Friday, October 10, 2014

An ivy curtain descending upon academe?

From the October 2014 Charleston Mercury

By Charles A. Collins, Jr.
During my teenage years — while the Cold War was still on and the Soviet Union was still intact — I remember reading of Andrew van der Bijl, better known in the English-speaking world as “Brother Andrew,” whose daring missions to take the Bible into countries where it was forbidden or severely restricted were chronicled in his 1967 autobiography God’s Smuggler. One of the phenomena that surprised van der Bijl during his first visits behind the Iron Curtain was that almost all of the churches able to openly operate were those approved by and monitored by the state, proclaiming a message that the government approved. When I read that I found it troubling at the time and it remains a disturbing concept.
Unfortunately a similar trend seems to be growing on college campuses across the United States. In the 2011-2012 school year Vanderbilt University required all campus groups, including campus ministries, to accept all students and forbid them to require that their officers share the “beliefs, goals and values” of the respective groups or risk losing official recognition, which brings many privileges and benefits such as listing with student activities and free meeting space. Among the groups that refused to sign were the Roman Catholic ministry, which moved off campus in a processional and rebranded as “University Catholic” since they were forbidden to use the school's name in their own. More than a dozen Protestant groups, including the Graduate Christian Fellowship, which operated under the auspices of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship — an international evangelical organization that has been in existence for more than seventy years — were also forced off campus
In an essay in the September issue of Christianity Today, Trish Harrison Warren, who had worked with the Graduate Student Fellowship, said that she thought she was the “right kind of Evangelical” in the context of Vanderbilt but that the refusal to remove the requirement that those in leadership — all students were welcome to participate in the group — actually profess the creedal statements of the organization branded her as discriminatory. Indeed the vice chancellor told her that “Creedal discrimination is still discrimination.” She further observed: “I began to realize that inside the church, the territory between Augustine of Hippo and Jerry Falwell seems vast and miles lie between Ron Sider and Pat Robertson. But in the eyes of the university (and much of the press), subscribers to broad Christian orthodoxy occupy the same square foot of cultural space.
“The line between good and evil was drawn by two issues: creedal belief and sexual expression. If religious groups required set truths or limited sexual autonomy, they were bad — not just wrong but evil, narrow-minded and too dangerous to be tolerated on campus.”
Simply put: Accept the doctrine-less orthodoxy of political correctness or you’re no longer welcome.
Nor is the pressure only felt at Vanderbilt — a university that ironically includes a divinity school with historic ties to the United Methodist Church. This summer the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin College in Maine — a private college with historic ties to Congregationalism — found itself kicked off campus due to its refusal to abandon the requirement that leaders affirm core Christian beliefs. InterVarsity Chrisitian Fellowship also found itself removed from official recognition on all 23 campuses of the California State University System for the same reason.
This writer contacted three friends involved in campus ministry in the local area, Willis Webber, the area director of InterVarsity for South Carolina, the Reverend Greg Smith, director of St. Alban’s Chapel at The Citadel and the Reverend Jonathan Williams, a chaplain in the Army Reserve and minister in the Presbyterian Church in America who also ministers at The Citadel. Happily all three reported that they have not faced pressures locally (or, in the case of Mr. Webber, statewide).
South Carolinians can be proud that the politically correct religious discrimination experienced in other places does not seem to be making inroads in the Palmetto State yet, but we should also be vigilant in defending religious liberty on campus from those who seek to water down the faith that groups profess as they seek what the late Reverend Richard John Neuhaus referred to as a naked public square where robust expressions of faith are marginalized or eliminated entirely.
The Reverend Charles A. Collins, Jr., currently serves as vicar of the Church of the Atonement, a Reformed Episcopal Parish in the Anglican Church in North America, in Mount Pleasant. He may be contacted at drew.collins at

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why I Will No Longer Sign Charleston County Marriage Licenses

With the news today that Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, I have decided that I will no longer sign marriage licenses issued by his office. Although I actually live in Berkeley County, where the authorities are not unilaterally defying the Constitution of South Carolina , the parish that I serve is located in Charleston County. 

When I read of his decision I seriously considered engaging in civil disobedience -- of officiating at weddings regardless of whether or not the couple had a license or not. While some clergy will include phrases like "By the authority vested in me by the State of South Carolina..." when pronouncing a new couple man and wife, I've never done so in the marriages at which I have officiated in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Texas, for several reasons, among them: 1. I am a Minister of the Gospel and get my authority from the Church, not from the State; and 2. Those words are not contained in the Book of Common Prayer . A cursory check of the Book of Common Prayer and the various Constitutions and Canons to which I am accountable revealed the following:.
The Book of Common Prayer of the Reformed Episcopal Church contains the following, identical to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
¶ The laws respecting Matrimony, whether by publishing the Banns in
churches, or by License, being different in the several States, every
Minister is left to the direction of those laws, in every thing that
regards the civil contract between the parties.
¶ And when the Banns are published, it shall be in the following form:
I publish the Banns of Marriage between N. of ___, and N. of ___. If any
of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not
be joined together in holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first
(second or third) time of asking. -- Rubrics at the end of the form for the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony
Ministers of this Church shall be careful to observe the law of the State or Province governing the civil
contract of marriage in the place where the service shall be performed, and they shall conform to the laws of this
Church governing the solemnization of HolyMatrimony.-- Canon 34, Section 1
The Clergy shall ascertain that the man and woman, parties to the marriage, have a valid marriage license. -- Title III, Canon 7, Section 3, Article 4
I am a priest under authority and while the extent to which I care whether or not the government of Charleston County has licensed a marriage that I officiate has been dramatically diminished by this foolhardiness, I have to respect the law of the Church. It's worth noting that even if I were inclined to conduct a same-sex union -- and I'm not -- I am forbidden to do so by the Canons of both the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America and, in fact, my Diocese unanimous passed a resolution clarifying that just last month.

I won't sign licenses issued by Charleston County because of what happens when a clergyman does so -- something of which few people are aware. When I officiate a wedding I do so as an officer of the Church, but when the service is over and I gather with the newly married couple and witnesses and sign the license I have actually taken off my clerical hat (my Canterbury cap?) and donned that of an ex officio marriage registrar, performing duties authorized as a courtesy by the State. My fear -- and I don't think it unreasonable in light of some court decisions in recent litigation -- is that I could potentially be opening myself up to action if I refused to perform that duty for same-sex couples. Because of that, I'll require couples in Charleston County and any other jurisdictions that have granted same-sex marriage licences to provide me a copy of a license signed by a judge, notary public, or some other civil official before I'll officiate at the religious service.

Alan Wilson, the Attorney General of South Carolina has announced his intentions to seek a stay from the South Carolina Supreme Court  to prevent Judge Condon from issuing these licences; I hope that he is successful -- the coming days will certainly be interesting to watch as this plays out.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

An Enjoyable Read, Despite the Unfortunate Title

"Families are mysterious things." So muses Teddy Wilmot, one of the characters in John Updike's 1996 novel In the Beauty of the Lillies near the conclusion of this chronicle of four generations of the fictional Wilmot family. Although I enjoy a good novel, most of my reading is focused on non-fiction and I'd not read any of the late Mr. Updike's work before Fr. Bill Smith blogged about the loss of faith of the Rev'd Clarence Arthur Wilmot, the account of which introduces the reader to the clan. Fr. Smith's comments intrigued me because of the account of the conversation that took place between Wilmot and the Moderator of his presbytery when the former met with him to resign his ministry (Mr. Updike took a bit of artistic license there transforming the Moderator into a bishop-like character -- in reality Wilmot's interchange would've taken place with a committee, but that would've been harder to convey) in which the Moderator tells the Princetonian Wilmot, who'd studied at the feet of the Hodges and Warfield, that the robust Calvinism to which he was exposed was largely responsible for his crisis of faith; the Moderator had studied at Union Seminary in New York, then, as now, a bastion of theological liberalism, and having been trained in skepticism he adjudges his training to have inoculated him against crises of faith largely because his education had been based upon so much doubt disguised as new thought. In a act of ecclesiastical malpractice the Moderator requires Wilmot to serve out his probationary year before demitting his office, which Wilmot eventually does before, not being able to find any better suitable secular employment, becoming a salesman for cut-rate encyclopedias.

Upon reading Fr. Smith's post I was intrigued and ran out to buy a copy of the novel, which took its title from "The Battlehymn of the Republic," a heterodox Yankee hymn about which Fr. Smith has also written a scathing analysis. The book didn't disappoint as it followed the fortunes of the Wilmot family through the 1990s while simultaneously chronicling the decline of the Christian faith and the rise of Hollywood in the 20th Century. Mr. Updike, who underwent a period of doubt in the 1950s and then returned to the Christian faith until his death in 2009, is perceptive in telling the story of a family that largely (but not exclusively) remains estranged from the faith departed at the book's beginning; Christianity is always there, lurking in the background as the reader is transported to Hollywood and then finally to a Branch Davidian-style compound in the Colorado mountains dealing with two World Wars, a Depression, the Red Scare, and the upheaval of the sixties along the way. In examining Mr. Updike's work following his death New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani wrote:

Mr. Updike’s stunning and much underestimated 1996 epic, In the Beauty of the Lilies, tackled an even wider swath of history [than his Rabbit Tetralogy]. In charting the fortunes of an American family through some 80 years, the author showed how dreams, habits and predilections are handed down generation to generation, parent to child, even as he created a kaleidoscopic portrait of this country from its nervous entry into the 20th century to its stumbling approach to the millennium.

I would have to share her assessment. This is a book that is well worth reading. One word of caution, though, while Mr. Updike was a Christian and wrote  with an understanding and an appreciation for Christianity, this is not the genre known as "Christian fiction" and there are some racy passages. With that word of warning, though, this is an important book and well worth the reader's time and I am grateful to Fr. Smith for directing me to it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

R. Marion Canfield, R.I.P.

In the spring of 1994 I was a senior in college who had just come under care of Catwaba Presbytery of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and was preparing to enter Erskine Theological Seminary in the fall. I was also then serving as a platoon leader in Detachment 1, Troop B, 202d Cavalry, which was in Ridgeland, South Carolina. Learning of what was then known as the Hardeeville Presbyterian Church nearby I stopped by the minister's house one Sunday afternoon and introduced myself to the Rev'd Marion Canfield, who was serving as the mission developer for that small work. It was officially a mission -- a new church being planted by the presbytery -- and being rather off the beaten path from the rest of their congregations Marion appreciated the visit and the interaction. We sat on some chairs on his back lawn and had a very pleasant visit getting to know each other and discussing the trials of ministry and how God's Providence had brought us to our respective stages of out lives.

During the years that I was under care of and later licensed by Catawba Presbytery, I always enjoyed seeing Marion at presbytery meetings and other gatherings. He was a gentle soul and an encourager -- I remember the day I was licensed and, having to preach from a manuscript (something I don't usually do) preached roughly a twelve minute sermon he told me that no presbytery in the world would reject a candidate who preached that brief a sermon --who used his love for photography and knowledge of cameras to supplement the modest income that the church was able to pay him. His love for his people was evident. Sometime in the late 90s the congregation was organized as a churchand renamed the First Presbyterian Church of Hardeeville,  but it remained small and he remained its pastor. After I moved to the Reformed Episcopal Church and Anglicanism, I saw less of Marion, although I did stop by Hardeeville one evening in 2005 and enjoyed my visit with him.

Early this morning I learned of Marion's death yesterday. He was still serving as the Minister of First Church. I give thanks for his friendship, his example of steady shepherding and love for his flock and for Christ's Church. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Friday, August 8, 2014

More sad news this week from the attack that killed MG Harold J.Greene.

Georgia Military College, my Alma mater whence I was commissioned, is not a large school -- it's one of five military junior colleges where one can receive an associate's degree and a commission in the Army Reserve through the Early Commissioning Program (all of the graduates of which are then naturally required to complete a bachelor's degree whether or not they will serve out their obligations on active duty or the the Army Reserve or National Guard) and while the commissioning classes are, as I understand it, among the larger ones in the Army ROTC program they are nowhere near as big as, for instance, a class at West Point, Texas A&M (which has a larger Corps of Cadets than the Service Academies) and I am fairly sure that they're smaller than the ones at The Citadel or VMI. Because of that it's fairly unusual for two graduates to run into each other out in the Army. In light of that, the following information about the attack that killed MG Greene earlier this week was unusual and sad:

Earlier today, LtGen William B. Caldwell, IV, President of Georgia Military College, was informed by CPT Aurlbrio Fennel (GMC Class of 2004) that two of Fennel’s classmates, CPT Jeremy Haynes and CPT Ibrahim Tantawi, were critically wounded in the attack that killed MG Harold J. Greene in Afghanistan on August 5, 2014.

CPT Haynes was the Aide de Camp to MG Greene and CPT Tantawi is the Aide de Camp to MG Kevin Wendel. Haynes and Tantawi are in stable but critical condition in Germany.

LtGen Caldwell said, “This was my command for two years, and where BG Curt Rauhut (GMC’s Chief Operating Officer) served for two years, so we do fully appreciate the challenges that are associated with this mission. We will unite in prayer for our young grads, and for their families, as well as for all who were wounded and their families, especially the Greene family.”

Fennel, Haynes and Tantawi, all 2004 graduates of GMC’s Early Commissioning Program, posed for this photo just a couple of weeks ago while all were together in Afghanistan. [End quote]

Of your mercy, pray for CPTs Haynes, and Tantawi.

From the Charleston Mercury, August 2014

Margaret Sanger, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

By Charles A. Collins, Jr.
Shortly after moving to Texas in early 2001, I needed a couple of diplomas and my diaconal ordination certificate framed. After consulting with some friends in the area, they were nearly unanimous in their recommendation of where I should get the work done — a place that I’d not heard of in South Carolina, but about which people were effusive in praise. I’m speaking, of course, of Hobby Lobby, a store that has followed me as I returned to S.C. — and has been much in the news of late.
In 1970, David Green, an Assemblies of God minister’s son from Oklahoma, took out a $600 loan and began assembling and selling miniature picture frames out of his garage. The family business grew quickly: within a couple of years he was shopping for retail space and soon after upgraded to a larger shop, by then using the name Hobby Lobby. More stores followed as the company expanded: it currently has some 575 stores nationwide (including one in Mount Pleasant). This has made Green a billionaire, but despite the growth the company hasn’t gone public — it’s privately held with the Green family owning a controlling share. In addition, the son of a preacher man has sought to remain true to his faith, not opening Hobby Lobby on Sundays and living out his beliefs in other ways: “We’re Christians, and we run our business on Christian principles,” Green explains.
Because of their Christian principles, the Greens were compelled to oppose the Affordable Care Act because of its requirement that the company provide coverage for forms of birth control that prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. (The company had no opposition to funding the most commonly used forms of birth control such as most birth control pills, prophylactics, sponges and sterilization.) Hobby Lobby filed suit, and in the June 30 ruling of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 ruling that closely held corporations such as Hobby Lobby couldn’t be compelled to fund procedures that conflict with the religious convictions of their owners. Conservatives were, generally speaking, pleased; those on the left, less so.
Amid the hue and cry, this observer noticed two telling ads opposed to Hobby Lobby and the decision. The first, from the American Humanist Association, encouraged people to boycott businesses that unfairly impose their religion — Hobby Lobby is listed under the “crafts” category and Fox News is listed under the “news” category and Chick-Fil-A for “chicken.” The listing for “clothing,” however, was the Salvation Army. Perhaps, the American Humanists missed it, but, despite the fact that many think of the Salvation Army as a social service agency that has thrift stores, it is first, foremost, and always a church, with local congregations and clergy — and it should come as no surprise that a church would seek to influence others for their religion.
That listing betrays a larger agenda, namely the removal of faith from public discourse. In our culture today, it is perfectly fine to hold religious convictions provided they don't actually influence the way one lives. Such a privatized, marginalized faith is unlikely to bear much fruit.
The other ad was from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and prominently featured Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger noting with approbation her motto, “No gods — no masters.” This highlight of Mrs. Sanger reveals more that the FFRF might have wished. Mrs. Sanger was a staunch advocate of eugenics, a social philosophy aimed at improving the genetic quality of human beings, boldly proclaiming the goal of “more children from the fit, less from the unfit — that is the goal of birth control,” and referring to blacks, immigrants, and indigents as “human weeds, reckless breeders, spawning human beings ... who should never have been born.” It is both telling and troubling that the Freedom From Religion Foundation seeks to make Sanger an exemplar.
I’m certainly not trying to demonize all who disagree with the ruling inBurwell v. Hobby Lobby. I have friends who take issue with it. I am encouraging readers to look at the world and life view undergirding some opposition to the ruling, and the demand for compliance with government programs and progressive social causes, that seeks to remove the voices of people of faith from public discourse.
            The Rev'd Charles A. Collins, Jr., is vicar of the Church of the Atonement, a Reformed Episcopal parish in the Anglican Church of North America in Mount Pleasant.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

How Well Do We Know Bowe?

Yesterday morning I was sleeping in after a late night of riding along with a Sheriff's Deputy as part of my chaplaincy duties when a friend and former parishioner contacted me to tell me that the BBC was reporting that SGT Bowe Bergdahl had been released from Taliban captivity. She knew of my concern for his captivity, that I'd kept him in prayer, and that I'd done what I could to keep him within people's awareness -- until yesterday many people weren't aware of his existence and captivity. Much of the public's emotions seemed to go from joy (at the release of a U.S. soldier), to questions (about the prisoner swap), to in many cases anger and accusations that he is a traitor.

I had followed his case to one degree or another since shortly after learning of his capture in 2009. LTC Ralph Peters, a military analyst whose work I'd followed for a number of years, famously made some indelicate comments to Bill O'Reilly that caused controversy. Following that there wasn't much news other than occasional releases of film clips and a report -- later dismissed as Taliban propaganda --that he'd joined the Taliban. Then, in late 2011, there were reports that he had escaped captivity for several days before becoming re-captured. I was, quite frankly, convicted of having forgotten him; I added him to the "all military personnel and those currently deployed" section of my prayer list and purchased (and have since worn) a bracelet with his name on it (see below).

I will continue wearing it until he's back on U.S. soil, probably later this week.

Does this mean that I'm comfortable with the prisoner swap? No, I'm not. It almost certainly wasn't a wise move and may have serious ramifications for our security in the future; it also was a decision about which SGT Bergdahl, who was a Private First Class when captured (servicemen and women who are classified as prisoners of war or missing in action are automatically promoted up to the grade of Colonel or Navy or Coast Guard Captain), almost certainly wasn't consulted. Was his father's now-deleted tweet something I would've written? No, but neither was it particularly traitorous (a number of friends of mine, particularly of a Libertarian bent have expressed similar sentiments) nor do they indicate that he's secretly converted to Islam (for the record, the homeschooling family are members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church a quite conservative denomination that is unequivocal about the uniqueness of Christ), but, again, those comments weren't made by SGT Bergdahl.

The circumstances surrounding Bowe Bergdahl's disappearance and capture need to be examined and no doubt  they will. He remained under the Uniform Code of Military Justice throughout his captivity (and does to this day) and the United States Army will no-doubt examine and investigate his conduct and take appropriate action, which is as it should be. We as a country do not leave soldiers in the hands of our enemies. Period.

So give thanks for his safe return and hope for and demand a detailed accounting for what happened, but I would urge those reading this to withhold judgement until all of the facts are in.