April 2009

Just got my weekly e-mailing from the PCUSA’s Washington Office, and it contains a splendid example of what happens when knee-jerk ideologues are let loose to use a denomination’s intellectual resources without supervision. Each mailing contains several issues that the Office is working on, along with “General Assembly Guidance” that is supposed to direct the Office’s lobbying efforts. This one is on the federal budget:

Yesterday, the House and Senate both approved a compromise Budget Resolution that had been the subject of much negotiation between the Chambers in the last few weeks. The House and Senate had each passed Budget Resolutions, but they differed on a number of points. Negotiators split the difference on many of those differing provisions while keeping military spending at the same level:

•Total domestic discretionary spending — for education, infrastructure, environment, science, health programs, employment programs, and many government benefits — will be $8 billion lower than the president’s request. (The Senate agreed to add $3 billion and the House agreed to cut $5 billion from their original resolutions.)
•The international affairs budget will be $2 billion lower than the president’s request. (The Senate accepted a $2 billion cut, and the House agreed to add $3.3 billion to its resolution.)

Now, please note three things about these items. First, the amount the president requested in his 2010 budget is $3.6 trillion. The $8 billion reduction, therefore, amounts to less than 0.25% of the total amount requested. Second, the Obama budget significantly increases all of the areas mentioned above, meaning the reduction will be in the amount of increase, not actual cuts. Finally, note that only very broad areas–“education,” for instance, or “science”–are mentioned, so there’s no way to know what is actual the nature of the reduction is. But here’s the “General Assembly Guidance” cited by the e-mail:

The 207th General Assembly (1995) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) called on Congress “to defeat any proposals that base budget or deficit reductions primarily on the services provided to children, families, the needy, and the homeless” and urged strengthening of federal commitments to these groups. The Assembly also called on Congress “to insist on a government that follows ethical values of justice for the poor, welfare for children, hospitality to the stranger, and assistance to the disadvantaged.”

What’s wrong with this picture? There are no “budget or deficit reductions” here (in fact, mentioning “deficit reduction” here makes one wonder whether the author of this e-mail has been asleep since 1995), we have no way of knowing whether any program that actually helps “children, families, the needy, and the homeless” are actually involved, and the amount is so small as to be trivial, at least relative to the federal budget. Yet it’s obvious that the Washington Office is opposing this reduction from the president’s request, simply because Congress–owned and operated entirely by liberals–won’t write an entirely blank check for the executive branch to spend any amount of money it can imagine on pretty much anything.

The other budget item mentioned is, if anything, even worse from the standpoint of suggesting that any kind of thought went into the Office’s stance:

•Military spending was set at $686 billion by both chambers.

As for “General Assembly Guidance,” we get this:

Earlier, the 197th General Assembly (1985) “reaffirms opposition to further increases in military spending and supports cuts in expensive weapon systems.”

They are taking their cue for a stance on 2010 military spending from a 25-year-old GA resolution! Do you remember 1985? Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term, the Soviet Union was still around, Nelson Mandela was still in jail, Saddam Hussein was still at war with Iran. Does the Washington Office really think that the military needs of any country, much less the United States, stay the same over the course of a quarter century? Do they really think that the General Assembly (which has no business making pronouncements on matters like this anyway, having absolutely no competence to deal with the subject) would pass the identical resolution today as if nothing had changed?

Don’t answer that last question.

The point is this: the activists in the Washington Office want the people of the PCUSA, the people who pay its freight, to believe the activists are relevant and listened to in Washington. If they aren’t, there’s no reason for them to be there. And yet they rely on statements about federal policy made two years after the current president graduated from college to justify the stances they take. That’s not a recipe for an agency that wants to be taken seriously in the halls of power; that’s the recipe for creating a laughingstock that isn’t worth a dime of its denomination’s money.

Less than a week after the unofficial defeat of the repeal of ordination fidelity/chastity standards in the PCUSA, a congregation has already put the matter back on the agenda for 2010, just as I predicted. Northside Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the Presbytery of Detroit, has sent an overture to its presbytery to strike the current wording of G-6.0106.B and replace it with the following:

Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, as revealed in Holy Scripture, striving to follow where He leads through the authoritative witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s faithful efforts to adhere to these standards.

This is practically identical to the language that was just defeated:

Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.

I’ve highlighted the portions that are different from the 2008 language in bold. The references to the revelation of Scripture and its authoritative witness, and the substitution of “faithfulness” for “sincerity,” strengthen the statement in ways that conservatives could only applaud. But those changes are obviously secondary to the primary purpose of the overture, which is to have the denomination vote on exactly the same subject–ordination of sexually active homosexuals–for the second time in four years. As I’ve said before, proponents of change clearly think that the trends are with them–specifically, more opponents will leave or give in over the next two years–and the result will be victory if they just move fast enough. Anyone who thought that the PCUSA would get a breather from this debate as a result of the defeat of Amendment 8-06b is bound to be disappointed. That’s just not the way church politics work.

(Via Layman Online.)

It’s been a busy few days (hence the lack of posts), but I’m never too busy to overlook an end-of-the-world story. Seems the target date is 2012, and it won’t even be caused by a presidential election, according to Wired:

For scary speculation about the end of civilization in 2012, people usually turn to followers of cryptic Mayan prophecy, not scientists. But that’s exactly what a group of NASA-assembled researchers described in a chilling report issued earlier this year on the destructive potential of solar storms.

Entitled “Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts,” it describes the consequences of solar flares unleashing waves of energy that could disrupt Earth’s magnetic field, overwhelming high-voltage transformers with vast electrical currents and short-circuiting energy grids. Such a catastrophe would cost the United States “$1 trillion to $2 trillion in the first year,” concluded the panel, and “full recovery could take 4 to 10 years.” That would, of course, be just a fraction of global damages.

Good-bye, civilization.

Worse yet, the next period of intense solar activity is expected in 2012, and coincides with the presence of an unusually large hole in Earth’s geomagnetic shield.

That hole in the geomagnetic field is no doubt caused by SUVs and cow flatulence. Al Gore is already on the case, and will doubtless manage to make billions of grupniks on the solution. Regardless, the point is this: it’s never too late to start stocking up on beef jerky and bottled water.

Be prepared, boy scouts.

(Via Hot Air.)

The Rev. Janet Edwards, co-moderator of gay advocacy group More Light Presbyterians, has a column in the Washington Post today that illustrates why it is difficult for evangelicals to engage in meaningful discussion of the biblical basis for the church to revise its view of homosexuality. In speaking of the impending defeat of PCUSA Book of Order Amendment 08-B, she cites two examples from the gospels that are supposed to demonstrate that formerly outcast groups can be accepted in ministry:

Scripture tells us over and over again that God calls to service those whom society has named undesirable or less than. One who comes to mind is Matthew, the tax collector, whose labor for the Romans made him unclean and an abomination by the norms of society in Biblical times (Mt. 9.9-13, Mk. 2.13-17, Lk. 5.27-32). When the Pharisees, the religious leaders and power brokers of the times, objected to Jesus calling Matthew to dine with him, Jesus replied that he came to be with people like Matthew, the outcasts. Matthew went on to become one of the twelve disciples and wrote the first book of the New Testament.

This is correct as far as it goes, but clearly avoids the obvious: Matthew, upon following Jesus, left behind his tax collector’s booth, and gave up his career of oppression and theft (Luke 5:28). Is Edwards’ suggesting that thieves who come to Christ and enter the ministry should be allowed to continue to steal from people while preaching the gospel?

Another example is the women who found the tomb empty after Jesus’ crucifixion and ran to tell the disciples (Mt. 28.1, Mk. 16.1, Lk. 24.10, Jn. 20.1). Women in Biblical times were the very last people anyone would have expected to deliver the news upon which our whole faith rests! And yet this story provided the Scriptural evidence that helped the Presbyterian Church (USA) affirm God’s call to women to ordained leadership 50 years ago.

Once again, she evades the obvious: being a woman was not sinful per se. Yes, women occupied an inferior position in the first century world, and yes, the testimony of women regarding the empty tomb is surprising (in fact, it’s one of the best arguments for the truthfulness of the empty tomb story, since it runs so counter to what one would expect). But women don’t have to repent of being female in order to become Christian, much less being ordained.

Each of these leaders gives me hope – [Martin Luther] King, Matthew and the women at the tomb. As history has proven time and again, when God calls the faithful to ministry, eventually our society and our church respond.

I’m not sure what she means here. Maybe she thinks no one black was ever ordained before Martin Luther King. She does say that “King himself is an example of those God has called to ministry throughout the ages despite marginalization by society at the time.,” but again the maginalization of African-Americans was not because their skin color was considered sinful–indeed, it was for far less rational reasons.

To sum up: these biblical examples actually have nothing to do with the argument over ordaining sexually active homosexuals, unless one makes the a priori assumption that homosexual behavior is not sinful. That’s an argument one can make, and Edwards no doubt thinks it’s a settled issue. But the reason that gay ordination continues to be controversial in the PCUSA is because a majority are still unconvinced that homosexual behavior is not sinful. Until that happens, a majority isn’t going to change its mind on the ordination issue.

Scientists studying the carrying capacity of the earth—that is how many of us can live here sustainably—have fluctuated massively. Wild-eyed optimists believe it’s close to 2 billion. Dour pessimists say 300 million. The point is that—and I’m going by the best of those figures—we need to lose 4.4 billion people and we need to lose them fast.

–Author Steven Kotler, writing at Psychology Today. His solution to overpopulation: everyone, everywhere should stop having children for five years. That would chop a billion off the planet’s population. What about the other 3.4 billion we “need to lose…fast”? He doesn’t say, so your guess is as good as mine.

(Via Mark Shea–follow the link through the Center for Free Inquiry to get the rest of Kotler’s dopey nonsense.)

According to the Layman Online, the effort to repeal the fidelity/chastity clause in the PCUSA Book of Order is finished–this time:

The “fidelity/chastity” requirement will remain in The Book of Order, according to the unofficial reports of votes by presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The April 22 reports raised the number of presbyteries supporting the Biblical ordination standards to 86, the number needed for a majority.

Surprisingly, San Francisco, the last presbytery to report its vote on April 22, was the 86th to reject an amendment to G-6.0106b that would have eliminated the language requiring candidates for ordination to maintain fidelity in their marriages and chastity if single. That language forbade practicing, self-affirming adulterers and homosexuals from being ordained as deacons, elders and ministers.

This would be significant, perhaps, but for the support that San Francisco gave Lisa Larges in her effort to bypass the standards for ordination. I haven’t been able to find anything about the debate in the San Francisco media, but I suspect the vote was a protest from the left–something along the lines of, “we should not only repeal this standard, but anything else in the Book of Order that suggests either ethical or doctrinal standards.” I’ll be happy to be proven wrong about this.

Three other presbyteries also reported their votes April 22. Salem Presbytery in North Carolina voted 156-149-1 in favoring amending the text of G-6.0106b to eliminate the “fidelity/chastity” language. Salem thus became the fourth of five presbyteries in North Carolina to change sides. Previously, the presbyteries of Western North Carolina, Charlotte and New Hope had voted for the amendment. Only the Coastal Carolina Presbytery in North Carolina voted against eliminating the ordination requirement.

The other votes reported April 22 were Wabash Valley, 78-60 in favor of the amendment, and National Capital, 222-102-1 in favor of the amendment. Wabash Valley became the 27th presbytery to switch from supporting “fidelity/chastity” in 2001-02.

Thus the fight on this subject comes to a halt until June of 2010, when the next General Assembly votes to send the same issue back to the presbyteries. It’s very clear what has happened this time around: enough conservatives have quit the denomination to nearly reverse the vote of 2001, when almost 75% of the presbyteries voted to uphold the standards. Advocates for change have got to figure that, with a couple more years behind them, more than enough additional conservatives will have left to make victory easy. In winning this vote, PCUSA evangelicals have only postponed the inevitable. Combine this with the launch of the “investigation” into the EPC, and the implicit threat to lock the barn door and prevent any more dissidents from fleeing, and I’d say a lot of congregations are going to be considering their options a lot more closely in the months ahead.

You’ve probably heard about the fiasco going on in Geneva this week, in which most of the U.N.’s member states are gathered to fight “racism and xenophobia” by indulging in anti-Semitism and attacking free speech. The conference got off to its expected start yesterday when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provoked a walkout by every European Union nation when he called Israel a “racist” nation. (In his prepared remarks, he was going to refer to the Holocaust as “ambiguous and dubious,” but dropped it for some unexplained reason.) The United States, along with Canada and more than a dozen other nations, refused to participate in this travesty, for which they find themselves excoriated by none other than the president of the United Church of Christ, John Thomas, who thinks they should have dignified the circus with their presence:

The United Church of Christ has repeatedly expressed its concern about the impact on the Palestinian community of the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza – which includes discriminatory practices and policies.  The UCC advocates an end to all violence and a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It is regrettable, however, that Durban’s attention to the Occupation as a particularly negative manifestation of Zionism has become the rationale for some governments to recuse themselves from participation in the Durban process and Review Conference.  In this regard it is profoundly disappointing to hear that the Obama Administration has chosen not to send representatives.  It is deeply ironic and sad at this historic moment in our own nation’s political life for the United States to absent itself from the shared global responsibility to address enduring racism wherever and whenever it occurs.  Failure to participate in this Conference not only diminishes the global gathering; it will diminish our nation as well.

It is my hope that this Conference will once again bring to public awareness the obligation of states and of individuals to protect the rights and dignity of all, to repudiate fear, and to transform attitudes and structures that sustain racial discrimination.  May we all pray that this gathering, with all of its complexity and controversy, will become a prophetic moment calling us toward the moral responsibility and political courage these days demand.

The translation of this has several parts. 1) We in the UCC agree with Durban I that Israel should have been the only nation singled out for specific criticism of its policies and practices, and that no other nation should have been cited. 2) Because the United States has elected a black man as president, we are obligated to attend a conference where the world’s assorted dictators, xenophobes, and titled thugs will have five days for uninterrupted attacks on everything that the United States and its allies stand for. 3) Not participating in said assault on reason and human rights will make us look small and petty. 4) It doesn’t matter how dangerous the conference’s recommendations would be if actually put into practice [one of them is to outlaw all criticism of Islam or Islamic nations]; the assuagement of white liberal guilt is everything.

Despite some initial vacillation, I’m glad that President Obama eventually decided that lending the prestige and participation of the United States to such an odious enterprise would not only be contrary to our nation’s interests and those of our allies, but would impart an undeserved legitimacy to a worthless exercise. Too bad that John Thomas thinks that getting in bed and snuggling with the likes of Ahmadinejad (not to mention Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, and other notorious violators of human rights) is reflective of a Christian attitude on race.

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