Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We Are Not Amused with Arrogated Power

Wait one minute, Mr. Tulsa Attorney now threatening the Kirk of the Hills property settlement! The property agreement between the Presbytery of Eastern Oklahoma and Kirk of the Hills is none of your business.

The Form of Government does not give the denomination the authority to “approve” a transfer of property. G-8.0301 states:

Whenever property of, or held for, a particular church of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ceases to be used by that church as a particular church of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in accordance with this Constitution, such property shall be held, used, applied, transferred, or sold as provided by the PRESBYTERY [emphasis added].

G-8.0401 states:

Whenever a particular church is formally dissolved by the presbytery, or has become extinct by reason of the dispersal of its members, the abandonment of its work, or other cause, such property as it may have shall be held, used, and applied for such uses, purposes, and trusts as the PRESBYTERY may direct, limit, and appoint, or such property may be sold or disposed of as the PRESBYTERY may direct, in conformity with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [emphasis added].

Further, G-11.0103y (a section on the responsibilities and powers of presbyteries) states that the PRESBYTERY has the responsibility and power “to consider and act upon requests from congregations for permission to take the actions regarding real property as described in G-8.000.”

Could it be clearer? The PRESBYTERY is given the responsibility to make this call. What the presbytery decides is what matters.

The denomination has no authority to involve itself in this matter, other than general administrative oversight over a lower governing body. However, even that general oversight responsibility belongs to the synod first and would require some kind of complaint process that would trigger an administrative review of the synod by the General Assembly. What some hyperactive bureaucrat (or agent thereof) thinks or wants is irrelevant.

We Presbyterians do not have a bullying monarchical form of church government, in which denominational lawyers threaten the proper constitutional governance of the presbyteries and congregations. King Henry VIII had spies and enforcers ready to deal severely with anyone who dared question his absolute authority. For example, to disagree with his discarding of Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn was to be guilty of treason, and the punishment was to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.

After watching from afar the “king’s” expensive, disgraceful, ministry-crippling, and God-dishonoring grasping after the assets of the Kirk of the Hills, after hoping that the mutually agreed upon settlement would finally end the hostilities, and then after reading that some denominational king apparently will not be satisfied without first hanging, drawing, and quartering the Kirk, I am disgusted that kinder, gentler, more Christian leaders have not stepped forward within the denominational structure to put an end to this avaricious disgrace.

This is especially disgraceful after General Assembly declared that “Scripture and the Holy Spirit require a gracious witness from us rather than a harsh legalism.” General Assembly made it clear that “trying to exercise this responsibility and power [to divide, dismiss, or dissolve churches] through litigation is deadly to the cause of Christ.”

But there is more. The new Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Gradye Parsons, is also disposed against further resort to courts. “The last thing we need to do in dealing with these situations is to go to court,” he said in a press conference following his election. “We need to find ways to address them with each other and try to stay out of court….”

So, we now see evidence of three rather grave errors:

First, the denominational hierarchy is arrogating powers to itself that belong to the presbytery.

Second, the denominational hierarchy is acting in a manner contrary to the authority and will of the General Assembly—to say nothing of the will of God!

And third, apparently the intention of even the Stated Clerk counts for nothing for the denomination’s legal arm, supposedly a department under his authority.

Somebody please tell me that this is just a rogue, self-appointed attack attorney who is operating outside the scope of legitimate denominational authority. That is, after all, a possibility—the most benign explanation I can come up with at the moment.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


At a time of great national economic ruin and joblessness, I find myself in solidarity with the masses. I am unemployed—although I hope to avoid the "great economic ruin" part.

On September 17, I was told that my position as Director of Presbyterian Action with the Institute on Religion and Democracy was being eliminated and I was being laid off as of that day. It was a necessary decision, as I understood it, one that I had seen coming for some time.

Had I been my own boss, I probably would have made the same call. One cannot spend money that isn’t there. Prudent judgment required a three-person reduction in the IRD work force. The hole I left could be ably filled by Alan Wisdom, and Presbyterian Action would be around to see another day. So it was done.

I remain a great fan of the positions advocated by the Institute on Religion and Democracy and the work its people do. Theirs is a vital and necessary ministry undertaken by brilliant and deeply faithful people. Theirs is also a difficult and rather thankless task: To stand up to the ideas and forces that would unmake the Church, sully its witness, and harm individuals and society.

Too few conservative Christians seem to understand and embrace the importance of a biblically faithful social witness. They tend to cede that territory by default to the progressives, who revel in that playground as political players largely cut free from biblical constraints. The progressives run mostly unchecked, except for the nagging IRD whistle blowers. However, with somewhat of a collective evangelical yawn, evangelicals have insufficiently funded the IRD’s ministry, and therefore the cutback.

Responding to a wider phenomenon

The IRD’s belt tightening is not unique, however. Throughout the Presbyterian renewal community, income is scarce and ministries are suffering. It’s not that beliefs have changed. It’s more that hope has dwindled, interests have diffused, and constituencies are fracturing.

Evangelical cynics would say, “Well of course! The bums leading the so-called renewal groups haven’t been able to accomplish a thing! Not a penny more to them!” Those cynics would, of course, see the glass as half empty--a glass that would have been completely drained, if not for the dogged efforts of many renewal groups as they stymied a progressive take-over of the PC(USA). The cynics mindlessly dismiss the very renewal organizations that have struggled for their own interests, delaying and diminishing disaster for decades!

Progressive adversaries are probably saying, “Sweet! Our opposition is crumbling, and in no time it will be our church to run unhindered. Not a penny more for renewal’s obstacles!”

It must look juicy to the progressives. Perhaps tottering are the very renewal groups that have stood in their way and tripped up their radical recasting of beliefs and practices. Still only about a nineteen-percent minority of the PC(USA), the activist progressives could find the whole kit and caboodle dropped into their hands--if a panic sweeps the evangelicals, who give up or walk away.

Evangelical stalwarts therefore must say, “That can’t happen! If we drop the ball, only ill can result. Every penny possible to the effort; every defender to the barricades!”

Without a unified and, yes, expensive effort, evangelicals will soon find themselves detested aliens in their own denomination, which will have departed from the faith entirely. This struggle won’t go away simply by ignoring it or concentrating on more pleasant endeavors.

Awkward irony

The timing of downsizing is awkward for evangelicals. Just when a radical activist group—More Light Presbyterians—gets windfall secular funding to add staff to further attempt to turn the PCUSA into another gay-advocacy caucus for political purposes, that’s when renewal groups are struggling to retrench or maybe even to survive. If evangelicals allow a wholesale collapse of their renewal and reform efforts, what a boon that would be for the progressives!

But the rightsizing of the IRD is a little ironic in itself, since speculative and self-serious voices from the progressive fringe have gone loony about how well-funded the IRD is and how it supposedly bankrolls and controls all the other renewal groups in several denominations. No, the IRD doesn’t receive bales of unmarked bills from clandestine right-wing fanatics out to destroy the church for political purposes. The IRD evidently receives insufficient $20 checks from dear saints even to maintain its own staffing level. So much for the half-baked conspiracy theories!

And now that More Light Presbyterians’ umbrella organization--the Institute for Welcoming Resources--has become a wholly owned subsidiary of a secular gay political lobbying organization, will these same “concerned” voices be railing about the “outside political influence” on the denomination? Somehow one thinks not!


What is needed is evangelical solidarity. Together, those of us who are theologically orthodox/conservative/evangelical need to come out of the woodwork and work in union. There are more than twice as many evangelicals in the PCUSA than there are progressives, although one would never know it from the liberal-skewed demographics of those placed in leadership roles. We evangelicals have history, theology, the Bible, the Book of Order, the Book of Confessions, the international Church, and tradition in our favor--as well as the numbers.

But do we have the will? The spiritual fortitude? The solidarity? Time will tell.

And one more thing: God will prevail. God always does.