Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Carols That Convict 

Christmas opens people's hearts to Christ. People who rarely attend church, do go on Christmas Eve. They sing carols that tell the Good News. But, in most cases, the carols lack a clincher, something that connects the Christmas story with individual spiritual indolence.

"O Little Town of Bethlehem" is the exception that actually contains a prayer of salvation: "O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. Cast our our sin and enter in; be born in us today.... O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel." If people only considered what they were singing!

But why not attach the Christmas story to how we then live our lives, using the carols we already know? Why not tack on an extra verse? Here are some examples:

Joy to the World
Joy to the world! The call goes out:
"Come serve the King of Kings!"
The time has come
To truly live
The message that he brings,
The message that he brings,
The Good News, the message that he brings.

Away in a Manger
I love you, Lord Jesus.
I can't be the same.
I've met you; I've heard you.
You've called me by name.
I cannot now act as if you never came.
I'll love you and serve you with faith that's aflame!

Silent Night
Silent night! Holy night!
Lead me, God, to what's right.
To you, Lord, my life I give.
From this night for you I live,
Christ, my Savior, my Lord,
Christ, my Savior, my Lord!

May Christmas not only bless our lives with its tender meaning, but may it also bless seekers with eternal life!

Saturday, December 20, 2003

A half-missing statement 

The National Council of Churches has released a Christmas Message. The first part isn't half bad. The second half is half missing.

Those first three paragraphs are thought-provoking and rather profound. They conclude with: "As members of Christ's one Church, as inheritors of the call to bear the message of the Word of God in the world, what is required of us?"

Uh, well, I guess we'd be at least required to put in a good word for this Jesus and how he is Lord as well as that little baby in a manger, and how he changes lives and history and all of eternity. Right, NCC?

Wrong, it appears.

So what does the NCC think is required of us? What is the message that Christmas means? Apparently Jesus came to be a politician with political solutions. (Isn't that the same false notion of messiahship that Jesus continually fought during his earthly ministry?)

The NCC says our message should be about poverty and hunger. We should be worried about fossil fuels. We need to rein in Christians who have the audacity to say that faith in Jesus Christ is superior to human-made religions. And the U.S. is bad for toppling Saddam. They conclude with a very human-centered statement one could read on a secular "Happy Holidays!" Christmas card: "Christmas is the Season of good will." As THEY define it.

Funny, but I thought that Christmas is when Christians celebrate the "good news of great joy for all the people, that to us is born this day in the City of David a SAVIOR, who is CHRIST, the LORD." I thought Christmas was about Jesus, who SAVES us, who is our MESSIAH, and who rules as KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS. I thought THAT is the message we are called to bear to a world dying to hear it.

That glorious and all-important part is glaringly absent in a socio-political statement by an organization that has apparently forgotten that Christmas is about the birth of our SAVIOR and KING.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

The Lackawanna Syndrome 

(My apologies to the good people of Lackawanna Presbytery in Pennsylvania, because the Lackawanna Syndrome has nothing to do with you and everything to do with a cool name that is ripe for cheap exploitation.)

I think the Lackawanna Syndrome explains a great deal about people in general and Presbyterians in particular. What IS the Lackawanna Syndrome, you ask? Good question. The title comes from a common problem: a "lack of want-to," which is conveniently shortened in slang to "lackawanna."

Lackawanna explains why some of us haven't finished our Christmas shopping yet, or why the Christmas lights were still on the eaves from last year. We are deficient in wanting to do something about it. We lack the "wanna" to fight the crowds or remove the lights. So we haven't and didn't.

But more to the point, the Lackawanna Syndrome explains two phenomena in the Presbyterian Church: why we don't evangelize very well, and why we fail to exercise what Charles Wylie wisely terms "ordinary and extraordinary discipline." It's a case of lackawanna.

If we have been evangelized, we ought to know something of how to evangelize. We have our testimony. We've heard sermons and attended Bible studies. We love Jesus. We ought to be able to produce something about the hope that is within us. But we Presbyterians rarely do. We could, but we don't bother. That's evangelism lackawanna.

All elders and pastors in governing bodies have made vows to be governed by the church's polity and abide by its discipline. We say we will "be active in government and discipline." But yet, few of us step forward with love enough to discipline. We shy away. We consider ourselves unable. But that's discipline lackawanna.

In fact, the Lackawanna Syndrome explains a lot of things. And right now, I've got a lackawanna for writing more, because I have an abundance of wanna for making a batch of Christmas fudge.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Watching sausage being made 

Often one would just rather not know what goes into sausage.

Having just returned from observing a bright and congenial Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) writing group in Louisville perform some penultimate polishing of a new draft policy for families, I offer three brief observations:

First, for some theologically liberal people, ecumenism extends in one direction only--toward the dinosaur denominations in decline. It was absolutely too distasteful for them to even consider linking arms with Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics, and the National Association of Evangelicals on a Christian Declaration on Marriage that could practically have been taken directly from our Confessions. Why not? Mainly because some of these other Christians also hold additional beliefs about marriage (not in the declaration) that make our selectively illiberal liberals cringe. Inclusiveness? Pluralism? Ecumenism? Not if it means linking ourselves in any way with the large majority of other Christians in our country, it appears.

Second, the new draft-in-the-making just can't summon the guts to call cohabitation immoral. It also sprinkles in "partnering" beside "marriage." It pretty well damns by faint praise our Authoritative Interpretation that disapproves homosexual practice. This draft, I must keep reminding myself, is from our CHURCH, rich in biblical and theological heritage, not lacking in confessional or historical precedent for condemning extra-marital sexual expression! It's not from Americans for the Separation of Church and State or U.C. Berkeley, for heaven's sake! Why can't our policy unabashedly proclaim Christian belief and uphold Christian sexual morality?

The draft comes close, but just won't pull the trigger. So we're about to have a policy statement on families that is unwilling to call blatant sin sin. Fat lot of good that kind of ambiguous statement will do pastors and congregations looking to their church for moral guidance!

And third, and I know this sounds contradictory, the policy draft statement commissioners will see at General Assembly in Richmond next summer will probably be markedly superior to the one commissioners opposed in Denver at last summer's G. A. Depending on what a stylistic edit delivers for approval to the entire ACSWP at its meeting January 21-23 in Louisville, and assuming that ACSWP approves the writing team's draft substantially unmolested, this new draft with the working title "Transforming Families" just might be fixable at G.A.

It includes some rich theology that uplifts God's purposes. It collects a wealth of useful trends and statistics. It offers some necessary palliative actions for churches and members to take. The writing team is working diligently not to be stung by defeat again this coming G.A. It hurt last time.

So we just may be able not to reprove, but perhaps gently improve and then ultimately approve the coming draft. Just maybe we'll actually like the taste of the sausage. I hope so, for the church's sake.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

How to get away with murder, Presbyterian style 

1. Murder someone.

2. Murder someone else.

3. In fact, make murder your passion. Embrace it as a lifestyle. Claim it as your right. Insist that God made you a murderer, and it is good.

4. After years of committing only the most flagrant murders, you may have charges brought against you, and a PJC Investigating Committee may investigate. Don’t worry.

5. If, by some rare circumstance, an Investigating Committee considers charges are worth pursuing, do not assume you will need to actually quit murdering. That is not necessary.

6. Simply broker a deal. Write a long, convoluted, practically incomprehensible statement, obfuscating your practice of murder. But (take note!) don’t call it murder; call it anything else you want. Use words creatively; ignore established definitions. A theological explanation is optional. No clear biblical rationale is required (or even possible); use great liberty in tossing out parts of the Bible that could be problematic. Neither guileless honesty nor consistent logic is required. Stick with feelings and experience. (Click on Statement A and Critique [scroll to November 19] or Statement B and Critique for examples related to another subject.)

7. Finally, and this is key: Say you are complying with a ban on murdering people. Actually complying by ceasing murdering is not necessary. Claiming you are complying will appease discipline-phobic Presbyterians 99% of the time.

8. Murder away to your heart’s content. You can form a “Presbyterians Ending Life” special-interest group. Presbyterians won’t stop you. Some will contribute.

[Attention satire-impaired readers: Neither Jim Berkley nor Presbyterians For Renewal approves of, condones, or practices murder. Some rare cases actually are prosecuted successfully. We do not recommend that you try this at home.]

How not to get away with anything, Presbyterian style 

1. Be a theologically conservative evangelical who scrupulously honors and obeys Scripture, upholds the requirements of the Constitution of the PC(USA), follows the Confessions, and loves and serves the Lord and the church.

2. Voice an unpopular opinion.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Scattering cleverly false impressions 

It is deeply perplexing to me how otherwise nice, diligent people can use their God-given gift of intellect to help others deceive the church more proficiently. Such is the case with a newly released paper: “Interpreting Book of Order §G-6.0106b.”

If you want the unadulterated truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth from candidates for ministry and ordinands for elder and deacon, if you value integrity or candor, stay well clear of the cleverly deceptive advice of this paper, passed out at the Covenant Network Conference in November. The same is true if you want unbiased, undoctored counsel on the history of interpretation of our Constitution. You won’t find either in this paper.

What you will find is a license to deceptively leave false impressions, cleverly suppress the whole truth, and dishonestly seek ordinations that in a truthful environment could never be allowed. For instance:

• The introduction tries to rewrite history with a flagrancy that would make even Holocaust deniers squirm. The assumption: That the “fidelity and chastity” section of our Constitution, G-6.0106b, was put into the Constitution as “more flexible language” than the previous Authoritative Interpretations so that presbyteries could practice local option. How utterly laughable! If that were the case, wouldn’t the proponents and opponents of the original “Amendment B” have traded places? What an awkward attempt to pull a fast one! And how silly to attempt it while most of the people present when G-6.0106b was written and when it has been voted on three times are still alive and very aware of what actually was intended and accomplished.

• The paper’s section concerning what Committees on Preparation for Ministry may inquire of candidates makes a false claim. It says a PJC decision ruled that “sessions and presbyteries may not inquire about a candidate’s sexual practice,” when the ruling actually says only that committees cannot be proven negligent if they don’t inquire. The PJC said: “a governing body has a positive obligation to make further inquiry only if it has direct and specific knowledge that such person is in violation of the ordination and installation standards of the Constitution. A hunch, gossip or stereotype is not a sufficient ground to compel a governing body to make further inquiry.” Presbyteries and sessions most certainly do have the responsibility not to wink at sexual misconduct of any kind, and not to be falsely intimidated about inquiring.

• The paper counsels that “each candidate has the right to decide whether or not to discuss his/her sexual practice” and silence can’t be used against the candidate, citing the 2002 Hair case. Such a bogus “right” is patently illogical and cannot be found decisively in the Hair case, which was declared moot rather than settled. Wouldn’t such a “right” also mean that a well-known polygamist could sail through candidacy by simply declining to talk about his polygamy?

And so on and on. In statement after statement, facts are twisted, logic is tortured, and the authors’ opinion is treated as obvious fact, despite numerous blatant untruths, half truths, unbelievable claims, and misapplications of policy and precedent, sometimes in direct contradiction with the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly and with the Constitution itself. It is almost as if the writers were operating under the policy: “If one must lie, lie boldly” or “Never leave a false impression unstated.”

I lament the fact that people I might otherwise consider honorable would either produce or fall for such insidious deceit as is perpetrated in this slick little piece so full of bogus claims. The Covenant Network ought to be embarrassed to have promoted such bald-faced disinformation, and for the second year in a row (see September 23, 2003 blog).

Anyone serving on a session or on the presbytery Committee on Ministry or Committee on Preparation for Ministry needs to read this sorry paper and remember the sly means it proposes to blur and hide the truth of candidates’ lives and practice. And then we will be prepared to expose the charades that pose as truth yet deliver deception.

God said through Isaiah: “Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes…. Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Is 5:18, 20, 21).


Saturday, December 06, 2003

How valid is nonrevalidation for invalid reasons? 

There is no way on God’s green earth that the validated ministry of Parker Williamson should not be revalidated by the Presbytery of Western North Carolina.

Williamson’s ministry is Christian, Reformed, Presbyterian, and of service to the PC(USA). He at times serves as Nathan to the denominational David, telling us things we must know if we are to be self-aware and to repent and reform ourselves. As stressful as it may be at times to bear his words, we can be the better for hearing them.

One does not have to agree with Williamson every step of the way. I, for one, don’t always. But total agreement is not the criterion for validating ministry. Williamson has every right to voice his opinions—even unpopular ones—because they fall clearly within the bounds of orthodox theology and constitutional rights and practice.

And not only should Williamson be allowed to continue his ministry without intimidation or harassment, he should be encouraged to do so. Any hierarchy unable to brook dissent or contradiction is a sick and defensive body. We should welcome voices that make us consider our historic faith and biblical practice. And isn’t the voice of Parker Williamson and The Presbyterian Layman a part of the highly vaunted diversity we hear so much about these days, or are we to be “diverse” in only one direction?

Williamson’s ministry ought to be revalidated without a second thought!

At the same time, for any of us arguing against the task force’s recommendation, it remains imperative not to indict the Presbytery of Western North Carolina prematurely. No final or binding decision has been made yet. A small task force of the Committee on Ministry (COM) has simply made an unfortunate recommendation that should be roundly defeated by the whole COM December 9. Until then, it remains only the recommendation of four people.

If the recommendation is merely an ill-tempered shot across The Layman’s bow, the effort has been noted, and it should be frowned upon and quickly dismissed. However, even if COM should rule arbitrarily and the matter goes to presbytery January 31, only upon presbytery action would a decision be final. G-11.0411 says that “If the presbytery grants the permission [to serve in a validated ministry beyond the jurisdiction of the church], permission shall be subject to review and renewal annually” [emphasis mine].

Thus it is proper for fair-minded voices to support Williamson’s revalidation. But it is not fair for some to indict a COM and presbytery that has not yet considered the matter nor rendered a judgment (see Layman Online letters of December 5). And it is particularly unfair to disparage an entire denominational hierarchy that is neither involved nor culpable at this point.

Four people on a subcommittee have made a bad call. That’s it so far. Let’s not denounce what has not yet occurred and may not occur. A proper vote for revalidation by the COM and/or Presbytery of Western North Carolina would quickly make this a nonissue. Parker Williamson ministers to the entire church and ought to be encouraged to continue with the prayers and blessing of his home presbytery.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Evidence, anyone? 

A revealing exchange of letters on Presbyweb provides all the evidence the Presbytery of Cincinnati needs to finish its work of bringing the Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church into constitutional compliance. While the presbytery rightly disciplined the pastor, Stephen Van Kuiken, for marrying homosexual persons, it exonerated him of responsibility for illegally ordaining sexually active homosexual persons as deacons and elders. It said that the church chooses its officers, thus giving Van Kuiken an out, even though he had encouraged and fully participated in the process.

The defiance continues in Mt. Auburn, as documented by both former elder Jack Harrison and current elder Britton Harwood. The odd thing is that BOTH men strongly support gay ordination, but hold strongly opposing views on how Mt. Auburn should pursue it. Harrison quit the church because of what he would consider backing down from truth and confrontation by hiding behind deceit and sophistry. Harwood passionately and civilly argues that no, Mt. Auburn is being as defiant as ever but just isn't recklessly inviting discipline.

So as they carry on their debate on Presbyweb, the rest of us get treated to a remarkably candid look at exactly what IS happening at Mt. Auburn: continued, widespread defiance of G-6.0106b and the supporting Authoritative Interpretations that make it absolutely clear that "Sexually active homosexual persons may not be ordained." Quite simply, sexually active homosexual persons ARE being ordained by Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church.

Here's plenty of evidence, taken from the letters of Harwood and Harrison:

1) Harrison contends that churches violate the Constitution and lie about it: "I appreciate Jim Berkley's words [see Nov. 19] regarding my recent statement on Presbyweb regarding the dishonesty of those in the church who continue to violate G-6.0106(b) while at the same time lying about the fact that they are doing so."

2) Harwood protests Harrison's charge of subterfuge by quoting Mt. Auburn's policy statement: "We will continue to ordain self-acknowledged gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, sexually active or not, following the same criteria used to call heterosexual persons to our church leadership... The Session declares that it has not complied with and will not comply with any interpretation of G-6.0106b that prohibits the ordination of self-acknowledged practicing gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender persons." In other words, they have not complied, they are not complying, and they will not comply. Could it be much clearer?

3) Harrison replies: "I would pose a very simple yes or no question to Dr. Harwood, 'Has Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church in the last year ordained sexually active gay and lesbian persons?' If the answer is yes, then tell us how that fact is not a violation of G-6.0106(b) without resorting to the same tired sophistry that declares G-6.0106(b) does not mean exactly what it says." Harrison knows what Harwood knows: That Mt. Auburn certainly ordains sexually active homosexual persons in quiet defiance of the will of the Presbyterian Church.

Harrison then brings up the matter of unconstitutional same-sex marriages at Mt. Auburn by jokingly referring to the new policy of pastor emeritus Hal Porter as the "'Come Stand In Our Building, Perform Your Own Service While Clergy Are Innocent Uninvolved Bystanders, And Declare Your Self Married To The Exclusion Of All Others' policy." Harrison rightly observes that what Porter has done and may do again is marry same-sex couples at Mt. Auburn, but Porter would skirt discipline by simply juggling definitions.

4) Harwood replies again, responding to Harrison's question about whether they have defied G-6.0106b by ordaining sexually active homosexual persons. He frankly says, "I believe we have," and then implies rather facetiously that the only way to know for certain is to be one of the partners. The point is that of course Mt. Auburn is defying the Constitution. It's a point of honor for them to do so, so much so that both Harrison and Harwood are arguing only over whether they've done it honestly or deceitfully!

5) Harrison responds yet again, first affirming the meaning of the Constitution with which he disagrees but nonetheless understands implicitly: "G-6.0106(b) which, under any tortured interpretation, prohibits the ordination of openly gay and lesbian persons who are sexually active is a properly adopted part of the PCUSA Constitution, and as such, cannot be declared unconstitutional."

Harrison then explains what happened at Mt. Auburn: "in late 2002 and 2003, the session at Mt. Auburn became afraid of having the light of day exposed in certain closets and afraid of losing its mainstream status and its claim to speak for what inclusiveness is to be (a claim they have clearly given up now). Thus, they ran in fear from their own policies and have now adopted policies that are absolutely meaningless, but keep them out of trouble."

An April 7, 2003, Presbyweb letter by Harrison further calls Mt. Auburn the church "where I, as a self-declared unrepentant gay man was ordained and where I was married to my partner Paul." He laments the fact that the session "will pretend to comply" with the law. He contends that "if one reviews the minutes of my church's session, assuming you can get a copy, one finds that within the past six months, persons were ordained as deacons who made clear self-declarations to the session identifying themselves as practicing, unrepentant gay or lesbian persons prior to approval and ordination. I say this based on statements of persons who were present...."

Remember, this damning evidence is not from people wanting to uphold our Constitution. This evidence is from those wanting to remove G-6.0106b and the biblical morality it reflects. Mere honesty and a desire to set the record straight have compelled Harrison and Harwood to state plainly what is obvious to those of us on the other side of the issue: Mt. Auburn continues to be in defiance of our Constitution, no matter what they coyly contend they're doing.

Cincinnati, is anybody listening?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?