What Both Shines and Stinks

This linked article drew my attention back to something that I’ve been pondering for some years now. Yes, I am aware this was written by a lady who is an Anglican priest wanting to function within the constraints of historic Christian practice. You can’t have everything, you know.

The issue is accountability, in this case, accountability for theological bloggers. The rise of the Internet has created quite a situation with regard to those who—like me—blog on spiritual matters, a situation where all the monkeys have somehow gotten out of their cages. The presenting problem is Joe Lay Blogger typing whatever comes into his head. This is the “guy in his pajamas” problem applied to theology, as opposed its original application as made by Dan Rather to those disrespectful bloggers who dared to bring him down. To be fair to Rather, they used some new techniques he was not ready for at all—viz. Truth, Honesty, and Actual Facts.

And the developing showdown between institutional Christianity and free range bloggers is illustrative of the same old problem, albeit painted on another canvas. Depending on our prejudices, we tend to see how a “lack of accountability” in this or that direction could have damaging effects, and so we must do something—about this or that direction. But if we are to cross the street safely, we need to look in both directions.

Individual teachers, writers, podcasters, etc. most certainly need accountability. This is the focus of the linked article. But we live in a fallen world, and we must recognize that institutions go corrupt at least as often as individuals do—and they do a lot more damage when they do. As a parishioner in a very Dutch denomination once said to me, “No denomination ever went liberal because the pig farmers went bad.”

Think of it this way. The Sanhedrin were doing what to Jesus? Well, obviously, they were holding Him accountable.

If you think this is just word games, you have to pay attention to what they thought they were doing. What question did they ask Him? Better yet, what question sprang naturally to their lips? By what authority do you do these things (Matt. 21:23; Mk. 11:28; Luke 20:2)? Who do you think you are? Where was your ordination? Why will you not allow the credentials committee to put a bit and bridle on you?

Now the Bible is plain about spiritual responsibility as needing to be exercised in both directions. For example, the institutional church must hold false teachers accountable. Not receiving ordinations obtained from a Cracker Jack box is part of this. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” (Titus 3:10, ESV). The institutional church has the responsibility to deal with the sin that manifests itself as individual men try to lure followers away for themselves. “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30).

But it must go in the other direction also. Individuals must hold institutions accountable, and this is always messy. Now how are institutions to be held accountable? Who does that? Why is it always a vigilante operation of some sort?

There is a certain kind of person who knows how to gravitate to the important desks, and they soon learn how to operate all the levers under the desk, the ones that are connected to the important committees, and the influential thought leaders, and the networking conferences. How can this sleek, bureaucratic and manipulating monstrosity ever be held accountable? Well, it has to be by means of some guy blowing out of the wilderness, dressed in camel hair hitched up with a leather belt. And what kind of credentials are those?

When Athanasius stood contra mundum, lest us never forget that he was standing against mundus episcopi, the world of the bishops. John Bunyan spent time in the slammer for preaching without a license. Spurgeon was a successful renegade, never having been ordained. And Peter and the other apostles were graced with the gift of disgrace when they were flogged by the appropriate authorities (Acts 5:40). I have gotten in trouble with fellow Presbyterians before, but I have never risen to the apostolic height of having been flogged by them.

If we may take direction from shrewdness in the civil sphere, as we should, we could hardly do better than to pay attention to James Madison. These words are from Federalist 51, with wisdom radiating from them like heat from a wood burning stove in a small hunters’ cabin. “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” This is no less a problem in ecclesiastical affairs than it is in civil affairs.

And why? We live in a time when the infrastructure of the institutional church is swollen with conceit, hopelessly corrupt, bought off, and desperately in love with the world and with the wrong kind of respectability. To borrow a phrase from Randolph, the kind of respectability we hanker after is like a dead mackerel on the beach by moonlight—it both shines and stinks. Our love for this kind of thing is what keeps us from a true and living faith. “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44).

We need to recognize that in His providential governance of the world, God uses checks and balances also. The priests in Israel were part of the establishment, and their annals told many tales of heroism and corruption both, from Jehoida to Caiphas. The prophets were out in the countryside, living in their shantytown Bible colleges, and were not part of the formal establishment, and their annals told many tales of heroism and corruption both, from Micaiah to Hananiah.

This is another way of saying that in any given showdown, you cannot know beforehand who the good guy is and who the bad guy is. Sometimes the establishment is in the right. Sometimes the outsiders are. That is to be determined by the Scriptures—in other words, who is right?

Right? Wrong? These are strange words. Tell me more about this faith of yours.

But when conscientious men in the establishment have a hot prophet on their hands, they could do far worse than to follow the advice of Gamaliel. “And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if the blog traffic be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:38–39). And when conscientious men on the outside are admonished by institutional men with open Bibles (I know, I know, work with me), their response should be to listen, heed, and take it to heart.

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Rob Steele
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Rob Steele

God seems to like having us all be heroes in our own minds. Then there will be the great sorting where many discover that they were goats after all. Notice how I do not include myself among the goats. No one ever does.

Capndweeb
Guest
Capndweeb

Ahh, Pastor Wilson, did you wake up this morning with the sun glinting off my toes that you should be attracted to step on them? Because I do write a Christian blog. It’s a tiny little thing, way off in the corner of the internet that very few people see or know about. It’s far and away not nearly the quality of this blog, (and I sincerely mean that as a compliment) but I know it is something I have been called to do. God gave me a modicum of ability to use words for His glory, and I surely… Read more »

adad0
Member

As I often say Cap’n:
“God does have some poor angel writing down this entire, pathetic conversation!”????

Can you indulge me and post a link to your blog? You can always delete it after a while.

Capndweeb
Guest
Capndweeb

I don’t do indulgences. (Sorry, I absolutely could not resist that.) :)
https://kinshipradio.org/home/2017/04/27/the-power-of-god-2/

adad0
Member

Now in my favorites cap’n! Lots of back up reading to do now!????????????????????

Brandon Klassen
Guest
Brandon Klassen

Any chance of building off this and addressing so-called “discernment” bloggers? Because for the most part my impression is that they are a parasite within Christendom and should be treated as such. The vast majority exist to exalt themselves at the expense of everybody else.

And I'm Cute, Too
Guest
And I'm Cute, Too

Who do you know that calls himself (or herself) a “discernment blogger”?

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

A point she makes several times there, which I do not see addressed above, is that popularity on the internet is so heavily driven by things that have nothing to do with truth. Are you a good writer? Do you focus on topics likely to get a lot of views? Are you willing to make up the perfect anecdotes, or quote the perfect stat, without actually checking to see if it’s factual? Do you play to what your audience wants to hear? If your natural following is a bit narrow, have you found a common enemy which you can beat… Read more »

insanitybytes22
Member

That’s a really good point. People love to stare at a train wreck, so the guy who got six million hits on you tube, simply shot holes in a lap to proclaim his dominance over his son. People are quite charming and what draws our attention even more perverse. It is what it is.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

And can you attract people who engage in the comment section. On many blogs I’m often more interested in the comments than in the actual post.

SinnersInTheHandsOfAnAngryBlog
Guest

I’m a Christian blogger as well. Very wise words, Pastor Wilson!

steghorn21
Guest
steghorn21

great title!

SinnersInTheHandsOfAnAngryBlog
Guest

Thanks!

insanitybytes22
Member

I blog and I answer to God. Yep, just God. I trust the Holy Spirit to lead and guide me and correct me if I wander too far off the path. That actually disturbs a lot of people, which I find quite tragic. They either don’t believe God is actually real, don’t believe He can handle me, or believe an institution is far more worthy to monitor people’s behavior than God Himself.

JP Stewart
Member

How does the Holy Spirit correct you? Is Heb. 13:17 wrong when it says there is an institution (the church) we’re supposed to obey? (“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account”).

insanitybytes22
Member

I have a Pastor, (and six back ups,) about a dozen elders, and a husband. I’ve never heard the Holy Spirit contradict any of them, as a matter of fact, they all tend to align themselves in the same direction which is really a trip to observe sometimes.

OKRickety
Member

“… they all tend to align themselves in the same direction ….”

“Great minds think alike, though fools seldom differ.”

“I’ve never heard the Holy Spirit contradict any of them, ….”

And your point is …? I don’t think the Pharisees, for example, allowed the Holy Spirit to convict them of their false beliefs, even when Jesus Himself spoke of it to them.

Does your husband regularly read all of your blog and comments (both on your blog and elsewhere)?

JP Stewart
Member

When you lie, malign people and refuse to back up outlandish claims, rest assured the real Holy Spirit isn’t approving. Of course, if you base everything on “feeling” the Spirit’s guidance, there’s no telling what spirit (if any) is guiding you.

The simple test is Scripture. If you violate the 9th Commandment, the Spirit won’t approve it.

insanitybytes22
Member

When you repeatedly greet a Christian sister with nothing but hostility, perpetual condemnation, and never ending accusations, I begin to doubt you’ve ever met grace yourself.

JP Stewart
Member

Except that hasn’t happened. I’ve simply asked you on many, many occasions to provide proof for all your claims and labels of others, and you’ve never done so.

Ryan Finlay
Guest
Ryan Finlay

Let who we answer to come first and then what we do. It’s easy to get them reversed.

insanitybytes22
Member

Amen! I really like that.

carandc
Member

I wonder if there was a similar sentiment about the printing press 500-some-odd years ago in Western Europe. I betchya the Church was worried about every Tom, Dick, and Martin publishing on a whim any sort of pamphlet or, say, list :-)

Capndweeb
Guest
Capndweeb

Ding!

John
Guest
John

It seems to me that the best bulwark against corruption of institutions is in keeping them small and directly accountable to those within the institution. Keep its power only to what it needs to fulfill its basic duties, but nothing more.

It’s a lot easier to corrupt a million people when they’re in one church than if they’re in 1,000 churches.

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

“… listen, heed, and take it to heart” — Ok, Pastor Doug, I’m listening! So here’s my question to you re those Presby brothers by whom you yourself have been troubled: Will you agree that this notion of discluding legitimate (baptised, good rep) believers from their tables & from recognition as members of their community is poisonous both to the the church there, the other members there, to those particular believers, and to the Church at large? You’ve been clear that the CREC eschews table a-communication (that is, you invite all baptized believers). You’ve been less-than-clear that CREC recognizes all… Read more »

adad0
Member

“Pastors don’t have the right to pick and choose which sheep to feed, do they?”

Well, let’s just say they don’t, just so long as that activity is not confused with milking bulls!????

Vva70
Guest
Vva70

Not for the whole CREC (which has a different constitution for each local church body), but you can look at the constitution for Christ Church in Moscow ID right here: https://www.christkirk.com/our-church/our-constitution/

The membership policies begin at the 3rd bullet point, and have relevance in a variety of sections of the constitution.

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

Note that this documents that leaders of this business / organization seek to reserve a stated and presumably important aspect of what they consider important Christian duties to a subset of the real members there.

That is, they don’t accept the votes of households who, although acknowledged as God’s sheep, they refuse to recognize as having the same status as “official” members.
Dare one be so cynical as to suppose this as related to the vow to “support” the organization? Read:$$
Membership has its privileges!

Vva70
Guest
Vva70

One might dare to be so cynical, I suppose. Seems a little uncharitable though.

I’m curious about this anti-membership position of yours. You seem to acknowledge as acceptable a distinction between “regularly attending folk” and guests/transients/infrequent attenders. If a local church sought to have a membership policy whereby the conditions and expectations of membership were merely a formalized version of the expectations for regular attenders, would that be wrong in principle?

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

I’m not anti membership in any way, given I rejoice that when we are members of Christ, we are now members of and with one another. Yet this recognition is exactly what formal membership proponents deny. Wasn’t it Jesus who cynically remarked that the elders around Him used their authority for financial gain? Think things have changed? In your hypothetical local membership drive, you’ve tied expectations regarding what should be the already-acknowledged to possibly excludable folks. Example of how destructive this is: Is it “wrong in principle” to let your daughter know your expectations for her will now be formalized… Read more »

Vva70
Guest
Vva70

Does membership in Christ not have requirements?

Is there not a difference in kind between membership in a family, which is not normally limited by geography or regular attendance/participation, and membership in a local congregation, where such limits do apply?

And of course there exist elders who abuse their positions for financial gain. Doesn’t change the fact that the particular charge you levied seems a rather uncharitable accusation against the motives of particular people without much evidence.

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

Is meeting the requirement of being died for by God, and then baptized into Him not sufficient for receipt into membership by the Father? But we make it insufficient among ourselves? I think if that passed His test, we should find it a teeny tiny presumptuous when our present day Judaizers add these new requirements. We got spanked with the circumcision thing, so we pivot to “official church membership”! Will we never stop this nonsense! What God has called a member, let no man preclude. So no, there are NO such differences in kind. If anything, the family of God… Read more »

Vva70
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Vva70

Mostly I’m just curious about your position. I’ve been both in churches which did and did not practice have formal membership rolls, but the debate that I’ve always heard was whether or not it was necessary. Your take is an unfamiliar one to me. One thing that I notice is that when I asked if there was a difference in kind between membership in a family and membership in a “local congregation,” you changed the context to comparing membership in a family to membership in “the family of God.” Most local congregations state outright that the family of God is… Read more »

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

I applaud your curiosity! May I deal with one paragraph at a time? Regarding 2nd paragraph re my apparent equivocation: you asked about “kind”. I take this to mean is a church different than family. I say no. So maybe you’re asking is local membership different in kind and then the wider membership in Christ’s body? I say no. If one is a member of Christ’s body and lives in Chicago, you are by default a member of wherever you attend. In addition, you are by default and in principle and in-kind a member of every assembly in Chicago and… Read more »

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

Third paragraph: “you acknowledge that being baptized is a (normative) requirement for membership in Christ” — Well, if you define baptism as being buried in Christ & raised with Him. You know, having had that thing happen about which our famous water rites are a testament. So yes — being saved is a normative requirement for membership. It’s actually the definition of membership. “You previously acknowledged the legitimacy of a local congregation distinguishing “full membership” (in that local congregation, not in the larger body of Christ) on the basis of regular attendance.” No, I didn’t. What I proposed is that… Read more »

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

Fourth paragraph: “So, when it comes to business such as the election of elders, are you proposing that all four of these valid requirements must be adjudicated in an ad-hoc manner?” — like I said, there’s only one valid requirement = be saved (= be baptized by the Spirit) — re the biz of election of elders = I don’t think elders are elected. They’re gifts from God. “Or would a formal membership roll be permitted” — Elders should keep themselves organized and have a roll of names and addresses — sheep tags — else how will they schedule the… Read more »

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

Last paragraph: “Incidentally, the way the churches that I’ve been in without formal membership have handled this, is by the church being run in a top-down fashion by a single elder.” Aren’t all churches ultimately run this way — by that muckety muck we know as the Lord of All, the Son of the Most High? But He appoints many subelders. But ultimately of course it’s always top down. “Church membership didn’t matter for voting purposes, because ultimately it boiled down to “what the preacher says, goes.” I don’t recommend that method.” With the understanding of a more universal membership… Read more »

Vva70
Guest
Vva70

Seems as though your position on membership is ultimately an outgrowth of your position on ecclesiology. You’re not just arguing against formal membership policies; you’re arguing for a great deal less formality in every aspect of how we conceive of and organize the church. Is that fair to say?

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

Less formality of conception?

Actually this conception is a hallmark of what we find in the more formal groups: Anglican, Orthodox, RC.

The reason for this you already noticed: top-down control.
Leaders who already have a great degree of comfortable control don’t feel a need to bolster their position with such artificial constructions as vows or official membership documents

mattghg
Guest
mattghg

Athanasius was against the bishops?

fp
Guest
fp

Yes, I am aware this was written by a lady who is an Anglican priest wanting to function within the constraints of historic Christian practice. You can’t have everything, you know. First, she’s an Anglican priestess. Second, I’m having a difficult time taking her laments about crises of authority seriously when she IS a crisis of authority personified. I’m not so sure she wants to function within the constraints of historic Christian practice. She made it a point to say (passive voice alert!) in two separate places, “Women voices – which historically have been marginalized in the church…” and, “Women’s… Read more »

BdgrGrrl
Guest
BdgrGrrl

Ms. Warren, or more accurately Mother Warren, as male priests in her denomination are called Father, is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The ACNA was founded with the ability for each diocese to decide whether they would 1) ordain women as both priests and deacons, 2) ordain women only as deacons, or 3) ordain no women. The Diocese of Pittsburgh, where Mother Warren serves as a priest, ordains women as priests and deacons. Therefore, her bishop has no ability to take away her title, job, and authority. If she writes something on her blog or… Read more »

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

I can’t deal with “Mother Warren”; it sounds too nunny to me. My local Episcopalian church calls the male priests “Father” and the female priest “Reverend Jane”. The latter makes me wince because Reverend is an adjective and not a title like doctor. But then I find it weird to call an Anglican priest “Father” when I’m calling his wife “Susie”.

It’s way easier for Catholics. Father is the guy in the confessional; Mother is the head nun in a traditional religious order. And neither has a partner named Susie.

fp
Guest
fp

BdgrGrrl: 1 Timothy 2:11-15: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Titus 1:5-6: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—… Read more »

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Hi, fp. There is no doubt that, if you believe Paul’s teachings are meant for all Christians for all time, Ms. Warren (you like that?) can’t seek ordination and her denomination can’t ordain her without disobeying scripture. But wouldn’t the deeper issue for you be the overall approach to scripture–that any church is free to disregard or reinterpret scripture when it conflicts with modern thought? I think that Badger Grrl’s point was that in the sections of the ACNA which allow women to be priests, the bishop can discipline them as he would any male priest. But because that diocese… Read more »

BDash76
Guest
BDash76

If you believe? Is this an option?
a believer believes. there is no “if”

BDash76
Guest
BDash76

are you living under a rock?
these comple whatevers are fine with women teaching and leading and ruling over men…
as long as the medium of instruction is written and NOT verbal…

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

As well as the women you mention, there are also St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila, both of whom have been declared “doctors of the church,” meaning that their theological writings are held to be dazzling in their depth and value to the faithful.

bethyada
Member

I am reminded of the parable of the weeds. Careful what you want to pull up. I find the constant appeal to training in highly specialised fields misguided. There is much to know as an engineer, or a doctor, etc. There is no doubt that spiritual health is more important than physical health, but that does not equate to saying because one needs training and oversight that other needs more. Firstly there is nothing stopping someone outside an institution reading up on anatomy and physiology, or downloading MIT lectures in order to be fully informed about medicine and engineering. And… Read more »

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

I think that the most important thing a counselor needs during training is supervised practice. It’s very important to learn how to maintain boundaries, stay detached, and not let your personal experiences cloud your judgment. I think it’s probably like teacher training–the only really valuable part happens during your supervised time in the classroom. (But I know that’s not your main point.)

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Isn’t it up to the individual reader to recognize unorthodox statements and opinions? I never assume that a lay blogger is speaking on behalf of his or her denomination, and I certainly don’t assume that any blogger is always right. I think there is a difference between seeing the laity as sheep and seeing them as really, really dumb sheep.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Yet if they already know what’s right and wrong, they wouldn’t even need to read the blog, eh?

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Well, I don’t think most people turn to blogs to find out basic Christian doctrine. I like to read a controversial or unusual take on something, or I like to learn how people in other denominations have doctrines different from what I have been taught. But the writer mentioned that a lot of women read theological blogs, and I wonder if some are reading them for encouragement from other Christian women about kids and husbands and so on. I still don’t see why this is necessarily a problem. But, more than that, I don’t see what can be done about… Read more »

insanitybytes22
Member

The sheep are really, really dumb. Sorry, but they are. Well, perhaps not the sheep actually in a relationship with Jesus Christ and having a strong church family, but a huge amount of people don’t have that. A huge amount of people don’t even have a rough understanding of faith and are biblically illiterate. So someone says, “for 3 easy payments of 19.95 you can plant a seed and receive forgiveness” and the number of people who believe it works that way is just staggering.

There’s a really big need for simple, basic evangelism.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

I’m sure you’re right.

steghorn21
Guest
steghorn21

If the woman in question wants to “function within the constraints of historic Christian practice” she wouldn’t be calling herself a priest. Go no further.

BDash76
Guest
BDash76

but if she calls herself a writer and does the exact same thing you would be fine with it?

gabe
Guest
gabe

True, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have something useful to say, hence the reference to the article in the first place.

J Bradley Meagher
Member

So, if my beloved church is a member of a denomination that is off the rails theologically, at what point do we leave the church? Or do we stay the course and continue to pull those levers under the desk?

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

I think that’s an extremely difficult question. I’ve had a similar one – regardless of theology, if you have the choice between attending and serving at a church that is especially stable and strong and doing the right things, versus one that is struggling and could use some help, which one do you choose?

ashv
Guest
ashv

The concern usually arises around churches that, rather than “struggling”, are enthusiastically being led to perdition.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Does it? I’ve never been in that situation, and I’m guessing most people here aren’t either. Then again, I might have had more choice about what church I attended than those raised in a particular spot may feel.

JohnM
Guest
JohnM

That too is a good question. I think it largely depends on whether or not there is a realistic opportunity for you to help. The reason for my question ref. congregation vs. denomination, above, is that sometimes you can be of good service in the congregation, even if you see the denomination circling the drain (I am thinking in terms of both theology and numbers here) with little you can see to do about it.

JohnM
Guest
JohnM

Did you mean at what point do you/your family leave the congregation, or at what point does the congregation leave the denomination? Maybe it could be at pretty much the same point, but then again, there might be some different factors to consider when contemplating the choice.

John Callaghan
Guest
John Callaghan

When Athanasius was contra mundum, he was up against the Emperor and the Roman Army (i.e., the world) – not the church and the bishops: When the first compromise of Arianism was suggested, Athanasius was already Archbishop of Alexandria. Constantine ordered him to re-admit Arius to Communion. He refused. It was a step most perilous because all men admitted the full power of the Monarch over Life and Death, and regarded rebellion as the worst of crimes. Athanasius was also felt to be outrageous and extravagant, because opinion in the official world, among men of social influence, and throughout the… Read more »

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

I find your knowledge of Catholic history quite admirable. Did the Jebbies have a hand in your education?

John Callaghan
Guest
John Callaghan

I must give them some credit – though I have a feeling that they considered Hillaire Belloc to be seriously out of style by the time I was in high school.

Billtownphysics
Guest
Billtownphysics

Yes, the irony of the article being written by a “female priest” is probably lost on a lot of people today.

DCL
Member
DCL

Irony is an interesting word choice. But I think it significant that Doug acknowledged her position and moved on to the larger issue. I wonder, well sort of wonder that is, if he expected his followers to make as much of it as they have in the comments. It’s pretty much dominated. And that speaks volumes.

She is a priest. That is a violation of God’s commands. We get it. So why do we flog this horse? To virtue signal? Well now, there’s an idea…