Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Open letter to Curtis Kearns on the Washington Office Irregularities 

In a previous Berkley Blog, I wrote about the PCUSA Washington Office being out of control. In response to that, Curtis Kearns replied to me personally and also publicly on Presbyweb. Kearns, Director of the National Ministries Division, supervises Elenora Giddings Ivory. This is my response to Mr. Kearns, which was previously e-mailed to him personally.

Dear Curtis,

Thank you for considering both of the bones I have to pick with the performance of Elenora Giddings Ivory in the Washington Office.

Preliminary criticisms
In response to the concerns I raised about actions of the Washington Office, however, you first criticized my “loose manner” and lack of care and thoroughness. I believe I have been neither loose nor careless.[1] It seems unnecessary to attack my methodology.

While you concede that the management of the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) lobbying business was a bit of a muddle, you hold that out as an exception. However, others, including myself, view that affair as just one more of a string of questionable decisions and actions by Ms. Ivory and her office—more the norm than the exception.

In addition, it seems odd that just four months ago, you were writing me in full approval of Ms. Ivory’s work on the FMA matter. Yet now you concede that the mishandling of this matter was actually “a learning experience.” The problem is, Ms. Ivory apparently hasn’t learned. Her missteps and misstatements continue.

You state that “the office had clear policy support for advocating for the civil rights and liberties of all citizens.” True, on the surface. But you fail to say that nowhere, especially when that policy statement was being adopted, was homosexual marriage considered among those rights. That is because whenever the General Assembly made clear statements about civil rights, it also quite intentionally made very clear statements about marriage being only between a man and a woman. This continues up to the recent 216th G.A., which also very consciously added a Christian-definition-of-marriage amendment (introduced by David McKechnie) to a statement on civil rights.

Yet, a nebulous civil rights component is the one thing Ms. Ivory sees and speaks against in a federal constitutional amendment about marriage (an amendment that states what the Presbyterian Church has always professed about marriage). She cannot support the main point which should have our support by policy, because of apparent tunnel vision about a disputed ancillary issue.

Response to two charges
Then you call “not credible” my charge that the Washington Office is operating independent of G.A. oversight. However, my two examples of the office directly foiling the will of the Assembly speak otherwise, and you do fail to refute these examples.

Charge #1: I contended that Ms. Ivory was negligent at best or possibly devious by waiting six days to attempt (ineffectively) to remove her name and Presbyterian backing from a lobbying letter she knew was to be sent imminently to lobby against the Federal Marriage Amendment. You know the General Assembly action had her attention. Very deliberately, General Assembly had clipped her wings: she was not to lobby either for or against the FMA. Thursday evening that happened, and that evening she spoke to the Assembly about her need to take her name off the letter.

Now, in negligence cases, courts often use the Prudent Person Rule, asking, “What would a prudent person do in this situation?” What might Ms. Ivory have done if she were to follow due diligence as a prudent person? (1) That night (July 1), realizing the import of the G.A. order not to lobby on the issue, she could immediately send an e-mail to whoever would be sending out the letter, asking them to by all means not send the letter yet with her name on it. (2) The next morning (Friday, July 2), she could phone around until she was sure she had the proper party to definitely delay the letter until after Friday evening.[2] (3) Beyond the point of reconsideration on Friday night (July 2) or Saturday morning (July 3), she could phone and/or e-mail the letter-sending party and say that definitely she should not be a co-signer of the letter, making it absolutely clear how crucial it is that her name be removed before the letter is sent. (4) When she returned to her office after the holiday weekend, she could follow up to make sure the message got through and had been properly effected. Such due diligence would actually have accomplished what General Assembly mandated.

What did Ms. Ivory do instead? She sat on it for six days.[3] Her “compliance” was too little, too late, too inadequate to accomplish her purpose, and too briefly tried, since further action effectively performed ought to have kept her off the letter, which was distributed with a July 13 date.

Surely this cannot be the kind of performance you consider satisfactory for top management. Is there not reason to question the effectiveness and attitude of someone with so little to show for such inadequate efforts?

Charge #2: I contend that the Washington Office immediately took an action that the General Assembly had just gone on record as disapproving. You say I “fail to accurately characterize the action.”

You, however, characterize the action in an idiosyncratic way: “The Lackawanna Overture sought to redefine existing General Assembly policy approved by the 209th General Assembly (1997).” How would anyone know that? Nowhere in the Lackawanna Overture is that 1997 policy even mentioned. Nowhere in the overture rationale is that 209th G.A. mentioned, although a number of other General Assemblies are referenced. Nor does the minority report mention the 209th G.A. policy report.

What one does find when reading the overture and what one heard in the debate about the overture and the minority report is this:
·   The need for the overture proved suspect.[4]
·   Commissioners chose not to advocate funding the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF).[5]
·   The minority report was likewise defeated.[6]
·   A desire not to promote abortion played into the disapproval.[7]

I fail to see how in voting overwhelmingly to disapprove the overture, commissioners were deferring to an older, unnamed, unknown policy. They had no way to know that. They were saying, however, that the items advocated by the overture were not actions they wanted to advocate, for a number of reasons. Thus, your contention that “the 216th General Assembly simply refused to redefine existing policy” lacks weight.

You say G.A. “did not condemn support for international family planning agencies.” Technically, you are right—a refusal to support is not the same as a condemnation.[8] However, G.A. did decide overwhelmingly that, among other items, it did not want to call upon “the president and the Congress of the United States of America to reverse the recent policies and directives that have reduced and withheld appropriations to the United Nations Population Funds.”

Yet that’s exactly what the Washington Office decided to urgently advocate, while General Assembly’s “No!” was still fresh. They seem to have found in standing policy technical license for their advocacy, in spite of the clear will of this General Assembly. Over such a controversial issue, it is inadvisable for the Washington Office to engage in strong public advocacy on the side opposite G.A. All those commissioners who had thought they had put that proposal to rest had a rude awakening when they saw what the Washington Office did in spite of commissioners’ successful efforts to defeat the idea. If one’s goal were to make Presbyterians cynical about any ability they might have to halt a denominational juggernaut, this would be exactly how to do it!

Clarity, license, and accountability
You wrote: “You accuse the office of defying General Assembly policy but clearly that was not the case.  The office was justified in issuing its Action Alert.” You are incorrect on the first count, and I would beg to differ on the second.

First, nowhere do I mention “defying policy.”[9] Second, the commissioners decided for good and compelling reasons that advocating for the UNPF was somewhere they didn’t want to go. Yet, the Washington Office did go there, almost immediately. That, I would consider, could legitimately and responsibly be called “ignoring the General Assembly.” So, third, the office was not justified in issuing an Action Alert.

You conclude by saying the Washington Office staff “looks to those to whom it is accountable to help keep it honest.” Assuming this isn’t saying that I have no right to criticize, I would contend that the office definitely needs further accountability. That accountability could have come through self-accountability by Ms. Ivory, but that hasn’t produced satisfactory results. It could have been through your stepping in as supervisor to direct a subordinate, but instead, you provided excuses. Without further action by you, it appears that logically the accountability for keeping the office honest must now fall on the shoulders of your supervisor and/or the General Assembly Council. It would be sad, were that to become necessary.

A greater policy forgotten
There is a final thought about policy that needs to be raised. The Authoritative Interpretation on homosexual practice and ordination—the A.I. that was so hotly debated again this year and once again reaffirmed, as it always has been affirmed—is official Presbyterian policy.[10] It’s authoritative in our life and practice, as its name implies. And it says, among other things, that “homosexual practice is sin,” and that “the New Testament declares that all homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian faith and life,” and “homosexuality is not God's wish for humanity.” That’s our bedrock policy. It hasn’t changed.

Yet, why is it that when the Washington Office speaks on matters related to homosexuality, one would think that the PCUSA is either neutral about homosexual practice, or maybe even favorable toward it? Hardly a word of a prophetic nature is said against this prominent error of our time. What we hear instead is personal rights or civil rights, as we did in the Washington Office FMA statements.

Don’t we have a distinctly Christian response to offer from our Washington Office, rather than a secular political response?

If the Washington Office truly “makes an honest effort to follow established policies and guidelines and to helpfully interpret them to the church and larger community” as you say, why the absolute silence on the sin of homosexual practice?

A simple request
As you can see, I respectfully beg to differ with you, both about the significance of how the Washington Office has blunted recent efforts of the General Assembly to control its actions, and about the form and substance of my Berkley Blog posting that you questioned. I believe you are wrong, and demonstrably so.

With great care and with thoroughness that probably tries a normal person’s attention span, I believe I have presented to you sound arguments and tight, rather than loose, reasoning. I have documented my statements. I also believe that from the volume of correspondence you have received from others, and the letters of outrage being posted daily on Presbyweb and other websites, you have a larger crisis on your hands than you may have expected. It won’t just go away.

Your response now to the church is crucial. Can you see fit to offer a simple admission of error and apology? If so, such a magnanimous act—along with some measure of assurance that the Washington Office has turned over a new leaf and will operate differently in the future—would be gratefully received. 


James D. Berkley
Minister Member
Seattle Presbytery

1. I wrote my Berkley Blog from careful analysis of what Ms. Ivory wrote, from personal observations at General Assembly and elsewhere, from background knowledge, research, and consultation with others, and from a long history of unsatisfactory attempts to get a sensible or appropriate answer from her, not just on this particular issue. This was neither a first encounter with Ms. Ivory, nor a knee-jerk reaction!

2. The point after which the matter could not be reconsidered, not Saturday, as you contended.

3. From July 1 to July 6, she did nothing, even though for two days she was still “at work” at General Assembly, and even though as a top-ranking official rather than an hourly laborer, she could be expected to perform vital responsibilities even during a holiday period. After a very long weekend, she got back to her office on Wednesday, July 7, and then wrote one e-mail, (apparently to the wrong party) and made one phone call (to the same ineffective party). That was the meager extent of her attempt to obey direct instructions from no lesser an authority than the General Assembly.

4.  The presbytery was highly concerned about population growth. The committee and assembly, however, heard that runaway population growth has waned to the point where concern about sustaining populations is now being raised.

5. The presbytery’s overture advanced several means to stem population growth, one of which was lobbying the U.S. government to fully fund or even increase funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF). This would seek to change the policy Congress and the Bush administration have taken out of concerns about UNPF approval of and involvement with forced Chinese sterilization and abortions, and the promotion of legalized abortion by the UNPF. Commissioners disapproved the overture in both committee and plenary.

6. The minority report directly sought to salvage parts of the overture, such as the necessity to control increasing overpopulation and to oppose any restriction to the availability of “reproductive health measures.”

7. The catchphrase “comprehensive family planning,” widely understood to include advocacy for legalized abortion, is not to be found in the overture or rationale (although you use it five times in a single paragraph when describing what the overture meant to do). Alert commissioners in the committee and plenary, however, knew that providing “substantial funding” for “reproductive health services” was yet one more way to impose so-called “abortion rights,” even in countries where culture and religion are opposed to the taking of the life of unborn children.

8. It is interesting that concerning another matter, Ms. Ivory argued that such failure to approve was the same as condemnation, in order to justify opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment. Which way do you want it?

9. I wrote about what the General Assembly expects and demands. I wrote of the Washington Office’s determination “to ignore General Assembly.” I used the phrase “disregard the will of the denomination.”

10. The ultimate policy of the PCUSA is the Bible. But since people dispute the meaning of the Bible, we have Confessions to instruct us about what the Bible says. But since the Confessions and other parts of our Constitution are, themselves, disputed, General Assembly must, from time to time, step in as judge and say, “This is what our Constitution means.” That statement is, of course, an Authoritative Interpretation.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Document creep 

I'd like to coin a new phrase: "document creep." It is like "mission creep," when an agency is given one task and manages to inflate it into an entire enterprise, or you stop at the store to get skim milk, and come home with ice cream, a case of Coke, and a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

"Document creep" is when a document is produced for one minor purpose, and then it is referenced and utilized as if it were of far greater importance, or carries some weight of authority. I have watched this happen in at least a couple of cases in the PCUSA.

An older instance is the old "justice love" sexual ethics paper “Keeping Body and Soul Together” from the 1991 General Assembly. That report, written by mal-ethicist Marvin Ellison, was trying to undo orthodox Christian sexual ethics altogether. However, it was thoroughly rejected by G.A. and should have been left on the scrap heap of theological infamy. (Presbyterians For Renewal, by the way, played an enormous role in the rejection, championing the countering "Witness for Biblical Morality" statement.) Remember, the document was soundly disapproved by a large margin. It is not Presbyterian policy. Presbyterians do not believe it or assign any validity to it.

But due to document creep, the report and its justice-love ethic is still around. For instance, it's the basis for a Presbyterian Women-financed study "Love--All That and More," and it was touted as a good subject for a "Bible study" in a National Network of Presbyterian College Women-produced study guide. One would think it had been commended rather than trashed by G.A.

A new instance of document creep, however, is just as insidious. In 1987, General Assembly had before it a paper on Jewish-Christian relationships: “Toward a Theological Understanding of the Relationship between Christians and Jews.” It was definitely NOT adopted as Presbyterian policy. It does not qualify as the official Presbyterian viewpoint on the subject, nor does it have the authority of policy.

As its subtitle says, it is "a paper commended to the church for study and reflection." Its opening notes "recommend the document to the church as a provisional statement for study and comment. The document is intended to engage the church in reflection and conversation...." Clearly in 1987, the intent wasn't to enshrine this "provisional statement" as Presbyterian doctrine.

Enter document creep.

Now, the study paper--really not much more than a curriculum piece to get people talking--is being treated as if it were Presbyterian policy about Jewish-Christian relationships. Let me give some examples:

Jay Rock in the PCUSA Interfaith Relations Office says the paper was "commended to the church for study and GUIDANCE by the Assembly in 1987" [emphasis added; notice how "study and guidance" replaces the paper's own "study and comment" or "study and reflection"]. Rock says it "provides the basic framework for Presbyterians regarding Christian-Jewish relations." Not so when it was written. At the time, they were merely seeking feedback from people's conversations. They called the paper "provisional" back then. Now it's treated as if it were approved as policy. This instance comes from the controversy that has erupted after G.A. over G.A. statements about Israel and messianic Jewish evangelism.

Corinne Whitlatch of the PCUSA Washington Office terms the paper "a landmark position paper" that "was adopted and published in 1987." Document creep.

Presbyterians Concerned about Jewish Christian Relations calls it "the 1987 statement of principles approved by the General Assembly of our church." You will remember that this is the group embarrassed by the Gospel that Christians want to share with Jewish people. Their website is made to be confused with the official PCUSA site. They love the study paper.

No, folks. A study paper carries no weight of policy--without document creep. And this study paper has theology many of us cannot swallow. It is no wonder it didn't ever get approved as policy. As one very astute Youth Advisory Delegate said about the debate on this issue at General Assembly, "I found it interesting to hear liberals talk like fundie dispensationalists with regard to Israel’s salvation." Me, too.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

An office out of control 

The Washington Office of the PCUSA appears to be determined to do what IT wants to do, rather than what the General Assembly expects and even demands that it do. There are numerous instances every year, but even in the last two weeks we find two more outrageous examples:
1) The General Assembly this year did something previously almost unknown: it specifically directed all PCUSA entities (notably the Washington Office) NOT to advocate either for or against the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Did the Washington Office comply? You decide: The G.A. action was taken on July 1. Elenora Ivory, Director of the Washington Office, waited until July 7 to try to get her signature (and the weight of PCUSA) off a letter lobbying against the amendment, a letter she knew on July 1 was to be sent out soon. By July 7, she was too late, and the letter went out, doing exactly what G.A. had forbidden. Doesn't waiting six days when the release of the letter was known to be imminent seem either negligent at best or calculated at worst? Her excuse? A holiday weekend. Holiday weekends don't last six days. 
2) General Assembly took up the question of Global Population in an overture from Lackawanna Presbytery. The International Issues Committee looked carefully at the issue and voted to disapprove the overture. Then G.A. debated the same topic, with a minority report causing more than just perfunctory discussion. The minority report failed, and General Assembly also voted 312-122 to disapprove the overture.
So what was disapproved in the overture? Here are two pertinent sections that were disapproved:
"The General Assembly:  a.  Calls upon the president and the Congress of the United States of America to reverse the recent policies and directives that have reduced and withheld appropriations to the United Nations Population Funds and other voluntary international family planning agencies, and provide fully restored or increased funding for these agencies and/or organizations. b.  Calls upon the president and the Congress of the United States of America to honor the action plans of the United Nations Conference on Population Development (1994) and other United Nations conferences, and to provide strong leadership and substantial funding to ensure the availability throughout the world of contraceptive and reproductive health services...."
That means that the General Assembly, voting about two weeks ago, did NOT want to call upon the President and Congress to reverse policies and provide more funding for the United Nations Population Funds, correct?
So what does the Washington Office do? Here is the headline from a July 13 Washington Office Action Alert: "Support the U.N. Population Fund." It continues: "URGENT ACTION: Support Needed for Family Planning Funding for the U.N. Population Fund. Call or Email President Bush Today! Ask him to support United Nations Family Planning Funding."
Could the single-minded determination of the Washington Office to ignore General Assembly be any more blatant? The General Assembly chooses overwhelmingly NOT to support a matter; the Washington Office chooses to ignore that and urgently advocate for it anyway.
This is an office out of control and in need of strict supervision. Were this an unusual instance of defiance or a rare slip, it would be one thing. But this is the standard mode of operation for the Washington Office, and such disregard of the will of the denomination is disgraceful for the entire Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Curtis Kearns, Director of the National Ministry Division, is Elenora Ivory's supervisor and the person immediately responsible to take action on her dereliction or insubordination. He can be reached by e-mail (ckearns@ctr.pcusa.org) or by toll-free phone (1-888-728-7228 x.5443).
If we are to have a lobbying office at all, and that's highly debatable, our church must have a Washington Office responsive to the will of the denomination, not the ideology of a few rogue individuals, willing and able, so far, to frustrate or blunt any effect of clear direction by the highest governing body of the church.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Politics as usual 

Eugene TeSelle frequently comments on Presbyterian events for the Witherspoon Society. As I read his comments, I nearly always marvel at what a mirror image his viewpoints and those of the Witherspoon Society are, compared to mine and those of Presbyterians For Renewal. Typically, what they promote, we’re against; what we praise, they bemoan. PFR could almost say, “Read the Witherspoon page, and then think and do just the opposite.”
Of course TeSelle and the Witherspoon Society have every right to make a case for what they believe to be true and good. One can assume they do so out of good will and a desire to be faithful to God as they believe is right. They may have sensible arguments or weak, defensible or wanting. They may evidence sound presuppositions or questionable ones. That’s for the marketplace of ideas and the analysis of logic and theology to try to decide.
What is disturbing, however, is harsh, unbecoming political rhetoric. And that’s what I read far too much of in TeSelle’s report of the 216th General Assembly.
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, was speaking at the Whitworth (College) Institute of Ministry this week in Spokane, Washington. Speaking on war, Mouw pointed out “a tendency in warfare of dehumanizing the enemy.” He said that it is all too common to use “a hermeneutic of suspicion” about one’s enemy and a “hermeneutic of charity” about one’s own motivations. John Calvin, Mouw said, counseled Christians to “reflect on the common human nature we share with the enemy.”
While General Assembly is not warfare, much of Mouw’s and Calvin’s counsel applies within the PCUSA. And I would strongly urge Dr. TeSelle to consider the common humanity he shares with those of us whose deeply held theological opinions are different from his.
If one believes TeSelle’s report, theological conservatives—those who continue to believe what Christians have held throughout the centuries, those not particularly enamored with theological novelty—must be either incredibly stupid or dreadfully deceptive. Why? Because according to TeSelle, such people must be either (a) the ignorant dupes of secular, right-wing political forces who are really pulling the strings (stupid) or (b) pursuing secular political ends they fraudulently wrap in pseudo-religious terminology as if they believed it (deceptive).
In other words, TeSelle does not give his “enemy” the dignity of being sincerely motivated. When looking at our behavior, all he can visualize is a right-wing national political process at work. He does not detect faith or Christian convictions or altruism or religious enthusiasm. No, just the manipulation of some unnamed set of ultraconservative “funders” out to steal the Presbyterian Church away from the hegemony of those who think just as he does.
How unkind! Actually, how narrow-minded, uninclusive, intolerant, and illiberal a way to think, for one supposedly representing a liberal viewpoint!
The specifics, you ask? Consider these:
·   TeSelle first commends those willing to “say and do new things on the basis of mutual respect and openness to dialogue,” and then immediately is so disrespectful and closed as to write: “The Presbyterian Right still wants to take over the church, its program agencies, and the Foundation. Its funders still expect it to take a conservative line in politics and economics. In the meantime, its efforts are likely to go in two directions. They will attack General Assembly programs and promote parachurch organizations like Presbyterians for Renewal and the ‘validated mission organizations,’ in the hope that they will supersede the General Assembly agencies. And they will devote even more effort to ‘wedge issues’ around sexuality and reproduction that have the best chance of winning over some moderates in the church.” Notice his assumptions: (1) the church belongs to his group, so that those more theologically conservative than him would have to “take it over;” (2) there are “funders” (never identified or substantiated) who are calling the shots; (3) this is really about politics and economics, not theology; (4) any criticism of the status quo is an attempt to “attack” and “take over;” and (5) what renewal-minded Presbyterians consider issues of faith, TeSelle demeans as “wedge issues.
·   TeSelle laments a much-improved “Transforming Families” report because of it “having nothing new to say but only codifying well-established positions…” (that happen to be soundly biblical). Then he warns of a dark cloud: “Alan Wisdom of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, who had participated in writing the final version, was now insisting on the addition of the Christian Declaration on Marriage….” Notice the word “insisting.” Alan Wisdom did not and indeed could not “insist” on anything at General Assembly. Working ably with commissioners ready to listen, he encouraged the adoption of the Christian Declaration on Marriage, and offered sound reasons to do so. But he couldn’t “insist” on anything, and indeed, the measure failed. Wisdom had no authority at General Assembly (take that as you will!), and TeSelle knows that. Apparently TeSelle simply dislikes the idea that some ideology other than his might be heard. Again, rather illiberal of him, wouldn’t you say?
·   In writing of the Stated Clerk election, TeSelle used the language: “Clifton Kirkpatrick was being challenged by three right-wing critics.” He really didn’t need to lump all three into one evil category, or to marginalize them by using the secular-political term “right-wing.”
·   On the essential tenets, TeSelle wrote dismissively: “We must still watch for presbytery-level doctrinal decrees like the one adopted last year by the Presbytery of San Diego.” Anyone who has bothered to actually read the San Diego document will see that it is anything but a “decree.” It works to get Presbyterians thinking theologically and examining what we do believe, but it decrees nothing.
·   One of TeSelle’s harshest and most revealing criticisms was against the already-beleaguered souls who toil faithfully to try to add some pro-life balance to an unfairly promoted abortion policy. He wrote: “A disturbing development was that the conservative bloc threatened to create parliamentary hell during the report of the Health Issues committee if their ‘experts’ were not allowed to be on the platform to answer questions. The upshot was that the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, the body that has every right to be on the platform, agreed not to be there; all questions had to be answered by the moderator of the committee.” Parliamentary hell, eh? How immoderate! What really happened was this: It was effectively argued beforehand that if there were to be experts of any kind on the platform, there ought to be balance. The pro-abortion faction had an abortionist on hand to promote his opinion. The pro-life members of the committee reasonably argued that he should not be the only medical person to give responses, because there were other qualified medical doctors who had testified in committee, helping the committee come to a decision to approve the overture. But the pro-abortion side didn’t want to risk contrary opinion. They simply haven’t been accustomed to such a fair arrangement. So it was decided that no expert was needed to try to sway commissioner opinions; the commissioners themselves could carry their debate without undue resort to expert opinion. If that’s “parliamentary hell,” then hell just became fair! (You will note, too, that TeSelle just had to insert little quotation marks around “expert” when he used it to describe a pro-life physician. Again, narrow, unkind, and uncalled for.)
There were at least five places where TeSelle was simply incorrect in his report. Let me briefly note them:
1. TeSelle said that Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase had already begun the practice of declaring his Vice-Moderator choice prior to the election. That was not the case, at least publicly. Chase was asked by the press the night of his election who his Vice-Moderator would be, and he told the reporters that he wasn’t ready to divulge that information just yet. It wasn’t until plenary on Sunday that he announced that Jean Marie Peacock was his choice. Perhaps TeSelle or others on the inside knew Ufford-Chase’s choice beforehand, but the Assembly or public certainly didn’t.
2. On Item 08-12 (Hudson River Overture 04-52), TeSelle leaves the impression that that overture was basically affirmed, when it was answered with a statement that the Book of Confessions needs to be the “significant and instructive” guide for the examination of candidates. In reality, the overture was leading toward candidates’ individual conscience being the determining factor. That idea, which runs counter to Presbyterian understanding of Total Depravity and sin, did not fly. The overture was, in essence, defeated.
3. TeSelle reported that “the Assembly voted, by 60% to 39%, in favor of a commissioner resolution advocated by minister commissioner William Teng of National Capital.” That is untrue. Bill Teng’s Commissioner Resolution was written to support the Federal Marriage Amendment. His CR was defeated in committee, which sent to plenary an alternate resolution requiring neutrality on the issue. It was that alternate resolution that was approved by General Assembly, not Teng’s CR.
4. To read TeSelle, one would think the Theological Task Force was given a new responsibility by the General Assembly: “The TTF will have to take risks that this Assembly refused to take, specifically the ordination question. The TTF has not regarded this as one of its central tasks. Now it has been authorized to take it on and bring it to a resolution.” Nonsense! It was already an item for the TTF to handle, and nothing new was added by this Assembly. Here is the exact wording General Assembly approved: “We, the 216th General Assembly (2004), recognizing the church’s commitment to a churchwide process of discernment with the leadership of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church, call upon the church to pray for the task force and to engage faithfully in the processes of discernment as led by the task force.”
5. TeSelle tries to add a new responsibility for presbyteries nominating commissioners for the 217th General Assembly in 2006: “Nominating committees in every presbytery will have the responsibility of identifying persons who actively participate in the coming two years of dialogue and nominating them as commissioners to the 217th General Assembly.” Good try, but this is simply untrue. One cannot get that requirement out of the brief statement General Assembly passed. It simply “encouraged” presbyteries and sessions to discuss the affirmations in the TTF’s preliminary report. That hardly translates into a requirement for commissioners elected to the next General Assembly.
It is good for TeSelle to report to his troops what went on. But it would be better for him to give his ideological opponents the dignity of having motivations that transcend secular politics, even if he would like to make a case for why they may be considered wrong. Such a liberal viewpoint would be much more becoming for a group that fancies itself broad-minded, tolerant, and inclusive, one would think.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Crass politics without a hint of theology 

There is a favorite political term being tossed around so often recently in such an inconsiderate way that it is becoming noxious: wedge issue. The term is used to belittle an opponent's deeply held belief, demeaning it to the point of considering it only an expedient political tool to be employed for an ulterior motive.
Let me give you two examples:
Example #1, from a Boston Globe article on the defeat of the Marriage Amendment: "We all know what this issue is about," declared Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat. "It's not about how to protect the sanctity of marriage. It's about politics -- an attempt to drive a wedge between one group of citizens and the rest of the country, solely for partisan advantage." So, by calling it a wedge issue, Kennedy is saying that all those who really care about morality, all those who believe that God kind of knew what he was doing when God instituted the marriage of a man and a woman, all those who deeply care about upholding the sanctity of marriage--all these are really lying. Actually, they only want to alienate one group from another in order to win elections. How uncharitable can one get?
Example #2, from a G.A. recap by Eugene TeSelle on the Witherspoon Society website: "The Presbyterian Right still wants to take over the church, its program agencies, and the Foundation. Its funders still expect it to take a conservative line in politics and economics. In the meantime, its efforts are likely to go in two directions. They will attack General Assembly programs and promote parachurch organizations like Presbyterians for Renewal and the 'validated mission organizations,' in the hope that they will supersede the General Assembly agencies. And they will devote even more effort to 'wedge issues' around sexuality and reproduction that have the best chance of winning over some moderates in the church." Again the idea that some Presbyterians might care deeply about following God's commands on sexuality and reproduction (homosexual practice and abortion more accurately), that they hold biblical convictions, that they feel compelled by faith to contend for biblical morality--that's totally discounted, and the crass contention is that they are only using those issues to get at the real issue: secular right-wing politics and economics. Again, how contentious and demeaning can he be? (Watch for more on TeSelle's report in a later blog.)
Here's my proposal: Let's give a wedgie to the next person who drags out the tired, inconsiderate, and dismissive term "wedge issue." All in favor say "Aieeeeeee!"

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Foiled wrap 

A little over a week ago, Field Organizer Michael Adee of More Light Presbyterians wrapped up a disappointing General Assembly for the advocates of the ordination of practicing homosexual persons. Covenant Network had bet their marbles on removing the Authoritative Interpretation this year. More Light Presbyterians, That All May Freely Serve, and other homosexual activists wanted no less than the reversal of our policy altogether.

The 216th General Assembly delivered none of this. Our policy remains intact with the same authority it has always carried. We did not reverse 2,000 years of Christian moral belief and practice overnight. Not at this G.A.

Adee's wrap reveals some interesting factors:

1) The G.A. team from More Light Presbyterians alone had at least 32 people dedicated to shaping the thinking and debate on this one issue, judging by the thanks Adee hands out. Compared to that, renewal groups had around ten people at work on this particular issue, and a few others were spreading their involvement among several issues. PFR, for instance, had 2.5 observers resourcing the Church Orders Committee. This is a single-issue battle for the gay-ordination forces, while it is one issue among many for the renewalists.

2) Since there was no victory to report, despite all their expenditure of people and money, Adee emphasized what he thought they did accomplish: "witness, advocacy, education, and community-building." He wrote: "Your MLP Team worked day in, day out to inform, encourage and inspire the Assembly to discern and do what was right, just, and loving"--from his decidedly partisan point of view. Presbyterians inclined to give God's Word more weight than libido believe that the Assembly DID do what was right, just, and loving when it chose to uphold our theology, morality, and biblical standards.

3) Adee remains determined to misunderstand and misrepresent those with biblical beliefs different than his. In fact he seems intent on demonizing us: "Part of our Church, which is now clearly a declining number of persons, seeks to keep us enslaved and oppressed by homophobia and heterosexism." How brutal! There is not a soul I have ever heard on the conservative or evangelical side of the church who has ever expressed the least desire to enslave or oppress anyone. Why must he drag out this accusation? Indeed, it is LOVE that compels us to care enough to confront the devious lies of a perverse society, rather than just sit back like couldn't-be-bothered spectators who watch people perish. Adee could have characterized us as mistaken, confused, or bent on loving in a numbskull way. He would have been incorrect, but at least he wouldn't have been vindictive. But he chose instead to presume the worst and take a cheap shot. I guess it's hard to lose fairly.

4) Adee seems immune to an understanding of Genesis, chapter 3. He is big on chapters 1 and 2 on Creation. What he persistently fails to take into account is chapter 3 on humankind's Fall, or Calvin's T from TULIP: total depravity. Adee fatally confuses God's love with God's approval, an error repeated constantly by his fellow activists. He writes, "we, too, are part of God's good creation like heterosexuals.... LGBT persons are created in the image of God, that we are children of God, and unconditionally loved by God. Who we are, who we fall in love with, how we love and how we create relationships and families are part of God's good creation." Yes, every gay person, every heterosexual person, every larcenous person, every gossiping person, every murderous person--EVERY person is created in God's image. But we have all fallen, and our nature now reflects the sin of a broken, willful world in rebellion against God. We can get caught up in conditions--of our own choosing or not--that harm us and others, and grieve God. Adee would call homosexuality a good gift from God. But those who value God's Word over their own experience, those who agree with Christians of all ages about the sexual morality to which God calls us, would deem homosexuality a tragic evidence of humankind's brokenness caused by the Fall. And while "God so LOVED the world" (John 3:16), he knew the world would perish in its fallen state and thus gave us his only begotten Son, that we might not perish in our brokenness. There simply is NO biblical warrant for a claim that homosexual practice is God's good plan for anyone's life.

Adee is obviously trying to rally his troops after yet another brush with the reality of a denomination still intent on following God's will rather than human invention. Adee has a tough job, when he has neither the Bible, nor the Book of Order, nor the Book of Confessions, nor church history, nor tactical victories on his side.

These days he does have in his favor our morally sliding society, corrupted by human sin. But I don't know. I'd just as soon side with God, myself.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

A pattern of disinformation 

Now that the dust has settled from the 216th General Assembly and the 4-vote majority has properly retained the Authoritative Interpretation (A.I.) as the basis for our ordination standards, a painful word needs to be said about tactics employed by those arguing to remove the A.I. Quite simply, the tactics evidenced coordinated preparation that was either unconscionably sloppy or intentionally deceptive.

Starting with the committee moderator, Scott Schaefer of San Francisco, speaking from the podium as he gave the majority report, and continuing through two more speeches--one from elder Leigh Morris from Wabash Valley Presbytery and another from pastor Lou East of Salem Presbytery--a common theme was presented: that the wording of the A.I. contained disrespectful language about homosexual persons. As an example, Schaefer said that the A.I. called homosexuals “maladjusted, unreliable, incompetent, irreligious, and promiscuous.” Three times speakers making such claims said they were quoting from the A.I.

They were not.

That language is NOT to be found in the A.I., nor is anything similar to it in tone or content contained in the A.I. These persons were thus misleading General Assembly, spreading a falsehood, characterizing the whole A.I. as being as harsh and dismissive toward homosexual persons as the language they claimed was from the A.I.

So where DID the language come from that they were quoting? It was taken from a background paper, written by the Reverend Byron E. Shafer and included verbatim along with the official A.I. by the General Assembly in 1978. It was intended only as “a resource for continuing study” that “is reprinted as an aid to study and does not have official policy status,” according to William P. Thompson, then Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, in the Preface (page 6).

Shafer’s essay actually was at times in contradiction with the officially adopted A.I., which is contained only in the final “Policy Statement and Recommendations” section, pages 55–60 of the booklet published at the time. It is only this final section that General Assembly approved as the “definitive guidance” to presbyteries, which was later deemed to be an Authoritative Interpretation of the Constitution by the General Assembly. William P. Thompson wrote: “The ‘Statement and Recommendations’ printed here are those developed and approved by the 190th General Assembly (1978) itself…. [T]hese are the official positions of the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church concerning homosexuality.”

It was bad enough for committee moderator Scott Schaefer and others to choose statements NOT in the A.I. to characterize the A.I., but even those chosen statements from the study paper were taken out of context and would not have properly characterized the study paper either! One must further remember that the study paper was part of a task force majority report that recommended ordaining practicing homosexual persons and was rejected. Thus, what Committee Moderator Schaefer and the others quoted from was an unofficial, unapproved document that FAVORED ordaining gay persons!

Here, as author Shafer is explaining the social context of homosexuality in the mid 1970s for good or ill, is the “offending” language in context (see the end of page 11 and the beginning of page 12):

“Society's intense disapproval and fear of homosexual persons is also reflected in patterns of officially sanctioned public discrimination. For example, homosexual persons are uniquely subject to arrest under sodomy laws. Further, they are subject to arrest under unusual applications of laws against vagrancy, lewd and lascivious conduct, and disorderly conduct. Also, courts regularly rule against lesbian mothers in child custody cases, although courts are notably predisposed under most other circumstances to award the custody of children to the mother.

“Behind these formal and informal sanctions lies the reality of social labeling. Many, if not most, heterosexual persons assume that the label ‘homosexual’ describes a ‘master trait’ that governs a person's total personality and behavior. That trait comes to have a negative value so strongly generalized ‘that people automatically assume that its bearer possesses other undesirable traits allegedly associated with it.’ Becker, Outsiders, p. 33.) A homosexual person may in fact be well-adjusted or maladjusted, competent or incompetent, reliable or unreliable, religious or irreligious, promiscuous or unpromiscuous; but once she or he is labeled ‘homosexual,’ society-at-large loses sight of these and other individualities of attribute. It expects ‘homosexual’ persons to be maladjusted, incompetent, unreliable, irreligious, and promiscuous; and it assumes that they are. To be labeled ‘homosexual’ is to be placed by many people in an excluded deviant class-‘a category of misfits who would normally be expected to engage in unacceptable activities and to oppose the rest of the social order.’ (Erikson, Wayward Puritans. p.197)” [emphasis added].

Thus, in context, we see that the wording that offended the speakers--the wording they falsely attributed to the A.I. in an attempt to defame it--was wording that:
1) Is not in the A.I. to begin with,
2) Was written in a study paper that is not policy and thus was not relevant to the debate,
3) Was contained in a paper friendly toward homosexual ordination, and
4) Was, in context, describing the false impressions people have about homosexual persons and thus did not even characterize the tone of the irrelevant study paper!

Folks, this appears to be evidence of a campaign of DISINFORMATION. Obviously a coordinated effort was made to discredit the Authoritative Interpretation using a bogus argument, developed out of either amazing ignorance or shameful deceit. Debate on the floor of General Assembly should not be subjected to such shoddy tactics. Because of this false testimony, some commissioners may have determined their vote on disinformation rather than the truth of the matter.

It would seem that a formal apology is in order from those who so egregiously misled the Assembly.

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