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.]

6 Comments:

Blogger Toby Brown said...

I called this one too:

Let's prepare to kiss the ring...

Presbyterianism and the Holy See don't really mix well. I wish that some of us would figure that out someday.

WWJKD? What Would John Knox Do?

12:42 PM, January 29, 2007  
Blogger MikeZ said...

Jim: I've been reading Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical, "God is love" (and that guy really IS the Pope).

At one point he writes about the role of the Church (the Catholic Church) in society:

"The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves. ...

The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church."

Maybe Kirkpatrick thinks he's "doing his part", but it sure seems like he's bucking for a big promotion.

7:34 PM, January 29, 2007  
Blogger Dave Moody said...

As to your first though-

one would think that, wouldn't one... but authentic humility seems to be in rather short supply among the progressive elite.

our polity changed when we beleived the lie and truth became relative, - your truth, my truth- and all that matters then is that my truth wins out- power.

6:37 AM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger James said...

Another example on how our denomination doesn't know it's own polity.

I realize that the Washington Office wishes to act quickly on a hot-button issue of the day. Still, maintaining the integrity of our polity seems more important. (I'm not even mentioning the actual policy considerations.)

After all, don't we claim the priesthood of all believers and rule by elders. Would that be an essential of polity?

Grace,
James

9:21 AM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger Doug Hagler said...

Here I agree with you. While I personally agree with Kirkpatrick's view on the escalation, and support any effort to oppose it (and the Iraq war in general), I do think it is out of line for the Clerk of the GA to make statements that supposedly represent the entire PCUSA. I would love to see the GA vote to publish a statement opposing the war in Iraq and the President's plan to escalate it, but I don't want that to happen without an honest, up-or-down vote where everyone has the opportunity to be heard.

2:45 PM, February 20, 2007  
Blogger Presbyman said...

On the bright side, does anyone actually listen to the Stated Clerk?

5:56 PM, March 11, 2007  

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