Archive for July, 2006

PCUSA: Word games, part 1

Saturday, July 22nd, 2006

The PCUSA has a long history of playing word games with the Bible. Word games are played by social activists, peddlers of strange theologies, bureaucrats, tenure-seeking academics who have to come up with something novel to get published, and humanists (including atheists). They are the tool of choice for people who find the plain meaning of Scripture to be in conflict with their own philosophies, political aspirations, cultural objectives, or simple carnal desires. The appeal of a word game is that it leaves the words themselves intact while altering their meaning and intent. Word games have this in common with the old carnival shell game: Both use misdirection and a torrent of misleading words to convince the mark that what appears to be certain is not certain at all.

Biblical word games range from sophisticated plays on ancient linguistics to simple proof-texting gimmicks that distort the meaning of a passage by plucking it from its inspired context. In its most brazen form, the game consists of nothing more than the player lying about the meaning of the words. Skilled players (especially seminary-educated ones) can reverse the meaning of a passage entirely or show that it is silent about the very topic it is addressing. In all cases, the player’s first step is to convince the mark that the passage is ambiguous. If the victim can first be persuaded that the plain meaning of the text is not plain at all, everything else is just “interpretation”.

Ok, I get that. The Bible was written by someone else. Despite such recent foolishness as “justice-love” and a Trinity composed of “mother, child, womb”, even the PCUSA’s most committed players seem to understand that they can’t actually rewrite the Bible. But the 217th General Assembly decided to play word games with our own Book of Order. Since there is a process for amending the Book of Order, why would the G.A. simply issue an “Authoritative Interpretation” of a key provision and assert that it means something other than what it says? The answer – in part 2 (upcoming) – reads like an Oliver Stone plot line.

Click here for Part 2, here for Part 3.

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PCUSA: Bad stewardship

Saturday, July 15th, 2006

According to figures published at the time, the cost of a General Assembly in 2002 was around $5 million. I don’t suppose the cost has gone down. What did the church get for its money in 2006? What did the long hours and hard work of the 217th G.A. (official view, alternative view) actually yield? An end run around the constitution that will further splinter the denomination, tinkering with the language of the Trinity, backtracking on a dumb attempt to punish Israel for Palestinian terrorism, and a belated awareness that killing a viable baby during a partial-birth abortion might be a bad thing to do. (The PCUSA response to that discovery, of course, is to continue financial support of unrestricted abortion “rights”.) This is stewardship? This is what the church is called to do?

I don’t question the need for an organization the size of the PCUSA to occasionally get together to affirm itself, do business with itself, and get an emotional lift out of the whole process. By all accounts, Wal-Mart managers and Mary Kay Cosmetics salespeople do the same thing. What I do question is how much of this business ever translates into actual souls saved. I’m no expert in the cost of foreign missions, but some quick calculations suggest that $5 million for a biennial confab such as the G.A. could have supported at least 65 foreign and domestic missionary families for two years.

Paul’s first letter to Timothy (6:20-21) included an admonition to “guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.” The PCUSA should pay attention to such wise and Godly counsel as it plans the 218th G.A. in 2008, but will no doubt turn away from it as it has turned away from most of the Bible.

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PCUSA: Poisoning the well (updated)

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

Update: This story was originally posted on the author’s previous web site on November 1, 2005. The 2006 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) acknowledged “that the actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004) caused hurt and misunderstanding among many members of the Jewish community and within our Presbyterian communion. We are grieved by the pain that this has caused, accept responsibility for the flaws in our process, and ask for a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue.” The assembly also took steps that seemed aimed at ending the divestment process.

In 2004, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) – the denomination’s highest governing body – passed a resolution to “initiate a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” In 2005, Iranian president Ahmadinejad announced that “Israel must be wiped off the map.” Is there a connection? Clifton Kirkpatrick, the chief elected officer of the Presbyterian Church (USA) was understandably upset about Ahmadinejad’s remarks. Most sentient beings would be. But he and his cohorts seem unable to connect the two dots – the divestment resolution and the Iranian president’s remarks.

Following the approval of the resolution, statements from PCUSA officials revealed the politically correct thinking that produced it: some PCUSA leaders believe that Israel alone is responsible for the violence. The Washington Office (our little unregistered PAC) equated Palestine to South Africa under apartheid. The Presbyterian “Peacemaking” Program ignored a 57-year history of war and terrorism against Israel and endorsed the idea that “occupation remains the root cause of the conflict and of the continuing suffering in the Holy Land.” [The PCUSA’s enthusiastic endorsement has disappeared from the denomination’s web site, but the original statement can be found here.]

Such statements aside, the resolution was a cynical, feel-good gesture intended to enable General Assembly commissioners and PCUSA leaders to enjoy the pleasant sensation of having “done something” to promote peace in the Middle East. There was never the remotest possibility that any economic impact would ever be felt by Israel or by anyone doing business in Israel or that the cause of peace would in any way be advanced. (It is an interesting irony that the fattest target of disinvestment is Caterpillar, whose stock has risen steadily and enriched its stockholders – including the PCUSA.)

But there was an unintended impact. Kirkpatrick and other supporters of divestment can wring their hands over Ahmadinejad’s comments but they can hardly claim to be surprised. The Iranian president simply expressed the same policy that Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization did when it massacred eight Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. To side with these same Palestinians, even with an action as toothless as the divestment resolution, is to side with the murder and genocide that have been actively promoted by Muslim states and practiced by Muslim terrorists since 1948.

(In fairness to members, not all Presbyterians were blind to the implications of the resolution. The reaction against divestiture was swift and vocal and continues today. Sadly, it has not yet born fruit, as PCUSA leaders continue to defend their actions.)

I doubt that Ahmadinejad even knew that the PCUSA – alone among major Christian denominations – had indulged in this foolish act of anti-Semitism. But the PCUSA and its leaders nonetheless bear responsibility for tossing a little more poison into the well of Mideast violence. Did they suppose for one moment that adding to the toxicity with their bigoted approach to peace would somehow promote healing?

Any sign that the West is prepared to abandon Israel can have only one effect – to embolden the jihadists and invite them to escalate their efforts to do what the Arab states have sworn to do all along – wipe Israel off the map.

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