Archive for June, 2005

PCUSA: "Gentlemen, that iceberg was a wake-up call"

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

As a member and observer of the PCUSA, it is easy for me to imagine Capt. Edward John Smith turning to the other officers on the bridge as the Titanic’s fate became clear and saying, “Gentlemen, that iceberg was a wake-up call.” Why so easy to imagine? Because, as the old joke goes, the difference between the Titanic and the PCUSA is the Titanic had a band.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a dying denomination. It has been dying since 1965. In that year, the two mainline Presbyterian denominations that would become the PCUSA had a combined total of 4,254,597* members. They included the northern branch, the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and the southern branch, the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

Since that high-water mark, the PCUSA and its predecessor denominations have lost members every single year. The northern and southern branches experienced a combined loss of 1,088,547 members leading up to the 1983 merger, leaving the PCUSA to start with 3,166,050 members. Since the merger, the PCUSA itself has managed to drive off another 803,914, leaving 2,362,136 members for a total loss of 1,892,461 (44.5%) since 1965. Membership loss is nothing new to the PCUSA.


It is interesting to note two events that coincided with the periods of greatest loss. First, the northern branch adopted the Confession of 1967. This confession contained the first official endorsement of the idea that the Scriptures, although inspired, “are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written.” In the six years following the adoption of this worldly view of the Bible, the combined membership loss was over a half-million (501,836), with each year’s loss higher than the one before:

Membership Losses 1968-1973

1968 – 38,093
1969 – 61,220
1970 – 76,543
1971 – 82,948
1972 – 103,150
1973 – 139,882

In 1973, the Presbyterian Church in America split from the southern branch in response to the encroachment of the same liberal, non-Biblical theology that was infecting their northern brethren. In the ten years following the establishment of the more orthodox PCA, the combined denominations lost another 592,183 members:

Membership Losses 1974-1983

1974 – 100,762
1975 – 78,550
1976 – 50,773
1977 – 54,196
1978 – 56,347
1979 – 52,708
1980 – 57,557
1981 – 61,493
1982 – 44,975
1983 – 34,822

It must be said that membership decline following an event does not prove that the event caused the decline. But, taken together, the steady drift from Biblical orthodoxy and the steady exodus of members certainly suggest the presence of a cause and an effect.

The Titanic

The PCUSA has continued to lose members every year since the merger, ranging from 21,517 in 1998 to a high of 46,658 in 2003. In 2004, 43,175 more decided to move on. What is remarkable about all this is the response from PCUSA leadership. In June 2004, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Clifton Kirkpatrick, the denomination’s highest official, explained that the 2003 loss of 46,658 was “to the secular world”, an assertion that was not backed by any facts.

Indeed, more than 1,000 of the departed were members of Rivermont Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, which withdrew en masse from the PCUSA and joined a more orthodox Presbyterian denomination (the Evangelical Presbyterian Church) – not exactly “the world”.

Still, the Stated Clerk may have been onto something. As the denomination continues its course of cultural accommodation, it is easy to imagine that some people, seeing little difference between their PCUSA church and the secular world, would simply leave the broader church altogether. After all, the world doesn’t ask for a tithe.

This year, the Stated Clerk declared the most recent loss a “wake-up call.” A wake-up call? What made the 2004 losses a wake-up call? Didn’t anybody at the PCUSA helm notice that membership has trended relentlessly downward for almost four decades? It is as if, with almost half his ship under water, Capt. Smith of the Titanic had declared “Gentlemen, that iceberg was a wake-up call. We need to figure out how to avoid icebergs, maybe by steering a different course. Oh, and we’d better figure out a way to keep this ship afloat too.”

While I can forgive our leadership, I cannot excuse their inattention to the dangerous waters they have chosen to sail. As long as I have been a member (15 years), renewal groups have sounded the alarm and tried to call the PCUSA back to its mission. The words of Jesus’ letter to the Ephesian church echo down the centuries, warning our church as well: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance…. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:2, 3-5)

Now that’s a wake-up call!

* Note: All figures are from PCUSA statistics reported by The Layman Online.

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Sports: The U.S. Petit Prix

Sunday, June 19th, 2005

The U. S. Grand Prix was anything but grand; once again, American fans pay the price for the fat cats’ stupidity. Today’s Formula One travesty reminds us that all professional sports make their money from fans whom they in turn ignore. This is a sport dominated by billionaires, men with egos fatter than than their wallets. Such men do not readily identify or sympathize with the ordinary mortals who provide the cash that supports their vicarious life in racing. Such men bask in the reflected glory of exceptionally brave and talented drivers who risk their lives and actually earn the respect and even the adoration of the fans. Such men view fans as a faceless herd of nobodies entitled to nothing more than the privilege of handing their money over to the lords of F1.

On the surface, the facts are simple. Michelin provides the tires for seven of the current ten F1 teams. Unfortunately, they were not able to provide tires that would actually carry the cars around the entire track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In particular, the tires had a tendency to fail in turn 13, AKA the Indy 500’s turn one. In correspondence posted here and here, Michelin described their dilemma and offered to provide tires based on another compound, but the F1 sanctioning body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), refused. According to F1 rules, cars are supposed to race on the same kind of tires they qualified on.

Michelin then asked the FIA to order the construction of a chicane (a barrier that produces a speed-reducing S-curve) before turn 13. The FIA refused on the grounds that changing the course to help some teams solve an equipment problem would be unfair to the other three teams. They informed Michelin that their teams would have to deal with the problem by (a) suffering a penalty for using a different tire, (b) slowing down in turn 13 (an obvious competitive disadvantage, (c) pitting roughly every ten laps to change the affected tire. The seven team owners, obviously acting in concert, simply refused to follow the F1 rules and run the race.

Their are rumors of ongoing disputes between the owners and the FIA. Perhaps there was more to their decision than the fact that their chosen tire vendor wasn’t up to the task. This kind of fat-cat-fight is certainly nothing new to American fans of open-wheel racing, particularly the Indianapolis 500. Disagreements between car owners and the United States Auto Club (USAC) produced a new sanctioning body, Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). Disagreements between CART owners and Tony George (owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and of an ego the equal of any F1 owner) spawned the Indy Racing League (IRL), current sanctioning body for the Indy 500. But no fan of American racing had ever seen 70 percent of the field take the parade lap (warm-up lap in F1) and drive straight to the garage to sulk.

Will F1 come back to Indy – or anywhere in the United States next year? No one knows. F1 has been a hard sell in the United States, showing up in Watkins Glen (New York), Long Beach (California), Las Vegas, and most recently in Indy. The farcical National Hockey League invites us to ask instead, will anybody care?

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PCUSA: The Presbyterian PAC

Friday, June 17th, 2005

Like most of its mainline sisters, the Presebyterian Church USA (PCUSA) is wandering clueless through the post-modern landscape, trying to decide which carries more weight, the Bible or the latest cultural trend. Trends seem to be gaining the upper hand. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the public posturing of our unregistered PAC, the PCUSA Washington Office.

First, a little background on the PCUSA’s governance and my role in the PCUSA. The General Assembly (GA) is highest governing body of the PCUSA. It meets every two years. Actually, this is the first year in a couple of centuries that that it hasn’t met. It used to meet annually, but the GA decided to meet every two years because falling income from a dwindling membership made yearly meetings an unbearable financial burden. Like many bureaucracies, the PCUSA has a number of entrenched organizations that pretty much do as they please. This seeming independence is because the PCUSA, like many bureaucracies, disciplines only selectively.

I have been ordained as a deacon and as an elder in the PCUSA for several years. Although this subjects me to the “discipline” of the denomination, it also compels me to comment on its worldly ways and its lust for the affirmation of the culture.

Political Action Committees aren’t required to tell the truth. Their job is to tell politicians what they (the PAC) want them (the pols) to hear. If we take that as a working definition of a PAC, then the PCUSA Washington Office surely qualifies. Undeterred by mere facts, its director, Elenora Giddings Ivory, tells the pols what she wants them to hear, true or not. She seems to think that “PCUSA” is not the organization to which she is nominally accountable, but the acronym for her personal political objective – a Politically Correct USA.

Of course, PACs are supposed to be registered as such and are required by law to follow certain rules. But by masquerading as an arm of the GA and claiming to be accountable to it, the Washington Office avoids all that messy paperwork and unwanted attention from elections officials. According to its page at the PCUSA web site, it poses as “the public policy information and advocacy office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Its task is to advocate, and help the church to advocate, the social witness perspectives and policies of the Presbyterian General Assembly.” This is simply false, as evidenced by two recent lobbying efforts:

Senate filibuster of judicial nominees

Presbyterian General Assembly: No stated perspective or policy.

Washington Office: “Careful and independent scrutiny of judicial nominees can happen during the confirmation process in the Senate. Scrutiny should not be shortchanged by cutting off extended debate (filibuster). Without careful review we can almost guarantee that we will open our newspapers one morning and see stories of judges who are being impeached.”

Impeached? Where does she get this stuff? (Although, to be sure, there are plenty of federal judges right now who ought to be impeached.) Note also that scrutiny “can” happen. It could, but that is not the Democrats’ (or the Washington Office’s) intent. Their intent is to block nominees they haven’t the votes to reject.

Federal Marriage Amendment

Presbyterian General Assembly: “Nothing the 216th General Assembly has said or acted upon is to be construed to state or imply a position for or against the Federal Marriage Amendment. General Assembly entities shall not advocate for or against the Federal Marriage Amendment”

Washington Office: “Congress [should] reject any proposed amendment to the federal Constitution that would prohibit the marriage of same-gender persons,”

In stories posted in The Layman Online on June 8, September 23, and September 28, 2004, this was the original text of a lobbying screed edited by the Washington Office. Caught red-handed, they edited and re-posted the document, but not until letters had gone to legislators falsely claiming that the PCUSA opposed the amendment.

There are many instances of the Washington Office simply spewing letters, press releases, and statements on topics that the General Assembly has not addressed. Such shoot-from-the-hip advocacy of liberal political causes does not in any way promote the “perspectives and policies of the Presbyterian General Assembly”. It is, indeed, the behavior of an independent PAC. Well, not altogether independent. Support of the Washington Office does divert at least $600,000 a year (as of 2002) from the denomination’s “mission” budget.

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News: What is a "chaperone" anyway?

Monday, June 6th, 2005

As the father of a June graduate, my thoughts and prayers are with Natalee Holloway and her parents. I can barely begin to imagine what her parents are going through, hoping for the best even as they fear the worst.

If Natalee Holloway has been harmed, there is a person or persons responsible for the deed. But who was responsible for exposing her to the dangers of an island bar in a foreign country at 1:00 in the morning? Who was supposed to exercise adult judgment to counter their charges’ celebratory mood, sense of adventure, and youthful feelings of immortality? Who was responsible for ensuring that Natalee stayed with her group and returned safely to her hotel?

Who were the “chaperones” that let her slip away to an as-yet unknown fate?

Where were they? What were they doing? What were they thinking? Did they imagine that teenagers suddenly become seasoned adults just by graduating high school? Did they just lose track of her or did they get so caught up in their own island adventure that they left Natalee to her own devices?

Who were the “chaperones” who didn’t know or didn’t care that she was getting into a car with strangers?

By most accounts, there was a chaperone for every four or five students. Did they have any specific duties? Did they split up to keep an eye on their own group? Or did they hang out together, perhaps not wanting to interfere with the students’ fun? Did they try to prevent her leaving but stop short for fear of making a fuss? Were they reluctant to embarrass her – or themselves?

What did they think a “chaperone” is supposed to do?

Yes, I’m angry. And until it’s reported that at least one adult in the party fought like a demon to keep Natalee out of that car, I’ll be judgmental too. How can we not judge the chaperones’ collective failure to honor the trust of the parents who delivered their daughter into their protection? Did the chaperones even understand that they held Natalee’s life in their care? Even if Natalee is found alive and well, how could we not still condemn the actions of adults who abandoned Natalee at the moment of her greatest need?

What is a “chaperone” anyway?

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Politics: "Deep Throat" unworthy of namesake

Saturday, June 4th, 2005

The original “Deep Throat” was a notorious porn movie. There’s little good to be said of such trash, but at least its producers were honest about its sleazy character. The same can’t be said for FBI turncoat Mark Felt.

Disclaimer: I had many vices in my youth, a fact I take no pride in. Seeing the movie “Deep Throat” was not one of them.

In 1974, I was a recently-retired 20-something hippie – a bit of a drifter with no family of my own, no property, and no real responsibilities. I still saw the world in simple shades of black and white. I was, of course, a liberal who hated Richard Nixon. As the Watergate story broke – and later, as I read All the President’s Men – I thought the mysterious “Deep Throat” was something of a whistle-blower. But while most whistle-blowers showed courage and conviction, this one was different.

We knew the names of others – Karen Silkwood and Daniel Ellsberg, for example – but not this one. This one hid in darkened parking garages and refused to reveal his identity. This one, it seemed, lacked the courage to take responsibility – or credit – for his actions. This one stayed safe and comfortable, never really risking anything. This one was a mole, an untrustworthy official in a position of high trust.

Over the years I have found myself with a career, a family, a house with a mortgage, and many responsibilities. I have come to see that the pallette of the world is indeed black and white – good and evil, God and Satan – but the details are painted in shades of grey, none wholly white or wholly black. Gone is the easy liberalism of the government giving away other people’s money. Now it is my money and my family’s, given away in fraudulent programs that accomplish little and change nothing.

The Nixon that I despiseed was seriously flawed as a President, but his administration got some things right. He was a man with character, also flawed but who, by most accounts, was loving toward his family and kind to strangers. Woodward and Bernstien weren’t heroes wearing white hats; they were ambitious reporters on a mission that rewarded them handsomely. (And when Woodward’s new “Deep Throat” book is rushed into print in July, his rewards will only increase.)

Mark Felt was no hero, no whistle-blower. He was simply a coward who continued to feed at the trough he lacked the courage to disavow. The movie “Deep Throat” was publicized on the marquees of seedy theaters and, I am told, delivered what it promised. Watergate’s “Deep Throat”, Mark Felt, lurked in the shadows and delivered betrayal.

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