October 2008


The nightmare scenario that the PCUSA has feared–namely, the withdrawal of whole presbyteries from the denomination–has moved one step closer this week, as the Presbytery of Central Washington voted to establish a task force that is charged, among other things, with investigating the possibility of presbytery withdrawal. According to the Layman Online:

The Presbytery of Central Washington has approved a resolution declaring that the General Assemblies of 2006 and 2008 “have brought our PCUSA denomination to a point of crisis. Actions of these assemblies have broken the connection and covenant that has existed in our church since the first meetings of our General Assembly.”

In response to the resolution, the presbytery voted to establish a task force on sexuality that will have a number of duties, including investigating “what constitutional process we might use as a presbytery to move in a united way into a different denomination.”

The resolution includes some pretty harsh language, including this:

2. That we reject any action that allows any part of the church to modify or ignore any mandatory provisions of the Book of Order without the advice and consent of the presbyteries. Thus, we declare that actions taken to make mandatory ordination standards optional will have no force or effect in Central Washington Presbytery.

3. For thirty years our denomination has been well guided by the definitive guidance/authoritative interpretation on human sexuality given in 1978. We believe that this report continues to accurately and graciously reflect the truth of Scripture on matters of homosexuality. We proclaim this guidance continues to hold authority in Central Washington Presbytery in all standards of belief and practice at the congregational and Presbytery level.

4. We reject as false the idea that there can be unity in our church without unified standards for faith and behavior in those who serve the church as ministers, elders, and deacons. There can be no universal ordination for the whole church when there are no shared ordination standards. No General Assembly Authoritative Interpretation can change any ordination standard found in The Book of Confessions or the Book of Order. Thus, we reject any ordinations done by any body that does so in violation of the Constitution, including G-6.0106b, and proclaim that such ordinations will have no force or effect in Central Washington Presbytery.

It concludes with this:

If the piece by piece dismantling of our historic and orthodox Christian faith and ordination standards continues and future assemblies fail to take actions that reverse the damaging actions of the 217th and 218th General Assemblies’, we will consider that the General Assembly of the PCUSA has broken the bonds that hold us together and will look at every and all options to address this, including options whereby our Presbytery may functionally withdraw from the PCUSA.”

My suspicion is that Central Washington will not be the last presbytery taking this approach. Look for the leadership in Louisville to go into full panic mode with this news, one that will include a full panoply of threats and recitations of Book of Order passages that may or may not have anything to do with the issue at hand.

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies for wining the second World Series in franchise history. I had predicted the Rays in six, and boy was I wrong! The Phils dominated the Series from first to last, while the Rays looked listless much of the time, as if they’d shot their bolt against the Red Sox. The Rays can be proud of the season they’ve had, though, and they’ll be a force in the American League for years to come. But for now, the moment belongs to Philadelphia, a terrific team whose only significant free agent is Pat Burrell. Much as this Braves fan hates to admit it, the Phils are going to be serious contenders in the NL East for quite a while.

Of course, it was worth having the Phillies win to be able to see the best mascot in sports celebrate. This video is from another occasion, but it could easily have been from last night:

From the PCUSA’s Presbytery of the Cascades comes word of an agreement between the presbytery and 2000-member Sunset Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon, that will allow the latter to leave with its property for the EPC. According to the Layman Online:

During congregational meetings on Oct. 12, 19 and 26, Sunset’s members voted on the proposal to seek dismissal to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The presbytery will vote on the proposal during its Nov. 7-8 meeting at First Presbyterian Church in Portland. The congregation does not plan to release the results until the presbytery meets.

The joint agreement was drafted by the presbytery’s Resolution Team and the congregation’s Denominational Discussion Team, a body appointed by the session. The elders had voted unanimously to seek dismissal from the presbytery.

Acknowledging many occasions when the presbytery provided financial help for the congregation, the agreement calls for financial commitments by Sunset to:

•Help underwrite some of the presbyteries administrative costs through three annual payments of $41,000 – a total of $123,000.

•Make seven contributions of $45,000 a year to support presbytery missions – a total of $315,000.

What I find especially striking about this proposal is this paragraph:

The agreement includes this statement: “We are fully aware that these proposals will not meet the expectations of many members of the Presbytery and Sunset; that these proposals call mutually on Sunset and the Presbytery to make material sacrifices; and to risk setting precedent for other churches departing to EPC from the Presbytery. In making this agreement we acknowledge that we have fundamental differences over the interpretation of the Constitution of the PCUSA and grounds for determination of these differences by civil courts. However, we share the belief that Scripture calls us to seek in all humility to resolve our disagreements and avoid the harm that is done to the Gospel and the Church universal when Christians find themselves resorting to civil litigation and witness to their brokenness rather than the love of neighbor and of enemies that Christ commands us to practice.”

Now that is the attitude that should be characterizing these discussions as they take place in presbyteries across the country. Kudos to both teams for this formulation, and here’s praying that this settlement will be agreeable to both church and presbytery.

The PCUSA’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness (ACSWP) has released a report entitled Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform. It’s a fairly lengthy item (21 pages), so I can’t go into all of it, but there are a few excerpts from it that I think are worth examining:

The United States, the oldest constitutional democracy in the world, is one of only eleven (of the estimated 120 democracies) that do not guarantee to their citizens the right to vote. Article I of the Constitution allows each state to define for itself which of its citizens have the right to vote in both state and national elections. While the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th Amendments prohibit states from denying the franchise on the basis of race, sex, ability to pay a poll tax, or being eighteen years of age or above, states are still able to deny voting rights to selected groups, most notably to prison inmates and to persons with a prior felony conviction.

Most states allow felons to petition for restoration of their right to vote, and I agree that those that don’t should. But the report seems to suggest that such restoration should be automatic, which I think assumes a lot about the rehabilitative abilities of our prison system. Far more odd is the suggestion that there is something wrong with the idea of depriving prison inmates the right to vote. The franchise is a responsibility of citizenship, and once one has demonstrated contempt for the law by committing a prison-worthy crime, it seems that losing the right to vote is a way for society to express its disapproval of criminal behavior.

In the United States, by contrast, the burden to register to vote (and to maintain that registration) is placed upon the individual citizen, and states and localities differ widely in determining where, how, and when a person can register….A section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was aimed specifically at eliminating tactics used by southern states to prevent blacks from registering, and in 1993 Congress passed the Motor-Voter law intended to ease the registration
burden for all Americans. But only seven states have taken the much more effective step of allowing “same day” registration, allowing citizens to register on Election Day.

Throughout this document, there is the assumption that anything that states do that prevent anyone from voting under any circumstances (registration requirements, ID requirements, disenfranchisement of prisoners, etc.) is an expression of racial animus. The possibility and even existence of voting fraud is dismissed, and the possibility that any requirements laid on voters is chalked up to racism and a desire to keep people from voting. ACSWP proposes “same day” registration as a way of making it easier for voters to register, which raises the question: why is it easier to register to vote on a single day of the year, than during the months ahead of time? They also advocate “universal registration, which would automatically enroll every citizen as a voter:

As noted by FairVote, universal registration would help ensure that the more than fifty
million unregistered Americans, representing nearly one-third of the eligible electorate, would be eligible to vote on election day. Since unregistered voters are disproportionately young, low-income, or people of color, such a move could potentially have a dramatic impact on voter turnout and election results.

The report insists on putting everything in demographic categories, and its assertions may or may not be correct (I simply don’t have the time to research their claims). But even if this is correct, it doesn’t demonstrate that any particular barriers are being placed before the young, the poor, “people of color,” or any other group except those who, for whatever reason, choose not to register and vote. Here’s a philosophical question that ACSWP would probably rather not face: why should we as a society facilitate voting by those who aren’t interested? And why would doing so strengthen democracy?

There are various methods by which universal registration can be accomplished in the United States. One of the more widely supported proposals, which we support, is the registration of high school students—making registration a requirement for graduation or for community
service credit, or registering all students age seventeen and older as part of Constitution Day on September 17 each year.

One almost feels sorry for ACSWP in having to point out that fully one quarter or more of high school students don’t graduate, and relatively few do any form of community service for credit. I’d be willing to bet that the number of non-voters among those who don’t graduate from high school is far higher than the general population, so this idea would do little or nothing to get at what they think is a problem.

Other means that have been proposed to achieve universal registration include automatically
registering citizens as they obtain a driver’s license…

I believe that registering to vote when one gets or renews a driver’s license is available in every state. I know that when I moved to Virginia, I got a new license and registered to vote at the same time, and the latter took far less time (less than ten minutes) than the former. Once again, I’ve got to ask: if folks are so unconcerned about voting that they can’t take advantage of the opportunity afforded to them when they get their driver’s license, why should we make it an easier for them?

The report makes a recommendation that would warm the heart of ACORN and any other vote fraud enabler:

For generations, discriminatory practices such as poll taxes and literacy tests prevented people of color from voting. Today so-called “antifraud” legislation is being introduced in some southern states that will recreate similar filters by requiring voters to produce new types of identification on election day. No longer will documents such as a birth certificate or social security card suffice to prove a prospective voter’s identity. A drivers license or an accepted state-issued alternative will now be required, a burden that will heavily fall on low-income voters, and therefore also persons of color. The elderly will also be disadvantaged.

I like the reference to “southern states,” a not-so-subtle suggestion that having picture IDs to register to vote is simply an extension of Jim Crow. This issue has actually been decided by the Supreme Court, which in a case from Indiana (which, last time I checked, was never part of the Confederacy), said that it wasn’t a burden to ask people to prove that they are who they say they are when they register to vote. And those “state-issued alternative[s]” that will be “a burden that will heavily fall on low-income voters, and therefore also person of color”? They’re free.

There’s a lot more–abolishing the Electoral College, instant-runoff voting, proportional voting (which would effectively change our system into something more closely resembling, for example, Italy, which is a system that surely deserves emulation), etc. Not all the recommendations are bad, though as with the matter of voter ID they frequently are simply echoes of ACORN and Democratic Party activist ideas, and constitute an open invitation to fraud, something ACSWP in its idealism thinks doesn’t even happen in our democracy.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a liberal political advocacy group masquerading as a First Amendment watchdog, is engaged in what in the military is called “mission creep.” Not satisfied with complaining about clergy endorsing candidates, AU started complaining about clergy talking about issues that are associated with candidates. Not satisfied with that, AU is now complaining about clergy, or even ordinary citizens, talking about issues in ways that the organization disagrees with politically. To wit: how dare Christians and others weigh in on California’s Proposition 8!

In all the emotional public debate over same-sex marriage, the overarching issue of church-state separation often gets lost.

And properly so, because it isn’t the “overarching issue.” The status of marriage as being the union on one man and one woman is not a religious issue. It is a recognition of a biological and cultural reality that pre-dates any form of organized religion. Giving the right to marry to homosexuals may–may–be a legitimate civil rights (specifically, equal protection) issue, but it has nothing to do with church and state.

Last week, Mike Swift of the San Jose Mercury News called to talk to about Proposition 8, the California constitutional amendment that takes away gay couples’ right to get married in the Golden State.

I told Swift that federal tax law forbids religious groups (and other tax-exempt entities) to endorse candidates but it generally doesn’t forbid them to speak out on referenda. I added, however, that it’s still deeply troubling to see three extraordinarily powerful faith traditions – the Religious Right, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) and the Roman Catholic hierarchy — throwing their weight around so blatantly on a sensitive civil rights and civil liberties issue.

Which is another way of saying, “how dare they oppose the political outcome AU desires?” There’s nothing in this article, of course, about the opposition to the referendum from the United Church of Christ or Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, nor is there anything about the opposition from the Episcopal Church’s California bishops (though there is a laudatory reference to a Baptist minister and some Seventh-Day Adventists, who evidently aren’t throwing any weight around). The writer, Joseph Conn, doesn’t give a hoot or holler about religious organizations “throwing their weight around,” unless it’s for the wrong cause.

“At its heart,” I told the newspaper, “the marriage issue is a church-state issue. In effect, you have several of the large faith groups trying to impose their viewpoint on marriage on the whole state. That’s really what’s going on with this referendum.”

As opposed to the various religious groups that have supported court challenges to marriage laws in various states. They aren’t trying to impose anything, right? They are only trying to use judicial fiat to do what they can’t accomplish through political persuasion, namely, change laws that have been supported by religious believers and non-religious people throughout Western society for centuries, and have only come under fire within the last twenty years.

For example, according to the Mercury News, a Yes on 8 campaign spokesman said Mormon donors make up “30 to 40 percent” of the $28 million raised this year to place the measure on the ballot. Since Oct. 1, the newspaper said, the committee has received nearly as much out-of-state money from predominantly Mormon Utah as from the other 48 states combined.

Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops are working assiduously for Proposition 8, while the Knights of Columbus has kicked in $1.2 million to help out.

Any minute he’s going to tell us that the Priory of Sion is behind the whole campaign. The Los Angeles Times gives a bit different perspective on the campaigns’ funding:

As of Friday, supporters of Proposition 8 had raised $27.5 million, with about 19% of the money coming from outside California. Opponents have raised $31.2 million, with 34% of the money coming from outside the state.

Primary contributors to the opposition have included celebrities, liberal groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, public employee unions and gay philanthropists.

The California Teachers Assn. has also entered the fray, spending $1.3 million — more than any other single donor — to defeat Proposition 8. The California arm of Service Employees International Union kicked in $500,000. Both unions are giving, they say, because their members support same-sex marriage.

Oh, but wait. I forgot. The teachers union and ACLU aren’t churches, so there’s absolutely nothing to worry about regarding their advocacy. Their motives are, I’m sure, pure as the driven snow, unlike those sneaky Catholics and Mormons, trying to impose a theocracy on an unwilling populace that would otherwise never vote for such a progressive measure unless they were subject to religious mind-control.

Back to AU:

Evangelical, Mormon and Catholic churches are free to restrict the marriages they perform to man-woman couples. But Unitarian, United Church of Christ and Reform Jewish congregations take a different view and extend their blessings to same-sex couples as well. What about their religious freedom?

Well, guess what? They are perfectly free to extend those blessings, and in fact have done so for years. The lack of legal sanction for gay marriage has never prevented them from doing so, and the passage of Proposition 8 wouldn’t, either. The question of what blessings religious organizations do of whatever kind of relationship has nothing to do with whether the state will regognize those relationships as protected and encouraged by granting them the status of marriage.

Oh, and by the way, I’ can’t help but wondering: where was Americans United when the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints were under assault for their continuing practice of polygamy? Where was their religious freedom, hmmm?

Oh, wait, I remember. That battle is for the next decade.

The Spectator of Britain has a terrific article by Melanie Phillips about a recent debate between the “arch-apostle of atheism,” Richard Dawkins, and Christian mathematician John Lennox of Oxford. They’ve debated before, but this one began with a surprsing admission from Dawkins:

This week’s debate, however, was different because from the off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:

“A serious case could be made for a deistic God.”

This is an astounding admission. In essence. he grants that a “serious case could  be made” for Intelligent Design, the advocates of which have been the subject of his unceasing vitriol for several years. Though it is almost always distorted by its opponents, ID is not meant as an argument for Christianity, or for a “young Earth” reading of scientific evidence meant to defend a literal version of Genesis. Advocates of ID are simply contending that the design of the universe points to an intelligence of some kind that would have worked with a purpose in mind. Dawkins has apparently finally recognized that such an argument is not ridiculous, and indeed should be taken seriously by scientists, even though he does not for a minute agree with it. Phillips goes on:

Afterwards, I asked Dawkins whether he had indeed changed his position and become more open to ideas which lay outside the scientific paradigm.  He vehemently denied this and expressed horror that he might have given this impression. But he also said other things which suggested to me that some of his own views simply don’t meet the criteria of empirical evidence that he insists must govern all our thinking.

For example, I put to him that, since he is prepared to believe that the origin of all matter was an entirely spontaneous event, he therefore believes that something can be created out of nothing — and that since such a belief runs counter to the very scientific principles of verifiable evidence which he tells us should govern all our thinking, this is itself precisely the kind of irrationality, or ‘magic’, which he scorns. In reply he said that, although he agreed this was a problematic position, he did indeed believe that the first particle arose spontaneously from nothing, because the alternative explanation – God — was more incredible.

That’s one man’s opinion, of course, and he’s welcome to it. But to believe in the spontaneous origin of matter is as much a matter of faith as is belief in God. Why exactly the latter proposition is “more incredible” than the former is something I’d like to hear, though Phillips doesn’t say.

Even more jaw-droppingly, Dawkins told me that, rather than believing in God, he was more receptive to the theory that life on earth had indeed been created by a governing intelligence – but one which had resided on another planet. Leave aside the question of where that extra-terrestrial intelligence had itself come from, is it not remarkable that the arch-apostle of reason finds the concept of God more unlikely as an explanation of the universe than the existence and plenipotentiary power of extra-terrestrial little green men?

It has been contended in some places that Dawkins never actually said that he could buy the idea of ET seeding Earth with life. So much for that line of defense against exuberant irrationality.

Read it all.

(Via Stand Firm.)

For the second time in two weeks, we have a story out of California regarding what sounds an awful lot like the promotion of homosexuality at an elementary school. This time, it’s in Hayward, on the opposite side of San Francisco Bay. According to LifeSite News:

Parents of students attending an elementary school in Hayward, California, are in a frenzy after learning the school allegedly made no effort to inform them their children were to participate in today’s homosexual “Coming Out Day” school event, reports the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a legal firm specializing in the defense of religious freedoms and parental rights.

Parents of children at Faith Ringgold School of Art and Science were shocked to see a poster announcing the homosexual event, as they had not received any previous notification. In fact, according PJI, the school specifically decided not to inform parents ahead of time.

“Coming Out Day” is far from the first time children as young as five at Faith Ringgold have been indoctrinated with the pro-homosexual agenda.  The school is in the midst of celebrating “Ally Week” as part of “Gay and Lesbian History Month.”

When one mother asked her daughter earlier this week what she was learning in kindergarten at the school, the 5-year-old replied, “We’re learning to be allies.” The mother also learned that her daughter’s kindergarten classroom is regularly used during lunchtime for meetings of a Gay Straight Alliance club.

Faith Ringgold seems to have set the promotion of the homosexual agenda as a priority on its 2008 calendar, as several other pro-homosexual events are slated in the coming weeks.

For instance, several parents have noticed numerous posters around the school promoting talks on the family scheduled for later this week; all of the posters, however, depict only homosexual “families.”  As well, On November 20, the school will host TransAction Gender-Bender Read-Aloud, where students will hear adapted tales such as “Jane and the Beanstalk.”

Say hello to the future of education in California, and perhaps across America.

UPDATE: If you check the comments, you’ll see a raging debate that is basically about the reliability of this report. I got it from LifeSite News, which though its parent organization has a clear ideological agenda, is usually pretty reliable. What I didn’t know is that they apparently got it from World Net Daily, which I consider far less reliable. However, WND didn’t just make it up; they got their information from the source quoted in the LifeSite story, the Pacific Justice Institute. The full press release from PJI reads this:

Parents at a K-8 charter school in Hayward were shocked to learn this week the extent to which their school is promoting gay and lesbian ideals to their daughter in kindergarten.

The parents were shocked to see a poster announcing that “Coming Out Day” will be celebrated at the school this coming Thursday, October 23. The school, Faith Ringgold School of Art and Science, chose not to tell parents ahead of time, but it is in the midst of celebrating “Ally Week,” a pro-homosexual push typically aimed at high school students. When one mother asked her daughter earlier this week what she was learning in kindergarten at the school, the 5-year-old replied, “We’re learning to be allies.” The mother also learned that her daughter’s kindergarten classroom is regularly used during lunchtime for meetings of a Gay Straight Alliance club.

Later this week, the school is slated to talk about families. The parents have noticed several posters promoting families, all of which depict only homosexual families. More controversial discussions can be expected through next week, as the elementary school continues to celebrate Gay and Lesbian History Month. On November 20, the school will host TransAction Gender-Bender Read-Aloud, where students will hear adapted tales such as “Jane and the Beanstalk.”

These parents are being advised by attorneys from Pacific Justice Institute. Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, commented, “Do we need any further proof that gay activists will target children as early as possible? Opponents of traditional marriage keep telling us that Prop. 8 has nothing to do with education. In reality, they want to push the gay lifestyle on kindergartners, and we can only imagine how much worse it will be if Prop. 8 is defeated. This is not a scenario most Californians want replayed in their elementary schools.”

Any other parents whose elementary-age children have been subjected to pro-homosexual propaganda should contact Pacific Justice Institute for counsel and possible representation.

Now, I can only conclude from this that parents at the Hayward school contacted PJI because they were concerned about what was going on at their children’s school. The school, however, denies there’s a problem, according to KGO-TV in San Francisco (hat tip: Alan):

“[Teacher Tara Miller] was going to be having a discussion with the GSA, the Gay-Straight Alliance which are 6th, 7th, 8th graders; age appropriate for middle schoolers, nothing for the younger kids,” Levy said.

National Coming Out Day is celebrated on Oct. 11 in honor of gay and lesbian rights.

One parent of a former student told ABC7 that last year, Miller showed a film depicting gay families to her kindergarteners, without first notifying parents. Levy, who is new to the school, could not confirm the parent’s story.

Miller’s Thursday’s discussion with the GSA did take place as scheduled.

That’s as far as it goes; as Kate points out in the comments, there’s more in the LifeSite story than just this, and I think those items need to be addressed or disproven. I suspect there’s going to be more information coming out (pardon the pun) before very long about this, and when I hear it, you will, too.

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