Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

The Peacemaking and International Issues Committee approved (39-6-2) an item today that I would support whole-heartedly. Entitled “On Protecting Christians in the Muslim World,” it simply says:

The Presbytery of Eastern Virginia overtures the 219th General Assembly (2010),through its proper offices singly, or in conjunction with other denominations and faiths, through our appeal to them, to jointly encourage the United Nations to use its valuable influence, and through its diplomatic channels, to exhort the religious and political leaders of Muslim nations to moderate extreme behavior and protect its religious minorities from such harm, and encourage brotherly harmony between each other.

I may not have their faith in the UN to accomplish anything, but the goal is unquestionably worthy. Just yesterday I came across a news item in the Times of India about Christian college professor T.J. Joseph, who was attacked and mutilated by Muslim fanatics in India’s Kerala state:

In a horrific instance of Talibanism, Muslim fanatics in Kerala on Sunday chopped off the right hand of a college lecturer, accusing him of setting a question paper with a derogatory reference to the Prophet.

Lecturer T J Joseph was returning home from church with his mother and sister around 8.30 am in Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district when he was accosted by the attackers. “We had just got into our car when a van pulled up in front. Around eight people armed with swords and knives emerged and pulled out Joseph after smashing the windscreen. They then chopped off his right hand and stabbed him in the left thigh,” said Joseph’s sister, Mary Stella, a nun.

So this overture should have been completely non-controversial, right? Not according to the Advisory Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns, which submitted the following objections to justify its recommendation that the committee disapprove it:

There is no context in this item for the situation of the Christians in Pakistan who have come to represent “The West” where they live. In all the countries mentioned, the U.S. has been at war in the area and any mention of this fact is glaringly absent. Christians have become a proxy representative of “The West” and even of America. The attacks on Christians are also an attack on the American presence and war in their region.

The call from this item only puts the Christian minorities in these countries at greater danger as it underlines the fact that these minorities do indeed have “guardian angels” in the West, which makes them unwelcome members of their own Eastern communities and turns them into outsiders.

This is the same “thinking” that caused the World and National Council of Churches to turn their backs on Christians in the Soviet empire after World War II. We dare not say anything, they claimed, because the Soviets already think Christians are anti-Soviet, so any voiced support for them would endanger them by confirming what the regime already thought. That’s utter nonsense, of course, and was (and is) exercised in a highly selective fashion. For instance, I don’t recall any worries being voiced by any mainline leaders about the response of Afrikaners to Western church support for the black struggle against apartheid. Nor is there any worry about the possible response of the Israeli government to the PCUSA taking the Palestinian side in their conflict.

I’m not sure what term best characterizes the ACREC response to this overture: cowardice, treachery, political correctness, dhimmitude, or simple foolishness. You be the judge.

UPDATE: I almost forgot to mention that the text above was amended in line with a suggestion from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. It now reads:

The Peacemaking and International Issues Committee recommends that the 219th General Assembly (2010), through its proper offices singly, or in conjunction with other denominations and faiths, through our appeal to them, to jointly encourage the United Nations to use its valuable influence, and through its diplomatic channels, to exhort the religious and political leaders of nations with Christian and other religious minorities to moderate extreme behavior and protect its religious minorities from such harm, and encourage mutual respect and forbearance.

So what had been an expression of concern for and call for intervention on behalf of Christians being persecuted in Muslim nations–a particularly apt expression for a Christian assembly, and one that would have addressed what is probably the most prevalent form of persecution based on religion in the world today–has been watered down into a general call that applies to every nation (since every nation has religious minorities of some kind or another). Heaven forbid that any Christian body should say anything that might be construed as in any way critical of the various Muslim dictatorships that blight the world, or any of their extremist citizens that cut the hands off college professors.


The Church Orders and Ministry Committee of the PCUSA’s General Assembly has approved (36-16-1) a proposal to subject presbyteries to their fourth vote in a decade in an effort to lift the ban on ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians. A whole collection of other items, including Beaver-Butler Presbytery’s attempt to give “broader but specific scope” to the ordination standard of G-6.0106b, were set aside in order to pass this on to the full Assembly:

b. Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

That would take the place of this:

b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution rather drolly notes that we’ve seen this before:

The proposed language is clear and not inconsistent with any other provision of the Book of Order. The Advisory Committee on the Constitution notes, however, that the language has some similarity, and a similar intent, to the amendment submitted by the 218th General Assembly (2008) to the presbyteries and rejected by a majority of the presbyteries.

I fully expect this to be passed by the General Assembly. Whether it will be passed by the presbyteries I don’t know, but there’s one thing that I think is absolutely certain–if it doesn’t pass, it will be brought back again in 2012, and if it doesn’t pass then, it will be brought back again in 2014, and so forth. Folks who like to complain that the continuing debate over sexuality within the PCUSA is a distraction from mission are, in many instances, the same people who are willing to bring this back as many times as they have to to get what they want.

Alan Wisdom of the Institute on Religion and Democracy reports that the PCUSA General Assembly Committee on Civil Unions and Marriage Issues has passed (47-8-2) the report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage. Alan writes:

That’s the report that says the denomination has “no consensus” on the topic, each local church and presbytery should develop its own policy, and we should all show “mutual forbearance”–i.e., not hold one another accountable to follow what the PCUSA constitution says about marriage.

The majority, I am convinced, did not want to hear the biblical and confessional witness on marriage. In one revealing early test vote, they deleted a sentence noting that the PCUSA confessions consistently define marriage as between a man and a woman. They knew it was true. The minority report put all the confessional citations in front of them. But they just didn’t want to acknowledge that truth. They wanted to pretend that the church’s teaching on marriage was undefined and subject to any number of icreative reinterpretations.

I suspect “icreative” in that last sentence is a typo, but it has a real appropriateness, don’t you think?

Alan will be reporting from Minneapolis throughout the GA. Be sure to check on his updates at the IRD web site.

I expect this will be a multi-part post, at least in part because there is so much bad stuff that can go on in the committees of a meeting such as the PCUSA General Assembly. First up, its the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, which has taken two significant actions.

First, it passed (52-1-1) the “Recommendations Regarding the Evangelical Presbyterian Church” with slight amendment. This means that the report (previously discussed here, though not in the detail I had originally intended) with all its flaws–lack of evidence to support its claims, endorsement of PCUSA interference in EPC affairs, misreading of its own denominational polity, etc.–goes to the full Assembly essentially intact and endorsed. Whatever.

Second, it refused (23-31-2) to send on to the full Assembly the paper “Christians and Jews: People of God.” That’s bad enough, but worse is the apparent reasons. The “comment” section is from the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns, and their recommendation for disapproval lists “content flaws” that come directly from the Israel Palestine Mission Network critique that I found so repulsive:

2.   Content Flaws

The ACREC also has concerns about the following topics discussed in the paper that deserve greater input from a wider and more diverse group of scholars and by those who are affected by the paper, such as the NMEPC.

·    The lack of Christology/ the Lordship of Christ

—Blurring the lines between Christianity and Judaism.

·    Theology of the Land

—Use of Scripture versus international law regarding Israel’s right to exist.

—Justifying Israel’s use of force through Scripture.

·    Endorsing Zionism, a political ideology

·    Separating theology from ethics

·    Demonization of Liberation Theology
Without having been there, I of course can’t say with any certainty that the ACREC’s problems with the document were the same as the committee’s. All I can go on is the fact that those were the only comments appended on the web page. But this doesn’t bode well for what kind of statements on the Middle East are going to come out of the GA this week.