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. 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 unanimously 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.