Saturday, December 20, 2008

Catholic Dogs vs. Presbyterian Dogma

Funny Pictures
Funny Videos

OK, this is a prank. It is a good one, though, down to the misspelling of Catholicism.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cohabitation Makes You FAT

Women who cohabit tend to gain weight because they start eating the junk their boyfriends favor. Married women, by contrast, make healthier meals for their families, which is one of the main reasons that husbands have longer and healthier lives than unmarried men do.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Involved Fathers Stay; Involved Husband-Fathers Stay More

Lisa Belkin in the New York Times is reporting a very interesting study from Natasha Cabrera at the University of Maryland on what makes unmarried fathers stay. Cabrera and colleagues found that the more involved the father was with the pregnancy and birth of his child, the more likely he was to still be there three years later -- if he had moved in with the mom. It did not make a big difference if they also got married in this period. Cabrera concludes that what matters is the father's "personal involvement" in the mother's and child's future, not the "paperwork."

I draw a somewhat different conclusion. The data for this study comes from the "Fragile Families" study, so they have already been selected for their weak connection to marriage. These are couples who get pregnant outside of marriage, and do not marry because they are pregnant. Some marry well after the birth of the child, and many don't marry at all. This is the subculture with the weakest understanding of marriage as a social institution to begin with. They do not see how marriage can help them strengthen their relationship in the first place, before children. They see marriage as a seal, even a reward, for an already strong relationship. This is one of the reasons that marriages in this subculture are rare and weak to begin with.

Cabrera's conclusion, that marriage is just paperwork, is not fully true for the anti-marriage subculture she is studying, and is less and less true the further you get from fragile families and move toward solid middle-class marriage subcultures.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Census Bureau Gives Up on Black Marriage

The exciting headline in the New York Times is "Two-Parent Black Families Showing Gains." The percent of black kids living with two parents leaped up from an abysmal 35% in 2004 to a somewhat less abysmal 39.5% in 2007. This is a surprising -- nay, improbably large -- gain in so short a time. The comparable white figure is 77%.

Now, I think there probably is a small but very encouraging uptick in the middle-class black kids living with their married parents. Call this the Obama end of the spectrum.

But this big improvement is, alas, partly a statistical trick. In 2007, the Census Bureau decided to call "parents" any man or woman they lived with. The Bureau stopped counting whether the couple was married or not or even whether they were the biological parents of the child. This change fudges the numbers of kids with married parents for all groups. It is particularly bad for African American kids, though, because they are most likely to live with unmarried parents.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On Humbly Requesting that the Church's Natural Leaders Serve the Church, Despite the Aggro

I received a comment on yesterday's post from Alex, who I know speaks for many:
Perhaps if the PC(USA) got rid of its "affirmative action" policies o the 60s era, the "tall steeple pastors" would feel more welcome to serve as part of the leadership of the denomination. But my question is: Why would a tall steeple pastor like Vic Pentz WANT to serve as a leader in the denomination on the national level? Churches like Peachtree Pres, quite frankly, don't need the structures/organization that the PCUSA provides, because they already have the available personnel, money, resources, capital etc to do their own programming exactly the way they want to without help from the Presbytery/Synod/GA.
I agree completely.

The big successful churches, who produce most of the growth and carry out most of the local programs of the denomination, need the Presbyterian Church (USA) less than other congregations do. But the denomination needs them. The pastors of tall steeple churches are not the best pastors in the church -- fine pastors are found in all kinds of congregations, and each kind of congregation needs a different kind of pastor. My point is that the denomination needs tall steeple pastors, and their equivalents among the Ruling Elders, to bring their leadership and expertize to help run the denominational structures, too.

So how do we get tall steeple pastors and leading elders to want to invest their precious time and energy in leading the PC(USA)? We honor their leadership. In sociological terms, we pay them in status. We thank them for the wise work they have done, and ask them, nicely, to take on further tasks for the larger church even though that takes them away from their main job, which is running a major local congregation.

The successful leaders of our major congregations, both ministers and elders, are the core of that great collective resource of the church, its Establishment. Of course there are ministers and elders who are not in tall steeple churches who should be in that Establishment, too. We should honor them and ask them nicely to serve the whole denomination, even though they, too, have more pressing local matters to attend to.

The big difference is that we used to honor the people we wanted to be our Establishment because we knew they had better things to do. Now we treat them with suspicion. Not surprisingly, they skip the denominational structure and go about the business of being church. Sometimes, in frustration, they create parallel denomination-like structures so that they can get on with it already, without all the politics and aggravation.

We need to honor the Establishment precisely because being the Establishment is a costly sacrifice.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pentz and the Presbyterian Establishment

The Witherspoon Society has posted a response to my essay on Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment from Rev. Vic Pentz, pastor of Peachtree Presbyterian Church. Peachtree is the largest congregation in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Pentz had, it appears, been asked to sign a petition critical of the idea of rebuilding an establishment. He declined to sign. Witherspoon draws the conclusion that Pentz, and by extension other large-church pastors, "has more important things to do" than be part of an establishment.

I believe that is the wrong conclusion to draw from Pentz' response. Here is what he wrote in response to the anti-establishment petition:
"I am pretty confident that I speak for many other large church pastors in saying that when it comes to deciding whether to commit time and energy to the pressing concerns and sheer joys of ministry, or to fight for the reins of the PCUSA, there is no contest.

Everyone can relax.

We’re out in the world with our congregations joining God in the work of the Kingdom."

Vic Pentz does not say that the Presbyterian Church does not need an establishment. He does not say that he does not want to be part of the church's establishment. He does not say that pastors and elders of the denomination's leading congregations have no concern with leading the church's work.

That is why Vic Pentz helped found the Presbyterian Global Fellowship, an organization of tall steeple churches doing part of the job of the denomination. PGF is based in Peachtree Presbyterian Church.

Vic Pentz says he doesn't have time to fight for the reins of the PCUSA. He and churches like his are already doing the work that the PCUSA should be doing. If the existing power structure of the PC(USA) supported rebuilding an establishment of authoritative leaders (authoritative, not authoritarian), then Pentz and other dynamic Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders wouldn't have to fight to run help run the denomination -- they would be asked to.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Witherspoon Establishment vs. The Presbyterian Establishment

I thank the Witherspoon Society, the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s venerable liberal activist group, for posting a critique of my Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment. A distinguished group of professors, lions of the Sixties struggles that created the current affirmative-action model of church authority, defend the status quo. In so doing they bring out several misconceptions about my argument. As one young blogger wrote, "I'm not sure what the 'Witherspoon Society' is, but I can only hope that one day I write something that gets that many teachers cranky enough to sign something like that..."

They want to fight the old war; I am ready to move on to the new one.

The "PCUSA Professors' Response" reads my argument as nostalgia for sacramental authority of the clergy. They cite the stirring Biblical claim that in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female" (Gal. 3:28) as proof of the need for structures in the church to represent different demographic groups. The cite Neibuhr to argue that we are prone to distort all human structures with our pride and sin, including structures that were meant for good. Most importantly, they believe that “The challenge for the PCUSA in the 21st century is to figure out how to further the work of reconciliation in a world with different social realities and challenges than the world of the 20th century.”

My point exactly. The affirmative action model championed by these activist professors in their youth is outdated now. Demographic representation rules were meant to foster a consciousness that diversity is good. They worked. Now those required structures perpetuate judging people's fitness for church leadership by their race, sex, and age. Galatians 3:28 is a call for the church to get beyond the world's obsessions with ethnicity, class, and sex -- not permanently institutionalize them in the church. What we need is not nostalgia for the structures of two generations ago, but a clear focus on spiritual service to Jesus Christ and his Great Commission. We should make every effort to try to draw into the burdens of church leadership people from all backgrounds who love and competently serve the church.

The church will always face internal competition, sometimes even conflict. What has gotten us through as a supernatural institution is our commitment to Christ and Scripture, and generous help from the Holy Spirit. What has gotten us through as a human institution is a body of leaders, both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders, who have learned great practical wisdom about how to run Presbyterian institutions. When those leaders work together for the good of the church, we honor them as the Establishment who can be relied on in crisis. The church faces crises today, as we did in the past, and we will have to rely on our leaders in the future as much as we had to in the past.