Sep 30th, 2006 · Categories: PCUSA · 3 Comments

PCUSA: Is it time for Davis Perkins to go?

Davis Perkins first came to my attention (and many others’) as the result of his scathing attack on the Confessing Church movement. This entirely gratuitous assault appeared in his introduction to a pamphlet about contradictory statements in some of the confessions the PCUSA purports to embrace. He wrote:

The term “confessing church” has come to mean something altogether different in the current Presbyterian context … as right-wing organizations seek to use confessional statements as theological sledgehammers to bludgeon Presbyterians into a rigid orthodoxy ….

Give Perkins credit for one thing (and only one thing); he came out of relative obscurity wearing his colors for all to see. His terminology identified him as a left-wing ideologue. Centrists seldom use the term “right-wing” while radicals always use it to describe centrists.

This terminology usually signals that the writer views theological differences primarily as political disputes – the term “right-wing” is, after all, a term from politics. People who see the Christian faith primarily as a political tool usually believe that “everything is politics” and tend to express themselves accordingly. There are many of this sort in the PCUSA; former moderator Rick Ufford-Chase is a high-profile example.

“Progressives” like Perkins have no use for orthodoxy. As he noted correctly in his mean little diatribe, orthodoxy is somewhat rigid, not pliant and accommodating like these folks want the PCUSA to be. And like many in PCUSA leadership positions (Clifton Kirkpatrick, Elenora Giddings Ivory, and Jack Rogers come easily to mind), he is not reluctant to use his bully pulpit to “bludgeon” those with whom he disagrees.

If I thought about Perkins at all after reading his cheap shot, I probably figured that he would just fade back into bureaucratic obscurity. It never occurred to me that, as a publisher, he would invest (misappropriate might be a better word) the resources at his disposal to promote the ultimate radical cause. But no; as president and publisher, Perkins decided to drag the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) into the weird la-la land of David Griffin’s silly fantasy, Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action.

I was shocked and angered by this dumb decision, not only because of the content of the book, but because of the sort of crackpots the author chooses to hang out in cyberspace with. But there was something more troubling than that, more troubling than the lame excuses PPC offered for this bonehead play, even more troubling than the denomination’s rush to peddle this trash on the official PCUSA web site. I discovered that, like the PCUSA itself, Perkins was betraying the mission entrusted to him. According to the PCUSA, this mission is as follows:

Building on the Reformed tradition, the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation seeks to glorify God by contributing to the spiritual and intellectual vitality of Christ’s church. To that end, PPC publishes resources that advance religious scholarship, stimulate conversation about moral values, and inspire faithful living.

Um, right. Let’s see if stamping Griffin’s goofball conspiracy theory with the PCUSA’s imprimatur furthers this “mission”:

  • Does publishing Griffin’s claim that Jesus was a political activist whose mission was to overturn the Roman Empire “glorify God”?
  • Does publishing junk whose author regularly posts to a web site that specializes in crackpot theories contribute to “the spriritual and intellectual vitality of Christ’s church”?
  • Does publishing a book based entirely on partial or manufactured evidence “advance religious scholarship”?
  • Does publishing a book so filled with lies “stimulate conversation about moral values”?
  • Does a publishing decision that brings waves of well-deserved scorn and derision on the PCUSA and its members “inspire faithful living”?

I think not.

Perkins, however, must believe the answer to these questions is yes. That being the case, I suggest that he move with all possible haste to get the PPC into the highly profitable supermarket tabloid business. He would be comfortable with the product and would probably find the frantic pace of new “scholarship” quite stimulating. And I’m sure the PCUSA would be happy with the enhanced revenue stream.

Occasionally, the PCUSA recognizes a failure of judgment so monumental as to require action. On rare occasions, the PCUSA moves decisively when a staffer allows professional judgment to be overwhelmed by personal prejudice. After the notorious Re-Imagining God conference, Mary Ann Lundy, the staffer who secured the PCUSA’s participation, was fired. After the world learned that the PCUSA was visiting Hezbollah terrorists and praising them, the responsible staffers – Kathy Leuckert and Peter Sulyok – were also fired.

With the PCUSA turned into a laughingstock, at a time when its reputation as a hotbed of anti-israel bigotry has been slightly diminished by backtracking on divestment, it’s time for PCUSA leaders to take a moment to focus on something other than their cumbling empire.

Is it time for Davis Perkins to go? I think the answer is obviously yes. Sadly, the obvious is all too often an impenetrable mystery to PCUSA bureaucrats.

This entry was posted on Saturday, September 30th, 2006 at 1:51 am and is filed under PCUSA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “PCUSA: Is it time for Davis Perkins to go?”

  1. Presbyterian Gal Says:

    October 1st, 2006 at 8:46 pm

    I would bet that many at headquarters will agree, eventually, with your question regarding Davis Perkins. Especially once it is perceived that it is the direction the heavy pocketbooks are leaning.

    However, it will likely take six months to form a special investigatiave committee, followed by two years of meetings before anything will be done.

  2. Grumpy Says:

    October 2nd, 2006 at 11:06 am

    Hi, pg;

    I dunno. At least in the cases I mentioned, once they figured out that they really couldn’t spin the story in any satisfactory way, they moved fairly quickly. But I’m not optimistic. Doing the right thing doesn’t seem to be a high priority in Louisville.


  3. Anonymous Says:

    October 4th, 2006 at 4:05 am

    People I talk to are shocked that the PCUSA is selling a book (it is still advertised on their website) whose author says that 9/11 was “planned and executed by our own political and military leaders.” I think that this is a significant event – but of what, I don’t know. It leaves me confused as to the reason for the PCUSA keeping such a book on their website.

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