Archive for August, 2006

Christianity: In defense of Rabbi Weiss

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

I occasionally look in on CNN’s token conservative, Glenn Beck. A few weeks ago, he briefly interviewed Rabbi Yisroel Weiss of Jews United Against Zionism. Weiss had gained some notoriety for his criticism of Zionism in the face of Israel’s war with Hezbollah. Beck’s manhandling of his guest led me to the conclusion that he didn’t really grasp what the Rabbi was saying, perhaps because Weiss was basing his remarks on Torah, not on conventional political wisdom.

As a Christian who has spent a fair amount of time in the Old Testament, I think I understood what Weiss was saying. His criticism of Zionism proceeded in parallel with an argument I have often had with other Christians – that the modern state of Israel is not the ancient Israel of the Torah or the Christian Bible.

Consider the differences: Ancient Israel was created by God, while the modern state of Israel was created by the U.N. The original boundaries of ancient Israel were established by God, while the original boundaries of the modern state of Israel were established by diplomacy. Ancient Israel had a king – first God himself, then a succession of human kings – while the modern state of Israel has a parliament and a Prime Minister. Ancient Israel was ruled by the Mosaic Law given by God, while in the modern state of Israel is ruled by civil law promulgated by the Knesset. There’s a pattern here.

It seems to me that ancient Israel, the geographical and political entity, is gone. Its territory was conquered by a succession of neighboring countries, its priestly government was swept away, its last holy temple was destroyed by the Romans. Ancient Israel now lives on in the same form in which God originally created it – as a spiritual and ethnic entity, a nation without borders, God’s Chosen People, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The result of these earthly events and others was the Diaspora, the scattering of the Jewish people from the Promised Land. But the disappearance of ancient Israel was not just the product of stronger neighbors and an expanding Roman empire. It was – as Rabbi Weiss reminded me – the very will of God, prophesied by Moses as the people of Israel prepared to enter the land of Israel:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, emphasis added)

Conquest and Diaspora, the beginning and the end of ancient Israel – the Scriptures reveal the history and meaning of these events to Jews and Christians alike. Rabbi Weiss and I would probably disagree on what a new Israel will look like, but I think we agree that its construction will not be the work of human hands obedient to human will. What God has given and taken away can be restored only by God.

I am not presuming to judge a theological debate among Jews. The Talmud is a mystery to me. No doubt there are different Jewish theological perspectives that run counter to that expressed by Rabbi Weiss. But his comments lifted my own doubts about the Biblical (not political) legitimacy of the modern state of Israel out of the realm of theology and into the realm of current world events. Viewing these events – past and current – as a Christian, his observations ring true to me. And they raise uncomfortable questions about a faithful Christian response to the ongoing violence in the Holy Land.

No, I am not in any way defending the Arab states’ unwavering hatred of the modern state of Israel. Iranian President Ahmadinejad is still a raging lunatic. There is no justification for suicide bombers or any other brand of terrorism. Contemporary Islamic fascism is easily the equal of the last century’s German fascism. The people of Israel deserve the opportunity to live in peace and security. So do Palestinians who renounce the terrorist tactics of the government they chose.

I don’t believe that Islam’s war against Jews is God’s will. But I do know that it’s not a good idea to mess with God. He alone will choose the time and means for the restoration of his nation of Israel. I question whether God chose the U.N. in 1948 to do the job. David Ben-Gurion certainly didn’t look much like the humble servants God had chosen in the past – the fugitive shepherd Moses or the Persian cup-bearer Nehemiah, for example. And, so far, the fruits don’t look the same either.

I have no answers, no suggestions to the world’s leaders. All I have – thanks to Rabbi Weiss – is a new-found conviction that I need to view the Mideast conflict in a new way and seek God’s will as I do so.

[Rabbi Weiss’ views are summed up in this speech.]

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PCUSA: "I am not ashamed of the gospel"

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

As a Christian, I am not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17). Jesus taught his disciples to expect ridicule, even hatred because of him. I’m Ok with that. It’s part of counting the cost of being identified with him.

But here’s what I am ashamed of and what I’m not Ok with. I’m ashamed of my denomination. I’m not Ok with the cost of being identified with an organization that brings ridicule and condemnation on itself – not for Jesus’ sake but for the sake of accommodating the culture and wallowing in political correctness.

I am not ashamed of the gospel. I am ashamed of the PCUSA.

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PCUSA: Word games, part 3

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2

In their thirst to conform to the culture, many in the PCUSA saw the campaign for acceptance and endorsement of homosexuality as a bandwagon worth jumping on. But there was the small matter of ordination standards, particularly G-6.0106b. Through the prescribed constitutional process, G-6.0106b had been approved by the presbyteries and added to the Book of Order, mandating that ordained officers live in monogamous heterosexual marriage or in chaste singleness. Two efforts to persuade the presbyteries to delete G-6.0106b had failed. Many attempts to amend it into meaningless babble had failed. It was obvious that a majority of presbyteries were satisfied to keep the standard in place and that by 2002, the General Assembly had no stomach to try again. Efforts to invalidate the Definitive Guidance of 1979 (establishing the theological foundation for G-6.0106b) had never even made it to the presbyteries for consideration. This was the situation into which the Theological Task Force (TTF) stepped.

In their headlong pursuit of unity at any cost, the TTF realized that they had to find a way to accommodate incompatible world views. The progressive Covenant Network and their political allies had made it clear they would allow no peace in the PCUSA as long as ordination standards remained in place (even if enforcement was selective and largely ineffective). The renewal crowd, the “right” who held Scripture and the Confessions to be utterly authoritative in matters of faith and practice, made it equally clear they would not cave to political pressure and abandon orthodoxy for cultural accommodation. The TTF apparently made the “middle” (who seemed to support G-6.0106b, but might lack commitment to it) the target of what turned out to be a massively deceptive word game.

The be successful, the TTF had to find a way to

  1. retain G-6.0106b to placate the right,
  2. enable ordaining bodies to safely ignore G-6.0106b to mollify the left, and
  3. bypass the constitutional process altogether lest those pesky presbyteries derail their scheme.

What to do? How to retain a standard and make conformance to it optional? Perhaps the TTF looked to the presbyteries, churches, and officers who were already claiming to honor their ordination vows while simultaneously ignoring constitutional provisions they had promised to bound by. In their defiance, they mostly sang the same tune – it was a matter of “conscience”. Could it be that the Book of Order would actually allow candidates and governing bodies to ignore G-6.0106b? Well, no; it wouldn’t, not as written. But maybe if we all pretended the words meant something other than what they say….

In their masterpiece of doublespeak and misdirection, the PUP report, the TTF found a way. They injected the necessary ambiguity into – not G-6.0106b (a tactic which had also been tried before without success) – but G-6.0108b. Huh? Yes, Alice, said the Caterpillar, they made compliance with ordination standards a matter of conscience. They applied the concept of “scruples” to the enforcement of standards. As detailed here, the TTF borrowed some convenient language from the Adopting Act of 1729 while leaving the substance (adherence to the Westminster Confessions) behind.

The concept of a “scruple” (i.e. a matter of conscience) is addressed in G-6.0108a which calls for adherence “to the essentials of the Reformed faith and polity as expressed in The Book of Confessions and the Form of Government” [emphasis added] and adds “So far as may be possible without serious departure from these standards, without infringing on the rights and views of others, and without obstructing the constitutional governance of the church, freedom of conscience with respect to the interpretation of Scripture is to be maintained.” G-6.0108b goes on to establish the limits of freedom of conscience: the candidate’s conscience “is captive to the Word of God as interpreted in the standards of the church so long as he or she continues to seek or hold office in that body.” [emphasis added]

All those smart folks on the TTF understood the unbroken chain of orthodox doctrine that ran from Scripture analyzed and interpreted in the Definitive Guidance to limits on individual conscience defined in G-6.0108b to the Biblical standard embodied in G-6.0106b. There is nothing in that chain – including freedom of conscience – that can be said to grant a candidate or governing body the privilege to unilaterally decide whether or not a standard is applicable. The constitution is not ambiguous.

But the TTF’s unscrupulous word game with “scruples” created the false impression that the constitution was ambiguous and then resolved the ambiguity in a way that accomplished their objectives. Specifically,

  1. By attacking G-6.0108b, they left the words of G-6.0106b unchanged,
  2. By altering the interpretation of G-6.0108b to mean something vastly different from what it says, they left everyone free to depart from G-6.0106b (or any other standard) by declaring it “non-essential.”
  3. By creating this Alice-in-Wonderland situation with an Authoritative Interpretation that required only a simple majority on the GA floor, they froze the presbyteries with their bothersome months of study, prayer, and deliberation out of the process completely.

As expected the TTF’s illusion of peace and unity lasted about as long as their self-satisfied celebration at the GA. The TTF’s word games sowed cynicism and deception. The PCUSA is already beginning to reap a rich harvest of division, distrust, and fear. Interestingly, it is obvious from the publication of the “Presbyterian Papers” that the denomination was also prepared months in advance to receive a harvest of church buildings or ransoms paid for them by departing congregations.

Indeed, the most disgusting aspect of the TTF, the PUP report, and the GA’s embrace of it all is the fact that Clifton Kirkpatrick, Eric Graninger, Mark Tammen, and every synod and presbytery executive knew that no peace or unity would result from the TTF’s deception. They knew that members, churches, and perhaps whole presbyteries would flee. They knew that the financial windfall would keep the PCUSA (and their jobs) afloat a while longer.

But as a dynamic witness to the power of the Gospel in the world, the PCUSA is dead, the victim of its own word games.

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PCUSA: Word games, part 2

Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

[This second part was delayed by the news that the PCUSA had gone into the conspiracy business and by my reading of the Schori interview in Time magazine. I hasten to add that I read the interview in the dentist’s office. I do not subscribe to Time.]

Click here for Part 1.

So why did the 217th General Assembly ignore the constitutional process? First, we must look at the long-standing battle waged by homosexual activists for acceptance by society. There is no question that one objective of this fight was basic human rights – economic freedom, freedom from violence, and so on. The ultimate goal, however was – and is – much more than that. It was nothing less than to have their lifestyle and sexual practices considered normal, even noble or desirable.

The most rudimentary examination of human anatomy reveals that we are constructed for heterosexual relations. It is hard to make the case that homosexual relations are in any sense natural or likely to be considered the norm. The activists understood that when you want to impose a new social structure or attitude that is contrary to human nature, you have to capture key institutions. Since medicine considered homosexuality a disorder and a largely church-going culture considered it immoral, the targets were obvious – medicine, the church, and popular culture.

Medical societies and mainline Protestant denominations were particularly appealing because they are hierarchical in varying degrees and because they base their behaviors on established bodies of knowledge. (The assault on a pop culture lacking these characteristics is not relevant here.) Hierarchies were attractive because they provide a concentration of powerful and influential leaders to be lobbied. Reliance on an established body of knowledge is the perfect playground for – what else? – word games. If the literature can be made ambiguous, re-interpreted, or otherwise manipulated, new “knowledge” can be manufactured and used as a new foundation for a new structure or attitude.

Through a systematic campaign of lobbying members of the American Psychiatric Association and disrupting their meetings, homosexual activists conquered the medical establishment by winning a word game. In 1973, they convinced the APA’s Committee on Nomenclature to abandon 70 years of science and declare a change of wording in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual. With no new data, no new studies, no scientific basis at all, the committee caved in to purely political pressure and declared that homosexual behavior was not evidence of a psychiatric disorder. The members (the motivated one-third who voted) followed suit and two years later the American Psychological Association fell into line.

It is worth noting that four years after the activists’ political victory, a survey revealed that fully 68 percent of psychiatrists still considered homosexuality a disorder. See Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth by Jeffrey Satinover, M.D. for a detailed history of these events.

In Part 3, we will examine the political forces that led the PCUSA to abandon its own constitution and theology in order to achieve the same political result within the church.

Click here for Part 3.

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Culture: A cornucopia of crackpot conspiracies

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

My thanks to Talleyrand, who observed that “Life Is Too Short to Read Dumb Books”, for much of the information here.

David Ray Griffin has kindly summarized his goofy conspiracy theory (blaming 9/11 on President Bush) on a free website. This is a good thing because it deprives the author of royalties and the publisher, the dear old clueless PCUSA, of profits that might be gained by people actually buying the book.

The most hopeful part of Griffin’s article was the first clause of the first sentence: “In the spring of 2003, near the end of my 31-year teaching career at the Claremont School of Theology….” That’s a relief, at least he’s out of the classroom. So what was he teaching? Although he seems to have made his silly conspiracy his new life’s work, he was probably teaching them something called process theology – a materialistic postmodern philosophy that proposes a god who is part of the universe and constrained by it, an obvious contradiction of God’s self-revelation in the Bible.

The website that hosts Griffin’s fantasy offers a truly amazing collection of equally hare-brained conspiracies. For example, “using human beings [especially children] as guinea pigs to test the toxic strength of commercial poisons has become a central regulatory strategy under the Bush administration.” Or soon, maybe tomorrow we will all begin, “a slow, somnambulant walk as in a gray dream right out of the Talmud into the Neo-Con extermination camps now currently under construction by the fine folks at, you guessed it! – – Halliburton.”

Did you know that the U.S. deliberately kept all warnings of the 2004 tsunami a secret? How about DuPont’s plot to eliminate the growing of hemp and deprive Dead-heads and other American stoners of their favorite recreational drug? And you probably didn’t know that Rupert Murdoch is at the center of a conspiracy to turn the Internet into “a mass surveillance database and marketing tool.”.

This is the sort of company the esteemed David Ray Griffin keeps. I expect the PCUSA’s Westminster/John Knox publishing house to announce new author signings from among this crowd any day now.

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ECUSA – the future of the PCUSA?

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

As noted in the “about me” box on the right side of the home page, I am an elder in a mainline denomination seemingly bent on self-immolation. So I observed with some interest the selection of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop-elect of another imploding denomination, the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. I am not personally acquainted with “Bishop Katharine” as she seems to be known. I’m sure she’s a nice lady and I wish her no ill will. But a recent Time magazine interview provided a chilling glimpse into the likely future of the PCUSA.

Asked what her focus would be as head of the ECUSA, she replied

Our focus needs to be on feeding people who go to bed hungry, on providing primary education to girls and boys, on healing people with AIDS, on addressing tuberculosis and malaria, on sustainable development. That ought to be the primary focus.

These are all laudable activities, the sort of things Christians are called to do (although my denomination seems to think that we are merely called to lobby the government to do those things on our behalf). But the “primary focus”?

The list sounds like the primary focus of the Department of Health and Human Services, not of a church that once believed it received its primary focus directly from Christ – “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) I would have thought she might mention preaching the gospel as part of her primary focus, maybe down the list between malaria and sustainable development, but surely somewhere.

Asked if “belief in Jesus” was the only way to get to heaven, I hoped the leader of a church that once accepted the truth of Jesus’ words would mention his own reply to that question – “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) But no. She answered

We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.

These are honest and frightening words. They seem to say that the ECUSA is reduced to a group of people “who practice the Christian tradition” while utterly disregarding the person and work of the one whose name they have borrowed. This notion of doing good works without a clear understanding of their source echoes the blindness of the PCUSA’s previous Moderator, Rick Ufford-Chase. On the page entitled What I Believe, Ufford-Chase confesses to believe only one thing about Jesus:

Jesus is God’s radical answer to the unbelievable suffering that exists all over the world.

But Jesus could be that answer only by first addressing sin – the real source of the world’s “unbelievable suffering”. Jesus could be that answer only by being who he was – untamable, unpredictable, dangerous, and holy, only by enraging puffed-up religious leaders and driving away casual followers with hard truths, only by laying down his life in a messy, bloody death, tortured and nailed alive to a tree because we humans had no other path to reconciliation with his holy Father, and only by taking his life up again three days later. Jesus could be that answer only by being God. So Bishop Katharine was right about one thing. Those “who practice the Christian tradition” of lip service and works judged good by human standards do indeed “put God in an awfully small box.”

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PCUSA: Purveyor of dumb conspiracy theories

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

PCUSA bureaucrats never cease to amaze me. In 2004, two denominational staffers led a group of Presbyterians to cozy up to Hezbollah in Lebanon and praise the terrorists for their humanitarian ways. This, of course, followed closely after the General Assembly’s dumb plan (enthusiastically endorsed by many of the bureaucrats but since largely rescinded) to punish Israel for getting its civilians killed by crazed Muslim suicide-bombers. The PCUSA was correctly perceived has having some very anti-Semitic tendencies. So what could this crowd possibly do that would be even dumber?

It turns out that they could publish a book that accuses the President of orchestrating the attacks on the World Trade Center. I’m not kidding. The PCUSA’s publishing arm, Westminster John Knox Press (having long since abandoned any connection to either the authors of the Westminster Confession or to John Knox) has indeed done just that. Since the PCUSA is rapidly losing sight of what orthodox Christian faith actually is, the publishers may have thought the book’s title, Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action, qualified it as a book about Christian faith. (Ok; that was a cheap shot. It is more likely that they just thought this crack-brained conspiracy theory would lend credence to the bureaucrats’ early and increasingly shrill criticisms of George W. Bush.)

The theory has another appeal to the bureaucrats too – it fits perfectly with the denomination’s unofficial policy of embracing Islam and deflecting criticism from it at every opportunity. To learn more about the crackpot author and one of his more notorious co-theorists – and what other Presbyterians have to say about this folly – see this Christianity Today article.

It’s getting really embarassing to be a part of this organization….

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