April 2010

Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (basically a copy of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, only with a military focus) has come up with a novel idea for why anything that even suggests religion must be scrubbed from public view: it might inflame terrorists! Really:

A religious watchdog group says a cross and motto on the emblem of an Army hospital in Colorado violate the constitutional requirement for separation of church and state and should be removed.

The emblem says “Pro deo et humanitate” or “For God and humanity.”

Fort Carson commanders will review the complaint, Lt. Col. Steve Wollman said.

He said the emblem had been approved by the Army Institute of Heraldry and has been in use since 1969.

Wollman said references to doctors serving God and humanity date to the time of Hippocrates, a pre-Christianity Greek physician.

Wollman said the cross, which has a pointed base, is both an emblem of mercy and a symbol dating to the Middle Ages, when pilgrims carried a cross with a spiked base to mark the site of a camp.

Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said that’s a reference to the Crusades and could embolden U.S. enemies who want to portray the war on terror as a Christian war on Islam.

“This continues to add more fodder to the argument that we are Crusaders,” Weinstein said. “It’s exactly what fundamentalist Muslims want.”

Here is said emblem:

Now, you can argue that using this at an Army hospital is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. I don’t buy it (the connection of the idea behind the motto with the Hippocratic Oath, and the use of the red cross as a symbol of medicine are long enough established that I think it’s more than a stretch to complain about them), but I can see the argument. But to call Weinstein’s remarks about Muslims and the Crusades “delusional” would be to give them entirely too much dignity. It makes him sound like he’s lobbying for a place in a hospital, rather than complaining about one. A very special hospital:


The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has officially responded to the PCUSA report on the former’s alleged depredations against congregations of the True Church. It starts with the positive, but also notes the presence of allegations for which no evidence was adduced:

A task force report from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) has determined that an accusation made by its Presbytery of Peace River against the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) regarding the alleged solicitations of congregations is unsubstantiated.

In 2008, the Presbytery of Peace River, a presbytery of the PCUSA, made an overture accusing the EPC, a Protestant Reformed denomination, of “actively pursuing a strategy to persuade Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) churches disaffiliate with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and be dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.”

The PCUSA Committee on Ecumenical Relations formed a task force to investigate the accusation. The task force made its report public on Thursday, April 22. The leadership of the EPC is grateful that the task force confirmed that there was no evidence to substantiate the accusations of Peace River Presbytery. The EPC also appreciated the report’s call for a better relationship and improved communication between the two Presbyterian denominations.

However, the EPC did have concerns about other findings of the task force’s report. For example, the report states “other leaders from within the EPC were also willing to speak to PCUSA congregations, when a session had invited them in, often showing the PCUSA in a less than flattering light.” The task force had the opportunity to present this finding to EPC leadership in a meeting on January 15, but chose not to. The task force has also provided no supporting evidence for this assertion.

Even though the task force report has been made public, the PCUSA General Assembly has not yet met to review, vote on, or act on the assessments or recommendations of the report. The EPC has decided it would be inappropriate to make any further responses to the report until it has been reviewed, amended (if necessary), and approved by the PCUSA General Assembly, which won’t meet until July.

It’s true that the report said that there is no evidence that the EPC initiated contacts or went looking for congregations to suborn. On the other hand, it also  said repeatedly that the EPC was “interfering” in PCUSA internal affairs, even in setting up it own transitional presbytery in an effort to minimize the effects of bringing in large numbers of churches at once. Personally, I don’t have much hope that the PCUSA’s General Assembly is going to amend this to make it any more reasonable, but we’ll see.

Arizona’s new legislation empowering state and local police to enforce federal immigration law is causing spasms of hysteria on the religious left. So over-the-top is so much of the criticism, in fact, that it’s doubtful that most of the critics have even read the bill they are decrying. Some samples:

Michael Kinnimon of the National Council of Churches:

In addition to the basic unjustness of the law, the fact that police now have vaguely defined but broad powers to stop anyone on suspicion of being an undocumented immigrants creates an unacceptable potential for wide-spread police harassment and creates a danger for citizens as well as non-citizens

Church World Service Executive Director John. L. McCullough:

We are deeply concerned about the enactment of SB 1070 as it goes beyond anti-immigrant sentiments and supports racial profiling. This legislation feels reactionary and hateful. It is a clear representation of the politics of division and exclusion. Gov. Brewer has ignored the advice of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police and the Mesa Fraternal of Police to veto the bill. By this action, she has actively institutionalized racial profiling and will make Arizona less safe.

United Methodist missionary James Perdue Burke:

It is the belief of most groups working in opposition to SB1070 that this bill will increase fear throughout Arizona, moving seriously in the direction of becoming a police state.

Sojourners editor Jim Wallis:

Senate Bill 1070 would require law enforcement officials in the state of Arizona to investigate someone’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person might be undocumented. I wonder who that would be, and if anybody who doesn’t have brown skin will be investigated. Those without identification papers, even if they are legal, are subject to arrest; so don’t forget your wallet on your way to work if you are Hispanic in Arizona.

Christian Ramirez, national coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee’s immigrants’ rights programs:

I am discouraged that Gov. Brewer has ignored the voices of community, religious, business and law enforcement leaders and signed this bill that will further paralyze communities with fear. Now in Arizona, to be ‘brown’ is to be suspected of committing a crime.”

Episcopal bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona:

[T]oday is a sad day in the struggle to see all God’s people treated in a humane and compassionate manner (…) With the Governor’s signing of SB 1070, it seems that for now the advocates of fear and hatred have won over those of charity and love. Arizona claims to be a Golden Rule State. We have not lived up to that claim.

“Reactionary.” “Police state.” “Hatred.” I’m guessing the people quoted above think this law is bad. There’s just one problem. The law they are objecting to exists only in their own minds.

The law that was actually passed does not authorize police to engage in mass arrests of Hispanics, nor does it permit them to stop anyone just because of the color of their skin. Instead, as Byron York of the Washington Examiner indicates, a document check can only take place in the context of a legitimate investigation of another possible legal violation:

Critics have focused on the term “reasonable suspicion” to suggest that the law would give police the power to pick anyone out of a crowd for any reason and force them to prove they are in the U.S. legally. Some foresee mass civil rights violations targeting Hispanics.

What fewer people have noticed is the phrase “lawful contact,” which defines what must be going on before police even think about checking immigration status. “That means the officer is already engaged in some detention of an individual because he’s violated some other law,” says Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri Kansas City Law School professor who helped draft the measure. “The most likely context where this law would come into play is a traffic stop.”

As for the notion that there’s something odious in police asking a person to produce proof of citizenship, York notes that if you’ve got a valid driver’s license, you’re good: “The law clearly says that if someone produces a valid Arizona driver’s license, or other state-issued identification, they are presumed to be here legally. There’s no reasonable suspicion.”

Last Friday evening, while I was attending presbytery, I was stopped by a New York state trooper. The first thing the officer did, upon seeing my non-Hispanic coloration, was ask for my driver’s license. He also asked what my business in Middletown, New York was and where I was going. Turns out I had a burned out brake light, which he asked me to get fixed immediately. He didn’t even give me a ticket. But you can bet that he ran my license to see if I had any outstanding warrants while I waited, which is perfectly proper police procedure. If he had found that there were any, he would certainly have arrested me. In Arizona, if a person is found in the course of a similar stop to be in the country illegally, they will be liable to arrest, just as I would have been. That’s the kind of situation that has the religious left raising the specter of totalitarianism.

The fact is that anyone who lives, works, shops, and drives in America is asked for identification (those dreaded “papers”) every day. When you check into a hotel, apply for a job, make a purchase with a credit card, rent a car–a thousand different circumstances require us to produce ID, and in many instances prove we are a citizen (and the requirement that legal resident aliens have ID on them whenever they go out in public, and produce whenever asked to by law enforcement, has been federal law for half a century). What this law does is not impose some kind of fascist regime on Arizona. Rather, it gives state and local police the authority to do what the federal government should be doing, but refuses to do–enforce American immigration law.

Will this law mostly effect Hispanics? Of course–they don’t get too many illegal Hungarian border crossers in the Sonoma Desert. Is some of the support for this bill motivated by racist attitudes toward Hispanics? I’m sure some of it is (though it also has significant support from Latino citizens and legal immigrants in the state). Does that mean that Arizona is the latest iteration of Nazi Germany? Only in the fervid imaginations of the religious left and its political allies.

I just finished a lengthy post on the report of the PCUSA’s report on the recent unpleasantness between it and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. It was a brilliant post that I worked on for three days and that WordPress then proceeded to lose. I have neither the time nor the inclination to re-write it, so let’s just go with this.

The heart of the “indictment” of the EPC is the charge of “interference.” Throughout the report there is the notion that the EPC, by receiving dissident PCUSA congregations that asked to transfer in, was interfering in an internal PCUSA matter. In the conclusion, the authors put it this way:

The task group would submit that the presenting cause for this struggle originates in an internal conflict within the PC(USA). On one side are ministers and members of the PC(USA) who believe that they cannot in good conscience stay within this denomination. On the other side are ministers and members of the PC(USA) who believe that unity of Christ’s body, made clear through the Constitution that binds us all together in a covenantal community, should be honored and preserved….

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, in receiving congregations and ministers who were dissatisfied with the PC(USA), has now inserted itself into our own internal struggle. The creation of a transitional presbytery as a mechanism for receiving congregations is seen by the EPC as a means to prevent a large influx of PC(USA) congregations from changing the EPC’s culture. However, it has been seen by some in the PC(USA) as inappropriate interference in our internal conflict and a clear breach of ecumenical protocol.

Now, keep in mind that the authors admit, even if grudgingly, that there is no evidence that the EPC ever initiated contact with any congregation or pastor. We didn’t urge anyone to leave PCUSA; instead, we provided information about our denomination and its governance, theology, and mission to those who approached us and asked. We did not insert ourselves into anything; instead, we offered assistance to those who sought it because of problems they had with their own denomination. What’s more, the lack of any kind of specific process for dismissing a congregation from PCUSA means that every congregation that wanted to leave has been dealt with on an ad hoc basis, some with great grace and understanding, some with maliciousness and a scorched earth policy. I’ll come back to the transitional presbytery in a moment, but first I’ve got to note this, from the “history” section:

Dismissing congregations to a nongeographic, transitional presbytery of the EPC presented problems for the PC(USA) presbyteries, since PC(USA) polity does not allow dismissing a congregation to independence, nor to a nongeographic presbytery (see VI.3.d below).

A perusal of the PCUSA Book of Order will not reveal any prohibition on dismissing a church to a non-geographic presbytery, and in fact there is at least one non-geographic presbytery (Eastern Korean) in the PCUSA itself. As far as it goes, the New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery could even be called geographic, in the sense that it covers the continental United States–PCUSA’s Atlantic Korean-American Presbytery is the same kind of thing, in that it covers a geographical region that is covered by other, smaller presbyteries in the Mid-Atlantic Synod.

This polity claim comes across as strictly a matter of convenience, since it throws up a roadblock to congregations seeking dismissal, and might have for some reason discouraged some who wanted to leave. But here’s the real point, and I make this based on this, under “Ecumenical Etiquette”:

The task group observed that normal ecumenical etiquette that dictates courtesies and behaviors between communions was not followed in the following ways. In addition to such violations of ecumenical courtesy that were observed “on the ground,” already noted above in IV.2.l. and IV.3.a., there was no conversation between the EPC and the PC(USA), by stated clerks or at the level of national leadership, around the creation of the “New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery.”

Talk about “interference in internal affairs”! Why exactly did the EPC have any obligation to talk to PCUSA leadership about the creation of the NWTP? Deciding how we were going to bring in a large number of congregations without it changing our denominational culture was our business, not Louisville’s. We didn’t go looking for those churches, they came to us, and when they did, it presented us with a problem. The NWTP was the way we chose to deal with it. For all the screeching about “interference in internal affairs,” it looks like Louisville thinks that it should get some kind of veto power into the way another WARC denomination orders its work. To which I say, when PCUSA lets us straighten out its theological problems (including enforcing discipline on clergy who wantonly flout the theological and ethical standards embodied in the Book of Order), we’ll let it have a hand in our polity.

POTE, for those of you outside the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, stands for “Presbytery of the East.” We met yesterday in Circleville, New York, and had the privilege of bringing five new congregation into our fellowship. Memorial Park EPC in Pittsburgh, Chippewa United Presbyterian in Beaver Falls, Covenant EPC in Ligonier (all Pennsylvania), the Church at Ridgebury (NY), and a mission church, North Point, in Beverly Massachusetts. We were also honored to admit to the ranks of POTE teaching elders from Memorial Park, Covenant, and Chippewa. It made for a long and exhausting meeting, but also a joyful one, as we saw new brothers and sisters proclaim, in the Rev. Dean Weaver’s words, that they had “come home.”

We’ve got more than a dozen more former PCUSA churches coming our way in September and January, and after the PCUSA General Assembly gets through in June, may have even more. Please pray for our presbytery as we work through the complicated but rewarding process of providing a home for evangelical Presbyterians who wish to minister alongside like-minded believers.

Starting today, I will be writing on a regular basis for Examiner.com, a primarily Internet-based media company. To be specific, I am now the “DC Evangelical Examiner,” looking at political, cultural, legal, and of course religious issues from an evangelical standpoint. My first one, published earlier today, is entitled, “Evangelical Left and Earth Day: Right Concern, Wrong Solution,” and looks at the support that Sojourners is trying to gin up for, among other things, the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate change bill. I would be most grateful to readers of The Reformed Pastor if you would take a look at the column, leave a comment, and tell a friend or two to look in as well.

In the extraordinarily twisted world of the Rev. Carlton Veazey, head of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, being against the killing of African-American children in the womb is racist. Really:

Georgia Right to Life’s racist campaign against women of color is poised to expand to black churches and college campuses in 10 states. In the service of truth and of protecting women’s health and rights, people of faith must counter this campaign of fear, ignorance and mistrust. One specific and realistic way to do so is by supporting comprehensive sexuality education. I speak as an African American, Baptist, and pastor for more than 40 years. We cannot allow women of color to return to the days when their bodies and lives were controlled by others – when they were treated as property.

Right. Because everyone knows that pregnancy is simply another form of slavery.

There is a long history of outside groups agitating against reproductive rights in African American communities and making outrageous claims such as “abortion is genocide.” But several factors make this campaign especially immoral: the dehumanizing shock tactics used by Georgia Right to Life, the unwarranted legislation, and the attempt to close clinics that are needed and wanted. We cannot allow it to spread to other states.

The campaign consists of billboards and legislation. The initial billboards in Atlanta showed a picture of a black child with the shocking statement that “Black Children are an Endangered Species.” They were so inflammatory that they were taken down. The legislation, which potentially can shut down clinics, would outlaw abortion done “based upon the race, color or gender of the unborn child” – despite no evidence of these alleged abuses and no need for the bill.

What’s got Veazey’s bowels in an uproar is a bill in the Georgia legislature that would indeed ban abortion that is based on the race or gender of the child. (Information on the GRtL campaign that has him so agitated can be found here.) Sex selection abortion (in which it is almost always females who are killed because they are the “wrong” gender) is opposed by 86% of Americans (which is to say by just about anyone with a conscience capable of getting past the celebrate-every-abortion mindset that Veazey represents). As for race-based abortions, it is unquestionably the case that there are at least some people at Planned Parenthood who think the idea is peachy, and are willing to take donations for that specific purpose (not surprising, considering PP’s origins in the eugenics movement). Planned Parenthood’s propensity to locate its abortion mills in or near African-American neighborhoods is also well known.

The truth is this: if there really is “no need for the bill,” then it won’t make any difference, while if there is, then it obviously should be passed. Either way, Veazey complaining about it, and acting as though a concern for African-American children (of whom there have been well over 13 million aborted since 1973) is indicative of racism, is yet another illustration of how far beyond the pale RCRC is. I hope mainliners are happy with what their denominational dollars and leaders (UCC, PCUSA, Episcopal Church, United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women), are supporting.

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