Archive for November, 2008

PCUSA: Goodbye to all that

Monday, November 17th, 2008

My church and I have joined the Midwest Presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). After a long, divisive, frustrating struggle with a stiff-necked and ungracious Administrative Commission (AC), we (the session) finally said “enough!”. We scheduled an information meeting and vote without the AC’s permission.

More than 300 of 550 active members showed up last Sunday to vote on disaffiliation from the PCUSA. The vote was 270 to leave and 36 to stay. In addition to immediate disaffiliation, members voted to seek membership in the EPC and to retain our pastors, session, and Board of Deacons. Additional details are available at the Layman Online.

We still have the presbytery’s inevitable claim of an alleged trust in our property to deal with. We continue to hope that our dissenting members will choose to stay in their church family rather than cast themselves adrift in the PCUSA.

In a strange way, I am grateful to that unkind and unreliable AC. If they had shown some consideration for our church, we might still be trapped in their interminable process – and the PCUSA. Is this a case of God intending their evil for our good? I can’t say for sure, but as a new member of the EPC, I can say it’s a real possibility.

Posted in EPC, PCUSA, Personal | 1 Comment »


Friday, November 14th, 2008

I love Paris.

I knew I would love it before I ever set foot in its streets. I knew it my junior year in high school (1961-1962) when I took my first French class. Last May 21, my wife Debbie and I stepped aboard the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse – France’s 200 MPH passenger train) in Strasbourg, France to begin the final leg of a journey that began in Springfield, Illinois 47 years before.

When I was 16, the French language seemed unspeakably sexy to me. The thought of learning it was wrapped in the vague, lusty fantasies of a Midwest teenager. Our teacher, Miss McFadden, did her best to teach us to read, write, speak, and understand French, and some of it stuck with me. I never forgot how to conjugate a handful of verbs. I still remember a brief tribute to the month of March and its often unexpected turns: O que mars est un joli mois, c’est le mois des surprises. The language worked its magic on me, hinting at a world beyond the corn and soybean fields, beyond the grand metropolises of St. Louis and Chicago, a world that revolved around – Paris!

I took two more years of French in college but they seem to have left no lasting impression on me. (To be honest, little of my squandered undergraduate career penetrated my indifference to higher education, at least little of an academic nature.) No matter; like Roy Neary’s vision of the Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I had an image planted in my consciousness. My mind harbored the ghost of a place I had never visited, a place that nonetheless beckoned to me over time and distance.

Oh, I had seen pictures of Paris. I had seen movies set in Paris. I studied paintings hanging on walls in Paris. I knew la Tour Eiffel when I saw it. I had read Sartre and Camus. I had sung folk songs that celebrated life in Paris. I knew a lot facts about Paris but I didn’t know Paris. I hadn’t experienced it on the ground, conversed with it (however uncertainly) in its native tongue, smelled or tasted it, absorbed its colors or its sounds. Like a fond memory, the longing to be there quietly occupied its corner of my mind, occasionally prodding me and reminding me of its presence.

After being invited to leave college for the final time in 1967, I lived in St. Louis and Chicago – and in New York, and San Francisco, and Provincetown on Cape Cod, and Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, and in a lot of places in between. They were all fun or interesting or satisfying places to live. I didn’t pine for Paris. I enjoyed those places; they just weren’t … Paris.

As the train crawled through the suburbs of Paris, I searched the skyline for the one landmark that I could not mistake. We had been in France – in Strasbourg visiting expatriate cousins – for five days. But only one thing would make my presence in Paris real. And then I saw that tall, familiar silhouette in the distance. I knew from my 47 years of preparation for this trip that the the grand Champ de Mars lay at its feet, and that just on the other side was the river that had been flowing through my dreams, la Seine.

My recently-resumed study of French (and the foresight to write down the address of our hotel) saw us from the train station to l’Hôtel Beaugency near the rue Cler without difficulty. That evening we celebrated our arrival in the City of Lights by dining at l’Altitude 95 restaurant on the first observation deck of its most famous structure. At any other restaurant in any other city, I would have said the food was good but seriously over-priced. But the end of a 47-year journey deserves a once-in-a-lifetime commemoration at a meaningful location. It was perfect.

I spent ten more days falling in love with this city. A normally picky eater, I resolved to eat whatever was put in front of me while in France. I was never disappointed. Six of those days were spent on a walking tour of the city. I have never been in a city where every street corner entices you away from your planned route. And when you finally tire of walking, the Metro waits a few blocks away to deliver you within blocks of your destination.

Debbie and I just returned from a visit with the cousins who have now been repatriated after four years in Strasbourg. Talking about Paris and writing about Paris are a far cry from being in Paris. But – for now – I can talk and write about where I’ve been, not just where I want to go.

These and other photos from Alsace, Paris, and Switzerland can be seen here (still many more to come).

Posted in France, Personal, Travel | 9 Comments »

PCUSA: Obfuscating the Bible

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

As an academic (Computer Information Systems), I usually appreciate other academics’ creativity. I enjoy novel ways of thinking that lead to interesting and maybe useful results. But not when the academic is trying to make the Bible hard to understand.

The utterings of theologians and Bible scholars must be approached with caution and often taken with pounds – not grains – of salt. A professor doesn’t get tenure by writing “Calvin was right.” No, getting tenure generally requires the production of ever more novel and esoteric ideas. This is especially true when grants are involved. That’s fine in most fields but not when explaining God and his Word.

I am not a theologian or a Bible scholar (just a lay student of the Bible), so I don’t keep up with what is all the rage in this global academic village. But as a Presbyterian, I sometimes read about what Presbyterian scholars are up to. “No good” is often an accurate summary. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the current debate over homosexual practice.

In the interest of full disclosure, I confess I often wish God would lighten up a little. I’ve worked with and been friends with homosexuals most of my adult life. I’ve worked in college, community, and summer stock theater. (Accuse me of stereotypes if you will, but it is what it is.) I lived at a YMCA in New York for a while – not “the” YMCA of Village People fame – but not much different. I team taught an adult Bible study on homosexuality with a friend who was trying to escape “the life”. (He has since quit trying, but I still greet him as a beloved brother whenever I see him.)

It grieves me that as a man married to a woman I can enjoy sexual intimacy within Biblical bounds but these friends and colleagues can’t. God, however, didn’t ask my opinion. He sets his standards and I can’t change them. Neither can I ignore them or urge other Christians to. Theologians and Bible scholars shouldn’t either, but too many do.

The PUP report, for example, contained the astonishing assertion that the Bible’s teaching on same-gender sexuality is too “diverse, subtle, and complex” to make any determination of what it actually says. Had they asked, I would have referred them to the excellent Scripture and Homosexuality by Dr. Marion L. Soards, a professor at the very liberal Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Unlike some of his colleagues he is indeed able to read and understand what the Bible says. (My friend and I used Dr. Soards’ book and How Will I Tell My Mother? as resources for the class.)

But there are plenty of Presbyterian academics who want us to believe that the Bible was written for intellectuals with advanced degrees. To these exalted few, we poor yokels in the pews are unable to grasp what the plain text means without their intervention. Strangely enough, what they present is often an obfuscation* of what the Bible says, not a clarification. (I have written before about the PCUSA’s penchant for word games.)

Such were the speakers at the recent Covenant Network victory celebration. Walter Brueggeman and Stacy Johnson gave attendees what they wanted hear – strained exegesis that they can use to claim that the Bible says what they wish it said. James Berkley (the Berkley Blog, formerly the Institute for Religion and Democracy) has written in the Layman Online about the talks by Breuggeman and Johnson.

Presbyterians who want to know what a faithful academic has to say about the Bible would be better served reading J. Gresham Machen, Francis Schaeffer, or the aforementioned Dr. Soards.

* Obfuscate: To make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand: “A great effort was made . . . to obscure or obfuscate the truth” (Robert Conquest).

Posted in Christianity, PCUSA | No Comments »

PCUSA: The Sundquist disaster

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

The Sundquist decision is reminiscent of Roe v. Wade. In that case, an activist Supreme Court searched the Constitution high and low to find a hook on which to hang its desired result. Through some of the most tortured logic since the Dred Scott case, the Court found the right to an abortion tucked away in the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Likewise, the GAPJC discovered powers invested in the presbyteries that until now have lain completely hidden in the Book of Order, awaiting discovery by a greedy and desperate bureaucracy.

The really alarming thing about the Sundquist decision is the practical reality of how churches wishing to escape the clutches of the PC(USA) might initiate the process. The session can’t ask the congregation what they think. The session can’t vote to ask the presbytery to launch their intrusion into the life of the congregation. There seems to be no mechanism to compel the presbytery to take action, so particular churches must beg the presbytery to act. They are entirely at the mercy of the presbyteries who have been granted authority to lord it over them like the Gentile kings and call themselves “Benefactors”.

It seems the denomination’s dreams of converting presbyteries into bishops (cf. the Louisville Papers) is coming closer to fruition. With this decision in hand, it will be much easier to convince a judge that a presbytery is not a body governed by representatives of local churches, but is in fact a powerful hierarch with ruling authority over those churches.

One has to wonder if the the part of this decision that limits expressions of conscience to speech only (no action permitted) will apply to the broad right to scruple. If one had any confidence in the integrity of the GAPJC, one would assume that the first case involving a candidate scrupling G-6.0106b would result in the candidate being told “You can verbally disagree with the standard, but you can take no action that would violate it.” Odds, anyone?

Frankly, this comes as no surprise. Those of us who have studied the Supreme Court over the years have witnessed its growing tendency to act as though the Constitution means whatever the Justices say it means. This seems to be a common weakness in constitutional systems of government: Where the legislative body is either weak or complacent, the highest court is free to interpret the constitution any way it pleases. So it is with the PC(USA). Perhaps the GAPJC took its lead from the 218th GA’s authoritative interpretations that declare meanings not found in the actual words of the Book of Order.

Posted in PCUSA | No Comments »