June 2011

Veterans Today contributor James Wall, not to mention his various allies in the religious left, is outraged–outraged, I say!–at the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for peace. Why, how dare Israel–founded as the Jewish half of the United Nations’ partition plan of 1947–seek to be recognized as a Jewish state! Of all the chutzpah! Wall writes:

Israel will not negotiate with the PA until it recognizes Israel as a “Jewish State”. This is the card Uri Avnery has correctly dismissed as “nonsense”.  This demand for a “Jewish state” was not a part of any Palestinian-Israeli negotiation until it was introduced into the conversation in 2007.

And the demand that Israel completely halt its settlement activity, including in areas that are recognized by everyone to eventually be included in Israel as part of the “land swaps” President Obama has been trumpeting, was not part of any negotiation until 2009, when Obama–not the Palestinians–made it part of the equation. Wall, of course, picked it up without hesitation, and has been banging this particular drum ever since.

Yonatan Touval was a senior policy analyst with the Geneva Initiative, an Israeli nonprofit organization, when he wrote in a New York Times op ed column, May 12, 2009:

While the demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist was unique (after all, it is non-states that customarily seek such recognition from already existing states), the more recent demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state is dangerous. It must be resisted by those who care about Israel’s long-term strategic interests.

Israel’s leaders had never sought such recognition from any party, friend or foe. The 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, which Begin signed, only expresses mutual recognition of the “sovereignty,” “integrity” and “political independence” of both parties. The peace treaty with Jordan that Yitzhak Rabin concluded in 1994 uses the same language. No mention of Israel’s Jewishness appears in either treaty.

In fact, it was only on the eve of the Annapolis conference in November 2007 that then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert first trotted out the Jewish card, conditioning his participation on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Fortunately, the international community did not respond and Olmert abandoned his demand.

The issue of Israel’s Jewishness was irrelevant to the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, neither of which had citizens demanding the “right of return” to Israel. It is only in the context of negotiations with the Palestinians, who seek to fundamentally change the character of the Jewish state by resettling in Israel hundreds of thousands if not millions of Palestinians who have never lived there.

Not only is this recent addition to Israel’s demands without precedent in the international community, it also ignores the fact that 1.4 million Palestinian Arabs live as citizens within the boundaries of Israel.

That they do, with the same rights and privileges as Jewish Israelis. (Yes, there is discrimination against Arabs in Israel, and that needs to be eradicated, but at least there are Arabs in Israel, as opposed, say, to Jews living in Gaza.)

This is the crux of the argument that Wall, the Israel Palestine Mission Network, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and all of their anti-Israel and anti-Semitic friends on the far left make. There are over a million Arabs living in Israel, so it cannot be a Jewish state. They make this claim despite the following facts:

1) The state that is proposed for the West Bank and Gaza is a “Palestinian state.” It will be such whether it is Judenrein or not. You hear this expression used a hundred times a day by the same people who claim that Israel cannot be a Jewish state. Double standard? Is the Pope Catholic?

2) The U.N. partition  plan explicitly stated that there were to be two states in the Holy Land, one a Jewish state, one an Arab state. (By the way, check out a 1947 map of partition: it makes no reference to a “Palestinian state,” but rather an Arab one, because at the time no one knew anything about a people called “Palestinians.” The latter term simply referred to all of the residents of the region, whether Arabs or Jews.)

3) Across North Africa and the Middle East, the following are officially Islamic states: Mauritania, Somalia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. That doesn’t include the ones where Islam is the state religion (Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Algeria, among others). Most of these states are characterized both by legal restrictions on non-Muslims and by frequent official and non-official persecution of non-Muslims. This all constitutes a reality about which Wall and his allies are entirely silent.

4) Hundreds of thousands of Jews, many of them parts of Jewish communities that had been in place for centuries, were expelled from their native lands in the decades following World War II. They were taken in by the Jewish state without regard to where their former homeland was. No other nation on earth would have, or did, take in a significant number of those who had been made refugees.

The truth is that for Wall and his allies, Jews should be required to live as a permanent minority in whatever land they live, subject to the whims and prejudices of whatever people are willing to temporarily put up with them. And when the latter get tired of them, or need a scapegoat, or simply want to expropriate their possessions, they are free to kick them out, and will hear no complaint from the religious left in the West.

In the wake of the passage of Amendment 10-A, which deletes the fidelity/chastity requirement for PCUSA ordination, editor Jack Haberer of Presbyterian Outlook wanted to let the orthodox know that he Feels Their Pain.™ “As one who poured his lifeblood into promoting and preserving,” he writes, “I hurt with you who hurt.” He then goes on to beat the orthodox about the head and shoulders with a five-point “reality check” (apparently the orthodox in the PCUSA are so grief-stricken by the passage of Amendment 10-A that they’ve come unhinged from reality, and need someone to drag them back into connection with it):

Reality check #1: The PC(USA) still affirms that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God and the only source of salvation — per the policy paper “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” approved by nearly unanimous General Assemblies of 2002 and 2003. Both volumes of our Constitution still affirm the divine inspiration and authority of holy Scripture. And we still affirm the norm of sexual intimacy being shared in the marriage bed (see pp. 18-19). We have not eliminated the ordination standards that provide skeletal strength to our connectionalism.

On paper, the theological standards are still there, but in the reality that most of us inhabit, they’re more or less meaningless in the PCUSA. Many, perhaps most, presbyteries are completely unwilling to take those standards seriously, whether for new ordinands or current ministers (e.g., John Shuck). As for the “norm of sexual intimacy,” give me a break. Even after the New York vote, gay marriage is still not allowed in the vast majority of states, and most gay PCUSA clergy are unlikely to be married or questioned regarding their sexual activity, even if they are living with a partner.

We have changed just one national standard, at worst taking one behavior off the sins-that-disqualify list, and adding it to the sins-we-indulge list. The latter list already includes such sins as “enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, [and] envy” about which Paul tells the Galatians, “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:19-21). When’s the last time anyone committing those sins was disqualified from ordination?

Here’s a better question: when was the last time anyone committing those sins demanded that the denomination declare them to be no longer sins? The problem here is that the PCUSA is not going to treat homosexual behavior as a “sin-we-indulge,” but rather that it is not a sin at all. Does Haberer really not get that?

Reality check #2: We didn’t invent such confusion. The Corinthians dabbled in incest, dismissed Paul’s apostolic authority, and denied the resurrection. The Galatians traded the gospel of grace for legalism. Yes, the apostles condemned these sins, but as the letters to the seven churches of Revelation indicate, both the committing and rationalizing of sin (e.g., “practicing fornication”), continued throughout the apostolic era.

Indeed, as Reformed (“total depravity”) Christians we reject the notion that ours is a sinless church led by sinless leaders. Other traditions may promote an image of a holy clergy. We know better.

I really don’t get the point here. Is it that since the Corinthians “dismissed Paul’s apostolic authority,” it’s OK for the PCUSA to do so as well? Because the Galatians traded truth for heresy, the PCUSA should be indulged? Of course there’s no such thing as a sinless church–does that mean that the church is therefore free to ignore the biblical call to holiness?

Reality check #3: Those N.T. churches also argued intensely how to interpret and obey their holy Scriptures (i.e., Old Testament). Clear, biblical commands regarding circumcision, Sabbath observation, keeping kosher, and avoiding the appearance of idolatry were practiced by some but jettisoned by others – some debates still unresolved after the apostles’ deaths. Other theological controversies have arisen in every subsequent era of the church. Our tendency to react with righteous indignation to today’s debates needs to be tempered accordingly.

My reaction is the same to this point. I simply do not understand why the controversies of the early church, or those of the church through the centuries, means that the clash of two different religions that is taking place within the PCUSA today is of any less consequence. The debate over homosexuality, after all, is only a symptom of a far more important conflict, one which goes to the heart of the gospel.

Reality check #4: It’s easy to condemn behaviors we’re not tempted to indulge in ourselves. In the present case, those tempted by same-sex desires number less than 10 percent of us, maybe as few as 2 or 3 percent. So it’s easy to condemn them while minimizing our own gossiping, materialism, laziness or gluttony. In the process, we turn Jesus’ teaching on its head, disregarding the beams in our own eyes while judging the specks in others’. Indeed, our conservative-evangelical habit of spending more time fighting the gay agenda than loving gay and lesbian persons also turns Jesus’ people-dealings on its head.

This is the one point Haberer makes that has real validity. It is easy to condemn behaviors that don’t tempt us. We all do that, and we all need to repent of the habit of making some sins more grievous than others, simply because they happened to be indulged in by “those people.” At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind the reason this particular sin has taken so much time and attention: it’s because there has been a concerted effort (funded in part by people outside the denomination who don’t care about Presbyterianism or even Christianity, but instead operate with an agenda of normalizing behavior once condemned almost universally in America) to change a 3000-year-old moral standard having to do with this particular sin. Without that effort, there is no debate, no conflict, and no fixation on defending an embattled standard.

Reality check #5: Let us revisit biblical teaching about the church. The God of the Bible is invested in reconciling estranged peoples — not dividing them. Ephesians extols the building of God’s dwelling out of formerly segregated Jews and Gentiles. The letters to the Corinthians and Romans command the pursuit of unity, and the Gospel and letters of John teach one essential ethic: love your brothers and sisters in Christ. To do otherwise is unbiblical.

As is immorality, heresy, and apostasy. Yes, unity and love for brethren are important, central values in Scripture. But the idea that either can be achieved at the expense of truth and holiness is simply false, and of a piece with the alternative reality that Haberer presents throughout this article.

Paul, in the Bible, tells my wife to be silent in church, screw St. Paul, screw him!

Frankie Schaeffer, son of evangelical icon Francis Schaeffer, at the “Wild Goose Festival,” a religious left shindig down in North Carolina last weekend (Frankie Schaeffer years ago converted to another form of Christianity he doesn’t understand, Eastern Orthodoxy)

UPDATE: For more on the Wild Goose Festival, check out this series of articles in the National Catholic Register (Christian Century meets Sojourners for the Catholic left). This passage from the last of Patrick O’Neill’s five articles probably tells you all you need to know:

Organizers wondered, in the U.S. — where less tolerant, less inclusive manifestations of Christianity are abundant — would there still be room for a festival that championed religious diversity, pluralism, the inclusion of gays and lesbians, and many open mic events where people could simply tell their stories of love, pain, rejection, faith, joy and hope?

The answer was a resounding, “Yes,” said Wild Goose board member Karla Yaconelli, who dreamed of a U.S. version of Greenbelt ever since she first travelled to England from the U.S. to attend that festival 25 years ago.

(Hat tip: James H.)

UPDATE: I don’t normally put updates at the top of a post, but you would do well to read George Weigel‘s piece at National Review Online before proceeding here or reading any of the columns I linked to and commented on. He does an excellent job of explaining the “totalitarian impulse” of the gay marriage movement that makes some of the stuff below that much more understandable.

By now, you’ve probably heard that New York has become the sixth state to allow same sex couples to marry. The bill passed by the state Senate on Friday night (you’ve got to wonder what the big emergency was that they had to vote on this after nightfall, with Governor Andrew Cuomo signing the bill near midnight) contained certain protections for religious dissenters from liberal secular orthodoxy. (You can find the specific provisions in all their glorious legalese here.)

Even before New York joined the ranks of those seeking to redefine marriage, certain denizens of the “On Faith” column weighed in on the matter of those religious protections, and they were not happy. First, here’s the question they were asked to address:

A bill legalizing same-sex marriage for couples in New York State is at a standstill over the issue of exemptions for religious organizations and individuals. The reach of these religious protections is wide-ranging -from whether Catholic adoption agencies may reject same-sex couples, to the right of religious caterers to refuse services for gay weddings. In New York State’s Marriage Equality Act, should there be exemptions for religion? What should happen when equal rights for gay citizens and the right to religious free exercise clash?

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite wrote in a column charmingly entitled, “In gay marriage debates, don’t cater to bigots”:

A religious exemption for caterers? Really? Doesn’t this expose the fundamental contradiction between “religious exemptions” and equal civil rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people? If you include catering, a completely contractual and voluntary arrangement to provide food services, in a “religious exemption” clause, you are just catering to bigotry instead.

The situation in New York risks becoming an example of “over-accommodation.” The “Free Exercise Clause” of the U.S. Constitution usually means protections against infringements against individuals’ beliefs and practices that are “fundamental,” “ultimate,” and that have “formal and external signs like clergy and the observance of holidays.” New York’s current laws are already sufficient to protect serious questions of religious conscience in the fundamental issue, namely whether a faith group would be required to perform a same-sex wedding. They won’t.

True, they won’t. Unfortunately, the rest of the paragraph is a set-up for the contention that there are lots of religious people and organizations that shouldn’t be protected from the state dictating to them about how their convictions play out in real life. Remember the New Mexico photographers who were fine $6000 by the state Human Rights Commission for refusing to take pictures at a lesbian “commitment ceremony”? That’s exactly where Thistlethwaite is headed with this.

Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State writes:

Here’s a good rule of thumb: What exemptions do we allow religious groups when it comes to mixed-faith or interracial couples? A church has the legal right to refuse to perform marriages for such couples, but a government agency could not deny them access to adoption services just because a religious group doesn’t like it, and a business could not refuse to serve them.

Thus are racism, and moral qualms over the moral validity of homosexuality, equated. If you believe that homosexuality is wrong, and refuse to do something that facilitates it, you are the equivalent of a racist. So there.

Lynn and Thistlethwaite share the belief that if government money is involved in any way, shape or form, it means the government gets to dictate the rules under which an entity operates. As the latter says, “Caesar’s money, Caesar’s rules.” To which I respond, fine. If Caesar wants to play that way (and there is no necessity that Caesar do so, except under a strict separationist view of the First Amendment that sees the state as having primacy over religion anywhere that it chooses to be involved), then religious people should take their marbles and go home. All religious organizations should henceforth refuse to perform any public service of any kind in cooperation with any level of government. They should not help government serve the poor, allow their facilities to be used for voting, offer any adoption service, etc. Nothing. Everything religious organizations are called to do can be done apart from the state, and should be, starting tomorrow.

Thing is, of course, that those New Mexico photographers don’t get any state money. They are private contractors, and until recently would have had the right to refuse to engage in activities that they consider to be immoral. Now, however, their convictions are considered to be no better than racism, and the state justified in forcing them to do what they (and virtually all of their co-religionists through the centuries, and the vast majority of Americans until very recently, in case anyone thinks their beliefs idiosyncratic) believe is wrong, under the threat of losing their livelihood.

Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute writes:

The United States is one of the most diverse religious countries in the world. No single religious voice can speak for all traditions on issues of sexuality and marriage, nor should government take sides on religious differences. Indeed, clergy from many religious traditions already perform marriages and unions for same-sex couples.

This is a red herring, and always has been in the debate over how the law should treat gays. The definition of marriage is not primarily based on religion, and certainly no “single religious voice” is trying to speak for every other religious viewpoint. The definition of marriage is and always has been rooted primarily in a view of natural law that sees marriage as being first and foremost and the bearing and rearing of children (please note the connection between those two functions). The fact that modern technology has overridden biological reality in the matter of conception (the morality of which is now simply assumed rather than argued by wide swaths of Western society) does not change the basis of marriage in natural law that is rooted in biology rather than human will. In other words, the fact that marriage has until 2004 always and everywhere in the United States been defined as a union of one man and one woman is not primarily because Christianity has dictated it, but because reality dictated it. The fact that some clergy are already solemnizing same sex marriages doesn’t change that reality, any more than our ability to bring unlimited pornography into any home with an Internet connection means we should encourage people to take advantage of it.

Atheist Episcopal Bishop John Spong writes:

Organized religion has for a long time been the traditional harbor in which prejudices abide. On the basis of “our faith” religious institutions have sought to protect themselves from the legitimate concerns of people of color, women, left-handed people and now homosexual people. The fact is that these religious groups actually oppose all gay-friendly initiatives, but having lost that fight now use various smoke screens to keep their prejudices intact. Religious leaders have actually condemned secular movements to end discrimination against women and homosexuals, apparently unaware that secularism has a better anti-prejudice reputation than religion does.

What happened to the Jesus who embraced the leper, allowed the touch of the woman with the chronic menstrual discharge, stood between the woman taken in the act of adultery and her accusers and healed the Samaritan? When will we as a society stop compromising justice to protect the sensitivities of people, who are profoundly ignorant about the meaning and reality of homosexuality?

This is up to Spong’s usual standards. Suffice it to say that he missed his true calling–he would have made a terrific Soviet commissar.

United Church of Christ pastor Susan Smith writes:

Churches want to be able to maintain their autonomy and not risk losing their 501c3 standing should they choose not to perform gay marriages, one pastor told me. What churches don’t want is the risk of being sued on the grounds of discrimination if they don’t want to perform a gay marriage.

This pastor paused, then said, “Thing is, nobody tells us who we can and can’t marry now. This is political in the worst sense.”

Let’s put the emphasis on the word now. You’ve got to wonder if Smith’s interlocutor has any idea about the trajectory of the gay rights agenda in the West and its propensity to run over the rights of religious believers. Certainly the state doesn’t tell us who we can and can’t marry now, but the nature of anti-discrimination law is that it tends to limit the freedom of action of individuals and private organizations more and more over time. Concern over the power of the state to force churches to do what is contrary to their moral convictions is hardly “political,” but rather a realistic response to a state that is increasingly hostile to the concerns of traditional religious believers. (See photographers, New Mexico.)

That is true. If gay marriage is legal in the state, and a particular church does not believe in gay marriage, I am sure that there are ways that any such church can get around doing gay marriages without saying forthright why they refuse to marry any couple. The same is true of adoption agencies, caterers … Businesses have found ways of getting around being overtly discriminatory ever since laws appeared on the books prohibiting the same.

So, instead of being protected by the law in conformity to the First Amendment, churches should find ways to “get around doing gay marriages without saying forthright [sic] why they refuse to marry any couple.” They should dissemble, they should evade, they should most importantly keep to themselves their moral and theological convictions, lest the state come down on them for violating the new commandment: “Thou shalt give thine imprimatur to all deviant sexual behavior.” So much for clergy ethics.

PCUSA pastor Janet Edwards is having a hard time containing her ecstasy:

Exactly six years ago Saturday, June 25, I had the great honor to preside at the wedding of two women, Nancy and Brenda. For me the only way to describe it is that I experienced Pentecost — the Holy Spirit palpably fell upon us that day.

Gay marriage and the coming of the Holy Spirit: yeah, I can see why she would equate those two things.

When I was asked by Nancy and Brenda to preside at their wedding, the decision to do so was my choice. Clergy have always had and will continue to have the right to decline a request to preside at any wedding, for any reason. The separation between church and state allows for protections of religious conscience like this.

The fear that religious protections are being infringed upon has no basis. So what a shame that these fears of imagined requirements are holding up passage of this state action!

Thank you for your assurance, Justice Edwards. I sure do feel better now knowing that any worries about an overweening state have “no basis.” Because, you know, the state would never, ever try to tell the church what it can and cannot, should or should not do.

I see it is a shame because those who are speaking out of fear are missing such a powerful moment of the moving of the Holy Spirit. They could be one with the rushing widening of human experience and awareness but they fight this flow rather than join in it.

I know that the definition of “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” is disputed, but one definition is that it consists of attributing the work of Satan to the Holy Spirit. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

The most important business this morning is voting on the creation of two new presbyteries. Both through the planting of new churches and the reception of dozens of congregations from the PCUSA, the EPC has grown dramatically in the last five years. When I came to it, the denomination had about 180 churches; today we are at just over 300 and looking at the real possibility of one hundred or more coming in over the next couple of years.

We’ve already created one new presbytery in the last year (Rivers and Lakes in the upper Midwest, carved out of Mid-America Presbytery, which came into being last November). The proposal is for two new ones:

1) Split the Presbytery of the West, which currently spreads across the western third of the country. A new Pacific Presbytery would be created that would include California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, and a portion of Idaho.

2) A new Allegheny Presbytery would be created out of the Presbyteries of the East, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic, and would include western New York state, western Pennsylvania, western Maryland, and portions of West Virginia and eastern Ohio.

This isn’t just about moving furniture, but about enhancing local mission and welcoming new congregations the best way we can. More changes will undoubtedly be made in the next couple of years.

As expected, the changes have been warmly welcomed and approved. I’ll be back with more this afternoon.

UPDATE: Didn’t have time yesterday afternoon to get to this, but one other significant action was taken on day two. By Assembly action (rather than constitutional change), the period for reception of churches from other denominations transitionally was extended to December 31, 2013. Originally, the deadline for that was June 2012, at the end of next year’s GA.

This does not mean the transitional presbytery will continue. It will cease to exist next June as scheduled. Instead, if there are churches that wish to enter the EPC transitionally, they will do so through the geographical presbytery wherever they are located.

The primary reason for extending this period is the recognition that with the passage of Amendment 10-A and nFOG in the PCUSA, there are likely to be a lot of congregations that desire to leave the latter for the EPC. Because of the variety of responses by PCUSA presbyteries, ranging from the gracious to the ferocious, there may be congregations that need to make the move too quickly for us to do our due diligence in the reception process. The extension will allow us to respond to those kinds of situations by providing a safe haven as the process proceeds.

The Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church declared its independence from the denomination yesterday.

Just kidding. What it actually did, via the penalty phase of the trial of lesbian minister and same sex union blesser Amy DeLong was declare that the Book of Discipline, and by extension the world-wide church that passes it every four years, is in reality a Book of Suggestions. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

A United Methodist minister acquitted Wednesday on a church charge of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual,”was sentenced Thursday to a 20-day suspension for presiding at a holy union ceremony for a lesbian couple in 2009.

As part of the penalty, the Rev. Amy DeLong must work with Wisconsin church officials to craft a document that will help resolve future disputes in a more collaborative way in an effort to avoid trials.

Both sides heralded the penalty and split verdict as just.

“I feel good about what the church has done. I think we’ve sent a message that the United Methodist Church will not throw out its gay and lesbian people, and that it has opened the doors for a more inclusive church,” said DeLong, who has long acknowledged to church officials that she is a lesbian in a committed relationship.

The Rev. Tom Lambrecht, a Wisconsin elder who served as church counsel in the trial, said the penalty recognizes that DeLong harmed the clergy covenant and that there are consequences for such actions.

“I think the suspension is just the first step,” said Lambrecht, who had asked the jury to suspend DeLong indefinitely until she agreed not to officiate at same-sex unions in the future. “What’s important is Rev. DeLong’s written work that will look at ways we can resolve issues without creating that adversarial spirit and doing harm to the clergy covenant.”

This is a joke. In answer to Rev. Lambrecht’s questions, DeLong indicated that she has no intention of abiding by the prohibition in the Discipline against conducting same-sex unions. The reason she was convicted of this charge (as opposed to the absurd acquittal she received for violating the prohibition against homosexual activity on the part of clergy) is because it is 1) public and 2) either/or–either it happens or it doesn’t. There’s no need to “resolve future disputes in a more collaborative way”–just don’t do the ceremonies. Which is to say, abide by the mind of the church as expressed in the Book of Discipline. That is what DeLong has made clear she will not do, and she has the support of hundreds of clergy across the denomination.

What’s going on here is that the annual conference (which in the person of the bishop appointed DeLong to her position as director of Kairos CoMotion, an advocacy group that among other things seeks–surprise!–to repeal the prohibitions on gay clergy and same-sex unions) is looking for and even begun a process that will, in effect, tell the rest of the denomination that it will not enforce the parts of the Discipline that it doesn’t like. I expect that others will soon follow. If this is not stopped–and I don’t know what recourse the rest of the denomination might have to do so–the collapse of the United Methodist Church as an even vaguely unified body is not far off.

I’m at the 31st General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Memphis, at the largest church in the EPC, Hope EPC in Cordova. We began with workshops led by church consultant and researcher Ed Stetzer, that were very interesting (Stetzer is a terrific guy to listen to), and with worship this morning, and we’ll be going through Saturday.

As usual, I’ll report on any significant news or decisions that come out of the meeting. For an excellent preview of the General Assembly, check out Steve Salyards’ post at GA Junkie. More to come.

UPDATE: The first significant action of the Assembly was the passage of three descending overtures from the 30th GA that were passed by three-fourths of the presbyteries over the last year. Tow of them have to do with the issue of how to deal with women teaching elders. The first caused the most controversy in the presbyteries, and makes a statement from a denominational position paper part on women’s ordination part of the Constitution of the church. Paragraph 2-2 of the Book of Government now says:

The Officers of the Church as set forth in Scripture are: Teaching Elders (designated by many titles in Scripture, including Ministers and Pastors), Ruling Elders, and Deacons. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church believes that the issue of the ordination of women is not an essential of the faith. Since people of good faith who equally love the Lord and hold to the infallibility of Scripture differ on this issue, and since uniformity of view and practice is not essential to the existence of the visible church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has chosen to leave this decision to the Spiritguided consciences of particular congregations concerning the ordination of women as Elders and Deacons, and to the presbyteries concerning the ordination of women as Teaching Elders. [The portion in italics has been added.]


The trial of United Methodist pastor Amy DeLong in Wisconsin is over, and one of the standards of the church has been upheld. Unfortunately, the second seems to have gotten lost in technicalities that may provide a road to chaos. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Thirteen ordained elders assigned to pass judgment on United Methodist minister the Rev. Amy DeLong delivered a split decision on Wednesday, finding her guilty of presiding over a same-sex union but not guilty on a charge of being a “self-avowed practicing” homosexual.

The penalty phase has begun and is expected to continue into Thursday.

Quiet gasps rippled through the church fellowship hall when the verdict was read, said the Rev. Scott Carlson of Sun Prairie United Methodist Church, who has attended the trial in support of DeLong. The guilty verdict was unanimous; the not guilty verdict, 12-1.

The charge of presiding over a same sex union was essentially impossible to dispute; I mean, she did it, right? As for the other, I’m baffled at the verdict. The article may–may–offer some hint:

DeLong’s counsel, the Rev. Scott Campbell, had argued during the trial that church investigators never asked the lesbian minister whether she engages in prohibited sexual activity, the church’s accepted definition for “practicing.” And DeLong declined to answer that question when church counsel the Rev. Tom Lambrecht posed it during her testimony Wednesday morning.

“I don’t know if you’re being voyeuristic or just plain indecent, but there is no way, when you are trying to do me harm, that I’m going to answer and share the intimate, sacred details of our lives,” DeLong said.

Now, as the Journal-Sentinel notes, Delong has acknowledged being in a “committed relationship” with a woman, and in fact told the annual conference about that relationship back in 2009. She didn’t say she had a female roommate; rather, she appears to have used the kind of language that typically refers to a sexually active relationship. Is this suggesting that her statements at the time she informed the annual conference weren’t admissible? And if the conference didn’t think it had evidence that she had violated the Book of Discipline in this matter, why bring the charge in the first place? I can certainly understand DeLong not wanting to testify against herself, but then why bring the matter to the attention of the conference at all? (I suspect it was because she was either making a political point or was engaged in some kind of psychological therapy for herself, but surely she must have known that she would be asked about the sexual nature of her relationship at some point?)

What this comes down to is that the jury decided to adopt the approach that has been in use in the other mainline churches for years to get around “fidelity in marriage/celibacy in singleness” standards. That essentially means that regardless of whether DeLong ratted herself out, they would not convict her unless they had some kind of independent evidence of sexual conduct that is, under normal circumstances, impossible to obtain. Widespread adoption of this standard will vitiate the prohibition on sexually active gay clergy in United Methodism, and be the means that liberals will use to frustrate the will of the church as a whole, unless a way can be found to stop them.

UPDATE: Amy DeLong has made it easy for those who would contend that those who break the rules, and then declares that the rules don’t apply to them, should be shown the door. According to the United Methodist News Service:

The Rev. Amy DeLong testified that she would not abide by The United Methodist Church’s ban against clergy officiating at same-sex unions.

“I can’t imagine doing that,” she said in testimony Wednesday afternoon, during the penalty phase of the trial.

DeLong was the only witness called by the church’s counsel, the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, during the penalty phase.

No further witnesses are needed, of course. DeLong has announced that she considers the Discipline‘s strictures to be optional in her case, and had a bunch of people (including the inevitable left-wing seminary professors, in this case Philip Wogaman and Tex Sample) testify that because the Discipline should say something other than what it says, it should be ignored). Sample actually had the gall to bring up polygamy, and the lack of a specific Discipline prohibition on it, as a reason to let DeLong off:

Sample testified that the Book of Discipline is not comprehensive on sexual issues. He said that the church law book says nothing about polygamy, even though it is a practice that many African United Methodists are trying to combat in their communities.

“If you are going to think about penalty, I would ask you in the name of fairness to say to yourself that we are really coming down hard (on) the issue of homosexuality and same-sex practices in the West,” he said.

“But the church is not being evenhanded here when it comes to polygamy and those kinds of expressions, and I think that is a serious problem in the church…,” he said.

I haven’t purchased a new edition of the Discipline since I left the United Methodist Church in 1992, but I’d be willing to bet that there’s no specific prohibition on bestiality or necrophilia in the current version, either. I’m sure Sample will be presenting proposals to remedy these deficiencies in the church’s law at the next General Conference in 2012.

(Hat tip: Methodist Thinker.)

After Sojourners joint chiefs chairman General Jim Wallis wrote that it was time for President Obama to stop listening to his generals regarding Afghanistan, it was pretty much inevitable that the rest of the General Staff would add their two cents. And so it has come to pass:

As your target date to begin U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan approaches, we are compelled by the prophetic vision of just peace to speak.

In case you’re wondering, “just peace” is the latest fetish expression on the religious left. You’ll be hearing this expression more and more in coming days, until it becomes background noise, like “peace with justice.”

We represent a diversity of faith communities – ranging from just war to pacifist traditions.

If you take a look at the list of signatories, you’ll find that they are virtually all either pacifist denominations, pacifist fellowships within mainline denominations, pacifist para-church organizations, pacifist leaders of mainline denominations, random pacifist individuals, or Muslims. There may be a few just war advocates among them, but they certainly don’t jump out.

As leaders of these communities, some of us initially supported the war in Afghanistan as a justified response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Others opposed the war, believing there were better ways than military force to address the al Qaeda threat. Today, however, we are united in the belief that it is time to bring the U.S. war in Afghanistan to an end.

I don’t know about all of the specific individuals whose names are on this letter, but virtually none of the churches and organizations represented by those names ever supported military operations in Afghanistan.

After nine years, what began as a response to an attack has become an open-ended war against a Taliban centric insurgency—which itself is largely motivated to drive out foreign troops and has no designs beyond its own borders. The military operation has so far resulted in the deaths of over 2,500 Coalition troops, including 1,600 from the U.S. Estimates are that over 20,000 Afghan civilians have died. And yet, the security situation is deteriorating and Taliban influence is spreading. The military situation is at best a stalemate. Al Qaeda barely exists in Afghanistan, but it has metastasized into Pakistan and has established itself in Yemen, Somalia, and other places around the globe.

This demonstrates nicely why mainline church leaders are not in charge of American foreign policy. 1) The action in Afghanistan was, from the beginning, about deposing the Taliban, which had been harboring and aiding al Qaeda because they were ideological soulmates. 2) The idea that the Taliban is now solely about driving out the foreigners from Afghanistan, and has no plans to aid anti-Western terrorist movements as it has in the past, is completely without evidence. 3) The military situation is not  stalemate. It is far too fluid to be properly characterized that way. 4) The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is so porous that it makes no sense to say that al Qaeda “barely exists” in the former and has “metastasized” in the latter, as if there is a hard-and-fast barrier between the two.

So if military force isn’t the answer for what ails Afghanistan, what is?

We recognize that legitimate ethical and moral issues are at stake in Afghanistan — U.S. national security, protecting the lives of Coalition servicemen and women, protecting Afghan civilians, defending the rights of Afghan women, supporting democracy and, of course, saving innocent lives from the inevitable death and destruction that accompany war. We humbly believe there is a better way than war to address these important issues.

What is needed now is a comprehensive package of interlocking arrangements to enhance security and stability. This alternative path is not without some risk, but it is preferable to the known dangers of war. As you said in December 2009, the US should begin a responsible but accelerated withdrawal of troops, beginning with a significant number in July 2011 and continuing along a set timetable. This must be linked to a comprehensive security agreement, a regional multi-lateral diplomatic initiative, and increased public & private assistance for locally based economic and social development programs. We must commit to proactively share the costs of war, which have been borne disproportionately by the veterans of these wars, their families and thousands of Afghan civilians.

I’m glad these mainline leaders recognize that there are “legitimate ethical and moral issues” involved. It’s a pity their proposed solution–the “comprehensive package”–is mostly vague doubletalk, where it is not actually subversive of the “just peace” they say they want. A “set timetable” is an invitation to the Taliban and its tribal allies to simply wait until U.S. and other forces leave, and then resume the offensive–unless, of course, a “comprehensive security agreement” and a “multi-lateral diplomatic initiative” are not in the offing, in which case what? Do we stay, or go anyway? And what nations are we supposed to give the power to hold our troops hostage to  any of this: China? Pakistan? Russia? The fact is that these are just high-sounded phrases that demonstrate both that these people don’t actually understand any of this and that what is most important to them is simply getting out, a position that gives the lie to their expressed concern for the “ethical and moral issues” that have to do with the real-life safety and freedom of the Afghan people.

They conclude by showing that they don’t even understand the stuff they are supposed to:

We reaffirm our religious hope for a world in which “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.”

I’m glad they “reaffirm that hope.” What they don’t seem to get is that this is not a prescription for military strategy or foreign policy, but an eschatological vision that Christians have always connected with the coming of the Kingdom of God in Christ in its fullness. Last time I checked, no orders that the American president can give will make that happen.

Following up on my post regarding liberal rule-breaking in the United Methodist Church, I have to note that the denomination has an opportunity to demonstrate that it takes its Book of Discipline, and the standards for clergy that it embodies, seriously. A Wisconsin Annual Conference pastor, Amy DeLong, went on trial today for violating the provisions prohibiting conducting same sex union ceremonies and homosexual behavior on the part of clergy. According to the United Methodist News Service:

For the seventh time in 20 years, The United Methodist Church will wrestle with the issue of homosexuality in a public church trial.

The Rev. Amy DeLong, a lesbian clergy member of the Wisconsin Annual (regional) Conference, faces two charges of violating church law and the possibility of losing her ministerial credentials this week. Her trial begins June 21 at Peace United Methodist Church in Kaukauna, Wis.

DeLong, who has been an ordained clergywoman for 14 years and now serves as director of an education and advocacy group, initiated the case in 2009 when she officiated at the  union of a lesbian couple. That same year, she and her partner of nearly 16 years registered under Wisconsin’s domestic partnership law. She reported both actions to the Wisconsin Conference.

I appreciate her candor, and the fact that she reported her actions to the annual conference. In doing so, she has forced the issue, which is not whether she violated the Discipline (she did), but whether the church will enforce its order. The UMC actually has a pretty good record in that regard, but the last time a case of this sort came along was 2005. Here’s praying that things have not changed much in the intervening years.

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