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.


Blogger Reyes-Chow said...

Jim - sorry to hear about the job loss, but not surprisingly you clearly take all things with grounded abundant grace and deep conviction. Blessings on the next thing/s that God has in store for you. Bruce

7:25 AM, October 12, 2008  
Blogger Red_Cleric said...

You're voice, both as an individual and as a member of IRD will be missed around here. Keep on blogging and sharing.

You are in my prayers as you move on into the next place God has ready for you.


8:58 AM, October 12, 2008  
Blogger Viola said...


Your interesting, in detail, logical and Christ centered reports of the various PCUSA committee meetings will be greatly missed. But I know God has some other "Christ centered ministry" for you. You and Debbie are such a blessing and gift to all of us.

Viola Larson

3:24 PM, October 12, 2008  
Blogger Dave Moody said...

God's grace to you and Debbie in this transition. Do keep up the writing, its so helpful for us in fly-over country when it comes to things denominational.


11:18 AM, October 13, 2008  
Blogger Russell Smith said...

God's blessings on you. I trust that He'll take care of you.... you've been gifted with a Mencken-esque pen (keyboard?), so I have no doubts that the Holy Spirit has some other great endeavors.

Soli Deo Gloria

12:25 PM, October 13, 2008  
Blogger Presbyman said...


You have my sympathy at having your position eliminated. It always feels rotten no matter what the reason. I trust and pray that God will bring you to a safe harbor where you can use the skills he has given you for further work.

Where is all that right wing loot when you need it????

John Erthein
Erie, PA

12:48 PM, October 13, 2008  
Blogger Mark Smith said...

As one who lost his job (secular) a month before you lost yours, my prayers are with you and your family.

12:51 PM, October 13, 2008  
Blogger Kevin said...

Scripture speaks of 'the watchman' who fails to do his duty-- it never mentions what happens when the watchman is downsized! Will Alan be able to attend all those meetings? What presence will remind some of those boards and committees that they don't work for themselves?

God bless the faithful (temporarily unemployed) watchman!

2:06 PM, October 13, 2008  
Blogger Doug Hagler said...

I wanted to add my sympathies to the list of those already offered. I hope that you find a new position as quickly as possible, and that it is a right position (as you seem to have felt that your previous one was also right).

6:13 PM, October 13, 2008  
Blogger Joseph said...


God bless you. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to Jesus. Though we have disagreed in the past, I have always respected and admired you. Yours is a consistent voice. You write with passion and logic. You have my prayers for God's blessings.

6:54 PM, October 13, 2008  
Blogger Viola said...

We have all been so sorry about your job loss and the loss it means for us, that we haven't addressed your other important thoughts.

In writing about "solidarity" you write that, "There are more than twice as many evangelicals in the PCUSA than there are progressives," and yet the story is far more expansive than that.

It isn't the Progressives that the orthodox are in battle against. And I know you know this, I am just saying it, it is the powers of darkness that want to tear us all apart including the progressives.

Yes, we do need solidarity, but in all areas among the orthodox. My thought is that just as many liberal Presbyterians make common cause with other mainline liberals we must get beyond our conservative/orthodox/evangelical divisions.

We need to have close ties with those who leave, as well as those who stay. We need to wed our renewal efforts to our fellowship with all in and out of our denomination. I'm not sure how that works but I feel very strong about it as a need for renewal. I think it may be one of the reasons we are being defeated. Perhaps God wants more unity in that direction.

Viola Larson
Sacramento California

9:07 AM, October 14, 2008  
Blogger Rob said...

I hadn't checked in for a couple weeks, so I've just now read this; Sara and I will be praying for you, too. As well, we'll keep praying for renewal and revival within the PC(USA)--which ultimately can only be accomplished by the Spirit of God, who can work in many and wondrous ways.

9:36 PM, October 18, 2008  
Blogger Rob said...


Rob Harrison
Winona Lake PC

9:37 PM, October 18, 2008  
Blogger popsnjj said...

Jim--I have just read about your job loss. My Pastor and I always enjoyed your insightful blogs. One door closes and another one will open. Keep on blogging.

Frank Norment
Rome, GA

7:50 AM, October 24, 2008  
Blogger will said...

Jim -
I'm way behind on blog reading, so I just now saw this. I am very sorry to hear it. I know you may see it as a vastly underappreciated role - but the work you have done to ensure open meetings, and to provide timely comment on them has been hugely beneficial.

10:51 AM, October 26, 2008  

Post a Comment

<< Home