Monday, January 29, 2007

Pope Clifton the First?

In the January 29, 2007, edition of the Witness in Washington Weekly, an e-newsletter from the Presbyterian Washington Office, an article seeks individual Presbyterians’ opposition to President Bush’s plan for Iraq (the article is copied at the end of this posting). A strange line in that article caught my attention: “The Presbyterian Church, (USA) has responded to this new strategy with a statement in opposition to the escalation of the war.”

Really? How would “The Presbyterian Church (USA)” be able to respond with a statement? General Assembly hasn’t met since last June. General Assembly Council is still more than a month away. So who is “The Presbyterian Church (USA)” who has made some partisan political statement in opposition to the President’s plan?

It turns out that the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is actually the party who issued the statement (which reads, for the most part, like boilerplate from the Democratic National Committee). Apparently the Presbyterian Washington Office expects Presbyterians in general to consider a political statement by Clifton Kirkpatrick the same as an official resolution by the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Presbyterians individually oppose or support the President’s plan. There is a wide variety of political affiliation and personal sense of the right way forward concerning the tragedy of Iraq. Individual Presbyterians tend to lean toward Republican politics, if anything, although no political party should ever be thought the official party of the church. A surge in troops sent to Iraq may or may not be a good idea. That’s debatable. In other words, Presbyterians have no official political answer to the current situation.

Thus “The Presbyterian Church (USA)” has NOT responded to the new strategy. A solitary leader has, however, overstepping his ecclesiastical authority in order to play secular politician.

Three brief thoughts arise from this:

First, wouldn’t one think that disorder and possible collapse in one’s own sphere would perhaps cause a leader to exercise humility toward proffering amateur advice to leaders in another sphere, quite separate and complex?

Second, the Washington Office has taken the occasion to get people to urge their representatives and senators to "vote for any bill or resolution that opposes the President's plan..." (emphasis added). Note that the advice is to support any plan except the President's. Any plan! That's advice that could be as hazardous as it is partisan.

Finally, at what point did our polity change, so that a mere clerk became the Presbyterian pope?


The article in Witness in Washington Weekly:

Oppose Escalation of Iraq War

On Wednesday, January 10 President Bush unveiled a new strategy for handling the current crisis in Iraq. The central tenet of his plan revolves around a substantial increase in the U.S. military force in Iraq. While the President assures the nation that this will help secure Iraq and bring an end to the conflict, this is not so certain. Instead, this will most likely continue to feed into an unending cycle of increasing violence, putting even more lives, U.S. and Iraqi, at risk.

The Presbyterian Church, (USA) has responded to this new strategy with a statement in opposition to the escalation of the war. Please pray for peace and join in the opposition to the surge of troops in Iraq. Send the statement, with your own personal message, to President Bush and your Representative and Senators. For contact information of government officials go to the Presbyterian Legislative Action Center.

Sample Message
I am a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and endorse the statement below that was issued last week by our Stated Clerk, Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick. I urge you to vote for any bill or resolution that opposes the President’s plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq. We do not need more troops, we need a cease fire, diplomacy and economic development.

[The sample message continues with Clifton Kirkpatrick’s statement, found here.]