Tuesday, June 29, 2004

How things sometimes REALLY work 

It is sometimes disconcerting to watch the progress of a particular issue as it wends its way through successive General Assemblies. A case in point is the need to provide Christian resources for women who have undergone an abortion.

In 2002, General Assembly addressed the issue of providing resources. There was a desire to be pastoral and caring for women and men who experience the tragedy of a terminated pregnancy. So how is this to be accomplished?

A group was to be set up to gather together materials that would be pastorally sensitive and useful. That was a good idea. But who was to be ON that compiling group? The G.A. committee had recommended a set-up fairer than normal: that Presbyterians Pro-Life actually be invited to the table. There, they would join the usual cast of characters from the denominational structure, who are virulently pro-choice. The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns was in charge, joined by Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, and others. Would fairness actually prevail?

Not necessarily, because immediately Joann Sizoo, moderator of the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, rose to speak as a corresponding member of G.A. She strongly protested the inclusion of Presbyterians Pro-Life, indicating in no uncertain terms that G.A. ought to exclude them.

There was debate on this matter, but this time the General Assembly leaned toward fair representation by voting to invite PPL to join the consultation. When asked what this inclusion would mean—would it mean that PPL would actually be considered an equal participating member?--Sizoo’s reply implied that PPL could offer any input they might want, but ACWC would be free to disregard whatever they wanted.

It was General Assembly’s intention that things would be fair. That is not the result we got.

Before long, a consultation was held in Louisville. Terry Schlossberg, executive director of PPL, was told she could attend, and she did—at her own expense at a time inconvenient to her. For her suggested resources to be considered, she had to supply a large amount of information by a specified deadline. This, she did. When she traveled to the consultation from Washington, D.C., she discovered that other groups had come unprepared, didn’t have copies of their suggested resources, and hadn’t met the deadline. She and her resources were politely received. The meeting was short.

For months afterward, Schlossberg kept contacting ACWC to find out what was going on. Much later, over Memorial Day weekend 2004, she received a draft booklet on the Friday, with her comments needed before the printer’s deadline on Tuesday. The booklet contained NONE of the PPL-suggested resources, it warned people to not feel any guilt about abortion, and it even marginalized PPL by warning that it represents “a more limited perspective than allowed for by PC(USA) policy.” The booklet was produced, despite Schlossberg’s hastily conveyed objections.

Then, to close the loop on this cause, this year’s G.A. took up the topic of that booklet. It came as a final report of work completed and was expected to be approved routinely in the consent agenda. Some commissioners and advisory delegates, however, were concerned with what the booklet said and how it was produced. They wanted the committee to see the booklet and be able to ask about the process of its formation.

The commissioners were told they couldn’t do that. They could only receive the report or disapprove it, they were told. They couldn’t mess with it in any way or give advice. The booklet is already out, approved or not.

So why even bring the business to General Assembly if there is nothing substantive the Assembly can do with it?

And what’s more, think of the precedent: General Assembly authorizes something; it is produced in a manner contrary to the intention of the Assembly and contains one-sided, biased information; and then, when it returns for General Assembly to sign off that the matter has been handled appropriately, General Assembly’s hands are tied.

Is that a good precedent, or does it make any sense? General Assembly asks for one thing. The system produces something altogether different. Then this G.A. is told they can do nothing about it.

With that precedent, G.A. could, for instance, instruct the Washington Office, say, to speak only on matters authorized by G.A. Then the Washington Office could turn around and say just about anything they want, outraging the belief and sensibilities of Presbyterians everywhere. And then G.A. could do nothing about it? That makes no sen–

Hey, wait a minute! That IS what’s happening in THAT case, too.

All too often.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

General Assembly news 

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly began on Saturday, June 26, in Richmond, Virginia. This is a combination church-family reunion, worship experience, and legislative session for the Presbyterian denomination. Much good or ill can come from a General Assembly (G.A.).

I'll not be blogging often, because I'll be doing most of my writing and commentary on the Presbyterians For Renewal website . Those who want to get a daily PFR e-Newsletter can sign up on the PFR website. This will deliver a recap and alert to your e-mailbox daily.

Please pray for the General Assembly. God's good and gracious will is what we most seek, and it is often difficult to discern amid the detritus of our annual gathering.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The CovNet conundrums 

Let's pretend you are a Covenant Network leader, trying to hold your group together. Let yourself get into this experience.

Your whole existence in the Covenant Network is wrapped around reversing our ordination standards. But you haven't been able to pull that off. What are you to do?

You first organized your group to defeat G-6.0106b, back when it was Amendment B in 1996-97. You lost that campaign (but you still call it "Amendment B" to this day, even though it's now part of the PCUSA Constitution). Immediately you tried again to defeat it at the 1997 General Assembly. You lost that vote in presbyteries by an even greater margin of defeat. So you tell your people that your noble cause must wait ... indefinitely. They don't want to hear that.

After several "Not yet!" years, you put all your hope in the General Assembly in Louisville in 2001, right in the bosom of the denominational hierarchy, which lends you great support. It works: General Assembly, for the second time, sends an amendment to the presbyteries. You give it your best shot, and ... you get shot down. The defeat is enormous. You lose in nearly three-quarters of the presbyteries.

After that drubbing, you turn cautious again. You know your people and the movement can't stand another defeat like the three it has had. You come to the grim realization that the church knows its mind about ordination standards, and the trend lines are against you. People outside your organization are fed up with constantly having the question shoved back at them as if they hadn't thoroughly studied, discussed, prayed, and voted on it already. You'll get a backlash if you try again soon.

On top of that, people inside your organization are discouraged and mad at each other. The zealots keep saying that "justice delayed is justice denied," until you kind of wish that justice as they see it weren't the only thing after all. These zealots want you to do something big and dramatic every year--which you know will certainly fail. The realists in your organization know, and you as a leader know, that another failure will be the kiss of death. But you have to propose something to keep members with you.

What do you do?

First strategy: you say "Not yet" a few more times. In 2003, one of your key leaders said that in Twin Cities Presbytery, and its annual "reverse our morality" overture to G.A. was derailed for a year. But oh the price you paid for that! Witherspoon Society raked you over the coals indignantly. Then Susan Andrews--a recent board member--voiced a stunning "Not yet!" in her successful bid for Moderator in 2003, and that was that for anti-fidelity-and-chastity amendments last year. Homosexual persons bitterly complained that it was patronizing for you high-minded heterosexual liberals to tell THEM when it was or wasn't time for their "liberation," thank you! You heard it from the activists at your November conference, too, and had to somewhat awkwardly search for new ways and reasons to say "not yet." You pulled it off, but the activists in your group were getting more and more restive.

So "Not yet" is not working very well. It's hard for you to build momentum on "We're not ready yet."

Thus, you need a second strategy. There is one that has some problems, because it flies in the face of language and meaning and reason. But, hey, any port in a storm! Realizing that you're not going to dislodge G-6.0106b, that Presbyterians aren't going to stand by idly while you try to totally reverse their moral beliefs, you come up with a pretty sly little strategy: See if you can get people to believe that G-6.0106b actually means something different than the meaning both you and your opponents have said it meant all these years you've been arguing over it! If you can pull that off, if you can cast doubt about its meaning, who cares if it is removed or not? It can stay, for all you care, if only you can empty it of meaning or convince people it says something the opposite of what it DOES say.

So you get some legal minds together and do your best to pry up every meaning that Presbyterians have previously nailed down. Get "chastity" to mean sexual activity. Cool! Get people to think they can't even ask any personal questions of candidates. Brilliant! Cow those presbyteries and CPMs. Come up with inventive "precedents" and bogus "case law" to back up your claims. Who will know?

You publish the result of this effort in two little Covenant Network pamphlets: "Examination of Officers-Elect" and "Interpreting Book of Order G-6.0106b." But you don't put them on your website. It wouldn't be good for just anyone to read them. You quietly distribute them instead in seminars that help your people know how to boldly skirt the meaning and intention of our church standards through bluff, subterfuge, and indignation. Okay, now you've accomplished something, although it must give you pause in your more introspective moments.

You have a third strategy up your sleeve. People need the sense that you're getting somewhere. You're going to tell them "Not yet" yet one more time in 2004. What else can you tell them to make it go down more easily? Aha! Tell them that you will work to remove the Authoritative Interpretation this General Assembly, and look toward ditching G-6.0106b in 2006.

That's brilliant, and you pat yourself on the back when no one is looking. It's brilliant because you can toss out the Authoritative Interpretation (AI) without EVER needing to take it to those pesky presbyteries that keep drubbing you. All you need to do is convince the Assembly, and voila! Mission accomplished. Who cares that the members, sessions, and presbyteries have demonstrated time and again that they don't want their standards reversed. You don't NEED them! You can do an end run around the oft-stated will of the church if only you can get one more G.A. to be gullible enough to vote your way about the Authoritative Interpretation.

So, how do you argue your case? It's tough, since the Authoritative Interpretation is very biblically solid. It has a strong pastoral slant, being written with tact, care, and fairness. While maintaining the historic belief of Christians everywhere and at all times, it is also amazingly contemporary, speaking a straightforward word about the exact points of conflict we still wrestle over today. It even provides you that well-used term "homophobia." How do you convince people to jettison something that good?

You can't do it biblically. Oh, heavens no! You lost the biblical argument when Robert Gagnon's scholarly work ("The Bible and Homosexual Practice") appeared and shot down all your favorite arguments. No, it's best to steer clear of biblical theology. It never was your strong suit, anyway. You were much more comfortable dealing with cultural trends and psychological theories. You never could find a really good BIBLICAL argument for your cause.

So you decide to go at it more obliquely. You tell people that the Authoritative Interpretation is confusing. It's a muddle. It's superfluous. You try to set it up in opposition to G-6.0106b rather than in perfect agreement. You feel pretty safe saying these things, because who's read the thing recently, anyway? People will believe anything if you say it enough, so you keep on inventing supposed deficiencies in the A.I. and hope for the best.

Now for the fourth strategy: Concentrate on telling stories. This may just be your best strategy. Go emotional rather than biblical or logical. Make out homosexual persons to be victims, paint their stories in terms of entitlement and personal rights, find the most heart-rending examples of nice "victims," and have them shed a tear or two. You can count on warm-hearted Presbyterians to simply roll over as easy marks, forgetting their theology and emoting rather than discerning.

Since you don't have a biblical leg to stand on, since you have neither polity nor history going for you, since you cannot invoke the plain meaning of our standards or Presbyterian legal precedent, go for the tear ducts. That's your ace in the hole. You can exploit it often and shamelessly, playing on the enormous misplaced guilt of Presbyterians, many of whom would rather be innocuous than faithful. Your new booklet of stories and video play up this factor well.

And finally, you have a fifth strategy: You're counting on a whole lot of help from secular culture. THE WORLD has tremendous pull. Just wait long enough, and the church will buy what currently captivates secular culture. You're pulling for the world to remake the church in its own image. It will help your cause tremendously. Then you will win this struggle.

What did John know, anyway, when he warned that "all that is of the world ... comes not from the Father but from the world" (1 John 2:15-17). (That must be one of those passages where you didn't hear God's Word that you were listening FOR.)

So, as a Covenant Network leader, you've got five strategies to play for all they're worth. You hope they are successful at this coming General Assembly. You are overdue for some good news.

Okay, you can quit pretending now. I'm assuming the vast majority of you aren't Covenant Network leaders. If so, consider yourselves blessed, because if you happen to be of the other persuasion altogether, this is your privilege:

1. You get to fight the good fight to uphold the morality God gave us, the morality Christians have always held and upheld. You don't need to try somehow to gain approval for what God has disapproved.

2. You can be completely logical and reasonable about the plain meaning of the Bible, our Presbyterian Constitution, and the Authoritative Interpretation. You don't have to try to force meanings that aren't there or use sleight of hand with definitions.

3. You can express love in a way that brings God's healing and wholeness, rather than tolerate or even promote practices that lead to alienation and death.

4. You can be a loyal Presbyterian who rejoices in the sound theological foundations and principles basic to our denomination, rather than someone seeking to undercut them, sometimes with devious methods.

I am so thankful that God has placed me in Presbyterians For Renewal, where I am not enmeshed in the Covenant Network conundrums.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Mountains of misinformation from Covenant Network 

The Summer 2004 "Covenant Connection" is in mailboxes these days, and mine brings to my desk mountains of misinformation about the Authoritative Interpretation. For instance:

Part of the message from the Covenant Network co-moderators reads "This year the church has a chance to make our polity significantly clearer and our lives together less contentious." How do they intend to do that, you may wonder? By tossing out one of the most clear and well-reasoned church policy statements you will ever find: the Authoritative Interpretation of 1978 (see final 6 pages).

Joanna Adams and Eugene Bay continue: "We hope the General Assembly will choose to issue a new "Authoritative Interpretation," making it clear that the standards guiding ordination decisions are those in the Book of Order, not the various, confusing statements made by one or another body over the years." Sorry, but this has to be either ignorant or deceptive. First, and this should be rather obvious from its title, an Authoritative Interpretation is an interpretation of exactly what IS in the Book of Order that has ultimate authority in our Presbyterian practice. When there's a dispute about what the Book of Order DOES say, General Assembly has the obligation to declare the meaning, and their declaration is the last word (authoritative). The Authoritative Interpretation doesn't ADD standards to the Book of Order; it states what the standards ARE. Are you with me so far?

Well, furthermore, we don't have "various, confusing statements made by one or another body over the years." That is simply incorrect to the point of being deceptive. We have ONE standard that is amazingly CLEAR that was finally made authoritative by ONE body (General Assembly, our highest body) ONE particular year: 1993. Could Adams and Bay have been any more incorrect and misleading in their statement?

The truth of the matter is that Adams and Bay simply don't LIKE the Authoritative Interpretation and would like it to go away. But that hardly gives them license to spread misinformation about it. They can dispute it theologically. They can attempt to make the biblical case why they think it is inaccurate or even sinful. They could say outright that this is but the first sly step of their plan to remove both this and G-6.0106b, the enduring standards we hold as Presbyterians. That would be fair and honest, although they'd be hard-pressed to come up with convincing arguments that are TRUE. Being forthcoming like that would give commissioners a clear choice for voting their conscience. But to spread disinformation--well, that's just not a very impressive tactic.

But there's more. They continue: "Such a move would provide clarity and greater fairness in an area where we acknowledge that the church continues to disagree." Wrong on all counts: (1) It wouldn't "provide clarity;" it would actually remove clarity by tossing out all the work Presbyterians have done to provide clarity and careful theological explanation. (2) "Greater fairness" would be cynical doublespeak, because in one foolish stroke, this lone General Assembly would single-handedly undo the firm affirmations of numerous votes that have retained our Authoritative Interpretation through three denominations and 42 failed attempts to remove it in eleven General Assemblies. (3) It is not true that "the church continues to disagree." The church has been absolutely consistent in its belief for two thousand years until this post-sixties era, it has remained faithful even amid the moral confusion of our last three decades, and it continues to agree with Christians of all times about this issue; Adams, Bay, and a determined and vocal minority disagree with the church. That hardly makes the church in disagreement.

And finally, the message loops off into dizzying spin: "And it's a change that the General Assembly can accomplish without a potentially rancorous presbytery battle." This is another way of saying that removing this oft-affirmed and highly regarded Authoritative Interpretation is something that can be engineered by a single General Assembly vote AGAINST THE WILL OF THE PRESBYTERIES AND CONGREGATIONS, who have shown by vote after vote that they are determined to UPHOLD the Authoritative Interpretation and G-6.0106b. Imagine the "rancorous presbytery battles" that would come about if THIS General Assembly high-handedly did an end run around the will and conscience of the whole church!

Adams, Bay, and the Covenant Network know full well that were a constitutional amendment to come out of this assembly for presbytery vote to change our standards, they would lose again by another stunning margin. So what's their Plan B? Try to convince people that the Authoritative Interpretation is different from G-6.0106b, or unnecessary, or unclear, or superfluous, or all of the above.

But that takes cunning, because the Authoritative Interpretation is in fact the theological underpinning and explanation for the constitutional shorthand of G-6.0106b (see PFR article). It is remarkably contemporary. It is warm and pastoral, even when it has to speak God's difficult Word. It is generous and fair, able to name the sins and needs of all parties in this controversy.

The Authoritative Interpretation IS what our church believes and has always believed. And, without sly hijinks at this General Assembly, it is what Presbyterians will continue to have to guide us in what we believe and practice, despite mountains of misinformation being heaped up about it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

"Rambo" and dirty pool 

Dirty pool!

I just read the June 4, 2004 letter from Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options (PARO) to General Assembly commissioners and advisory delegates. Talk about yellow journalism! It was scare tactics and overblown hyperbole dressed up as friendly advice.

PARO co-moderators Bruce Cameron and Ann Hayman first wrote about PARO: "We are part of the denomination structure. Specifically we are lodged within the National Ministries Division, part of the Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Association (PHEWA).... We are present at every General Assembly to interpret our denomination's moderately pro-choice position--a position our church has maintained for over 30 years" [they fail to mention nearly two centuries of staunch Presbyterian opposition to the tragedy of abortion, or 2,000 years of Christian opposition].

What they appear to want to accomplish with this little introduction is to impress commissioners with their connections; they want denominational loyalists to think they must really be the genuine article.

What this introduction says instead to anyone who knows the system is that PARO has smugly locked up denominational support and shut out other opinions. When they go to General Assembly, it is on YOUR dime, whether you are for or against abortion. They have access to denominational office space, staff time, decision-making structures, publicity, and budget to relentlessly lobby for unrestricted abortion (not the ostensibly "moderately pro-choice" position they characterize the PCUSA policy to be). And they hardly attend General Assembly to "interpret" their position; they PRESS it vigorously. Remember, this is made possible with denominational money, as they comfortably exploit their insider status in the structure.

Whenever abortion issues come up at General Assembly, the two sides stack up roughly this way: There to speak against, lobby against, and protest ANY restriction whatsoever on abortion and to decry what they label "anti-choice" viewpoints are Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the Advocacy Committee for Women's Concerns, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, Presbyterian Women staff and officers, Women's Ministry staff, National Network of Presbyterian College Women, Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Association workers, the Washington Office, the Advisory Committee on Litigation, and Witherspoon Society members, among others. Every one of these groups except the Witherspoon Society is part of the structure of the PCUSA and receives some or all of its funding from the denomination.

Now, let me list those who are lined up opposite this vast array of subsidized groups, to demonstrate the balance of the PCUSA policy and champion the deep concerns of those opposed to abortion. Are you ready? Here goes: Presbyterians Pro-Life.

That's it. And PPL survives ONLY by the donations of supporters. No denominational subsidy. No denominational office space. No foot in the door. And whenever the issue can be forced by those with all the goodies, not even a seat at the table when abortion issues are discussed denominationally.

Well, actually The Presbyterian Layman does regularly write spirited pro-life articles, and Presbyterians For Renewal writes articles sometimes and regularly works with commissioners on abortion issues. But that's about it: One main organization and a few straggling volunteers versus a cauldron of denominational alphabet-soup organizations. One side donating their time and materials; one side spending denominational money. Hardly fair or even-handed to begin with.

So now comes the really "dirty pool" part of the PARO letter. Not content to simply have the enormous advantage by position and funding, they now try to smear anyone working for a balanced Presbyterian policy in action. Notice the language they use (I'll count the loaded words):

"What you may not know is that every year powerful forces [1] with an ultraconservative [2] political agenda [3] send [4] their agents [5] to General Assembly to try to undermine [6] what has been the consistently held position of our church year after year. This year will be no different. According to the New York Times (May 22, 2004), these same outside organizations [7] that have tried to take over [8] the other denominations now boast [9] of their plans to be present "in force" [10] at our General Assembly [11] in Richmond. They will be using their considerable resources [12] to divide and conquer [13], employing wedge issues [14] like abortion and homosexuality to polarize [15] us. In contrast, PARO sees itself as an umbrella organization...."

Kind of makes you scared to get off the plane in Richmond, doesn't it, with those armies of outside forces with vast resources out to polarize our poor little denomination, while PARO valiantly shelters scared and abused commissioners under its wide umbrella? Did anyone else burst out laughing at this hyped-up frenzy?

Just who are they writing about? The New York Times article they cite (full of breathless hype, itself, about "a band of determined conservatives ... advancing a plan to split the church") is written about Presbyterian Action, associated with the Institute on Religion and Democracy. And how big is Presbyterian Action when it gets all its "agents" out in force?

Well, there's Alan Wisdom, a Presbyterian elder whose sagacious research and low-key suggestions have improved a number of denominational policy decisions by sheer weight of their sensibility, such as the "Transforming Families" draft coming to this General Assembly. And beside Alan in this formidable army is ... uh, well, usually there isn't anyone else, except a volunteer board member or two who help man a booth. This year, Alan says a recent Youth Advisory Delegate will join him, and a couple of colleagues from the Institute on Religion and Democracy may drop down from Washington for a day or two to check things out. But that's about it: Alan against the machine.

Apparently Alan Wisdom must be some kind of one-man Rambo outfit, able to single-handedly pervert the entire General Assembly process--without vote, without standing, without authority or office or influence or committee time or voice in plenary--according to the New York Times and now according to PARO. He's a brilliant, deeply faithful, highly competent man, but a Presbyterian Rambo? Get real!

And one more thing: Alan is not particularly a figure in the abortion debates. Presbyterian Action, the group PARO writes about as if they had hordes of non-Presbyterian operatives driving wedges into vulnerable denominational seams, does not focus on abortion issues. That makes the "PAROnoia" of the PARO letter all the more laughable.

Or maybe it's not silly. The letter has a plan: to poison the minds of commissioners and advisory delegates. They're the ones who make General Assembly decisions. If PARO can convince them that wise and compassionate observers standing by to provide history and analysis are really dangerous snakes in the grass to be avoided and scorned, they leave the decision makers vulnerable to uncontested PARO propaganda.

But just maybe the scorn will return to fall on their own heads, as well it should for a letter that so distorts the truth. Commissioners and advisory delegates are no fools. They know dirty pool when they see it and are not so gullible as to buy some Rambo fantasy.

The really wise commissioners and advisory delegates will listen to ALL the voices and benefit from the clear voices of faith and reason. Even the voice of Wisdom.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Never for the Jew? 

Paul said that he was "not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew..." (Rom 1:16).

But we have people today in the PCUSA whose statement would more likely be: "We are so EMBARRASSED by the gospel, because it excludes anyone who doesn't believe. We'd NEVER take it to the Jew."

Jesus, himself, gave the Great Commission: "Go, and make disciples of ALL ethnicities..." (Mt 28:19).

Yet some Presbyterians would evidently turn that command into "Go, and make disciples of all ethnicities but ONE. Hands off the Jews!"

At General Assembly, Overture 68 from Hudson River Presbytery will give commissioners an opportunity to stand firm on biblical and Reformed theology by thoroughly repudiating the unchristian notion that Jewish people don't need Jesus. The overture needs to be soundly REJECTED as a heartless measure, more interested in a syncretistic interfaith sell-out than in the lives and souls of our beloved Jewish brothers and sisters.

Who is behind the notion that evangelism contextualized for the Jewish culture is wrong, while evangelism contexualized in the Dinka or Gen-X or any other culture but the Jewish culture is culturally sensitive? Cynthia Jarvis is probably the most prominent of the nay-sayers--Presbyterians Concerned about Jewish Christian Relations (PCJCR). (Note how their website does its best to look like the official PCUSA site. It first was an exact copy--see my January 21 post"--before it was forced to be redesigned.)

Rev. Jarvis, an Advisory Board member for Covenant Network, seems seriously steamed about messianic Jewish evangelism taking place and how it might hurt relationships. Her sermon on the subject is listed on the web site. That apologia for excluding Jews from evangelism is sharply critiqued by Geoff Robinson in the Presbyterian Outlook. I highly recommend Robinson's thoroughly biblical response, which leaves Rev. Jarvis holding nothing but wrong assumptions by its end.

What are the key reasons to defeat Overture 68?

1) It is based on the false assumption that the Abrahamic covenant remains sufficient for any Jew's salvation. Robinson makes the counter case superbly. A key factor is Romans 11, especially verse 17, that talks of branches of the Jewish root stock being BROKEN OFF, and verse 20 that says clearly that "they were broken off because of their UNBELIEF." By God's grace they can be grafted back on to the root, however, just as believing Gentiles have been grafted on--through faith. But how can they profess that faith if we hoard the Good News from them?

2) It treats a study document as if it were policy. Back in 1987, a document was introduced for discussion: "A Theological Understanding of the Relationship Between Christians and Jews." That paper was never intended to be authoritative, nor, rightfully so, was it ever approved as policy. It was simply commended for study. We should not drive any current practice by a document many consider fatally flawed.

3) Love for our Jewish friends could NEVER consign them to a state of ignorance about the Gospel. Would it never be that we would love every other people enough to share Jesus with them--except for the Jews! That is not respect, as some would have us believe. That is the most unloving thing we could do toward them--to shield them from the Good News of Jesus Christ out of some misplaced sense of interfaith propriety!

Jesus said he would be ashamed of "those who are ashamed of me and of my words" (Lk 9:26). The line for those unashamed of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ for all people forms at the microphones of G.A. committee and plenary to speak against Overture 68.

Monday, June 07, 2004

A mindset to monitor 

Have you ever heard the plea: "We need to be inclusive. We need to listen to ALL the voices"? Those who call themselves liberal or progressive speak these words often.

That's why their continual bent to SUPPRESS a particular set of voices truly astounds me, both in its vigor and personal cruelty.

Who gets so stifled and shut out? Ex-gays, persons who once lived and practiced the homosexual lifestyle--believing the lie that they were created homosexual by God and neither could nor should change--but have now found transformation in Jesus Christ. They are persona non grata around the table for the theologically liberal.

If you want to see a liberal's jaw clench and teeth grind, if you want to see a so-called "inclusive and welcoming" progressive's smile drain and anger simmer, introduce an ex-gay speaker. While that speaker tells of previously buying into the propaganda about the homosexual lifestyle, diving into a life of homosexual practice, reaping the bitter rewards of such sin, and then finding hope and transformation through radical obedience to Jesus Christ, you will see frowns, exasperation, rolled eyes, and denunciation from the illiberal "liberal" crowd. Ex-gays are definitely NOT included or welcomed by this group; they are shunned and scorned.

In presbytery dialogues and at General Assembly, I've witnessed conversations such as this:

Former homosexual (FH): In college I came out as a gay man. For several years I had a number of homosexual encounters. I thought that that was just the way I am.

So-called liberal (SCL): Finally expressing that must have been a liberating experience.

FH: Well, actually, I couldn't get over the sense that the lifestyle was shameful, degrading. I couldn't shake the fact that it was actually sin, and I wanted to stop.

SCL: Shame on you for feeling shame! You just needed to accept yourself.

FH: Well, with the help of Christian friends and a loving church that hung in there with me, I asked God to either change my orientation or help me abstain.

SCL: That's impossible. You can't change. You ARE a homosexual and always will be. You MUST express your sexuality. Don't fool yourself!

FH: But I DID change! It wasn't easy, and I still struggle at times, but God HAS changed my basic outlook and orientation. Praise God, I am now living free of that besetting sin in my life!

SCL: Impossible. You must not have been a true homosexual to begin with, because sexual orientation is a given and doesn't change.

FH: "Not a "true homosexual," you say? My only affection had been for other men from my first memories. I spent years and years in homosexual relationships, from promiscuous to a series of longer-term relationships. But you say, a priori, that I couldn't have been a "real homosexual"? Why is that?

SCL: Because you changed. Real homosexuals can't change.

FH: Oh, it was VERY real for me. And I DID change. That's my experience. Who are you to deny it? When presented with empirical evidence to destroy your untested political assumption, you choose to deny my experience, instead. So much for your being truly liberal or scientific! What you are is political. You cannot ALLOW the possibility of change. That would ruin your political stand.

SCL: Well, you must be mistaken. You must have been a heterosexual who was just dabbling in homosexuality. And how EVIL of you to lay a guilt trip on other true homosexual persons who cannot change...

The most silenced voice in PCUSA deliberations, the most discriminated-against group, the one group that continually has to argue simply to justify their experience and existence is the growing number of Presbyterian persons who once were homosexual men or lesbian women but have found liberation from it in Christ.

Overtures have been written to call their ministry of hope evil and harmful, or not up to contemporary psychological standards, as if THAT were the measure of faithful Christian ministry! Arguments and denouncements swarm out of the pro-gay camp when ex-gays are proposed to be part of any consultations about ministry to homosexual persons. The outstanding and compassionate ministry of groups like One By One or Exodus International gets cruelly defamed.

All this is done by groups heralding an "open and inclusive church." Rather inconsistent, isn't it?

So, why is speaking of the possibility of change such a flash point in conversations on homosexuality? Think of it this way: If no one ever found themselves able to tithe, wouldn't everyone else who didn't want to give much money to the church breathe a sigh of relief? "Must be impossible," they'd think. "Good! Now I can't be expected to tithe."

What if no one ever was able to change his or her sexual orientation, if there were no genuine recorded cases of a person ever changing? Again, people would assume, "Can't be done. No one changes, and thus I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE TO CHANGE."

You see, THAT'S the big deal. If it truly IS possible for homosexual persons to experience a change in their affectional nature or to sublimate their affectional impulses, then the subject of personal responsibility comes up. "If I CAN change or CAN discipline myself, then I am responsible for my behavior and must consider what I'm going to do about it."

It is so much more convenient to DENY the possibility of change than to live with the responsibility for it.

And thus, the very existence of ex-gays with inspiring true stories of their conversions puts the pro-gay lobby on edge. And what do they DO about it? Do they show the love and inclusion they claim to profess?

No. They try to stifle, silence, or discredit the very voices they OUGHT to include.

So, in the coming weeks, and especially at General Assembly, WATCH how the so-called inclusive folks treat ex-gay speakers and their message. Monitor the attitude of those ostensibly for "love and inclusion."

If things are true to form, the progressives will be anything but inclusive, and that will give evidence once again that the "love and inclusion" line is just a pleasant-appearing but bogus cover for "reverse our Christian morality." We shouldn't be snookered.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

What's diabolical about being prepared? 

Last year at General Assembly, a group of commissioners was practically vilified. These commissioners in the National Issues Committee had worked together with energy, intelligence, imagination, love, and a rare measure of insight and cooperation. Some of them had begun consulting together prior to Denver, once they knew their committee assignment and had studied up on the issues before their committee. They had a common concern: the draft of "Families in Transition."

Once at Denver in their committee, they were well informed about the issue. They sought access to counsel from seasoned observers who knew how General Assemblies work. They stoutly pointed out glaring weaknesses in the draft paper, and, against the odds, ably argued the value of a substitute motion--a draft they produced collaboratively. That group's preparation, command of the subject, and theological persuasion won the day. The committee approved their draft rather than the original draft.

But then, what some characterized as dirty secrets were "revealed": Someone had helped them. They had been meeting and working together. They were organized, rather than alone; informed, rather than ignorant. Horrors! How unpresbyterian! They must be punished! These intrepid and capable commissioners were accused of underhanded conspiracy by vocal fellow committee members, as if they were a shadowy, forbidden cabal, somehow undermining committee work.

Why? Because they had worked together and were prepared.

It was a travesty for these fine commissioners to be chided then, and it remains a travesty when that episode is hauled out now as an example of so-called political manipulation of the General Assembly process. That's the air the Witherspoon Society has lent again to their actions (see notes and article (scroll to 5/24), see also Witherspoon comments in brackets in a clarifying letter). One would think it shameful for commissioners to know anything or work together effectively!

Doing their homework is EXACTLY what Presbyterian commissioners are supposed to be responsible enough to undertake, not to shun. Marianne L. Wolfe has written a brief guide called "Parliamentary Procedures in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Office of General Assembly gives it to commissioners each year and commends its use.

Here's what Wolfe advises: "Take time to strategize about a motion so other members of the group supporting the motion are prepared to carry part of the debate...." She warns that "inadequate preparation of both the motion and the debate not only jeopardizes the motion but causes divisiveness and misunderstanding in the assembly."

In other words, what the intrepid committee members did ought to be celebrated rather than scorned. Thus it is really poor form for the Witherspoon Society to trot out this tired instance as an example of a way the Assembly was manipulated. Instead, G.A. was SERVED by knowledgeable and faithful observers. Part of the positive results will be a families draft (Item 10-6) this year that is far improved and actually worth considering.

PFR has worked with the commissioners on the families paper, and will do so again this year. Rev. Miji Working, a commissioner last year who presented the group's work in the committee report, will be back this year with PFR to advise new commissioners on the history and ramifications of the new draft. Alan Wisdom of Presbyterian Action brought enormous insight and keen counsel last year, and served tirelessly during the official rewriting process this year. He's back again with sharp insight.

Commissioners NEED and deserve such appropriate counsel, and should not be browbeaten into shunning input and collaboration. Why would we ever want decisions made only on the spur of the moment by the ill-prepared and poorly informed?

PFR is working to help shine light, context, and insight into each of the committees of General Assembly this year, as in years past. Please pray for the PFR observers as they pray for, encourage, and serve the commissioners' needs and concerns, and thus the wellbeing of General Assembly and our denomination as a whole.

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