Archive for December, 2010


Dear friends of St. Junia’s House,

I’ve recently come back in contact with an IC Bishop in Idaho whose groups identify as a “recovery church” following a catholic liturgical model. They don’t especially want to identify with the “IC movement” for various reasons.  As those of us who have been involved with IC churches and the IC movement have recognized, they are all over the map as far as theology, liturgy, faith practices. Some are extremely right wing, believing that the current Roman Catholic Church is too liberal and accepting only a Latin Mass. Others are extremely left wing, veering off into theosophy and “new age” concepts.  And others cannot be easily characterized. So it is easy to understand why some are uncomfortable with being labeled as “IC.” We in the Ecumenical Catholic Communion recognize and honor our Roman Catholic and Old Catholic roots and their lines of apostolic succession from which we are derived.  Our theology is basic catholic theology as expressed in the historic creeds. But our practices vary to some degree with one another, some more similar to the RCC and others with more innovations.  You can learn more about us by using the link to my website on this page, and on the first page of the website, there is a link to the ECC.

Bp +Trimelda McDaniels sent me the following questionnaire for assessing church groups for the possibility of spiritual abuse. I found it very interesting and I thought you would too. She provided a number of links to groups dealing with institutional abuse which I will put together and post here in the near future after I’ve reviewed them myself.

Here is a questionnaire to determine just how healthy your local church is. To find out how well your church ranks, answer “yes” or “no” to the following 12 questions:

* Does your church tightly control the flow of information within its ranks?
* Does your spiritual leader use public shaming as a method to gain the compliance of followers?
* Is your spiritual leader intolerant of questions or critical inquiry?
* Is your spiritual leader the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation?
* Does your spiritual leader have unreasonable fears about the outside world such as evil conspiracies or persecutions?
* Are you discouraged to associate with former members, being warned that they are “evil” or “defiling”?
* Is leaving your group to join another church equal to leaving God?
* Does the surrounding community view your church as a cult?
* Does your spiritual leader consider it evil persecution when criticized or questioned?
* Do the goals of your spiritual leader seem to supersede any personal goals or individual interests?
* Do you fear being rebuked, shunned, or ignored for expressing a different opinion?
* Do former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances?

If you answered “no” to all of the above 12 questions, your church is very healthy. If you answered “yes” to three or more, your church is showing signs of being unhealthy. If you answered “yes” to six or more, your church is very unhealthy. If you answered “yes” to eight or more, your church is more than likely a full-blown authoritarian cult.

I would enjoy hearing from readers of this blog regarding any experiences they may have had that seemed to be spiritual abuse. Please don’t identify the name or location of the group to which you may refer but tell us your story.  There are certain features of spiritual abuse that are fairly common, even across cultures. Recently in reviewing problems in China as reported in previous blog posts, I became aware of a group that has been termed a cult there. The use of the word “cult” is very pejorative, implying a group that may exhibit many of the signs listed in this questionnaire. Sometimes the word is misused by very conservative or fundamentalist Christian groups to define others outside their particular narrow theological conceptions.  But obviously there may be a range of spiritual abuse potential and risk that can occur in any religious group, especially those that don’t have some checks and balances built in to the power and control they exert over members.  I hope this post will generate some good discussion!

Blessings, M-J+

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St. Junia’s House will be offering a live webinar on 2/12/11 presented on big-screen TV. All of the ECC clergy or individuals in formation or discerning their calling will find this day of interest. We will send out a detailed announcement by email after Christmas to all ECC communities in the California diocese. And, if you have colleagues who are not in the ECC that you’d like to invite, please feel free.

The Princeton faculty and other speakers are coming from an Orthodox perspective. Taking their cue from Fr. Georges Florovsky, the eminent 20th century Orthodox Christian theologian, the doctrine of atonement will be examined in some of the same authorities upon which Fr. Florovsky relied: The New Testament, St. Irenaeus of Lyon, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, St. Gregory the Theologian and others.

Because this program is coming live from the east coast, for us in California it will begin at 5:30 AM and end at 2 PM. We have room for a limited number of overnight visitors here at St. Junia’s House, if you want me to roust you out of bed with a cup of coffee so you can pry your eyes open! We will be serving breakfast and lunch here. The Princeton lunch break will come at 9:30 AM – 10:45 AM here, which we will use for discussion time. We will have some able ECC clergy/theologians to guide discussion.

If you can’t make it for the early bird part of the program, come at 9:30 AM and hear other participants discuss the first two presentations, and then you will be better able to follow the flow of the rest of the day. At the end of the day, we will have a brief time of meditation, prayer, and sharing in the St. Junia’s House chapel.

If you are unable to come, this program is available by webinar at a cost of $10. Go to scvm@ptsem.edu to sign up. I have been told that it will be available by CD recording following the seminar, so we will make those available to those who request them.  Here is the schedule:

Morning prayer, welcome, introduction [5:30 AM PCT]

Dr. George Parsenios – Atonement in the NT [6 AM PCT]

Break [7 - 7:15 AM PCT - breakfast in California]

Fr. John Behr – Atonement in St. Irenaeus [7:15 AM PCT]

Fr. George Dragas – Atonement in St. Athanasius [8:30 AM PCT]

Discussion (local) [9:30 AM - 10:45 AM PCT - coffee break in California]

Fr. John McGuckin – Atonement in St. Gregory the Theologian [10:45 AM PCT]

Break [11:45 AM - Noon PCT - buffet lunch at will]

Dr. Alexis Torrance – Atonement in the Ascetic Fathers [Noon, PCT]

Dr. Matthew Baker – Atonement in Fr. Georges Florovsky [1:30 PM PCT

Break [1 - 1:15 PM PCT]

Panel discussion and closing prayer [1:15 - 2 PM PCT]

St. Junia’s House time of sharing, meditation, and prayer [2 - 2:30 PM]

All of the seminar leaders are well known and well-published. I have bibliographies available for anyone who is interested.

Please RSVP if you plan to come overnight, if you will be coming for the early morning events or coming at the 9:30 AM break, so that I can plan sleeping arrangements and our breakfast and lunch.

On 10/1/10, we published a piece about house churches in China. The source of earlier information is a U.S. publication. A new issue has provided additional interesting information (12/10- 01/11 OMF International Global Chinese Ministries). The Chinese government published results of its first public, official religious survey (Blue Book on China Religions, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences). Over 60,000 questionnaires were sent out to 300 counties across China. About 70% of Christians are female. There are about 23 million protestants in registered churches, an increase of 10% in just 2 years. This does not include unregistered house churches which according to the official Chinese Daily total more than 50 million. It is believed there are probably 73 million protestants in China. In the registered churches, about a million per year are being added.

The Blue Book stated that the total number of Catholics in approved churches from the Catholic Patriotic Association is 5.7 million. It is believed that there are a larger number of “underground” Catholics who are loyal to the Pope. According to the Vatican, there may be 6-8 million of these, yielding an estimate of 12-14 million Chinese Catholics.

Of current Chinese Christians, 18% had become Christians between 1982-1992, while 73% have joined a church since 1993. Hence there has been a huge growth just in the past 2 decades.

OMF, which is an evangelical outreach, notes that there are many problems among their converts, especially those living in rural areas. A pastor in such an area may be paid $50/month and thus is forced to supplement his income with other work. Parenthetically, perhaps the assumption that pastors should be professionalized and fully supported is an idea whose time has not come in rural China, as well as in many other places in the world. And, here, in the U.S., there are still some who choose St. Paul’s tentmaking model as still viable. It seems to me that there is a risk that priorities will shift from people to maintenance, both here and there.

There is a shortage of Bibles, and their cost is still prohibitive for many. Not uncommonly, several people or families may share one copy. There seems to be a concern about teaching and promoting honesty in all business enterprises, because this is a culture where fraud and corruption are rampant. Those business enterprises being run by Christians are being studied by the government because of their behavioral differences as reported by BBC News in Wenzhou, China (08/27/10). There is a shortage of training opportunities for poor minority tribal youth to be pastors or teaching in more remote areas.

Questions asked of evangelists by chinese people include: “Why do car accidents happen to believers?” There are reports of house churches being split apart by a widespread cult known as “Lightening from the East” which reportedly targets the less structured or hierarchically organized churches such as house churches. (Note: I am uncertain about the objectivity or reliability information I have obtained about this group since it is anecdotal in nature and all derived from various fundamentalist or evangelical groups. If I find further information, I’ll provide another update. M-J+)

We shall continue our prayers for all the Christians in China, regardless of denominational affiliation.

Blessings, M-J+

Dear friends,
I commend to you the daily meditations of Fr. Richard Rohr to which you can subscribe free. His are the best that I know — they are usually just a short paragraph — unlike many talking theological “heads,” and they relate to real-world spirituality. I quote below the one that came in today:

“The human spiritual longing expressed by ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ is a longing for universal order and meaning. In the centuries of fighting over the humanity and the divinity of Christ, the Western Church has gradually lost touch with the larger and more universal message: ‘The image of the unseen God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth…and he holds all things in unity…because God wanted all perfection to be found in him and all things to be reconciled through him and for him’ (Colossians 1:15-20).

This is not a problem-solving Christ, not a denominational or cultural Christ, not a Christ domesticated by the Churches. This Christ names in his life and person what matters, what lasts, and finally what is. He holds it all together in significance, reveals the redemptive pattern that we call the life and death of things, and holds the meaning and value of our lives outside of ourselves!

Remember: Your life is not about you. You are about life!
Adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, pp. 387-388

If you’d like to subscribe you can go to:
www.cacradicalgrace.org

Regarding the free webinar series, this is a discussion between scientists and theologians including two Nobel Prize winners, and it holds promise to get past many of the red herrings and rhetoric posited by the New Atheists. You can get the series either by phone or by computer along with free downloads after each session, go to their link:

http://evolutionarychristianity.com/welcome.php

I would welcome discussion of this series as it proceeds and I will try to post periodic impressions from it.

Blessings at this Advent season! M-J+