Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • The State of Things – Lost Edition.

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:32 am, February 26th 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    I get the feeling America is just lost.

    Jim Geraghty writes at length about the sad state of satire in our comedy.  This is a great piece and worthy of attention.  Just one quote:

    When everybody’s getting mocked, there’s not much consequence to the mockery. The audience becomes conditioned to just letting the microwave-worthy instant satire wash over them and moving on to the next topic, because they intuitively sense that the figure wasn’t chosen for any particular trait that deserves the mockery.

    The older notion of satire as a tool for addressing some wrongdoing or social ill may be falling apart before us. We don’t hold many of our national political or cultural leaders in high regard,….

    Think about that for a minute.  Nothing and no one is held in high regard.  I would look at this from a slightly different angle.  It’s not that there is no particular trait that warrants the mockery. but rather it is simply fame that warrants it.  But fame, as it seems like everyone knows to the point of triteness, is valueless.  Serial killer/cannibal Jeffery Dahmer is as famous as soon-to-be-saint Mother Theresa.  Without value, there is no basis for mockery.

    Powerline’s Scott Johnson gives his thoughts on what happened in the last election and how and what it reflects:

    Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner make the point this way in this month’s Commentary: if the country’s demographic composition were the same last year as it was in 2000, Romney would now be president. If it were still the same as it was in 1992, Romney would have won in a rout. If he had merely secured 42 percent of the Hispanic vote—rather than his pathetic 27 percent—Romney would have won the popular vote and carried Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico. They conclude that Republicans have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.

    DEPENDENCY

    Something is happening in terms of how Americans view dependence on government, too. Beyond Social Security and Medicare, we have the continued growth of Medicaid, food stamps, Social Security disability, welfare, and, just over the horizon, Obamacare. The political economist and demographer Nicholas Eberstadt has observed has observed a growing dependence on government support despite declining unemployment rates. Although we’re entering the fourth year of recovery from the recession, the number of Americans seeking entitlement benefits from the government continues to increase.

    We appear to be undergoing a “fundamental transformation” that goes deep into our character. As we can see in The Life of Julia, President Obama promotes it as a positive good.

    One must wonder why this shift occurs now when it did not occur in the Depression of the 1920′s?  Well, I think the demography is the key though I don’t think it is ethnic or language demography, but religious.  In the ’20′s religion was influential enough that most people did not want to be dependent, on government or anyone else.  Which is what makes this story about Jim Wallis pleading to avoid the sequester, on religious grounds for the sake of the poor, so sad.

    You know its funny really.  Christianity in all its expressions is indeed about charity.  But this seems a particularly narcissistic form of charity.  “I am supposed to be charitable so I will do whatever it takes to make sure there are lots of people that need charity.”  I wonder if people realize how utterly self-absorbed that is?  Is it not more deeply charitable to raise them to the point where charity is no longer necessary?  Is that not in fact the true mission of Christ? (“I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.”)

    Before we move on, some related good news.

    Finally, here’s the transcript of an NPR discussion on who gets religious exemptions with John Witte, director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University and Richard Garnett, professor, University of Notre Dame Law School.  Lengthy and tall weeds stuff, but very interesting.  One quote I found most informative about why there are religious exemptions:

    WITTE: Part of it is I think the number of regulations and rules that now govern daily life are much denser than they were in the 19th century, and what the courts have done and what Congress and state legislatures have done is try to find a way of easing the tension when a general law, which is otherwise good, falls – creates a burden on the exercise of religion by a particular party or by a particular group.

    So it’s good to have general laws dealing with unemployment compensation, and you can’t get unemployment compensation unless you will work when your employer wants you to work. But if your employer wants you to work on your Sabbath and you can’t be accommodated, you should be able to get unemployment compensation.

    It’s fine to have a general dress code that’s available, but if the general dress code does not accommodate your wearing your yarmulke or your head scarf, the thought is is that a court can provide the vehicle for a person to be able to wear their religious dress.

    We use the legislature or we use the courts to create exemptions from general laws, otherwise good, that happen to fall afoul of the claims of conscience of an individual or ask them to do something that their faith does not allow them to do.

    And the increase is, I think, a function just of the density of laws in the 20th century, and it’s also a function of a growing understanding of our First Amendment requirement that we protect the free exercise rights of all parties. And the thought is, is that that free exercise right, constitutional right, can now be claimed by an individual when the legislature does not accommodate him or accommodate that group.

    I get that legally, but here’s the thing.  Another way of looking at that is that regulation has increasingly intruded into spaces that were ostensibly “regulated” by religion and culture.  The religious exemption therefore kicks in because not all religions agree on everything in that space.  Maybe that is indicative of the fact that the government should not be sticking its nose in that space to begin with?  I mean think about it, if the government is having to grant religious exemptions, did it not therefore implicitly impede religion?

    This also goes back to narcissism.  There are individuals that do not practice religion therefore the government is free to regulate in that area for them, but that is such a highly individualistic view both religion and government that it becomes virtually untenable.

    I am currently reading a history of the city of Jerusalem.  One of the things that it makes apparent is that there must be a reasonable, but not necessarily absolute, degree of religious/value homogeneity to a place for it to be governable.  But when the government forces such homogeneity it is tantamount to an act of war and revolt almost universally erupts.  The only way things can settle down in when the homogeneity occurs in an “organic” fashion.

    We see in this post a number of signs that the homogeneity is slipping from this nation.  It will not be restored through edict and regulation.  It is up to more “organic” forces (like religion) to bring it about.  That means a couple of things.  One the one hand it means people like Wallis should spend more time getting churches to donate to the needy than they do lobbying Congress to do so.

    But most importantly it means the church has to get straight what it means to build that homogeneity – it is not about theological purity.  It is about character, values and judgement.  It s not about which church wins.  Frankly, it is not even about God winning.  (About that I have no concern, He is God after all He can manage that much better than I can.)  It is about society winning.

    Society is not winning right now – it is just lost.  Like the boys in Lord of the Flies, we are beginning to turn on each other.  Only the church can fix that.  But we have to let go of some stuff before we can.

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    Worst Article About One Of The Most Important Topics Ever

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:00 am, February 25th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    OK, It’s the Christian Post, but even they should do better than this.  Here’s the headline:

    For Evangelicals in Politics: Is the Bible a Good Enough Argument?

    Just making a question out of that is problematic enough given that the premise of the AEI conference covered that asserted as fact.  But the bad coverage did not stop there.  A promising first few paragraphs -

    The Bible is not sufficient for evangelicals when they address public policy issues, participants agreed at a Wednesday conference at the American Enterprise Institute called “Is the Good Book good enough? Evangelical perspectives on public policy.”

    Tackling issues as diverse as poverty, immigration, criminal justice, economic regulation, nuclear proliferation, and human rights, the panelists demonstrated how evangelical traditions could make, or have made, unique contributions to public policy debates. Most of the participants were contributors to an edited book of the same name, first published in 2011.

    The conference began with a keynote address by Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which addressed how evangelicals should engage in public policy. He encouraged evangelicals to rethink how they have typically been involved in politics in the past. Evangelicals who enter the public square should practice civility and prudence, should draw upon their traditional teaching about natural law and common grace, to develop a broadly accessible language to address policy concerns, and should develop an “Augustinian sensibility” regarding what could be accomplished through politics.

    degenerated into the sort of sloppy “Evangospeak” that is at the heart of the problem:

    There were 112 people in attendance at the event, plus it was live streamed to many Christian college campuses across the country. The conference was part of AEI’s “Values and Capitalism” project, which seeks to engage with students at Christian colleges on issues related to morality and free enterprise.

    Several of the questions after each of the three panels were geared toward the interests of Christian college students.

    Rachel Kuyper, a student from Hope College in Holland, Mich., at the event, responded to concerns expressed by some of the speakers that young Christians are being influenced too much by the culture around them and are not well grounded in scripture. “What is the younger generation supposed to do?” she asked.

    Now maybe this slide in the coverage reflects a slide in the conference itself.  I don’t know I wasn’t there.  However, given the quality and depth of the panels.  I don’t think so – these guys are too smart for that.  Rather I think this is how CP chose to portray the conference.  That said, this is little point in arguing with CP – their minds are made up and no argument or fact is going to change it.  Rather, let me go on about how this coverage is reflective of a big part of the problem.

    I can no longer begin to get my head around what is and is not Evangelical.  Everyone defines that term to suit themselves and what they are discussing at the moment.  So let’s just play that game and go with the flow here.  If I had to find a common trait to most strains of Evangelicalism it would be “religion reduced.”  Evangelicalism tries to somehow reduce Christianity to “its essence.”  That frankly, is why Evangelicalism is ineffective in the public square and why it is so easy for the cultural/political opposition to paint it into a “separation of church and state” corner.  If Christianity is reduced to merely a brief statement of beliefs and a “lifestyle” of some sort, then it is pretty easy to separate it from “state.”

    Let’s look at two things in this article that are good examples of this reductionism.

    First consider the premise of arguing from the Bible.  Trying to do that  (argue from the Bible) ignores literally centuries of Christian thought and writing.  It is as if the only way a thought or document can be “authentically Christian” is if we believe it to be divinely inspired and since the Bible (sorry my Mormon friends) is the only document that fits that descriptions, well….  And yet Christians themselves have been writing since Christ.  And they have written so much, developed so many arguments that are useful in this circumstance.  The body of literature on “natural law,”  which Cromartie notes elsewhere in the article is huge, and provides much of the intellectual base for all that is traditionally American.  (Where do we think the concept of God granted “inalienable rights” came from?)  Then there is the amazing amount of artistic endeavors that were created by Christians and describe Christianity in so many ways.

    Most political topics can be argued from a Christian perspective without being argued from a Biblical perspective.

    Secondly let’s consider the nature of Rachel Kuyper’s question.  (Interesting name that when it comes to Christianity and public discourse.)  The question is largely pastoral in nature.  That is to say, she seeks personal counseling on how to cope with being a Christian college student in the modern era.  That is an important and worthy question, but it is not really appropriate for an academic conference of this sort, it far more appropriate for a Bible study or counseling session.  But again we see the reductionism that seems to define Evangelicalism, Christianity is reduced to the personal and pastoral.

    I can think of numerous other examples of this Evangelical reductionism, but these are the two presented by this article.  But the point remains the same – because Evangelicalism is largely just a theology with occasional lifestyle implications it lacks the substance necessary to be a force in culture and politics.

    And hence I believe this conference, laudable though it is, misses the mark.  We don’t need to be encouraging Evangelicals not to use the Bible in public discourse, we need to encourage them to broaden their horizons.

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    False Accusations

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:31 am, February 21st 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    So yesterday I ran across a rumor that Pope Benedict was resigning because he was about to be busted over child sex stuff.  In one sense that is not the least bit surprising, virtually everything conceivable qualifies as an internet rumor these days, and about 10% of the population believes that Elvis is alive.  (That’s an old stat I am quoting that many no longer hold true, he’d be such an old man now that I would hope some of the hold outs would be giving up.)  When I first encountered the rumor I intended to write about the lack of respect for religious institutions reflected in such false accusation.

    But then yesterday Obama’s posturing on the sequester became the big news of the day.  It is an old and tired routine at this point – “Congress need to fix the problem and they are not.”  Yet another false accusation – that this is Congress’s sole responsibility.  Sadly; however, this is more than blame shifting, this is political technique.

    It is a technique I have seen many a protestant pastor use to deflect leaders in their church that have a pet peeve that is really not important enough to demand the attention and resources of the church proper.  They tell the leader to “go for it” knowing that they hold enough power to keep the leader from getting very far.  In the meantime, the pastor concentrates on what they perceive to be the most important agenda items.  In this case, Obama does not want to be burdened by things like a budget, nor is he concerned about the military.  Nope he has to be concerned about overturning the will of the people, expressed overtly in a vote, on gay marriage in California.

    If what Obama is doing can be called leadership, it is subversive at best,  Think about it.  It is a means to passing an unstated agenda that is at least controversial, if not unpopular, while at the same time accumulating power and weakening the other power centers in the government.  After all, at its heart this technique seeks to avoid the nuisance of having to work with Congress.  Or when you do it has them backed so far in the corner that they concede on the Obama agenda in the hopes of getting something, anything, on the stuff that matters.

    This technique has it’s limits however.  It only works when the chief executive is popular and more or less untouchable.  Unfortunately in this situation, I do not know how to bring those limitations into play.  That I hesitate to say why is testament to how difficult the situation is.  Obama is untouchable due to his race.  Any action we take to undermine his perceived popularity will simply be reflected onto us as racism.  I have no doubt that there is a significant number of people that will accuse me of racism simply on the basis of having written this entirely analytical paragraph.

    There are only two ways out of this conundrum that I can see.  One would be a to find and tilt up a figure with higher levels of popularity than Obama.  (I think this is the game that Marco Rubio is currently trying to play.  Much as I respect Rubio, if I am right his actions trouble me deeply.  This would be a huge mistake.  It one, feeds the errant value structure that got us into this mess and two, the such would serve to further unbalance the constitution.

    The other alternative  to hang on.  Such subversive power accumulation is always a house of cards.  Due to its reliance on lies, deception and subversion it always eventually falls apart.  I think most of us are morose because we thought the 2012 election would be its undoing.  We worry because unlike the last time this sort of thing happened (FDR’s re-election in middle of a depression that he only worsened) we fear the cards may not fall in a way that will allow us to readily rebuild.

    Frankly, I don’t know what’s going to happen.  But I do know two things.

    We cannot allow the false accusations to destroy our confidence.  In other words we must cling to the truth about our ideas and ourselves.  The second thing I know flows directly from this.

    We cannot allow our personal values to shift.  When it falls, and it will fall, if we have not preserved our values, rebuilding will be impossible.  Germany is now essentially a secular state because the church largely went along for the ride with the Nazis.  When that catastrophe ended, there was nothing to rebuild.  Am I promoting a form of political martyrdom?  That could happen, but I don’t think it will.

    You see, I think that if we just stand tall and true and committed, the fact that what we have is better will be come apparent.  Ronald Reagan borrowed from religion and called us a city on a hill.  That’s not a weapon – it’s just a light.  If shine brightly, people will flock to us.

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    Are We Losing Or Quitting?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:15 am, February 18th 2013     &mdash      4 Comments »

    I started my morning with my devotional, but that is not where I want to start this post.  Rather, let’s start with the next thing I read – Victor Davis Hanson:

    Why do once-successful societies ossify and decline?

    [...]

    One recurring theme seems consistent in Athenian literature on the eve of the city’s takeover by Macedon: social squabbling over slicing up a shrinking pie. Athenian speeches from that era make frequent reference to lawsuits over property and inheritance, evading taxes and fudging eligibility for the dole. After the end of the Roman Republic, reactionary Latin literature — from the likes of Juvenal, Petronius, Suetonius and Tacitus — pointed to “bread and circuses,” as well as excessive wealth, corruption and top-heavy government.

    [...]

    By any historical marker, the future of Americans has never been brighter. The United States has it all: undreamed new finds of natural gas and oil, the world’s pre-eminent food production, continual technological wizardry, strong demographic growth, a superb military and constitutional stability.

    Yet we don’t talk confidently about capitalizing and expanding on our natural and inherited wealth. Instead, Americans bicker over entitlement spoils as the nation continues to pile up trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Enforced equality rather than liberty is the new national creed. The medicine of cutting back on government goodies seems far worse than the disease of borrowing trillions from the unborn to pay for them.

    So true and not the most pleasant way to start the day.  So Hanson sees the nation making a choice – MAKING A CHOICE! – to decline.  Why would we make such a choice?

    That question brings me to my next reading – this one from “C.S. Lewis”” Facebook page.  I have been a “friend” to this page for some time – apparently the foundation that cares for Lewis’ writings runs it and mostly they just put up quotes.  This is the one that caught my eye:

    “Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that…. The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back and back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back and back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk.”
    ~ Mere Christianity

    If you think about it that speaks volumes about media and nation and church.  Which brings me to my devotional:

    The first few times I read Jesus’ Parable of the Three Servants, I missed the point entirely. “So the  third servant buried his silver in the ground for safekeeping. What’s so terrible about that?” I reasoned. I concluded that he was unfairly punished simply for proceeding more cautiously than the other two servants, who had invested their money to earn the master even more

    [...]

    The key, of course, is to recognize your gifts and use them for the good of others. Don’t play it safe, Jesus tells us in this parable. Don’t hide your gifts; don’t bury them, like the fearful third servant did, where they can’t impact anyone else. And don’t squander them either, but instead, invest them in growing the kingdom of God.

    And now we know the answer tot he question posed by Hanson.  Why are we choosing to decline?  Because we are hiding our gifts, and in an effort to seem “relevant,” churches experiment with the new rather that teach the old over and over and over again.

    That brought me back to last Wednesday’s post in which we discussed how the political opposition is committed to transforming every single aspect of our society, from the most sacred to the most profane.  I have not written for this blog since then, because of the implications of that observation.  The implication is that we are not as committed to preserving our society as they are to transforming it.  I have been trying desperately to think of ways to restore our commitment.

    But the more I think about it, the more I think there is no trick or method or single means to restore that commitment.  The only way to restore a commitment is to commit.  And such commitment must be on all levels of our lives.  We cannot just throw some money at it and let someone else carry the ball.  We cannot be publicly committed and privately ambivalent.  We cannot profess our faith, but be less diligent in living our faith.

    We hold a royal flush.  But we are allowing ourselves to be bluffed – which should be impossible because nothing beats a royal flush.  Which means we don’t really believe we hold a royal flush.  That’s our problem.  We are just as anxious “not to see the old simple principles” as our opposition.  Oh sure, we pay those principles lip service, but we do not really believe them at the deepest levels – we are not committed to them.  Certainly we are not as committed to them as others are to the newer, errant principles.

    We’re quitting, not losing.

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    Messing With The Profane and The Sacred

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:21 am, February 13th 2013     &mdash      4 Comments »

    Our political opposition clearly understands the need to capture culture to win politically.  That became most evident to me in the last two days with two very similar, but highly contrasting stories.  Each involves something very near and dear to me, on the one hand we have comic books, something quite profane, and on the other the most sacred of things, my faith.

    Let’s start with the profane, comic books, as from the Washington Times we learn:

    A writer for DC ComicsSuperman series has come under attack by homosexual rights activists, who view his work as anti-gay and want him fired.

    Orson Scott Card is one of a team of writers and artists to create the new digital DC Comics product, “Adventures of Superman,” according to a report from Fox News. Mr. Card is a Mormon and vocal opponent of gay marriage. Fox News reported he once referred to same-sex marriage as the end of democracy in American and suggested “the left is at war with the family.”

    [...]

    Their petition, at Allout.org, states: “[Mr. Card‘s] written publicly that he believes marriage equality would lead to the end of civilization. We need to let DC Comic know they can’t support Orson Scott Card or his work to keep LGBT people as second-class citizens. They know they’re accountable to their fans, so if enough of us speak out now, they’ll hear us loud and clear.”

    WOW!  Who knew Superman was that important.  More amazing still is that I am one of the largest consumers of comic books you will ever know,  Seriously, you have no idea,  And if anything, comics are increasingly falling in line with the “gay agenda.”  There is nothing to protest here, honestly – even were I a proponent same-sex marriage.

    But most interestingly is the designation of unmarried.members of the LGBT community as “second class.”  My wife and I did not meet and get married until around 40 years of age, and subsequently we are childless.  Certainly not the norm.  Are we “second class?”  I think we are given the way they are tossing around that term.  Should we protest and boycott?

    But I do not want to argue the inanities of this particular battle in greater war,  Let’s keep moving – on to the sacred.  From the College Fix we learn:

    A recent guest lecture at Swarthmore College by a prominent homosexual seminary professor highlighted a growing argument among the so-called queer community that Jesus was bisexual.

    In particular, the Rev. Patrick Cheng, a professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts, told the students that Jesus was a subversive person and God’s way of “queering the world,” so to speak.

    Cheng said Christ was “always coming out in the gospels” and that “Christ is God coming out.”

    “At its heart, Christianity is queer,” Cheng told the students during the Feb. 7 talk. “It’s not just a matter of being tolerant. Christianity is queer at its core.”

    Cheng, author of the 2011 book “Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology,” as well as “From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ,” published last year, argues queer theology essentially takes its cues from Jesus, who Cheng described in his speech as the ultimate boundary crosser.

    “Queerness is at its heart radical love,” he said.

    Cheng, who holds degrees from Harvard, Yale and Union Theological Seminary, and also blogs about religion and homosexuality on Huffington Post, emphasized during his speech that feminist and queer theorists such as himself build theology from their own experience.

    I shake when I read that.  To get drawn again, briefly, into the specific argument, how can one “build theology from one’s own experience?”   Theology is, by definition, the study of the theos, the divine, you know GOD.  In that phrase “Rev.” Cheng has decided we are God.  That is to say if our experience is how we build our understanding of God then we are God,  So where is the difference between this definition of theology and sociology or psychology?

    But again, I do not want to argue this.

    What is most evident here is the aggressive, even hyper aggressive, attempt to paste their agenda onto every literally every aspect of life.  In light of such an assault, how do we respond?

    We have assumed to now that simply living our lives would adequately communicate the counter message.  Married, religiously active families are by far the most prosperous and content in the nation.  That should speak for itself.  But in an age when the media can so pervasively skew perception, when the Avengers can come to life quite convincingly on the big screen, we cannot rely on people to merely digest the evidence in front of them.  In an age when government assistance in all its many and varied forms renders irrelevant the economic reasoning behind the nuclear family, we must do more.

    It is also not enough to just  play defense.  We always look weak when defending.

    The time has come for us to be as hyper-aggressive as they.  The attack on Card at DC is vile.  They would deny him his employment on that basis of his stance.  That is certainly a violation of Orson Scott Card’s civil liberties.  “Rev.” Cheng’s pronouncements are blasphemous.  Please recall that blasphemy is the crime of making ourselves God.  It is what Christ was crucified for.  The only difference is Christ WAS God.  I am more than reasonably confident that “Rev.” Cheng is not.

    We can no longer sit quietly and let this stuff roll off our backs as the few making noise.  These are attacks.  These two stories are nuisance actions, they are not the main thrust of the war.  But they need response.  We have been losing the war to date by focusing a bit too much on the main battle axis and ignoring the thousands of little nuisance actions that impede our supply lines, dangerously erode our morale, and generally thin our ranks.

    Note that the LGBT community will not be content with merely carving out a place for themselves in our greater society.  They intend to transform that society in every aspect, from the most profane to the most sacred to conform to their agenda.  They intend to eliminate our place in our greater society.  Forget religion and homosexuality – that is simply unAmerican.

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    A Prescription

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:32 am, February 11th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    In his newsletter this morning, Jim Geraghty said:

    I read that and thought of last week’s observation about satire — that it’s useful for tearing down, but not building up. And I’m wondering if the cultural challenge before the Right is based more upon the need to build up certain values and ideas and less about tearing down the Left’s.

    Of course, maybe people are a bit more wary about valorization — we’ve seen so many once-respected figures end up having some rather glaring flaws.

    To date, I have not come across better words for the politically active Christian,  It sets two clear and good goals:

    1. Build, do not destroy.
    2. Live up to what we seek to build.

    We have been very good at saying what is wrong with, well…pretty much everything.  But the alternative we offer is a scandal ridden church (Whatever your church, you’ve got a scandal, believe me.) that cannot managing even something as simple as messaging.

    Is it really that surprising we are where we are?

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