Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Unity and Peace? No- just slander-Update

Tom Eggebeen, a PC (U.S.A.) pastor and blogger at the Presbyterian Outlook has led my thoughts through some bumpy roads. The reason is I didn’t just read his blog posting, Home in the – somewhat impure – PC(USA) at the Outlook. I also read his comments on Margaret Aymer’s “About Your Invitation” posting. And I read his other blog, Chat & Chew and his posting A Letter to John Ortberg. (Ortberg is the pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and one of the signers of the Fellowship letter and white paper.) It was all of this reading that led me to believe there is a growing effort to defame and hurt these pastors. This is called persecution.

Eggebeen’s article posted on the Outlook is not harsh. It is a plea to push as hard for unity and peace as one pushes for purity in the church. He equates the desire for doctrinal purity with those pastors who published the paper and invitation. He calls for loyalty to the church, and suggests that we need unity and peace in order for purity to flourish.

But in his letter to Ortberg his accusations are harsh and different than the Outlook article. He writes:
Whatever pretensions there might be about the centrality of Jesus Christ with high doctrines of revelation, claims of orthodoxy, notions of mission for the glory of God and being Reformed, the root is politics and money and property and pride, buttressed by powerful interests on one singular issue: the ordination of gays and lesbians, and, in California, marriage rights. Fueled by the political far-right, the ordination of LGBT persons has become the line-in-the-sand.
And in his comments on Aymer’s blog Eggebeen’s true feelings emerge viciously. He agrees with another commenter, Chris, who with Aymer, equates the pastors with fundamentalism and concludes:
What I have to admit is that I, and a great number of my peers, have been far too tolerant of those voices in our denomination who left “mutual respect” behind years ago. There are men who say that “they are no better than anyone else”, but then their actions make it quite clear that they are not able to live in such “mutual respect”. Their actions, including self-righteous proclamations, indicate that they no longer respect those “on the left”. Here I am referring not to their private thoughts, but their public actions. I am working to repent of my excessively tolerant position, and hope that a few will join me,
Eggebeen agrees with Chris’ thoughts about fundamentalists and then writes, “Your entire comment has been added to my data base.” Hopefully he won’t use it at the Outlook!

The votes on Amendment 10-A are growing very close with 10-A ahead at the moment. There is a kind of bravery that, perhaps unintentionally, lends itself to darkness in the face of such a victory for sin. I can only think of fiction, C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and the death of Aslan. As the witch has Aslan muzzled those about him grow braver. As Lewis puts it:
… as they worked about his face putting on the muzzle, one bite from his jaws would have cost two or three of them their hands. But he never moved. And this seemed to enrage that entire rabble. Everyone was at him now. … kicking him, hitting him, spitting him, jeering at him.
Whether we agree with all that is in the paper or not, If we stand for Jesus as Lord, we must also stand for those brothers and sisters who are being maligned with so much villainy and dishonesty.

UPDATE: Oh my- is this a personal vendetta?http://twitter.com/castaway5555/status/35513081073242112


tera said...

If I were a pastor, I would also sign the letter. From what I can tell, there is not going to be any resolution to this issue in the Presbyterian church.

If history is any predictor, there will always be Presbyterians speaking out about political issues and causing problems within the denomination and taking away from the glory of God in our midst unless the goals of the letter are taken up.

I think the Presbyterians should take a lesson for the Lutheran and Covenant churches who have either chosen to be united on LGBT or else not make it an issue at all and leave it up to each congregation.

I hope I have my facts right about the congregations I have mentioned. I am not the best researcher, but I do believe that politics doesn't belong in the church and that includes church politics.

Tradition is not a reason to continue hurting the community of Christ. I understand how this person feels about growing up in the Presbyterian church and wanting to hold onto things he holds dear, but change for the sake of love is what God wants us to embrace - not tradition.

Anonymous said...


Actually, I did see Tom Eggebeen's rather bilious letter to John Ortberg in the online Outlook. I can see someone not agreeing with aspects of the White Paper, but automatically discounting their stated motives and ascribing bad motives strikes me as very arrogant, ill-mannered, and, indeed, a violation of one's ordination vows (since that accusation is being made so frequently against the signers of the White Paper).

John Erthein
Erie, PA

John Erthein
Erie, PA

Viola Larson said...

John where did you see the letter. I am suprised.

Anonymous said...

Viola: Eggebeen's letter to Ortberg is in the comments column under the original article here:


It's about 40% of the way down.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Viola Larson said...

Thanks David,
I just somehow, I guess in the midst of all those vile comments missed it. Maybe it was after I commented there. Well, it doesn't change anything I said. His Outlook blog posting and his letter to Ortberg are contradictory. And given what he stated on Aymer's site his purposes are mean spirited.

tera said...

I had not realized I was supposed to also post my full name and city.

I am Tera Billes from Sacramento, CA.

Paul Masters said...

I find that Speed Leas of Alban Institutes level of conflict scale helpful. Level 1, we have a decision to make. Level 2 , we move from engaging to issue to self protection. There is still a problem, but we don’t want it to blow up in our face. I will withhold information: I will choose who I share with; I start looking for allies. Level 3, sides are taken. It’s no longer “fix the problem” or “protect myself,” it’s all about winning. There are winners and losers and I am going to do everything in my power to win. Level 4. Not only does my side need to win, but those who disagree must be punished! They must be run out of the church and denomination. Level 5, call the cops, for people are not content just for the other side to be gone, the other side must suffer and be punished!

From what I can see, we can describe the PC(USA) to be in perennial Level 3 conflict with some jumping up into Level 4. This is why Tom Eggbeen is reacting so viscerally to John Ortberg. It’s as if he feels personally betrayed, as if someone on his side has defected to the enemy.

I believe the way forward is going to require letting go of our conceits of power and prestige. I believe that we are going to have to pay more than lip service to the notion that congregations are to be the center of mission and not upper judicatories. I believe that if we are going to relate to one another it is going to be in a decentralized sort of way. if we can’t find a way to defuse this Level 3 &4 conflict, then the only other options facing the PC(USA) are between congregations choosing to ignore the denomination (which I think is where many of us are de-facto already are) or outright schism.

We Presbyterians tend to be middle –of – the - roaders, we instinctively distrust fundamentalists from both the Right and the Left for we know that both extremes require that we check our brains at the door and blindly follow the prescribed agenda. So I have hope that we can talk our way out of this mess. On the other hand, if it does come to schism, I would far rather be a liberal leaning guy in a conservative denomination than a conservative leaning guy in a liberal denomination, simply because it has been my experience that principled dissent is tolerated far more in conservative circles than liberal one.

God help us, every one,
Paul Masters
New Horizon Presbyterian Church, Council Bluffs, IA

Reformed Catholic said...

What I cannot understand is how Rev. Eggebeen could have missed Rev Ortberg's teachings on traditional Christian theology and his upholding of the authority of Scripture.

Its in every book and Bible study he has written.

There has been no sudden change in Rev Ortberg's worldview, no momentous reversal of beliefs.

This sudden revelation must have come because he disagrees with what Rev. Ortberg has agreed to; that the PC(USA) is in disarray, and that the current denominational structures cannot (or will not) recognize the decay nor are able to fix this denomination. A denomination that lost another 2.1 (or 2.2) % in membership this past year.

Reformed Catholic
Western PA

Greg Scandlen said...

I find the calls for "unity" remarkable considering that they are coming from people who are trying to change the standards of the church.

If unity is such a guidepost, why do they persist in forcing changes that have been repeatedly rejected?

I'm afraid the whole exercise is nothing but raw politics. I know a lot about politics and I have seen this tactic often, especially from the Left. When they don't like a message they will attack and try to undermine the messenger. Very little of the Outlook discussion has to do with the points raised by the pastors. It is all dismissing them as unqualified to have an opinion because they are (pick your reason -- white, male, from successful churches, conservative.)

How's that for unity? Unity for everyone who is not white, or male, or successful, or conservative.

I am discovering that this is not new in the Presbyterian Church. I have recently read the 1967 Confession and am embarrassed by how vapid much of it is. See my comments at -- http://gmscan.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/the-1967-confession/#comments

Noel said...

Well spoken, Viola. The unity hermeneutic is a patent falsehood. It merely puts a pious face on the success of the progressive agenda. Their aims would be served by forcing unity (re: evangelical per capita, properties, etc.) so they are presently the virtue-du-jour. The real problem is that unity demands a common center to agree upon and rally around. We've lost trust that there is any such agreed upon center, especially when everyone is free to interpret the center as looks good in his/her own eyes.

Viola Larson said...

I agree with your statement to a large extent and find it helpful in explaining what is happening.

But being someone who has a Masters in history, and who loves history and theology, I often think more along those lines. Because of that I tend to see this problem more in terms of faithfulness to the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ and find my examples in the history of the Church although some of the examples of faithfulness are not pretty pictures.

But I do see an uncanny level of anger and spite, not just in Eggebeen’s statements but in others just at that moment when victory (for a short while) might be theirs.

That forebodes ill for the future, and I agree with your statement, "if it does come to schism, I would far rather be a liberal leaning guy in a conservative denomination than a conservative leaning guy in a liberal denomination, simply because it has been my experience that principled dissent is tolerated far more in conservative circles than liberal one."

Viola Larson said...

Reformed Catholic,

I am not so sure that it is a disagreement that Eggebeen has over the denomination being in such disarray. Maybe, but I am thinking that many of these angry Presbyterians thought that if the denomination got rid of the standards, that everyone would then see it as of the Holy Spirit. They thought listening to each other’s stories would work. But some of us listen to Scriptures most of all:) And no matter how any vote goes we still believe Scripture is the final authority.

I also think they might be angry because Christology, creeping universalism and the authority of Scripture is included in the problem. That puts them on the wrong side of church history, confessions and all.

But as I have pointed out elsewhere there is an awful lot of those kinds of confessional problems among those who wish to lower the standards. For example see, "Fervor without truth, religion without biblical faith: the broken church" at http://naminghisgrace.blogspot.com/2011/02/fevor-without-truth-religion-without.html

Viola Larson said...

Greg I do have those questions about unity too.

The Confession of 67 does have some good things in it, including marriage between a man and a woman, good statements about racism and best of all it does confess Christ as Lord.

Viola Larson said...

Thanks. Yes if we don't agree on the person and work of Jesus Christ how can we agree on anything else.

Anonymous said...

Viola: Took a look at the Twitter item to which you linked. That's completely unethical. Eggebeen should be sanctioned by his presbytery for seeking to interfere in the pastorate of a colleague (if you can do that in the PCUSA). It's one thing to have a public disagreement with a colleague; it's another altogether to seek to stir up trouble in his congregation.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Presbyman said...

I decided to send a message to Menlo Park thanking Rev. Ortberg for his stand.

John Erthein
Erie, PA

Viola Larson said...

David and John,
I consider that completely unethical. I am still trying to understand why Eggebeen is picking on just one pastor.

tera said...

I find it interesting that conservatives often mention on many of their replies that liberals are so unrelenting and unwilling to accept difference of opinions or dissenters and that they are known to use certain "tactics" from the Left.

I agree that there are people who have been labeled liberal and who are from the far left who do such things, but there aren't any more of them nor less of them from the far right who do the same thing. It is only moderates who are more accepting of extremes and it is very baffling as to why since they are more in the middle. I suppose because they can see both sides?

I know that I often play the voice of reason and try to show the other side that isn't being given equal time. But sometimes I simply vehemently disagree on something. Either way, depending on what a person's perspective, knowledge and experience are and what culture they are brought up in and what tradition of Christianity they've been raised in there will be differences of opinions and rightly so since there is very often more than one right way to see something.

Tera Billes
Sacramento, CA