Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Whither the Protestants? A historic Presbyterian church in Houston narrowly votes to stay in the mainline Presbyterian denomination

Catholicism's media critics like to describe the Church as a dying institution.  For example, Frank Bruni of the New York Times recently pronounced that the Catholic Church is a "sputtering enterprise."

But of course that is nonsense.  The Roman Catholic Church is a robust, thriving institution.  There are 70 million of us in the United States alone, and Africans are converting to Catholicism at the rate of about a million people a year.

It is mainline Protestantism, not Catholicism, that is a sputtering enterprise. The Episcopalians in particular are committing institutional suicide, having drunk the postmodern koolaid.  In a pathetic and desperate effort to become more relevant, the American Episcopalians have jettisoned their essential doctrines, and their members are leaving in droves.

And the Presbyterians and the Methodists aren't in much better shape. A few days ago, members of the First Presbyterian Church in Houston, founded 175 years ago, voted on whether they would leave Presbyterian Church USA, the mainline Presbyterian denomination, and join a more conservative communion.  The church's senior pastor is in favor of leaving the mainline body, and a strong majority voted to leave: the vote was 1085 to 596. But the vote fell 36 votes short of the super majority needed for First Presbyterian to secede.

Can you imagine the fate of this historic church, founded at the time of the Texas Revolution, now that the senior pastor and a majority of its members have expressed their lack of confidence in the denomination to which they are attached?

And why do a majority of this church's congregants want to leave Presbyterian Church USA?  The reasons are varied, of course; but many were disheartened by their denomination's decision to allow the ordination of homosexuals.

Presbyterian Church USA--although the mainline Presbyterian body in the United States, is not that large. It only has about 1.8 million members--less than one third the size of the Mormon church in the United States. But it is steadily losing membership. Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, the largest Presbyterian church in Texas, joined the start-up conservative communion last year, as did Kingwood Presbyterian, another  Houston-area congregation.

Who in the heck was Emanuel Swedenborg?
Catholics should ponder the fate of the mainline Protestant denominations--all of which are losing members. The more these groups embrace postmodern sexual mores, the weaker they get. The day will come--and come soon--when the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians will be just a footnote in the nation's religious history, right along side the Shakers and the Swedenborgians.

Frank Bruni, in a long series of tiresome New York Times essays, has urged Catholics to abandon our ancient doctrines and beliefs.  Essentially, I think Frank wants us to become Episcopalians.

But the Catholic Church is not Little Red Riding Hood. We will not be coaxed by the blandishments of the big bad fox. We are a strong and faithful people, and we will ultimately prevail against the spirit of our postmodern age. 
Mike Tolson. First Presbyterian leadership believes it's become too liberal. Houston Chronicle, February 23, 2014.  Available at: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/First-Presbyterian-leadership-believes-it-s-5261137.php

Sunday, February 9, 2014

All's right with the world: An electric-blue bunting on Bayou Paul Road

Winter came to South Louisiana, bitter cold and savage, at least by the standards of our climate.  Sleet and ice pelted the bougainvillea, our ancient philodendron, and our new grapefruit trees.  The subtropical plants in people's yards and gardens are dead, or at least they look dead.  We will look for survivors after we've had a few weeks of mild weather.

But today the sun returned, temperatures are mild, and the day called for a road trip. Kim and I drove south of the city, travelling past Alligator Bayou and down Bayou Paul Road until we struck the Mississippi River Levee in St. Gabriel.  We drove down a narrow asphalt road through swampland where palmettos thrived in the gloomy undergrowth.  Apparently, the freeze did not molest the palmettos, which were as green and mysterious as they always are.

Rounding a bend in the road, we saw a dozen or more elderly African American fisherman, sitting along the bayou on stools and folding chairs, patiently waiting for a catfish to bite, reminiscent of a scene from Brother Where Art Thou? We saw one young white guy walking from the bayou back to his pickup truck, a large, green scaly fish hanging from his stringer.

What is it, we asked.

A choupique, he replied, pronounced shoe-pick.  I have it on good authority that a choupique is a trash fish unfit for human consumption, but the man assured us he planned to eat it.

Young guy with chouppique

Later, an electric blue bird--perhaps an indigo bunting--flitted across the road as we were driving. Neon blue, startlingly beautiful, almost too blue to be a creature of nature. I had never seen one before. It was unexpected blessing--like the holy water Father Bob sprinkles indiscriminately at special masses.

We talked as we drove about global warming. The experts say we can expect more extreme weather, including violent, ice-drenching, tree-killing storms.  The climate is changing, the earth is turning against us. We face a future of drought, hurricanes, and dying species. The polar bears are goners.

And maybe that's true. But as we drove down Bayou Paul Road, passing the bicyclists ambling along in their spandex and aerodynamic helmets, the world seemed like a good place to be.  God surely wants us to prosper on this planet, the sunshine seemed to assure us.  Don't over-think things, the Holy Spirit seemed to whisper. God is still in his heaven, this day proclaimed; and all's right with the world.

"The Pope, a porn star, and a parrot": Frank Bruni volunteers to be Pope Francis's PR Man

Frank Bruni, the New York Times' peripatetic correspondent on Catholic affairs, has finally found a pope he admires: Pope Francis.  Of course, the Pope Francis that Francis Bruni adores is not the real Pope Francis--or at least I hope he isn't.  But that's OK.  Bruni is going to construct Pope Francis for us in a way that makes him suitable for the postmodern world Bruni lives in.
St. Maximilian Kolbe

Bruni began  this Sunday's Times essay by suggesting that Pope Francis met with a parrot and an unnamed porn star.  Of course, the guy was not really a porn star, as Bruni admitted in the second paragraph of his op ed essay.  But the alliteration was so pleasant that Bruni used the phrase again in the last sentence of his essay. Why let accuracy be a stumbling block to ideology?

Bruni's point of course is that Pope Francis is willing to meet with sinners as if that is some major theological shift in Catholicism. But every Christian knows that Christ shared a meal with a tax collector and conversed with the woman at the well.  Of course Pope Francis is willing to meet with sinners.

Moreover, Bruni misses the point entirely--as usual.  The sinners whom Christ encountered knew they were sinners and they came to Christ to be forgiven.  Bruni seems to think Pope Francis doesn't care what people do--he's an edgy "whatever" kind of guy.  Hey--the Pope was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. He's more popular than Christ!

Then, following his usual modus operandi, Bruni worked in the tired description of Pope Benedict as "God's rottweiler," and he described the Catholic Church as a "sputtering enterprise."

But of course, the Catholic Church is not a sputtering enterprise.  It is the largest religious affiliation in the United States and has been since the 1850s.  Our churches are packed--at least in my part of the country.  I invite Frank Bruni to attend the 6 pm mass at Christ the King Catholic Church in Baton Rouge--one of six Sunday masses--and tell me with a straight face that the Catholic Church is sputtering.

I myself have sponsored eight people who entered the Catholic Church or are in the process of becoming Catholic.  These people include a Jewish businessman, a petroleum engineer, an attorney, a university professor, a military officer,  a cancer survivor,and a professional rodeo competitor.  Apparently Bruni-style postmodernism didn't appeal to them.

In my opinion, Bruni's parade of  essentially anti-Catholic commentaries are intended to undermine Catholicism, to turn it into an ecclesiastical cheerleader for postmodernism.  Catholic dogma and moral teachings, constructed over the centuries, are to be jettisoned for moral relativism.  Indeed, Bruni observes--untruthfully--that Pope Francis "understands that tone trumps content--that it's everything really." 

Tone? The essence of Catholicism is about tone?

Our Catholic martyrs--hundreds of thousands of them--did not die for tone.  St. Edith Stein did not go to  the Auschwitz gas chambers for tone. St. Maximilian Kolbe did not volunteer for the Auschwitz starvation bunkers for tone.  And Dorothy Day did not convert to Catholicism and devote her life to the poor for tone. 

No, these people lived and died for truth--truth as God revealed it to them, truth that is eternal and unalterable. So far the light of that truth has not shown in Frank Bruni's writings or the pages of his newspaper. But who knows what God might achieve?

Frank Bruni
So let's pray for Frank Bruni. Let's pray for everyone who has been seduced by the siren song of postmodernism--by materialism and the quest for power and recognition, by moral relativism, and by secularism.  Frank Bruni and his postmodern colleagues may think they are riding the future's cresting wave, but some day they may realize that they devoted their lives to the culture of death.


Frank Bruni, A Pope You Can Eat. New York Times, February 9, 2014, p. Sunday Review section, p. 3.