Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Liberal Presbyterians apparently aren’t the only ones who think that secular court rulings are more important than the rules of their own denomination. Two United Methodist annual conferences have decided to thumb their nose at the rest of the denomination, which at its recent General Conference turned back efforts to change Book of Discipline standards on homosexuality. According to the UM News Service:

The church’s California-Pacific Annual Conference, convening June 18-22 in Redlands, approved three measures that support same-gender couples entering into the marriage covenant. Each “encourages both congregations and pastors to welcome, embrace and provide spiritual nurture and pastoral care for these families,” according to a June 27 letter to the conference from Bishop Mary Ann Swenson and other conference leaders.

That same week in Sacramento, the California-Nevada Annual Conference approved two measures on the same issue, including one that lists 67 retired United Methodist clergy in northern California who have offered to conduct same-gender marriage ceremonies. The resolution commends the pastors’ work in offering continued ministry.

The statements are the strongest yet on the issue by California United Methodists and have drawn cheers from gay rights advocates, who say the church and its pastors should extend to same-sex couples the same level of support it provides heterosexual couples.

One resolution reads in part: “While we recognize that we are governed by the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, we support those pastors who conscientiously respond to the needs of their parishes by celebrating same-gender marriages, and we envision compassion and understanding in any resulting disciplinary actions.”

Those disciplinary actions, it should be noted, are enforced on the annual conference level, so that even if charges are brought, the chances of getting a conviction are nil. So the UMC now faces a very interesting question: when whole judicatories reject the authority of the denomination’s governing law, not just de facto but de jure, what recourse does the denomination have? The answer to that question may determine whether Methodism has a future as anything more than another small liberal sect.


The PCUSA State Department Washington Office this week is throwing itself athwart the powers that are determined to go to war with Iran. No, they aren’t blockading Dick Cheney’s driveway. They are instead calling on us to write our congresscritters, and tell them to vote against a U.S. House of Representatives resolution (H. Con. Res. 362, to be precise) co-sponsored by, among others, liberal Democrats Rahm Emanuel, Barney Frank, Patrick Kennedy, John Lewis, Nita Lowey, Henry Waxman, and Robert Wexler. In the “Witness to Washington Weekly,” they write:

The dangerous climate created by the current tensions between the United States and Iran could lead to war. Both governments need to commit to diplomatic talks to ease the tensions and reduce the likelihood of armed conflict.

A majority of the U.S. public supports diplomacy with Iran, but members of Congress have introduced legislation that could lead to war. New legislation in the House (H.Con. Res. 362) calls for new sanctions on Iran and demands that the president initiate a partial land, sea, and air blockade of Iran. A blockade, even a partial one, is an act of war.

The threat of a war with Iran will continue to grow if the United States does not take steps now to open communication with the Iranian government.

Urge your representative to oppose more sanctions and any blockade against Iran.

Tell your representative that imposing more sanctions and blockades, when direct talks have not even been tried, risks propelling the United States into another unnecessary war that would have disastrous consequences.

The resolution in question, of course, calls for nothing of the sort. Rather, it calls on the President to take the kind of multi-lateral diplomatic efforts that I thought mainline liberals adored, until it came to dealing with Iran, at which point involvement by the U.N. Security Council, the IAEA, Germany, France, and Great Britain, in addition to the U.S., is suddenly not the right way to go, Instead, one-on-one talks are the only answer. But don’t take my word for it; here’s the action for which the resolution calls:

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress–

(1) declares that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, through all appropriate economic, political, and diplomatic means, is vital to the national security interests of the United States and must be dealt with urgently;

(2) urges the President, in the strongest of terms, to immediately use his existing authority to impose sanctions on–

(A) the Central Bank of Iran and any other Iranian bank engaged in proliferation activities or the support of terrorist groups;

(B) international banks which continue to conduct financial transactions with proscribed Iranian banks;
(C) energy companies that have invested $20,000,000 or more in the Iranian petroleum or natural gas sector in any given year since the enactment of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996; and

(D) all companies which continue to do business with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps;

There are already sanctions of various kinds on Iran, voted by no less than the Security Council. This only asks for them to be toughened up and extended, which much of the Council is in favor of, but which it can’t get past the Russians and Chinese. In any event, there is nothing war-like in the effort.

(3) demands that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s nuclear program; and

This is the part that has the Washington Office sounding like Fay Wray in the grip of King Kong. They apparently think that this calls on the President to impose a Persian Gulf version of John Kennedy’s Cuban missile blockade. In fact, what this is calling for is something that is perfectly legal, and not in any way an “act of war.”

•First, it is not directing the President to do anything other than “initiate an international effort.” So there’s no gunslinging on the high seas suggested.

•Second, with regard to goals, the resolution asks that the international effort be aimed at getting the rest of the world to stop selling gasoline to Iran (which has virtually no refining capacity of its own); to stop receiving Iranian officials on missions that aren’t connected to its nuclear weapons development; and finally, to not allow Iranian shipping to transfer high technology and/or raw materials that would feed into its nuclear program. On that last item, it has to be noted that countries are free to inspect any cargo 1) before it leaves their shores; 2) any cargo that enters their territorial waters; and 3) and shipping that contains materials banned by international agreement. If there is no interference with lawful shipping, such inspections, even in international waters, pose no threat to peace. (See here for a discussion of the So San incident–the North Korean ship that was stopped in 2002 and found to be transporting Scud missiles to Yemen.)

•The real point here is that this has nothing to do with an American “attack on Iran.” It has to do with an effort to gain international agreement on steps to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons by cutting off necessary supplies and putting economic pressure on the government. I don’t know whether the actions proposed in this resolution would make any difference, but they certainly wouldn’t have the kind of dire effects that the Office thinks they would have.

Preventing nuclear proliferation is supposedly a goal that the Washington Office supports, but since it doesn’t support any measures more active than saying “please,” I’ve got to conclude that they are, in fact, not serious about that goal.