Outside money buys Presbyterian constitutional change
For instance, critics of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, the renewal group in which I serve, fall all over themselves imagining a vast right-wing political conspiracy that is buying its way into Presbyterian processes to destroy the denomination. This isn’t about that, mainly because “that” is a figment of an overcynical imagination.
Some people get positively unglued when they find out that member organizations are looking at denominational matters, seeking solutions to problems, writing them up as suggested resolutions, offering them to interested parties, and helping representatives present them cogently and effectively in meetings of governing bodies. Somehow this must break some code of holy ignorance, it appears.
The self-appointed whistle-blowers act as if:
(a) having knowledge of a subject and investing in preparation to present it is unholy (this is refuted by Presbyterian-polity expert, the late Marianne Wolfe [see booklet page 18, #2 and #3]);
(b) helping representatives speak knowledgeably on an issue has never been done before by the theological left; and
(c) exclusive license to provide information ought to be granted to the political and theological bias of denominational staff members and unrepresentative entities.
But the title above isn’t about that nonsense, either.
The title is about U.S. Presbyterian money being used to change the constitution of the Evangelical [Presbyterian] Churches in Syria and Lebanon. That’s right: American money and influence bought western-style policy changes in indigenous churches in the Middle East. You can read about it in a Presbyterian News Service article, full of congratulations to Presbyterian Women for making the $10,000 grant that oiled the constitutional changes.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I am pleased with the constitutional changes for the Presbyterian churches in Syria and Lebanon. It is wonderful that finally women will be able to sit in as judges in cases that so greatly concern their own welfare--such as divorce and inheritance law. In a country where actual civil law is carried out by the church judicatories, women especially need to be represented. It only seems fair.
Thus, it is a good thing that Presbyterian Women made the grants and the churches’ constitution was able to be changed in this beneficial way.
Okay, so if Presbyterian Women, an outside organization, is doing a good thing by being beneficially involved in the life of another church in another country, does it not stand to reason that renewal groups such as Presbyterians Pro-Life, One By One, and Presbyterian Action also could be applauded rather than scorned for their intended beneficial influence on their own denomination?
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I look forward to the time when Presbyterian news sources equally laud the theological insight and necessary balance that Presbyterians Pro-Life brings to abortion considerations, for instance. Or the stories of hope and love that One By One offers those wanting to break the trap of immoral desires. And it would be great for the Presbyterian Action contributions to social-witness policy to be recognized as positive, rather than marginalized as unwanted. Such groups have much to offer, but not if they are systematically excluded or even vilified, as they have been by even such groups as Presbyterian Women!
The Lebanese and Syrian Presbyterians could have denounced Presbyterian Women and said, “Yankee, go home, and take your egalitarian values with you!” But instead, they had the wisdom and grace to welcome their help in this case, and the churches will be better off for it. Certainly the PCUSA could learn from the Evangelical Churches in Syria and Lebanon.
Just one final aside: I wondered why $10,000 was needed to effect a simple church constitutional amendment. Was it necessary for calling the constitutional assembly? For printing new constitutions? For promoting the excellent reasons why the amendments should be approved?
I e-mailed the Presbyterian Women office today, March 30, asking those questions. I’ll add an addendum when someone responds with a copy of the grant proposal. Watch with me for the response, but given my track record at getting any reply out of Louisville recently, don’t hold your breath.