December 2009

So here’s the story: Carrollton Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) of New Orleans has been locked in judicial combat with the Presbytery of South Louisiana, the Synod of the Sun, and the denomination over a decision the 20-member congregation made to sell its property. This item from the Layman Online is a pretty good summary of the two sides:

Among property law cases, this litigation is unique, in that the Carrollton church is a member congregation of the PCUSA that says it has no intention of leaving the denomination. At issue is Carrollton’s decision to sell its property to a Catholic school next door in order to facilitate the school’s classroom expansion. The plan includes Carrollton’s intent to continue using the sanctuary for its own Sunday worship services, even after the sale. Carrollton session members see this as a win-win arrangement: They will facilitate sound Christian education for New Orleans children while continuing to use the building for worship. Further, they can use the proceeds from the sale for their chosen ministries, and the Catholics will assume expensive maintenance costs.

All was well until PSL intervened, clouding Carrollton’s title and blocking the sale.

Carrollton was formerly a Presbyterian Church, US (southern) congregation, and, as did many southern churches, it voted for an exemption from the requirement that it gain presbytery permission to purchase, sell or otherwise encumber its property. Based on the language of that exemption, Carrollton believes that it is entirely permissible for the congregation to sell its property to the school next door, and that PSL has no right to intervene.

PSL argues that Carrollton’s “real intention” is to leave the denomination with its property or to dissolve itself without presbytery involvement – acts that PSL believes are forbidden by the denomination’s trust clause. In documents filed with the 19th Judicial District Court, Carrollton has denied that it has any of these intentions, and PSL has cited no evidence to substantiate its suspicions.

For some reason, the presbytery, synod, and denomination decided that this was a place to go to war, and have spent well over a million dollars in legal fees pressing their claim. In the process, the presbytery was hit with a contempt of court citation for trying to hide relevant evidence from Carrollton, evidence that indicated that higher-ups have been directing much of the maneuvering.

Well, it looks like the battle is over, and Goliath lays on the field, dead and bleeding from who knows how many different bank accounts. The presbytery has been practically bankrupted, and is being sued for sanctions for bringing unnecessary litigation against the congregation. The synod and denomination may have to pay even more to make this go away (or, alternatively, can through good money after bad by pursuing appeals). They are also enjoined from further action against the church, according to the latest from the Layman:

The order, signed by Judge Kay Bates on Dec. 4, warns the presbytery and any higher PCUSA governing body that may consider itself connected to it not to initiate “any disciplinary or other retaliatory action” against Carrollton’s ministers, officers or members, “which directly or indirectly arises from or is connected to any property issue raised in, prompted by, or related to the subject matter of this litigation.”

In an apparent slap to the Synod of the Sun, whose administrative commission tried to dissolve the Carrollton church in defiance of the court’s earlier temporary restraining order, Bates ordered higher governing bodies of the PCUSA not to appoint administrative commissions or otherwise attempt to wrest control from Carrollton’s elected leaders with respect to the congregation’s real and personal property rights.

The court has also enjoined PCUSA governing bodies from “otherwise interfering with the normal duties and responsibilities of the officers, ministers and employees of Carrollton Presbyterian Church … in any way that  pertains to the ownership, control, use or disposition” of Carrollton’s real and personal property.

Further information can be found here, here, here, here, and here. If there’s any justice, a lot of people are going to have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do as a result of this monumentally bone-headed fight, starting with that of Mark Tammen, the General Assembly Office attorney whose name is all over the e-mails that PSL tried to hide.


Allahpundit at Hot Air isn’t sure whether this is supposed to be an expression of the “Danish sense of humor,” or whether the editors of Politiken (“one of Denmark’s largest newspapers,” according to the “About this Site” blurb) mean it. I’ve read it several times, and I feel pretty sure that they mean it:

He is provocative in insisting on an outstretched hand, where others only see animosity.

His tangible results in the short time that he has been active – are few and far between. His greatest results have been created with words and speeches – words that remain in the consciousness of their audience and have long-term effects.

He comes from humble beginnings and defends the weak and vulnerable, because he can identify himself with their conditions.

And no we are not thinking of Jesus Christ, whose birthday has just been celebrated – – but rather the President of the United States Barack Hussein Obama.

This is of a piece with some of the messianic language that has been used about Obama since at least the early stages of last year’s presidential campaign, and the editors acknowledge that opponents of The One have objected to such comparisons. Tough luck:

If such a comparison were to be made, it would, of course, inevitably be to Obama’s advantage.

Today, his historic Health Reform is being passed through the American Senate – a welfare policy breakthrough that several of his predecessors have been unable to manage.

Despite all the compromises, it has finally been possible to ensure something so fundamental, as the right of every American not to be financially shipwrecked when their health fails them. Add to that the biggest ever financial support package in America’s history, a major disarmament agreement and the quickest-ever re-establishment of American reputation.

On the other hand, we have Jesus’ miracles that everyone still remembers, but which only benefitted a few. At the same time, we have the wonderful parables about his life and deeds that we know from the New Testament, but which have been interpreted so differently over the past 2000 years that it is impossible to give an unequivocal result of his work.

Obama is, of course, greater than Jesus – if we have to play that absurd Christmas game. But it is probably more meaningful to insist that with today’s domestic triumph, that he has already assured himself a place in the history books – a space he has good chances of expanding considerably in coming years.

There’s not a hint of satire there that I can see. They seem to be quite serious: they believe that Obama has several nation or world-changing accomplishments to his name (though what the “major disarmament agreement is I’m not sure, unless they’re referring to his unilateral withdrawal of missile defense systems from Poland and the Czech Republic), while Jesus…doesn’t. The “marginal Jew” did a few parlor tricks that might have helped a few people, and He said some lovely things, but get real. The One is saving the world, stopping the oceans’ rise, ending poverty and ensuring world peace. What did Jesus ever do that can compare with that?

Truth be told, if you don’t believe that Jesus was God incarnate, that He secured the forgiveness of sins on the cross, that He rose from the dead to free us from the powers of darkness, and so on, then why exactly would you think that He’d accomplished anything? Almost any American president this side of William Henry Harrison would have a better record to point to than an insignificant first century rabbi. There may even be a few members of Congress that could say the same thing. If you’re an atheist, you’re not going to have any use for Jesus. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is a messiah that even an atheist can believe in.

I behold a new and wondrous mystery!

My ears resound to the shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!

The angels sing!   The archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The cherubim resound their joyful praise! The seraphim exult His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth and man in heaven. He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy.

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in the place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice!

Ask now how this was accomplished, for where God wills the order of nature is overturned. For He willed He has the power. He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today, He Who is born. And He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man – while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His.

And so the kings have come and they have seen the heavenly King that is come upon the earth, not bring with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominations, nor powers, nor principalities, but treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God.

And behold the kings have come that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;

Women, so that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child birth to joy;

Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin . . .

Infants that they might adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise;

Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;

Men to Him Who became man hat He might heal the miseries of His servants;

Shepherds to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;

Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisidech;

Servants to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom;

Fishermen to the Fisher of humanity;

Publicans, to Him Who from among them named a chosen evangelist;

Sinful women to Him Who exposed His feel to the tears of the repentant woman;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they might look upon the lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world!

Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp, nor with music of the pipes nor holding the torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope! This is my life! This is my salvation! This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels sing: “Glory to God in the Highest,” and with the shepherds: “and on earth peace to men of good will.”

Nativity sermon of John Chrysostom, 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople

Let us admit that in this debate faith leaders of various stripes have placed their ideological and financial agendas ahead of the needs of the American people. These faith leaders have attempted to roll back the rights of women to determine their own reproductive health. This is not acceptable.

–United Methodist General Board of Church and Society Executive Director Jim Winkler accusing those who have supported efforts to prevent federal funds from paying for abortion (i.e., the status quo) of trying to change the status quo because of their “financial agendas” (whatever that means)

Kudos to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, who explains in a way we can finally understand just how the Senate’s health care plan overturns the Hyde Amendment and makes millions of Americans pay for abortions. She did an interview with Morra Aaron-Mele of BlogHer yesterday, which you can see here. Ed Morrissey of Hot Air has the money quote:

SEBELIUS: And I would say that the Senate language, which was negotiated by Senators Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray, who are very strong defenders of women’s health services and choices for women, take a big step forward from where the House left it with the Stupak amendment, and I think do a good job making sure there are choices for women, making sure there are going to be some plan options, and making sure that while public funds aren’t used, we are not isolating, discriminating against, or invading the privacy rights of women. That would be an accounting procedure, but everybody in the exchange would do the same thing, whether you’re male or female, whether you’re 75 or 25, you would all set aside a portion of your premium that would go into a fund, and it would not be earmarked for anything, it would be a separate account that everyone in the exchange would pay.

BLOGHER: It’s a bit confusing, but …

SEBELIUS: Okay. It is a bit confusing, but it’s really an accounting that would apply across the board and not just to women, and certainly not just to women who want to choose abortion coverage.

BLOGHER: Oh, that’s good, that’s good.

Got that? The claim of supporters of this “compromise” is that no “public funds” will be used to pay for abortions under this bill. What will pay for them, however, are the special premiums that all participants in insurance plans the “Exchange” (which is to say, tens of millions of people) will pay that are specifically designated to pay for abortion. There is no way, if you buy a plan through the Exchange, to avoid paying for abortion. But that’s OK, because your taxes won’t be doing so. Only your premiums. Feel better now?

It should be noted that among the supporters of this shell game are a number of people who loudly proclaim that they are pro-life, unless, apparently, the accounting is done just right. Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy has some of the names:

Evangelical signers include leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), though not the NAE itself, such as Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, Christianity Today editor David Neff, and immigration activist Samuel Rodriguez. Others are Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action and Emerging Church guru Brian McLaren, along with NAE’s controversial former spokesman and Global Warming activist Richard Cizik, now employed by George Soros’ Open Society Institute. Critics of U.S. “torture” policies David Gushee of Mercer University and Glenn Stassen of Fuller Seminary, also signed. Sojourners activist Jim Wallis is apparently a signer too.

Catholic signers include Doug Kmiec of Pepperdine Law School and Obama’s nominated ambassador to Malta, Simone Campbell of NETWORK, a liberal Catholic activist group, Sister Marlene Weisenbeck of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and numerous academics from Fordham, Notre Dame, Catholic University and Boston College among others. The Catholic Health Association also endorsed it.

Now, I should add a caveat here: I’ve never thought that the federal ban on abortion funding to be an especially important tactic in the struggle to stop the killing of the unborn. Most abortions take place in states that still fund it using state money, and I doubt that the ban has had much effect on the overall abortion rate. As far as the argument that abortion foes shouldn’t have their tax money go to something they object to on moral and religious grounds, well, there’s lots of stuff the federal government pays for to which many people object (there’s a small number of people every year who refuse to pay the portion of their federal taxes that they figure goes to the Pentagon). So in that sense I think this is not that big an issue.

What I really object to here is two-fold: on the one hand, being treated like a moron by congresscritters who think I can’t recognize sleight of hand and other forms of deceitful practice when I see it; and on the other, watching certain Christian leaders act as though black is white just so they can get what they really want (I’d have been a lot happier if they’d just said, “we know this is a sham, but the bill as a whole is so important, we just decided to give Reid and his buddies a pass”). I especially think there are some folks at the NAE (Hunter, Neff, and Rodriguez are members of the Executive Board) who’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do to those of us whose denominations are members of that organization.

There’s a question mark on that headline because, honestly, the language in the health care bill now being considered by the Senate is so convoluted that I’m not certain what it’s saying. But after looking over the 14-page table of contents this morning (church is canceled for snow), I’ve found a provision that I’ve not seen anyone anywhere talk about. It may be because I’m misreading it, or reading too much into it. If so, I’d love to have someone with legal skills tell me. Otherwise, this is something of which folks might want to take notice.

Section 1553, Subsection (a) of the bill (right after Section 1552, “Transparency in Government,” LOL) says this:


(a) IN GENERAL.—The Federal Government, and any State or local government or health care provider that receives Federal financial assistance under this Act (or under an amendment made by this Act) or any health plan created under this Act (or under an amendment made by this Act), may not subject an individual or institutional health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the entity does not provide any health care item or service furnished for the purpose of causing, or for the purpose of assisting in causing, the death of any individual, such as by assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.

The way I read this paragraph is that the feds may not discriminate against (i.e., refuse to fund) any insurance plan, doctor, or hospital that refuses to engage in assisted suicide and euthanasia. The obvious corollary to such a provision, it seems to me, must be that the feds will fund any insurance plan, doctor, or hospital that carry out assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Subsection (c) of the bill then says this:

(c) CONSTRUCTION AND TREATMENT OF CERTAIN SERVICES.—Nothing in subsection (a) shall be construed to apply to, or to affect, any limitation relating to—
(1) the withholding or withdrawing of medical treatment or medical care;
(2) the withholding or withdrawing of nutrition or hydration;
(3) abortion; or
(4) the use of an item, good, benefit, or service furnished for the purpose of alleviating pain or discomfort, even if such use may increase the risk of death, so long as such item, good, benefit, or service is not also furnished for the purpose of causing, or the purpose of assisting in causing, death, for any reason.

Again, I don’t know if I’m reading this correctly, but this seems to be saying that the bill doesn’t place any limitations on any of these practices. Presumably, limitations could be placed on them by the states (and in most, there are at least some limitations on all of them), but the federal government won’t. So if a state decides that starving someone to death (see Florida: Terri Schiavo) is an appropriate medical treatment, the federal government will have no qualms in paying for it. But it won’t discriminate against you if you refuse to take part in such “treatment.”

So far, abortion is the issue that has gotten all the press. But this strikes me as potentially just as significant, yet I’ve found nothing in the mainstream press or conservative media about it. (I’ve only come across two articles of any kind that mention it, one by Mark Henry at Catholic Online, who reads it as a conscience clause, and one by Dr. Joseph Kincaid of Michigan at, who like me contends that “Reading between the lines, this means that the Senate bill has no prohibition on promoting assisted suicide or having it paid for under the plan.”) So what’s the deal? Are you and I going to have to start paying for Jack Kevorkian’s pals to do their dirty work?

The mainstream media is starting to pick up on a story I first saw at Stand Firm on Wednesday. Seems there’s a Universal Life Church Anglican “clergyman” in New Zealand with an adolescent sense of humor and a Dawkins-esque view of orthodox Christianity. Archdeacon Glynn Cardy of St. Matthew-in-the-City in Auckland had this billboard erected (pardon the pun) as a way of challenging a view of Christmas that no one believes:

He explained what this is about in a sermon last Sunday:

Christian fundamentalism believes a supernatural male God who lived above sent his sperm into the womb of the virgin Mary….

The Christmas billboard outside St Matthew-in-the-City lampoons literalism and invites people to think again about what a miracle is. Is the miracle a male God sending forth his divine sperm, or is the miracle that God is and always has been among the poor? The billboard has a sombre Joseph and a consoling Mary, with the caption “Poor Joseph. God is a hard act to follow.”

For fundamentalist Christians the incarnation is about the miraculous arrival of a baby soon to die and by his blood save us. For progressive Christians the incarnation is about the miracle of this planet earth and all life that exists here.

Nice to hear from yet another “cleric” who apparently got his theological degree out of a cereal box, and knows no actual fundamentalist or evangelical or Catholic Christians. I hope his bishop is proud of him.

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