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.

11 Comments:

Blogger Jim said...

A person using a pseudonym with no Blogspot profile has twice used this space to post a comment about an article posted in another place altogether.

I have twice removed the comment, not because of the content of the comment but because (1) the commenter did not give his name, and (2) the comment was not about the Berkley Blog.

I would be pleased to correspond with the pseudonymous person if he would simply write me at the point where he saw my article elsewhere. There is no way to reply to a person through this site.

Jim Berkley

9:00 PM, February 05, 2006  
Blogger Earl Apel said...

Hi Jim,

I haven't read your blog in quite awhile. I happened to read presbyweb tonight and saw the reference.
So I'm not one of those anonymous posters you referred to.

I don't get your point about the wordly-opinion viewpoint that supports GLBT rights against Christian standards.
The last I checked the majority of the world's peoples live in Asia and Africa. I'm not aware of there being great
affirmation in those areas regarding GLBT people. Rather there are the pockets in Europe and Canada that somewhat
affirm GLBT persons. Even our own great USA does not support GLBT rights to the extent that a few other countries have done.
The fact is that wordly-opinion supports your opinion when it comes to GLBT persons. So use that term carefully.

Regarding the paper "David vs. Goliath" I don't understand the need to have such great concern. First of all I think
anytime an organization sees the Christian community as a possible asset it is a good thing even if that seems misguided.
This is a perfect opportunity for evangelism. That means that the Christian community makes an effort to reach out
and personally witness and lead those persons to Christ. It has nothing to do with the $ spent by one organization
against another making it seem like some sort of contest that really has no relevance.

So my suggestion is that you emulate the fine example of Christ in reaching out to those who don't quite get it and focus on
leading them to a reltionship with God through faith in Christ. It's pretty simple isn't it? Why do we as humans have such
difficulty in dealing with this wonderful simplicity?

Yours in Christ,

Earl Apel
Member, Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church
Cincinnati, Ohio

9:28 PM, February 06, 2006  
Blogger Jim said...

Earl,

You make a good point about one's perception of the roll of the tide of opinion. What I notice is the tremendous erosion of biblical morality in our western culture. It has become a case of people thumbing their nose at God and doing whatever they think suits themselves. This cuts squarely across both heterosexual and homosexual worlds.

Christians holding biblical positions are quickly becoming the pariahs of pop culture and the media. Try this "Seattle Times" editorial, for an example: http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=ryan03&date=20060203&query=%22The+generational+disconnect+on+homosexual+rights%22. Sorry for the messy URL. It's titled "The generational disconnect on homosexual rights" and it ran on February 3. It's becoming typical.

I share your desire for evangelism. All those wishing to call Jesus the LORD of their lives (meaning also the One who calls the shots about the rules) are warmly invited to lay down their swords at his feet and then rest in his tender arms. I would hope that EVERYONE would be so inclined.

My concerns on the "David v. Goliath" article are twofold: First, it is laughably researched and patently ridiculous. The way it depicts church renewal groups could hardly be more inaccurate. Second, any group ravenously eying the church to be co-opted into ANY purely political scheme bugs me. The church is meant to be THE CHURCH, dang it, not some secular group's next demographic conquest!

If you have any great insights into how to reach out to some of the most rabid church-haters with the Good News of Jesus Christ--without compromising the purity Christ leads us to--I'm all ears.

I'd far prefer to see the crowd behind the report transformed by faith in Jesus Christ, growing in costly discipleship, and sharing their newfound faith with others, rather than squandering their capital "evangelizing" a lifestyle of decadence and death. I'm off the charts on that preference!

Jim Berkley

10:45 PM, February 06, 2006  
Blogger Earl Apel said...

Hi Jim,

I'm sorry you are distressed by the so-called secular elements in our society. Again I can understand.

You make an interesting comment: "If you have any great insights into how to reach out to some of the most rabid
church-haters with the Good News of Jesus Christ--without compromising the purity Christ leads us to--I'm all ears."

Well first of all the purity of the Good News of Jesus Christ is that God loves us all unconditionally without question
and seeks to give that love to us if we are willing to accept it. It's not something you ram down people's throats.
You have to be open to the idea of reaching out just like Jesus did. Otherwise how can one really bring about any
sort of change that will last? Jesus reached out to the pharisees, tax collectors, those not in favor with society, etc.
And there were those that were touched and changed for the better. Isn't that wonderful! In reality weren't they as
much so-called "church haters" than anyone else? Who hates the church more, those who are in it or those outside? One
might ask why are there some outside in the first place? It seems to me on personal experience that much more turmoil
comes within the church than outside. What does that say to us as the Body of Christ?

Regarding the so-called wordly view or popular opinion I will share with you my own recent experience. I recently got
early retirement from my employer just being 48 years old. So I decided to start a new career in retail this past fall.
During the Christmas season I worked with a college student who was just working a few weeks. Silly me I always thought
the younger people were more enlightened. Guess what? He started making remarks about things being "so gay". This was
not a positive remark. I let that slide by. Then he remarked about a customer leaving the store that he was a "faggot".
The customer I don't think was gay at all, but this was a put down that was not appropriate. In this job I don't really
want to be that open unlike my expressing my opinion in your forum.

So here is my question. If there is such a concern about purity of the Good News of Jesus Christ, what are you and others
doing about it regarding downright hateful situations that take place day to day as I described? It seems to me frankly
that nothing is being done but why not? I agree that marriage is a hot issue but are hateful words something to debate?
No, they are not.

Maybe the gay groups you condemn are "squandering their capital "evangelizing" a lifestyle of decadence and death". But then
I have to question whether you and others are putting your capital into evangelizing a lifestyle of affirmation and life?
Maybe so, but it is not clearly reaching all of our society especially the youth. Needless to say I don't think this young
man I worked with is being influenced by the gay groups. But then can you say he isn't living a lifestyle of decadence
and death? Why make such a fuss over one group and not another? Just some personal observations. It just seems contradictory
rather than a simple matter of saying what is black and white.

I could share much more and will do so if you are interested.

Yours in Christ,
Earl Apel

9:53 PM, February 08, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

I can't speak for evangelicals in general (and of course Jim can speak for himself), but for my part, I know I don't tolerate the sort of behavior you describe, and in that respect I'm pretty representative of the evangelicals I know. Indeed, many of us would have an easier time confronting your young co-worker for such language than we would talking to you about your way of life.

As to whether the gospel is reaching all of society, and especially younger folks: of course it isn't, and there are a lot of reasons for that; but if you really think that the evangelical church is guilty of "mak[ing] such a fuss over one group and not another," that just shows how little experience you have of evangelical Christianity. You come in contact with our part of the church mostly along one axis of engagement; trust me, there are others, and working to draw young people out of the nihilism of youth culture into the life of the people of God is a major one.

9:00 AM, February 09, 2006  
Blogger Earl Apel said...

Rob,

Thanks for your comment. I'm glad to hear you would condemn the hateful behavior quite easily that I personally experienced. But then I have to ask how is it any different to condemn that behavior quite easily but have such a problem confronting what seems to me you are implying is a greater evil (my way of life which you really don't even know completely)? The fact is to confront evil you do have to get to the nitty gritty and have a conversation with the offender. If that proves to be too uncomfortable then you are in-effect sending that person to eternal damnation. That is something no Christian wants to do regardless of where that person stands on certain issues.

For your benefit I will share that I do have the awareness and do respect evangelicals. I was part of an evangelical church for many years and knew many fine people whose faith I respected and admired. I expect that this experience is what prompts me to question and ask as I have been in more than one axis of engagement.

The bottom line is we like to use the labels of evangelicals and liberals. In the end there is more in common than many like to admit. It's not our imagination. It is reality.

Yours in Christ,

Earl Apel
Member, Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church
Cincinnati, Ohio

8:29 PM, February 09, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

A greater evil, Earl? No, or at least, not necessarily. But how is it any different? At one level, it isn't. At another level, it's a matter of public behavior--hateful language and attitudes openly expressed in a public setting. Someone says something hateful in public in my presence, they've earned whatever rebuke I give them (within reason, anyway), because they've made their sin my business.

Presumably, Earl, you aren't having sex in public; as such, I think most folks I know on the right would think that your sex life is none of their business unless in some way you make it their business (by raising the issue in conversation, for instance). Even then, for many (most?), it would be an uncomfortable topic, for a number of reasons--discomfort invading others' privacy, discomfort talking about sex, the desire not to tell people we like things they don't want to hear, among others--and thus one which a lot of folks would prefer simply not to address.

9:50 AM, February 11, 2006  
Blogger Earl Apel said...

Rob,

I thank you for affirming me as one that is not having sex in public. I don't see myself as a performer in that area as
a porno star.


Well the bottom line is I haven't had sex in 10+ years with a male or female. I hope you won't read something in this to think I might
have been having this with animals? But I can't rule that out with some of the words people say in all of this debate.

The fact is that people don't like to discuss this in general when it comes to our own practices or lack of. In fact those of us that
engage in no practice are as much on the outside as anyone else. I have been celibate for some time for my own reasons in the
faith but support others of the same gender that have loving relationships. I have no problem stating this in a more public
forum.

The real question in the end is why can't we all see each other as brothers and sisters in the faith? I will appreciate your reponse
in this question as well as Jim's. Believe it or not I'm not one to raise such fuss without having some passion based on those wonderful
people that taught me the need to follow Christ as best as I can as growing up. I don't think they were wrong. Otherwise you and others
must conclude these fine people were wrong and led me astray somewhere. I can't help but forget this wonderful Sunday School teacher that
would say she knew so much about Jesus she could write a book about him. She didn't need to write the book. She turned my life around.

Best,

Earl C. Apel
Member, Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church
Cincinnati, Ohio

9:30 PM, February 13, 2006  
Blogger Richard Lindsay said...

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your critique of the report. I hope it will encourage as many people to read this report as possible. A few comments from the co-author:

"They got the numbers about right, but their description of Confessing Churches says a lot about the writers’ purely secular perspective."

I am a lifelong member of the Presbyterian Church USA, baptized and confrimed. My parents are both lifelong Presbyterians and both currently serve as elders on presbytery. I am also a graduate of Yale Divinity School. That's my "secular perspective." Although it is possible that you may interpret my perspective as secular because I embrace full equality in the church and in society as a whole for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, I assure you my dedication to these issues – along with that of most of the people surveyed for this report – comes from my belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It seems that the faulty assumption you have made about this report, and one that is the underlying flaw of the Presbyterian anti-gay movement, is that you continually portray lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as outside the church trying to "infiltrate" the denomiantion. The fact is we are children of the church: elders, deacons, ministers, Sunday school teachers and church musicians. we have always served the church and will continue to do so. The question is not, "What do we do with all these gay people who want to get into our church?" The quesiton is, "What do we do now that we KNOW there are so many gay people in the church?"

About your statements on the IRD:

“If you, like me, have ever worked alongside a renewal group such as the Institute for 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.”

I’m not sure what it means to work “alongside” a group like the IRD when they are paying you to work for them. I am a Presbyterian who happens to work for a large gay rights organization, but I have no qualms in saying that I work for them.

As for charges about "secular" groups "targeting" the church, the IRD has several board members who are also well-known members of the conservative political establishment. I call your attention to the report for that, but the best example I can think of right now is Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard. United Methodist Action coordinator Mark Tooley even has a weekly column on the Weekly Standard website. I do not know of any leader in the pro-gay religious community who has that kind of access to the mainstream media.

You are right that the IRD has an annual budget of about a million dollars, but organizations in the Episcopal, Presbyterian and Methodist churches that are supported in financing and strategy by the IRD have overall budgets of more than 6 million dollars. The Presbyterian Lay Committee alone has an investment portfolio of around 3 million dollars, which I’m sure did not all come from little old ladies sending in their lunch money.

(All of these figures can be independently verified at guidestar.org, a site which lists the 990 forms of non-profit organizations.)

The point of the report is that this outside organization which most Presbyterians, Methodists and Episcopalians don’t know about, which has received millions of dollars in funding from the political right, is trying to break apart the denominations rather than having them support their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members.

The pattern in each of the three denominations where the IRD has operatives is clear:

1) Undermine the national leadership of the denomination by portraying it as “leftist,” “extreme,” and “out of touch” with the average church member.

A good example from this step in the IRD playbook would be the phrase: “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.” You even used the phrase “out of touch,” so I can see you’ve been reading your talking points.

2) Distribute propaganda and “educational materials” that portray the church leadership in this way, some of it through official IRD publications such as Faith and Freedom and United Methodist Action, and some through affiliated publications such as the Presbyterian Layman and the Episcopal Church’s Encompass.

The extreme right-wing bias, selective quoting and general misinformation of The Layman are well known to Presbyterians. What they may not know is that there are sister publications in other denominations that use exactly the same methods of “journalism.” The Methodist version of The Layman, United Methodist Action, is actually published by the IRD itself.


3) Create right-wing para-church organizations that claim to represent the orthodox, mainstream, or “confessional” tradition of the denominations…These organizations set up alternative church governments with the purpose of promoting schism, suggesting that the differences between liberals and conservatives are too great to be mended. Their intention is to promote the collapse of national denominational government, partially through the withholding of funds, and then break off into separate denominations. Some of their ability to do this will be based on civil court legal rulings regarding whether they can take church property with them or whether that property is owned by the denominations.


I call your attention to Presbyterian Outlook, December 5, 2005:

“What would the New Wineskins congregations do? That’s very much open for discussion, but one option hot in the mix in Orlando was what the organizers call the ‘Supercede’ model (as opposed to ‘Succeed,’ winning the kind of change they believe the PC(USA) desperately needs, or ‘Secede,’ leaving altogether.) In the ‘Supercede’ approach, congregations could put one foot in the New Wineskins plan while keeping the other in the PC(USA), Henderson said. Congregations could begin operating using New Wineskins approaches, preparing to go, but not leave entirely yet – buying themselves time try to resolve property and other issues.”

To your statement, “The charge of agitating for schism is simply 180 degrees off,” I would say, if it looks like a schism and quacks like a schism, it’s probably a schism.

What many Presbyterians may not know is that this exact strategy is being played out in the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church.

I hope your blog and my report will receive wide distribution, as members of the mainline denominations find out more about the plans of the IRD to agitate for schism. I do not oppose political organizations working with mainline denominations. If the IRD wishes to help direct funding to conservative organizations in the PC USA, or work “alongside” Presbyterians or even hire them outright, that’s fine, but it should be upfront about its dense ties the secular right, its intentions and its goals. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is working with its partners in the faith community because we seek a common goal of full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Our faith leaders have not, however, resorted to the “winner take all” tactics of the IRD, where “church unity” means you either agree with us, or we’re going to take all our marbles and go home.

3:43 PM, February 14, 2006  
Blogger Jim said...

Richard,

Oh man, where to begin! You repeat nearly all the very errors I first pointed out, apparently thinking that I must be either lying or deceived when I: (1) tell you what we are doing in the renewal movements and (2) disprove the political motives you’re just sure must be at the root of what actually turn out to be our Christian convictions.

You write: ”It is possible that you may interpret my perspective as secular because I embrace full equality in the church and in society as a whole for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, I assure you my dedication to these issues – along with that of most of the people surveyed for this report – comes from my belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” It is possible, but not correct. Certainly you may have religious beliefs. That’s fine. But I write that you have secular motives because you are writing from a political, secular organization’s viewpoint, hoping to co-opt the church for your political purposes. That’s exactly the subject of your report. You want to use the church and church members to achieve your political end. That you consider the political end consonant with the Gospel is another matter that is greatly disputed. What isn’t of dispute is that the report you wrote is hoping to find ways to use the church for your political ends.

You toss off the phrase “the Presbyterian anti-gay movement.” There is no Presbyterian anti-gay movement that I have ever run across. Many Presbyterians are laboring mightily to uphold God’s standards for both heterosexual and homosexual persons, but they are not anti-gay. They believe that the proper way to be loving toward gay people does not necessarily require approval of everything such persons want to do. They believe that the best way to truly CARE for a person is to lead that person toward faithfulness to God’s benevolent law. I have not run into Presbyterians in the renewal movement who are anti-gay. They are instead pro everything that is godly. You made an entirely wrong and prejudicial assumption there.

You say, “The question is, ‘What do we do now that we KNOW there are so many gay people in the church?’" Great. I think I’d frame the question in the same way. The answer is terribly simple and painfully difficult: you love them enough to not leave them in a broken, sinful state caused by the Fall. What do we do since we KNOW there are liars and adulterers and gossips in the church, too? We don’t say that lying and adultery and gossip are no longer sins. We carefully and lovingly teach about sin and help lead the person, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to sin no more. That’s a “Well, DUH!” kind of an answer on the one hand, but the tragedy is how resolutely Satan has twisted lives into believing a lie about homosexuality, and how much hurt Satan has wrapped around the whole issue. Most bank robbers would say, “Yeah, I know I shouldn’t do it. It’s wrong.” Most who sin through homosexual practice have been brainwashed into declaring it perfectly okay with God, which is one of Satan’s nastiest lies.

You write, “I’m not sure what it means to work “alongside” a group like the IRD when they are paying you to work for them.” For years I was not on IRD staff and worked alongside them in a parallel group, admiring especially the integrity and work of Vice President Alan Wisdom, who is aptly named. The last few months, I have been interim director of Presbyterian Action—the only staff member for the entire PCUSA, and I work half time at it. I made that perfectly clear, as you quoted me as saying. Where’s your beef?

You write, “The IRD has several board members who are also well-known members of the conservative political establishment,” and you mention Fred Barnes in particular. You are correct. Some of our board members also have deep interest and involvement in government, too. Unless you want to be like Joe McCarthy and weave grandiose schemes of intrigue, collusion, and conspiracy, you might want to consider that persons with a deep faith in Jesus Christ and a desire to see their churches reflect his glory by conserving the faith once delivered to the saints might ALSO be responsible citizens within government as well, wanting to conserve our constitutional democracy and its values, perhaps with the motivation arising from some of the same upright traits. Why, take YOURSELF, from the other side: You say you have deep faith and THAT’S why you are doing the very liberal secular political work you do for a living. Your faith, from one sphere, drives your desire to do political things, in another sphere. Could it not be possible that those with strong conservative theological beliefs might want to do the same kind of thing within the conservative political structures of our government—without attempting to co-opt the church for their POLITICAL motives? Oh, wait! You ARE trying to co-opt the church for liberal political work and thus you wrote the report, so I understand why you think everyone else is doing it, too, even when they’re not.

You complain about Mark Tooley’s column in Weekly Standard. Mark is an excellent thinker, analyst, and writer. Maybe if you had some people with his skills, they, too, would have columns.

I have no idea where you are going with your talk about the budgets of renewal groups. You need to remember one major point: we’re not all about you, although you are all about you. There are Presbyterian renewal groups who run tremendous youth camps, bringing youth to a remarkable relationship with Jesus Christ. We work for the welfare of persecuted Christians around the world. We build up pastors, seminarians, and seminary professors as they do the theological and pastoral work of all kinds in churches and schools. We help women’s organizations thrive. We work to save the lives of unborn children. We renew and encourage tiny, struggling congregations and their pastors. We hold spiritual renewals in churches that have absolutely zero to do with gay affairs and everything to do with evangelism and discipleship. We work on peace in the Middle East and send teams to reconstruct storm-ravaged areas. We finance missionaries and Bible studies and theological works. A PART of the budges of several renewal groups DOES work to uphold Christian morality and ordination standards. But you fool yourself if you think tons of money is pitted against you and you alone. That is utter foolishness. To read your overwrought writing, one would think that church were ALL about you and your lone cause, and an army of tens of thousands were pitted against you. Utter nonsense. A handful of renewal leaders, relying solely on donations and frugality, are trying their best to shine forth the Word of God and uphold the will of God. Maybe because GOD is powerful, we appear so to you.

Here’s where I go nuts, because you choose to be so obtuse, ignoring the plain truth. You write, “The point of the report is that this outside organization which most Presbyterians, Methodists and Episcopalians don’t know about, which has received millions of dollars in funding from the political right, is trying to break apart the denominations rather than having them support their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members.” Let me answer several of the phrases in turn.

“Outside organization”: Where do you, an employee of a secular political organization, get the gall to call IRD an “outside organization”? IRD is a Christian organization composed of persons of faith—nearly all from within the denominations you name, and the rest members of yet other Christian denominations—who are standing up for their faith WITHIN the denominations. How dare you call ME and the others “outsiders”!

“Funding from the political right”: Again, cannot people who on the one hand express their beliefs and generosity by donating to political causes also, on the other hand, express their beliefs and generosity by donating to religious causes? Political action groups are not funding IRD. Christians are funding IRD. Foundations who believe in our Christian work are funding IRD. And your “millions of dollars” reference must refer to the accumulation over many years. Have you looked at your multimillion dollar annual budget recently, a political-left budget that is quite openly setting out now to try to steer the church to the left on your particular matter of homosexuality? So are you contending that if it were the case that conservative political groups wanted to fund conservative theological groups that that would be bad, but liberal political groups such as yours actually trying to co-opt liberal religious groups for their political cause, as your report sets out to do, is good? You are wrong on two counts: 1) IRD is not bought off for political causes but remains focused on theological and spiritual causes, and 2) you cannot call it bad for conservatives (if it were actually happening) but okay for liberals (and your report shows that it IS actually happening).

“Trying to break apart the denomination”: Here you really show your ignorance. The IRD and most other renewal groups are working mightily to STOP any split in the denomination. You folks are the ones busily pounding wedges into groups to gleefully see them split apart. We, on the other hand, love the PCUSA and other denominations and would dearly love to see them turned around and thriving again. We renewal groups have actually frayed relationships with some of our fellow evangelicals exactly because we are dead set opposed to schism and have spoken and worked to keep it from happening. Our work is to renew and perfect the denominations, which are crumbling on their own from weak foundations, wavering faith, lack of Christian focus, and blunder after blunder in the public eye. If you want to find vitality within any of the mainline denominations, take a look at the growing, thriving churches that are evangelical. They will run circles around all-talk-but-little-to-show-for-it liberal churches even on social action and social welfare, not to mention evangelism, discipleship, and Christian devotion. Get your facts straight before you make preposterous charges.

When you talk about the 1-2-3 plan for “IRD operatives” in the Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and United Methodist churches, you simply show your own bias and venom. Has it ever occurred to you that the church leaders might just DO some things that are unfaithful, arrogant, or just plain wrong—things that NEED to be seen and understood by the church the leaders supposedly serve? We don’t need to tell selective stories, lie, or make things up. There is an abundance to report, often an embarrassing and disheartening jumble of abuse of office, missteps, bad theology, and ill will. No need to shoot the messenger. Would it not be better to clean up the operation? You say “You even used the phrase ‘out of touch’ [about denominational leaders], so I can see you’ve been reading your talking points.” Apparently you’ve neither seen the Presbyterian Panel (a denominational scientific poll that always shows the “specialized clergy” as many points to the left of everyone else) nor considered the massive difference in the votes of the General Assembly versus the presbyteries on ordination issues. There is most obviously a disconnect between Presbyterian leadership and the people. And point 3 of your plan is simply sourness and empty speculation. We coalesce into groups who believe the Bible and follow it, believe the Confessions and follow them, believe in the Constitution and seek to uphold it, and follow the morality and faith that was passed on to us from our Reformed heritage and seek to help the entire denomination be so directed and faithful—and yet in point 3 you characterize all of that as being some kind of agitation to try to destroy the denominations. How utterly baseless, ignorant, foolish, and mean spirited!

When it comes to schism, you need to do your homework. The IRD and indeed most renewal movements have not come out in favor of the New Wineskins movement. We greatly appreciate many of the people and understand their desire for a denomination that changes its ways in order to be faithful and effective. And New Wineskins itself is trying very hard NOT to be schismatic. But all the same, you cannot tar IRD with the brush you intend for New Wineskins. We are differentiated, and you ought to know that if you pretend to speak out about such things, using anything other than ignorance.

You write, “If the IRD wishes to help direct funding to conservative organizations in the PC USA, or work “alongside” Presbyterians or even hire them outright, that’s fine, but it should be upfront about its dense ties the secular right, its intentions and its goals.” First, IRD does not wish to direct funding anywhere. We do not fund other organizations. We find funding for our own work. That’s it. Second, I, personally, was the one “working alongside” IRD during the period before I was on staff. IRD has many Presbyterians within it, and those Presbyterians work mainly within their own denomination and a little across denominations. As Presbyterians active in the life of their denomination, they don’t need to work alongside the denomination; they work from within it. Third, IRD is very upfront about its intentions and its goals, and it files all the appropriate papers about its funding. You found those papers, yourself, so, again, what’s your beef? Our website says what we are about, and we are about what our website says. It’s that simple. You can call me a liar and make out that there is some grand conspiracy and thus I’m deceiving you by saying there isn’t, if you want, but please say it straight out if that is your intent. Don’t continue on with the same claptrap right after I’ve said that your cynical speculation is out to lunch.

Finally, IRD does not believe that “’church unity’ means you either agree with us, or we’re going to take all our marbles and go home,” as, once more, you so cynically branded us as believing. We do not believe that church unity is about your cause or my cause or anyone else’s cause. Church unity is about Jesus Christ. The closer we get to him in obedience, love, and discipleship, the more we will be united “in Christ.” We want to be faithful to him. We want to be faithful to orthodox Christian faith. We want to be faithful to the faith as it has been believed and lived by Christians across the centuries and is believed and lived yet by so many other Christians who have not stumbled as badly as the American mainline churches have, losing members, mission, and credibility by the minute. All those who want not to DEPART from orthodox Christian faith, but rather practice the faith once delivered to us, are invited along. All those who would pervert the faith, teach false doctrine, worship false gods, and co-opt the church for secular purposes are kindly invited to take their anti-Christian enterprise elsewhere. We’re going to remain the church of Jesus Christ.

Join us. We’re headed in the right direction. But back off from trying to make us the next political conquest for The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Sincerely,

James D. Berkley
Interim Director, Presbyterian Action
A committee of the Institute on Religion and Democracy

1:59 AM, February 20, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

As one of those working within this denomination for the sake of the gospel, with the desire to prevent schism--one, incidentally, who has no ties to IRD, New Wineskins, or any other renewal group save ties of friendship to a few of their leaders--thanks, Jim. It seems to me that the politicization of this division within the PC(USA) is almost as bad as the division itself.

9:19 AM, February 20, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home