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by Peterr

A Few Religious Objections to Hobby Lobby, et al.

6:45 am in climate change, Economy, Education, Energy, Environment, Health Care, Judiciary, LGBT, Military, Religion by Peterr

After reading through some of the recaps of the oral arguments at SCOTUS yesterday in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, it appears that some of the justices, and perhaps a majority, are willing to allow private religious objections to trump the laws, regulations, and ordinances enacted by local, state, and federal governments. Just so that no one is surprised later, I thought I’d lay out some of my strongly held religious beliefs now.

I have a strong religious objection to the death penalty, yet for the fifth time in five months, my state of Missouri has spent my tax dollars to carry it out. At the foundation of the Christian church — the Lutheran branch of which I am pleased to serve as a pastor — is the story of the execution of Jesus at the hands of the state and his resurrection three days later, through which God says “No” to the death-dealing forces of the world. My tax dollars are spent at the state and federal level to support exactly this system of vengeance, not justice, which all too often is administered in a way that is irregular at best and occasionally flat out wrong at worst.

I also have a strong religious objection to torture, yet my state and federal government continue to spend millions of tax dollars on that form of torture known as “solitary confinement,” and tens or hundreds or thousands of millions on “enhanced interrogations” and the hiding thereof from the oversight of the courts. Indeed, I have strong religious objections to NOT spending my tax dollars to bring the perpetrators and enablers of torture to justice.

I have strong — very strong — religious objections to the unequal treatment of people before the law, yet the Department of Justice seems bent on spending my tax dollars and the tax dollars of similarly-minded folks by the millions to chase the poor and powerless into prison while giving the wealthy and powerful sternly worded letters and a good talking-to. In the financial fraud around the housing market, homeowners are hounded and unscrupulous mortgage dealers are allowed to roam free. During the recent Lesser Depression, homeowners pushed underwater by the practices of their banks have suffered greatly (“We’re sorry, but your equity has disappeared because the property values have fallen so much because we crashed the economy”), yet the SEC and DOJ use my tax dollars to go to great extremes to settle civil litigation with the the banks in such a toothless fashion that the board of JPMorgan Chase gave Jamie Dimon a 74% raise after guiding them through with only a slap on the corporate wrist. And you don’t want to know how strongly I object on religious grounds to the failure of the DOJ to pursue criminal rather than civil penalties . . .

I have viscerally strong religious objections to sexual abuse, yet the military paid for with my tax dollars continues to turn a blind eye to the climate in the military that leads thousands of those in the ranks to not report the harassment, abuse, and rapes they have suffered at the hands of their colleagues and commanders, and that allows far too many of those against whom reports of abuse were filed to avoid accountability. Similarly, I have strong religious objections to NOT spending my tax dollars to do this on every US military base and port and outpost.

I have extremely strong religious objections using my tax dollars to administer the public law in secret, with secret judicial proceedings, secret decisions, and secret sentences.

I have powerfully strong religious objections to using my tax dollars to carry out executive decisions made on the basis of secret evidence to violate the sovereign territory of other nations in order to remotely execute those with whom they disagree, without allowing the accused an opportunity to know the accusations against them, to state their case, to respond to the allegations, or even to publicly confront their accuser. I especially object when such executions are carried out against an anonymous targets based on undefined notions of “suspicion” and “association.”

I have seriously strong religious objections to using my local, state, and federal taxes to provide a public education to my child and the children of my neighbors that is incomplete (such as abstinence-only sex education), or based on disproven science, pseudo-conflicts, and unproven beliefs. The earth is round, old, and getting warmer by the day because of human activity. There is no serious scientific objection to these concepts, and I strongly object on religious grounds to using my tax dollars to teach otherwise.

Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

God Laughs at Prop 8 and DOMA

4:08 pm in LGBT, Religion by Peterr

SCOTUS made one of their periodic announcements of the schedule of arguments for upcoming cases for which they had granted a hearing, and I could not help but hear God laughing in the background. Let me draw your attention to this portion of the announcement, via SCOTUSblog:

Tuesday, March 26:

12-144 Hollingsworth v. Perry – constitutionality of California’s “Proposition 8″ ban on same-sex marriage; also, question of standing to appeal

Wednesday, March 27:

12-307 — United States v. Windsor – constitutionality of Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s benefits limited to married opposite-sex couples; also, question of standing for U.S. government and for House GOP leaders to appeal the case

The laughter I hear comes from looking at the calendar.

On March 26th, Ginsberg, Breyer, and Kagan (the three Jewish members of SCOTUS) will be hearing about the injustices levied by the state against gays and lesbians on the first day of Passover — an eight day commemoration in the Jewish calendar of the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt. For Jews, the repetition of Moses’ cry “let my people go!” figures prominently in the Passover story, as God’s spokesman went to Pharaoh again and again to demand freedom from slavery and oppression.

Given what LGBTs have endured at the hands of the modern state, “Let my people wed!” has a nice contemporary ring to it.

And then there are the Catholics . . .

For Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Kennedy, and Sotomayor — the six Roman Catholics — these two days of arguments take place between Palm Sunday and Easter. It’s Holy Week, when Western Christians recall Jesus and his entry into Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd, his betrayal and arrest on trumped up charges, his show-trial and execution at the hands of the state with the blessing of the religious authorities, and his resurrection. For Christians, Holy Week is the commemoration of a perversion of justice, set right by a divine veto.

Given how justice has been denied to LGBTs in ways great and small by the enactment of DOMA, it strikes me as divinely ironic that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives will be defending injustice during a week when Catholics and other Christians are in the midst of remembering the injustices perpetrated by Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas as they tried — unsuccessfully — to preserve their own power.

I fully expect to hear more from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on this, in the same illogical vein as Chicago’s Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George’s recent missive. (The best reply I’ve seen to it is from Neil Steinberg in the Chicago Sun-Times.) But using this style of argument during Holy Week will make Cardinal George sound like Caiaphas, not Christ, and I don’t think BLAG will have any more success than did Pilate or Herod.

Back in 2008, five sad days after Prop 8 was approved by California voters, I had the pleasure of hosting an FDL Book Salon chat with Mitchell Gold, discussing his book Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America. As I wrote in the set-up piece, these are stories of pain, power, struggles, partnership, and surprises (both nasty and wonderful). But discussing this book just after Prop 8 was enacted really altered the discussion:

In my head, I actually had two posts ready for this Book Salon, depending upon the results of the Proposition 8 vote in California. If “No on 8″ had prevailed, we could talk about how wonderful it is that the largest state in the US had taken a stand in favor of civil rights and fuller acceptance of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. We could talk about the positive message that this would send to anyone who is GLBT or who loves someone who is. That post, sadly, will have to wait for another day.

But that day is coming — make no mistake about that — just not as soon as we’d like.

Ultimately, these are stories of hope. In reading this book, I was reminded again and again of SF Supervisor Harvey Milk‘s famous “Hope” speech (YouTube excerpt here) :

And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant in television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us’es, the us’es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.

Hope. By the end of the book, that this what these stories are finally about. Hope that life can be better for all of us, and that pain and trauma are not the last words for any of us, regardless of our own sexual orientations or the orientations of those we love.

I truly believe that day of justice and hope is getting closer.

Some might call the connection between the SCOTUS calendar and the Jewish and Christian religious calendars a mere coincidence, but being a pastor, I can’t help but see a little divine humor at work. As BLAG will soon find out, trying to make arguments in defense of injustice during two powerful religious commemorations of justice is hard to do.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and let all the courts say “Amen!”

_____

No, I’m not suggesting religious appeals have any place in the secular legal discussions at the heart of this case. But that doesn’t keep folks like the USCCB or the evangelical fundamentalists from making them, and I’d like to give these religious appeals a little theological attention before they really start cranking up. Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Seattle Archbishop Leads the Charge Against Marriage Equality, Women Religious, and Others Who Think

10:50 am in LGBT, Religion by Peterr

The bishops will direct you to notice that "The Thinker" is a man

Seattle’s Archbishop J. Peter Sartain is a busy guy. Like every bishop, he’s trying to run his diocese, but he’s also involved in getting his flock motivated to put an anti-marriage equality measure called Referendum 74 on the ballot in the state of Washington.

Several weeks ago, he and his auxiliary bishop wrote a letter [pdf] to all the priests of the diocese and leaders of the parishes, asking them to help with signature gathering. That effort is not going too well, at least in some places, including one very close to the archbishop’s heart.

“After discussing the matter with the members of the [St. James] Cathedral’s pastoral ministry team, I have decided that we will NOT participate in the collecting of signatures in our parish,” Fr. Michael Ryan, the cathedral’s pastor, said in a letter.

“Doing so would, I believe, prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community,” Ryan explained.  St. James Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle.

Other parishes and priests have taken the same approach, with an interesting reaction during a mass eight days ago when a similar decision was announced: a standing ovation. Said the priest, “I only wished the archbishop could have experienced the sustained applause — the ‘sensus fidelium’ — of the people.  He needs to listen to this ‘voice.’”

As if Archbishop Sartain didn’t have enough to do in his own backyard, now he’s been given a new side job by the Vatican: overseeing a Vatican-ordered reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella organization of most of the women’s religious orders in the United States.

Citing “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life,” the Vatican announced a major reform of an association of women’s religious congregations in the U.S. to ensure their fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle will provide “review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The “areas of concern” identified in the report from the Vatican office that led the investigation, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, [pdf] were (a) addresses at LCWR assemblies, (b) policies of corporate dissent, and (c) radical feminism. Dominican Sister Laurie Brink’s 2007 keynote address came in for particular criticism, perhaps because it seemed to embody all three of these concerns.

Most of Brink’s (very readable) address is pretty solid and basic stuff about leadership and ministry on the margins. Some of it is descriptive of what she sees in the church, not prescriptive about the way she thinks things ought to be. In the descriptive sections, she pauses from time to time, inviting the attendees to reflect on what she has just said. Brink also includes a strong disclaimer at the top, indicating she is speaking only for herself when she gets into more prescriptive critiques.

And make no mistake, she gets into some very substantial critiques, taking direct aim at the bishops, the Vatican, and Pope Benedict like this Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

On Worshiping Milton Friedman and Calling Him Jesus

6:52 am in Culture, Economy, Religion by Peterr

(photo: juicyrai)

From USA Today comes news of a survey by a group of Baylor researchers on the values and beliefs of the American public. The study examines the intersection of personal faith/religious expression and economic beliefs, views on gays and lesbians, spirituality and mental health, and other issues.

What leaped out at me from the USA Today write-up was the confusion that many folks on the conservative end of the religious spectrum have.

“They say the invisible hand of the free market is really God at work,” says sociologist Paul Froese, co-author of the Baylor Religion Survey, released today by Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“They think the economy works because God wants it to work. It’s a new religious economic idealism,” with politicians “invoking God while chanting ‘less government,’” he says.

In other words, they’re worshiping Milton Friedman and calling him Jesus. Sorry, folks, but there is no commandment that reads “Thou shalt pull thyself up by thine own bootstraps.”

One of the things that always irritates me about the arguments about what the Bible says about homosexuality is that the Bible says very, very little about it at all. It just not a topic of conversation, and what little is said says absolutely nothing about a loving committed relationship between two people of the same gender. But to hear the religious right tell the story, you’d think that everyone from Adam to Jesus was constantly harping on the subject.

*sigh*

On the other hand, the Bible is filled — absolutely stuffed! — with commentary about how one ought to live from an economic perspective. In the stories and the laws and the preaching of the prophets, we hear constantly about caring for the poor and needy and widows and orphans, about proper government oversight of the marketplace (for instance, use the same set of weights and measures for all customers, not one set for your friends and another for the marks), about judges and rulers providing fair application of justice, about condemnations of bribery, about forgiveness of debts, etc. Money and commerce are a much larger topic than LGBTs and their sex lives.

(The sex lives of opposite-sex-minded folks do get discussed, though, like the story of King David, who set up one of his military leaders to be killed so that David’s affair with his wife wouldn’t be discovered, or Solomon and his hundreds of wives and concubines. But I digress . . .)

Government comes in for its share of criticism in the Bible, to be sure. But the criticism is usually that the ruling class — the kings, judges, priests, and wealthy merchants/landowners — is not doing what it is supposed to be doing. Jeremiah was a real pest, from the standpoint of the government, because he kept asking it to do its job. Ditto for Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, and the others. And Jesus? Calling out hypocrites and self-centered players in the economy and government was part and parcel of his daily teaching. As I noted here at FDL last December, the Villagers of DC today are not so different from the Villagers of Jerusalem back then. Both are skewered by Jesus’ observation that one cannot serve both money and God, served up in a wonderful story that opens sort of like this:

Once upon a time, there was a rich man who lived in a nice gated community, with gold-trimmed plates on his table, with gold-plated flatware sitting on linen tablecloths woven with gold threads for trim. He had a fine private chef, who served only the finest meats from the best markets, and the freshest vegetables from the best farmers. Every day he and his friends dined on the most elaborate culinary creations.

Outside the gates was a poor man named Lazarus, who was sick and covered with sores. He watched the procession of groceries go into the house every day and the procession of half-eaten scraps go out of the house every night. “If only I could eat the scraps,” he thought, his mouth watering, as the neighborhood dogs came and tried to lick at his sores. . .

You can read my retelling of the story for yourself at the link, but (spoiler alert) it does not end well for the rich man. It’s about as anti-Milton Friedman a story as anyone could come up with.

Or look at Ezekiel, speaking to the rulers in Jerusalem. He calls them “whores,” because despite the fact that God raised up Israel from slavery in Egypt, the leaders in Ezekiel’s day had forsaken love of God for love of money and their own personal power. Ezekiel compares Jerusalem to the heretical region of Samaria and infamous city of Sodom (chapter 16):

Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the Lord: . . . Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

“More corrupt” than Sodom? That’s going to leave a mark.

The harsh condemnation of the rulers is not that government has done too much, but it has done too little to economically care for those on the margins.

*sigh*

I would say that this Baylor study (pdf) means that people ought to go to church more often, but digging into the details of it, that seems to be part of the problem. The folks most likely to confuse Milton Friedman with Jesus, who want less government, and who think the unemployed shouldn’t get any help, are most likely to be frequent attenders of church.

*beats head against desk*

Maybe it’s time for them to look for a different church — one that reads the whole Bible, and actually notices the parts about caring for your neighbor.

by Peterr

Marriage Delayed is Marriage Denied

6:49 am in LGBT, Religion by Peterr

Wedding Cake by the-icing-on-the-cake. (Jo)

Rose Marie Belforti

Town Clerk, Ledyard NY

 

Dear Ms. Belforti,

There are legislators in the state of New York. From what I hear from my perch in Kansas City, they can be a pretty odd bunch at times. Still, they *are* legislators, and after they argue and bicker and horsetrade, in the end they manage to pass legislation every now and then.

You are not a member of the legislature.

There is also a governor in New York. He argues and bickers and horsetrades with the legislators, trying to shape the proposals into something he’d like. In the end, he takes whatever legislation is passed by the legislature, and either signs it into law or not.

You are not the governor.

There are also judges in New York. When people argue and bicker with one another over the meaning or application or constitutionality of a law, they often end up arguing and bickering in front of a judge. Sometimes there are juries who listen in. In the end, the judges and juries pass judgement on the laws and their application.

You are not one of them.

You are a town clerk. It’s a fine and noble position, and people in your town depend on you to do your job. They don’t depend on you to write legislation, approve legislation, or rule on its constitutionality. Other people have those jobs, not you.

Your job is to be the town clerk. When two people present themselves to obtain a marriage license, your job is to insure that they meet the requirements of the state of New York before you issue it to them. Is one of them too young? Your reply is simple: “No license for you. Come back when you’re older.” Is one of them presently married to someone else? Again, your answer is clear: “Sorry, but it’s one license at a time per customer. Come back when the old one is void.” Is one of them drunk? “Sorry, but we can’t serve you if you’ve had too much to drink. Come back when you’re sober.”

And if they meet the requirements, your answer is equally clear: “Sign here . . . pay your fees . . . and here’s your license.”

There’s no “but I don’t think they’ll stay married” exception that allows you to refuse a license because you think the union will not last. There’s no “but I don’t like interracial marriages because it confuses the kids” exception that allows you to refuse a license based on your perception of what’s best for children the couple may or may not have down the road. There’s no “but he/she is just a golddigger after your money” exception that allows you to override the wishes of the couple because you believe that one of them is taking advantage of the other.

And there’s no “but I don’t like same-sex couples” exclusion that allows you to override the law of the state of New York. There just isn’t.

If that’s a problem for you, then I suggest you find another line of work that lets you practice your prejudices. Either that, or move to somewhere else that approves of your prejudice and become a county clerk there.

Ms. Belforti, you are entitled to your religious beliefs, just as I am entitled to mine. But your beliefs do not entitle you as an agent of the state of New York to set aside and ignore the laws you don’t like that have been passed by the state legislature, signed by the governor, and not been overturned by the judges of the state of New York.

Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio came to you two weeks ago to obtain a license for which they meet all the requirements, and you refused to grant it. For that you should be sanctioned, and if you persist, you should be removed from office and replaced with someone who will faithfully execute the laws of the state of New York.

It’s been two weeks, and the clock is still ticking. You can argue with the law and bicker with the law, but you cannot do it on the county’s time and at this couple’s expense. To borrow from a certain pastor, “Marriage delayed is marriage denied,” and marriages like these have been delayed far too long already.

Sincerely,

Rev. Peterr

 

by Peterr

No, Cardinal Mahony, Judge Walker Got it Right

3:26 pm in Judiciary, LGBT, Religion by Peterr

Dear Cardinal Mahony,

I saw your recent blog post entitled Judge Vaughn Walker Got it Wrong, in which you wrote:

[Walker's] decision fails to deal with the basic, underlying issue–rather he focused solely upon individual testimony on how Prop 8 affected them personally. Wrong focus.

There is only one issue before each of us Californians: Is Marriage of Divine or of Human Origin?

Judge Walker pays no attention to this fundamental issue, and relies solely upon how Prop 8 made certain members of society "feel" about themselves.

Those of us who supported Prop 8 and worked for its passage did so for one reason: We truly believe that Marriage was instituted by God for the specific purpose of carrying out God’s plan for the world and human society. Period.

That may be what you and many others believe about marriage, but that belief has no standing in court. Judge Walker was not placed on the bench to decide whether laws and conduct in the United States match up to the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, or other religious writings. His job is to measure the disputes that come to his courtroom against the laws and constitution of the United States of America.

Period.

Maybe even Exclamation Point.

The sacred text for Judge Walker is the US Constitution, and nowhere in the Constitution and its twenty seven amendments is God mentioned. Nowhere. Not even once.

Religion gets only two mentions in the Constitution. Article VI says there can be no religious test to hold office, and the First Amendment restrains Congress from establishing an official religion and abridging the free exercise of religion. That’s two mentions of religion, and both in the negative.

If the defendant-intervenors in the Prop 8 case tried to raise the issue of the divine institution of male-female marriage, any federal judge would have been right to throw the argument out. Judge Walker summarized this in two sentences in his decision (pdf p. 10), distilled from two of the most on-point Supreme Court cases:

A state’s interest in an enactment must of course be secular in nature. The state does not have an interest in enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without an accompanying secular purpose. See Lawrence v Texas, 539 US 558, 571 (2003); see also Everson v Board of Education of Ewing Township, 330 US 1, 15 (1947).

The state is not in the business of making religious judgments — and I’m surprised that you, the soon-to-be-retired Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles and a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic church would want a secular judge to be passing judgment on whose religious views are correct. You and your brother bishops seem very passionate about claiming that kind of authority only for yourselves.

Cardinal, if you don’t like Walker’s ruling and want someone to blame for it, you might look in the mirror. It was likely money from Roman Catholic and Latter-Day Saints individuals and institutions that paid for the work of the defense-intervenors, and from where I sit, they did a pretty poor job.

Judge Walker gave them every opportunity to lay out a non-religious rationale for their position, and they failed. Miserably.

They did not build a case on facts, but merely asserted that one existed. They did not put forth credible expert witnesses, they did not bring forward peer-reviewed scientific studies, and they did not put forward a single convincing secular purpose for the kind of discrimination Prop 8 sought to enshrine in law. Wrote Walker (pdf p. 11):

[Prop 8] proponents in their trial brief promised to “demonstrate that redefining marriage to encompass same-sex relationships” would effect some twenty-three specific harmful consequences. Doc #295 at 13-14. At trial, however, proponents presented only one witness, David Blankenhorn, to address the government interest in marriage. Blankenhorn’s testimony is addressed at length hereafter; suffice it to say that he provided no credible evidence to support any of the claimed adverse effects proponents promised to demonstrate.

That’s the sum total of the case put forward by the defenders of Prop 8. One witness, and not a particularly good one at that. Walker weighed that poor excuse for a case against the strong, vigorous, and well-supported arguments of the plaintiffs, and (surprise, surprise) sided with those seeking to overturn Prop 8.

Indeed, your blog post proves the wisdom of Judge Walker’s ruling. You declare that there is one and only one reason you and others backed Prop 8 — your religious beliefs about the divine institution of marriage. Indeed, by the end of Walker’s decision, he seems to agree that this *is* what the case is about. After dismantling the six purported rationales for Prop 8 put forward by the DIs, Walker writes (pdf p. 134):

what remains of proponents’ case is an inference, amply supported by evidence in the record, that Proposition 8 was premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples. FF 78-80. Whether that belief is based on moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate. See Romer, 517 US at 633; Moreno, 413 US at 534; Palmore v Sidoti, 466 US 429, 433 (1984) (“[T]he Constitution cannot control [private biases] but neither can it tolerate them.”).

Walker believes that you and your fellow Catholics believe that gays and lesbians are "objectively disordered" and sex between people of the same gender is a "grave depravity." He’s read the materials put out by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (see Finding of Fact #77, points i and j on pdf p. 104). By the end of his decision, he agrees with you that this is why you want to enshrine this belief in law.

Thank God, however, that he believes this is "not a proper basis on which to legislate."

You may be free to discriminate against gays and lesbians within the Catholic church as a matter of faith, but the state of California is not free to do the same as a matter of law.

Thank God.

Your brother in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Peterr