Friday, March 31, 2006

(Nancy) Grace and the Church.

OK, look, I'm Church of Christ. There I said it.

CoC isn't a cult. It's less non-denominational than it was when I was a kid, since the people that call themselves "non-denominational" started naming their churches after geographic features (Willow Creek, Saddleback), or throwing together a spiritual discipline and the word "Bible", e.g., Grace Bible Church (nice people all). Christianity has gone open-source in the last quarter-century, just download the distro (pick a Bible translation that works for you), get some training in life or in a seminary and strike out on your own.

By and large, Church of Christ folks aren't front-and-center in life in the US. There are exceptions, like bazillion book-seller Max Lucado, Senator John Cornyn, DC Court of Appeals Justice Janice Rogers Brown, champion ice skater and commentator Scott Hamilton and, possibly strangest but most welcome of all, "Wierd" Al Yankovic. If we believe in the Bible as the sole source of authority, it's probably because the extent of Jesus' Recommended Books list is "The Old Testament". Much like our conservative Southern Baptist cousins, we frown on drinking to excess, general lasciviousness and significant deviation from a Biblical life as a lifestyle, being human and cognizant of our own sin doesn't really give us a sense of moral superiority. Done improperly, fundamentalist Christianity can create the Modern-Day Pharisee. Done properly, with humility and recognition that the only way we can really express our love to God (besides worship, which is a small part of expressing love) is to love others like He has loved us, you'd be hard-pressed to find more self-sacrificing, and self-effacing people on the planet.

So now this preacher's wife in Selmer, Tennsesse takes a shotgun to her husband and we're on the top of the threat profile, at least according to Nancy Grace of CNN. Her "investigation" into the possible role of the "cultish" Church of Christ began simply enough on March 24, 2006 with this exchange:

Let`s go to Kelly in Illinois. Hi, Kelly.

CALLER: Hi, Nancy.

GRACE: Hi, dear.

CALLER: I was just wondering, the victim`s family seemed very religious. And I know some religions are viewed to be as a cult. And perhaps her family was viewing that religion as cultish, and she was driven to murder to get out of that cultish situation.

GRACE: Hmm, now, I have never heard of the Church of Christ being "cultish." But I do believe that the religion and the stress of being a pastor -- in this case, a minister`s wife -- will play into it. But I believe the Church of Christ is widely respected across the country. There`s no Jim Jones action going on here.

Fair enough. Evidently this intrigued her enough to call a "friend of the show", Pastor Tom Rhukala (note: on the Feb 3, 2006 Nancy Grace show she gives a shout out at the end of the show to "And a special goodnight from friends of the show here all the way from Finland, Pastor Tom Rukala (ph), his wife, Linda (ph). Thank you for being with us." I believe the likelihood of there being another Baptist pastor in Finland with the first name Tom and a last name that can be spelled "Rukala" phonetically to be low.) and the March 27, 2006 transcript:

I want to go to pastor Tom Rukala, joining us tonight, a special guest, a Baptist minister. I`ve been researching the Church of Christ. I don`t know that much about it. What can you tell me?

PASTOR TOM RUKALA, BAPTIST PASTOR: Well, the Church of Christ is a relatively new church. It was started about 150 years ago by Alexander Campbell (ph). And it`s, unfortunately, a very legalistic sect, and they tend to use methods of intimidation and pressure tactics. They claim that they are the only ones going to heaven, and all other people are condemned to hell. So in case...

GRACE: Uh-oh, I`m in trouble. But I already knew that.


GRACE: Now, wait a minute. What more can you tell me?

RUKALA: Well, they claim that if you`re not baptized by one of their ministers, that you`re doomed to hell, even if you`re a believer in Jesus Christ, which, of course, breaks completely from the traditional Christian view that all those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved because we`re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again. For the Church of Christ folks, that`s not enough. You have to be a member of their narrow sect. It`s a very exclusive group. And if you`re not a member of their sect, you`re condemned.

GRACE: You know, Pastor, you keep saying "sect." "Sect." You make it sound like a cult.

RUKALA: It kind of is a borderline cult, unfortunately. I don`t want to make it out to be some kind of Hare Krishna group, but it has cult-like characteristics and...

GRACE: In what sense?

RUKALA: Well, in the sense of the exclusivism, the attitude that they are the only ones who know the truth. The tactics that they use are sometimes just -- not only un-biblical but unethical, and they can be very ungracious, unfortunately.

(Emphasis added)

Apparently, not quite as ungracious as Baptist ministers to Finland. Unfortunately.

Also apparently, "unfortunately" is Finnish for "bless their hearts", the All-Purpose Texas Attempt-To-Get-Out-Of-Tacky-Comments-Free Phrase. It doesn't cover Pastor Rhukala's misstatements and distortions of our practices, um, unfortunately. If you're not considered baptized unless it's "by one of their ministers", I've been laboring under a delusion of salvation since my father baptized me in April of 1980. The snarky comments about "being the only ones going to heaven" are a couple of decades out of date, at least. The baptism issue is not one I see him taking up with Rick Warren, for one, and he shows no inclination to give a biblical example of salvation without baptism. And why he wouldn't want to make a public gesture identical to the one his Savior made is beyond me, but then, I don't have to deal with 9 months of winter a year, it's possible he's a bit around the bend -- or more likely he's quoting what he learned about the CofC back in seminary in the 1960s, again, unfortunately. He may be mistaking the mainstream CofC for Kip McKean's International Churches of Christ a branch that split off in the 1980s, which does have a cult-like reputation, one that is well-deserved and most loathed by those of us who lie in the mainstream of the CofC movement.

I'll say this about Nancy Grace, she at least has the common decency to have an opposing view on the show rather than simply letting slander lie. So on March 29, 2006, she had Rubel Shelly on to present the Church of Christ side to the have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife-esque question, "Are you a cult?" Dr. Shelly gave a pretty well-reasoned response:

GRACE: Is the Church of Christ a cult? Is it cult-like? Did that play into this murder in any way?

With us, Dr. Ruble Shelly, professor of philosophy and religion at Rochester College. He`s a Church of Christ minister. He knows the Winkler family. Let`s take a look.

Single leader, cult-like qualities, trying to isolate members, members happy and enthusiastic -- I don`t think that`s a bad thing -- experimental rather than logical, hide what they teach, say they`re the only true group.

Dr. Shelly, response?

DR. RUBLE SHELLY, CHURCH OF CHRIST, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY: It certainly doesn`t fit the criteria you just gave. We certainly have never created those charismatic personalities. We`re a network of independent, local churches.

And your guests so far, I`m the only one who has to plead guilty to being a member of the Church of Christ. And Churches of Christ certainly are not cultic in any of that classic sense.

We`re a conservative, religious group in the Christian tradition. You`d ask one of our members, and we`d say we jump right off the pages of the New Testament. Historically, we come out of what`s called the American Restoration movement, but the cultic label -- I can`t imagine anyone sticking that label.

GRACE: Dr. Shelly, what is the role of women in the Church of Christ?

SHELLY: Well, we believe that God created the human race male and female in his image and that Paul said there is no male or female in Christ. There are some male leadership options, in terms of elders of churches, and most preaching ministries that are reserved to males, but that`s not a cultic fact.

GRACE: Why? Why?

SHELLY: Well, that`s because of a biblical interpretation issue that Southern Baptists and many other groups share in common with Churches of Christ about male leadership in local churches. Churches of Christ are a conservative religious group.

GRACE: OK, wait, wait, wait. Dr. Shelly, no offense, by why, why only male leadership? Does anybody remember Mary Magdalene, ding ding?

SHELLY: Well, Mary Magdalene was not an apostle. All of the apostles were, in fact...

GRACE: Well, Judas was, and that certainly isn`t saying very much.

SHELLY: Well, we don`t want to quarrel with gender issues, with regard to salvation. And probably, I`m more broad-minded and a bit more liberal in terms of things that I would affirm that women have a right to do in church leadership than some of the people in our churches, but generally...

GRACE: OK. Dr. Shelly, let me move on, because I agree with you.

SHELLY: No, you asked the question as to where it came from.

GRACE: Yes, and I`d love an answer.

SHELLY: First, Timothy 2:11 and 2:12 talks about male leadership in churches. And that text has a great deal hung on it by religious conservatives to say that fathers in homes and elders in churches as male leadership, protective leadership, not abusive leadership.

GRACE: Dr. Shelly, do members of the Church of Christ church believe that that is the only way to heaven?

SHELLY: No. Churches of Christ began in an historical movement whose slogan was, "Christians only, not the only Christians"...


GRACE: No, no, no, wait, wait, wait, wait, don`t need a history lesson, as much as I appreciate it. We`re only an hour long. Do you believe that Jews and Muslims...

SHELLY: Well, you asked the question. The answer is no, because our slogan is...

GRACE: ... will also go to heaven?

SHELLY: Christians only, not the only Christians. We don`t believe we`re the only Christians or the only ones going to heaven.

GRACE: OK, now, you know...

SHELLY: There may be individuals who do.

GRACE: You have got a great sense of career as a lawyer.

SHELLY: Churches of Christ are a loose network of independent churches. And I suspect you could find someone who believes most anything on your scale.

GRACE: Reverend, yes, no, do you believes that Jews or Muslims can go to heaven?

SHELLY: I believe that Jews and Muslims are to be shared the gospel of Christ. Now, that`s a much larger issue.

GRACE: Gotcha, OK. All right. I get it.

SHELLY: I do believe that Jesus is the only path to heaven, of course. Conservative Christians believe that.

No disagreement there. Notice how Ms. Grace seizes terrier-like on the role of women in the church. Somehow, I'm thinking that shooting your husband in the back is not much of a theological argument for women leading more prayers in worship. Anyone who knows anything about the CofC could tell you that the women are the most active, participatory and evangelical part of the church, and that more happens in a given week under the guidance and direction of women in the 167 hours we don't spend in congregational worship than happens under the "direction" of men during the hour in worship. Women are the cornerstone of every vital and active church, there may be some outliers (some CofCs are REALLY conservative) but overall the woman's role in the church is vital and highly regarded in the CofC even if they don't preach on Sundays or serve communion.

The truly funny thing about this is that if she wanted to know about the Church of Christ, all she had to do was ask her guest of March 28, 2006, a certain Max Lucado, whom she asked to comment on the Terri Schiavo matter a year after her death.

And funny enough, given a free shot to bash the stuffing out of the Church of Christ, Bob Jones, Chancellor of Bob Jones University, (mostly) passed on the opportunity, on March 29, 2006:

GRACE: OK. I want to go very quickly now to a very special guest, Bob Jones, chancellor of Bob Jones University. Welcome, Reverend. A couple of questions. This case has highlighted a very serious concern, and that is, when you look to your religious leader, in this case the pastor of their church, people look to them and their family for religious guidance. They are somewhat examples to the members of the flock.

How serious is this? How serious a blow is this to this church`s flock? And also, many people have suggested the Church of Christ is a cult. Now, they deny that. What do you think?

BOB JONES, CHANCELLOR, BOB JONES UNIVERSITY: Well, Nancy, it`s obvious that when your Christian leader, be it pastor or whatever he may call himself, falls into sin, it`s a terrible -- it`s a terrible blow. And in this case, the pastor`s wife has obviously disappointed her Lord and her congregation. And just like all over the world, there are very disillusioned Catholics whose priests were revealed as pedophiles, and when that all got revealed, it just shattered everybody`s confidence. And so yes, it is very disconcerting.

The Church of Christ is a legitimate national denomination. Their beliefs about salvation, in particular, would be one of the things I would have vast differences with them with personally because I think, you know, it`s very clear from the scripture that we`re redeemed to Christ through the blood of the cross, not by the baptismal waters. But I could not personally call it a cult in any way. It`s just a denomination who has doctrines that I personally don`t subscribe to because they aren`t biblical.

So at least from Bob Jones, we aren't a cult. And he should know. ba-dum-dum! The non-biblical thing is, as always and ad infinitum, debatable.

So basically, Nancy Grace is probably not done with us yet, I think she can squeeze another segment out of this. At least she had the fairness to have on a couple of Church of Christ ministers, one apparently unknown to her for reasons unrealted to the Winkler murder.

And I take more than a little solace in knowing that even if she declared the mainstream CofC a cult, almost nobody would find out. Bill O'Reilly beats her better than 3:1 in the same time slot. :)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Resounding 'Duh'

Gateway Pundit: Wires: Bush, Chertoff, Nagin & Fats Domino Warned Before Katrina

Nice roundup by Gateway Pundit about how much was known prior to the hurricane by everyone in the week leading up to Katrina. The fact that Bush personally called Ray Nagin to urge a mandatory evacuation should be proof enough that Bush was engaged and knew of the impeding disaster. Even news people don't grasp or aren't willing to explain the difference between levees being "topped" (so much water that it flows over the levees) and "breached" (structural failure at less than capacity). The levees broke, they didn't get "topped", which is what is being warned of in the videoconference.

This is a non-news event. All of this was known before. What is new is an opportunity to media-swarm the Bushies. Seems like there was a dearth of bad news about Bush, what with the ports deal in 45-day hold and Iraq resisting the urge to tear itself apart.

What about the buses, Mr. Mayor?

I'd love to see the video where that idea was considered and discarded.

Don't believe the hype.

Bird Flu Update

Since I wrote that last part (and thanks for all the kind comments), there have been some significant developments.

The H5N1 virus has spread to Europe and Africa following migratory bird flight pathways, and H5N1 has been confirmed in Germany, Nigeria and Iraq. Human deaths have increased to about 100 worldwide, with most still in Asia where the virus apparently originated. There has been a recent report of dead birds in the Bahamas, and it is feared that they may have died from H5N1. This is not confirmed as H5N1 as far I can tell, but it's an inevitability that H5N1 will get to North and South America, so when it arrives is basically irrelevant. This year or next year does not really matter in the great scheme of things.

This article demonstrates why this bug is so nasty, apparently avian viruses have an attachment protein that allow it to adhere to cellular organelles in many different cell types in humans, including brain and other cells. The 1918 pandemic most frequently presented as pneumonia, but others had cholera-like diarrhea and a few had encephalitis as their presentation. This rather sad paper, based on virology samples and autopsy of a six year-old H5N1 victim, showed viral replication in the lungs and intestine, which makes sense as H5N1 is primarily an intestinal infection in birds.

Viruses are less a carefully plotting life form and more an adaptive program running at the biochemical level. Right now, H5N1 is compiled to run on the 'AvianOS' and only runs on 'ManOS' by accident. At a biochemical level, the situation is suboptimal for human infection -- the average bird body temperature is 106 F, for example. Chemical processes that run best at that temperature may not do so at 98.6 F. Our outer cell proteins that H5N1 depends on to attach to our cells and become absorbed are not quite the same as bird proteins, making efficient infection a problem. That being the case, lack of efficiency can be overcome by sheer numbers, and if you handle a bird that is dead or dying from H5N1, or hang out with a lot of bird poop, the Law of Large Numbers is that you'll get infected. Being that one virion that makes it into a cell and sets up shop will crank out 100,000 or so copies of itself, it doesn't take a large number of infected cells to get you into trouble.

The sloppy replication process of the virus also aids in its perpetuation, and is our main concern. Rather than high-fidelity replication that we as humans enjoy, viral replication is more like a big game of 'telephone'. The message is a little corrupted every time it replicates, and you can never tell when the message will be corrupted into 'The combination to infection of human cells is 7-32-78...", and they'll get it right. The theory now of how the 1918 pandemic started is that precisely this process occurred -- random mutation into a virus will all the nastiness of bird influenza, with the capability to infect humans.

The other risk of H5N1 is that another animal that is susceptable to human AND avian viruses will get both at the same time, and the genes for both reassorted into a version that "steals" the human combination and maintains the pathogenicity (ability to cause disease) of the bird flu. Pigs are the main suspect here, which explains why they end up on the chopping block with birds. The upside of this is that not all of the badness of the bird version may make it into the final combined product, but it's still a concern.

There endeth the virology lesson for today.

Preparation and Reaction

As far as what to do when the pandemic hits, the best advice I have seen is to stay put. Trying to go somewhere else in the middle of a pandemic isn't going to help you, wherever you go they'll a) be having problems, too, and b) won't welcome you warmly given that you'll be considered infectious until proven otherwise. People can spread influenza for something like 48 hours before they get symptomatic, so if you do go somewhere and they quarantine you, you'll spend 48 hours with other people, some of whom may be sick. Not ideal.

If you or yours do get sick, the biggest problem in 1918 was a lack of nursing care. Dehydration, especially in kids, is a killer. Get your respiratory rate up to 30 a minute, run a 104 F fever and have a sore throat that makes swallowing feel like gargling glass shards is a recipie for rapid dehydration. The 'drink liquids' thing is not a suggestion, it's a rule. People who get sick on their own are often so ill they can't do for themselves, and in some remote areas like Inuit villages the flu killed everyone in 1918 because nobody was healthy enough to tend to the others. One big advantage of being obese Americans is that we have the reserves to go a week without eating. Not drinking is another matter.

Getting a fever down is a lot easier today when you can go to Wal-Mart and buy 500 ibuprofen for $10. Tylenol, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium are all effective fever reducers, and alternating tylenol and ibuprofen is a trick we use in pedi patients with really resistant fevers -- tyenol every 4 hours (or six, depending on the bottle), and ibuprofen every six hours. The added advantage of NSAIDs is that they help with the muscle aches, keeping hydrated will do that as well. Aspirin works for this, too, but kids especially shouldn't get aspirin because of a rare side-effect called Reye's Syndrome, and adding gastric bleeding problems to a raging influenza is not a recipie for success. Buy one of those oil cans of your NSAID of choice NOW, before you get sick. It'll keep for a couple of years, and you'll probably use them in the meantime.

It's time to go to the hospital when you can't get fluids into someone and have them stay down for more than 24 hours or when people start getting blue around the lips. Your hospital will be overwhelmed, but unless you have the Noah Wyle (TM) Home Intubation And Ventilation Kit, it's the only place you'll be able to find respiratory support or IV fluids. Most hospitals will not be prepared for this, and those that think they're prepared won't be. The US healthcare system is about the best for acute care, but not everywhere all at once, there is limited surge capacity and when your hospital's vent beds are full, that's it -- no vent for you. As previously stated, going somewhere else won't help.

There is some chance for societal breakdown in this, and if that happens, there's little that is a better persuader than a 12-gauge shotgun. I have the Benelli Nova Tactical on order, it's intimidation defined but with BB shot loads it won't go through your neighbor's house. I'm all for being neighborly and helping out others, but when your neighbors start to help themselves, a firearm is a good way to start a conversation about community responsibilities and consequences in Adult Mode. Two-handed firearms are easier to handle and use, so the 12 pump is my choice.

There is a veterinary vaccine that may protect domestic flocks from H5N1, but we'll have to see about that. Living as I do a couple of dozen miles south of a large poultry-producing region, a coming bird flu outbreak is not a welcome event, but I'd be surprised if we don't see it here in bird populations within 12 months. Let me emphasize that you NOT HANDLE DEAD OR DYING/FUNNY ACTING BIRDS. Emphasize this to your kids, now -- being curious they'll be excited to get close to the duck that normally flies away, not understanding the risk.

Meanwhile, pray if it's your orientation for wisdom for the researchers and public health people, stock up a little on basics (food, medicines you need), keep yourself mindful of the news on this issue and GET THE FLU SHOT when it comes out and if you care for adults over 65 get their docs to give them Pneumovax. The 1977 Swine Flu vaccination was a freak, nobody since then has gotten sick from the flu vaccine. Remember, if you get sick you might feel like dying but you probably won't.