Tuesday, January 31, 2012

First they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew...

...so I didn't care. Then they came for the Roman Catholics, but I was not a Roman Catholic, so I didn't care. Then they came for me, but there was no one left to care.

This letter, or one very similar to it, was to be read at every Roman Catholic Mass in the United States last weekend:


My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ in the Diocese of Trenton:

As your Bishop, I write to you concerning an alarming matter that negatively impacts the Catholic Church in the United States directly, and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith. The federal government, which claims to be "of, by and for the people," has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people - the Catholic population and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful.

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

As a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to violate our consciences or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so.)

We cannot - we will not - comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

This is not an attempt by the Church to interfere with anyone's politics. It is, rather, an attempt to lift up and live our Catholic faith the way that our nation and our constitution have always guaranteed us the freedom and the right to do. Please join me and all of those harmed by this legislation in prayer and in an all-out effort to have our freedom restored. History cautions us repeatedly that once we walk down such a dangerous path, we will get lost in the process.

Respectfully yours in Christ,
Most Reverend David M. O'Connell C.M.
Bishop of Trenton

The controversy centers on the Obama administration's mandate that employers must include contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in health care coverage. Recently, the administration made one small concession surrounding the mandate. They decided to give church-affiliated hospitals and organizations another year before they will be forced to comply. “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently said.

No one should make the mistake of thinking this is merely a Catholic issue. It is about the government using the new health care mandates to violate the consciences and first amendment rights of anyone it chooses. Right now that just happens to be the Roman Catholics and, beyond them, anyone who opposes abortion.

The whole problem began with letting the government take over health care in the first place. Prior to this, individuals who needed a certain type of coverage were free to purchase it. Some policies covered maternity care, some didn't. Some covered psychological counseling, some didn't. Some covered chiropractic care, some didn't. Some policies covered eyeglasses, some didn't. If I wanted a policy that covered abortion services, there were policies that covered that too. The point is I could choose a policy that met my needs and leave off types of care I don’t want, or need, or feel conscience bound not to have to pay for. It’s called freedom.

Now the government is empowered to dictate what kinds of health insurance policies all companies must provide, and to dictate what kinds of policies we all must pay for. Of course the same power enables the government to dictate what will not be covered. And, in a few years, when the cost of health care becomes even more difficult to manage, the government will dictate, for example: no organ transplants if you’re over 75; no dialysis if you’re over 80, etc. Choices will have to be made "in the interest of keeping health care available and affordable to all." So, yes, there will be panels that decide who lives and who dies.

Government run health care is a dictatorship; and this conflict with the Roman Catholics is just the first taste of what this kind of dictatorship means for all of us.

The only way to stop this dictatorship is to get the federal government out of the health care business altogether. We have one chance to do that next November, and we had better make it count!

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Hey, Al, tell me that joke again about the earth getting warmer!"

A very interesting piece from The Daily Mail (UK):
The supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming is facing an inconvenient challenge after the release of new temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.

The figures suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice age to rival the 70-year temperature drop that saw frost fairs held on the Thames in the 17th Century.

Based on readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations, the data was issued last week without fanfare by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.
Read it all.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tunics, cloaks, and church buildings

"And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well" (Matthew 5:40, ESV).

Last week I happened to be in Savannah, Georgia; and, as I try to do whenever I am in town on a Sunday evening, I attended the beautiful sung Compline at historic Christ Church. Christ Church is the oldest Anglican church in Georgia—older than the State of Georgia, older than the Diocese of Georgia, and older than the Episcopal Church. It is the only church where both John Wesley and George Whitefield served as rectors. Christ Church, whose vestry voted unanimously to separate from the Episcopal Church in 2007 (a vote that was sustained by 87% of the membership) recently had its building taken away by the courts and given to the Episcopal diocese.

So, this time, Compline was different. It was the same beautiful service, marvelously sung by the same very able choristers. The homily by the Rev. Marcus Robertson was inspiring, as always. In every respect it was the same, except that the whole service had been transported several hundred yards away to Independent Presbyterian Church, which has offered sanctuary to the recently evicted Christ Church.

Although my spirit was lifted, as it always is, by that service, it is just as well that it took place in a darkened church, lighted only by candles. Because I have to confess that my eyes teared up more than once during that service at the thought of this very faithful and vibrant congregation being displaced from their historic home.

Shortly after Christmas I was with family in Southern Illinois. One morning at the breakfast table, my brother-in-law was reading the newspaper and noticed in the real estate ads that a very prominent church building in town was for sale—for $144,000—an ironically biblical number, but also a surprisingly paltry sum, far less than many houses in town. But so it goes in many places.

For instance, in the city of Quincy, Illinois (from which the Diocese takes its name), the last time I checked there were three former Roman Catholic churches for sale. All of them had been on the market for at least three years, and the most expensive one was listed for $275,000. (not to mention several other church buildings in town that are either listed as for sale, or that have been taken off the market for lack of any buyers).

This means that, as painful as it might be, if St. John's Church eventually loses its beautiful and historic building in the current lawsuit from TEC and the Episcopal Diocese, the congregation can go a few blocks in any direction and pick up a ready-to-use church building for a relatively small sum. The Roman Catholic diocese will have disposed of one disused building, and the Episcopal diocese will have gained one.

It amazes me that a denomination that speaks rather freely in some circles about restorative justice and the redistribution of wealth (and which has been both a spiritual and even physical home to the Occupy movement) isn't willing to redistribute a little of its own wealth to brothers and sisters in Christ who have experienced significant differences and feel a spiritual need to walk apart.

Instead we have stories like this one from Ohio:
Carla Long is overcome with sadness every time she sees the unoccupied church building in her East Buchtel Avenue neighborhood [in Akron].

"It's heartbreaking. That church has been a beacon of light in this neighborhood," said Long, 46. "We always called it a hospital because it was a place where you could go for comfort and healing."

Long is a recovering addict who found support at Holy Spirit Church when it was located at 825 E. Buchtel Ave. The congregation moved out of the building in July, after losing it in a court battle.

The Holy Spirit congregation is among five Northeast Ohio parishes that were displaced after a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge ruled that the church properties they occupied belonged to the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio.

The five congregations — Holy Spirit; St. Luke's, Fairlawn; St. Barnabas, Bay Village; St. Anne in the Fields, Madison; and Church of the Transfiguration, Cleveland — left the Episcopal Church in 2003 and realigned with the Anglican Communion.

The split grew from disagreements over biblical teaching on salvation and other issues, including homosexuality. After the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003, some of the more theologically conservative parishes, including the five in Northeast Ohio, disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church and realigned themselves with Anglican organizations that share their views on issues like homosexuality.

In March 2008, the diocese sued, asking the county court to declare that the property associated with the five parishes belongs to the diocese and the Episcopal Church. Last April, the court ruled in favor of the Episcopal Church and the diocese. Several months later, the Anglican congregations began vacating the buildings.

All five congregations have been taken in by other churches — Church of the Transfiguration worships at a former Methodist building on Martin Luther King Drive in Cleveland; St. Anne's worships in the youth center at Cornerstone Friends Church in Madison and St. Barnabas, now Christ Church Westshore, has weekday services at Bay Presbyterian Church Westshore and a 10 a.m. Sunday service at Bay High School in Bay Village.

Locally, Holy Spirit's congregation worships at 10 a.m. Sundays in the fellowship hall at Bethel Church, 734 Grant St. in Akron. There also is a lunchtime ministry that begins at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesdays. The ministry is supported by several other congregations, including those at Bethel and St. Luke's.

St. Luke's, whose corporate name is now St. Luke's Ministries, worships at 10 a.m. Sunday in the fellowship hall at St. Thomas Eastern Orthodox Church, 555 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road in Fairlawn, and has a 4:30 p.m. Saturday service at its ministry center, 3810 Ridgewood Road in Copley Township.

"One of the great things that has come from this is that we don't just have a renter's relationship with St. Thomas. It's a genuine friendship," said the Rev. Michael Kraynak, pastor at St. Luke’s. "All of the five churches have been instrumental in unifying the Christian community because each is involved in a relationship where one Christian community is helping another."

St. Luke's moved its services to St. Thomas in late November. In the last two months, the two congregations have grown closer. Although they each have their own services, the congregations have come together on several occasions.

"Even though we were at a place where we didn't know where we were going to go, after the court ruling, God was doing much more in the midst," Kraynak said. "The Lord has done something in our vision and our heart to help us see that we can do much more to serve others when we are in relationship with others. Mission, for us, is more important than a building."

The properties that were once home to St. Luke's at 565 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road in Fairlawn and Holy Spirit at 825 E. Buchtel Ave. are for sale with Grubb and Ellis Co. The Cleveland real-estate company also is selling the properties in Madison and Cleveland. The Bay Village property has been restarted as an Episcopal Church by the diocese.

"The Bay Village location was one that we really wanted to keep. Most of the others have Episcopal churches nearby," said Martha Wright, spokeswoman for the diocese. "Until the other buildings are sold, the diocese is still responsible for them."

The former St. Luke’s property is listed as a 26,186-square-foot single-story structure, with 425 parking spaces, located on 20.27 acres that can be adapted for office or medical use. The listing suggests that the property is "ideal for congregate care, continued religious use, public/private schooling, hospitals and cultural institutions." It is priced at $1.9 million.

The former Holy Spirit property consists of a 1,880-square-foot house and a 5,682-square-foot church, with 45 parking spaces on .65 acre. It is listed for $159,000.

David Hollister, of Grubb and Ellis, said that in the two months that he has had the listings, both properties have had two showings and one offer. He said that while the Fairlawn property could serve a different use, the Buchtel property is likely to be sold to another religious community.

The Rev. Scott Souders, pastor of Holy Spirit, said he hopes that the Buchtel property will go to a ministry dedicated to outreach in the neighborhood.

"We were doing some really effective ministry there and it would be nice to have the presence of another ministry there to continue meeting the needs of the people,” Souders said. “We still go back to the neighborhood and do ministry but our presence is missing. Still, we are committed to touching lives and bringing other ministries together to help us minister to people where they are."

Long, who still considers Holy Spirit her church home, said she is not always able to travel to the new location. So, she regularly attends a church that is closer to her home.

"It’s just a shame that a church that has done so much to lift up the people in this neighborhood is no longer here," Long said. "It was a place that everyone knew they could go to and find comfort without judgment. People had respect for the building because of what the people inside were doing."

"Since it closed, my husband and I have chased people who were drinking from the front porch. We've found drug paraphernalia near the church house and mattresses behind the church. Lord only knows what they were being used for. This neighborhood needs a safe place for people to go, not a closed church building."

Then there are stories like the one from Central New York, written just after the diocese sued St. Andrew's, Syracuse, and St. Andrew's, Vestal and before it moved against Good Shepherd, Binghampton, whose building was later sold to a mosque!

The point I am trying to make here is the same one made by Fr. Tony Seel, when he writes regarding the situation in Central New York:
I can't help wondering what went so horribly wrong in the episcopate of Skip Adams. Fr. Kennedy at Stand Firm linked to Adams' convention address and some of the statements in that address are astounding. How can the bishop tell the story that he tells about two of the desert fathers and not see his own acts of ungenerosity toward those who have left the DCNY? I'm sure that he would respond that he has a fiduciary responsibility to the DCNY and that's why he sued St. Andrew's in Syracuse and is now suing Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton. You would think that someone who told a story about generosity like that might reflect on their own lack of generosity.

The point is that this isn't about fiduciary responsibility, because in some of these cases the Episcopal Church has obviously been willing to spend more than it stands to recover in the prosecution of these lawsuits. It isn't about recovering the buildings for the use of future generations of Episcopalians, because the dioceses have abandoned them to become crack houses and have sold them for purposes such as a mosque. And, although the Episcopal Church leadership may not see it, it isn't about protecting their brand from competition from another Anglican jurisdiction, because that jurisdiction is already up and running—and growing—with or without the buildings, while the Episcopal Church is shrinking and dying.

No, the point becomes plain. This is about being punitive. It is about using every weapon at your disposal to hurt those who disagree with you. It is about taking everything you have ever said about generosity, humility, self-sacrifice, loving your neighbor, and sharing what you have with those who need it—and doing exactly the opposite.

The history lessons from this era won't be written by Episcopal Church historians, because when the Episcopal Church dies, its institutions of higher learning will die with it--in fact they may even precede it. The only hope denominational leaders must have is that the history of this present period will be written by secular historians who are sympathetic to their liberal agenda. But that won't be the final word.

Christianity has entered the age of post-Christendom. It is quickly becoming an age like that before Constantine, when authentic Christianity is often misunderstood and persecuted. And so the Church is faced with a time of great division. On the one hand there are those who cooperate with the new Imperial establishment of secularists and post-modern pagans, and who attempt to make Christianity acceptable to its "cultured despisers." This effort will ultimately fail because secularism and post-modernism are self-authenticating and don't have any enduring need for what liberal Christianity has to offer. Liberal religion will simply dissolve into the culture whose values it mirrors and cease to exist.

On the other hand, there will be those who respond to the challenges of the post-Christendom period the way Christians did in the pre-Constantinian era, by upholding and proclaiming the apostolic faith and message, even at great cost. To whatever extent there will be Christian Church histories written 200 years from now, it will be these new Apostolic Fathers and Mothers who write them--unless, of course, our Lord comes again (as every creedal Christian stands and confesses every Sunday morning, but which only a portion actually believe will happen). In either event, the verdict on the religious establishments of this age will not be pretty.

Finally, let me close with a commentary on the verse with which I began this piece, from Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary:
Matthew 5:38-42 - The plain instruction is, Suffer any injury that can be borne, for the sake of peace, committing your concerns to the Lord's keeping. And the sum of all is, that Christians must avoid disputing and striving. If any say, Flesh and blood cannot pass by such an affront, let them remember, that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God; and those who act upon right principles will have most peace and comfort.
And, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, see also I Corinthians 6.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

53.2 million and counting

Today marked the 39th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v Wade decision. Since that time 53.2 million fellow human beings who would otherwise be walking among us have been killed by choice. This picture can be found several places on the web, but I thought it appropriate to post it here, because sometimes a picture is worth more than a thousand words.

In the 1980's I was one of the founders and later chairman of LifeChoices of Memphis. From 1989 to 2001 I was a board member and president (1991-2001) of the Pregnancy Centers of Pittsburgh, now known as the Women's Choice Network. For the past 25 years I have been a board member and sometime president (1991-1994) of the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life, now known as Anglicans for Life. I cite my own personal history simply to say this: It is not enough to be opposed to abortion, we have to work to provide alternatives. There is a pregnancy care center in your community that needs your help. Make a commitment right now not merely to be pro-life but to get involved in helping a woman with an unexpected pregnancy to choose life.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What I wish Chuck Murphy had said

As the AMiA Winter Conference continues to meet in Houston, TX, Chairman/Bishop Chuck Murphy has delivered his address to the conference. You can read a summary or listen to the audio to read or hear what he actually said. What I wish he had said is something more like this:
This has been a difficult season, an awkward season as we have gone through a time of discernment and great challenges regarding the future of the Anglican Mission. The attendance at this year's conference is down, as many of our members and leaders have chosen to "sit this one out" while they prayerfully wait and see what is going to happen here.

I have spent the past month in prayer and fasting in preparation for this time with you, interrupted only to meet with the Archbishop of Rwanda at the gracious invitation of the Archbishop of Kenya and to meet personally with Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America. Those meetings were marked by repentance for the ways in which I have abused my position of leadership and wronged my Christian brothers and fellow leaders; and I have wronged you.

God has blessed the Anglican Mission mightily in these past twelve years, and I am grateful for his leadership and guidance. I believe he has great plans for the Anglican Mission in the days ahead. At the same time I must confess, just as I confessed to my fellow bishops and archbishops, that I have been guilty of allowing my own will and desires to affect too greatly the direction of my leadership of this Mission.

In particular, I must confess to you that:

When the Anglican Mission withdrew from membership in the Anglican Church in North America to become a mission partner, I said that it was because the Church in Rwanda would not release us to become full members of the ACNA. The truth is that I feared the loss of autonomy that would come from joining the ACNA and being part of a larger church, over which I did not exercise the same degree of control.

I confess to you that now, two years later, I led in withdrawing the AMiA from the oversight of the Province of Rwanda because I resented the increased accountability and authority being exercised by the new leadership of the Church that has been our spiritual and ecclesiastical home for the past twelve years.

That new leadership does not yet fully understand and support the calling and vision that I believe we have been given in the Anglican Mission. But I recognize that these differences must be worked out in fellowship and under authority and not through schism.

At the same time, I recognize that we cannot be fully Anglican while living apart from our orthodox Anglican brothers and sisters in North America. We must work together as one body and engage in the mutual submission that is expected of all of us who are members of the Body of Christ. I have sought and received the forgiveness of my brother bishops for the ways in which I have failed them in my lack of submission and in withholding my fellowship, and I now ask for your forgiveness for the ways I have failed you in my leadership. I have pledged myself to undertake new ways to be fully open and accountable to them and to you who are the backbone of this Mission.

I have taken quite a beating on the internet lately, but I have come to recognize that not all the people saying things on the internet that are difficult for me to hear wish me ill. In fact, there are many who are praying diligently and who care deeply about what happens to me and to the AMiA. The internet can be a tool for openness and accountability and a great way of getting a speedy response as to what God's people are thinking and feeling. And I am making a new resolve to listen to what God is saying through his people.

This is a smaller group at this conference, and it affords us the opportunity to listen carefully. We want to hear God speak to us, to see how he wants to direct us. Several of us will be presenting the direction that we believe God has called us to undertake for the AM, just as we have shared it with our fellow bishops and our Archbishop in Rwanda with whom we are working toward reconciliation and with the leadership of the Anglican Church in North America. Just as I committed myself to them, I am committing to you that we will move in the direction and on the timetable that God shows us as we pray and discern together....

Okay, that's enough. You get the idea. And if you read or listened to the actual address, you will have noticed several points of departure. But I am certain that, if Bishop Murphy had said something like this in Houston, there would have been shouts of Hallelujah from Anglicans all across this nation and around the world, and a new resolve on the part of many to follow his leadership.

And so I want to say to Bishop Murphy: Chuck, you can be humble and still be a leader. In fact, it is the only way you can lead like Jesus.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:1-11).

It is always dangerous (if not impossible) to write a confession for another person. We can only truly confess our own sins and not someone else's. And so I offer this with a prayer that it will be received as it was intended, with the earnest desire to see God's blessing on the AMiA and all faithful Anglicans.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Marcus Borg, meet Bernie Madoff

Christopher Johnson runs two (1, 2) of the cleverest blogs I know. While his writing is always sure to interest or amuse me, I am especially thankful that this piece reminded me of a wonderful quotation from no less notable a theologian than Soren Kierkegaard:
The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. "My God," you will say, "if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?" Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

That is a lovely quote, isn't it? It has sustained me over the years when I have been in meetings with clergy and theologians--intelligent, educated people who wouldn't hesitate to declare the precise meaning of any sentence ever written or translated into English; but let someone mention a passage from the Bible, and they suddenly become total agnostics, who don't know and will profess that we never can know what that verse is supposed to mean. Kierkegaard knew the type. He dealt with them in his day, and he anticipated where their supposed theological scholarship would take us in the years to come. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things" (Rom. 1:21-23). (It's funny how most of Romans, chapter 1, doesn't appear in any lectionary readings, isn't it?)

Christopher Johnson quotes Kierkegaard in the process of doing an excellent fisking of a Huffington Post (a.k.a., the Huffing and Puffing-ton Post) column by Jeff DeGraff, critizing the revised language for the Mass that Roman Catholics began using on the First Sunday of Advent 2011.

DeGraff begins and ends by comparing the new Roman Catholic Mass to the New Coke, but in between makes some comments I found curious. For instance, he says: "Supposedly this was all done in the name of authenticity. If that were true, why not embrace the Jesus Seminar, a group of over one hundred of the world's foremost biblical scholars who have identified inaccuracies in the liturgy?" Now I am certainly willing to be corrected if wrong, but I have had a fair amount of experience with the Jesus Seminar, and I am not aware that they have ever dealt with the canon of the Catholic Mass. Their focus is on the text of Scripture, particularly the Gospels. And, frankly, while most of the words in the Mass represent scriptural ideas, they are not direct quotations from Scripture. (There is a chart comparing the changes in the Mass here, in case you are interested.)

So it appears that Mr. DeGraff really doesn't know what the heck he is talking about. But he keeps digging, nevertheless: "Why not go back to the original language of the Bible -- Hebrew and Greek?" he asks. Guess what! It wouldn't help. If the parts of the Mass that have been changed aren't quotations from the Bible in the first place, then going back to the original languages of the Bible isn't going to help.

But he continues: "Why not reconcile with the Eastern Orthodox Church which also has a legitimate claim as the original denomination?" Yeah, if you want to see changes in the Mass, just try reconciling with the Eastern Orthodox! It makes me wonder if he has ever even seen an Orthodox Divine Liturgy. So much for Mr. DeGraff, whose by line identifies him as an "Author, thought leader and innovation expert." (I'm sorry, I actually couldn't type those last few words without laughing out loud.)

But the thing that amazed me most is Mr. DeGraff's reference to the Jesus Seminar as "a group of over one hundred of the world's foremost biblical scholars." This is a little bit like citing the Tesla Institute as experts in Physics. But left wing journalists who get caught up in skepticism toward religion don't want to know any better, as long as they have a source they can use to confirm their prejudices.

For those who aren't familiar with The Jesus Seminar, it is made up of religion and theology faculty members in liberal institutions who have already evidenced skepticism about the Bible before they even get to join. They then analyze the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and vote on how few of those words they think he actually said.

It is a remarkable way to make a living. Skeptical academics write skeptical articles and books that are peer reviewed by other skeptical academics, and everyone gets paid.

Jesus Seminar "scholars" make a career of disputing the authenticity of Jesus' words when there is absolutely no way anyone will ever be able to verify objectively whether they are correct (at least not in this lifetime). This would never pass for scholarship in the hard sciences or even as a worthwhile achievement in most professions.

Make no mistake: the Jesus Seminar is simply an intellectual Ponzi scheme, and every member you meet is simply a Bernie Madoff in academic garb. The scheme only works as long as new people buy in so the ones who got in earlier can earn a living.

So while there is still time, I am going to make a New Year's resolution: Every time someone cites the Jesus Seminar to me, I am simply going to laugh--openly and unashamedly laugh out loud--that the person talking to me could ever mistake such an empty, preposterous hoax for actual scholarship.

Happy 2012!