free samples today.  We think you’ll find them very interesting—maybe even revolutionary enough to put down the rebellion in your Sunday School.[28]

Again, order became the emphasis.

Finally, victory in the Vietnam War allegedly constituted a moral imperative because foreign missions required protection.  What could be more important than saving souls?  Thus, antiwar clergymen apparently did not understand the situation on the ground in Vietnam, where the Communists threatened Christians daily and killed or tortured many of them.  In 1967, as ecclesiastical criticism of the war increased, Dutch Reformed chaplain G. P. Murray expressed exasperation with liberal, antiwar clergymen when he wrote, “I have had it!”  Furthermore, according to Murray, regardless of what King claimed, the war was not imperialistic; it was about freedom.  And the high price was worth paying.  Those who opposed the war, however, allegedly played into the hands of the Communists.[29]

Thus, the brand of Southern Presbyterianism the Journal represented emphasized law, order, and anti-Communism.  It discouraged social activism and overt dissent from the Vietnam War in the name of these three causes and of the Spirituality of the Church.  As the following pages will demonstrate, nothing changed after the January 1973 cease-fire.

The Vietnam War proper ended in January 1973—at least for the United States.  In the wake of that conflict, the Southern Presbyterian Church thanked God for returning prisoners of war, asked the federal government to continue negotiations with the North Vietnamese, and expressed concern for those missing in action and other victims of war—“refugees, widows, orphans, and rejected children born out of wedlock.”[30]

The same General Assembly also approved a “Faith and Patriotism” report.  The Church stated that Americans should care more about the needs of others and the nation than about “private happiness” and value “justice and mercy” more highly than “order and stability.”  Furthermore, Americans should protect liberty, including that of dissenters, on whom the federal government had spied.  Patriotism, the PCUS decreed, “requires us to be self-critical of our national life.”  In conclusion, the first allegiance should be to God:  “We must obey God rather than men.”[31]

The minority report, which the General Assembly rejected, differed from the majority report in important ways.  First, the minority report omitted references to improper obsessions with acquiring property and protecting property rights, as well as the disproportionate American consumption of natural resources.  Second, the minority report removed the references to excessive concern for stability and law and order in lieu of social justice, to federal support for authoritarian regimes, and the criticism of military (not justice)-driven foreign policy.  Third, the minority report excised the condemnation of government spying on citizens and of denouncing criticism of the government as seditious and unpatriotic.[32]

The Journalers favored the less critical minority report, of course.  The Journal coverage of the report quoted delegate Edwin O. Meyer, who claimed that the majority report “would bring comfort to those who for unknown reasons want to discredit our country.”  Danny Berry, another delegate who spoke out against the majority report, argued in the pages of the Journal that the Church had apologized for being American.  The United States, he insisted, was “the last bastion against godless or atheistic governmental structures,” and that God might yet “choose for our nation a great work.”[33]

This defensive nationalistic attitude also continued to condemn pacifism, especially that of the Mennonites.  A February 1973 editorial mentioned that a new book by a prominent Mennonite author (both unnamed) defined the politics of Jesus as “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you…Do to others what you would have them do to you.”  The Mennonite was wrong, the editorial claimed, for he confused personal ethics with a viable political system.  Actually, the politics of Jesus consisted of, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”  The Reverend Lonnie L. Richardson of Charlotte, North Carolina, replied that the Journalers’ “real hang-up” was actually with Jesus, for obeying the Christ and rendering unto Caesar did not “preclude love of one’s enemies as a basis of Christian political behavior.”[34]

The militaristic Journal printed retrospective recriminations of antiwar activists and liberal clergymen from 1973 to 1975.  They thanked Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon for fighting Communism and lauded young soldiers, “who performed their distasteful duty with courage, honor, and integrity, despite the discouraging efforts of the swelling tide of subversion at home, where a campaign of lies produced a faltering effort and even corrupted the original high purpose for which many died.”[35]

The Journal also printed criticisms of all those who had opposed the war effort.  These individuals and organizations were supposedly “dedicated enemies of freedom” whose work had prolonged the war and led to defeat and the exodus of missionaries from Vietnam.[36]  That alleged gallery of rogues included the Presbyterian Church in the United States, in 1972, which had published its proposed revised Confession of Faith, which echoed the United Presbyterian Confession of 1967.  The Journal published the document verbatim. The warfare section read:

God is involved in the effort to end wars.

He wills peace on earth and calls peacemakers his children.

His purposes are thwarted when nations amass and aim weapons that can

annihilate millions of human beings,

when armies uproot people from their homes, slaughter helpless children and old people, destroy the earth’s productivity,

when the military and industries allied with it control and determine the quality of national life.

He is at work

where people see war for what it is and demand in growing numbers that it be

ended.

God sends us

to attack the causes and roots of war,

to end the church’s rhetoric that glorifies and blesses war,

to discover ways to employ church investments for peacemaking,

to declare that the Christian faith is not identical with our national way of life

and that opposition to foreign ideologies is not the heart of religion,

to unmask the idolatry that places national security above all else,

to urge the nations to take the risks of peace,

to minister to all on all sides:

the victims who are wounded, bereaved, and homeless,

the participants who are often confused and guilt-ridden,

and those who in conscience refuse to cooperate.[37]

Robert F. Boyd, writing in the Journal in February 1973, replied that Jesus neither glorified nor condemned war, which is sometimes the lesser of two evils.  Of course, God cared about the problems of war, Boyd argued, but no less than those of people killed in automobile accidents.  Furthermore, the proposed Confession of Faith was too critical of war, Boyd contended, for two people—one killed in combat and another in a car accident—were “just as dead.”[38]

The Journalers’ dominant attitude of obedience to civil authority informed their opposition to the proposed Confession of Faith.  In October 1974, Joan B. Finneran, whom Editor G. Aiken Taylor described as “an elect lady of Simpsonville, MD,” proposed the following formula, which Taylor described as “good devotional preparation to vote on Nov. 5.” Finneran argued that the Bible commanded obedience to human governments, which God had established.  Therefore, “When a Herod or a Hitler comes into power, we must thereby assume this is the Lord’s plan; He will use even such as these to put His total plan into effect for the good of His people here on earth.”  God was in control, even if human beings, in their ignorance, did not understand divine plans.  Americans were responsible for electing the correct candidates, which God would presumably choose and for which Americans must pray.  Outspoken dissent was out of the question and un-Christian.[39]

Thus, amnesty for deserters and draft evaders was not an option, according to the Journalers.  Such people had broken the law and thus committed immorality.  Conventional Morality (past which the Journalers had not progressed) dictated that these individuals face the legal consequences of their actions.  The Journalers presumed that desertion and draft evasion were wrong, sinful, and seditious, and that deserters and evaders therefore had to repent.  The Presbyterian Church in the United States began to debate this issue in 1974.  That year, the General Assembly considered recommending a full amnesty for nonviolent evaders and resisters from the Vietnam War era on several grounds.  First, families needed to reunite.  Second, the time to heal had come.  Third, questioning the war had served a “valuable service” and been patriotic.  The Church finally approved that resolution two years later, after emotional debates in three general assemblies.  Once again, the Southern Presbyterian Church and the Journal occupied different sides of an issue.[40]

The Presbyterian Journal consistently toed the hard line on the Vietnam War.  Active opponents were allegedly traitors who needed to repent and to face the legal consequences of their actions.  Christian ethics supposedly required obedience to the federal government, which God had established.  According to the Journalers, the war was about freedom, not imperialism.  Furthermore, defeat would prove catastrophic for the United States.  Shades of gray did not exist in this dualistic framework.[41]

Meanwhile, the generally progressive Southern Presbyterian establishment favored reconciliation and speaking prophetically to power.  Toward these ends, it supported conscientious objection, condemned the Vietnam War, and advocated amnesty.  None of this happened without debates, however, for many Southern Presbyterians, some of whom attended General Assembles, disagreed with the denominational leadership.  In the end, however, the establishment triumphed.

The Journalers had accused Southern Presbyterian liberals, who had abandoned the Spirituality of the Church, of secularizing the Gospel of Jesus the Christ.  According to an August 1965 editorial, Christianity was about salvation and reconciliation to God, not social reform.  Yet the Journalers’ strong pro-war stance was just as political as the PCUS’s condemnation of the same conflict.  Ironically, the Journalers did what accused their rivals of doing.[42]

Apparently, then, many issues of the Journal documented that the Journalers did not oppose all ecclesiastical interjection into matters of state, contrary to some assertions and interpretations of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  In reality, the Journalers merely opposed political action with which they disagreed.  They feared anything else as seditious.  The same attitude continues to thrive in many far-right circles in contemporary times.[43]

REFERENCES

Primary Sources

King, Martin Luther, Jr.  A Testament of Hope:  The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Melvin Washington, ed.  New York:  HarperCollins, 1986.  Paperback, 1991.

Minutes of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church in the United States (1935-1976)

Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America.  Address of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America to All the Churches of Jesus Christ Throughout the Earth.  Published by Order of the Assembly, 1861.  Microfilm.

Presbyterian Church in the United States.  The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the United States Together with the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism.  Atlanta, GA:  Printed for the General Assembly, 1965.  Reprint, 1975.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 

Part II.  Book of Confessions.  Louisville, KY:  Office of the General Assembly, 1996.

The Presbyterian Journal (1958-1975)

Presbyterian Survey (1976)

Smith, Morton H.  How is the Gold Become Dim (Lamentations 4:1):  The Decline of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., As Reflected in Its Assembly Actions.  Jackson, MS:  The Steering Committee for a Continuing Presbyterian Church, Faithful to the Scriptures and the Reformed Faith, 1973.

The Southern Presbyterian Journal (1942-1958)

Secondary Sources

Alvis, Joel L., Jr., Religion and Race:  Southern Presbyterians, 1946-1983.  Tuscaloosa, AL:  University of Alabama Press, 1994.

Branch, Taylor.  At Canaan’s Edge:  America in the King Years, 1965-68.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006.

Dyson, Michael Eric.  I May Not Get There with You:  The True Martin Luther King, Jr. New York:  Free Press, 2000.

Johnson, Benton.  “From Old to New Agendas:  Presbyterians and Social Issues in the Twentieth Century.”  In The Confessional Mosaic:  Presbyterians and Twentieth-Century Theology, ed. Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks, 208-235.  Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.

Nutt, Rick.  “The Tie That No Longer Binds:  The Origins of the Presbyterian Church in America.”  In The Confessional Mosaic:  Presbyterians and Twentieth-Century Theology, ed. Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks, 236-256. Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.

Rogers, Jack.  Presbyterian Creeds:  A Guide to the Book of Confessions.  Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, 1985.

Smith, Frank Joseph.  The History of the Presbyterian Church in America.  2d. ed.  Lawrenceville, GA:  Presbyterian Scholars Press, 1999.

Thompson, Ernest Trice.  The Spirituality of the Church:  A Distinctive Doctrine of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.  Richmond, VA:  John Knox Press, 1961.

__________Through the Ages:  A History of the Christian Church.  Richmond, VA:

CLC Press, 1965.


[1] “The Price of Freedom,” The Presbyterian Journal 26 (31 May 1967): 12.

[2] Minutes of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church in the United States (1973): 1:113.

[3] This debate existed before the Vietnam War.  It lay at the heart of the politics of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and World War I-era suppression of dissent, for example.

[4] The Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (1861-1865)/Presbyterian Church in the United States (1865-1983) was a sectional denomination.  Its territory consisted of the former Confederacy plus Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, and portions of New Mexico.

Its unofficial name was “Southern Presbyterian Church.”  For the purposes of this paper, “Southern Presbyterian” refers to this denomination.

The “northern” (actually national) counterparts were the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (Old School) (1837-1869), the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (New School) (1837-1869), the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (1869-1958), and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (1958-1983).  Northern Presbyterian missionary work, especially among the Freedmen, began immediately after the Civil War.  Thus, many “northern” Presbyterians lived in the South during the lifespan of the Southern Presbyterian Church.

The Presbyterian Church in America, née the National Presbyterian Church, broke away in December 1973.

[5] Joel L. Alvis, Jr., Religion and Race:  Southern Presbyterians, 1946-1983 (Tuscaloosa, AL:  University of Alabama Press, 1994), 132; Ernest Trice Thompson, Through the Ages:  A History of the Christian Church (Richmond, VA:  CLC Press, 1965), 324; Benton Johnson, “From Old to New Agendas:  Presbyterians and Social Issues in the Twentieth Century,” in The Confessional Mosaic:  Presbyterians and Twentieth-Century Theology, ed. Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks (Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), 208-235.

Many Presbyterians of bygone decades would never have considered ordaining women, accepting evolution, or debating the roles of homosexuals in church life.  One generation debates or rejects what another merely assumed.

[6] Ernest Trice Thompson, The Spirituality of the Church:  A Distinctive Doctrine of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Richmond, VA:  John Knox Press, 1961), 41-43; Idem, Through the Ages, 385-386; Minutes, PCUS (1935), 93-95; Minutes, PCUS (1936), 96-103.

Neo-Orthodoxy, which arose in the 1930s, emphasized the socially engrained nature of sin and the subsequent need for divine deliverance from sin.  Neo-Orthodoxy critiqued the Edwardian and late Victorian Social Gospel, which insisted that people, who could perfect themselves, had a divine mandate to cooperate with God in solving social ills.  According to the Neo-Orthodox, the Social Gospelers had forgotten about sin.

The Social Gospel was heir to antebellum moral reform movements, with generally positive assessments of human nature.

[7] Alvis, 4-5; E. T. Thompson, The Spirituality of the Church, 25; Idem, Through the Ages 383-384; Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America, Address of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America to All the Churches of Jesus Christ Throughout the Earth (Published by order of the Assembly, 1861), microfilm, 4.

It is true that Chapter 25 of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) teaches Christian obedience to civil authority.  [Presbyterian Church in the United States, The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the United States Together with the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism (Atlanta, GA:  Printed for the General Assembly, 1965; reprint, 1975), 113-115.]  Yet Southern Presbyterian leaders prior to the 1930s generally interpreted this doctrine more strictly than their “northern” brethren did.  Consult Benton Johnson’s essay in The Confessional Mosaic for more details.

[8] The Presbyterian Journal 18 (7 October 1959):  3; Robert S. Ellwood, 1950:  Crossroads of American Religious Life (Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2000), 31-32, 115, 186, 191; L. E. Faulkner, “Official Pronouncements of the Federal Council of Churches,” The Southern Presbyterian Journal 6 (1 April 1948):  17-19; J. E. Flow, “The Federal Council on Human Rights,” Ibid. 7 (1 February 1949):  18-19; L. Nelson Bell, “Why?” Ibid. 1 (May 1942):  2-3, quoted in Frank Joseph Smith, The History of the Presbyterian Church in America, 2d. ed. (Lawrenceville, GA:  Presbyterian Scholars Press, 1999), 16-17.

Selected Journal defenses of the Spirituality of the Church and criticisms of social Christianity follow:  Robert C. Smoot, Jr., “Of Social Concern,” The Presbyterian Journal 25 (12 April 1966: 1; “’Concern’ is ‘Mission,’” Ibid. 25 (24 August 1966): 15; L. Nelson Bell, “Where the Confusion Lies,” Ibid. 25 (21 December 1966): 13, 20; “Social Concern vs. Social Gospel,” Ibid. 25 (4 January 1967): 14; Charles S. MacKenzie, “A New Fundamentalism?” Ibid. 26 (16 August 1967): 9-10; Lon Woodrum, “Was Paul an ‘Activist?’” Ibid. 26 (28 February 1968): 7-8; “’Action’ vs. ‘Activism,’” Ibid. 26 (28 February 1968): 12; Bell, “Home to Roost,” Ibid. 28 (11 June 1969): 13, 22; Layton Mauze, Jr., “Meddling Can Divide,” Ibid. 28 (21 January 1970): 7; Jack B. Scott, “Freedom Under Authority,” Ibid. 31 (11 October 1972): 14-15, 23; Idem, “Church and State,” Ibid. 31 (18 October 1972): 14-15, 19; Idem, “Nationalism and Internationalism,” Ibid. 31 (25 October 1972): 14-16; Idem, “The Threat of World Calamity,” Ibid. 31 (1 November 1972): 14-16.

[9] A partial list of the defenses of the social status quo and criticisms of civil rights leaders and activists follows:  L. Nelson Bell, “Race Relations—Whither?” The Southern Presbyterian Journal 1 (March 1944):  4-5; Idem, “The Federal Council and ‘Race Segregation,’” Ibid. 5 (15 May 1946):  9-10; B. W. Crouch, “Dr. Palmer on Racial Barriers,” Ibid. 5 (2 December 1946), 5; J. David Simpson, “Non-Segregation Means Eventual Inter-Marriage,” Ibid. 6 (15 March 1948):  6-7; W. A. Plecker, “Interracial Brotherhood Movement:  Is It Scriptural?” Ibid. 5 (1 January 1947):  9-10; William H. Frazer, “The Social Separation of the Races,” Ibid. 9 (15 July 1950):  7; J. E. Flow, “Is Segregation UnChristian?” Ibid. 10 (29 August 1951):  4-5; Bell, Racial Tensions:  Let us Decrease—Not Increase Them!” Ibid. 5 (15 February 1957):  3;   “’Civil Rights’ Drive Turns to Economics,” Ibid. 24 (19 January 1966):  4-5; “Alliance Unit Asks End to Exemptions,” Ibid. 25 (25 January 1967):  4.

The Journal did a partial about-face in the 12 November 1966 issue, which included “One Race, One Gospel, One Task” (pp. 9-10).  This was the statement of the World Congress on Evangelism, over which Billy Graham had presided.  According to “One Race,” racism constituted a barrier to evangelism, and was therefore sinful.

The quote comes from L. Nelson Bell, “No Moratorium on Courtesy,” Ibid. 14 (11 April 1956):  3.

[10] “This is Not the Way to ‘Justice,’” The Presbyterian Journal 26 (17 April 1968):  12.

[11] Minutes, PCUS (1966): 1:90-91, 1:172-173; Morton H. Smith, How is the Gold Become Dim (Lamentations 4:1):  The Decline of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., As Reflected in Its Assembly Actions (Jackson, MS:  The Steering Committee for a Continuing Presbyterian Church, Faithful to the Scriptures and the Reformed Faith, 1973), 166-167; The Presbyterian Journal 25 (11 May 1966): 12-13.

[12] PCUS, The Confession of Faith, 136-137.

[13] Minutes, PCUS (1967), 1:110-111; Minutes, PCUS (1968), 1:98-104.

[14] Minutes, PCUS (1969), 1:105-107; Minutes (PCUS), 1971, 1:60, 1:150-152; Minutes (PCUS), 1972, 1:180.

[15] Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge:  America in the King Years, 1965-68 (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 2006), 23, 287; Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get There with You:  The True Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York:  Free Press, 2000), 59; Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Time to Break Silence,” in A Testament of Hope:  The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. Melvin Washington (New York:  HarperCollins; paperback, 1991), 232-241.

[16] “Attempt to Block King Defeated by Assembly,” The Presbyterian Journal 24 (5 May 1965): 8; “Assembly Endorses ‘Civil Rights’ Action,” Ibid. 24 (12 May 1965): 2; L. Nelson Bell, “One Commissioner’s Reactions,” Ibid. 24 (19 May 1965): 13, 18.

[17] “2 Speakers Headline ‘Historic” Weekend,” The Presbyterian Journal 24 (1 September 1965): 4-5; G Aiken Taylor, “How We Got Where We Are,” Ibid. 30 (13 October 1971): 10.

[18] Jack Rogers, Presbyterian Creeds:  A Guide to the Book of Confessions (Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, 1985), 214-218.

[19] United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., The Confession of 1967, in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Part II, Book of Confessions (Louisville, KY:  Office of the General Assembly, 1996), 268.

[20] “Offensive Launched Against War Policy,” The Presbyterian Journal 29 (17 March 1971): 4; “The Last Straw?” Ibid. 29 (24 March 1971): 12; “Paid Own Way as Individual, Benfield Says,” Ibid. 29 (7 April 1971): 5; “’Set the Date Now.’” Ibid. 30 (2 June 1971): 13, 20.

[21] “The Pressure Mounts,” The Presbyterian Journal 24 (5 January 1966): 12-13; William D. Livingstone, “A Time of Crisis,” Ibid. 24 (20 October 1965): 7-8; “Soft on Communism,” Ibid. 24 (3 November 1965)” 14-15; “Where Do Traitors Get Their Support?” Ibid. 24 (15 December 1965): 12; G. Aiken Taylor, “Across the Editor’s Desk,” Ibid. 26 (6 December 1967): 3; “The Churches DO Harbor Subversives,” Ibid. 27 (23 October 1968): 12; “Of War and Peace,” Ibid. 28 (29 October 1969): 12.

[22] “The Real War-mongers,” The Presbyterian Journal 24 (2 June 1965): 12; G. Aiken Taylor, “Across the Editor’s Desk,” Ibid. 24 (25 August 1965): 3; “Religious Blasts at Viet Policy Continue,” Ibid. 24 (18 August 1965): 4; William K. Harrison, “The Christian Military Service,” Ibid. 25 (18 May 1966): 10-11; Taylor, “Across the Editor’s Desk,” Ibid. 26 (10 May 1967): 3; Bruce T. Dickson, “What About Civil Disobedience?” 26 (14 June 1967): 10-12.

[23] L. Nelson Bell, “Hindsight Helps Foresight,” The Presbyterian Journal 26 (14 February 1968):  13, 19; D. James Kennedy, “America at the Crossroads,” Ibid. 27 (30 April 1969):  8-10; “God Have Mercy!” Ibid. 27 (19 June 1968): 14; Robert M. Metcalf, Jr., “Is the Night Inevitable?” 24 Ibid. (1 September 1965): 9-11.

[24] “Two Different Wars,” The Presbyterian Journal 24 (24 November 1965): 12; Francis R. Steele, “Know Your Enemy,” Ibid. 26 (20 March 1968): 9-10; Irma L. Bentall, “I Challenge You!” Ibid. 27 (12 June 1968): 9; “Of War and Peace,” Ibid. 28 (29 October 1969): 12.

[25] “A Plea for Freedom,” The Presbyterian Journal 24 (23 February 1966): 12; “Danger Signals,” Ibid. 24 (9 March 1966): 13, 24; L. Nelson Bell, “Recipe for Anarchy,” Ibid. 25 (11 January 1967): 13; Idem, “Those Who Cry ‘Fire,’” Ibid. 26 (27 September 1967): 20; Samuel T. Harris, “The Problem of Civil Disobedience,” Ibid. 26 (26 December 1967): 10; Bell, “Civil Disobedience,” Ibid. 27 (22 May 1968): 9-10; “Concerning Revolutions,” Ibid. 27 (12 June 1968): 12; J. J. Williams, Jr., “A Crime Is a Crime,” Ibid. 27 (12 June 1968): 7.

[26] Ray S. Anderson, “Who Are the Peacemakers?” The Presbyterian Journal 24 (23 February 1966): 10-11; Randolph Toch, “CO’s Dishonest?” Ibid. 27 (5 June 1968): 1; Jack B Scott, “What Kind of Peace? Ibid. 31 (11 November 1972): 14-15.

[27] Hoyt B. Evans, “I Pledge Allegiance,” The Presbyterian Journal 28 (17 September 1969): 16-17.

[28] The Presbyterian Journal 30 (4 August 1971): 17.

[29] “Asian Christians Said to Fear U.S. Withdrawal,” The Presbyterian Journal 24 (9 June 1965): 9; “Viet Missionaries See No Backout Now,” Ibid. 24 (15 September 1965): 5; Wesley W. Schelander, “They Refuse to Be Enslaved,” Ibid. 24 (10 November 1965): 9-10; “Communism Said Threat to Evangelism,” Ibid. 25 (16 November 1966): 7; G. P. Murray, “From a Chaplain,” Ibid. 25 (5 April 1967): 12; “6 Missionaries Die in Vietcong Assault,” Ibid. 26 (14 February 1968): 4; “Chaplain Sees Morality in Vietnam Involvement,” Ibid. 26 (3 April 1968): 5.

[30] Minutes, PCUS (1973), 1:114.

[31] Minutes, PCUS (1973), 1:112-113.

[32] Ibid., 1:111.

[33] “Church and Society Debate Continues,” The Presbyterian Journal 32 (27 June 1973): 9; Danny Berry, “For God and Country,” Ibid. 32 (26 September 1973): 11.

[34] “Mini-Editorial,” The Presbyterian Journal 31 (7 February 1973): 12; Ibid. 31 (21 February 1973): 3.

[35] “In the Wake of Cease-Fire,” The Presbyterian Journal 31 (7 February 1973): 12.

[36] “In the Wake of Cease-Fire,” The Presbyterian Journal 31 (7 February 1973): 12;  “In the Wake of the Flood,” Ibid. 34 (7 May 1975): 12; “The Churches and Vietnam,” Ibid. 34 (21 May 1975): 7-9, 18-19; “Remember the Churches’ Role,” Ibid. 34 (21 May 1975): 12; “A Principle Misapplied,” Ibid. 34 (21 May 1975): 12, 20; “Pay No Attention to Them,” Ibid. 34 (5 November 1975): 12-13.

[37] The Presbyterian Journal 31 (9 August 1972): 13-14.  The PCUS General Assembly of 1976 approved the new Confession of Faith.

[38] Robert F. Boyd, “Take Another Look,” The Presbyterian Journal 31 (14 February 1973): 9-10, 22.

[39] Joan B. Finneran, “Civic Responsibility,” The Presbyterian Journal 33 (30 October 1974): 11, 16.

[40] “The Crusade Will Now Shift to Amnesty,” The Presbyterian Journal 31 (21 February 1973): 12; Minutes, PCUS (1974), 1:283-290; “It’s a Propaganda War,” The Presbyterian Journal 33 (22 May 1974): 12, 20; “Amnesty Paper Returned to Council,” Ibid. 33 (10 July 1974): 8; “The Churches and Amnesty,” Ibid. 33 (16 October 1974): 10-11; Minutes, PCUS (1975), 1:74, 1:136-127; “Amnesty Issue Generates Lots of Heat,” Ibid. 34 (2 July 1975): 5-6; Minutes, PCUS (1976), 1:219-220, 1:335-337; “Strict Handgun Control, Full Pardon Bids Win,” Presbyterian Survey 66 (July 1976): 17-18.

[41] Time has demonstrated that the collapse of the Republic of Vietnam did not lead to catastrophe for the United States.

[42] G. Aiken Taylor, “They Secularize the Gospel,” The Presbyterian Journal 24 (18 August 1965): 10-11.

Rick Nutt makes this claim regarding secularization and politicization in a larger context in his essay, “The Tie That No Longer Binds:  The Origins of the Presbyterian Church in America,” in The Confessional Mosaic:  Presbyterians and Twentieth-Century Theology, ed. Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks (Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), 236-256.

[43] Witness Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilley.

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Faith and Grace   1 comment

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Above:  William Lloyd Garrison

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004672098/)

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-10320

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The Collect:

O God our redeemer, you created light that we might live,

and you illumine our world with your beloved Son.

By your Spirit comfort us in all darkness, and turn us toward the light of Jesus Christ our Savior,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 21

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 3:1-5 (January 4)

Joshua 1:1-9 (January 5)

Psalm 72 (both days)

Hebrews 11:23-31 (January 4)

Hebrews 11:32-12:2 (January 5)

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Some Related Posts:

Exodus 3:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/third-sunday-in-lent-year-c/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/devotion-for-the-thirtieth-and-thirty-first-days-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/week-of-proper-10-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/proper-17-year-a/

Joshua 1:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/devotion-for-june-26-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Hebrews 11-12:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/week-of-4-epiphany-monday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/devotion-for-tuesday-after-the-first-sunday-of-advent-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/thirty-fifth-day-of-lent-monday-in-holy-week/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/devotion-for-the-fifth-day-of-easter-thursday-in-easter-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/proper-14-year-c/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/proper-15-year-c/

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Give the king your justice, O God,

and your justice to the king’s son;

that he may rule your people righteously

and the poor with justice;

that the mountains may bring prosperity to the people,

and the little hills bring righteousness.

He shall defend the needy among the people

and shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

–Psalm 72:1-4, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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The assigned readings for these days tell us of Biblical heroes of faith, from Moses to Joshua son of Nun to Rahab the prostitute–quite an assortment!  I perceive no need to repeat their stories today, for the Bible does that better than I can.  And I have other matters on my mind.

If I were to amend the hall of fame of faith in the Letter to the Hebrews, part of my addition would read as follows:

By faith abolitionists challenged racial chattel slavery in the United States.  By faith Harriet Tubman risked life and limb to help her people, who called her “Moses.”  By faith Sojourner Truth spoke out for the rights of women and African Americans alike, as did William Lloyd Garrison.  By faith Frederick Douglass challenged racism and slavery with his words, deeds, and very existence.

By faith members of subsequent generations challenged racial segregation.  These great men and women included A. Philip Randolph, Charles Hamilton Houston, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bayard Rustin, Vernon Johns, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  They challenged the United States to confront its hypocrisy, to live up more closely to its stated ideals, and to guarantee civil rights.  By faith Thurgood Marshall fought the good fight in courts for decades.  By faith brave students, supported by their courageous parents and communities, integrated schools with hostile student bodies and administrators.

By faith Nelson Mandela confronted Apartheid and helped to end it.  By faith he encouraged racial and national reconciliation as a man and as a President.

All of these were courageous men and women, boys and girls.  There is no room here to tell their stories adequately.  And the names of many of them will fade into obscurity with the passage of time.  Some of their names have faded from collective memory already.  But they were  righteous people–giants upon whose shoulders we stand.  They were agents of divine grace, which transformed the world, making it a better place.

May the light of God, incarnate in each of us, shine brightly in the darkness and leave the world–if only one “corner” of it at a time–a better place.  May we cooperate with God, for grace is more about what God does than what we do.  We ought to work with God, of course.  Doing so maximizes the effects of grace.  But grace will win in the end.  That is wonderful news!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 24, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS A KEMPIS, SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN BOSTE, GEORGE SWALLOWELL, AND JOHN INGRAM, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

 http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/devotion-for-january-4-and-5-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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This is post #900 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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True Liberation II   1 comment

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Above:  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., March 26, 1964

Photographer = Marion S. Trikosko

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003688129/)

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsc-01269

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The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son.

By his coming nurture our growth as people of repentance and peace;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 18

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

John 1:19-28

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Some Related Posts:

Isaiah 40:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/tenth-day-of-advent/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/eighth-day-of-advent-second-sunday-of-advent-year-b/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/devotion-for-december-19-lcms-daily-lectionary/

John 1:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/ninth-day-of-christmas/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/devotion-for-february-5-in-epiphanyordinary-time-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Give your king, justice, O God,

and your righteousness to the king’s son;

that he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice;

that the mountains may bring prosperity to the people,

and the little hills bring righteousness.

He shall defend the needy among the people

and shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

–Psalm 72:1-4, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Triumphal highways were symbols of Chaldean/Babylonian imperial power.  Thus they were, for exiles, symbols of oppression.  But the highway in Isaiah 40:3-5 is one of liberation.  It is the highway of Yahweh.  It is the road exiles will travel to their ancestral homeland.

John 1:23 draws on this imagery in reference to Jesus.  Instead of Chaldeans/Babylonians, with their highways, there are the Romans, with their network of highways.  Although Jews live in their homeland, they are not free.  No, they live under foreign occupation.  Liberation, St. John the Baptist tells people, is nigh.

But it was not a political liberation, as history attests.  No, it was a spiritual liberation.  The Temple system, in cahoots with the Roman Empire, was corrupt.  Purity codes marginalized the vast majority of Palestinian Jews and reassured an elite population of their imagined sanctity.  The destruction of that corrupt Temple system, with its purity codes, accomplished violently by Roman forces in 70 CE, was a crucial event in Jewish and Christian history.  And the Romans were still in power.

Jesus defined discipleship as following him–taking up one’s cross and following him.  The crucifixion and resurrection of Our Lord and Savior placed him beyond any human power.  What more could anyone do to him?  So, as St. Paul the Apostle wrote, if we die with Christ (literally or metaphorically) we will rise with Christ.  In Jesus there is life which no power on the planet can take away from us.  We have new life–eternal life–in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

This is not merely for individuals.  No, it is a collective liberation.  May we refrain from imposing anachronistic worldviews on texts.  Holiness was for the community in the Law of Moses.  Liberation is for the community in Jesus, for what we do affects others.  As Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us prophetically,

Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

Likewise, true holiness and liberation are inherently communal.  How can they be otherwise?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 26, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JEREMIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF ISABEL FLORENCE HAPGOOD, ECUMENIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/devotion-for-saturday-before-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Regarding the Superiority of Lectionaries to the Lack Thereof   9 comments

Snapshot_20130616_16

Above:  The Author Studying the 2004 Irish Prayer Book on Sunday Afternoon, June 16, 2013

My review of The Book of Common Prayer (2004) is here:  https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/the-book-of-common-prayer-2004/.

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I admit it:  I am a ritualist.  I am, in fact, a happy, contented, and unapologetic ritualist.  Rituals create a sacred environment in which worship comes naturally to me.

Many Protestants–a great number of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists especially–do not understand this tendency.  They are heirs to a tradition which has thrown out the baby with the bath water since 1517.  Many of them might not know this, for, as Karen Armstrong wrote:

…fundamentalism is antihistorical.

A History of God:  The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, page xx)

She wrote that referring to theological developments (especially changing God concepts) over time, but the principle applies to broader matters.  I have met many Protestants who did not know the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr.  I have also encountered professing Baptists who did not know that they were Protestants.  In fact, many people are quite ignorant of the traditions they profess to embrace and practice.

I, as a student of history, seek to know as much as possible about not only my tradition but others.  How else can I  be an informed practitioner of my faith?  Part of Judeo-Christian heritage is ritualism–from the Law of Moses to missals and Prayer Books to lectionaries to bowing at crosses and high altars.  Some very conservative, Low Church Protestants bristle at all of it, calling it “going through the motions” dismissively.  From time to time I have had unpleasant encounters with some of them–usually the sort which the late Molly Ivins called “Shi’ite Baptists.”  (I do live in the U.S. South.)  They do not understand, for they mistake the simplicity of worship for the purity thereof.  Those are actually separate matters.

The combination of my inherent interests and my youthful experiences brought me to the embrace of full-blown ritualism.  My father, a United Methodist minister in the South Georgia Conference, seldom preached from a lectionary, the existence of which I knew of vaguely.  But I always like more ritual and beauty of worship than those rural congregations practiced.  My adolescent self-directed study of pre-Protestant Reformation Christianity brought me closer to Roman Catholicism.  But I was too Protestant to cross the Tiber River.  So I walked the Canterbury Trail instead.

Order appeals to me.  I practice it in my living space, in my being, and in my public and private worship of God.  Tying the Bible study to lectionaries, plans for reading the Bible in an orderly manner, has provided the discipline necessary to sustain the practice consistently for years.  Converting that Bible study into a blogging project (http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/, and http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/) has encouraged me to write more, thereby increasing my comprehension and retention of material.

I collect worship books and books about worship.  Thus I have hymnals, Prayer Books, and related volumes from a variety of denominations and decades.  Many of these books contain lectionaries, all of which stand within Judeo-Christian tradition.  This post is not a history of lectionaries, but a few details are appropriate here.  Lectionaries go back to Judaism, before the birth of Jesus.   Thus they entered Christianity via Judaism.  Although the oldest known year-round Christian lectionary dates to the 600s, established, orderly plans for reading Scripture in Christian public worship existed in first century CE.

I have easy access to a variety of lectionaries.  The Jewish Study Bible (2004) and The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) contain a lectionary each.  But I, being a Western Christian, not a Jew or an Eastern Orthodox Christian, find other lectionaries more applicable or at least interesting.  Episcopal Church lectionaries for Sundays and major feast days have changed over time.  The first editions of The Book of Common Prayer (1928) contained one, but copies printed since 1945 and contained another.  The Book of Common Prayer (1979) debuted a new lectionary, since superceded (in 2007 and later printings) by the Revised Common Lectionary.  The 1979 BCP also debuted a new two-year Daily Office cycle, altered slightly and reprinted in the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship from 1993 (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/book-of-common-worship-1993/).  U.S. Presbyterians have had one proper Sunday lectionary or another since their 1946 Book of Common Worship (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-book-of-common-worship-1946/).  The oldest volume in my collection of U.S. Lutheran service books is the 1917 Common Service Book, which contains a Sunday lectionary.  U.S. Methodism has had one Sunday lectionary or another since at least the 1945 Book of Worship for Church and Home (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/the-book-of-worship-for-church-and-home-1945/).  That is a partial list of liturgies in my library.

But the fact that a church body authorizes a lectionary does not mean that many people use it, especially in much of U.S. Protestantism, affected negatively by

  1. Puritan hostility to lectionaries and rituals;
  2. the reality of frontier life and worship in the colonial era and the early republic; and
  3. widespread anti-Roman Catholicism, quite virulent, for example, in the 1928 and 1960 Presidential election campaigns.

Revivalism has thrived and become its own tradition in these circumstances.  Jerald C. Brauer, author of Protestantism in America:  A Narrative History (Westminster Press, 1953), summarized revivalism as follows:

The whole thrust of revivals was to get results in the moral life.  This could be done only by concerting individual souls.   Thus revivalism was not concerned so much with theology or with the structure of society; it was concerned with personal morality and personal conversion.

–Quoted in Kenneth G. Phifer, A Protestant Case for Liturgical Renewal (Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press,  1965, page 104)

Revivalism is insufficient and founded too much on emotionalism.  It was, however, the style of religion which my great-grandfather, George Washington Barrett (1873-1956), practiced.  He was a Southern Methodist minister of the old school–no ritualism, no lectionaries, no alcohol, no playing cards–and a preoccupation with personal sin at the expense of addressing societal, structural sins properly.  I know this because I have undertaken an effort to post as many of his sermon outlines as possible online (http://taylorfamilypoems.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/family-tree-of-george-washington-barrett/http://taylorfamilypoems.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/spiritual-religion-and-ritualism/, etc.).  The effort is in progress.

A study of his sermons reveals a pattern:  The man preached variations on the same sermon again, again, and yet again.  I wonder how the variety of material a lectionary would have provided would have changed his preaching.  I know that this variety expands my horizons theologically.  For, as Richard Bauckham wrote:

The final context which is authoritative for the meaning of a biblical text is the complete canon of Scripture.

The Bible in Politics, 2d. Ed.  (Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011, page 17)

There is a more basic reason for using lectionaries, especially in public worship.  A good Sunday lectionary, such as either of those near-twins, the Revised Common Lectionary and the most recent Roman Catholic lectionary, provide for reading aloud much of the Bible in church during three consecutive years (A, B, and C).  This is a good things for one who values Scripture, is it not?  Among the content read are passages which a minister might have skipped over otherwise for reasons of discomfort.  But now he or she must address such material, perhaps even wrestle with it.  That is also a positive activity.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal.  Somewhere in the U.S. South, an old Baptist minister always preached on baptism by immersion, regardless of the biblical text.  Finally, some members persuaded him to preach on a text with no relation to baptism.  The pastor addressed that context seriously for a brief time before making a segue:

That brings me to baptism by immersion.

The Bible contains many germane topics.  Following lectionaries helps one cover them well and to establish connections between and among passages.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 16, 2013 COMMON ERA

PROPER 6–THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

THE FEAST OF NORMAN MACLEOD, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND OF HIS COUSIN, JOHN MACLEOD, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

(They were quite interesting!  http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/feast-of-norman-macleod-and-john-macleod-june-16/)

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN FRANCIS REGIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH BUTLER, ANGLICAN BISHOP

THE FEAST OF RUFUS JONES, QUAKER THEOLOGIAN

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Books Which Influenced This Post, Yet Which I Neither Quoted Nor Named Therein:

Jones, Cheslyn, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edward Yarnold, and Paul Bradshaw, eds.  The Study of Liturgy.  Revised Edition.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1992.

Micks, Marianne, H.  The Future Present:  The Phenomenon of Christian Worship.  New York, NY:  Seabury Press, 1970.

Wainwright, Geoffrey, and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, eds.  The Oxford History of Christian Worship.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 2006.

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Active Faith I   1 comment

3c26559v

Above:  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964

Photograph by Dick DeMarsico, World Telegraph and Sun

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/00651714/)

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 and Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24

or 

Genesis 15:1-6 and Psalm 33:12-22

then 

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Luke 12:32-40

The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Proper 14, Year A:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/proper-14-year-a/

Proper 14, Year B:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/proper-14-year-b/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/prayer-of-confession-for-the-twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Isaiah 1:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/devotion-for-november-27-in-advent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/twelfth-day-of-lent/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/week-of-proper-10-monday-year-2/

Genesis 15:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/devotion-for-the-tenth-day-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/second-sunday-in-lent-year-c/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/week-of-proper-7-wednesday-year-1/

Hebrews 11:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/week-of-3-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/devotion-for-the-fifth-day-of-easter-thursday-in-easter-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/week-of-proper-1-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/18/independence-day-u-s-a-july-4/

Luke 12:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/devotion-for-the-twenty-ninth-thirtieth-and-thirty-first-days-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/devotion-for-the-thirty-second-day-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/week-of-proper-24-tuesday-year-1/

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We human beings use the same word in different ways, with a variety of meanings.  Consider, O reader, the word “day,” for example.  People say,

In my day…

and

Back in the day…,

as well as

There is a new day coming.

Or “day” might apply literally, as in when today separates yesterday from tomorrow.

The same principle applies to “faith” in the New Testament.  The Apostle Paul, in Romans, used it to mean something inherently active, which leads to works.  A Pauline formula is that as a person thinks, so he or she is.  The Letter of James contains a different definition, that of intellectual assent to a proposition or set of propositions.  So, according to that definition, faith without works is dead.  Both epistles agree on the imperative of active faith, so one need not imagine a discrepancy between their conclusions.

And there is the definition of faith from Hebrews 11:1-3:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Indeed, by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is was made from things that are not visible.

New Revised Standard Version

In other words, faith applies in circumstances in which one can neither prove nor disprove a proposition according to scientific methods or documentary evidence.  That is an anachronistic definition, I know, but it works well.  Science can tell us much; I respect it and reject all anti-scientific sentiments and statements.  God gave us brains; may we use them as fully and critically as possible.  And documents form the basis of the study of history as I practice it.  Objective historical accuracy and the best scientific data available ought to override dogma, superstition, and bad theology.  So, no matter what the Gospels say, demon possession does not cause epilepsy, for example.  Yet there does exist truth which these twin standards of modernism (as opposed to postmodernism) cannot measure.  Such truth is good theology, which one can grasp by faith.

We read in Hebrews of the faithful example of Abram/Abraham (and by implication, of Sarai/Sarah), which harkens back to Genesis.  Theirs is a fantastical story, one which challenges understandings of biology.  But that is not the point.  The point is that God does unexpected things, and that the people of God should accept this reality.  And whether a certain unexpected thing is good news or bad news depends upon one’s spiritual state, as in Luke 12.

The reading from Isaiah 1 caught and held my attention most of all.  I, as an observant Episcopalian, am an unrepentant ritualist.  The text does not condemn ritualism itself.  No, the text damns insincere ritualism mixed with the neglect of vulnerable members of society:

Wash yourselves clean;

Put your evil things

Away from my sight.

Cease to do evil;

Learn to do good.

Devote yourselves to justice;

Aid the wronged.

Uphold the rights of the orphan;

Defend the cause of the widow.

–Isaiah 1:16-17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Do it or else, the text says.  This is a call to society; Enlightenment notions of individualism do not apply here.  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, called for

…a true revolution of values

from a society focused on things to one which places the priority on people.  In the same speech, the one in which he opposed the Vietnam War without equivocation, he said:

A nation that continues to spend year after year more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

A Testament of Hope:  The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.  (Edited by James M. Washington, 1986), page 241

The Prophet Isaiah would  have agreed.

Eternal God, heavenly Father,

you have graciously accepted us as living members

of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ,

and you have fed us with spiritual food

in the sacrament of his Body and Blood.

Send us now into the world in peace,

and grant us strength and courage

to love and serve you

with gladness and singleness of heart;

through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 365

Do we have the Abrahamic faith to do that?  And how much better will our societies be for all their members if we do?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 16, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS

THE FEAST OF HUGH LATIMER, NICHOLAS RIDLEY, AND THOMAS CRANMER, ANGLICAN MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/proper-14-year-c/

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Numbers and Luke, Part XIV: Murder, Execution, and Forgiveness   1 comment

supper-at-emmaus-by-caravaggio

Above:  Supper at Emmaus, by Caravaggio

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 35:9-30

Psalm 19 (Morning)

Psalms 81 and 113 (Evening)

Luke 24:28-53

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You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and the land can have no expiation for blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.

–Numbers 35:33, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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The Law of Moses is a peculiar code.  It contains death penalties for a variety offenses yet provides cities of refuge for those who have committed manslaughter.  Its violence is not universal.  Yet a murderer must die, the Law says, for bloodshed pollutes the land and invites divine wrath.  Oddly enough, the logic of the Law of Moses requires more bloodshed to expiate for the initial bloodshed of murder.  So, since life is sacred and blood shed pollutes the land, people shed more blood.  Huh?  I do not understand.

I do not understand for several reasons.  Some might note correctly that I am a practicing and professing liberal, one who recalls certain quotes from great men.  Thaddeus Stevens, who argued for equality before God for all people, regardless of race or economics in the United States until his death in 1868, opposed capital punishment in Pennsylvania in the early 1840s, saying,

Society should know nothing of vengeance.

Mohandas Gandhi, who hopefully needs no introduction, commented that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” leaves the world blind and toothless.  And Martin Luther King, Jr., who really ought to need no introduction, said on April 4, 1967, that one cannot create peace via violent means.  Mine is a Christian liberalism.  The same Jesus who died via crucifixion did not return to life with a vengeful attitude.  He seemed, in fact, quite forgiving.  and he did not die by manslaughter.  No, his was a judicial killing, a political execution.  I do not perceive the moral difference between an execution and a murder.  Jesus changes everything, including how I perceive the world.  The Jesus I know bears little resemblance to the one of which I hear from Fundamentalists.  No, he is much more complex, interesting, and forgiving.

With this post I end one sequence of posts; the lectionary will pair two different books beginning with the next post.  If I have helped you, O reader, encounter the Jesus I know, I have succeeded.  And I hope that the next sequence of posts will yield the same result.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 27, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CORNELIUS HILL, ONEIDA CHIEF AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE GEORGIAN, ABBOT; AND SAINTS EUTHYMIUS OF ATHOS AND GEORGE OF THE BLACK MOUNTAIN, ABBOTS AND TRANSLATORS

THE FEAST OF PHILIP MELANCHTON, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN [WITH THE PRESENTATION OF THE AUGSBURG CONFESSION]

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/devotion-for-trinity-sunday-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Via Words and Deeds   1 comment

thomas-edison

Above:  Thomas Edison, 1925

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/npc2007014347/)

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Acts 16:16-34 (Revised English Bible):

Once, on our way to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who was possessed by a spirit of divination and brought large profits to her owners by telling fortunes.  She followed Paul and the rest of us shouting,

These men are servants of the Most High God, and are declaring to you a way of salvation.

She did this day after day, until, in exasperation, Paul rounded on the spirit.

I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her,

he said, and it came out instantly.

When the girl’s owners saw that their hope of profit had one, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the city authorities in the main square; bringing them before the magistrates, they alleged,

These men are causing a disturbance in our city; they are Jews, and they are advocating practices which it is illegal for us Romans to adopt and follow.

The mob joined in the attack; and the magistrates had the prisoners stripped and gave orders for them to be flogged.  After a severe beating they were flung into prison and the jailer was ordered to keep them under close guard.  In view of these orders, he put them into the inner prison and secured their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas, at their prayers, were singing praises to God, and the other prisoners were listening, when suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken; the doors burst open and all the prisoners found their fetters unfastened.  The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open and, assuming that the prisoners had escaped, drew his sword intending to kill himself.  But Paul shouted,

Do yourself no harm; we are all here.

The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and threw himself down before Paul and Silas, trembling with fear. He then escorted them out and said,

Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

They answered,

Put your trust in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,

and they imparted the word of the Lord to him and everyone in his house.  At that late hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds, and there and then he and his whole family were baptized.  He brought them up into his house, set out a meal, and rejoiced with his whole household in his new-found faith in God.

Psalm 97 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The LORD is King;

let the earth rejoice;

let the multitude of the isles be glad.

2 Clouds and darkness are round about him,

righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.

A fire goes before him

and burns up his enemies on every side.

4 His lightnings light up the world;

the earth sees it and is afraid.

The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD,

at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.

The heavens declare his righteousness,

and all the peoples see his glory.

Confounded be all who worship carved images

and delight in false gods!

Bow down before him, all you gods.

Zion hears and is glad, and the cities of Judah rejoice,

because of your judgments, O LORD.

For you are the LORD,

most high over all the earth;

you are exalted far above all gods.

10 The LORD loves those who hate evil;

he preserves the lives of the saints

and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.

11 Light has sprung up for the righteous,

and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted.

12 Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous,

and give thanks to his holy Name.

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 (New Revised Standard Version):

At the end of the visions I, John, heard these words:

See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates….It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.

The spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift….

The one who testifies to these things says,

Surely I am coming soon.

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.  Amen.

John 17:20-26 (Anchor Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Yet it is not for these alone that I pray but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they all may be one, just as you, Father, in me and I in you, that they also may be [one] in us.  Thus the world may be brought to completion as one.  Thus the world may come to know that you sent me and that you loved them even as you loved me.  Father, they are your gift to me; and where I am, I wish them to be one with me, that they may see my glory which you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.  O Father most just, while the world did not know you (though I knew you), these men came to know that you sent me.  And to them  I made known your name; and I will continue to make it known so that the love you had for me may be in them and I may be in them.

The Collect:

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Forty-Third Day of Easter:  Seventh Day of Easter, Year A:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/forty-third-day-of-easter-seventh-sunday-of-easter-year-a/

Forty-Third Day of Easter:  Seventh Day of Easter, Year B:

 http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/forty-third-day-of-easter-seventh-day-of-easter-year-b/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-seventh-sunday-of-easter/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-seventh-sunday-of-easter/

 Acts 16:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/thirty-eighth-day-of-easter/

John 17:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/forty-seventh-day-of-easter/

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Words can be powerful.  They can inspire one to act boldly or badly, for the benefit of others or to their detriment.  As an old U.S. Supreme Court ruling tells us, there is no constitutional protection for crying “fire” in a crowded theater.  And, in a related matter, speech which incites violence is illegal, so long as the state disapproves of that violence.  On the other hand, speech which decries state-approved violence, such as war, has, as history proves, often been criminalized, if not merely considered in appropriate.  Consider the examples of Eugene Victor Debs and a host of anti-World War I activists, for example.  And how much hell did Martin Luther King, Jr., catch for opposing the Vietnam War?

Yet, as powerful as words can be, actions matter more.  Sometimes one tries and fails, but at least one did something.  Failure has led to ultimate success, as the example of Thomas Edison attests.  We must not anathemize failure, just giving up when one ought to persist.  Edison did fail many times before he succeeded.  The light bulb in the floor lamp behind my head as I type these words attests to his ultimate success.

It is through the words and actions of others of many men and women who have preceded us that we know of Jesus Christ.  Actions flow from attitudes, and words explain deeds when deeds do not belie them.  So I emphasize deeds, along with the Letter of James and sound Roman Catholic theology.  Sometimes good and faithful works will get us into legal trouble, as in the case of Sts. Paul and Silas.  (Yet the incident gave them an opportunity to convert a household.)  And sometimes good and faithful works will lead to martyrdom, as in the case of those in Revelation 22 who had washed their robes in the blood of the lamb.  Yet may we persist in good and faithful deeds.  There will be (even if only in the afterlife),

joyful gladness for those who are truehearted.

–Psalm 97;11b, 1979 Book of Common Prayer

The company of the truehearted includes both those who are already in Christ and those whom the first group adds to their number.  This is about more than evangelism, which is vital.  It is also about discipleship and service.  To love one’s neighbor as oneself might entail social activism, for what use is it to wish one fed while not feeding him or her or supporting a system which keeps him or her hungry?  And what use is it to wish one at peace while supporting a system which keeps him or her at war?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 21, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL FAITHFUL MEMBERS OF THE CLERGY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALOYSIUS GONZAGA, JESUIT

THE FEAST OF HENARE WIREMU TARATOA OF TE RANGA, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN JONES AND JOHN RIGBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/forty-third-day-of-easter-seventh-sunday-of-easter-year-c/

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Genesis and Mark, Part XVIII: True Human Worth   1 comment

martin-luther-king-jr

Above:  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/00651714/)

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 37:1-36 (19th Day of Lent)

Genesis 39:1-12 (20th Day of Lent)

Psalm 5 (Morning–19th Day of Lent)

Psalm 38 (Morning–20th Day of Lent)

Psalms 27 and 51 (Evening–19th Day of Lent)

Psalms 126 and 102 (Evening–20th Day of Lent)

Mark 10:1-12 (19th Day of Lent)

Mark 10:13-31 (20th Day of Lent)

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Some Related Posts:

Genesis 37:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/fifteenth-day-of-lent/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/proper-14-year-a/

Mark 10:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/week-of-7-epiphany-friday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/week-of-7-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/week-of-8-epiphany-monday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/week-of-8-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/week-of-7-epiphany-friday-year-2/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/week-of-7-epiphany-saturday-year-2/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/week-of-8-epiphany-monday-year-2/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/week-of-8-epiphany-tuesday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/week-of-proper-2-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/week-of-proper-2-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/week-of-proper-3-monday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/week-of-proper-3-tuesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/week-of-proper-2-friday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/week-of-proper-2-saturday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/week-of-proper-3-monday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/week-of-proper-3-tuesday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/proper-22-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/proper-23-year-b/

A Prayer to See Others as God Sees Them:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/a-prayer-to-see-others-as-god-sees-them/

Prayers:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/prayer-for-wednesday-in-the-third-week-of-lent/

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/prayer-for-thursday-in-the-third-week-of-lent/

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We must rapidly begin to shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

–The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside Church, New York, New York, April 4, 1967

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People matter to God.  That is an ethic I discern from many biblical passages, including pronouncements of the Hebrew Prophets and of Jesus.  And so how we treat each other matters to God.  Joseph may have been annoying, but he was still part of the family.  Women are people, not marital property to discard lightly. The most powerless among us are poster children for the Kingdom of God.  And we ought to be more attached to each other than to our wealth.

These are timeless lessons many of us seem never to learn.  Martin Luther King, Jr., taught such lessons in April 1967, when he denounced U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, and he lost much support.  Those who, for moral imperative love of country, criticize the government, especially during time of war, run the risk of incurring the wrath of jingoists.

Nevertheless, a basic truth remains:  People ought always to be valuable for who they are, never as financial commodities one can discard casually.  A person’s true worth is incalculable, for there is no spreadsheet designed to record such data.  So, O reader, the next times you look around and see other people, ask yourself how valuable they are to God, and so ought to be to you.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 22, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD BIGGS, ACTOR

THE FEAST OF ROTA WAITOA, ANGLICAN PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/devotion-for-the-nineteenth-and-twentieth-days-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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A New Zealand Prayer Book/He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (1989)   2 comments

Flag of New Zealand

Above:  Flag of New Zealand

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The entire volume is now available here:

http://anglicanprayerbook.org.nz/contents.htm.

But a hardbound copy is still better.

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One may find other resources here:

http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/world.htm

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A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989) is a thoroughly modern resource.  It is also a departure from its predecessor, which resembled closely The Book of Common Prayer (1662).  But time and language march on, as should liturgy.

I will not attempt to replicate the excellent analysis of this volume from The Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer (2006), edited by Charles Hefling and Cynthia Shattuck.  Kenneth Booth’s chapter on A New Zealand Prayer Book provides fine explanations of the book itself and its multicultural, theological, and liturgical contexts.  I refer you, O reader to The Oxford Guide for such analysis.  My purpose here is to provide personal reflections based on private use of the book.

A New Zealand Prayer Book, the prayer book of The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, is the result of a quarter-century of liturgical revision.  The result is a book in English, Maori, and Tongan.  And the English is modern and inclusive.  In the Night Prayer ritual, for example one finds a Maori translation and two English versions of the Lord’s Prayer.  One English rendering is fairly traditional, minus archaic language.  Be banished, Elizabethan English, from Prayer Books!  Get thee to the hills and remaineth there!  (That last part is just me being punchy.) The other English translation is wonderfully non-traditional:

Eternal Spirit,

Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,

Source of all that is and that shall be,

Father and Mother of us all,

Loving God, in whom is heaven.

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!

The way of your justice be followed by the people of the world!

Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!

Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.

In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.

In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.

From trials too great to endure, spare us.

From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,

now and for ever.  Amen.

Sometimes texts become so familiar in a certain translation as to become old hat.  Hearing or reading them in different translations helps one to encounter them afresh.

The Calendar is distinct to New Zealand, with the usual Universal Church holy days, of course.  So the Conversion of St. Paul is still January 25, the Annunciation is still March 25, the Transfiguration is still August 6, et cetera.  English and Maori saints (of various denominations) of the islands populate the Calendar, as do great Roman Catholic saints from antiquity to modern times.  And the Calendar includes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pope John XXIII, and Martin Luther King, Jr., as it should.

A New Zealand Prayer Book offers not only public services but private and family ones.  The rites for Daily Devotions fill pages 104-137, providing distinct morning and evening rituals for each day of the week.  In contrast, The Book of Common Prayer (1979) of my own Episcopal Church provides one form for a daily morning devotion, another for a Noontime devotion, a third for early evening, and a final one for the close of the day–one page each, four pages in all.

A New Zealand Prayer Book also provides a service called Midday Prayer, whereas The Book of Common Prayer (1979) offers An Order of Service for Noonday.  The New Zealand service provides more options, not that the Episcopal service is not lovely and meaningful.

Sometimes, in The Episcopal Church, we hear the lector read an unpleasant portion of Scripture, one which ends with people dead, injured seriously, struck blind, and stricken with a disease.  Then he or she says the prescribed prompt:

The Word of the Lord.

The congregation replies,

Thanks be to God.

If the reading comes from one of the Gospels and a deacon or priest reads it, he or she says,

The Gospel of the Lord.

The congregation replies,

Praise to you, Lord Christ.

This has proven to be awkward sometimes.  I recall that, on some occasions, the congregation has offered up a pregnant pause before saying half-heartedly,

Thanks be to God.

Someone has just died terribly or come down with a disease in the reading; are we to be thankful?  Fortunately, A New Zealand Prayer Book reduces the non-Gospel awkwardness.  The lector says,

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

Then the congregation answers,

Thanks be to God.

That is what I think when I use A New Zealand Prayer Book:

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church./Thanks be to God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 3, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF EDWARD CASWALL, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD PERRONET, BRITISH METHODIST PREACHER

THE FEAST OF SAINT GENEVIEVE, PROPHET

THE FEAST OF GLADYS AYLWARD, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY TO CHINA

Rejecting Agape   4 comments

Above:  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Image Source = Library of Congress

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Jeremiah 1:1-10 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The words of Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin.  The word of the LORD came to him in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign, and throughout the days of Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah son of Judah, when Jerusalem went into exile in the fifth month.

The word of the LORD came to me:

Before I created you in the womb, I selected you;

Before you were born, I consecrated you;

I appointed you a prophet concerning the nations.

I replied:

Ah, Lord GOD!

I don’t know how to speak,

For I am still a boy.

And the LORD said to me:

Do not say, “I am still a boy,”

But go wherever I send you

And speak whatever I command you.

Have no fear of them,

For I am with you to deliver them

–declares the LORD.

The LORD put out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me:

Herewith I put My words into your mouth.

See, I appoint you this day

Over nations and kingdoms:

To uproot and to pull down,

To destroy and to overthrow,

To build and to plant.

Psalm 71:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;

let me never be ashamed.

2  In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free;

incline your ear to me and save me.

3  Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe;

you are my crag and my stronghold.

4  Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,

from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

5  For you are my hope, O Lord GOD,

my confidence since I was young.

6  I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;

from my mother’s womb you have been my strength;

my praise shall be always of you.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (New American Bible):

If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.   It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.  If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.  For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.  At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.  At present, I know partially; then I shall know fully as I am known.  So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Luke 4:21-30 (The Jerusalem Bible):

And he [Jesus] won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.

They said,

This is Joseph’s son, surely?

But he replied,

No doubt you will quote the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”

And he went on,

I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of those; he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town.  And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged.  They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-fourth-sunday-after-epiphany/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-fourth-sunday-after-epiphany/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/forgive-our-lack-of-love-prayer-of-confession-for-the-fourth-sunday-after-epiphan/

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Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quickeyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lacked anything.

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“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here.”

Love said, “You shall be he.”

“I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,

I cannot look on thee.”

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

“Who made the eyes but I?”

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“Truth, Lord, but I have marred them.  Let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.”

“And know you not,” says Love,  ”who bore the blame?

My dear, then, I will serve.

You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”

So I did sit and eat.

–George Herbert (1633)

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The love in 1 Corinthians 13 is agape.  There are four types of love in the New Testament, with agape being the highest form.  For a description of agape I turn to Volume X (1953), page 167 of The Interpreter’s Bible:

Agape is another kind of love which roots in the undeserved goodness men have received in Christ.

Agape is a type of love which extends to one’s enemies, looks past mutual interests, and is not merely sentimental.  It is the love which God has for us.  Thus agape is crucial, greater even than faith and hope, which are also commendable and of God.

This was the love which qualified Jeremiah and kept him company on his difficult vocation, one fraught with rejection.  And this was the love which Jesus, also rejected, embodied in a unique way.  This was the love those who tried to kill him at Nazareth lacked.

Agape is hard for many people to practice, for we are flawed.  This statement applies to me.  But I like agape; I seek to come nearer to living it.  One poetic expression of the essence of agape is the George Herbert poem I have quoted in this post.  My choir at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, has sung the Ralph Vaughan Williams setting of it.  The text speaks to me of what I have received and continue to receive from God.  I can do better, by grace, and I am.  And I have much room for improvement.

Agape is also intolerable for many people.  They seek to destroy it.  The reason for this, I suppose, is that it reminds them of their shortcomings.  And, instead of admitting those failings, some people react defensively and fearfully.  Thus violent people have, throughout history and into the present day, persecuted pacifists, from Quakers to Anabaptists to Mohandas Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr.  New England Puritans hanged Quakers in colonial times.  Anabaptists in Europe and elsewhere have attracted a host of foes.  There was, for example, state-sanctioned persecution of Amish and Mennonite conscientious objectors in the United States during World War I.  And Gandhi and King became victims of assassins.  Before King’s death many of his self-identified conservative coreligionists condemned his stances on civil rights and the Vietnam War.  (I have notecards full of citations, quotes, and summaries from back issues of The Presbyterian Journal, which midwifed the Presbyterian Church in America in the early 1970s.  The Journal, publishing immediately after King’s death, continued to condemn him.)

Our human intolerance for agape has caused quite a body count to accumulate.  May God forgive us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 11, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DIONYSIUS OF CORINTH, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY NEYROT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF GEORGE AUGUSTUS SELWYN, ANGLICAN PRIMATE OF NEW ZEALAND

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF KRAKOW

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/

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