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Church Schism

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All churches have their issues but right now mine is in the middle of schism and it is taking a toll on us all. I wrote this letter to our Session and emailed it earlier this year (I am a PC(USA) elder but am not currently serving on the Session). Today someone at the church posted this on the Church blog. At some point I may attempt to rebut parts of the what they posted but not right now. For now, here is what I sent to the Session (recorded for posterity if nothing else).


16 August 2016

 

My sisters, brothers, and fellow elders,


First, know that I love and respect you and it is out of that love and respect that I write to you. You have been friends in the past, are friends now, and will remain friends in the future. Friends often disagree and argue, but remain friends. Clearly, I and others disagree with you but the Presbyterian Church I know, love, joined, have served, and continue to serve allows for that disagreement. I would even argue that it encourages such disagreement for it is through wrestling with the tough issues that we all grow, learn, and discern God's will. As we go through this process, know that we are friends and I intend to remain friends.


Those of you who have studied the Constitution of the United States know that it was crafted to protect the rights of the minority. Arguably, the Book of Order was similarly crafted to protect the rights of the minority. As I read the Book of Confessions, it is clear that many of the confessions were written about minority segments within the church or within other countries. This does not mean that the rights of the minority supersede those of the majority but merely reflect that the majority general does not need protection--they have the majority.


The recent actions of the Session and the calling of the meeting on 21 August seem to me to be an attempt to ignore the rights of the presumed minority. I admit that there may be a majority who wish to leave PC(USA) but I am not even sure about that. So many members have quit attending church that if they return I have no idea how the vote would be. I do know I have spoken to some who are not attending because we remain in the PC(USA) and others are not attending because we are considering leaving the PC(USA). Sadly, I know of many who left because they could not worship with a group that treated members the way some were treated.


We all disagree over theological issues. As I have said in several Session meetings, I have yet to find a denomination that has beliefs that are one hundred percent in accordance with mine. I certainly have and have had disagreements with the PC(USA). The issue is not so much what we believe as to what our response to those beliefs are. Many of you have chosen to react by leaving the denomination; that is not the reaction I choose to take. I respect your heartfelt desire to take action--I really do. However, I cannot stand to have my actions, those of others who are in agreement, and those of Presbytery to be deemed "evil" or "wrong". We are merely trying to do what you are trying do, and that is work though issues in a way we see fit.


Presbyterians are a disagreeable bunch. A look at our history indicates that. We have fought and disagreed. Arguably this great nation of ours was founded because a bunch of Presbyterians got ticked off and started a revolution. However, please keep in mind that these same Presbyterians crafted the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. As disagreeable as they were, they insisted that this country remain one in which people can have religious differences yet still live, work, associate, and worship together.


Our nation has fought wars to protect the minorities, to protect those whose rights were being denied. Hitler and the Nazis did not need protection--they had the majority--the Jews were the ones who needed protection. The South Vietnamese were the minority whose rights were being denied by the Communists. The same can be said for South Korea. Yes, I admit there were also other reasons for those wars but protecting the rights of the minority was part of the reason. From genocide in Rwanda to apartheid in South Africa, the minority are the ones who needed protection.


We are all proud of our Presbyterian heritage. Some love to wear their kilts once a year. Many of us love to hear the bagpipes (and of course many do not). We love to claim John Calvin. We are proud to trace our roots even to Martin Luther who was as angry as anyone could get and he chose to take on the entire Catholic church--and won! We have John Knox, John Witherspoon, and many others. But even they had disagreements. I am not aware of Calvin or Luther ever considering one another to be evil, yet we have both Presbyterian and Lutheran churches. Through similar disagreements our Book of Order has evolved; processes and procedures have been put in place to help settle our differences. It is often a messy process, and it often takes time. But I ask you, which nation has the longest standing constitution and which nation took the longest to write that constitution? It is through time, debate, argument, and messy disagreement that the longest lasting documents are forged.


At the meeting on the 10th of August I stated that this Session has been anything but transparent. I do stand by that comment but please understand it was not directed to any of you as individuals. The Session is a body as a whole, not a collection of individuals. Our beliefs are that as individuals you have no more authority or power than any other church member, it is only as a Session that you rule over the church. Many of you have been open and honest with me when I asked about certain things--and no, I am not merely referring to those who want to stay in the PC(USA) but some who want to leave the denomination have been as well. I will not name names but they know who they are and I believe they know I appreciate it.


However, as a group, there has been little transparency. The language used in announcing the ruling of the judge was hurtful to many, and seen by others to be self-serving. I hope we can all agree it was not the entire story. I am not accusing anyone of anything and I understand how in the interest of time and in being succinct, such language could have been used. However, many days and weeks have now passed but no clarification has been made. The ruling of the judge has not been posted on the website or generally made available to the members. Granted, many have seen the ruling but only through efforts of individual members of the congregation, not from the Session. 


We all recently received a letter from the property committee about the ruling. When I read the letter my first response was why is the property committee communicating directly with the congregation? The committee reports to the Session, not to the congregation, and that issue was of great importance. Why was that letter not sent from the Session? Imagine how much further that would have gone to demonstrate transparency.


The language that has been used in discussions has, in my mind, been simply unacceptable. Saying "we won" implies that we are all in agreement, and we certainly are not. I have had others question the beliefs of others and ask things along the lines of "how can any Christian remain in the PC(USA)?" I have heard statements that anyone who remains in the PC(USA) is supporting gay rights. Where do such generalizations come from? Using the same logic, the argument could be made that we all support gay rights because we live in a country in which gay marriage is now legal. Furthermore, I could argue that those who want to leave the PC(USA) over those issues should also be packing their bags and leaving the USA. However, I do not make such arguments because they are illogical, intellectually dishonest, and wrong.


Language such as "us" and "them" is equally divisive. We are all "us". We are the church of Christ, we are Presbyterians. It is certainly easier and faster to use that language but I prefer to take the time and refer to the groups as those who wish to remain within PC(USA) and those who not. Such language is not only more accurate; it is not offensive.


The Session chose to pursue legal action to determine the ownership of the church property. I have no qualms about making that attempt with a few qualifications. I do disagree with the decision to ask for a restraining order against the Presbytery. That action delayed their ability to come in and work with the church and I believe has caused irreparable harm to the church. I remember the statement being made that the injunction was being sought to keep Presbytery from taking over the church. My understanding is that a compromise was offered that would require the Presbytery to give 48 or 72 hours advance notice before assuming original jurisdiction. I have no idea how that was misinterpreted but it was clear to me that it was an attempt to allow Presbytery to still work with us yet give the Session plenty of time to petition for an injunction should the property become an issue.


Throughout the case, it was always stated the purpose of the case was to determine ownership of the property. That has been done. The congregation was declared the owner of the property but that was never in contention. The issue was over the so called trust clause that most people simply do not understand. However, there was more to ruling of the judge that was not reported to the congregation. The last paragraph of the ruling reads:


At this time, FPC is still affiliated with PCUSA and nothing shall prohibit or restrain that relationship to continue. Nothing herein contained shall prohibit the parties from continuing their relationship until proper steps are taken in keeping with church law and doctrine to end the relationship, if ever. However, continuation of the relationship shall in no way be conducted in a manner contrary to this opinion and FPC shall be unencumbered to deal exclusively with its property as it deems fit without interference from PCUSA.


The actions taken by the Session at the meeting on the night of 09 August 2016 seem to me to be clearly in violation of this part of the court order. Comments made at the meeting on the 10th about the judge not willing to intervene in the matter are, in my opinion, being misinterpreted. The judge has not said the last part of his ruling is null and void, merely that the remaining issues are ecclesiastical in nature and he has no authority to intervene in those matters. To me, the ruling says we are a PCUSA church and must operate under the PCUSA church law.

Prior to the injunction being filed, the Session was in the process of exploring other denominations. They were, in effect, following the dismissal policy of the Presbytery. If I am not mistaken, the Session said it would follow that policy. Now that the property issue has been settled, why are we not following the process?

The Session seems to be unwilling to follow a process unless they are certain of the outcome but that is simply the way life is; we are never certain of outcomes. I also point out that the Session is pursuing a path for which you do not know the outcome--you are trying to leave the PC(USA) with no certainty of where you will go. And if you want to talk about unsettled issues, if you think the issue of choosing a new denomination is settled then you have not spoken with the people I have. I think that fight may be the ugliest one yet.

I ask you to opt to take no action at the meeting scheduled on the 21st other than to inform the congregation that you will follow the dismissal policy of the Presbytery and to attempt to explain some of the intricacies of the issues before us. I ask that you remember that unlike some of you and me--die-hard Presbyterians--many in our congregation are not and they may choose to go to non-Presbyterian denominations. Are our members not entitled to know about what they are being asked to do? I think they are and following the process will merely allow them to make an informed decision.

It is clear from the meeting with the commission on the 10th that reconciliation is not an option. That is one step of the process we could skip and proceed with determining what denomination the church wishes to be dismissed to, what those numbers are, and working on how those who choose to remain with the PC(USA) can do so. 

In the end, we are all one church. Another reason I beg you to follow the process is so that the ultimate split in the church can be as amicable and friendly as possible. We are all dealing with finite resources and near infinite needs. We will need to work together. I cannot see the future but I can imagine one in which the two churches would need to work together on common missions--perhaps childcare, or Habitat for Humanity. 

When you were elected elders, you all agreed to be leaders of the church, not of a portion of the church. You are not merely political or business leaders, but we were all elected elders supposedly because we were also spiritual leaders. I have not seen much spiritual leadership and we all desperately need it. I ask you to take a stand and protect the rights of everyone in the church. There is a compromise; there is a way for everyone to come out of this process as winners. However, that will require some patience and some hard work. 

I have said this many times, most of the people in the church are not in disagreement over theology but merely in the response that is being taken. And even those who disagree over theological issues still have much more in common than in difference. Please show that you respect those differences and responses to those issues. 

In closing, as you go down such a path of making decisions that will impact the lives and faith of many of your brothers and sisters, I ask you to remember the words of Oliver Cromwell, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken". 

Yours, in Christ

Robert A. Green



The article below was written for and published in the July 2015 Happenings on the Hill of First Presbyterian Church PC(USA) Starkville, Mississippi.It is based on an interview I had with Aretta when she was in town for a visit a few months ago. The entire newsletter can be found at the FPC Starkville website.


Military Youth Being Served by FPC's Own Aretta Zitta

Mission work comes in various flavors: feeding the hungry, providing childcare, helping in disasters, and many others. One of our own, Aretta Zitta, has found a special ministry and type of mission work. Aretta works with the children of the military through a program called Youth for Christ. I had the opportunity to have lunch with Aretta when she visited Starkville a while back and we talked about her work.

Aretta lives in Kaiserslautern Germany and works primarily with the youth of our military at Ramstein Air Force Base. She said this is the largest concentration of Americans outside of the United States and is primarily Army and Air Force families. Like many missionaries, Aretta works with three organizations which is sometimes confusing when she is asking people for support. She actually works for Youth for Christ. However she also partners with Young Life which formed Military Community Youth Ministries. To do her work on military bases, she has to have a contract with the government which gives her recognition and allows her access to the base and the people. That contract is actually through an organization known as Club Beyond. With such a group, Aretta works with Christians of many different denominations.

Having been doing this work for many years, Aretta, has moved into a supervisory position and now supervises ten people and is involved with work in some twenty-five communities in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Part of the work Aretta and her group do is provide Christian-focused camps for the youth. One camp is a winter snow camp in the Austrian Alps. Through these camps she and her team reach some five hundred youth and leaders each year. Aretta said she could always use money to provide scholarships to these camps. Her youth and leaders are also involved in service projects including Vacation Bible School, work in the Czech Republic, and helping others where needed. Aretta is providing the only program for some two thousand youth so her presence and work is definitely needed.

Challenges faced by military families are many. With assignments lasting for two to three years, military families move to new towns frequently. This makes it difficult for the youth to form close, lasting friendships. A church "home" is really more of a church "apartment" because the families know they will only be in the church for a couple of years before moving to a new place. Military youth also face their own special kind of problems, problems typical children never encounter. Aretta mentioned that it is really easy to talk to military youth about God because she doesn't have to manufacture crises. These children have friends and parents who have gone to war and some have not come home; they live under constant threat of terrorist attacks, exist in an environment where their mothers and fathers may go to work one day and be sent out of the country for an extended time, and know that no matter what, they will be moving and leaving their friends and schools in the near future.

If you would like to help Aretta with her ministry, you can do so by sending her money through Youth for Christ (https://securegive.yfc.net/azitta) or through the church. She certainly appreciates and needs your prayers. She would also like your help in telling her story. With her being removed from us by many miles and several time zones, it is difficult for her to spread the word of what she is doing. You can friend her on Facebook and then message her with a request to be added to her mailing list and be kept informed of her work.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the stresses and concerns of the military youth continue. Even in peacetime (not that we are anywhere near that yet), Aretta and her staff are performing the Lord's work in an environment and location where it is much needed. Please consider providing her with financial support and your prayers for her success and safety.


Today I attended the memorial service for my former minister Wendell Manuel at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Starkville, MS. The service was wonderful and captured the essence of that wonderful man

Personally, it was a little tough for me. I returned to a church I left a few years ago, the church where my daughter was baptized, and the church where I served on and/or chaired most every committee there, including three terms as an Elder. It was also the church where I got know and love Wendell.

Wendell was the first minister I had the privilege of knowing as person. I have known other ministers but they were always seemingly maintaining their minister image. Wendell was different. I was able to see him angry and hurt. I was able to talk to him about theology, religion, parenting, marriage, politics, the community, and most any other subject. He had a gift for being able to see people for who they were and accepting them as just that.

He preached some of the most wonderful sermons I've heard and his children's sermons was especially good. I loved his adult sermons for children such as his Sesame Street sermon. I had the opportunity to preach a time or two at Trinity and when I asked Wendell for advice, he said to work on he children's sermon. He told me if I could take the sermon I wanted to preach and condense it down to one or two minutes for the children, then I knew what I was going to say. He also said that often the children's sermon was really meant for the adults. He had to follow it up with the adult sermon using bigger words so they would feel intelligent but he really thought they often first understood things from what he told the children.

I have attached his obituary below.

Wendell is now in Heaven watching out for us all.

Thanks be to God.

Adopt-A-Family 2010

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My annual task on the church Local and Global Missions Committee for the last two years has been to coordinate our Adopt-A-Family program. The Starkville United Way administers the program but local groups adopt families and then provide them with Christmas gifts. This year, like last, we adopted five families.

Each year I am amazed at the generosity of the members of First Presbyterian Church. Our five families, combined with two church members we help, yielded a total of thirty-two individuals who needed Christmas Gifts. Our members provided everything from bicycles to coats, from toy tractors to footballs. They included games and gift cards. We also used some committee funds to provide some food items.

Part of what I do is arrange for people to deliver the gifts to the families. There are always many gifts for each family so delivering the gifts is no easy undertaking. The pictures below are of the gifts after they have been sorted by family. I am very appreciative of each person who delivers the gifts but I always get thanked by those who make the deliveries.

Adopt-a-Family-2010-web-1.jpg

This is a worthy mission and I am glad that our church can make Christmas a little bit better for these people.

Adopt-a-Family-2010-web-2.jpg

Eye-Opening Theology

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I have to admit that the PC(USA) Church and I disagree on many issues but those issues are mainly political, dare I say conservative vs. liberal issues. What I really like about the denomination is that it encourages intellectual curiosity and questioning. Being reared a Baptist and converting to Presbyterianism, formally, about 30 years ago but having known I was not a Baptist for much longer; I have certainly enjoyed the adventure. It is difficult to determine when you actually realized what your were, or what you weren't, but for me I think it came as an early teen when my grandmother told me that there were some things about God and the Bible that should not be questioned. My grandmother has been a great factor in my faith and spiritual development, but I simply could not accept that statement. I now realize that I don't have to.

Our guest speaker for Vacation Bible School at First Presbyterian Church in Starkville is the Reverend Dr. Andrew Purves from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He taught a very moving and inspirational Sunday School lesson on cancer which is one of the best lessons I have heard.

Sunday night he began a series of lectures on the Five Solas. That in itself is one thing that is very different from my childhood VBS--we had a lecture, not a sermon. I can't begin to describe everything that was covered but there are couple of key points that show how my Reformed Theology differs from what I learned a child. First, the Bible is under God, it is not God. God cannot be reduced to words in a book and our goal is to get to know God, not the Bible. Knowing the Bible is a way to get to God but it is not God. That means that the confessions of the church are also useful in getting to know God. Second, Dr. Purves in no uncertain terms explained the Trinity to me. Jesus is not second in command; He and God are One in the same along with the Holy Spirit. Wow! They have always been here, Jesus did not "come in the middle", He was here in the beginning, He is he Word.

After the lecture tonight I have never felt better about my faith. Whereas my Baptist rearing was focused on fear and having to do something to be saved, my reformed faith says that is not necessary, we are imperfect yet loved by God even before we are born. I have no problem with that for I know how much I loved daughter before she was ever born, even when we didn't know if she was a she or a he. I loved her even before I married my wife and she was conceived. Of course I still have questions but that is okay too. Faith allows us to have some unanswered questions.

Purves has helped cement some thoughts I've had for a while and I'm glad he is the speaker this year. I look forward to the next lectures and the challenges he will present to us.

PC(USA) Ammendment B Update

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The Presbyterian Outlook is reporting that the voting on the fidelity/chasity rule may come down to the wire in the article It's up for grabs: A status update on the voting for the New Ammendment B. In addition to the article, some of the comments are prett good too.

Disconcerting to me are the comments that people are voting for the ammendment becasue they are tire of fighting. I also would like to look deeper at the presbyteries voting and see how many them who are voting differently from they way they did in the past have lost churches.

What concerns me most is that as the fight over ordination standards continues, membership losses continue. In the end, the ordination standards may well change but who will be left in the chruch?

A Sermon Delivered to
Trinity Presbyterian Church PC(USA)


29 June 2003

He shouldn't have been out of his room wandering the halls, trying to sneak into the restricted section of the library, but he was. He knew there were risks but he thought they were acceptable for he had his invisibility cloak, a mere piece of cloth that was delivered to him by an anonymous person which, when placed over the wearer, rendered them invisible. Surely with such a covering he could go where he wanted.

Harry Potter and His Tattoo

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A Sermon Delivered to
Trinity Presbyterian Church PC(USA)

Starkville, MS

07 July 2002


I have a few confessions to make. My favorite snack is Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, my favorite sport is Quidditch, I would love nothing better than to ride a Nimbus 2000 broom and be the seeker on the Quidditch team. I've been sorted by the sorting hat into the House of Gryffindor and wish I could trade my email for Owl Mail. I think Hermione Granger is as cute as a button and she even reminds me a little of one of my fifth grade girlfriends. I am, I have to admit, a Harry Potter fan.

But I'm Too Busy to Help

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12 March 2002

Trinity is a volunteer organization. We have a few paid people, several who are underpaid, to take care of some of the work but there is not enough of them to go around. Our church is governed by the Session, sixteen volunteers. Our church work is done by the many committees. Our income is freely given by volunteers. The people in the chairs on Sunday morning are...volunteers. So the next time you are asked to do something for the church, remember, without your help, the work would not get done.

I've meet very few people at Trinity who were not busy. Some have said they had the time but I knew they were just being polite. They may have been unemployed at the time or retired but they still had commitments to be fulfilled to others. And it always seems that the people who are the busiest are the ones who quickly agree to do more. I know they are the one's we keep going back to ask for help.

I've wondered why the one's who do the most seem to be the one's who never say no and always get the job done. Last night I think I found the answer. While flipping through Bill Bennett's book, The Moral Compass, I ran across this poem. The author was not identified so I can only assume it was written by the prolific Anonymous, perhaps a volunteer. Read the poem and I think you will understand why we keep asking the same people to help. And please feel free to substitute woman, child, layperson, professional, gardener, or whatever you please. Trinity, perhaps more than most churches, realizes that we all have valuable contributions to make...as volunteers.

The Busy Man

If you want to get a favor done
By some obliging friend,
And want a promise, safe and sure,
On which you may depend,
Don't go to him who always has
Much leisure time to plan,
But if you want your favor done,
Just ask the busy man.

The man with leisure never has
A moment he can spare,
He's always "putting off" until
His friends are in despair.
But he whose every waking hour
Is crowded full of work
Forgets the art of wasting time,
He cannot stop to shirk

So when you want a favor done,
And want it right away,
Go to the man who constantly
Works twenty hours a day.
He'll find a moment, sure, somewhere,
That has no other use.
And help you, while the idle man
Is framing an excuse.


William J. Bennett, The Moral Compass, Page 615.

Memories of 11 September 2001

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11 March 2002

With today being six months from that day in September and with every television station showing the videotapes and covering the speeches, it is hard to not reflect on the day that has changed America forever. I have not talked much about what I experienced that day, in part because I'm not the kind of person that talks about such things, and in part because it is tough to talk about what I saw and experienced. While most people saw nothing but terror and confusion, I had another perspective. I saw terror, sure, but I also saw bravery, courage, honor, an individuals resolved to protect and defend this country.

"Read, Think, Write, and Publish' by Admiral Jim Stavridis, U.S. Navy, US Naval Institute Proceedings, August 2008, pp.16-19.

In the August 2008 issue of Proceedings, Admiral Jim Stavridis, USN, Commander of US Southern Command makes a compelling case for military officers, actually military members, to air their ideas. In his article entitled “Read, Think, Write, and Publish”, he quotes Benjamin Franklin as saying “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing” and then Admiral Stavridis adds, “Do both!” The John Adams motto “Read, Think, Write” has long since been adopted by the Naval Institute, and is also my personal motto, and now Admiral Stavridis asks that we all adopt it but take it a step further and publish. [John Adams actually said “Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”]

Such a request is not without its risks, however. Putting ideas out in the open can be a dangerous thing at many levels, especially at the personal level. Reciting the widely-accepted mantra of the day, or merely restating the obvious is usually not risky. But then again, it accomplishes very little. The best writings, in my opinion, are those that get people to think. Even if in the end the opinion expressed is not widely accepted or the idea is relegated to the trash can, the act of getting the thought started is worth the effort. Of course the audience must be willing to listen and willing to have an open debate and that, unfortunately, is not always the case. When an unpopular opinion is expressed publicly, whether is right or wrong, does not matter, it can carry a high personal price. This is something I recently learned the hard way.

My former church had been going through rough times. The internal issues, which are too numerous to list here, but which were, in my opinion, not being addressed. The Session was, again in my opinion, too concerned about not hurting feelings or not offending someone than they were in doing the work they were supposed to be doing. Now I must be clear here that this is not a condemnation of any individual member on the Session or in the church—the problem was one of the organization as an entity. There were strong members of Session but the Session as a whole was unwilling to look at the problems. Membership growth had stalled, if not declined; weekly attendance was falling; the number of people removing their names from elder ballot was rising; and the minister was being blamed for all of this. Sermons were, according to those dissatisfied, “too intellectual”, “too long”, “not exciting”, and a host of other things.

The church, over my objection and against my vote, removed the minister and then pronounced the problem was solved and we needed only a healing period. I was ready to leave then, like many of my friends did, but I stayed in hopes of being able to get things back on-track. However, what followed were group discussions and surveys which resulted in little and ignored those of us who were not into group therapy. Further, those like me were being told that we needed to get with the plan. But I had a finger on the pulse of the church membership and I knew that roughly a third of the church members attended so sporadically that they were clueless as to what was happening. Another third was happy because they “got their way”. The final third was still hurt, not happy with the things were going, but were either sticking it out to try to make things better (like me) or were sticking around because they did not feel comfortable going to another church.

Recognizing this I chose to write an article for the church newsletter. I had written them in the past and they often would stimulate some thinking. The article was entitled “A Message to Garcia” and referred to the story by Elbert Hubbard which recounted the struggles of Rowan to deliver a message to General Garcia in the Spanish-American War. I pointed out that there were those of us who were still not healed and that problems remained the church. I acknowledged that there were also Rowans’ within the church who were trying to deliver the message that all was not well. Interestingly, I also pointed out that the motto of our church was “Open hearts, open minds”, in hopes that the message would be heard.

What I found was that the church seemingly no longer had an open mind. The reactions to my article ranged from “I was wrong, everything was fine”, to “who is Garcia?” There were also those who came up to me and thanked me for saying what needed to be said. Rather than stimulate debate it raised defenses of those who wanted to pronounce the church healed. Further, it was stated that if I had concerns I should take them to the Session and not publish such articles. There was even brief discussion of having Session or a committee review articles before being published. Call it what you will but in my book the church with open minds was seriously discussing censorship.

The price I paid was coming to the conclusion that it was time to leave. I hated to leave; I had really hoped that things would turn around and get better. I joined another congregation in town and have been very happy ever since. They put God first in the church and their membership is growing. My old church has seen little to no growth and even fewer members are leaving their names on the ballot for elder elections. They now have a new minister and I truly pray things get better. However, before I left, the interim minister resigned. I have this hope because there is a need for such a church and because I still have friends who attend there. There are also some friends who attend there, share many of my thoughts and concerns but, for whatever reasons, are not comfortable joining another church.

I still agree with Admiral Stavridis and John Adams, but I am now keenly aware that reading and writing do not necessarily result in thinking, and there may well be a high personal cost associated with the publishing.

My previous post indicated my slight preference for moderator of the PC(USA), but the other position to be filled in a few weeks is Stated Clerk. Thankfully Clifton Kirkpatrick has decided to not stand for re-election and I am extremely thankful for that. I do not think the moderator can make significant changes to the church, the stated clerk can—and what Kirkpatrick has done has not been good.

The Rev. Kirkpatrick is extremely left-leaning and, in my opinion, has been the major reason for the PC(USA) being irrelevant in the nation today. His views and opinions expressed on behalf of the General Assembly have resulted in tremendous membership losses and I think the discounting of any stances the church takes. If it is anti-Israel, anti-Republican, and usually anti-Republican, then Kirkpatrick has been for it.

The Rev. Gradye Parsons has been nominated to stand for the position by the Stated Clerk Nominating Committee but I am not sure I could support him. Admittedly I do not know him, in fact I know almost nothing about him, but I do know that he is the current associate stated clerk, and has been for the last years, and that puts him too close to Kirkpatrick.

Who is my favored candidate? Well that would be the Rev. Edward H. Koster who has decided to stand as well. He has a varied background, including being a graduate of the Naval Academy, service in the Navy in Vietnam, and have several other degrees. It is difficult to say what he would do but he does not appear to be an insider which is plus for me. I also suspect that he would listen more the members in the pew and less to the staff in Louisville.

If only I could vote.

It appears we now have four candidates for moderator of the PC(USA). They are:

Willaim “Bill” Caleb Teng (www.billteng.com/home/)
Roger Shoemaker (www.rogershoemaker.com)
Carl Mazza (www.carlmazza.org)
Bruce Reyes-Chow (www.mod.reyes-chow.com)

I do not get a vote so my opinion does not really matter much and I’m not sure who I would vote for if I could vote. I have looked over their web sites and read their response to questions posited by publications such a Presbyterian Outlook and The Layman. All seem to have a slight liberal bent which is not a problem and is really something I expect in church leaders. The problem is when a slight liberal bent becomes a radical liberal bent as we have seen in some moderators of the past.

The moderator also has little power in setting policy when you really look at it. They come and they go with elections and their terms limit the impact they can have on the church. In some cases these short terms are a positive thing, in other cases the terms need to be longer.

If I had to vote, I think I’d tend toward Carl Mazza right now. He seems interested in doing what is best for the church and not for some special group. His response to the question “Should departing congregations be allowed to leave the PCUSA with their property without penalty? Is one I like. He said “Our Christ-centered mission is most important, and our love and respect for one another. Our property is useless if these are not first.” (This question and answer is from the May 2008 issue of The Layman.)

In no way do I think leaving the PC(USA) I the solution to the problem but I do understand those who feel the need to leave. The attempts by the PC(USA) to keep the property of the congregation seems spiteful given the rapidly declining membership in the PC(USA). I do understand the Book of Order and accept that the property is held in trust but let’s face it, most church property is bought and paid for by individual congregations.

VERNON BROYLES AT IT AGAIN

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This month’s Presbyterians Today once again contains another telling column by Vernon Broyles. His column is titled “Where is forgiveness?” but he is blinded by his own liberal bias and never really gets around to the title of the column. Who is supposed forgive whom in this column?

Lent, for me anyway, is a time to focus on the sufferings of Jesus Christ in preparation for celebration of his crucifixion and resurrection. For Broyles however, his thoughts turn to “…the transition of leadership in Congress, the struggle over what to do next in Iraq, the fallout surrounding the shameful mishandling of Saddam Hussein’s execution, and the warm, passionate tributes to President Gerald Ford as he lay in state.” Quick someone, tell Vern that Ford was a Republican. He was one of those he seems to hate so much.

Good old Vern then goes on ad nauseam about the execution of Saddam. Vern, Saddam was executed by the government of Iraq. He was taunted and teased by his fellow Muslims, remember, the religion of peace. I agree that the taunting of Saddam was wrong and should not be tolerated, but it was not done Presbyterians, nor even by American’s. I have no idea why he brings this up in his article.

He then gets off vengeance. Yes, Vern vengeance is the Lord’s but where does the “[y]et for vengeance’s sake 3,000 young Americans are dead, tens of thousands maimed physically and emotionally, and even more Iraqis are gone forever” come from? Sure, I’ll agree that some of the Iraqis are vengeful but this is not what he means. He goes on to say that we should call on our leaders to seek a new spirit of openness that will yield to reconciliation. Perhaps we can call on the United Nations to help here. Ooops, I forgot, we’ve been there, done that.

PC(USA) AND PROPERTY

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I remember a few years ago speaking with my then Presbyterian minister about the differences of the denominations in how we recite the Lord’s Prayer. Many ask to be forgiven of their “trespasses” but we Presbyterians ask to be forgiven for our “debts”. Yes, of course I realize they are the same but I found, and still find, the differences in language interesting. His response to me was that as a church with Scottish roots, we really don’t mind if someone chooses to walk across our land, but they had better not mess with our money.

At the time it was just a funny thing to say. But now that some PC(USA) churches are trying to leave the denomination, I notice that his words were prophetic. According to the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (USA), property does not belong to individual churches but is held in trust for the use and benefit of the PC(USA). If you are interested you can read more in the Book of Order, G-8.0100.

Over the last several years, the PC(USA) has been drifting further and further to the left, according to many of us. They have become downright rabid liberals on some issues such as Israel and the war in Iraq. I have personally been offended countless times by liberals Vernon Broyles, III and I won’t even begin to talk about the Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick. Let’s just say that on a fairly regularly basis, I write my Senators and Representative in Washington asking them to ignore some ridiculous letter that has been sent “on behalf of the church”.

In her editorial, Presbyterians Today editor Eva Stimson mentions that “[o]nly if the parties are willing to talk to each other, can a negotiated settlement be reached before a heated legal battle ignites.” What Ms. Stimson fails to realize, or at least fails to acknowledge, is that there have been talks. There have been talks for many years but those churches who wish to leave obviously do not think they have been heard. I am not a member of a church that wishes to leave the PC(USA) but I assure that as an individual, I do not believe my voice has been heard.

As a result of this leftward drifting, some churches, who have been fighting for years, are now attempting to leave the PC(USA) and join other reformed denominations. The property clause is now being brought out as a threat if nothing else. Some of these churches, by the way, have voted to leave the denomination by near unanimous votes, perhaps 98% vote to leave, 2% vote to stay. The property issue has become so heated that it made the cover of this month’s Presbyterians Today magazine.

One of the reasons some churches want to leave, and there are several others, is that they do not believe the current PC(USA) leadership holds the traditional values regarding marriage that are held by their members. They further believe that the Book of Order requires ministers to “live in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman…or chastity in singleness.” The complete Book of Order reference is:

G-6.0106 b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness.

Now, it seems to me that, regardless of what you may think about homosexual relationships, the Book of Order clearly forbids them among ministers. There have been several attempts to change this rule and I’m sure there will be more in the future. But in the meantime some churches have chosen to ignore or reinterpret this clause. The PC(USA) under Clifton Kirkpatrick has elected to ignore, according to the churches that want to leave, its duty to uphold the constitution of the church.

It is this same church leadership that fails to live up to their duty and enforce the so-call chastity clause that seems hell-bent on enforcing the property clause. In fact, while the chastity clause can be interpreted in different ways, there is no allowance for a different interpretation of the property clause.

The property clause has not been without controversy. When the Southern and Northern Presbyterian Churches decided to reunite and form the PC(USA), there was an eight year period during which the previously Southern churches could vote and be exempt from the property clause. However, those that chose to not become exempt, those who essentially voted for unity back in the 1980s, are now paying the price. And the lesson for all other denominations out there is to not give up the property of your congregation’s church if at all possible. You never know what will happen to the church in the future, and I assure you that the PC(USA) of today is not the PC(USA) of the 1980s thanks, in my opinion, to the likes of the current stated clerk, and some radical Moderators of late.

John Sniffen’s article in Presbyterians Today "Church Property-who owns it?" says that the “PCUSA property policy is based on belief in the importance of a unified body of Christ.” There is only one problem with this statement: these churches wish to join other reformed denominations, they are not turning their churches into roller rinks; they wish to remain part of the “unified body of Christ” just not as members of the PC(USA).

If the PC(USA) were growing at record rates, I would be one of the first to argue that property should remain in the PC(USA). However, we are not growing at record rates, in fact we are hemorrhaging members at an ever increasing rate which raises the question of what would the PC(USA) do with the property if they kept it? And in spite of what PC(USA) may lead the general public to believe, the reality is that most churches are built with and supported by funds of the local congregation. As a rule, money does not flow from the top down in the Presbyterian Church; it flows from the bottom up.

But Sniffen accidentally stumbled upon what may be the solution this problem. He mentions that in response to a request from the New Wineskins Association, one group that wishes to leave the PC(USA), the Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick replied “we are bound to uphold the constitution of the church and do not have the power to unilaterally set aside any portion”. If Kirkpatrick would honor that statement for all of the sections of the constitution, we just might not be where we are now. Unfortunately for the church, Mr. Kirkpatrick does not seem to have trouble overlooking certain portions of the constitution when if befits the liberal cause.

Dateline: Home Study

Turn Left at the Presbyterian Church by Jim Roberts, WSJ, Thursday 15 June 2006, p. A14

Jim Roberts is the chairman of the Committee to End Divestment Now, which means the liberal, elite leadership of the PCUSA will automatically dismiss his column without ever reading it. That would be a shame because he makes some good points.

First, the divestment plan that passed in 2004 was done with little to no discussion. Now that there is a strong movement to rescind that decision, there is a call from the liberals to "study" the issue. I hate to say it, but why it is so important to study the issue now but it wasn't two years ago? But, if they want to study then study the issue; let's rescind the decision, return to status quo ante, and then decide whether it needs to be implemented.

Second, it seems clear the call for divestment is clearly not what the majority of those in the pews want. I have not counted but a quick perusal of overtures before the General Assembly shows the number against divestment far outnumber those that call for divestment. That may, just may, have something to do with the ridiculously large loss of members. It may just be me (certainly the PCUSA leadership does not agree with me) but I think people tend join organizations, including organized religion, they share common views and beliefs with, and they leave those where their personal beliefs become out of sync with those of the organization.

Third, divestment is just wrong. It harms everyone, good and bad. Apartheid collapsed but how many people suffered from boycotts before that happened? Did the boycotts truly bring about change or was it simply time for a change that was brought about by international pressure?

I hope the GA will end this divestment debate and perhaps save the church in the process. But I have zero faith in the leadership to do what is right.

I received the following email the other day and post it here perusing. The General Assembly meets in 2 days and will decide on this issue. The decisions seems pretty simple for me...if Al Jazeerah thinks it is ia good idea then we should do the opposite.

Ted Belman at Israpundit aptly summarizes the situation in the Presbyterian Church USA as they approach their General Assembly to debate again the Israel Divestment Resolution. I will be in Birmingham for the debates that begin Friday June 16 and to the extent possible I will attempt to report my observations.

Larry Rued

Presbyterian Church USA


http://www.israpundit.com/2006/?p=1438

PCUSA is counting the days

Filed under: Front Page, USA, Israel, Palestinians, peace process
As Presbyterians count the days until their General Assembly meets in Birmingham, Israpundit provides this insight of the Israel Divestment Movement within the Presbyterian Church USA. (PCUSA)

Two years ago PCUSA leaders caught the world by surprise when they overwhelming voted to start a process of divesting from corporations doing business with Israel.

Israpundit, along with hundreds of others in the blogosphere, have shown through extensive analysis the inherent bias and misinformation used by PCUSA leaders to promote and afterwards defend its divestment action. They also showed the genesis of the resolution.

For example, Seraphic Secret Reveals Secret Divestment Tactics

This important note, with some shocking revelations, just came in from a concerned Christian reader who wishes to remain anonymous.

Perhaps the most stunning revelation here is that someone who is working towards divestment, has been mailing out Norman Finkelstein’s most recent book to hundreds of Commissioners of the Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly. Finkelstein, for those who might not be aware, is a notorious antiSemite who camouflages his pathological hatred under the guise of a benign academic antiZionism. He and Noam Chomsky are twin Kapos.

Whomever is mailing out this loathsome creature’s book is indeed making use of the most diabolical of antiSemitic tactics: using a Jewish traitor against his own people.

Also, Israpundit posted Deception at the root of Israel’s de-legitimation

Stop the ISM reports in The ISM is a cult and not to be tolerated that

“The ISM was originally set up by leadership of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the primarily Christian Arab and communist wing of the PLO, with Yasser Arafat’s blessing in 2002. It was designed to ally with foreign anarchist and anti-capitalist groups in the West in a common goal of making worldwide revolution that would include the dismantling of the Jewish state of Israel as a top priority.”

The handiwork of that endeavour can be witnessed in the recent anti-Israel resolutions the following groups have adopted; World Council of Churches, CUPE, NATFHE, PCUSA

Here is how the pro and anti divestment forces in the PCUSA seem to line up going into the General Assembly beginning June 15.

PCUSA leaders want to continue the divestment process and create a working group to study the Middle East issues for another two years. In contrast, PCUSA churches sent 34 overtures to the General Assembly with two thirds calling for divestment to be rescinded or suspended now!

Supporters on each side of the divestment issue

Let’s first look at the organizations and individuals supporting the PCUSA leaders. They include Jewish Voice for Peace, Tikkun, Global Exchange, End the Occupation, Norm Finkelstein, International Solidarity Movement, Palestinian Solidarity Movement, Sabeel and Friends of Sabeel NA, and the Socialists. These organizations are on the fringes of society.

The PCUSA churches demanding an end to divestment now have the following organizations and individuals in their camp. The Democratic National Committee opposes divestment from Israel. Members of the US Senate and US House of Representatives have stated their opposition to divestment. (No Congressperson supports divestment.) The mainstream Jewish groups include the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Hadassah, American Jewish Congress, Jewish Labor Committee, B’nai B’rith International, National Council of Jewish Women, and Union for Reform Judaism. Alan Dershowitz and Dennis Prager are two of many nationally known commentators opposing divestment.

It could not be clearer.

PCUSA leaders are aligned with radical fringe groups in their quest to demonize Israel through a divestment movement. Many of these radical organizations giving moral support to the PCUSA leaders not only demonize Israel, but also call for Israel’s demise.

PCUSA churches demanding an end to divestment are aligned with mainstream organizations and individuals.

Past actions by each side of the divestment issue.

Actions speak louder than words and for the PCUSA leaders we know: In October 2004 the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) met with Hezbollah terrorist leaders and one committee member had this to say: “I’d like to say that, according to my recent experience, relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders.”

In February 2004, before the PCUSA approved its Israel Divestment Resolution, top PCUSA leaders Clifton Kirkpatrick and John Detterick were on a fact finding tour of the Middle East. In a subsequent speech by Detterick he told his audience. “The delegation visited Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Egypt. They met with fellow Christians and government officials, including, among others, the President in Lebanon and the Prime Minister of Syria (no Israeli officials were available).”

PCUSA leaders find it difficult to talk with or to even locate Jewish and Israeli leaders.

PCUSA churches seem to have no difficulty meeting with all parties in the Middle East as reflected in a recent trip report by a group of Presbyterians from churches across the USA.

“Completing a five-day fact finding mission throughout Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, a group of eleven Presbyterians announced divestment is flawed and called on the PCUSA’s voting commissioners to rescind the policy. The eleven member fact finding mission met with a broad cross section of religious, government, business and NGO leaders including: Pro-divestment Palestinian activist Naim Ateek, Director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center; Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Archishop Anba Abraham; Former Israel Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau; Beit Hagefen Arab-Jewish Center Director General Dr. Moti Peri; Former Israel Housing Minister Natan Sharansky; Jerusalem Post journalist Khaled Abu Toameh; Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav; Uzi Dayan, Israel General and Former National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; Shfaram Mayor Ziad Yassin; Jaffa Institute Executive Director Dr. David J. Portowicz; Israel National Security Council Deputy Director for Foreign Policy Eran Etzion Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs Scholar in Residence Justice Reid Weiner; Municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo Deputy Mayor Yael Dayan, Director of International Relations Eliav Blizowsky; and Israel commentator Ehud Yaari.”

Money is an issue in the divestment debate
The Middle East resolutions passed by the 216th and prior General Assemblies have created a network run amuck of headquarters staff, GA committees, and outside organizations receiving PCUSA funding. The amount of money spent by PCUSA leaders to organize and now defend Israeli divestment is in the millions of dollars. As the estimates show, PCUSA leaders have directed 4% of the national budget to staff, committees, and outside organizations dedicated to promoting a propaganda attack on Israel.

PCUSA leaders seem to have no conscience spending the church’s money in promoting their flawed and biased attack against Israel.

Sources.
Israpundit commends the work by volunteer Presbyterians who have created websites and networks to inform their fellow members about the Israel Divestment Movement being promoted by the leadership in their church.

Those Presbyterians are:
Bearing Witness

Committee to End Divestment Now
Concerned Presbyterians
divestment, Israel, Palestinians, PCUSA, peace process, PRESBYTERIANS, USA
Posted by Ted Belman @ 6:58 am |

I also received this email on the divestment issue.

The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) General Assembly (GA) will be meeting June 15-22, 2006. One of the many contentious issues that will be debated at this General Assembly is the Israel Divestment Resolution approved at the 2004 GA. As a PCUSA elder, I would like to commend some excellent websites on the Presbyterian Divestment topic. 1. In 2004/2005 I managed a petition calling upon the PCUSA GA to return in a special session to rescind the divestment resolution. More than 2,200 PCUSA members, elders, and ministers signed the petition. You may find the comments left by these Presbyterians helpful in any commentary you may write.

2. Presbyterian elder, Will Spotts, has created the Bearing Witness website. I particularly commend his compelling and comprehensive analysis, Pride and Prejudice: The Presbyterian Divestment Story. Elder Spotts also wrote an insightful commentary on anti-semitism, If it Walks Like a Duck...


3. A coalition of Presbyterian elders and ministers created “The Committee to End Divestment Now” I commend their in depth and complete analysis of PCUSA divestment issues.

4. The American Interfaith Institute’s Faiths for Fairness project provides additional information. I particularly commend your attention to the letter listing the biased actions of the PCUSA church leaders.

In the ensuing days I will forward relevant news regarding the Presbyterian’s Divestment from Israel Resolution.

Larry Rued

I've not really seen much from the official PCUSA sources on this issue but I am not really surprised. The elite in Louisville is, by and large, out of touch with the church and reality. Although Presbyterians are historically well-educated, questioning individuals, I get the feeling the Louisvillians do not much care for hearing other points of view.

I received the following email several weeks ago but did not get it posted. It appears that there is some significant support for divestment so here is another opinion.

As an elder in the Presbyterian Church USA, I wholeheartedly agree with James Rudin's comment: “It was the culmination of decades - not years, but decades - of hostility toward Israel and Zionism, not by the rank-and-file members of these churches, but by some of the leadership,” said Rabbi A. James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser for the American Jewish Committee, where he staffed the interfaith department for 38 years." The extensive research done by myself and other laity in the PCUSA confirms our leadership has spent millions of dollars in nuturing networks hostile to Israel. Unfortunately, most Members in the Pews of the mainline protestant churches, even today, remain unaware of what their leadership has been doing. Can I ask for your help in getting the word out to these uninformed? My fellow PCUSA elder, Will Spotts, has prepared an analysis of the 34 overtures that will be debated at the upcoming General Assembly. The vast majority of those overtures oppose divestment. Larry Rued http://floridajewishnews.com/articles/content/view/424/52/ Divestment roils Jewish-Presbyterian ties

Written by Rachel Pomerance - JTA News Service

Friday, 19 May 2006

ATLANTA, May 11 (JTA) - As Presbyterians across America gear up for their biennial assembly next month, the legacy of the last such meeting is still roiling the Jewish community and the church’s own members.

Two years ago, the Presbyterian Church USA passed a resolution calling for “phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.”

Those who long have followed Jewish-Protestant relations weren’t surprised.

“It was the culmination of decades - not years, but decades - of hostility toward Israel and Zionism, not by the rank-and-file members of these churches, but by some of the leadership,” said Rabbi A. James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser for the American Jewish Committee, where he staffed the interfaith department for 38 years.

The passion ignited by the divestment resolution at the last General Assembly is likely to erupt again at the June 15-22 meeting in Birmingham, Ala.

What happens there will have a lasting impact on the already strained relationship between Jews and the entire Protestant community. The estimated 3 million Presbyterians in the United States influence the other white mainline Protestant churches in this country, whose members number more than 20 million.

Presbyterians are considered the “conscience” and reason of the Protestant community, serving as something of a “swing vote,” Rudin said.

Indeed, after the Presbyterians’ 2004 resolution on divestment, several other Protestant communities took up the issue. The Methodists decided to study their options; the United Church of Christ, also known as the Congregationalists, endorsed divestment but did not create a process to enact it; the Episcopalians considered but rejected divestment; and the Lutherans rejected a divestment resolution, and instead passed a resolution to invest in cooperative ventures between Israelis and Palestinians.

What will happen in Birmingham is anyone’s guess, though both Presbyterian and Jewish officials predict that no immediate action on divestment will be taken.

According to Ethan Felson, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, “the prevailing wisdom” is that a recommendation proposed by the General Assembly committee to appoint a committee for continued debate on divestment, without halting the divestment process, will pass.

Soon after the resolution was passed, the group’s committee charged with assessing the church’s stock portfolio for potential divestment expanded the criteria of companies to include companies that support Israel’s presence in the West Bank; its separation barrier; settlement building and violence to either party in the conflict.

The committee is still in its investigative stages. It has already begun initial talks with three of the five companies in question. The Presbyterian Church says it has targeted the following companies for these reasons:

* Caterpillar, because the Israeli military uses its equipment to demolish Palestinian homes and construct roads for Israeli settlers in “the occupied territories”;

* Citigroup, due to charges that it has transferred funds to Palestinian terrorist groups;

* ITT Industries, for supplying communication devices to the Israeli military used in “the occupied territories”;

* Motorola, because it also supplies the Israeli military with communication devices, and takes “advantage of the Israeli government policy of delaying or prohibiting the importation of modern equipment into Palestine”; and

* United Technologies, for providing helicopters to the Israeli military that have been used in attacks against suspected Palestinian terrorists.

More than $65 million is at stake - the combined shares of Presbyterian Church stock in the aforementioned companies. The MRTI committee has made no requests for action by the companies, said a church press officer. The meetings were about “fact finding” and “information sharing,” she said.

The more immediate question is whether the church will continue to go down the divestment path or reverse course.

To some extent, the issue can be viewed as a struggle between the denomination’s ministers and laity. According to an internal Presbyterian USA poll taken in November 2004, more laity - some 42 percent of members and 46 percent of elders - oppose divestment, compared with 28 percent of members and 30 percent of elders which favor it. Meanwhile, pastors favor divestment by 48 percent to 43 percent and specialized clergy favor it by 64 percent to 24 percent.

Furthermore, the church said that the poll showed that “despite widespread media attention,” most Presbyterian laity were not even aware of the decision of the 216th General Assembly to “begin a process of phased, selective divestment” of companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

But it would be hard to imagine that anyone heading to Birmingham could miss the subject, given the sheer number of overtures, or proposals, on divestment submitted to the church by regional presbyteries for the upcoming assembly.

Nearly one-fifth of the 137 proposals to be considered at the assembly address divestment. Some want to press forward with the divestment process, many others aim to rescind the original resolution and express serious concern about the damage the issue has done to Jewish-Presbyterian relations and the church’s reputation.

The overtures come before a committee, which will condense them into a single resolution or propose an alternative to present to the assembly.

Some 3,000 clergy and lay people are expected at the assembly. Of these, 534 individuals - half clergy, half laity, are eligible to vote on the overtures.

Given the wave of overtures to reject divestment, “one would hope they would see that as the will of the people,” said the Rev. John Wimberly, pastor of Western Presbyterian Church in Washington.

Wimberly is on the steering committee of Presbyterians Concerned for Jewish and Christian Relations, a group that has pushed hard to further overtures against divestment.

However, “this issue has become the ‘in’ issue,” Wimberly said. “It’s the issue of the left today in the Presbyterian Church and it gains a kind of life of its own.”

Asked about the issue by JTA, Clifton Kirkpatrick, chief ecclesiastical officer of the Presbyterian Church, said it has been “very painful that in our effort to secure peace and justice for all,” the church has hurt members of the Jewish community, for which the church has “deep respect.” The Presbyterian Church is committed to both good interfaith relations with Jews and Muslims while pursuing “peace and justice in the Middle East.”

Some devoted to Jewish-Christian relations have made overturning divestment a priority. They include the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel, a network that long has worked with Jewish and Christian supporters to promote Israel’s cause.

The group is hosting a May 18 conference on divestment at the Central Presbyterian Church in New York City and coordinating a Presbyterian mission to Israel later this month.

There’s “a real groundswell of opposition that’s occurred within the church, and it’s very widespread,” said Jim Roberts, a Presbyterian from San Diego, who heads a committee of volunteers and a Web site called “End Divestment Now.”

Roberts’ group argues that divestment is rooted in bias and flawed theology, and considers the divestment push a breach of the church’s principles of fairness and bottom-up governance.

Insiders say several sources gave rise to the 2004 divestment resolution and the pro-Palestinian feelings among many Presbyterians.

For one, Palestinian Christians have deeply influenced the church by framing the Israeli-Palestinian issue in terms of “liberation theology,” portraying the Palestinians as powerless victims who must be freed from their ostensible oppressors, the Israelis.

The most influential group espousing this platform is the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, which sponsors conferences around the world and speakers at Christian gatherings, and advocates divestment from Israel.

Jewish groups, and many Christians, call Sabeel a corrupting influence.

Christians for Fair Witness in the Middle East holds news conferences about Sabeel nearly every time the group holds a meeting in America, said the Rev. Roy W. Howard, an executive committee member who is pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in Rockville, Md.

According to Howard, Sabeel is ambiguous about Israel’s very right to exist: Its devotees speak about a “Greater Palestine” in which there is no Jewish state, he said.

The Rev. Richard Toll, chairman of Friends of Sabeel North America, calls these charges a distortion.

“There has never been a call for the destruction of Israel or anything like that at all,” he said. Leaders of mainstream Jewish groups are often invited, but don’t respond, he said.

San Francisco, a presbytery that has presented an overture affirming divestment, was influenced less by Sabeel than by Presbyterians who visited Palestinian areas, said the Rev. Will McGarvey, pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church, who will present San Francisco’s proposal at the assembly.

Divestment is a last resort in a process that encourages corporations first to act more justly, McGarvey said. Though it may seem one-sided, “there’s only one side that has power right now, and that is the” Israel Defense Forces, he said.

Jewish officials in San Francisco felt insulted that the local presbytery never informed them of its overture.

“That’s awful hurtful,” said Jonathan Bernstein, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Central Pacific Region. “I feel like they didn’t really learn a lesson” from the uproar over the 2004 resolution about the need to inform Jewish colleagues about their actions.

It also hasn’t been easy for Jay Tcath, vice president of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago and director of its Jewish Community Relations Council.

He has limited his interaction with the local presbytery since the fall of 2004 because the group delayed addressing the divestment resolution. Instead, he turned his attention to individual churches in the area, which he said are more open to dialogue on the issue.

“Friends don’t allow slanders to stand against other friends,” he said.

Matters worsened when the Chicago presbytery’s Middle East task force met with leaders of the radical fundamentalist group Hezbollah in Lebanon last fall.

It was smoother in Atlanta, where Jewish officials got early word of an overture for divestment because of their strong interfaith relationships. They successfully called for its withdrawal in favor of broadened dialogue.

Jewish-Presbyterian dialogue on the grass-roots level has intensified since the divestment resolution passed in 2004.

Shari Dollinger, a former interreligious affairs officer for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, launched the Coalition for Responsible Peace in the Middle East after witnessing the heavily pro-Palestinian current at the United Church of Christ’s July 2005 General Synod in Atlanta.

The coalition, whose founding members include The David Project, American Jewish Congress and Stand with Us, is using a grass-roots approach, disseminating information to Jewish and non-Jewish groups at pro-divestment gatherings and on its Web site, http://www.c4rpme.org.

But some say Presbyterian leaders have sidelined Jewish voices on divestment.

It’s “downright embarrassing that the Presbyterians have not made certain that they have multiple points of views and interpretations of what’s going on,” said Christopher Leighton, director of the Baltimore-based Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies.

Leighton cited a conference on divestment last year in Louisville, Ky., site of the church’s national headquarters. The Baltimore delegation walked out because of the lopsided pro-Palestinian representation.

“It was an appalling example of having a foregone conclusion that you want to trumpet and so you know where you want people to end up before they even start out,” he said. “It seems to me that that’s symptomatic of how our leadership has handled this.”

Some Jewish officials suggest the church is again stacking the deck. The day before this year’s General Assembly, for example, the church has scheduled a Middle East forum with three representatives - a Palestinian Christian, an American Muslim and an American Jew, Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Why, anti-divestment forces wonder, is there no Israeli represented?

Many Presbyterians “have been listening to the message that they have heard from their Jewish brothers and sisters, but there are still very powerful, intransigent leaders who believe that they are serving their community by lifting up Palestinians and beating up on Israel, and that’s sad,” said Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, the ADL’s director of interfaith affairs.

“In the last two years, what has also shocked many people involved in this ongoing dialogue is that all too often when the phrase ‘occupation’ is used, many believe that they are not referring to 1967 but 1948” - in other words, a rejection of Israel’s existence.

Kirkpatrick, the Presbyterian chief ecclesiastical officer, rejects that charge.

“It has been the core commitment of every Presbyterian leader I know” to ensure “peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis,” he said.

For now, there is plenty of debate on all sides of the issue. And many are just plain confused.

Presbyterians may need to “wait for the dust to settle before we can make any real determination of the appropriate way to enhance relations between Israelis and Palestinians,” Leighton said.

We'll see how General Assembly decides shortly.

It looks like Al-Jazeerah is supporting the PCUSA now. How much longer can I remain in such an organization? General Assembly this year will, I think, be the beginning of a new PCUSA or the beginning of the end of the current PCUSA.

I had actually forgotten I had written the letter but it was published in the latest issue of Presbyterians Today. I fired off an email after reading a letter to the editor in a previous issue calling for the closing of the Washington Office of the PC(USA). The editor's response to the letter was technically correct but I thought it missed the point that some of us think the office should be closed and the money spent elsewhere.

Dateline: Home Study

After some comments were made to me, and I thought about some observations I've heard over the years, I wrote an article on the Presbyterian Church's Book of Order. The Book of Order (BOO) is seen my many as simply a book of rules. I contend it is much more.

PCUSA LEADERS REMAIN CLUELESS

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Dateline: Home Study

The leadership of the Presbyterian Church (USA) remains clueless and I believe is dangerous to the church and the United States. In a December 7, 2005 letter to "the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Church's Middle East Partners", Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase and Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick called for the immediate release of the Christian Peacemaker Team hostages which was admirable (albeit ineffective). They crossed the line when they said that "lives have been endangered because of the United States’ war against Iraq".

As usual, the PC(USA) leadership remains more interested in pushing their radical left-wing political agenda while putting their PC(USA) duties second. They obviously refuse anything other than that published by the liberal press or the Democratic talking points.. Fortunately, a Marine Colonel took issue with the letter and wrote a response. The letter from U.S. Marine Col. Carl R. Lammers points out that the PC(USA)letter probably has done more harm than good. LTC Lammers makes a good point and provides notes from a talk Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander, U.S. Central Command, gave at the US Naval War College. (Warning: PC(USA) leaders should not read this information. This gives a different point of view and may cause information overload.)

Once again, the Presbyterian Layman reported on this else the members of the church would not know anything of it. Interestingly the "biased" Layman actually published provided access to both the PC(USA) letter, LTC Lammers' letter, and General Abizaid's notes. The PC(USA) website only published the leaders letter.

Dateline: Courtyard Marriott, St. Louis

The December 2005 issue of Presbyterians Today carries yet another ranting of Vernon Broyles. His Church in Society column this month is another in which he blames everybody for everything while not looking inward.

At issue is the lack of response, or even adequate reporting, of tragedy and hunger in the world. Had we known a while back we could have feed people for $1 a day but now it is $80 a day. (I wonder where those numbers came from.). Of course the problem is the amount of money spent on the US Military.

Well, Mr. Broyles, where was the PC(USA)? Why did they, with their global connections, not report the hunger problems? Why did the PC(USA) not notify us of the need for money? Why did you not call for a reduction of the amount money spent on the PC(USA) staff and administration? Why is it always someone else's fault and never your own?

As for the amount of money spent on the military, I can only point once again to your lack of understanding of international relations and blindingly liberal bias. Without the US military, who would have stopped the ethnic cleansing in the various parts of the world the military has been lately? The UN? The PC(USA)?

Once again we get a Church in Society that is simply another outlet for the Democratic Party and the extreme left-wing liberalism becoming far too prevalent in the PC(USA). I do hope for better from my church but I don't expect to get anytime soon.

Dateline: Courtyard Marriott, St. Louis, MO

Before leaving today I had the "pleasure" of reading Presbyterians Today and found an interesting letter to the editor. The author refers to Broyles' Democrat Talking Points which he seems to recite monthly in his column. But this ready further and asked for verification numbers. In October 2005, Broyles wrote in his leftist column

Too many people have already died and more are dying every day—theirs and ours. And there are more highly motivated well-trained terrorists loose in the world than there were before this debacle began—an omen of many more deaths to come.

Well, the letter writer asked for verification of the figures. He correctly wanted to know how Broyles learned of how many terrorists we have in the world.

Broyles responded to his critic, and Presbyterians Today printed the response. Unfortunately they never questioned his response; otherwise they would have not published it and merely offered an apology and a retraction. The response from Broyles was:

I based my comments in part on Pentagon statistics that in November 2003 there were an estimated 5,000 insurgents in Iraq and by September 2004 that number had risen to an estimated 20,000. In a Sept. 2, 2004, article in Time magazine, deputy commander of coalition forces in Iraq, British Major General Andrew Graham, estimated that the number of insurgents was 40,000 to 50,000.

Do you notice how lose Broyles is with his information? In October he cites more terrorists are in the world. In his response he cites numbers in Iraq. Surely Broyles is smart enough to know that there is a difference between Iraq and the World. Or maybe he's not.

If Broyles could overcome his leftist leanings, open his eyes and his mind he could perhaps learn some things. But then he wouldn't have anything to write about. Mr. Broyles, if you knew anything at all about foreign policy or the military (things you are woefully lacking in) you would understand that there are more terrorist in Iraq because that is where the fight is. And while they are over there fighting, they are not over here flying planes into buildings. Using your shallow reasoning we should all question why all the fire trucks at a burning house. Fire trucks go to fires because that is where the action is. The same applies for terrorists.

We should thank Broyles though. His response merely helped the letter writer make the point, a point I have made on several occasions that Broyles is biased and is seemingly more interested in politics than in religion. I can only hope the Presbyterians Today will encourage him to find other pursuits in the near future.

Dateline: Home Study

I read the latest issue of Presbyterians Today and once again find I am disappointed in my national church organization. Vernon Broyles column borders on encouraging breaking the law and he seems to want to encourage illegal immigration. He even uses the term illegal in quotes, as if it those who cross the border and enter this country without passports and visas are not in violation of the law. But Broyles is pretty much a lost cause anyway.

The editor however troubles me. I’ve often disagreed with her but she usually well-reasoned and is not nearly as militant as Broyles. But this month she exhibits a quality I find in far too many people these days—the belief that change can happen in a vacuum. Secondary and tertiary effects are seemingly never considered.

This month the issue is school vouchers. Like so many, Ms Stimson makes the assumption that if vouchers are issued parents will flock to the private schools; in other words it is assumed that public schools are bad and everyone will leave them. Well, there are some problems with this thinking that is seldom discussed by the liberals. First, private schools will give preference to their current students meaning that there will in general be limited space for new students. If the private schools add students faster than they grow their resources they will fail.

Second, and perhaps most disappointingly, Ms Stimson assumes that public schools will do nothing. Such thinking is too shallow. Public schools will strive to improve their infrastructure to retain current students and attract new students. They will actually be forced to listen to the public they serve and offer programs accordingly. If the community values art, then public school art programs will grow. If the community wants more science and math, more science and math courses will be added by both public and private schools. If discipline is valued, discipline will be instilled.

No, the real reason liberals oppose schools vouchers is, I believe, that the public will take control of public schools. If vouchers come to be, local citizens rather than the National Education Association will make decisions over what is taught in the schools and what program are offered. IN other words, the market will dictate that the local school board be accountable to the public. Now that is a novel concept!

JUST LIKE OLD TIMES

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Dateline: Home Study

Our minister is on a sabbatical for the next few weeks so we are being graced with some guests in the pulpit; some are lay, some are professional, all are good. Today was especially nice because our former minister was preaching. He left about 10 years ago for another church and recently retired—moving back here when he did. Today was a special day.

His sermon today was on summer and all we had to be thankful for. It was one of his “let your mind wander” sermons as he reminisced about what summer meant to him. Perhaps my daughter summed it best when she said the weird thing about having him preach was that it wasn’t weird at all. He certainly brought some fond memories of some good times, including the best Vacation Bible School I’ve ever attended. A long time ago we did a week-long inter-generational VBS on Moses. I enjoyed it as an adult and the children enjoyed it as well. We old-timers still talk about it.

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