Monday, September 29, 2003

A wealth of curricula 

The PNS news story is titled: "Curriculum reports million-dollar turnaround." It tells some good news not only about what Presbyterians teach but also about what Presbyterians spend.

First, about what we teach: The Presbyterian curriculum writers have discovered a wonderful new resource for the Sunday school curriculum they write. The Bible! Who would have guessed? I'm tickled by what the publisher, Sandra Sorem said: "We're hearing that Presbyterians really appreciate Bible-based curriculum." A lot of us have been saying that for decades, but NOW she hears it?

Second, about what we spend: The PCUSA was prepared (how, I don't know!) to lose a million dollars on curriculum in 2003. The good news is that it looks like we'll lose only about $60,000. That's a whale of a good difference, but still a loss. Getting overly excited about that is like celebrating a decline in the RATE of losing members some years, while we still lose tens of thousands of Presbyterians. Whoop te do!

And the plot thickens.

Presbyterians For Renewal announced several months ago a promising new Reformed curriculum venture with the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America. In July 2004, a brand new preschool-8th grade curriculum will be available for use that fall, called "Walk with Me." The curriculum is biblically and theologically sound, Reformed through and through, kid- and teacher-friendly, and comparatively inexpensive. Churches will love it.

And now, a few months after the PFR announcement, the Presbyterian Lay Committee announced their collaboration with David C. Cook for yet a THIRD curriculum for Presbyterians, beginning fall 2004. This one will have supplemental materials for teachers to alter the popular Cook curriculum to make it more Reformed.

When it rains, it pours!

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Influence backpedaling 

"Now Barbara Wheeler was more crafty than any other Presbyterian leader that the Lord God had made..." One might think so, from the spectacular powers being attributed to her. (See article on page 4. Click and scroll also to my letter from August 22.)

Is Auburn Seminary President and Covenant Network board member Barbara Wheeler exceedingly brighter and more cunning than any evangelical? Apparently some think so.

When Wheeler builds a friendship with Fuller Seminary president, Richard Mouw, either one might have an influence on the other’s theology. But the assumption is that Wheeler will inevitably corrupt Mouw, co-opting all of Fuller in the bargain. Could he not rather be "corrupting" her liberal pedigree?

When Jack Haberer and Barbara Wheeler make joint presentations from two sides of an issue, why MUST it be assumed that Wheeler is insidiously tainting Haberer, rather than he positively influencing her?

If at times the Covenant Network and PFR need to hash out some concerns or differences, why must it be concluded that the Covenant Network will without a doubt co-opt PFR to their advantage, when there is at least the logical possibility that PFR will convince them?

Do we evangelicals really want to give the impression that we believe: (1) God is less powerful than our corrupting culture; (2) Barbara Wheeler, bright as she is, is much more skilled (and dangerous) than any evangelical with whom she associates; (3) progressive groups will always outsmart renewal groups through their persuasion and tactics; and (4) the progressive message is far more winsome than orthodox faith?

Inordinate fear of being tainted by association or corrupted by cunning will cripple bold initiative. How much more Reformed it is to believe that greater influence flows from Christ through us to others!

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Wily, slippery words 

There is a little booklet every elder and pastor should study with eyes wide open. Not because it's right, but because it is so insidious.

The booklet is titled "Examination of Officers-Elect: A Resource for Sessions," and it is published by Covenant Network of Presbyterians. I first heard of it in a report of the 2002 Covenant Conference last November. I wrote to ask for a copy, and the Covenant Network was kind enough to send one, knowing I probably wouldn't be a big fan. They were right.

There are some good parts of the booklet that offer advice about the necessity of examining candidates for any ordination. However, the section on dealing with G-6.0106b ("fidelity and chastity") gets mighty slippery. For instance, it doesn't consider the fact that an officer-elect living in a committed, same-sex relationship is "sufficient grounds to deem a candidate disqualified under G-6.0106b," even though such homosexual practice is EXACTLY what G-6.0106b is about. The ruse is that there is no reason to believe that people in a committed, same-sex relationship are engaged in sexual activity. But one might think it highly probable.

Should an examination become specific, the booklet offers several examples of how to wiggle out from under the plain intent of the questions.
Question: Do you have any ongoing sexual practice that might be challenged under G-6.0106b?
Suggested answer: "While I am in a committed, same-sex relationship, I will not violate the integrity of that relationship, or the dignity and privacy due my partner, in discussing our personal affairs." Can you imagine an officer of the church giving that response about running off with the choir director in what appears to be a heterosexual affair, and getting away with such nonsense?
Another suggested answer: "My conscience tells me that I am chaste, and I believe that I am chaste in God's eyes." This is pretty much what Katie Morrison used in Redwoods Presbytery when she was approved for ordination, although she revealed in a newspaper interview that she and her same-sex partner were sexually active.
Yet another suggested answer: "I decline to answer that question. It is intrusive, offensive to me and, I believe, inappropriate to the church." This answer goes on the offensive, as if someone intending to lead the church owes the church no honesty, no consideration, no authority over his or her life.

Then, if all else fails, the booklet attempts to rewrite the clear and accepted meaning of G-6.0106b, a meaning even those who fight it understand or they wouldn't oppose it. The booklet states that the session might determine that actually, "the Constitution does not proscribe faithful, monogamous [homosexual] relationships," or that because the person feels so good about what he or she is doing, the relationship is not sinful and therefore there is no need to repent.

All of us need to be aware of such artless dodges that serve to hide the real truth and attempt to turn the individual's feelings into the final arbiter of right and wrong. Session members and those on Committees for the Preparation of Ministry need to read this booklet and be on the lookout for words that don't say what they actually mean, and statements meant to hide rather than reveal the truth. Have Covenant Network send you a copy, too.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Those fractured, persistent "progressives" 

A new Witherspoon Society policy on gay ordination points out some major disagreement among "progressives." Apparently the Witherspoon Society is still troubled over the Covenant Network (CovNet) saying "Not now. Just wait" on removing G-6.0106b ("fidelity and chastity") at General Assembly this year. The new Witherspoon policy doesn't mention CovNet by name, but it obviously is barbed against them. For instance:

The Witherspoon statement reads: "While we will not be controlled by any other group in this struggle, we will be guided by those who are most deeply engaged in it, and whose lives are most deeply at stake." In other words, they won't listen to once-removed CovNet, but rather to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered (GLBT) persons, themselves.

The Witherspoon statement reads: "We believe that paths of delay (however well-intended to ease conflict and allow for gradual change) are a fundamental denial of justice, and so must be resisted." That's targeted directly at CovNet arguments.

The Witherspoon statement reads: "We will continue to urge that ... all other [progressive] groups avoid acting in direct opposition to [GLBT people]," which is what they have accused a patronizing CovNet of doing.

Both CovNet and the Witherspoon Society oppose our constitutional standards and want to remove them. So why the sharp disagreement?

The CovNet folks seem more politically savvy and patient, more realistic and sly. Probably some are also more altruistic, not wanting to split or destroy the church in a bluster. They can see that yet another inevitable crushing defeat in a direct vote would actually set their cause back even further, and so they counsel patience, while plying persuasion and sometimes subverting things a little here and there. The Witherspoon Society, More Light Presbyterians, That All May Freely Serve, Shower of Stoles, and many gay Presbyterians just want to get it on, no matter what the cost or fallout. Yesterday is not soon enough for what they consider to be justice.

So the "progressive" camp is not happy with one another. The CovNet is experiencing some "friendly fire" from allies.

Those of us on the other side of the aisle might gain a little insight that the opposing side is human and not an invincible juggernaut without its own tactical problems. However, the Witherspoon statement also makes something else abundantly clear: They plan to be persistently, stubbornly, relentlessly, stultifyingly, aggravatingly bullheaded in their insistence on rewriting God's morality. "We therefore affirm that above all we must persist in our efforts to move our church toward justice - every year, at every General Assembly, in as many ways as possible," they intone. I wonder which part of "No" they don't understand.

In addition, they indicate a strategy: attack the Authoritative Interpretations that have stood us such good stead for 25 years. Why? It's simple: "Authoritative Interpretations can be eliminated by General Assembly action, without being sent to the presbyteries" they reason. It's the old end-run tactic. Pure politics. The fact that a large majority of Presbyterians and three-quarters of the presbyteries are fundamentally opposed to what they seek matters not. They want their way and will pervert the will of the presbyteries if they can but hijack another General Assembly.

Presbyterians of decency and honor, take note. That is not the Presbyterian way. It's just plain shrewd politics.

Beware the camel's nose! 

Some in the PCUSA say the way to peace and unity amid the “fidelity and chastity” squabble is through a "local option" compromise. They argue that since we can't agree, we should just, in the words of Rodney King, “all get along.” Or in the spirit of the Book of Judges, let each presbytery do what is right in its own eyes. Imagine: A church free from the shackles of arguments and standards. Wouldn't that be great?

The answer to that rhetorical question must be no. None of us wants a church free from standards. Indeed, those who argue for local option don't really want it either. Their past and current arguments betray a sly tactic: Local option is but a means to an end, not an end in itself.

So, what is the end? Eventual compliance with their point of view. Those who might question whether that is the ultimate goal of local-option advocates need only note what their theological counterparts in Canada have done in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster with those who don’t buy their altered point of view.

Fortunately, the broad middle of the Presbyterian Church, led by its evangelical phalanx, has supported our Constitution with growing majorities. People can see beyond the 49th Parallel and can read. We know history. We know that in our own tradition, we, too, have not been above locking people out of their own churches. We realize that local option is only a way to get the camel’s nose into the tent, and then, before too long, the whole camel has crowded in on you.

So besides being bad polity, local option is bad strategy, because we who are supposed to be hoodwinked already know it.

By guest blogger Albert Gillin, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Walla Walla, Washington, and a PFR board member.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

For unborn children 

Chuck Colson's BreakPoint has an excellent article about "The Unborn Victims of Violence Act," which is under consideration by the U.S. Senate.

Colson suggests we write our Senators, encouraging them to vote for it.

I just wrote mine, and I used a handy service made possible by the PCUSA Washington Office. Click here to find a nifty apparatus you can use to e-mail your senators. You'll need to write your own letter, because the Washington Office is silent about this issue (and, frankly, the Washington Office doesn't share many opinions in common with renewal groups). But the process is pretty simple. You can use it to express your thoughts to Congresspersons, Senators, and even the President on many issues.

Might as well get some benefit out of your Washington Office dollars.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Ungracious separation? 

The largest church in the denomination is restless. The pastor is undergoing special scrutiny by the denominational hierarchy. On the verge of the conclusion of an investigation, the pastor renounces jurisdiction, leaves the denomination, and takes his church with him -- a church that comprises 6.5% of the membership of the denomination. A mess ensues about who owns the property.

Does this sound familiar? We're not talking about Presbyterians here. It's the 3,000-member Dallas-based Cathedral of Hope versus the United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. The story is reported in Planet Out, a gay news website linked to by More Light Presbyterians.

The lesson to be learned? Disharmony and schism can be found anywhere. It doesn't take disagreement over gay ordination or holy unions to make a denomination fragile. All it takes is living, breathing, fallen, fallible church members and leaders.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Do something about "Families in Transition" 

Here's our chance to help form Presbyterian policy.

For several months, PFR has joined others in voicing a great deal of consternation about the first draft of a proposed new policy paper on families, titled "Families in Transition." The result was that the draft paper from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy failed to pass muster at General Assembly and was referred back to ACSWP for improvement, along with a much better majority report by the General Assembly Committee (click here for a copy; scroll down in the minutes to Item 07-02 to find it).

Now ACSWP is at work again on the revision, and WE can take part. A news article invites us to do one of two things:
1) Speak at an open hearing on Wednesday, September 23, from 8:45 to 10:00 a.m. at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
2) Write ACSWP with your concerns, c/o Peter Sulyok, coordinator (Presbyterian Church USA, 100 Witherspoon Street, Room 3607, Louisville, KY 40202-1396; or reach the ACSWP office by phone at (800) 728-7228, ext. 5814, or by fax at (502) 569-8041).

The policy draft definitely needs a stronger biblical basis that reflects Reformed Christian morality and theology. The draft needs to offer churches sound counsel and positive ministry initiatives to care for families. The draft must reflect an understanding of families that doesn't promote immorality, while at the same time does seek to transform the brokenness of our world into the wholeness of the Kingdom of God.

So let's let ACSWP hear our concerns, so that they can produce a second draft that can be applauded and approved at General Assembly next summer, rather than decried and denied like this year.

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