Friday, December 5, 2014

Resist the war on Advent

Published in the December 2014 Charleston Mercury.

by Charles A. Collins, Jr.
Late on the evening of October 31, I was headed home from a Halloween gathering with friends when I stopped off by a drug store near my house to pick up a few items. I run in there every few days and couldn’t help but notice that the copious Halloween goods that had been on display had now been replaced by Christmas goods — and it wasn’t quite November yet. At least one local radio station went to an around-the-clock Christmas music format just a few days later.
Much is made each year of the “war on Christmas.” Creeping political correctness seeks to marginalize the importance of Jesus’ birth to avoid offending those who may not celebrate the holiday; thus Christmas festivals are renamed “Winter Festivals” and the ACLU attacks nativity scenes on public property (some Christians even complain about the fairly innocuous abbreviation “X-mas,” although in the interest of full disclosure the Greek letter Chi has often been used as shorthand for “Christ” — and one examining the notes that I’ve written in the margin of my Bible would note that I use it myself). While those things concern me to some extent, I find that our culture is in danger of going to another extreme that is fraught with its own perils — that of rushing headlong into Christmas (sometimes from commercial motives) and forgetting the Advent season altogether.
Advent — that season that commences the church year preceding Christmastide — is an important gift, as Christians are reminded that Jesus will come again just as He did on that very first Christmas. It directs our attention to the consummation of the age when Christ will return in glory to judge the world. That’s a message that’s not nearly as appealing to many people as the babe in the manger that we celebrate at Christmas, but the fact that God the Son — the second Person of the Triune Godhead — condescended to earth, took on our form and was born of a woman to redeem His people who had gone astray only adds to the wonder of the season.
So resist the temptation to rush headlong into Christmas; savor Advent as we prepare to thank God for our Savior’s incarnation. Take seriously this call to prepare for His consummate return. Once Christmas has arrived, resist the culture’s rush to shudder it all until next … well, October apparently. Relish all 12 days of Christmas in celebration of Jesus’ incarnation.
The Rev’d Charles A. Collins, Jr. currently serves as vicar of the Church of the Atonement, a Reformed Episcopal Parish of the Anglican Church in North America, in Mount Pleasant. He may be contacted at drew.collins at gmail.com.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

An Unofficial Cycle of Prayer for the Anglican Church in North America

Shortly before the Common Cause Partnership birthed the Anglican Church in North America a Cycle of Prayer was set up along with a prayer blog that enabled the members and parishes of the Common Cause Partners to pray for one another. It ran out just before the ACNA was founded and I missed it so several years ago while serving as Vicar of St. Thomas Church in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, I resurrected it and have continued to produce it periodically. Here is the latest installment.

Of Grand Juries and Ham Sandwiches

Having been a political junkie from an early age I registered to vote literally before my 18th Birthday (I turned 18 in an election year and South Carolina law permits 17 year-olds to vote in primaries for elections if they will be 18 by election day) and I have voted in every general and primary election since then with the possible exception of one primary (the absentee ballot may or may not have gotten to me at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in time), updating my address as I moved. Juries are culled from voter registration lists and I had gotten called to jury duty in South Carolina while a cadet at Georgia Military College and when I called the Clerk of Court's office to let them know I was going to school out of state they told me that I might be called that summer, but I wasn't;for twenty years I wondered why I somehow missed jury duty until a fateful night in early January 2009 when I received a summons to jury duty and a questionnaire related to the same, which I promptly returned.

I had people ask if I would be reporting in clericals and I told them that I would not. I don't try to trade on the collar in that way if, for instance, I go to traffic court and I wasn't about to start then so I reported for duty wearing a bow tie and a blazer. I figured that I didn't stand much of a chance of getting selected because  when I was asked what my occupation is and I said "priest" that the prosecution would rapidly strike me assuming that I'd be a bleeding heart; if I survived that I guessed that the defense would do the same when I answered the fairly standard question of whether or not I had any close associations with law enforcement officers by telling them that I was a Chaplain for the Sheriff's Department, presuming that I has biased toward law enforcement. When I arrived at the Courthouse I learned that after twenty years of no jury duty I'd made up for it big time by getting the jury duty that lasts a year (with an option to get extended for a second year), namely service on the grand jury. Furthermore the only questions that I was asked were those that I'd already answered on the questionnaire; when I was the first name drawn the die was cast.

And so it was that for the next twelve months (I didn't get picked up for a second year) I and roughly 18 of my fellow citizens reported to the courthouse monthly to deliberate and vote true bill or no bill on a large docket of cases (I would guess an average of 100 per month) for the princely sum of $10 a day (fortunately the hospice for which I served as a chaplain at the time paid me for jury duty, but employers are not required to do that, so it represented a real sacrifice for some of the jurors). I would guess that I was one of maybe two or three people with a bachelor's degree and am fairly certain that I was the only juror with a graduate degree. I can honestly say that we discharged our duty faithfully with a few of us recusing ourselves from time to time (I myself did I think three times, a couple of times because it was dealing with cases that I'd encountered while riding along with deputies [as I was instructed to do] and one other time that I realized the person charged was related to a hospice patient for whom I'd cared; at least one lady did so because the person being voted on was her ex-husband). As I recall I voted "no bill" a couple of times and we as a grand jury voted "no bill" a couple of times when more information was needed -- after it was clarified we voted "true bill."

I've thought back on that year quite a bit over the past few days in light of the decision and subsequent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Many people, including some friends of mine have suggested that the grand jurors didn't do their duty by not automatically vote to indict and send it to a "real jury" so that a "real trial" could take place. Such comments betray an ignorance of how our criminal justice system works. A grand jury is in fact a real jury, and it plays an important role in safeguarding our liberties and the notion that it only exists to rubber stamp whatever charges are leveled at citizens by the state is a dangerous one. I have a degree in criminal justice and within the first 15 minutes of the first criminal justice class that I ever took it was drilled into us that our criminal justice system is based upon discretion at all levels and the grand jury is one of those levels. Grand juries protect citizens from unjust charges and if they don't do their duty -- as some are suggesting that the St. Louis County grand jury shouldn't have done by merely rubber stamping the indictment and allowing a trial to take place for a crime that they didn't have probably cause to believe had been committed in pursuit of, ironically, justice, then some of the protections that we enjoy under the Constitution have been eroded. 

But aren't grand jury indictments so easy to obtain that you could indict a ham sandwich? Not really, and they're certainly not supposed to be. I'll grant that the process is weighted in favor of the prosecution but that doesn't mean that just anything can be slipped by a grand jury and it certainly doesn't mean that it should. The overwhelming majority of the cases result in a vote of "true bill," but in the majority of cases the information presented more than met the standard of probable cause. After reviewing the facts of the case in the shooting of Michael Brown in  excruciating detail (three autopsies and numerous witnesses) the St. Louis County grand jury determined that probable cause did not exist to believe that Officer Wilson violated the law in exercising deadly force (I'll not comment on the specifics of the case but would commend this article form a law enforcement site that goes into great detail).

Is there racial injustice in the United States in 2014? Yes, I'm sure that there is in places, but progress toward eradicating it is not made by looting and rioting, nor is it made by trying to short-circuit the process and make someone stand trial for a crime that they are not adjudged to commit for the sake of atoning for sins that the person did not specifically commit (if one goes down that road it is a very short trip to convicting people of crimes that they didn't commit to appease an angry mob... seems I recall a case similar to that somewhere). In point of fact grand juries are one of the safeguards that protect the rights of individual citizens and should be respected as such.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Follow Up to "Why I Will No Longer Sign Charleston County Marriage Licenses"

N.B. The Most Rev'd Dr. Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, has written his clergy and laity asking that we refrain from signing The Marriage Pledge  at this time until prayerful deliberation may take place. Out of respect for my godly Archbishop's request I have written First Things Dr. Radner, and Canon Seitz and asked that my name be removed at this time.

My post of 8 October regarding why I won't sign marriage licenses in Charleston County, where my current parish, The Church of the Atonement, is located has gotten more hits than anything I've ever posted here and was reprinted by The Aquila Report and has received circulation elsewhere. I don't necessarily think that anything that I wrote there was profound but it was the thoughts of one parish priest as I tried to sort out how to respond to the unilateral actions of a local judge.

Earlier today two women were united in legal "marriage" after being granted a license by Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon, a Republican, by the way. This was further unilateral action by the Judge as a stay had been granted on the granting of same-sex marriage licenses until noon tomorrow in South Carolina at the request of South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson; later in the day that stay was lifted but that was done so after Judge Condon unilaterally violated the very Constitution that he took an oath to uphold. Barring further action, it appears that same-sex "marriage" licenses will be granted across South Carolina beginning at noon tomorrow, and, as a result, my days of signing South Carolina marriage licenses will be over.

Two Episcopal priests who are members of the faculty at Wycliffe College, Toronto, have produced The Marriage Pledge, taking essentially the same action that I announced in my blog post. I've signed it and would encourage other members of the clergy to consider doing so as this is an issue that isn't going to go away. 


I would encourage Christians, ordained or lay, to consider signing the Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience which deals with a number of crucial issues for the times in which we live. I was signatory number 4177 a couple of days after it was released in 2009 and it now has more than a half-million signatories.

Finally, for those in South Carolina who support General Wilson's efforts to uphold the Constitution of South Carolina and an Amendment that received the support of 96% of the Legislature and 78% of the voters, please sign Palmetto Family's petition to that effect.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Does Anybody Really Know What an Anglican Is? Does Anybody Really Care? (with apologies to Chicago)

     Since beginning his papacy some 18 months ago, Pope Francis has gained a reputation for lively interviews that are sometimes occasions for misinterpretation. Some of that can be attributed to factors of language – although conversant in Latin, Italian, German, French, Portuguese, English, Ukrainian, with some understanding of Piedmontese and some Genoese in addition to his native Spanish, there seems to have been some misunderstanding on the part of certain reporters, some of whom may have been seeking to hear the Pontiff say things he may not have intended to say.

     The Most Rev'd and Rt. Hon. Justin Welby, the current Archbishop ofCanterbury, didn't have that language barrier recently when he gave an interview to the Rev'd Canon Ian Ellis, Editor of TheChurch of Ireland Gazette. In the interview, the Archbishop, a graduate of Eton, Cambridge, and St. John's College, Durham, was asked about the standing of the Anglican Church in North America and answered that the ACNA was not a member of the Anglican Communion but are viewed as an ecumenical partner, with whom as with all ecumenical partners reconciliation is sought. When asked about his appointment earlier this year of the Rev'd Dr. Tory Baucum, Rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, a parish that had left the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia some seven years ago who had also personally left The Episcopal Church, as one of the Six Preachers of Canterbury Cathedral (a designation dating back to 1541) – an appointment seen by many as validation for the ACNA – the Archbishop said that Dr. Baucum's prior status as a priest in The Episcopal Church was the basis for his appointment.

     While he didn't explicitly so phrase it, the Archbishop's comments were taken by many to mean that the ACNA is un-Anglican. Indeed, in an online exchange with the Episcopal Bishop of Springfield – one of the more conservative bishops still in The Episcopal Church – this author, noting that he had been ordained a deacon in October 2001 by the late Rt. Rev'd James West, a bishop in apostolic succession, ordained a priest in August 2003 by Bishop West and the Rt. Rev'd Dr. C. FitzSimons Allison, XII Bishop of South Carolina, also in apostolic succession, and a number of other presbyters, unreservedly believes, subscribes to, and teaches in accordance with the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, endeavors to pray the Daily Offices from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer daily, and celebrates Holy Communion at least weekly using the Book of Common Prayer asked if he is an Anglican. The Bishop allowed that the author is faithful Christian and validly ordained priest but did not consider him an Anglican. When asked if the author is misrepresenting himself by answering the he is an Anglican priest when people ask him what kind of clergyman he is, the Bishop declined to give an answer.

     But then a funny thing happened in Atlanta. On the evening of October 9, the Most Rev'd Dr. Foley Beach, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the South, was invested as the second Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America in a service held at the Church of the Apostles in Georgia's capitol city. In attendance were a number of bishops including the Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, the Archbishop and Primate of Kenya, the Archbishop, Primate, and Metropolitan of All Nigeria, the Archbishop and Primate of Uganda, the Archbishop and Primate of Rwanda, the Archbishop of Myanmar, and the Archbishop of the SouthernCone – representing among them more than two-thirds of the Anglican Communion. While praying over Archbishop Beach the primates went off script and received him as an Archbishop and Primate in the Anglican Communion. They also followed it up with a written statement similarly clarifying their understanding and intent as to what they had done, namely, receiving and recognizing Archbishop Beach as a fellow Primate in the Anglican Communion. This is of interest to those in the Diocese of South Carolina – at this time not a part of the ACNA – because those same Primates have repeatedly stated that they consider the Rt. Rev'd Mark Joseph Lawrence to be the Bishop of South Carolina.

     Clearly those Primates consider some to be Anglican whom the Archbishop of Canterbury may not yet be ready to so acknowledge. Hopefully he will reconsider where the mind of the Communion is if he wishes to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion. Whether he will do so remains to be seen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Put No Confidence in Princes

I was born into a Republican family, the grandson of a businessman who had voted -- as did nearly every other white man in the South -- for FDR in 1932 and, upon seeing the creeping socialism of the New Deal never did so again at the national level and lived to see being a Republican become acceptable at the local level; his son, my father, viewed voting a nearly if not exclusively straight Republican ticket as being a duty (something that hadn't changed when I spoke to him this afternoon). When I was 14 I volunteered for the re-election campaign of Ronald Reagan and the associated races (I've said, not completely jokingly, that every Presidential election has been downhill since then) and was involved with Republican Party politics to a greater or lesser extent until last year when the ease with which my fellow Republicans gave the vote to Mark Sanford in returning him to Congress following his ending his gubernatorial term in scandal made me uncomfortable with continuing to so identify myself, although as a Conservative I predominately vote Republican.

Twenty years ago tonight -- give or take a couple of days -- I was in my junior (first) year at Erskine Theological Seminary and sitting in my apartment in Abbeville, South Carolina, as I watched the Republicans do what they have just done tonight -- take control of both houses of Congress for the first time in my lifetime, turning back the tide of Bill Clinton, whom I was sure represented all that was evil and bad in the country. I was sure that this was a great move of God, after all, the G.O.P. was "God's Own Party", right?

I walked across the street from my apartment to the Abbeville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church  (I knew where the key was, and likely still is, hidden) and thanked God for his goodness. I took a copy of Bible Songs, the green-bound quasi-Psalter then used in many ARP churches (now much less so, as they've been replaced by a Psalter that is a marked improvement) and sang number 313 "Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah" (based upon Psalm 148) in celebration of this sea change. It is perhaps unfortunate that I didn't sing the more traditional albeit slightly less textually accurate version from The Psalter, 1912 which includes the injunction to "Put no confidence in princes, Nor for help on man depend; He shall die, to dust returning, And his purposes shall end."

And so, 20 years later, I find myself sitting at home, watching the news as the Republicans control both houses of Congress while a Democrat occupies the White House, albeit at the end of his tenure and not at the beginning. I hope that this will stem the tide of his liberal agenda that promotes many things that I am convinced are antithetical to a Christian world and life view and protect the preborn and, seemingly impossibly, reverse the trend toward the Federal redefinition of marriage, but I'm not nearly as exultant as I was 20 years ago.

Elections are important -- very important -- but even more important is that the Church faithfully proclaim the whole counsel of God, that Christian parents disciple their children and that individually and corporately Christians live transformed lives that will have far more impact than the results of any election.

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 gmail.com