1. It's a morning of continued good news; AP reports:
A solid phalanx of Republican moderates drove House GOP leaders to drop a hotly contested plan to open an Alaskan wilderness area to oil drilling as a sweeping budget bill headed toward a vote Thursday.
A plan to allow states to lift a moratorium on oil drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts was also axed.
While the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling plan could still be restored in conference, this is at least a temporary win for environmentalists, and we've had precious few of those lately. Coming on the heels of Tuesday's results here in the Golden State, I'm feeling more optimistic about my fellow citizens than I have in a while! Who knew there were any GOP moderates left? Calloo callay!
2. Speaking of those who aren't moderates, I spent some time yesterday afternoon listening to the Paul McGuire radio program. McGuire is a very conservative, evangelical AM radio talk show host. He and his listeners were frustrated and upset over the special election results Tuesday, particularly the defeat of the parental notification initiative. Many of his callers bemoaned the "ultra-liberal" electorate, comparing us to the ancient residents of Sodom and Gomorrah (a tired but still-effective rhetorical twist.) Others were angry that more Christian conservatives hadn't gone to the polls. This raises an interesting question -- one would think that Prop 73, the abortion initiative, would galvanize religious conservatives and send them to the polls in droves! So what happened? Did they not show up, despite the presence of 73 on the ballot? Or did they show up, but still get walloped by a slightly larger progressive majority? I am not sure I know the answer yet.
Yes, let's be honest: sometimes, human nature being what it is, there is pleasure in "gloating"; it's a rare person decent enough not to take some joy in listening to the discomfiture of one's political opponents! But as I listened, I did my best to do so prayerfully, as a fellow Christian -- albeit one of a different theology -- and to be sympathetic towards those who did not rejoice as I did in Tuesday's results. I listen a lot to shows like Paul McGuire's; I figure it helps me keep a sense of what my far-more-conservative brothers and sisters are thinking. Besides, Paul regularly leads his listeners in prayer, and I like that -- and always, even though I share little if any of his agenda -- I join in those prayers.
3. On a related front, we had youth group last night. Of course, there was some discussion of Proposition 73. Several of our teen girls had been sporting "No on 73" buttons or stickers in previous weeks; last night I heard many fervent expressions of thanksgiving and relief for the prop's narrow defeat. Most of these girls are the daughters of All Saints members, of course; most All Saints members are in alignment with the church's publicly pro-choice stance. But even as the daughters of generally progressive parents, it's clear that many of them were terrified at the prospect of being compelled to notify mom or dad before receiving an abortion. These are young women whose parents would, I'm fairly certain, prefer that their daughters choose abortion rather than another option. Even so, these girls were adamant that they ought to enjoy, even as minors, a right to reproductive privacy. One girl expressed frank amazement that the measure had lost, saying "I can't believe that many people really think the way we do; I'm so excited." I chuckled, and made the usual gentle noises about how much I hoped that most of "my girls" would never be put in the position where they would need to exercise this particular right. And of course, I stressed once again that if they didn't feel comfortable talking to their parents, they could reach out to me or another youth minister. Frankly, talking with these girls last night reminded me of why I had been right to overcome my reservations and vote "no" on 73.
4. We also talked, not surprisingly, about the whole All Saints/IRS story. Our rector, Ed Bacon, and our former rector, George Regas, have been on national news programs many times this week; the story of the confrontation between our parish and the Revenue Service over perceived partisanship in a Regas sermon has spread far and wide. Of course, though all of our kids had some idea of what was going on, not everyone understood the whole idea of non-profit exemptions. One of our staff members gave a very nice overview of the law, and I'm happy to say I learned a few things I didn't know. (For example, I had not realized that tax-exempt churches could take positions on propositions, just not on candidates.) Once the kids had a fairly solid idea of how the law worked, we moved into discussion.
Many kids were intensely proud of the high profile of All Saints. I suppose it's true that we all have a little bit of a martyr complex, especially when our "martyrdom" doesn't really hurt! Some kids mentioned that their teachers or classmates had given them grief about belonging to such a liberal church; they told these stories with understandable pride. But we wanted to do more than just give the kids a chance to say how proud they were of All Saints and how foolish they thought the IRS was. We wanted them to reflect on many things, ranging from the sometimes high cost of discipleship (we emphasized the risks to All Saints are very real, especially since we have now refused the IRS settlement offer) to the new opportunities this presents.
We talked, of all things, about Ted Haggard and the National Association of Evangelicals. Both publicly and privately, the conservative NAE has been very supportive of liberal All Saints. Ted Haggard, president of the nation's largest conservative Christian organization, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as expressing support for us:
When Ted Haggard, head of the 30-million-member National Assn. of Evangelicals, heard about the All Saints case Monday, he told his staff to contact the National Council of Churches, a more liberal group.
Haggard said he personally supports the war in Iraq and probably would not agree with much in the Rev. George Regas' 2004 sermon at All Saints, which was cited by the IRS as the basis for its investigation. But Haggard said he wants to work with the council of churches "in doing whatever it takes to get the IRS to stop" such actions.
"It is a violation of the Constitution for the IRS to threaten that church. It may not be a violation of IRS regulations, but IRS regulations have been wrong," said Haggard, who is pastor of the 12,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
The point we wanted to make to the kids was that they had something in common with their fellow Christians in other churches. Too often, our All Saints kids grow up believing that more conservative churches are filled with intolerant bigots with whom we share little or nothing. But we emphasized last night that these folks were reaching out to us, standing with us in our time of need, forming a united front of faith against government intrusion. Our lead senior high minister asked, "If these churches have reached out to us, how can we reach out to them?"
One of my long-term goals has been more interaction between "liberal" All Saints kids and the teens at youth groups in much more evangelical churches. A joint service project followed by a time for friendly dialogue seems like the most promising avenue. We've bandied about the idea of doing this for a long while, but perhaps this new kerfuffle with the IRS (and the national attention it has brought to us) will be the catalyst to get up off our duffs and do something. I have some contacts in youth ministry at some fairly conservative places 'round town; you know who you are (some of you read my blog.) Expect a phone call.