May 2007

In what sounds like an amicable, indeed model parting of the ways, Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church has been dismissed by the Presbytery of East Tennessee (PCUSA) to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. According to the Layman Online:

Expressing “deep regret and sorrow,” the Presbytery of East Tennessee has voted overwhelmingly to dismiss the 1,965-member Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with all its property.

“Considering and weighing all factors, including the absence of any identifiable PCUSA remnant in Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church,” an administrative review committee stated in its report to the presbytery, the committee “concludes that the Presbytery of East Tennessee should, with deep regret and sorrow, dismiss Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with all its property, real or personal, without condition.”

In response to what they called an overwhelming vote during a called presbytery meeting May 29 at Farragut Presbyterian Church in Farragut, the elders and trustees of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church said in a statement posted on the church’s Web site that:

“Most of all, we thank our Lord and our God for His continued leading of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church in all times past and throughout this process. In Him we find our strength, our hope, our comfort, our peace and our salvation, and we give Him all honor, glory and praise for our new place in ministry.”

“The goal of the presbytery and Signal Mountain Church during the entire process,” the elders and trustees stated, “was to discern the will of God and to respect and bless one another as the Body of Christ in seeking His will.

“Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church will now begin the process of being received into the EPC to continue her call to share the Good News of Jesus Christ from her home on Signal Mountain to the far corners of the earth.

“The elders and trustees express our deep appreciation for the prayers of the congregation and others, and we ask you to continue to pray with us for the Lord’s guidance as we move into a new era of ministry for Signal Mountain Church.”

There were five recommendations from the presbytery’s administrative commission that were accepted as part of the dismissal action:

1. That Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church be dismissed from the Presbytery of East Tennessee, Presbyterian Church (USA), with property, real and personal (i.e., all assets), to the Presbytery of the Southeast of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, effective immediately upon receipt by the stated clerk of the Presbytery of East Tennessee of notification of acceptance of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church by the stated clerk of the Presbytery of the Southeast of the EPC; said dismissal being contingent upon no other conditions.

2. That the Presbytery of East Tennessee accept the following covenant: That after dismissal, Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church will, without condition, continue to provide mission support to the Presbytery of East Tennessee in the amount of $500,000, payable over a period of five years, as follows:

  • 2007 – $150,000.
  • 2008 – $125,000.
  • 2009 – $75,000.
  • 2010 – $75,000.
  • 2011 – $75,000.

3. That the Presbytery of East Tennessee accept the following covenant: That Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church honor the terms of call, in their entirety, for any associate pastor(s) who wishes to remain in PCUSA, for a period of time not to exceed one year, from the effective date of dismissal, or until such time as said associate pastor(s) secures a call to another congregation or ministry, whichever time is less.

4. The administrative review committee will recommend to the presbytery’s Committee on Ministry that any associate pastor(s) remaining in PCUSA be granted a time of transition to work at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church, for the period from the effective date of dismissal until no later than Oct. 1, 2007; said period to allow for completion of previous obligations and tasks; graceful farewells, etc.

5. That the congregation of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church be allowed to retain the name, “Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church.”

It’s very generous of SMPC to continue to provide mission support over the next five years–as long as that wasn’t the “price of dismissal,” that’s a wonderful thing for them to do, since their problem was with the presbytery but with the denomination. It sounds like there’s at least one associate pastor who wants to remain in PCUSA, and if so, may God bless his ministry there. I’ll be looking forward to meeting with Signal Mountain folks at the next EPC General Assembly they attend, whether next month’s or next year’s. Welcome, brothers and sisters!

No, it’s not what you think–Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, James Dobson, and company were nowhere to be seen. Accordig to IRD:

On April 17, many dozens of clergy from around the country boisterously rallied outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. to lobby for homosexual rights legislation before Congress.

The liberal clergy affirmed “that we are all God’s children, and our differing sexual orientations and our differing gender identities are not shameful sins, but a gift from God.” Their rally was organized by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which calls itself “America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality.”

HRC was rallying the clergy behind two proposals before Congress: the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Both laws would enshrine “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as legally protected categories, the latter in matters related to crime and the former in employment laws.

Miguel De La Torre, Associate Professor of Social Ethics at United Methodism’s Iliff School of Theology, declared that “as a Bible-believing, evangelical Christian and an ordained Southern Baptist minister,” he was compelled to fight “the oppression faced by our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered brothers and sisters.” He called on Congress to “be used by the Almighty as an instrument of salvation and liberation” by passing these two laws to counter physical and “economic violence.” As for “Christians from the far right” who may portray the legislation as conferring “special rights” and ask “where will it all end,” De La Torre declared, “I’ll tell you where it ends: It ends, in the words of the prophet Amos, when justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like an everlasting stream!”

The Rev. Susan Russell, President of Integrity (“the voice of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians in the Episcopal Church USA”), expressed her pride in speaking “to represent the Episcopal Church,” which supports the “hate crimes” law, and to support both bills in the name of the “traditional Christian values” of care for one’s neighbor and “the least of these.” While America claims to stand for “liberty and justice for all,” she lamented that “[w]e are not yet that nation” because homosexuals do not enjoy “the liberty to walk safely on the streets of America protected from bias-motivated violence.”

The Rev. Erin Swenson boasted that in 1996 he had “became the first known mainstream Protestant minister to retain my ordination following a gender transition from male to female” and that his denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), supports the “hate crimes” law. He tied his support for both bills to biblical teaching “that God upholds the most vulnerable among us” and his observation that “there are few more vulnerable than those in the the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community,” in which “the ‘T’ remains the most vulnerable.”

Denise Eger, rabbi of a West Hollywood congregation, tied support for ENDA to the Torah’s teachings about “our obligations to be fair to workers.” She also asserted that “90 percent of Americans already support ending working place discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

Peggy Campolo, wife of evangelical left activist Tony Campolo, professed to root her 20 years of pro-homosexuality activism in her evangelical faith. “There is a verse in the Old Testament—The Hebrew Bible—that speaks directly to those who will be voting,” on this legislation, she claimed, citing Micah 6:8 (“God has showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justice and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”). She asserted, “Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, but Jesus had a whole lot to say about religious types who add their own rules to a Gospel that really says, ‘Whosoever will, may come.’”

It’s evident that what we have here is a collection of extremist clergy who are seeking to impose their religiously-based political agenda on the rest of us. How dare they call on Congress to “be used by the Almighty as an instrument of salvation and liberation” (in addition to the obvious mixing of church and state, the speaker is certainly looking for a political usurpation of the proper role of God by Congress)? How dare they cite Scripture to undergird their position? How dare they talk about Jesus to the exclusion of other religious traditions, such as Islam (which holds to a position on homosexuality that is slightly at variance with where these folks are coming from)? How dare they lay claim to the mantle of “traditional Christian values”?

I’m sure Barry Lynn of Americans United, Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance, Ralph Neas of People for the American Way, Kevin Phillips (author of American Theocracy), Chris Hedges (author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America), Frederick Clarkson (author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy), and the rest of the Theocracy Posse will be on the case before this gang of Khomeini-wannabes can wreck any more havoc on the American body politic.

I’m also betting on the Kansas City Royals winning the Super Bowl this season.

I’m not sure what’s more disturbing in this story: the support for doctor-assisted suicide, or the inability to see Jack Kevorkian as the poster boy for the inevitable abuse of such a practice:

More than two-thirds of Americans believe there are circumstances in which a patient should be allowed to die, but they are closely divided on whether it should be legal for a doctor to help terminally ill patients end their own lives by prescribing fatal drugs, a new AP-Ipsos poll finds.

The results were released Tuesday, just days before Dr. Jack Kevorkian is freed from a Michigan prison after serving more than eight years for second-degree murder in the poisoning of a man with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Kevorkian’s defiant assisted suicide campaign, which he waged for years before his conviction, fueled nationwide debate about patients’ ”right to die” and the role that physicians should play.

Though demonized by his critics as a callous killer, Kevorkian — who is to be released Friday — maintains relatively strong public support. The AP-Ipsos poll found that 53 percent of those surveyed thought he should not have been jailed; 40 percent supported his imprisonment. The results were similar to an ABC News poll in 1999 that found 55 percent disagreeing with his conviction.

There was no “demonization” of Kevorkian, simply a factual description of the actions of the man who reveled in the nickname “Dr. Death.” Kevorkian is a ghoul whose obsession with death led him to provide aid-in-dying services to dozens of people, lots of whom were not terminally ill, some of whom were simply depressed, none of whom he was interested in helping as a physician; he preferred to be their second-hand executioner (and I expect the second-hand part was nothing more than an attempt to evade a murder conviction). How anyone can continue to think that he deserved to be walking around loose escapes me.

The new AP-Ipsos poll asked whether it should be legal for doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their own lives — a practice currently allowed in Oregon but in no other states. Forty-eight percent said it should be legal; 44 percent said it should be illegal.

I think a spokesman for the California Medical Association put it well when he commented on a proposal for the Golden State to emulate Oregon, “Physicians look at it as the ultimate abandonment of a patient,” said medical association spokesman Ron Lopp. “That’s not the physician’s role, to aggressively hasten death.” The potential for abuse is enormous, the slippery slope to forced euthanasia is greasy (as the Netherlands experiment in allowing doctors to decide when patients’ live are no longer worth living demonstrates), and the practice itself is wrong, both because of the immorality of suicide (from the Christian standpoint, it is the ultimate denial of God’s sovereignty over life) and because it turns doctors into instruments of death rather than of healing.

There’s an interesting divide between those who believe doctor-assisted suicide should be allowed and those who don’t:

Only 34 percent of those who attend religious services at least once a week think it should be legal for doctors to help terminally ill patients end their own lives. In contrast, 70 percent of those who never attend religious services thought the practice should be legal.

Just 23 percent of those who attend religious services at least weekly would consider ending their own lives if terminally ill, compared to 49 percent of those who never attend religious services.

To a significant degree, the division is about whether we see ourselves at the center of the universe or God; responsible to no one but ourselves or to God; morally autonomous beings who are our own ultimate authority, or creations of a loving God who has directed how to live. As in so many issues facing society these days (abortion, gay rights, embryonic stem cell research, genetic engineering, etc.) this is the divide that matters most.

UPDATE: If you’re in the mood for a horror story. read Wesley Smith’s account of what Jack Kevorkian was really interested in during his death-dealing rampage. Hint: it wasn’t compassion toward the terminally ill.

This isn’t exactly what appeals to me in clergy attire:

Traditional Lutheran congregations are looking a little different these days. With mainline churches either losing people in the pews or fearing such a loss, more have chosen to implement evangelical approaches to their less popular traditional ways.

At Zion Lutheran Church in California’s Silicon Valley, the congregation was installing their new associate pastor. A rock-n-roll band was set up on the front lawn of the church and clergy wearing brightly colored Hawaiian shirts sat down in front. After sermons were delivered and the service ended, the luau began.

The church was “not really Lutheran at all except that it took place on the front lawn of a Lutheran church,” wrote Stephen Ellingson, author of The Megachurch and The Mainline.

Please. Hawaiian shirts are sooooooo Rick Warren. It just isn’t something Lutherans can pull off. Of course, this is California. But I’ll bet they wouldn’t try doing this in Lake Woebegon.

I do agree, however, that suits and robes are probably off-putting for the unchurched. So I’m thinking about a different look this Sunday:


The Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Trinity (PCUSA) has told the Pittsburgh Presbytery that it can’t define ordination standards as essential to Reformed polity, and that it can’t prohibit same-sex blessings. According to the Presbyterian News Service:

A church court has concluded that Pittsburgh Presbytery cannot “elevate” language from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) constitution to make compliance with ordination standards “essential” and that it must apply the guidelines to ministerial candidates on an individual basis.

The presbytery’s resolution called compliance with the PC(USA)’s ordination standards from The Book of Order, which require chastity in singleness or fidelity in heterosexual marriage, an “essential of Reformed polity.” It stated that no exceptions would be permitted within the jurisdiction of Pittsburgh Presbytery.

The resolution also said that clergy are prohibited from conducting same-sex marriages within the presbytery.

The synod PJC ruled 8-3 that the presbytery could not call the ordination standards “an essential” of Reformed polity.

Fine. So they can’t call it an “essential of Reformed polity.” How about if they just say, “we won’t ordain anyone who isn’t chaste in singleness and faithful in marriage.” Would that be suitable? Maybe:

In language affirming the national church’s stance, the synod PJC said candidates could disagree with ordination standards, but that obedience was mandatory.

“The freedom of conscience … allows candidates to express disagreement with the wording or meaning of provisions of the constitution, but does not permit disobedience to those behavioral standards,” the ruling said.

The standard of faithful marriage or chaste singleness “is a behaviorally measured standard which applies to all ordained officers of the church. It is clear. It is mandatory,” the ruling said.

So you can’t declare the standards “essential,” but adherence to them is mandatory. This all has to do with the PUP report, and the “authoritative interpretation” of the ordination standards. I’m not sure what the argument is here, but then again I’m not PCUSA. The article also said:

The synod PCJ voted 11-0 that Pittsburgh Presbytery had the right to prevent clergy from conducting same-sex marriages, but could not prohibit ministers from performing services to bless same-sex unions, a practice that the PC(USA)’s highest court, the General Assembly PJC, has upheld.

I’m not sure what it is that the GA PJC is supposed to have upheld–the right of presbyteries to prevent clergy from performing same sex marriages, or the right of clergy to perform same sex blessings. It does seem to be the case that the General Assembly defeated efforts to ban them back in 2001, however. Back to the story:

The Book of Order (G-9.0103) states that when the Constitution is silent ‘powers not mentioned (are) reserved to the presbyteries,’” the ruling said. “Therefore, the Presbytery of Pittsburgh has the authority to establish policy disallowing Ministers of Word and Sacrament to conduct same-sex marriages.”

Which are not available to people in Pennsylvania in any case. One of the pastors who brought the complain, the Rev. Randall Bush of East Liberty Presbyterian Church, said this is response to the ruling:

“I’m please with the ruling’s recognition that presbyteries can’t establish essentials that automatically preclude entire groups of people from being considered for ordination,” he said. “And that all of our work should be done with an openness and discerning spirit considering the candidates for ordination on a case-by-case basis. I believe the synod ruling affirmed that and was please with its outcome.”

But obedience to the ordination standards is mandatory. So while celibate gays wouldn’t be ruled out automatically, any who were sexually active would be. Is that “an entire group of people”? I suspect Rev. Bush would say so, but I don’t know that for sure.

The whole thing is likely to be appealed. And the beat goes on.




This time, it doesn’t come from an opponent of hate crimes legislation, but a supporter. It’s Jack Haberer, editor of the Presbyterian Outlook. He starts with an irrelevant story about his first exposure to inclusive language, and jumps from that to this:

This legislated language evolution reflected a legislated behavior evolution. Back in the 1960s, courts and legislatures identified a kind of behavior so despicable it deserves special laws and penalties. They singled out “hate crimes” — violent crimes motivated by prejudice toward race, color, religion, or national origin — for special treatment as a federal offense. The courts were directed to hand down more serious sentences for bias-motivated crimes.

I have no idea what he’s referring to here. Other than standard civil rights legislation, the only thing I could find from the 1960s that even comes close to qualifying for the label “hate crime” bill is Title 18, Section 245 of the U.S. Criminal Code (the one being amended by the current bill). It states in (b)(2) that “Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, by force or threat of force willfully injures, intimidates or interferes with, or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with–any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin and because he is or has been–” and then lists six categories of activity (enrolling in college, applying for a job, serving as a juror, etc.) These aren’t “hate crimes,” which are otherwise criminal acts that have racial or other bias as the motivating factor. These are actions that become crimes because they involve racial or other forms of discrimination. One can refuse to hire a person for any of a thousand good reasons, but one cannot refuse to hire a person because they are African-American. One cannot commit assault or murder for any reason. These are two very different categories.

On May 3 of this year, the House of Representatives by a wide majority sent to the White House a bill, H.R. 1529, that adds to existing legislation gender, sexual orientation, and disability as categories to be protected under federal hate-crimes laws. By the time you read this, odds are good that President George W. Bush will have vetoed it. Vetoed? Why?

Prior to Congress’ adoption, the White House warned of a veto. The legislation “is unnecessary and constitutionally questionable” because state laws already ban violent crime; it needlessly extends the range of crimes in which federal authorities exert jurisdiction. A second reason, not acknowledged by the White House, is that many conservative Christian groups have been working to defeat the bill, mostly because of the protections it offers gays and lesbians.

Conservative Christian groups have been working to defeat the bill, often with reasoning that would be better suited to Swedish rather than American law (see here and here). To listen to them, they are most concerned about free speech and religious freedom. Haberer’s suggestion that it’s “mostly because of the protections it offers gays and lesbians” is way off base, and patently unfair. If you’re going to disagree with someone, disagree with what they say, not with what you think they really mean.

Why do that? Yes, conservatives want to conserve traditional standards of sexual morality. That’s understood. But protecting individuals against violence qualifies as a traditional Christian value, too. Nevertheless, James Dobson, Focus on the Family founder and radio broadcaster, told his supporters that the law would be “the first step to criminalize our rights as Christians to believe that some behaviors are sinful.” He added, “Pastors preaching from Scripture on homosexuality could be threatened with persecution and prosecution.”

But individuals are already protected against violence. The criminal acts that are specified in the bill–bodily injury and property crimes–are already against the law in every jurisdiction in America. This bill doesn’t “protect” anyone any more than current laws do, it simply adds another layer of jurisdiction through which the same crime can be prosecuted and extra penalties levied.

Wrong. As much as I would love to restrict some of the hate mongering being promoted in the name of God, hate crimes legislation has done nothing to stop any of that — consider the shock jocks on the radio. The bill deals only with violent crimes. It explicitly contains a provision that says nothing in the bill should “be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free-speech or free-exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Haberer is absolutely correct about that.

We Christians need to support laws that protect the lives of all those around us, no matter what we think of them or their behavior.

Better yet, we Christians are commanded — personally and collectively, through individual care and through political influence — to love our neighbors as ourselves. They taught me that in seminary. They got that idea from Jesus.

What they didn’t get from Jesus, however, is the proper way to write a criminal code. This bill has nothing to do with offering any protection to anyone who isn’t already protected by the criminal statutes of the several states and the United States. Pretending otherwise simply leads to the attitude Haberer takes toward those with whom he disagrees on a public policy issue, as if they don’t care about protecting people or loving their neighbor.

For some institutions of higher education, it isn’t enough that one avoid the subject of Intelligent Design in one’s classes. One must be pure as the driven snow in one’s private life as well, no matter how well you teach or how effective your work in your field. According to the Christian Post:

An assistant professor who supports intelligent design and was denied tenure at Iowa State University (ISU) was found to have the highest score among the entire faculty, according to the Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS), which calculates the scientific impact of scientists in astronomy.

The Discovery Institute, a think tank of intelligent design (ID) proponents, is again advocating for Guillermo Gonzalez to receive tenure, and argues that the school’s refusal is a result of their bias against ID – which holds that the biological aspects of life are too complex to have evolved randomly, but must have been produced by an unidentified intelligence. Gonzalez is author of the pro-ID book The Privileged Planet.

“In other words, Iowa State denied tenure to a scientist whose impact on his field during the past six years outstripped all of the university’s existing tenured astronomers according to a prestigious Smithsonian/NASA database,” said Dr. John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture (CSC), on the Discovery Institute website.

The score here looked at articles published from 2001-2007. Calculating Gonzalez normalized index, he received a score of 143. The next closest professor on the ISU staff had a score of 103 and the next best tenured astronomer was 68.

Gonzalez, who has written 68 peer-reviewed journals (53 more than the 15 required by his department to meet its standard of excellence in research), says that he does not teach ID in class, however, and that it is purely outside research.

Apart from his work on ID, the denied professor has helped in the discovery of two planets, helped build technology that discovered extrasolar planets, and wrote a college-level astronomy textbook published by Cambridge University.

He was one of three professors not given tenure out of a total of 66 professors at ISU.

Because ID advocates contend that the theory is not based on religious beliefs, this isn’t a case of religious discrimination. I do think, however, that it raises free speech issues. What Iowa State seems to be saying is that what you teach in your classes, or the research and publications you present for peer review, can be cancelled out in tenure evaluations by what you say in purely popular writing. If universities can start denying tenure (and hence long-term employment) to those who challenge reigning orthodoxies in works for the general public (as opposed to the academic guild) despite otherwise sterling records, it won’t be long before the they are nothing but organs of propaganda rather than schools.

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