May 2008

There’s an excellent editorial at the Layman Online about the current trend toward the PCUSA’s Louisville leadership using enforcers to get what they want. The whole thing is worth the read, but this part is really wonderful:

After scores of congregations representing tens of thousands of parishioners chose to leave the PCUSA and join the Biblically faithful Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), [PCUSA Stated Clerk Clifton] Kirkpatrick charged EPC shepherds with sheep stealing, and he predicted that if the practice continues, someone would probably suggest a retaliatory action to the coming General Assembly. As surely as night follows day, Peace River Presbytery filed an overture to the General Assembly, repeating Kirkpatrick’s unsubstantiated allegations and calling on the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to investigate the EPC.

And who presides as president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches? Clifton Kirkpatrick!

So the circle is complete. Kirkpatrick alleges an impropriety and voices a prediction (more a plea than prognostication). Peace River dutifully picks up the cudgel, repeats Kirkpatrick’s unsubstantiated charges, and does the deed. Ergo, Kirkpatrick, the accuser becomes Kirkpatrick, the judge.

Thus does the mainline church continue its slide into self-parody.

I don’t usually get into issues like this because I’m really not familiar with the inner workings of denominations that I’ve never worked in, but this sounds like a money grab to me. The PCUSA’s General Assembly Council (GAC) is apparently trying to get its hands on money that has been donated by individuals in a restrictive way, to use on their own pet projects. Parker Williamson reports in the Layman Online:

Two members of “The Chairs and Chiefs,” an exclusive syndicate of Presbyterian Church (USA) leaders, have launched a campaign to wrest fiduciary authority from the Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation and place it in the hands of the General Assembly Council. The move could weaken donor restrictions on millions of dollars and unleash windfall funding for denominational programs that congregations are unwilling to support.

Consisting of three offensives that are making their way to the denomination’s 218th General Assembly, June 21-28, the campaign is asking commissioners to

1. Issue an “Authoritative Interpretation” to the effect that the GAC, not the Foundation, has final authority on the disposition of donor-restricted funds;

2. Grant to GAC program managers broad latitude in the way they interpret fund restrictions and permission to pay administrative fees to themselves and mid-level bureaucrats for their handling of donor-restricted money;

3. Grant to the GAC authority to invest middle- and long-term assets for higher yields than the Foundation’s professional fund managers deem prudent.

Valentine dismisses the Foundation’s fiduciary concerns. She says that the issue is not “either-or” but “both-and.” “Both the Foundation and the GAC have fiduciary responsibilities under the law – church law, that is – and we both have responsibilities to follow donor intent,” she told The Layman.

In answer to the Foundation’s insistence on maintaining checks and balances via separate functions, Valentine said, “I don’t really place a lot of stock in that argument.” She said that she had confidence in her GAC staff’s ability to handle fiduciary functions.

But although Valentine claims that fiduciary authority is to be shared between the Foundation and the GAC, she agrees with the ACC and her own GAC that where there are differences of opinion, the GAC should decide. Valentine adds that she thinks such differences would be minimal and she believes mechanisms can be put in place to handle them in a non-polarizing manner.

That drift does not sit well with Laura Plumley, general counsel to the Foundation: “I think one of the dangers of the ACC Recommendations and the Stated Clerk’s opinion is that they give the GAC complete discretion (in so far as it is in their power to do so) to interpret restrictions on funds held by the Foundation … The recommendations would jeopardize adherence to donor restrictions on any funds held by the Foundation for any beneficiary – G.A. related or not. This is because, while the language of the ACC findings and the Advisory Opinion of the Stated Clerk discuss honoring donor restrictions, the actual Recommendation 2(c) would permit the GAC to interpret all restrictions whether donor created or board created and whether the restricted fund pays to a G.A. entity or to a local congregation, college or Presbyterian retirement home.”

Kirkpatrick says in his Advisory Opinion that he supports the Foundation’s claim to fiduciary authority over donor-designated funds, but he believes that restrictions made by a denominational governing body may be amended by that governing body (the GAC).

The Foundation disagrees. Plumley told The Layman, “Where the PCUSA, through one of its mission corporations, set aside its own money in an endowment fund and decided to restrict the use of the income for that purpose, the Foundation agrees … that the G.A. retains the right to modify or release that restriction as it sees fit. However, when the G.A. through one of its mission corporations, has solicited contributions from multiple donors to a fund for a specific purpose that fund is considered by the Foundation and under civil law a donor-solicited or donor-restricted fund and may only be modified with court approval.”

I don’t know much about foundations, trusts, and so on, but there’s one thing every pastor knows: when people give money to the church for a specific purpose, you’d better use it that way. Rather than being simply an argument over turf or procedure, there is almost certainly a specific goal that the initiators of these proposals have in mind. What that might be I can’t say for sure, but it certainly sounds like they want to be able to ignore restrictions on donations. Given the shrinking membership and financial base for PCUSA, it’s to be expected that leadership would look for creative ways to insure the survival of the institution. Combined with the efforts to get their hands on church properties on which they have no legitimate claim, however, it looks like the PCUSA’s leadership is throwing all ethical or even legal considerations out the window in an effort to provide support for their agenda for years to come.

Keeping with the theme of the World Council of Churches as an organization for the reality-challenged (see the post below), the WCC today posted a call for members of its constituent political parties denominations to “e-mail a wish or prayer for peace to Bethlehem” as part of their week of Israel-bashing church advocacy. The call included this announcement of an upcoming piece of street theater:

Some of the emails will be read aloud in Bethlehem’s Manger Square on Sunday, 8 June 2008. That evening, people of Bethlehem will form a “living clock” to commemorate six decades of living as refugees and uprooted people since 1948, and 41 years of occupation.

So, the “people of Bethlehem” will commemorate “six decades of living as refugees and uprooted people.” Given that Jordan ruled Bethlehem from 1948 to 1967, and that Jordan is 70% Palestinian, and that residents of  Bethlehem weren’t driven from their homes in 1948 by either Israelis or Arabs, I’ve got to wonder what this means. Of course, it is true that the percentage of Christians who live in Bethlehem has dropped precipitously since the Palestinian Authority took control of the city in 1993, as Muslims have made it nearly impossible for Christians to make a living or even feel safe. Perhaps those are the “refugees and uprooted people” of Bethlehem that they will be commemorating.

Dogs gotta bark, fish gotta swim, and the World Council of Churches has to reaffirm its 1960s-style Marxist heritage from time to time. With the assistance of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Council for World Mission (CWM), an interfaith group of totalitarian-lovin’ lefties “theologians, activists, pastors and educators from around the world” gathered May 15-20 for a workshop entitled “Spirituality of Resistance, Liberation and Transformation,” which was held–where else?–in Cuba.

They ended their week by putting out a “communique” that sounds like it was put together by a machine that randomly strings together leftist cliches:

We are in Cuba, a country that approaches the celebration of 50 years of its revolution. Cubans describe the present period as a “Kairotic” passage, a time of crisis and opportunity. The people’s suffering is acute because of the U.S.-imposed blockade and the general forces of empire. By “empire” we mean the complex and dynamic international regime of power anchored by the United States, with its military power, neoliberal globalization, racist and patriarchal ideologies and policies of environmental degradation. In spite of these forces of empire and Cubans’ relentless suffering, isolation and impoverization, we have been inspired by the ways Cubans persevere in struggle, embodying joy and resistance, dignity and self-esteem.

In the present moment, for example, Cubans’ earlier revolutionary successes in agrarian reform have been set back by the empire’s brutal blockade, other international developments, and by tensions within the country. Still, Cubans press forward with ongoing reform, inventively crafting new modes of agro-ecology.

Our meeting in Mazanzas has thus been blessed by having Cuba as a present point of reference throughout all our discussions of the crises of empire. This workshop was originally planned to take place in Beirut, Lebanon. The explosion of conflict there, and the continuing illegal occupation of Palestine by the forces of empire, remind us that this is a Kairotic moment for so many other groups worldwide.

Love that last bit–the reason they didn’t meet in Beirut has nothing to do with the unnamed imperial demon (Israel), but the violence precipitated by their good buddies in Hezbollah. In short, they were worried that their friends might mistake them for target practice.

There’s really no point in trying to take apart this kind of nonsense, whose lefty-babble is so hackneyed and detached from reality that it might have come from the Web site of the Workers World Party. I do find it amazing that at this late date anyone could be so mindlessly adulatory of the island gulag, but then, for some people, it’s always 1968.

The statement then goes on to a collection of equally mind-numbing nonsense about “the multiplicity of spiritualities,” including tripe such as this:

We affirm that the problems of empire, amid which justice movements struggle, are not only political problems but also spiritual challenges. Empire spawns its own destructive spiritualities, such as the “religious right,” and thus it seeks always to co-opt the powers of religion for imperial aims. New spiritualities are coming forth to oppose imperial spiritualities, and these should be supported.

What would a gathering of Marxist theologians be without a swipe at the “religious right”?

Religious groups and all peoples of conscience should recognize a leading role for indigenous peoples, honouring especially their earth-centered spirituality, focusing on interdependencies of body, mind, land, community, and spirit, as resources for a liberating justice for all creation. We affirm the struggle of all First Nations peoples for their land and for their rights to self-determination.

Here we have the obligatory “Christianity bad, paganism good” declaration.

In this time especially, the empire’s worldwide “war on terror” has created a virulent form of Islamophobia that compounds other related racisms. Emergent spiritualities must stand with our Muslim sisters and brothers and work with them for a more just world for all peoples.

And when the people who aren’t engaged in terrorism take over, guess who will be among the first to have their heads on the chopping block?

Then we have their take on Christian spiritualities in particular:

Justice movements challenge Christians to relinquish the hegemony of their Christian language and rituals in movement work, even when this means leaving the comfort zones of Christian belief and practice. New acts of Christian humility and confession – due to Christians’ construction of empire building, colonization, racism and patriarchy – must entail a new collective and variegated spirituality forged from among all peoples, recognizing especially the initiatives of long-colonized and oppressed peoples.

How dare you Christians continue to be Christians! Why, the planet would be a one-world, Muslim-ruled, Jew-free, egalitarian ecotopia without you! Down on your knees and beg forgiveness, you racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, neo-Nazi, Zionist, capitalist, heterosexist, colonialist, patriarchal (“have we forgotten anything? Oh, yeah…”) Republican pigs!

Christian leaders and institutions, when participating in justice movements, must foster liberating spiritualities by re-interpreting their Christian stories, beliefs and practices to challenge forthrightly the forces of empire.

And stop being so Christian!

According to the WARC Web site, the representative of the world’s Reformed churches was positively inspired by her sojourn in the workers’ paradise:

Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, executive secretary of WARC’s Office for Church Renewal, Justice and Partnership, said the crisis of the times calls for a radical spirituality to energize the covenanting for justice movement.

“Connecting with the struggle, resilience and vision of the Cuban people and the spiritualities of aboriginal peoples and various faith traditions brings fresh impetus in our struggle for justice,” she concluded.

I think there’s really only one appropriate response to all this–take it away, Riff:

The Los Angeles Times followed up the California State Supreme Court gay marriage coup with a poll to discover how state residents feel about the decision and a possible constitutional amendment to overturn it. As Mollie at GetReligion notes, the reporting on the poll is a bit, ah, slanted:

The Los Angeles Times and KTLA conducted a poll of Californians to determine their support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and their feelings about the state Supreme Court’s decision allowing same-sex marriage.

According to the headline in the print edition, “Californians slimly reject gay marriage.” The Times website’s front page says, “Californians reject gay marriage by a bit.”

The punch line is in the fourth paragraph of the Times story, which says:

Either way, the poll suggests the outcome of the proposed amendment is far from certain. Overall, it was leading 54% to 35% among registered voters.

I was a political science major in college, and was always taught that a “landslide” was defined by a candidate or referendum being supported by 55% of those voting. That means that as things now stand, the amendment would only have to capture a small portion of the 11% undecided to qualify as a landslide. And consider this from the Baptist Press, which Mollie notes in a follow-up post:

Although 54 percent is a slippage in support for traditional marriage since 2000 — when a law banning “gay marriage” passed 61-39 percent — marriage amendments typically do better at the ballot than they do in polling. For example, a Wisconsin amendment in 2006 polled anywhere from 48 to 51 percent in pre-election polls but passed 59-41 percent, and an Oregon amendment in 2004 polled around 50 percent but passed 56-44 percent.

So, in what universe is this a “slim” margin in which Californians favor the amendment by “a bit”? Must be the world of the mainstream media, where according to the Pew Research Trust 88% of the denizens support same sex marriage, but where math skills–and for some, honesty–are apparently not necessary to the job.

(Hat tip: commenter Words Matter at T19.)

According to the Jerusalem Post, an Israeli scientist is making progress toward the discovery of a way to travel back in time. Seriously. Sort of:

[Prof. Amos] Ori, a physicist from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, has come up with what he says are practical solutions to overcome the hindrances that experts have long regarded as stopping us from traveling back in time. In a paper published in the latest issue of the Physical Review journal, the scientist offers a theoretical model, based on mathematical equations describing conditions that, if established, could help lead to the development of a time machine of sorts. But rather than building an actual device, Ori explains that “the machine is space-time itself.”

Time travel research is based on bending space-time so far that the time lines actually warp back on themselves to form a loop.

“We know that bending does happen all the time, but we want the bending to be strong enough and to take a special form where the lines of time make closed loops,” explains Ori. “We are trying to find out if it is possible to manipulate space-time to develop in such a way.”

Considering going back and doing something that would drastically change the time-line (say, killing Hitler in 1932) would mean The End of the World As We Know It, I would opt for something a bit less radical. I’m thinking of going back to 1991 and telling Lonnie Smith to run flat out during the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series. It wouldn’t change world history, but it would make lots of Atlanta Braves fans very happy.

(Via Hot Air.)

The Witherspoon Society is a reliably left-wing PCUSA caucus. Whether it’s opining on denominational issues or public policy questions, Witherspoon has never seen a liberal position that it didn’t like. But in the most recent issue of the Society’s Network News, regular columnist Douglas Ottati of Davidson College takes the ideology and gets all partisan with it:

Which Democratic candidate should we support?

[C]onsider the question, Hillary or Barack? Many of us have our preferences. (Just before the Pennsylvania primary, a friend told me he might find it easier to vote for my dog, Sugar, in the fall than for H.C. In exit polls, a significant minority of the Pennsylvanians who voted for Clinton said they wouldn’t vote for Obama in the fall if he turns out to be the nominee. ) Even so, whether to support one or the other of the remaining candidates as they fight for the nomination is not the most important question facing Presbyterian (and other) progressives in this election. (And, remember, Sugar is not at all likely to be on either major party ticket.) The far more important thing is to articulate responsible arguments and positions on the main issues of the day, e.g., Iraq, the economy, and immigration, support the candidate in the fall who will best advance those positions and, in the case that this candidate needs to be pushed further, to go ahead and push him or her both before and after election day. In short, after eight years of W. and his many accomplishments, both foreign and domestic, our chief electoral responsibility seems nicely summarized by a sticker I saw the other day on another friend’s car: “Enough is enough. Vote Democratic.”

Jim Berkley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy thinks that the presence of a piece like this opens Witherspoon up to an IRS investigation, given the Society’s non-profit status and the obvious partisan nature of Ottati’s article. I don’t know the IRS code well enough to know if Jim is correct, but I do think that it demonstrates poor judgment on the part of the newsletter’s editor, Douglas King. as well as Ottati. It’s easy to guess that the vast majority of Witherspoon’s membership are Democrats, and certainly the Society rarely takes a position that wouldn’t fit that party’s positions (to the extent that it doesn’t, it’s because they are echoing the Green Party or someone even farther left). But that kind of upfront political partisanship on the part of a denominational caucus does nothing but confirm the suspicions of others that the group is really a basically secular political organization masquerading as a Christian one.

(Via The Berkley Blog.)

UPDATE: The Witherspoon Society, in a expression of boundless obtuseness, replies to Jim Berkley:

We believe that the views expressed by Dr. Ottati are perfectly legitimate theological-political reflections on the current situation in our church and our nation, and do not constitute an endorsement of any particular candidate.

No, it’s an endorsement of one particular political party, which will soon have a particular candidate for president. Ottati also makes clear his opposition to a particular candidate, John McCain. So regardless of whether the IRS cares to investigate, it’s pretty clear that Witherspoon has stepped into the morass of partisan politics. Hope they enjoy the mud.

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