Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Contempt for the Mushy Middle

I'm going to excerpt a portion of another blog below. The excerpt is long, but the blogger pens a coherent path to his conclusion. I'd like you to read it, trying to figure out who it is coming from. What organization is this fellow representing? Who is he talking about? Why is he so worked up? Try to get a picture of the mindset of this writer, and at the end, I'll tell you who he is.

... this week I want to write about the Pastor as Pacifier. Other titles come to mind. Were I to be more clever, I would have entitled this the "Pastor as Passivist." Its not a word, but it gets across the meaning I am intending: some pastors watch the machinations and ministrations undertaken by activists in their church and choose to remain, well, passive. I could have called this article the "Pastor as Enabler," for the result of choosing to remain passive is that one further enables the church to continue to be attacked.

I choose the title "Pacifier" because it comes closest to naming the underlying motives of this pastor: keep peace at all costs. For whatever reasons there may be--and there are many (we will explore some of them)--some pastors engage this conflict in their church with a predicated avoidance.

Why? And at what cost to the church? That is what we need to explore. There really are many reasons why a pastor whose church has been targeted for attack would wish for, opt for, hope for, and long for peace and refuse to engage in the conflict that results.

One of them is ignorance. I don't mean this is any pejorative way: I mean only to suggest that pastors who have spent their careers watching one church squabble after another can infer from the evidence that what they are witnessing here is just another church fight. And many have learned the hard way over time that it is wise to stay neutral on matters of church dispute: taking sides can result in the loss of offended members.

What they may not realize--in other words, that of which they may be ignorant (and this can be costly)--is that this fight is different. It is much less internal than, say, a battle over which hymnal to purchase, whether or not to expend endowment funds for the purchase of a new piece of property, or when to schedule the new second service. This battle involves outsiders with much more nefarious intentions, and passive indifference in their presence will be costly. Informing local church pastors of the web of connections that feed this monster is essential.

Another reason for pacifying is, to put it bluntly, that some clergy just don't have a stomach for the fight. There are personality types for whom conflict avoidance is a matter of personal choice. An incredible amount of energy and time can be spent triangulating with conflicting members in order to pacify them and--if needed--keep them at bay. Pastors can even find it ennobling to brush one unresolved conflict after another under the carpet. And the relief they feel at having avoided conflict, coupled with memories of times when these efforts failed them, empowers them to repeat the strategy.

In all fairness, it should be pointed out that sometimes conflict avoidance can avert much more disastrous consequences. And one can easily understand that most pastors' inclinations tend more towards acts of kindness, grace, and compassion--especially toward members they have been called to shepherd. Good men and women who have been called into ministry to preach the gospel, to care for the sick and needy, and to bind up the wounds of the broken-hearted never imagined that they would be called upon to engage in battle against the very people they chose to serve. One of the untold stories in this saga is the intense pain it is causing such pastors.

There is little judgment in this analysis. But there is much to observe. And it should be properly noted that avoidance tactics in these circumstances only exacerbate the problem. This is not a conflict that can be wished away. Pastors whose resolve is, to quote the noble Chief Joseph, to "fight no more forever" gain some level of personal comfort at the expense of their churches.

Fueled with both propaganda and motive by outside agitators, those members who have committed to this battle do not believe that compromise, peaceful negotiations, or fatigue are legitimate reasons to end their attack. And Pastors who believe that they have quieted the troops with some sort of peaceful resolution must be very wary. Another attack is being planned.

I am witnessing in these days one good pastor after another abandon churches in the middle of intense conflict, unwilling to enter the fray in defense of their church's history, tradition, and heritage. They leave such churches to the wiles of a crafty opponent who will not take defeat easily; and to the hope that among the laity can be found those who do have a stomach for the battle. But they are not easy to find.
In a reply to my Feb. 7 article ("Anatomy of an Attack: Part 1), "Mainstream Baptist" writes: "Those who lack scruples against character assassination, slander, lies and gossip are parasites that feed on the reservoir of trust that people of genuine spirituality and integrity earned for their communities of faith. When the unscrupulous are finished eating the heart out of their churches, nothing is left but a hollow and fragile shell. From hard experience, I have learned that most moderate Christians would rather switch churches than fight to preserve their church from [our opponents]. The majority of the moderates who refuse to switch churches, prefer to appease [the opponents'] cliques--preserving some small measure of personal tranquility--rather than facing and confronting those who defame the character and intentions of those who have the courage and conviction to oppose [our opponents]. Bystanders enable the perpetrators by allowing them to deal with their victims one-by-one."

What he writes here about church members is no less true of their pastors: some would rather switch than fight. And "bystanders enable the perpetrators." I can, and have, observed the behavior of such pastors. I can, and do, understand their inclinations.

What I cannot do is stand idly by and watch the church I love be attacked from the outside with no righteous cause or purpose. Pastors in this time can no longer afford the comfortable choice of laying low. To do so is to become complicit in what will be the inevitable outcome. To leave this battle to the laity alone is unwise, unfair, and unwarranted.

Okay, you've made it through. Who wrote it? Who are the good guys, and who are the villains? Who are the sitting-duck victims and who are the perpetrators--the "outsiders with much more nefarious intentions"?

Is the writer from the New Wineskins movement, bemoaning how progressive infiltrators have taken over the structures of the church? No. Is this someone who would write a letter to The Layman out of outrage about the indifference of the church to the people perverting the plain meaning of our Constitution and driving good Christian folk to other, more faithful churches? Nope. Is this a renewal group leader, bemoaning all those Presbyterians asleep at the switch and complacent in their seats, while a great evil is being perpetrated in their midst? Not that either.

The writer is John Dorhauer, and the blog is Talk2Action, a harshly cynical and sour electronic bulletin board for all things progressively paranoid. This man is scared silly that the Institute on Religion and Democracy--the renewal organization I serve--has totally infiltrated the mainline religious world and controls everything, with the purpose of destroying denominations for some fuzzy political objective dictated by conspiring conservative politicians. It is an amazing delusion that would be laugh-out-loud humorous if it weren't so cynically pathetic.

So, when the run-of-the-mill church leader is not as totally freaked out as Dorhauer is about renewal groups trying their best to return straying denominations to their faith roots, then he labels as enablers or "passivistic" these pastors who are not willing "to engage in battle against the very people they chose to serve" (people who probably have a better grasp on the faith than most progressive pastors and leaders, I might add).

I find it interesting--even amusing-- that Dorhauer is so worked up about the alleged control and total effectiveness of renewal groups such as IRD. I suppose we should take that as a backhanded compliment! But I find it sad that he is laboring so hard to rouse the troops to fight against orthodoxy and biblical faithfulness.

I suppose he hasn't figured out yet that it is ultimately a losing cause to flail against those who simply seek the Word and will of God. Or maybe he has figured it out, and thus the panic.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Ignore the Constitution at great peril

Let me tell you a true story.

An Indiana church was founded by a pastor, and then the pastor’s son eventually became co-pastor. The church so appreciated the two that they wrote into an employment agreement that they would continue to pay them salaries after retirement, as a form of pension. Then, they further solidified that agreement by writing an even more generous pension agreement into the bylaws of the church.

The pastors fell out of grace—the son by having a questionable relationship with a female parishioner and then divorcing his wife, the father by coming out of retirement to start another church close-by, taking most of the staff and leadership and about half of the members of the original church. Badly crippled and disgusted with their former pastors, the first church quit paying their pensions.

Father and son had the audacity to bring suit, saying that they still ought to have the monthly salary from the first church as pensions due to them according to the bylaws of the church. The church, struggling financially by the church split, didn’t have the $17,000 per month to give to the fallen pastors no longer serving the church.

What happened in court? Because the pension agreement had been written into the bylaws of the church, the court ruled that the church owed $732,000 back pension payments to the pastors, plus $17,000 a month for the rest of the pastors’ lives! Obviously, this illustrates that it is a bad idea not to follow the church’s constitution. (See Calvary Temple Church v. Paino, 827 N.E.2d 125 (Ind. App. 2005).)

Why am I telling you this church horror story that should send you to take a good look at your congregation’s constitution and bylaws? Because the courts take very seriously what is written in a nonprofit corporation’s governing documents—for Presbyterians, our Book of Order.

Attorney and CPA Richard Hammar is the author of Pastor, Church & Law, considered the “bible” of church legal advice, and is senior editor of Church Law and Tax Report. He is hailed by many as the nation’s top authority on church legal matters. Commenting on this case in Church Law and Tax Report, Hammer noted this relationship between church documents:

A charter is the state-approved articles of incorporation of an incorporated church. Most rules of internal church administration are contained in a constitution or bylaws. Specific and temporary matters often are addressed in resolutions. If a conflict develops among these documents, the order of priority generally is as follows—charter, constitution, bylaws, and resolutions.

Okay, so what am I getting at?

The recommendations in the report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church contain Recommendation #5. This recommendation would fall under the term “resolution” in the hierarchy Hammar describes above. An Authoritative Interpretation is not part of the charter, constitution, or bylaws of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It is a resolution passed by a single General Assembly—the document with the least weight.

Recommendation #5, if approved, would thoroughly nullify the force of the Constitution, turning the “shall not” language of the Constitution into a relative “shall not unless local ordaining bodies would rather do otherwise.” (See a series of articles by attorney and elder William A. Bradford, where this case is made quite thoroughly.)

Okay, if a resolution such as Recommendation #5 is found to contradict the Book of Order, guess which document secular courts would hold up as authoritative—the Constitution or the Authoritative Interpretation? The secular courts would say that as a matter of law, the Constitution would have precedence.

The church in Indiana found that out the hard way. They’d made a resolution that the church was trying to argue was operative. The court said, in effect, “Not so fast! Your constitution is what counts.” Wouldn’t the PCUSA be making the same mistake as the Indiana church, if it were to ignore the plain meaning of its Constitution and follow willy nilly the contradictory wording of the proposed new Authoritative Interpretation?

A church ignores or contradicts its constitution at great peril. Ask the church in Indiana how it will come up with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for its erring pastors. We Presbyterians dare not break our Constitution in a fumble-fingered attempt to adjust it. Commissioners to General Assembly must not approve Recommendation #5 from the Theological Task Force.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Wedgie Award Goes to Progressives

I keep running into a phrase that I’m finding increasingly tedious. The annoying phrase is “wedge issue.”

It’s a political term, from what I can figure out. It apparently denotes a dispute of some kind—usually peripheral—that can be slyly introduced into a formerly united voting block to split it into factions. Operatives from one side apparently try to foment discord in the other side by driving wedge issues into the unsuspecting opposing forces. It’s the old plan to “divide and conquer.”

What’s happening with the term is that it’s being used willy nilly as an “explanation” of just about anything theologically conservative people and organizations attempt to accomplish. If devout Christians oppose abortion, the progressives decry it as a wedge issue to cause church schism. If faithful Presbyterians work to maintain the fine standards and morality Presbyterians have always followed, they are accused of using sexuality as a wedge issue to wrest control of the denomination for ultra-right political purposes.

An egregious recent example is found in a mad rant by a fellow with a bee in his bonnet about renewal groups in general and the Institute on Religion and Democracy in particular. Quite unable to contain his pique, John Dorhauer writes:

Today's wedge issue is homosexuality, and renewal groups have latched onto it as the most recent evidence of the church's apostasy. Their mission is to save the church from such heretical practices, and to "renew"' and restore the church to its truer, more historic past.

The problem is that these groups have much more nefarious intentions. It is not the “renewal” of the church that they are interested in, but the destabilization and destruction of what has been throughout the history of the United States the most consistent, courageous, and clear voice of social reform and justice.

The truth of the matter is that there is no truth to what Dorhauer writes. People operating from basic Christian convictions about issues long settled in Christian morality but newly assaulted by raging secularity within the church are not “introducing wedge issues” when they uphold biblical morality. It’s called committed discipleship, a concept largely incomprehensible to those more politically than spiritually motivated.

In fact, when Dorhauer accuses orthodox believers of introducing wedge issues, it’s actually a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. It seems likely that Dorhauer uses that kind of thinking, and because he employs that kind of tactic, he just naturally expects that evangelical Christians are operating with the same purely political motives.

He’s wrong.

I was amused to find the smoking gun that absolutely illustrates the reality of who is actually out looking for places to drive in wedges. Here’s what a fiercely “progressive” blogger had to say recently about a change of mind within the conservative National Association of Evangelicals:

So why should progressives be glad about the NAE’s retreat from one prominent element of what is known as “Creation Care”? Not just because it exposes a split within the organization, but because that split reveals the forces now threatening the unity of the conservative movement. Progressives should be on the lookout for divisions among religious conservative, and between religious conservatives and other conservatives, to find wedges that can be driven home to crack the conservative movement to pieces [emphasis added].

I rest my case.

* * * * *
Until now, about a week later. Another clear instance of progressives seeking to use wedge issues to break apart evangelicals just cries out for notice. A progressive wrote recently, "This research helps us avoid traps, like viewing the Right as impossible to challenge, or even omnipotent. We can identify wedge issues which can offer us political opportunities."

Obviously this tactic of identifying and exploiting "wedge issues" in the opposition is serious business for the progressives. It seems to be a common activity. No wonder they so often just assume that that is what we evangelicals are doing, when it couldn't be a more ludicrous conjecture.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Gay-Activist Plans to Co-opt Church

I just ran into a paper titled “David v. Goliath: A report on faith groups working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality (and what they’re up against),” by Richard A. Lindsay and Jessica Stern. For anyone interested in the continuous struggle within churches to maintain Christian standards against a tidal wave of worldly opinion, this is an eye-opening bit of research from the worldly-opinion viewpoint.

This report is an open tool box for how the secular gay political-action lobby plans to use the church for their purposes. At the start of the paper, here’s the breathless good news to the progressive political types: “In light of recent political events, secular progressive groups have an unprecedented opportunity to mobilize this existing expression of support [pro-gay groups in some denominations] into a broader political coalition...” (p. 2).

You see, using the church for secular political ends is entirely what they are about. No wonder that gay activists can’t fathom how believers’ Christian convictions could have anything to do with their moral opposition to homosexual license—even within church life. There are people out there who just can’t believe that anybody in a church would actually oppose homosexual practice because of religious convictions. To them, it all must be evidence of a vast right-wing political conspiracy. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Here’s a paragraph of the executive summary, to illustrate:

The opposition is immense, well-organized and largely unanswered by the progressive community: The Institute for Religion and Democracy and other anti-LGBT organizations profiled in this report represent a massive shadow conservative movement pumping millions of dollars into the anti-LGBT movements in America’s religious institutions. These activists, many of whom are connected at the highest levels of the conservative movement, are working behind the scenes to influence the opinions of tens of millions of otherwise moderate Americans, using fear, homophobia and calls for religious purity in organizations that hold great personal and spiritual mportance for their members. (p. 4)

Calls for religious purity? In a church? The scoundrels! What will those Christians try next?

I think you can imagine where the report is headed.

If you, like me, have ever worked alongside a renewal group such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy, you will be left wondering a couple of things: (1) So THAT’S what we were doing--promoting a vast, right-wing political take-over? Silly me. I thought I was living out my calling as a Christian! (2) “Millions of dollars?” What millions of dollars? You've got to be kidding! For all of the PCUSA, IRD has one half-time person staffing Presbyterian Action: me. Quite the "massive movement," wouldn't you say?

This report is full of little nuggets that point out the vacuous theological basis of the progressive political groups seeking ways to co-opt the church into their purely political cause. Here are a few examples, skimmed off the top:

  • “If these [mainline] denominations could be won over to support gay ordination and same-sex marriage, it would represent a historic shift in America’s religious landscape” (p. 14). Even secular strategists realize that gay advocacy is something new and unique to denominations, not something at the core of who they are and what they believe.
  • “Pastors may rightly be concerned that if they take too strong a political stance, they will alienate many of their members, losing the monetary tithes and offerings that support their churches’ programs and the pastors’ own salaries. The ability of these churches and organizations to operate is almost completely dependent on the good will of the people in the pews” (p. 2). There are two things here: First, even the report writers see how some pastors are out of touch with the people in the pews and thus need to slyly direct the offerings of the unwary to pro-gay causes. But, second, this also shows that churches can stop such subterfuge by not blindly offering their “good will” to unchristian activities!
  • “Twenty-five percent of the Metropolitan Community Church’s membership is either straight-identified or from a different religious tradition than Christianity” (p. 10). This idea that you don’t even have to be a Christian to be a MCC member was thought to be really great.
  • “Most of these organizations [pro-gay groups within denominations] are working to attract a diverse population across categories of ethnicity, geography, age, sexual orientation and gender identity. For instance, That All May Freely Serve cited a three-weekend anti-racism training course as its most successful event” (p.12). While anyone should work against racism, we need to be careful that pro-gay groups don't co-opt otherwise great events to recruit for their other political interests.
  • “The opposition to these organizations is well organized and well funded. For instance, there is a coordinated attempt to undermine the liberal branches of Protestantism through an organization known as the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). The IRD has helped incubate traditionalist insurrections against liberal policies of Presbyterian, United Methodist and Episcopalian churches…. The IRD is also agitating for schism between conservative and liberal factions in the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church USA” (p. 13). Whew! I’m glad to know that IRD is considered well organized, but charges of undermining denominations and incubating insurrections against liberal policies are a little over the top. The charge of agitating for schism is simply 180 degrees off.
  • “Organized opposition to LGBT people within the denominations usually exists in numbers that far exceed those of inclusive churches. For instance, in the Presbyterian Church USA, the number of congregations involved in LGBT-inclusive networks, such as More Light Presbyterians, That All May Freely Serve, and Covenant Network is 501. The so-called Presbyterian “Confessing Churches,” which base their membership on opposition to gay people and on biblical infallibility and the exclusive salvation of Christians, claim 1,309 congregations with 439,095 total members” (p.13). They got the numbers about right, but their description of Confessing Churches says a lot about the writers’ purely secular perspective. And the double use of "opposition to LGBT [or gay] people" couldn't be more inaccurate, since there is no organized opposition to LGBT people. The caring, conscience-driven opposition is to the legitimization of homosexual practice. There's an enormous difference.
  • “Soulforce’s annual budget in 2003 was: $380,000. Focus on the Family’s annual budget in 2003 was: $127,974,380 – more than the top 10 gay rights organizations combined” (page 14). The authors forget the “It’s Not All about You” fallacy. Soulforce uses 100 percent of its money to legitimize homosexual practice. Focus on the Family uses only a fraction of its contributions to counter the sexual downfall of America, using the rest for dozens of other Christian ministries unrelated to the homosexual issue. The budget comparison is like comparing a muffler shop to all of Sears.
  • Pages 15 and 16 look extensively at the PCUSA, offering such tidbits as “The Presbyterian Church USA has its own anti-gay industry” and “Presbyterian networks would be glad to mobilize around LGBT political issues” in addition to their work within the denomination on ordination issues.

Okay, that's enough for now. But this report is a gold mine for all those interested in the mindset of organizations that oppose biblical morality and want to drag the church into their secular political struggle.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Open Cronyism but Not Open Meetings

Just when I thought the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) had pretty well defied the Open Meeting Policy to the fullest extent possible, I was proved wrong. It turns out they hadn't yet broken one of the provisions--the one about treating all observers fairly.

The Open Meeting Policy contains these two provisions:

(5) The provisions of this policy shall apply to visitors and representatives
of both church and public media, including print, electronic and photographic

(6) All the provisions of this policy are to be applied equitably to
all persons and groups.

In other words, you can't privilege one group and bar another. At the actual ACSWP meeting, indeed PNS was treated as cavalierly as I was.

But then I read in the Presbyterian News Service article by Evan Silverstein: "ACSWP did not release copies of its documents to reporters during the session, but later reviewed the papers with the Presbyterian News Service." So, the next week, when I was safely out of town and no longer a factor, ACSWP Coordinator Chris Iosso provided the papers to Evan Silverstein to review, and Silverstein then was able to write his article.

So much for "All the provisions of this policy are to be applied equitably to all persons and groups."

Since that time, the Office of the Stated Clerk has been reviewing the Open Meeting Policy and will be issuing a ruling soon. This practice that ACSWP has begun--both withholding information in the meeting and then passing it on only to fellow Louisville staff members in the press--cannot be allowed to continue.

Shouldn't Presbyterians be able to expect simple fair play--play that is by the rules--from those whose salaries they pay?