June 2007


From the Halifax (Canada) News:

A Halifax reverend is disappointed the Anglican church continues to shy away from blessing same-sex unions.

Rev. Malachy Egan of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Spryfield said the Anglican church is a den of hypocrisy. “The Anglican church, in my opinion,” he said, “is very much a gay church.”

Funny–I always thought the Anglican Church was a Christian Church.

(Via T19)

OK, I give up. Apparently nothing happened in Denver that the Presbyterian Church (USA) should have any comment on, interest in, or desire to report to its membership. Fine. Be that way. My brothers Toby and Will (see comments here) told me it would be that way. They were right, of course. They know the system and its leaders better than I.

But even if the folks in Louisville want to put bags over their heads and cry, “I can’t see you!”, that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening:

Three southeastern Pennsylvania churches that are older than the United States of America voted overwhelmingly June 24 to immediately disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The congregations – Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church in Glenmoore, Great Valley Presbyterian Church in Malvern and Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church in Parkesburg – also have filed lawsuits against Donegal Presbytery, seeking to be declared owner of their properties.

The Layman Online has a lot more detail on these three. There are two interesting things about these three churches. One is that they long predate the PCUSA, and the other is that they are in a state where the courts ruled in favor of two  congregations that wanted to leave in the 1980s, were sued by the denomination for their property, and won the right in court to leave with their property. If that precedent holds, it may just start a real exodus, at least in Pennsylvania, by conservative congregations. At least in this case, however, it may turn out to be a moot point, according to the Rev. Andy Curtis of Forks of the Brandywine:

“To this point, Donegal has been very friendly,” Curtis said. “I’ve not experienced any indication from the presbytery that they intend to take a hard-line stand of any kind. My understanding is that they have no interest in the property. My understanding is that they have every interest in having a peaceful and grace-filled transition.”

I certainly pray that Donegal’s attitude will hold, and will spread to other presbyteries, for the good of both PCUSA and the New Wineskins churches.

The Leadership Council of the Council on Middle East Peace (CMEP) met with Ambassador Nicholas Burns, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, a couple of weeks ago. The Leadership Council, a collection of the usual mainline types, academics, ex-government policy wonks, and the editor of the American Conservative (Pat Buchanan’s megaphone), has sent a letter to Burns to make sure he remembers what they had to say. Most of it is the usual folderal, but a couple of things jumped out at me:

We welcome [Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's] announcement of the provision of aid from the United States to the Palestinian people through the new Palestinian government, the United Nations and humanitarian organizations. In light of the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, reports of intentions to isolate Gaza and sever the natural connections among Palestinian people are troubling.

Conditions in Gaza are dire, it’s true. That’s because those “natural connections among Palestinian people” have become a little frayed, don’t you know.

Our relationship with the Palestinian Christian community brings us an understanding of a society where partisan divisions are not so sharply defined and where a sense of national identity as Palestinians prevails. We are ever mindful of the rapid decline of the Christian population as a result of the lack of peace and continued occupation, and the significance of the minority Christian population for a future of pluralism and religious freedom in Palestinian society and throughout the region.

Right. The divide between Hamas and Fatah is no more sharply defined than that between, say, Lutherans and Presbyterians. Of course, in recent years Lutherans and Presbyterians haven’t been known to shoot at one another, throw one another off the rooftops of buildings, kill fellow citizens because they are suspected of having worked for the other side, threatened to destroy a neighboring country, etc. Of course, hostilities could break out at any moment.

I also can’t help but point out that Christians are fleeing Gaza at an accelerated rate, and that that may–just may–have something to do with an occupation by force arranged for by someone other than the Israeli Defense Forces.

The most astounding thing about this letter is the one thing I can’t show via quotation, and that is that there is no acknowledgment anywhere in it that it is intra-Palestinian fighting that has led to the current crisis. The mainline reality filter is in place and functioning with extraordinary efficiency on this one.

UPDATE: CMEP is not the only mainline organization that buries its head in the sand when it comes to Middle East reality (surprise!). Samuel Kobia of the World Council of Churches was in Israel and the West Bank recently–I don’t think he went to Gaza; I wonder why not?–and had this to say about the need for “education for peace and reconciliation:

“An education founded on solid moral ground needs to replace the propaganda-type education that demonizes the other and encourages hatred,” said Kobia. “If extremists on both sides are allowed to define what it is to be Palestinian or Israeli, then we are in trouble.”

See, in Sam’s world, everything is always balanaced, there’s always moral equivalence between conflicting parties. The fact that the Palestinian Authority–not some nameless “extremists”–has been bombarding its society, and especially its children, with the most vile anti-Semitic propaganda, from school textbooks that don’t show Israel on maps to the broadcasting of Muslim sermons that call Jews everything from monkeys to apes to pigs and call for their annihiliation, is the equivalent of…what? Israeli media doesn’t do this; in fact, lots of Israeli media is pretty Palestinian-friendly. Textbooks in schools don’t demonize Muslims or Arabs, nor do they deny moderately important historical facts such as the Holocaust. Sure, there’s the occasional rant by kooks, but to take one example of the difference between the two peoples, Kach (the racist party founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane) was outlawed by Israel, while Hamas–advocating the destruction of Israel and the driving of Jews from the Holy Land–ran the PA government until it got too successful in killing members of Fatah.

Yup, I can certainly see how a guy like Kobia would think  those things equivalent.

They are both in Illinois, one a member of the Blackhawk Presbytery, the other a member of Great Rivers. At Kishwaukee Church in Blackhawk, the vote was nearly unanimous, according to the Layman Online:

The congregation of Kishwaukee Community Presbyterian Church in Stillman Valley, Ill., voted nearly unanimously June 24 to request dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and to seek membership in the smaller, more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Two hundred and fifty-three of the church’s 407 members took part in the vote, said the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Eric Geil. Of those:

  • 251 voted to request dismissal from the PCUSA, with two voting to stay.
  • 252 voted to pursue membership in the EPC, and one was opposed.

The results were nearly identical to an anonymous straw poll taken at a recent town hall-style congregational meeting to discuss dismissal. Of the 261 in attendance who voted, 259 favored joining the EPC, Geil said.

“The two that said they wanted to stay, in discussions they came forward and let us know who they were even though it was anonymous,” he said. “They said it was just because they were afraid of losing the property.”

That, sad to say, is an eminently reasonable concern, though it sounds like Blackhawk will be reasonable. According to Rev. Geil:

Future discussions between Kishwaukee Church and Blackhawk Presbytery will address the property issue. In exchange for being dismissed with its property, the church has made a $50,000 “friendship offering” that represents five years of per-capita payments to the presbytery, Geil said. Presbytery trustees will discuss the offer after presbytery commissioners address the church’s June 24 vote, he said.

Hopefully that won’t place an excessive burden on the people of the Kishwaukee congregation. Meanwhile, at First Presbyterian Church of Quincy, the vote was closer, but still decisive:

The congregation of First Presbyterian Church in Quincy, Ill., voted by a large margin June 24 to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) for the smaller, more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church, said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Rodney J. Bakker.

Two hundred and fifteen of the church’s estimated 400 members voted. Of those, 162 – or 75 percent – voted to seek dismissal to the EPC and 53–or 25 percent–voted to remain in the PCUSA.

The reason for the congregational action was typical, and included a refusal on the part of the presbytery to make a statement against the loosening of ordination standards:

Several local meetings followed the general assembly, and the church session co-sponsored an overture asking Great Rivers Presbytery to affirm the constitutional ordination standards. The overture failed on a 74-72 vote.

“I tell you, if there was a straw that broke the camel’s back, that was it,” Bakker said. However, he added, “In truth, it’s just 25 years of accumulated frustration that led the session to bring this resolution before our congregation.”

Great Rivers won’t dismiss the church to a transitional presbytery, so First will seek to enter the EPC directly. Again, it will come at a price:

Bakker said he received a letter three weeks ago from the presbytery stating that if his church is dismissed with its property, the presbytery wants $550,000 in return. The session has not yet met to respond to the letter, he said.

That’s a nice facility you’ve got there, folks. Be a pity if anything happened to it.

Here are the latest official responses from the leadership of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on the events at last week’s Evangelical Presbyterian Church General Assembly:

Next to the last day of vacation. The wife and I flew from the mountains to the furnace yesterday, arriving in Phoenix just in time to be confronted with a temperature of 109. (You can keep that “dry heat” stuff to yourself–your oven uses a dry heat, too, but you wouldn’t crawl in there, would you?) Today, the high is supposed to be 112. Incredible.

Weird thing is, we went to Chase Field last night to watch the Diamondbacks play the Dodgers (LA won it 6-5 in the top of the 10th on a pinch-hit home run by Tony Ojeda [who?], while Nomar Garciaparra went oh-for-5 with two Ks–who’d a thought?), and were amazed at how cool it was, even with the roof open. The Jumbotron told us just before the game started that it was 104 outside and 80 in the stadium. How do they do that? Anyway, it was a pretty good game, the crowd was into it, and we’re going back tonight for game 2 of the series–Brandon Webb for the D’backs, Derek Lowe for the Dodgers. This should be good.

That’s assuming we don’t melt between now and then. Me, I’m going to try the old fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk trick, and see if it really works. If it would anywhere, this would be here

PS: By the way, did I mention that while we were in Denver we saw the Rockies play the Yankees on Tuesday? Now that was a terrific game. The Rocks won 3-1 (YES!) behind great pitching by Josh Fogg and timely hitting by Kaz Matsui and Matt Holliday. Mike Mussina pitched well (certainly a lot better than the last time we saw him, back in 1993 when he was with the Orioles–got pounded by the Tigers and last only 1 1/3 innings, which may still be the shortest start of his career–but the Yanks couldn’d do a thing at the plate. My favorite teams are the Braves and whoever’s playing the Yankees, so we loved every bit as much as the other 49,000 people who were there. Well, except for the Yankee fans in the stands. Heh.

Chirp, chirp, chirp.

That’s the sound you hear amid the deafening silence from the PCUSA about the Evangelical Presbyterian Church approving transitional presbyteries for congregations from the New Wineskins Association. If you go to the Presbyterian News Service’s news page, you’ll learn that Bud Frimoth, a retired pastor from Oregon, has won the Angell Award for “best first book by a Presbyterian writer.” (“Frimoth, 81, won the award for his book, Bring in the Clowns: A Metaphor for Ministry, published by Pleasant Word, a division of Wine Press. The book, drawing on Frimoth’s years of ministry and clowning, suggests how the art of clowning offers helpful metaphors for reflecting on ministry.” Sorry, I’m not biting. That set-up is way too easy.) From the Presbyterian Outlook, you can find out that “Korean Presbyterian shave their heads to protest school law.” (Read it if you’re intrigued.) But the latest on New Wineskins? Pfui. Aren’t they some kind of fundie cult?

I was gone all day, going to the top of Pike’s Peak (if you’ve never done it, if you can ever get to Colorado Springs, do it–it’s fabulous) and visiting the “Garden of the Gods,” a beautiful park with some of the most visually stunning rock formations I’ve ever seen. We had a great time, and just got back from dinner. So I thought I’d check to see what the official reaction to the new EPC-NWA partnership was.

But so far, nothing. Nada. Not a peep. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

The Anglican Church of Canada has decided the Episcopal Church USA is the wave of the future, according to the Episcopal News Service:

Members of the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod, meeting in Winnipeg, agreed June 24 that the blessing of same-gender unions is not in conflict with the church’s core doctrine, in the sense of being credal.

Debate resumed on the morning of June 24 after being suspended late Saturday, June 23.

The motion carried reads: “That this General Synod resolves that the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the core doctrine (in the sense of being credal) of the Anglican Church of Canada.”

The motion was carried by a vote of 152 for and 97 against in the House of Clergy and Laity, and by 21 for and 19 against in the House of Bishops.

So by a two-vote margin in one house, two thousand years of Christian ethical teaching goes out the window. As my eighth grade social studies teacher would have said, “Ain’t democracy grand?”

UPDATE: Apparently, even though same sex unions don’t violate the church’s “core doctrine,” that doesn’t mean they are actually going to authorize dioceses to carry them out. Again, according to ENS:

A motion that would have permitted the Anglican Church of Canada to bless same-gender unions was defeated June 24 by members of the Church’s General Synod, meeting in Winnipeg.

Motion A187, which passed in the houses of clergy and laity but failed by a narrow margin of two votes in the House of Bishops, would have allowed Canadian parishes to authorize the blessing of committed same-gender unions “with the concurrence of the diocesan bishop.”

The motion passed by 78 to 59 votes in the House of Laity and by 63 to 53 votes in the House of Clergy, but was defeated by 21 to 19 votes in the House of Bishops.

That, of course, won’t stop those Canadian bishops, such as Michael Ingham, from proceeding just as they please.

That’s the sound, or lack thereof, that is coming from official Web sites of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in response to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s historic action Friday to set up transitional presbyteries for the New Wineskins Association churches. Nothing at the Office of the General Assembly, nothing at the Presbyterian News Service, nothing at Presbyterian Outlook (which posted a story yesterday afternoon, but couldn’t get it together to cover one of the most important events in Presbyterian life in recent years). I’ve also checked a variety of “progressive” Presbyterian sites, including the Witherspoon Society, More Light Presbyterians, and That All May Freely Serve, and have yet to find any mention of what’s happening. Given that they’ve known what was coming for months, it’s hard to believe that none of them had anything prepared, or didn’t consider it worth commenting on. Well, we’ll see what the first of the week brings.

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