Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Presbyterians Agreeing With Reverend Jeremiah Wright

The President of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus the Reverend Greg Bentley has written a letter of commendation for Reverend Jeremiah Wright. In the letter he writes:

"... Dr. Wright stands squarely within the Prophetic Black Church Tradition with an authentic passion that emanates from the reality of America’s history of racism and oppression. He spoke the truth. Now, this truth may be abrasive and objectionable to some, but to others it is a validation of the point of view of many African Americans and other marginalized and oppressed peoples. "

But Wright has an anti-Semitic streak that isn't being addressed by this letter at all. In Bill Moyers' interview, Wright defends Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam on the grounds that Farrakhan's anti-Semitic statements were made twenty years ago. Moyers suggests that Louis Farrakhan's anti-Semitic statements, although made twenty-years ago, were indefensible, and Wright responds:

"The Nation of Islam and Mr. Farrakhan have more African-American men off of drugs. More African-American men respecting themselves. More African-American men working for a living. Not gang banging. Not trying to get by. That's not indefensible in terms of how you make a difference in the prisons? Turning people's lives around. Giving people hope. Getting people off drugs."

Later at a National Press Club speech Wright again refers to Farrakhan suggesting that twenty years ago Farrakhan only stated that Zionism was a gutter religion not Judaism. Wright also stated, "So what I think about him, as I’ve said on Bill Moyers and it got edited out, how many other African-Americans or European-Americans do you know that can get one million people together on the mall? He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century. That’s what I think about him."

But other Presbyterian leaders are also in some ways defending Wright in fact they seem to be defending his anti-Semitism. On the "Presbyterian Thoughtful Christian" blogspot an essay entitled “Jeremiah Wright and Black Prophetic Preaching.” and written by Debra Mumford is offered for sale. But it is the blog posting that is bothersome and in particular one of its links. "Barack Obama's Home Church," written by Kathleen Kern, is the posting and its most provocative link is offered with these words, "For insights into Wright, Obama, and African American attitudes toward Israel, see, "

I think it might be safe to say that Obama would disagree with Kern's description of this link. The essay they are linked to absolves Wright of any anti-Semitism because of the connection Israel had with South Africa and the contention this caused between African Americans and the Jewish people. Ali Abunimah, author of this essay writes"

"Reverend Wright, who has sought a broader understanding of the Middle East than one that blames Islam and Arabs for all the region's problems or endorses unconditional support for Israel, stood in the mainstream of African American opinion, not on some extremist fringe.

That is not to say that Jewish concerns about anti-Semitic sentiments among some African Americans should simply be dismissed. Racism in any community should be confronted. But as they have done with other communities, hard-line pro-Israel activists like Foxman have too often tried to tar any African American critic of Israel with the brush of anti-Semitism. Why must every black candidate to a major office go through the ritual of denouncing Farrakhan, a marginal figure in national politics who likely gets most of his notoriety from the ADL? Surely if anti-Semitism were such an endemic problem among African Americans, there would be someone other than Farrakhan for the ADL to have focused its ire on all these decades."

The Electronic Intifada staff, where this essay is found, are basically pushing for a one state solution to the Israel and Palestine problem. And their books, their news and their ideas are all one sided. Israel is the aggressor and her lobby in the United States is all powerful.

This refusal to speak truth about a preacher's sin is simply a part of the rising anti-Semitism in the mainline denominations. Reverend Wright will not denounce the anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakhan, and the Reverend Greg Bentley will not denounce the strange ideas and the anti-Semitism of Wright. The Church suffers because of it. That is hardly prophetic.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Church Confessing Her Sin

Recently I have been writing and thinking about confession as confession of sin. Daniel’s confession of sin for the whole of Israel is an example for the Church. In its confession within the worship service the Church confesses sin for the whole Church and members confess, usually silently, individual sin.

Since I have been writing about the Church making her Confession of Jesus Christ and about the Declaration of Barmen and the Confessing Church in Germany, I have, of course, also been thinking of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In his book Ethics he gives a very clear understanding of what it means for the Church to confess sin, and not only her sin but the sin of the world. He writes this:

“The Church is precisely that community of human beings which has been led by the grace of Christ to the recognition of guilt towards Christ. … The Church today is that community of men which is gripped by the power of the grace of Christ so that, recognizing as guilt towards Jesus Christ both its own personal sin and the apostasy of the western world from Jesus Christ, it confesses this guilt and accepts the burden of it. It is in her that Jesus realizes His form in the midst of the world. That is why the Church alone can be the place of personal and collective rebirth and renewal.”

Three important points are made about the Church. She is what the world sees of Jesus Christ. She is the only entity that in relationship to Jesus Christ can confess sin, so she confesses her own sin and she confesses the sin of the world. Because of this only in the Church can there be individual renewal and the renewal of the Church and that is based solely on the Church’s confession that she has sinned.

Apostasy enters in to this picture, for as Bonhoeffer writes, “It is a sign of the living presence of Christ that there are men in whom the knowledge of the apostasy from Jesus Christ is kept awake not merely in the sense that this apostasy is observed in others but in the sense that these men themselves confess themselves guilty of this apostasy.” But one must quickly acknowledge that Bonhoeffer allows grace to come to the aid of the Church’s Confession. He writes:

“Not the individual misdeeds but the form of Christ is the origin of the confession of guilt, and for that reason the confession is not unconditional and entire; for Christ subdues us in no other way more utterly than by His having taken our guilt upon Himself unconditionally and entirely, declaring Himself guilty of our guilt and freeing us from its burden. The sight of this grace of Christ blots out entirely the sight of the guilt of other men and compels a man to fall upon his knees before Christ and to confess mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”

So what would it look like for those of us today to confess our apostasy from faith in Jesus Christ?

What did it look like to Bonhoeffer as he made confession for the Church in Germany during the Third Reich? Bonhoeffer’s confession is very long but here are some of his words from that confession:

Individually, “… I must acknowledge that precisely my sin is to blame for all. I am guilty of uncontrolled desire. I am guilty of cowardly silence at a time when I ought to have spoken. I am guilty of hypocrisy and untruthfulness in the face of force. I have been lacking in compassion and I have denied the poorest of my brethren. I am guilty of disloyalty and apostasy from Christ.”

“The Church confesses that she has not proclaimed often and clearly enough her message of the one God who has revealed Himself for all times in Jesus Christ and who suffers no other gods beside Himself. … She has failed to speak the right word in the right way and at the right time. She has not resisted to the uttermost the apostasy of faith, and she has brought upon herself the guilt of the godlessness of the masses.”

"The Church confesses that she has taken in vain the name of Jesus Christ, for she has not striven forcefully enough against the misuse of this name for an evil purpose. She has stood by while violence and wrong were being committed under cover of this name.”

“The Church confesses herself guilty of the loss of the Sabbath Day, of the withering away of her public worship.”

“The Church Confesses herself guilty of the collapse of parental authority. She offered no resistance to contempt for age and the idolization of youth, for she was afraid of losing youth, and with it the future. As though her future belonged to youth. She has not dared to proclaim the divine authority and dignity of parenthood in the face of youth, and in a very earthly way she has tried ‘to keep up with the young.’ She has thus rendered herself guilty of the breaking up of countless families, the betrayal of fathers by their children, the self-deification of youth, and the abandonment of youth to the apostasy from Christ.”

The Church confesses that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force, the physical and spiritual suffering of countless innocent people, oppression, hatred and murder, and she has not found ways to hasten to their aid. She is guilty of the weakest and most defenseless brothers of Jesus Christ.”

“The Church Confesses that she has found no word of advice and assistance in the face of the dissolution of all order in the relation between the sexes. She has found no strong and effective answer to the contempt for chastity and to the proclamation of sexual libertinism. … She has failed to proclaim with sufficient emphasis that our bodies belong to the Body of Christ.”

“The Church confesses that she has witnessed in silence the spoliation and exploitation of the poor and the enrichment and corruption of the strong.”

“The Church confesses herself guilty towards the countless victims of calumny, denunciation and defamation. She has not convicted the slanderer of his wrongdoing, and she has thereby abandoned the slandered to his fate.”

“The Church confesses that she has desired security, peace and quiet, possessions and honour, to which she had no right, and that in this way she has not bridled the desires of men but has stimulated them still further.”

The Church confesses herself guilty of breaking all ten commandments, and in this she confesses her defection from Christ. …”

So once again I ask, what would it look like for those of us today to confess our apostasy from faith in Jesus Christ?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Olympics and the Confessing Church

The person who made this sign didn't know very much about the times of Hitler, the Confessing Church or the German Christians. This lack of knowledge is not unusual. What many Christians do not know is that Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached one of his best sermons during the Olympics held in Berlin in 1936.

Sadly as far as I know no one has Bonhoeffer's sermon or those of the other members of the Confessing Church who preached that day.
But they did preach and in Berlin and at the invitation of the German government.

Edwin Robertson in his book, The Shame and the Sacrifice: The Life and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, details the events of those days. He writes:

"Daily addresses were given by leaders of the Confessing Church in a central church in Berlin and Bonhoeffer was one of those chosen to speak. He was invited in July and at first thought he would refuse. He was obviously going to be used for propaganda purposes and this fear was intensified when he was asked to provide a photograph, which he refused to send. He did however agree to lecture on the Wednesday of the Olympiad at 5 p.m. His chosen subject was 'The Inner Life of the German Evangelical Church Since the Reformation,' which he had to deal with in half an hour!He chose to speak largely about the hymns of the church, from Luther, Gerhardt, Zinzendorf and Gellert."

As Bonhoeffer read the words he was appalled by some of the piety of the words of the authors especially Zinzendorf. And some might ask why? Robertson writes that Bonhoeffer, "felt the air to be much cleaner when he was dealing with the Bible - 'We need the fresh air of the Word to keep us clean.'"

Robertson writes that the lecture was given in St Paul's Church and that Bonhoeffer wrote a letter about the lecture:

"Yesterday evening was very good. The church filled to overflowing, people sitting on the altar steps and standing all around. I wished I could have preached instead of giving a lecture! Some 1,500 or 2,000 people came and an overflow service was needed. "

But the official report was one of displeasure. Robertson gives the Die Christliche Welt's report.

"While the lectures given in the church of the Holy Trinity were academically satisfying, they were hardly well attended; those in St Paul's were the opposite of this. Night after night the enormous church was not only filled to overflowing, but parallel meetings had also to be held in another large church to cope with the mass of visitors. Dr. Bonhoeffer struck the same note as Dr. Jacobi had done and illustrated his exposition with a number of hymns. According to him, the decline began as early as Paul Gerhardt; pietism and the Enlightenment and the nineteenth century sink lower and lower. Only in the present and especially in the hymns of Heinrich Vogel (!) do we begin to rise again to the heights of the Reformation. The Speaker tried to prove his thesis by means of selected hymns and was even successful because of the complete arbitrariness of his selection. He did not shrink from quoting the first half of a verse, when the second, left unquoted, made the quite opposite point. When we consider that here we have a pupil of Harnack, we can only deplore this treatment of history. The third speaker, Dr. Iwand of Konigsberg, followed much the same line.

To sum up: in Holy Trinity, valuable theology developed in a scholarly way, but a very small audience; in St Paul's, narrow and very suspect theology, but great religious enthusiasm and vast congregations, listening with the deepest devotion. This state of affairs must cause great alarm among those concerned with the future of the Evangelical Church."

What is important to know here is that pietism set the stage for a faith totally wedded to experience rather than the word of God. By the time one gets to Friedrich Schleiermacher and then Harnack the Christian faith is simply grounded in human experience. Schleiermacher grounded the Christian faith in the experience of a sense of dependence which only God could meet. He and others denied all but the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Jesus Christ was only human, not God. Humanity should strife to be perfect as the Father was and there was no need of redemption. Undoubtedly Bonhoeffer and others of the Confessing Church made their case against such unbelief during the Olympics.

I have looked in vain for a hymn by Heinrich Vogel, but I did find that he was a Confessing pastor and theologian. And I found this prayer given by Vogel on the German Repentence Day of 1945. It is from a Time article, Bowed Heads, written in 1945. "God has made us as dirt and dung among the nations. . . . We are deserving of all that is happening to us at this time. It is our, fault, our great fault. . . . O God . . . watch over those who have power over our powerlessness and show them that hate can never accomplish anything."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Paul Schneider: A Chestnut Tree and the Confessing Church

Pastor Paul Schneider at the funeral of a child “denounced the web of pagan mythology that for political reasons was being superimposed upon the Christian concept of the hereafter.” He, like other members of the Confessing Churches had denounced the attempt by various groups and people in Germany to de-Christianize the Churches.

In a letter to Hitler some of the Confessing Church members had complained that, among other acts against the Christian faith: “Other members of the Reich Government have, under the cloak of positive Christianity, divested of their confessional character categorical conceptions of the Christian Faith, such as belief, love, eternity, prayer, resurrection, and have given a new, purely worldly, psychological interpretation.” (emphasis mine)

In the book The Shame and the Sacrifice: The Life and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Schneider is mentioned as the first Confessing Pastor to die in a concentration camp. Always outspoken and courageous, when he was banished from his two Churches he refused to leave them and was arrested. Schneider was beaten many times both for preaching the gospel and for standing up for other prisoners. He died when a prison doctor gave him poison rather than medicine.

In the book on Bonhoeffer another small book is mentioned which was circulated privately in Germany during the time of Schneider and Bonhoeffer and their imprisonment. Dying We Live was translated into English in the fifties in a small paperback book. It contains letters from many prisoners of the Nazi’s.

Most of Schneider’s letters, featured in Dying We Live, are written to his wife and children while he awaited his trial which would lead to Buchenwald and death. In the letters, he often refers to an old chestnut tree in the prison grounds and uses it as a picture of the Church. As Schneider writes of the Lord, the Church and the times he lives in, his words carry meaning for other eras. Here is one letter dated November 7, 1937:

“You ask me what I do all day long. Above all I am a student of the word of God, and want to go on being that. …

Once again the chestnut tree is preaching a sermon to me. Its bare black branches reach out to me so promisingly the small brown buds for next spring. I can see them close to the window and also in the top branches. They were already there even when the yellow foliage was still hiding them. Should we be so thankless and of so little faith that we deliberately overlook among the falling, withered leaves of the church the buds that here too cling tenaciously to trunk and branches?

Dear wife, I believe we know enough out of our own inner experience to speak and to believe for our communities too. … The Confessional church—it is truly that—is the tree with the buds; the secret congregations within the congregations are the buds of the church. Wherever a pastor is ready to assume a ministry that no longer is a ‘ministry,’ that continues to exist even without the assurance of state support (because a ‘position’ thus supported would no longer be a religious post), while all calculations and considerations of church politics are at an end, there the spiritual eye sees even now the coming church and its spring. Of course the world and the faithless churchmen see the bare tree stripped of its cultural and public significance and judge that, since the world and the state withhold recognition, it will soon die and serve only for firewood. They take refuge in the tangled vine of the false church and state religion, rankly overgrowing the duly doomed tree of a godless, self-glorifying and self-complacent world—a vine that will collapse and be burned with the tree of such a transient world.

But we abide in the branches of the poor, bare, despised, and defamed church that reaches its buds out to us with so much promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. In it only can we live in safety, ‘secure in all our ways’; only in that faith which is the indestructible strength of its life and its burgeoning can true freedom and happiness be found. Let us go on holding to this faith, live by it and act by it, as the richly ‘comforted,’ because this faith alone represents the victory over the prison of this world and its lethal power. ‘Then let the world with its vain reward dissolve. Faith perseveres, the Cross will lead to the crown.’”

There is an excellent article about Paul Schneider, with pictures,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Belhar Confession: The Wrong Time, The Wrong Place, The Wrong Confession

As I have began to read and study the Belhar Confession, its history and the suggested documents for studying it, I have decided to stop and apply some of Arthur Cochrane’s material from his book The Churches Confession Under Hitler, as well as my own thoughts, to the Confession.

First I want to list the initial problems I have with the Belhar Confession and its possible inclusion in the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Confessions.

1.The text the Church has been given to study is an inclusive translation of the original one. It is slightly altered. In some sense, in the very first part, the Word and Spirit are cut free from God; likewise the Church has lost its owner.

2.The Belhar Confession only speaks to a symptom of a deeper problem, therefore, it is more relevant for a certain time and place, rather than meeting the needs of the Church Universal.

3.Likewise the Confession fails to do the first thing a Confession must do, that is, confess Jesus Christ anew for the Church. It is because of this that it only speaks to a symptom.

4.Following this failure to confess Jesus Christ anew this Confession begins a small fissure that will undoubtedly widen into such a wide canyon that other Confessions may fall into the chasm. (I will of course explain my metaphors.)

5.Rather then speaking to the fomenting heresies that are gathering strength in the Presbyterian Church USA as well as the antinomianism that is plaguing this and other denominations, this Confession has the power to confuse all the issues.

1. The first problem is quite fixable and is not a problem in some of the translation. The original #1 reads, “We believe in the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for his Church by his Word and his Spirit, as He has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.”

The new translation reads, “We believe in the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the Church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.” This simply leads to a rather ambiguous ‘Word’ and ‘Spirit,’ and fails to note that God is the owner of his Church. Probably the worst problem here is the setting of a precedent for changing language in an already existing official document (official to the Churches of South Africa).

2-3. The second problem, the Confession’s concerns with a symptom, must be joined with the third problem its failure to Confess Jesus Christ as Lord. That is, the disunity in the South African Church caused by a forced separation of ethnic groups had as its basic foundation the failure of the Church to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Failure to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord always causes, in one way or another, disunity.

Cochrane in his chapter on the nature of a Confession, as I have elsewhere pointed out, writes:

"The Barmen Declaration teaches first and foremost that a Confession of Faith is a written document drawn up by the Church which confesses Jesus Christ. While the Church confesses certain doctrines and dogmas and supplies answers to specific questions, it does so only in order to bear witness to Christ. It confesses a living Person who is the Lord and thus calls for a personal relationship of trust and obedience to him—not to the Confession as such or to the doctrines contained in it.”

While the Belhar Confession does refer to Jesus Christ as Lord in several places, those are simply formal statements. The Church is not called to a personal relationship of trust and obedience which then would have included unity among believers. The broken unity of that Church at that particular time was failure to be obedient to Jesus Christ as the only Lord of the Church. Lack of adherence to the unique and only Lordship of Jesus Christ is always the foundational cause of disunity. The Church must be called back to the unique Lordship of Jesus Christ.

4. The fourth problem in the Belhar Confession is its relationship to "liberation theology." While it does not first, in a proper manner, call the Church back to its Lord, the Confession rather in a very small and subtle way connects a different group to the Lord in a way it has not connected the Church to the Lord. Under number 4 the author of the Belhar Confession writes:

“We believe … that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the Lord of the destitute, the poor and the wronged … that God calls the church to follow him in this; …” (Emphasis mine)

That sounds right but it isn’t. The Lord cares for the poor, the destitute, the wronged, but the Bible does not say he is their Lord in a special way.
God calls his people to care for the destitute, the poor and the wronged, not because he is Lord of the poor in a special way but because he is Lord of the Church in a special way!

Some of the poor will be lost because they reject the Lord of the Church. But still the Church is called to love and care for them because Jesus Christ is Lord of the Church.

Into this fracture, caused by naming another relationship between God and the world other than that which exists between Jesus Christ and the Church, falls all that is important concerning God’s unique revelation in Jesus Christ.

5. Because the Belhar Confession creates with this one subtle statement another relationship between God and the world, that is a relationship because of need, not because of God’s act of redemption in Jesus’ life death and resurrection it opens the door to receiving heresy and antinomianism into the life of the Church.

If God has a special relationship with a particular oppressed group because they are oppressed rather than because he has come to them with his transforming life given in Jesus Christ not only are their needs not addressed, their sin is unaddressed. The door is open to receive those who come un-believing and un-repentant into God’s Church.

Cochrane in his 7th point on the nature of a Confession, states “it [the Confession] occurs when the Church is convinced that its faith and unity are ‘grievously imperiled’ by a heresy that has ripened and come to a head,” yet, the Belhar Confession simply gathers up the ripening heresies of today and shatters them all over the Church. (Cochrane’s italics)

The Belhar Confession will call the Presbyterian Church USA in the wrong direction. It is not the right time, the right place or the right Confession. The Declaration of Barmen, in fact, already, in a much more universal and careful way meets the need the Presbyterian Church USA has at this time. It calls the Church to the one Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Badly Flawed Document For Study

At the coming 218 General Assembly the Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns is offering Rec-046, Resolution to study the Belhar Confession for inclusion in the Confessional Documents of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The Belhar Confession was adopted by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1986 as a statement against apartheid in South Africa. It was “drafted under the leadership of Allan Boesak."

The ACREC among other recommendations has suggested that Presbyterians utilize several resources in their study of the Belhar Confession. One of the recommended papers is the (Report of the Task Force to Study Reparations) Minutes, 2004, part I, pp. 701-20.” This has the text of the Belhar Confession and can be found at

As I was studying this recommended document I found a serious flaw in the rationale section. Quite a long reference is made to a United Nations Conference in Durban South Africa. The authors of the Reparations document write, “A noteworthy example of reparation and restoration was taken in Durban, South Africa, during the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance in September 2001.

A great deal is quoted from a declaration on racism formulated by the Conference and brought back by a Presbyterian delegation to the 214 General Assembly. In a seeming 'wise,' aside, the authors write, “Unfortunately, the official representatives of the United States government walked out of the conference on the first day. Nevertheless, it is significant that the world community felt it appropriate to stay, participate, acknowledge and confess its complicity in such ‘crimes against humanity’ as the transatlantic slave trade, and seek opportunities for reparation and restoration.”

So why did the United States government and (not mentioned) the government of Israel walk out on this supposedly race free conference? It was Anti-semitism. Horrid Anti-semitism. At the Jewish Virtual Library which is a division of The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, there is a
report about this conference by Elihai Braun. I quote some of his report here.

“The United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance met in Durban, South Africa from August 31 to September 8, 2001. The UN General Assembly authorized the conference in Resolution 52/111 in 1997, aiming to explore effective methods to eradicate racial discrimination and to promote awareness in the global struggle against intolerance.

Yet the noble goals of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism were undermined by hateful anti-Jewish rhetoric and anti-Israel political agendas, prompting both Israel and the United States to withdraw their delegations from the conference. Participants revived the scurrilous charge that "
Zionism is Racism" and used false and hostile allegations to delegitimize Israel.

In the weeks prior to the conference, the United States had warned organizers that it would withdraw from Durban if the early anti-Jewish charges and the condemnations of Israel remained unchallenged. After four days of fruitless negotiations, the U.S. delegation withdrew on September 3, midway through the conference, unable to turn the focus of the conference back to its original goals. The aim to combat discrimination and intolerance worldwide was ironically superceded by a bigoted campaign to single out one nation for criticism.

The September 3 statement of withdrawal of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell read:

'Today I have instructed our representatives at the World Conference Against Racism to return home. I have taken this decision with regret, because of the importance of the international fight against racism and the contribution that the Conference could have made to it. But, following discussions today by our team in Durban and others who are working for a successful conference, I am convinced that will not be possible. I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of "Zionism equals racism;" or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world--Israel--for censure and abuse.'

Copies of the anti-Semitic work, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were sold on conference grounds; anti-Israel protesters jeered participants chanting "Zionism is racism, Israel is apartheid," and "You have Palestinian blood on your hands"; fliers depicting Hitler with the question, "What if I had won?" circulated among conference attendees. The answer: "There would be NO Israel and NO Palestinian bloodshed."”

If the authors of “Report of the Task Force on Reparations,” as well as the new call for the study of the Belhar Confession want to be taken seriously perhaps they should clean up their materials and allow the reader to believe they really do care about tolerance for everyone.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Belated Presby-Meme

Two persons, Quotidian Grace and Aric Clark, tagged me for a Presby-Meme which was started by moderator hopeful Bruce Reyes-Chow. It’s been several weeks ago and because of busyness, a short stay in the hospital and the flu I put them off. Actually I thought I would just forget about it, since as I keep protesting, I don’t like such things anyway. But as I have been reading other's answers, including the National Network of Presbyterian College Women, and thinking about it I find I do have some answers. Still, I have to admit that although I am an orthodox lady, I have some very unorthodox answers to these questions. In fact I may twist the questions just a bit. (And I warn all that this will be long with a lot of side tracks. A Meme can be a dangerous thing.)

1. What is your earliest memory of being distinctly Presbyterian?
I did not grow up in the Presbyterian Church. After spending fifteen years in an independent church in a warehouse my husband and I decided to find a denominational church for our home. We walked into Fremont Presbyterian Church on the first Sunday of Jazz festival in Sacramento. We were faced at once with several things: A rousing good jazz choir, long forgotten(by us) stained glass windows and a gospel filled sermon by the then Pastor Darrell Johnson, and sorry to say one of the most heretical Sunday school classes I have ever attended. (Thankfully that last bit has changed hopefully forever.) It also rained that day for the first time after a very, very long drought. I wrote a poem about it and that Sunday’s sermon. This is one of my side trips.

Rains in California

Rain, washing even wounding
The proud dry dirt I have not
Touched with hoe or spade or hand.
Luxuriant growth protrudes
Here and there
In flower beds, in herb and produce plot,
Yet, dry barren spots I left untouched.
The needed rain, the longed for rain,
The rain we waited for three years,
Has come and washing,
Wounding, melting hardness,
Prepared what neither I nor they could dream or vision.
Such rain in May in California
Has drawn my hands to try again
The soil and seed
And work the beauty in
Empty places.

The empty places,
Hard, unfruitful, washed
This morning
With the grace of word.
A word full of past, and now
And future, yet
Longed for like rains in California.

2. On what issue/question should the PC(USA) spend LESS energy and time?
I am almost certain, with this question, conservatives are thinking "we are so weary of going over and over the issues of homosexuality and pluralism and the Lordship of Christ. Shouldn’t the progressives just back off?" And I am sure the progressives are asking “why can’t the Church just allow us our rights and get on with more important things?” But our Church has a Lord and a King and he through his word sets the rules of the Kingdom. Those issues, the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the midst of a pluralistic world will not go away, should not go away until the Lord of the Church has his way. We will gag on those issues until we make Christ Lord over our sexual sins and Lord over all other ideologies.

3. On what issue/question should the PC(USA) spend MORE energy and time?
I wanted to put missions here which thankfully the Church has begun to pay more attention to. But one of the problems with this is that unless the Church as a whole believes that all humans are sinners in need of a savior and that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father our missionary ventures will be only partially successful. We still have missionaries on the field who do not believe that people of other faiths need Jesus Christ as savior. So I think the most important issue is that the Church must take a strong stand on Jesus Christ, his Lordship and his atonement bought on the cross. The Church is lost without a strong stand on those two issues.

4. If you could have the PC(USA) focus on one passage of scripture for an entire year, what would it be?
This goes along with what I have already stated and it is instead two passages. (What else did you expect from me?) One passage is the transfiguration of Jesus. (Take Luke 9:28-36) Jesus is there on the mount with Elijah (the Prophets) and Moses (the Law). God had already spoken through the law and the prophets and he had promised the savior through them. Now God the Father tells Jesus’ disciples “This is My Son, My chosen One; listen to Him!” The Church needs to listen to the Son of God. The other passage is about Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Luke 13-35. I am interested in that place where Jesus begins speaking, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His Glory.” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” This will lead the Church in a study of Christ within the entire Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament.

5. If the PC(USA) were an animal what would it be and why?
Someone else changed the rules and made it a tree. I am sorry I forget who. Anyway I will break the rules even more. For the last couple of days this image from the scriptures has been running through my mind. But it is the whole Church. The Church that is the complete Church that is within the visible church but known only by God. And I know that some will say that I have ripped this out of its context. That’s okay. “Who is this that grows like the dawn, as beautiful as the full moon, as pure as the sun, as awesome as an army with banners?” (Song of Solomon 6:10)

6. Jesus shows up at General Assembly this year, what does he say to the Presbyterian Church (USA)?
Surprise! Jesus never quit speaking to the Church. He still does through his word and the Holy Spirit. They will both be there at the GA. For instance, “Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. (Rev 3:17-19)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Radical Afrocentric Christianity, Black Liberation Theology & Black Nationalism

I have placed a large article on my web site Naming the Grace. It is entitled, "Radical Afrocentric Christianity, Black Liberation Theology & Black Nationalism: Facing Racism and Heresy in the African American Community."

Here is the beginning of it.
"I grew up in a very racist family. My mother wished for an African American cook, my father would have thrown the food away if her wish had come true. We argued about their racism though out my teenage years. Teen age rebellion? Perhaps. More than likely it was my constant reading which included stories about the Quakers and the Underground Railroad. It was also friends, the Bible and my teenage conversion to Christ.

But the truth is I am still arguing. ..."

And later, "Likewise but in a much more strident manner, writing about God's redemptive dealings with humanity, Cone states:

For white people, God's reconciliation in Jesus Christ means that God has made black people a beautiful people; and if they are going to be in relationship with God, they must enter by means of their black brothers, who are a manifestation of God's presence on earth. The assumption that one can know God without knowing blackness is the basic heresy of the white churches. They want God without blackness, Christ without obedience, love without death. What they fail to realize is that in America, God's revelation on earth has always been black, red, or some other shocking shade, but never white. 15
A horrific progression to this is that Cone wrote, Black Theology & Black Power, using Karl Barth as his guiding theologian. He quotes him incessantly. But, Cone in his thought's about God's revelation displaced Barth's theology. His idea that African Americans “are a manifestation of God's presence on earth” is without question anti-Barth. He later retracted his use of Barth in his preface to the 1989 reprint, writing:

"Barth's assertion of the Word of God in opposition to natural theology in the context of Germany during the 1930's may have been useful. But the same theological methodology cannot be applied to the cultural history of African Americans or to Africans and Asians on their continents. …
As in 1969, I still regard Jesus Christ today as the chief focus of my perspective on God but not to the exclusion of other religious perspectives. God's reality is not bound by one manifestation of the divine in Jesus but can be found wherever people are being empowered to fight for freedom.”