Category Archives: Pistis & Polis

Pistis and Polis, roughly rendered from the Greek as “Faith and the City,” is the ministers’ blog from All Saints Church. Here you’ll find commentary on matters relating to faith and contemporary culture.

Reflections on Preparing for Work

I went down to hear Jeffrey Lacker this morning at Lynchburg College. He’s the President of the Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond.  He’s educated, articulate and has been a dissenting voice in Fed policy decisions since the mid-2000’s.  That alone makes me warm up just a bit.  Today’s lecture was part of a fed tour through the region collecting data and other wonky things, I’m sure, but this morning’s stop was an opportunity for business leaders to get a look at the belly of the beast.

To the topic – workforce development. For some time the Fed has not only been tasked with monetary policy with the trickier task of promoting maximum employment.  The state of that affair can be affected by monetary policy, but Dr. Lacker’s point was to distinguish between the cyclical  unemployment (the kind you hear reported on FOX or NPR), and the rate of unemployment which caused by structural changes in the economy.

For example, a down-turn in the economy may produce layoffs of a cyclical nature and widely thought to be affected by monetary stimulus.  But when a long-term trend occurs, such as off-shoring textile jobs to Bangladesh or China to take advantage of low labor costs, this is understood as structural unemployment.  No amount of tinkering with monetary policy will fix it, because those who lose jobs in that environment don’t always have the skills to transfer to other kinds of work. This results in the paradox of a large pool of unemployed persons, but a shortage of the kind of labor that is needed in the new market.

Why is this important?  Dr. Lacker went on to show that employment prospects for newly minted college grads or for the nearly-retired baby boomer, are influenced by factors beyond formal schooling.  Skills “such as following instructions, patience and work ethic — lay the foundation for mastering more complex cognitive skills and may be just as important a determinant of future labor market success. These basic emotional and social skills are learned very early in life, and it can be difficult for children who fall behind to catch up: Gaps in skills that are important for adult outcomes are observable by age 5 and tend to persist into adulthood.”

These are the kinds of things that should be taught at home, but are often pushed aside in schools.   They are exactly the kinds of things we emphasize at New Covenant Schools.

It’s easy to fall prey to the idea that a college degree is my child’s best ticket to a middle class life.  It is true that those who earn a college degree will earn on average $2.3M over a lifetime, compared to $1.3M by one with a high school diploma.  That’s sobering, but it’s not the whole story.

Boatloads of students will arrive at college this fall, many of whom will be dazed and confused by an environment for which they are ill-suited, ill-prepared, or both.  This accounts for the fact that only 60%, 6 out of 10, students graduate from college or university.  Let that sink in.  It tells us that not every student is or should be college-bound, and it tells us that we have to be careful that our academic planning makes students aware of the larger opportunities available in fields not channeled by a college degree.  As Dr. Lacker says, “If…students believe that the only reason to complete high school is to attend college, they might not see much value in graduating. But learning about alternative career and educational opportunities that also require a high school degree could increase the perceived value of high school completion…A growing number of vocational or apprenticeship programs offer specialized training in areas that are in high demand, such as health care and advanced manufacturing.

Indeed, 27% of the economy in Campbell County, VA is manufacturing and requires skilled labor.   That’s more than double the national average for one sector of a diversified economy.  One would think that with 5.6% unemployment in Central Virginia, manufacturers could fill the jobs.  Instead, they struggle to find qualified labor.  A student who didn’t find himself comfortable spending $100K for a major he didn’t like, while racking up thousands of dollars in student loans, might find that vocational and advanced training in certain places makes a lot of sense.

I would urge my colleagues, parents and students to consider that our economy is changing and that is undergoing structural changes that will not correct with the next business cycle.  Preparing for the future will require you to entertain options you may not have considered before.

Read Dr. Lacker’s entire remarks here.

Coerced Compassion and the American Nightmare

This is my contribution to our local op-ed page in which assertions were made about what Jesus’ political affiliations might be, were he alive today.  Of course, he is alive today, and his affiliation is King of the World.  Nevertheless, here is my response to two local gents who differ with me.

It’s nice to see that Andy Schmookler, in his May 25 column, and Art

Fr. John Heaton
Fr. John Heaton

Costan, in his June 22 letter to the editor, are appealing to the Bible in support of their political agenda. When Christians like me do that, we’re routinely shouted down and told that the Bible is a hide-bound collection of condemnations of our culture’s cherished sins.

Except when it comes to caring for the poor. Political liberals

love Jesus, not because he saves them from their sins, but because his message is so easily hijacked into fitting their narrative of compassion. Indeed, Jesus indicted the political powers of his own day for their oppression of the poor. He taught that in his kingdom they would find compassion, justice and mercy because people in his kingdom, when they are shaped by the Gospel, tend to behave justly and compassionately.

Thus, Costan points out rightly that the early Christians were sharing communities. He overlooks the fact, however, that St. Peter himself declared that Ananias and Sapphira were free to do with their own goods as they pleased — voluntarily. They were not coerced by either the church or by Caesar. Nor were they struck dead for lack of generosity. Check your text; they were punished because they pretended to be more generous than they were and lied about it.

I don’t know any of Jesus’ followers today who are against helping the poor. I do know a bunch who resent a government that coerces compassion and pretends that it’s mercy. These are the same people who are least likely to vote for those who would perpetuate the charade and raise our taxes further. The moral demands of Christian faith become terribly twisted when they flow from the barrel of a gun. When Representative Jones extorts money from Citizen Smith so that Bureaucrat Bobby can give it to Smith’s neighbor — that’s not compassion; that’s not how mercy works. It buys food stamps, of course, and it buys Section 8 housing, and did I mention? It buys votes.

Come with me to downtown Lynchburg and I’ll show you what else it buys. It buys the American nightmare of multi-generational poverty, disconnected from successful education and meaningful work, and it locks in a permanent underclass which is contained in its own zip code nice and tidy. When the state takes our tax money and sends it down there, it doesn’t fix a problem, it just segregates it. It grants me the illusion that I can help the poor, and thankfully, makes it possible for me to avoid meeting poor people, to be offended by their dirty clothes or to put up with how they talk. I don’t actually have to personally give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. The state gives it in my name. In short, the whole arrangement is rigged so that I don’t have to have a relationship with them.

This is the tender mercy of state enforced compassion. I don’t object primarily because it increases my tax burden. I object because it is an obvious failure and it overlooks the core of Jesus teaching to love your neighbor, which means compassionate relationships. Helping the poor requires far more than the kind of giving that the state and its shiny coercion gun creates. But if you insist upon measuring compassion by money, who cares most? We can paint by the numbers here. When it comes to private philanthropy, private generosity, Americans are far more generous than Europeans. Inside America, the red states are far more giving than the blue states. Christians of every stripe are far more generous than secularists. Protestants are more generous than Catholics. And the evangelicals that Schmookler despises are way more generous than the Protestant mainliners. That’s a fact.

History and Destiny Meet – Some Wedding Thoughts

Saturday, June 21, was a great day for Teddy Huizinga and Tabitha Hindman.  They were married that afternoon.  Here’s what I said to them.

Today is a great day because it is your wedding day. Today we get to Hindman-weddingtell a story – THE story.  In the Christian tradition a wedding tells the whole story, its beginning, middle and end.

It begins in a garden where God took a man and a woman and married them himself.  Together they were made in his image, and they were a reflection of the love and reciprocity that existed in the Trinity.  That act set into motion God’s plan for man’s happiness in the sojourn of this life, and created one of the great theme’s of history.

The story ends in a city where we find that God has prepared a bride, daughter Zion,  for his Son, Jesus Christ. The last book of the Bible anticipates the wedding of the two and a great supper to follow.  Thus, our Christian faith tells that history and eternity is structured around marriage.

Marriage tells us something about the middle of the story, too.  When our Lord Jesus came to visit us, he opened his ministry with a dramatic miracle at a wedding in Cana. By it he showed us that the kingdom of God is characterized by joy and celebration, the end of which was union with God.  We are to experience God and one another with love.

Today, the wedding of Teddy and Tabitha is a telling of the Christian story writ small.   Today, you are the image of the eternal God and you are a reflection of his purposes for mankind.   Today, history and destiny meet in you.

But in our fallen estate, we do not love perfectly, and because of that you do well to take heed to St. Paul’s familiar exhortation to husbands:  “Love your wives as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it.”  And to wives, “Honor and submit to your husbands.”  When you do these things, you will share the great joy that God has prepared as his great gift to you.



The First Sunday After Trinity

by Fr. L.K. Wells

Today’s Epistle contains a word both difficult and unfamiliar, in the statement that God “loved us and sent His Son to be the *propitiation* for our sins.” This word propitiation occurs only twice in the NT; the only other occurrence is at 1 John 2:2, which we all know by heart as the last of the “Comfortable Words” (BCP p. 76). Paul uses a slightly different form of the same word at Romans 3:25, “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, by his blood.”

The word propitiate means to placate, to appease, to assuage wrath. Therefore the word has had a rough time with modern liberal religion. It is hard for non-Christians, semi-Christians, or lukewarm Christians to accept the idea that God is truly angry with sin. Modern translations of the Bible have tended to eliminate this word. The RSV replaces it with the more palatable term expiation (which means to drive out sin). Another translation uses the term “atoning sacrifice.” The 1979 Prayer Book has “perfect offering.” Those who reject the correct historic term propitiation cannot seem to find another word they like.

The word propitiation refers unmistakably to an essential Biblical idea, that is the reality of God’s wrath. As Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). Or as St John wrote, “he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).

What sort of a god would not be angry with sin? When we reflect on the violence and cruelty of this world, do we kid ourselves into thinking that God can be as indifferent and shallow as we are? When we recall the holocaust of Hitler’s era, or give any thought to the holocaust of abortion in our own time, what sort of god could merely blink at this? Such a god would be a false god, an idol invented by modern liberal substitutes for the religion of the Bible.

Our faith never suggests that a vengeful god waits for his creatures to find some way of placating him, appeasing him, or assuaging his wrath. That is a caricature of what the Bible reveals. Such falsehood is a sorry excuse for suppressing a sound Biblical term. Each time this word “propitiation” appears, we are told clearly that the holy angry God Himself takes the initiative in providing the reconciling sacrifice. “He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” “We love Him, for He first loved us.” When we look upon the Cross drenched in the blood of sacrifice, there we see the love of God which subdued His wrath, the love which propitiated for our sins.

Our faith tells us that our Saviour has made perfect satisfaction, has paid the “uttermost farthing” of our penalty, has truly subdued the holy anger which our sin deserves. “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Two perspectives on same-sex marriage – Post 1

Explanatory note:  On March 7, 2013 Dr. Neal Sumerlin was published in the News & Advance in support of same-sex marriage in an article titled Homophobia Rules Supreme.  I responded a few days later and my letter was subsequently published with severe edits.  It is important to note that the editor of the paper – not Dr. Sumerlin – added the unfortunate title.  As a result of the public exchange, however, he and I agreed to dialogue privately.  After a private exchange of letters, we both agreed further  that we would offer them publically in a blog format.

If you offer a comment on any of these posts, please keep it civil – serious responses only – or it will be deleted.

March 7, 2013 – Neal Sumerlin

A woman who grew up in the house next to mine, a retired anthropology professor whose parents are among my dearest friends. A musically talented young man who grew up in my church, and whose duets with his mother are among the highlights of my Christmas season. A former high school classmate of mine who ran a successful interior design business for years. A former high school classmate of my daughter, a talented lighting designer working in Florida. Many of my former students, including a bright and sunny young woman working as a highly-paid chef in Australia.

All of these people are known personally to me. For each of them, I have both admiration and affection.

Do any of these people seem threatening to you? Me neither. Do any of these people seem to pose a threat to your own heterosexual marriage? Me neither. I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now: They are all gay.

Yet some letter writers to The News & Advance would have us believe that they do pose a threat.

I am genuinely sympathetic to such people — I’m not trying to be snarky here. It can’t be pleasant to feel threatened by people who are more visible now than they were when you were younger. But you’re missing out on knowing some wonderfully interesting people.

I know some believe that these folks made a lifestyle choice and should be condemned for it. Despite claims on both sides, there really is no conclusive scientific evidence one way or the other, and human sexuality is far too complex to reduce to such simple explanations anyway.

But when I asked myself the question “When did I decide to adopt the straight lifestyle?” the absurdity of that assumption hit home. And if these folks believe that no one they love or admire is gay, odds are that they are wrong.

There are plenty of genuine threats we should worry about without having to fear imaginary ones.

Fr. John responds here:



Fr. John Responds to Neal Sumerlin – Post 2

Explanatory note:  On March 7, 2013 Dr. Neal Sumerlin was published in the News & Advance in support of same-sex marriage in an article titled Homophobia Rules Supreme.  I responded a few days later and my letter was subsequently published with severe edits.  It is important to note that the editor of the paper – not Dr. Sumerlin – added the unfortunate title.  As a result of the public exchange, however, he and I agreed to dialogue privately.  After a private exchange of letters, we both agreed further  that we would offer them publically in a blog format.

If you offer a comment on any of these posts, please keep it civil – serious responses only – or it will be deleted.

Full version of Letter to the editor of the Lynchburg News & Daily Advance (Edited version was printed on March 17, 2013.)

Fr. John – I should like to respond to Neal Sumerlin’s letter of March 7. Perhaps he did not title his essay “Homophobia Rules Supreme,” but nonetheless, that is what was printed. It is disheartening that those who find homosexuality morally objectionable are continually subjected to ad hominem attacks. Morally serious people on both sides of this question should not be characterized as driven by blind phobias, so let us please stop the name-calling.

I do agree with Mr. Sumerlin regarding lifestyle choices when he says that, “despite claims on both sides, there really is no conclusive scientific evidence one way or the other, and human sexuality is far too complex to reduce to such simple explanations.” Point taken. I fully admit that my objections to homosexuality are not ultimately sourced in science, but in a system of morals informed by a long and consistent Christian tradition. It is the same system upon which I base my objection to theft and murder, which is not grounded in what science may say about a particular perpetrator; my objections to these acts are grounded in a moral transcendent. Science may tell us much about what can be, but it tells us nothing about what ought to be.

I do not care to intrude into the private lives of people who live next door to me, but privacy is not really what is at stake. We’ve been living next door to homosexuals for all of history. The debate over homosexuality and who marries whom is not about protecting privacy or about furthering civil rights, but about redefining marriage altogether.

The arguments are troubling because the demands of those calling for same sex marriage are based largely upon claims that people who love each other and are in committed relationships ought to be free to marry whom they will. Fine. On that basis, then, shall we assume that, once obtained, this “right” will be limited to loving, monogamous, same sex partners only? The clerk of court has a long line for gay and lesbian couples who wish to marry, but there is another line already queuing up that includes those who wish to marry two or more people. On the logic of the arguments offered for same sex marriage, there is no basis whatever for denying “civil rights” to a bi-sexual man who wishes to marry both a man and woman at the same time, as long as they share a loving, committed relationship.

You may think this is farfetched. It is not. Let us not imagine that same sex marriage is the finish line. While they may be a minority now, there are folks aplenty who want that and more. We have an increasing number of neighbors who subscribe to one of the world’s largest religions, Islam, which expressly sanctions polygamous marriages for up to four wives. Since they are interesting and talented and happen to live next door, is it time to embrace polygamy?

If you want to draw the line there, please don’t call me names because I draw my line a bit more narrowly. We’re both drawing lines over definitions. Once marriage is redefined as same sex proponents would have it, there is no longer any basis for denying all kinds of marital bedlam. I do not suppose for a moment that those who advocate same sex marriages, having won the field, will suddenly stake out their victory as the new conservative position, and immediately turn around and deny the status of marriage to multiple partners, polygamous unions, or perhaps to men and boys. In many states it is lawful to be married at 16. So why not, say, between a 24 year-old man and a 16 year old boy? After all, civil rights are civil rights.

I can hear the “O posh!” already. But those who wish to extend marriage to same sex couples – but not to other minority groups such as polygamists and boy-lovers – should soon expect to find themselves in the awkward position of having to draw the line somewhere. But after saying “yes” to same sex couples, won’t it pinch badly to deny a marriage license to a threesome, deeply in love and wanting nothing more than relief from discrimination?

Rather than name-calling, let us all calmly look at each other across the table and affirm that we are both morally serious. But let us also agree that this debate is not simply about legitimizing same sex marriage. At some point, if you put enough sand in the sugar bowl, it isn’t sugar any more. As they are currently advanced, arguments to legalize same sex unions will inevitably provide the framework for legitimizing all forms of human cohabitation as marriages. In so doing, we will not have redefined marriage, we will have destroyed it. I neither hate nor fear my neighbors who disagree with me, or who make moral choices of which I disapprove, but I am convinced that this is morally unacceptable and very bad public policy.

Neal Sumerlin responds here: