Saturday, December 29, 2007

Not my favorite hymnal

We are traveling to visit family and friends during the 12 Days of Christmas, away from our home parish. For Christmas Day services, we went to former PECUSA parish that's now continuing Anglican under Abp. Gregory Venables. Alas, before they fled PECUSA they had switched to the 1979 BCP and 1982 Hymnal. The Christmas service gave me several reminders of why I dislike the 1982 Hymnal.

The first thing I noticed was the musical typography. When I tried to sing the carols, the 1982 Hymnal used very small note symbols that were impossible to read in the low light of the church. I don't have my library of hymnals in my suitcase, but I checked the 1940 Hymnal at our relative's house and the staff spacing appeared to be 20-25% bigger. (I will have to lay them side-by-side when I get home).

The other problem was the politically correct Christmas carols. Under Hymn #87, Charles Wesley’s Christmas megahit has been further mangled:
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace:
hail, the Sun of Righteousness.
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man we no more may die,
born to raise the sons of us from the earth,
born to give them us second birth.
Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King.
In searching for the exact PC words, I found an Englishwoman (and poet) who objected to this abomination as grocery story background music. She should count her blessings: at least in England grocery stores play Christ-mas carols.

The next mangled hymn was in the second verse of Isaac Watts' all-time favorite, Joy to the World! As printed in the 1982 hymnal, the m-bomb has been edited out:
Joy to the world! the Savior reigns;
let men their us our songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
This still conveys the original sense of praising God, but to me the imperative seems much weaker since it is directed to the first person plural.

I had forgotten about this bowdlerization of traditional carols, and thus was not prepared to belt out the correct wording when the time came. The congregation seemed unsure as to whether to use the old or the new words, but obviously a generation of Americans is being raised to assume that the PC words are the correct way to sing these hymns.

From Tuesday's selection of six hymns, I had assumed the pattern was that the PECUSA hymnal committee would not change the first verse of a hymn because it was too visible, but were tinkering with the second verses. However, in the final hymn — O Little Town of Bethlehem — the dreaded m-word made it through intact. Verse 2 of Hymn #79 reports
For Christ is born of Mary;
and gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together
proclaim the holy birth!
and praises sing to God the King,
and peace to men on earth.
I don't know why this use of the m-word survived but others did not.

All told, this reconfirms my opinion that Hymnal 1982 is an interesting supplemental book, but dubious as a primary pew hymnal.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Mary had a baby

December is the month when Anglicans spend a lot of time talking and thinking about the Virgin Mary, culminating with the celebration of Christmas Day.

Mary's place in Christian history begins with the Annunciation, celebrated in the church calendar in March. This gives us the best Marian hymn of the entire 1940 Hymnal, Hymn #117. The Annunciation is recounted by Luke’s Gospel, in a passage that was a recent recommended reading from from my subscription to the Bible Gateway verse-of-the-day feed,
And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." (ESV, Luke 1:30-33)
The Orthodox make a big deal about the Theotokos (“Mother of God”) while Catholics have a strong Marian worship tradition that include a Mary altar, and recitations of “Hail Mary.” My sense is that the Anglicans are somewhere between the Orthodox and Catholics at one end, and the bulk of Protestants at the other.

However, when it comes to Mary the Anglo-Catholics seem to be closer to the Roman Catholic Church than to Reformed or Calvinist traditions or even some forms of Lutheranism. If you visit an Anglo-Catholic parish named “St. Mary,” you would expect this even more so.

Sure enough, during the service at Hollywood’s St. Mary of the Angels earlier this month, there were two distinctly Marian references. One is The Angelus which (according to the pew service booklet) comes at the end of every service at St. Mary’s. I didn’t take the booklet (and thus the exact words) with me, but I know it did include three Hail Marys. The other Marian reference was the hymn “Ye Who Own the Faith of Jesus,” which in its typesetting looks like it was from TEH or Hymns A&M. Each refrain “Hail Mary, hail Mary, hail Mary, full of grace.”

Together, the 14 (3+11) refrains of Hail Mary suggest that St. Mary’s is on the Catholic end of the Anglo-Catholic scale.

Interestingly, Mary is less prominent in traditional carols for these 5-6 weeks of the liturgical calendar. Most of the Advent and (Christian) Christmas carols talk about the coming of Jesus — or, as the billboards say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But the child-bearer obviously figures in some of these tellings. In the 1940 Hymnal, a handful of the December hymns reference the Virgin birth: 17, 18, 20, and 41. For some reason, it seems like the oldest hymns are the most devout in their Marian emphasis, as with this most succinct statement (translated for Hymn 18) of the 8th century hymn by St. Germanus: “Behold, a virgin mother brings forth God’s only Son.” Other hymns merely refer to “mother Mary.”

In an odd coincidence, this month as brought two interesting surveys on Christian belief on the Virgin Mary. First blogger Anne Coletta quoted the Spectator (with amplification from a British blogger) which asked leading British Christians the simple question ‘Do you believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ?’ Apparently, some Church of England clergy do not.

Meanwhile 75% of 1,005 American adults surveyed this month by David Barna (quoted by David Virtue) believe the virgin birth to be literal fact. Barna writes:
Of the six Bible stories examined in the survey, this story was the most widely accepted.

Mary’s virgin birth was accepted as literally true by two-thirds of upscale adults (66%) "Upscale" people are those who have completed a four-year college degree and have an annual household income of $75,000 or more.
In a follow up to the Spectator interviews, the leader of the Anglican Communion was interviewed live by Simon Mayo of the BBC on Dec. 19. As transcribed by The Telegraph, he was (as always) somewhat equivocal:
Archbishop of Canterbury: We know his mother's name was Mary, that's one of the things all the gospels agree about, and the two gospels that tell the story have the story of the virgin birth and that's something I'm committed to as part of what I've inherited.

Simon Mayo: You were a prominent part of a Spectator survey in the current issue which headlined' Do you believe in the virgin birth?' there are some people in this survey who would say they were Christian who don't have a problem if you don't believe in the Virgin birth;' how important it is it to believe in that bit?

Archbishop of Canterbury: I don't want to set it as a kind of hurdle that people have to get over before they, you know, be signed up;, but I think quite a few people that as time goes on, they get a sense, a deeper sense of what the virgin birth is about. I would say that of myself. About thirty years ago I might have said I wasn't too fussed about it - now I see it much more as dovetailing with the rest of what I believe about the story and yes.
Contrast that to the unequivocal answers in the Spectator survey by Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali (one of Rowan Williams' most prominent conservative critics in the CoE) and also by Rev. Nicky Gumbel, developer of the Alpha Course.

Of course, Abp. Williams' in the BBC interview got the most headlines for saying the three wise men (and thus presumably the Epiphany) were a legend, but that’s another story.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My latest Christmas album

When visiting friends last weekend, our (English) host showed me a Christmas CD of which he knew I'd approve. And I did. So I bought it from Amazon. It seems to be out of print, so I bought it used, and it arrived Friday.

A major attraction was that it contained performances by two leading English cathedral choirs, from Wells and Salisbury. The recordings were made in 1978 and 1987, respectively, although the latter says it was a benefit concert (for cathedral restoration) "in the presence of the H.R.H The Prince of Wales." Apparently HRH has made restoring Salisbury Cathedral a personal priority.

Whether through the original scheduling or the culling of duplicates, most of the traditional carols are on the Wells part of the CD, but I did very much like the Salisbury rendition of “In the Bleak Winter.” The texture of several of the Wells carols (notably “Once in Royal David’s City” and “Coventry Carol”) show how a choir can vary and build emotional intensity on a simple carol in a way that congregation singing cannot.

I have 29 Christmas albums on my MP3 player. Most recordings of Christmas carols seem to be schmaltzy commercial versions by secular musicians, so it’s nice to hear the traditional songs of Christian worship interpreted by (Anglican) church choirs.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The original KJV

Most American Christians know that the King James bible was the first officially authorized translation of the Bible into English — as authorized by King James (and thus called the “Authorized Version” in England).

The King James was first released in 1611. It followed the earlier (unauthorized) translations by John Wycliffe and followers in the 14th century, and Tyndale’s Luther-inspired translation of the New Testament in 1524.

The King James Version was read in most churches until the late 20th century. In the past two decades has become popular as a computer text (first on PCs, now on the Internet) because unlike the NIV and RSV, its copyright has long since expired and is now in the public domain.

This oft-read KJV is thought of as the version Authorized by James, but the reality is that modern Americans have been using the 1769 edition. If the 1769 seems archaic, the 1611 (in Middle English) would be incomprehensible.

For those who want to understand the history of the 1611 edition and all the changes up to 1769, New Zealand Bible scholar David Norton has published A Textual History of the King James Bible. It is the definitive treatment of the text of the KJV, rather than earlier books that focused on biographies of its editors.

Norton has also re-edited and re-released the 1611 edition (under the cryptic name ) (but with modern spelling) for those who want to study from the earlier edition. Cambridge University Press has a dedicated website that explains more about the project.

Thanks to Rev. Peter Toon for summarizing the differences between the 1611 and 1789 editions, and the importance of the original.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Catholic view on hymnody

Blogging about hymns is a bit of an esoteric habit. I’ve mentioned a Lutheran blog by Josh Osbun (alas on hiatus) and a COE blogby Cathy Osborne — and of course the occasional KFUO radio session — but otherwise there isn’t much out there.

Today, following the link from GetReligion to Amy Welborn’s blog to her blogroll, I found a blog on Catholic hymns entitled “Hymnography Unbound,” written by “Kathy” of Washington, DC.
I don’t know to what degree these two blogs will overlap in their readership. The author is concerned about Catholics avoiding use of inappropriate Protestant hymns by Germans, clearly not a concern here. (I suspect we share some concerns about extreme Calvinist interpretations).

However, I liked her posting about what people look for in hymns (traditional, singable tunes), and she’s written a lot about Latin hymnody. The blog has both a longer history and higher monthly output than the ones I cite to the right, but I still haven't decided whether it will turn out to be a longterm favorite.

I have to admit, I'm the tyro here. “Kathy” writes hymns as an avocation, Osborne has a classical education and is fluent in Latin, and Osbun is training to be an ordained minister. So bear with me as I share my personal observations from a American Anglo-Catholic lay perspective.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Happy 300th birthday Mr. W.

On the Anglican-music mailing list (no relation) I saw a reminder that today is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley, the lyricists for more than 5,000 hymns. The best known of these are "Hark, the herald angels sing" and "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." My personal favorites would be "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" (set to Rowland Prichard’s Hyfrydol) and "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (which my boyhood choir director liked to have us sing to Land of Rest).

To mark the occasion, the public radio show Pipedreams did a complete episode on the Wesley musicians: Charles Wesley, his son Samuel and his grandson Samuel Sebastian. I have not had a chance to listen the show (available online), but presumably it does not spend a lot of time on John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church.

This evening, Boston’s Old North Church (in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, alas) is hosting a commemoration of Charles Wesley's 300th birthday. This is the actual church where he preached back in 1735.

I’m sorry that I can’t make it, but happy birthday, Charles.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Traditional worship making a comeback

Today’s GetReligion includes an interesting posting by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, commenting on a US News story that claims there’s a movement towards returning to traditional worship in Catholic, Muslim and Jewish faiths.

After commenting on the story and the trend, Mollie notes the superficial nature of trying to cover so many faiths in one story. Although not a Lutheran, Mollie is a member of the LCMS, the moderately conservative Lutheran branch whose work with KFUO I often praise here. Although I’m not a Lutheran, Mollie is the GetReligion whose worship attitudes I feel most comfortable (particularly since TMatt went Orthodox), as demonstrated by today’s quote:
But as someone who worships liturgically and grew up worshiping liturgically, it seems to me that a lot of this “movement” isn’t so much about returning as staying put. Confessional Lutherans will keep worshiping the way we do even when this “return to tradition” fad gets passed to wherever the leftover WWJD bracelets are being hidden. It’s funny to me that those of us that don’t change with the times every few years only get coverage because apparently a fad is guiding people in our direction.
In addition to Mollie’s points, the first thing that grabbed me about the article was the backlash by liberals against the trend towards the Tridentine mass in the Catholic church:
Some liberal Catholic clergy are completely skeptical about the scope and meaning of the traditionalist turn. "It's more hype than reality," says the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and political scientist at Georgetown's Woodstock Theological Center. Reese thinks the church should focus less on the Latin mass than on the three things that draw most churchgoers: "good preaching, good music, and a welcoming community."
which was partially be rebutted by a Catholic neocon:
But Sister Patricia Wittberg, a sociologist at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, sees more substance in the new traditionalism. "I think churches that can articulate what they do and what they stand for tend to grow better." To that extent, she says, the conservative turn in the church makes sense. But she points out that there are two kinds of conservatives. "One group," she says, "would like to take things back to the [16th-century Counter-Reformation] Council of Trent, but I don't think the future's with them. I think the future is with a group that is interested in reviving the old stuff and traditions in a creative way. Sisters in traditional orders may wear habits, but they often live in coed communities."
Although Anglicans were not mentioned, it was interesting to read about an evangelical Protestant church adopting a liturgical calendar and (occasionally) saying the Nicene Creed.

This seems to go against another article by TMatt, in this case in his paid job as a religion columnist. (Hat tip to innocent as doves). Entitled “Hitting the 500-year wall,” he speculates what as to what will come next on the 500 year cycle after the Crucifixion, the fall of Rome, the Great Schism and the Reformation. The expert he quotes seems to be promoting some form of postmodern Christianity (aka “emerging Christianity”), but I wonder if the real trend (as evidenced by the Anglican wars) of having Christianity led over by the African church — or, as the article quoted by David Virtue today puts it:
African Christians regard their Christian faith as their whole life and not just a part-time activity, said the head of the World Council of Churches on Sunday. The Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia’s response was to a question posed by Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III of the famed Washington National Cathedral about why Christianity was exploding in Africa whereas Christian denominations in the United States have been reporting declining membership.

“Religion is seen not as a part-time occupation, but it permeates the whole life,” WCC General Secretary Kobia answered. “There are many Africans therefore that think their future will be much more hopeful if they embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is projected that by 2025 there will be 700 million African Christians in the world – a phenomenal increase from about 10 million in the early 20th century.

Current Anglican Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, for example, has more people in his church pew on any given Sunday than all of the Anglican churches in the United States and Europe combined, according to Kobia.
The collapse of 2,000 years of European Christianity would certainly be a big deal. Alas, from my narrow personal tastes, it might also mean a dying out of Gregorian Chant and other forms of traditional worship derived from the medieval Roman church: let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The detour from Charles Wesley to Christmastide

Hymn 27 of my favorite hymnal is listed as the entrance hymn for Christmas Eve, ten days hence:
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled:
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With the angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem:
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.
There are certainly few hymns that allow such an enthusiastic proclamation of Christ's birth to ring in the new season. Of course, the Mendelssohn melody makes it possible, just as Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Easter hit helps proclaim Christ’s resurrection.

The 1940 Hymnal hints as changes to the lyrics with the notation “Charles Wesley, 1739, alt.” But the real story is brought out in an article (with a book adaptation) in today’s Christianity Today.

The original Wesley version praised the “King of Kings,” consistent with Luke’s Gospel. However, this was changed by George Whitfield to “Glory to the newborn King.” Gordon Giles identifies subtleties of Methodist and Calvinist theology that underline these decisions, but I guess I’ll have to buy his latest book on Christmas readings to learn more.

In looking up Giles, I found an earlier chapter he wrote on the theological basis of musical performance. The book is not on Amazon, but it is indexed by Google.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A new US church - a decade away?

While the 1940 Hymnal is a great hymnal, at some point the various traditionalists will stop paying money to support the PECUSA pension fund and produce their own hymnal. This is an effort I'd like to help. I was wondering if that is going to happen any time soon, but (in a purely selfish sense) later would give me more time to get ready.

The most plausible basis for a new denomination is the Common Cause Partnership, a hodgepodge of current PECUSA members (AAC, ACN, FiFNA), recent defectors (AMiA, CANA), the first of the postwar defectors (APA), and the earliest of all defectors, the 19th century REC. While the APA (now merged with the REC) has a laudable record in opposition to the late Bp. James Pike, it has strained relations with the various Continuing Anglican churches formed in the wake of the 1977 Congress of St. Louis.

Even among CCP, there is considerable divergence of theology. Despite claimed adherence to formularies of the 1662 BCP, there are real questions as to whether constituent members are most devoted to 1662, 1928 or 1979 prayer books. Disagreements over ordination of women has been deferred but not forgotten.

Now Rev. Peter Toon (of the Prayer Book Society) has tried to estimate what it would take to turn this loose confederation into an Anglican province:
To create from the present fledgling Common Cause an autonomous and inter-dependent Province in North America of the Anglican Communion is a task that is enormously difficult and time-consuming. It cannot be done in less than 3 years, maybe in less than five or even ten.

Indeed, bearing in mind the entrepreneurial skills of some of the major players—especially in CANA and AMiA—and recalling the powerful centrifugal forces of American religion and culture, many rational persons would say that it is impossible, and that at best, what will occur is loose kind of federation of Anglican groups who meet irregularly to cooperate in various ways on matters of shared concerns.
Five years seems like a best case, given how far CCP has come (or not) in the three years since it was founded.

So it seems like I will have plenty of time to work on my studies, both the formal studies and independent reading on Anglican hymnody.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

What is "Anglo-Catholic"?

An important term in the Anglican church is the term “Anglo-Catholic,” but it seems to be used by different people to mean different things. These are some of the (implied) definitions that I have seen

  1. Intellectual followers of the Oxford movement that created the 19th century Anglo-Catholic revival. The problem is that few understand the movement in depth, let alone adhere to all its tenets — but they still want to claim the movement’s mantle and its theological legitimacy.
  2. The Elizabethan (or Henry VIII) definition, i.e. Catholic but without a pope. Surely there are many Anglicans whose doctrines on real presence, apostolic succession, even the seven sacraments are identical to the Church of Rome, but refuse to join the world’s largest Christian denomination over married priests or the claims of authority (or infallibility) by the Bishop of Rome. This seems to fit the OED definition.
  3. Episcopal (or ex-Episcopal) traditionalists who are high church: i.e., the Nashotah alumni, not those from Trinity. If you go to Anglican blogs in the U.S. like VirtueOnline this is the most common meaning.
  4. High church Anglicans in general, no matter what their doctrine. In this view, if you adhere to traditional ritual — preserving the “bells and smells” — it doesn’t matter what your theology is.
  5. Anglican rite Catholics, typically led by married PECUSA priests who’ve fled PECUSA for the RCC.
Today I came up with a sixth definition: Anglicans who like to add Latin to their service. This was brought to me while attending a service at the most Anglo-Catholic church in all of Los Angeles: St. Mary of the Angels, the former parish of Cecil B. DeMille whose 1930 sanctuary was funded by Mary Pickford. The church left PECUSA in 1977 and managed to keep its building.

The 10 a.m. service was a triple-header, as proclaimed by the cover of the 24-page seat bulletin:
The Institution
of the
Reverend Father Christopher Pierce Kelley, SSC
as the fifth Rector
in the ninety year history
of the Parish Church of
Saint Mary of the Angels,
with administration of the
Sacrament of Confirmation ...
Solemn High Mass
for the
Second Sunday in Advent

These are the Anglican who are more Catholic (at least in ritual) than today’s American Catholics. They long for the pre-Vatican II days, or, as the new rector remarked afterwards — “what Pope Benedict calls the ‘classic’ liturgy ... as in ‘Coke Classic.’ ” It doesn’t hurt that St. Mary’s is a member of the Traditional Anglican Communion, which is seeking to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. (Confusingly, the TAC’s US branch is called the ACA, or Anglican Church in America).

The 11-member choir sang an entire mass (the Mass in A minor by Harold Duke), as well as separate anthems for the offertory and communion, in addition to the prelude (a Bach air on organ and cello). During communion, bells rang not only on the altar steps but in the bell tower. (Alas, the two pew hymns did not include any of the great Advent hymns in the 1940 Hymnal.)

At its peak, the altar party had 11 men, including five with purple Advent robes: the bishop (Rt. Rev. Darren Williams), two priests (Rev. Kelley and the bishop’s chaplain), two ordained deacons. The six laymen included dueling thurifiers. (A friend suggested that “tandem” is probably a better modifier than “dueling” for a dual-thurible ceremony.) No matter what you call it, a service with five purple robes, dual (duel) thurifers and plenty of Latin would seem to fit a definition of “Anglo-Catholic.”

Many of PECUSA’s fleeing Anglo-Catholics (definition #3 above) are affiliating with other provinces of the Anglican Communion. For the Diocese of San Joaquin and Bp. John-David Schofield (Rev. Kelley’s former boss), yesterday’s historic vote to leave PECUSA (TEC) was followed by a vote to temporarily affiliate with the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of South America under Primate Greg Venables.

The oversight by foreign primates has certainly infuriated TEC leaders, but the hope is that it will allow the ex-TEC parishes (and now dioceses) to continue to participate in the Anglican Communion. Meanwhile, TAC is going the other way — seeking communion with Rome and not Canterbury. Perhaps we could say that one of these is Anglo-Catholic and the other Cathlo-Anglican. But which one?

Interestingly, Episcopalian-turned-Orthodox blogger Terry Mattingly once predicted that the Anglo-Catholics will be in communion with Constantinople before Rome:
One of my very first exposures to Orthodoxy, outside of a history textbook, was actually in the Episcopal Church, in which it was explained to me that there are many people within Anglicanism who think of the Church of England as the Orthodox Church of England, from before the Schism. Part of the tension between Anglicanism and Rome was that the Celtic church was such a consciously separate unit to itself. It had so many things in common with Orthodoxy as opposed to the Roman way of doing things. Primarily with regard to monasticism—they had the emphasis on monasticism as opposed to the more political Roman system of dioceses.

So it was in that context that I first heard a quote attributed to Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey. He was a very Anglo-Catholic, very conservative, traditional Anglican. He said that the mission of Anglicanism was to become Orthodoxy in the West and seek union with the Church of the East. Now I had always heard ecumenism in an Anglican context discussed in terms of ecumenical work with Rome. That was the first time I ever knew that there was a stage when ecumenical ties with Orthodoxy were actually much greater.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Beliefnet unbeliever

This is a bit off-topic, but as a religion blogger I felt compelled to comment.

This morning's paper brought the news that Rupert Murdoch is adding Beliefnet to his Fox Entertainment media empire. The property will become part of Fox Digital Media, with wonderful cross-promotion opportunities for Zondervan and Fox-owned religious media.

The joke opportunities are endless. As the London Guardian reported:

Lo, Murdoch did bring the good news and stored up riches on earth

Rupert Murdoch is out to prove that you can serve God and mammon after all. The media tycoon's Fox Entertainment has bought beliefnet, the largest online faith and spirituality network.

The site is a portal that includes interviews with celebrities and politicians, social networking tools, blogs, inspirational stories, sacred text searches and views from teachers and preachers. Discussion boards carry topics such as "Can inter-faith dating work?" and "Extreme abstinence". Beliefnet was founded in 1999 and the company claims to have 3 million unique visitors a month and nearly 11 million subscribers to a daily email newsletter. Beliefnet provides content across a broad range of faiths.
I've never ever been impressed with Beliefnet: as its title says, it's about "faith and beliefs," and not the R-word.

I'm not interested in "belief," I'm interested in religion, specifically Christianity and the Anglican strain therein. So (as regular readers know), I frequent GetReligion, VirtueOnline, the Issues Etc. Internet radio show, and (as time permits) Christianity Today.

Certainly more general coverage of religion can be interesting, as with the Washington Times BeliefBlog plugged by GetReligion this week. (Blogger Julia Duin is author of some of the best PECUSA schism coverage by any daily newspaper). But I've always thought that Beliefnet tried too hard to avoid any point of view, as reinforced by its founder's defense of the Fox buyout:
That’s a lot of diversity within the company. For those concerned that News Corp won't tolerate viewpoints that arent conservative Christian, consider that Harper One has published Jim Wallis, Paolo Coelho, Feisal Abdul Rauf, Jean Houston, Robert Bly, the Kama Sutra, the Pagan Book of Living and Dying, the Koran and more.

As for the idea that being part of News Corp means that we're going to have to abandon our mission of tolerance and respect for a wide variety of faiths, I’d first like to call your attention to the only quote from Fox in the press release announcing this:

“Beliefnet has garnered respect for its commitment to quality, editorial strength and unbiased approach to faith and spirituality from a broad range of consumers, religious and political leaders, journalists and advertisers,” said Dan Fawcett, President of Fox Digital Media.
There you have it. Beliefnet is worried about losing the loyalty of those who consider "Fox News" a swearword, or fear religious media being controlled by "conservative Christian" viewpoints. So it doesn't want to show any signs of adhering to a particular faith — the faith to which I adhere (along with Fred Barnes and others).

Yes, I know there's a wide range of viewpoints within the evangelical community as represented by CT, but it's among the most oft-mentioned news sources used by religion reporters. And GetReligion has a new liberal Catholic contributor from the left coast, who agrees on many but not all of the tenets of his LCMS, Orthodox, Episcopal (and ?) co-authors. Another source is the magazine World, which a friend reads in the paper form.

But all of these start from a common point:
that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 Timothy 1:12)
That should be a point on which all Anglicans can agree, since it was included in every prayer book from 1549 to 1979. (This means an emphatic "yes" to question #2 of the famous tmatt trio.) That is certainly not a "belief" shared by the whole world, particularly those afraid of "conservative Christians."

Monday, December 3, 2007

Happy New Year!

There are many things reassuring about tradition in worship. One, I believe, is continuity of worship across time and space — the idea that wherever you go, you’d get consistency. In manufacturing, we’d call that quality control.

So it was more than a little gratifying that the First Sunday in Advent brought the first hymn in my favorite hymnal, with Charles Wesley’s words to the 18th century German tune:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
I can't say it's my favorite December carol or even my favorite Advent carol. But, as the back pages of the Hymnal 1940 make clear, it's a standard hymn for Advent I, and a great way to signal the beginning of the new church year.