Friday, March 30, 2012

A hymn book and Susannah Wesley

An 1885 hymnal, The Epworth Hymnal, was lying on my husband’s study floor. (He collects hymnals.) I, for some reason, had never noticed it before. But within in it I found something of great interest to me, part of the history of women in ministry. The hymnal is a Methodist one and in the Preface is praise for the Wesley family.  There is information about the father, Samuel Wesley and about the two sons Charles and John. And there is this about Charles and John’s mother, Susannah Wesley:

However grand the work and its results [of the Wesley brothers], we must not forget that the beginnings and the most valuable preparations were at Epworth, where Samuel Wesley studied and prayed and served, and where Susannah Wesley trained her children, counseled her husband, instructed their parishioners, and walked with God.

Later in the Preface the author, J.H. Vincent writes:

The Committee appointed in pursuance of the action of the General Conference to prepare this book [the hymnal] has done well in calling it The Epworth Hymnal. Besides  a certain euphony in the title, there come with it reverent and grateful thoughts concerning the character of the services of the most excellent father of the Wesleys, and that modern Monica [Christian mother of Augustine] whose strength and loveliness, whose piety and scholarship, are so manifest in the sons whom generations honor. There come along with the title—The Epworth hymnal—memories of family prayer and family songs, of neighbors gathered by the devout Susannah on Sunday afternoons for special services of prayer, praise, and admonition, and meetings in Epworth church for the training of all people, old and young, to sing the songs of the sanctuary.

What a beautiful legacy.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

More Light Presbyterians & Evangelicals; ugly words & beautiful words

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me they will also persecute you; if they kept my word they will keep yours also. (John 15:18-20)

More Light Presbyterians are advertising a film about the oppressiveness of Evangelicals:

Let Your Light Shine" will probe the intersecting circles of evangelical Christianity, the gay civil rights movement and activism by queer alumni from Billy Graham's alma mater, Wheaton College! This kaleidoscopic lens will shine a light on the deeply historical and discriminatory roots of evangelical Christianity, and the growing visibility of queer liberation which challenges Bible-based homophobia. The testimonies of LGBTQ survivors from Christian colleges and religious upbringings reveal both the damaging impact of evangelicalism and a spirited resistance to continued religious oppression... (At the More Light Presbyterians site-taken from “Let Your Light Shine,” a film project)

MLP perhaps see the above words as a matter of justice as undoubtedly the Let Your Light Shine film project does, but on closer examination I believe there is more that could and should be said.

First I believe most Evangelicals in the mainline Churches have understood that this time was coming. When the LGBT community felt victorious in the mainline denominations they would push on toward the Evangelical community. And because most in the Evangelical communities comprise a larger group committed to Scripture, the battle, and it is a battle, will be longer and darker. In this context it is easier for progressives to call the ‘other’ names.

But what is the real truth behind the words, “Bible-based homophobia,” and “discriminatory roots of evangelical Christianity?” The problem is the living Word of God and the written word of God. The LGBT community is rejecting both and because they are rejecting both they are rejecting those who belong to Christ. This should not surprise the followers of Jesus; he promised it would be so. But he also promised that he would send the Holy Spirit both as one who convicts and as one who comforts.

Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit, said:

And he [the Holy Spirit] when he comes will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin because they do not believe in me; and concerning righteousness because I go to the Father and you no longer see me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (John 16:8-11)

This is the message the Holy Spirit gives to the Church to give to the world. It has been given in the word of God written. And both that word and the Holy Spirit convict as the word is read, spoken, preached and proclaimed. Jesus Christ is the righteousness the world needs. The righteousness that Jesus bought on the cross is the solution to humanity’s sinfulness. But then there is judgment.

Because the ruler of the world, Satan, has been judged at the cross there is hope in Christ. His victory is our victory. In our union with him we escape the judgment because we bear his righteousness. The Holy Spirit convicts that we might dwell in Christ and not in alignment with the dark powers of sin. And this reminds me of a beautiful part of a C.S. Lewis story, The Great Divorce. It is where the shadows of hell meet the reality of heaven. One shadow is a young man with a red “lizard on his shoulder.

Lewis in his typical way uses the lizard as a metaphor or symbol for a lust that is controlling the shadow. A bright angel asks to kill the lizard and after a great deal of debate the shadowy young man cries for help. “Damn and blast you! Go on, can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,’ bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, ‘God help me. God help me.’” In the end the shadow becomes a magnificent man who rides away on a brilliant horse-the new creation created from a dead evil lizard. And the person in the story explaining the meaning says:

“What is a lizard compared with a stallion? Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering, whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.”
There is a glory that awaits the repentant sinner. While the LGBT community is busy throwing names about, the King of kings is waiting to change sinners into magnificent creatures, humans covered with the righteousness of Christ. The community of Christ must wait also in prayer with faith forgiving the slander and hate. Jesus is Lord.

Not understanding the Scripture

“But Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.’”(Matthew 22:29)

The Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection and believed that only the Pentateuch was the word of God were attempting to make Jesus’ view of the resurrection absurd by asking a question about marriage. But Jesus immediately addressed their very basic problem—they did not understand Scripture nor the power of God. R. T. France in his commentary points out that this is not two errors but one. Because they did not understand Scripture they did not understand the power of God.

The ultimate answer to their disbelief is that God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Therefore those who belong to God are the living. As God spoke to Moses in the verse Jesus quotes, “I Am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus clarifies this “he is not the God of the dead but of the living.” But Jesus does two other things in this text that I believe are important to what I want to write. He reminds his listeners that what God was speaking to Moses he was also speaking to them:

“…have you not read what was spoken to you by God?”

Notice Jesus doesn’t say “have you not read what was spoken to Moses by God.” The words were God’s words to all readers including us in the 21st century. And then with this is the very personal question—have you not read? The implication here is that God is speaking to them, but they are not reading the words as words directed to them. They are busy with an academic exercise that is void of any real personal meaning. Because of this they failed to understand the power of God.

As France, quoting Calvin puts it:
When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had long been dead, and yet God identified himself as their God. But could he be God of the dead? As Calvin comments, ‘As no man can be a father without children nor a king without people, so, strictly speaking , the Lord cannot be called the God of any but the living.’ It is in this context that God reveals his name, Yahweh, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3:14-16), and the object of that revelation is to assure Moses of the active, saving presence of God with his people to recue them from Egypt.
Understanding the Scripture means accepting the word as God’s word to us, allowing the Holy Spirit to enlighten us. But the Sadducees were unable to receive the great gift, the living Word, standing before them just as they were unable to grasp the ancient words of God to them. Because of this they missed what God’s love and power could do in their lives. We are fighting today partly about God’s ability to change sinners. (Of course we are fighting about sin also.) But all of Scripture is God speaking to us.

If we hate others we haven’t understood his word. If we are greedy and grasp for power we haven’t understood his word. If we love and serve other gods besides the biblical God we certainly have not understood. If we insist on calling sexual sins such as adultery, fornication and same gender sex good we haven’t understood his word. We haven’t read the word as God’s word to us.

But Jesus reminded his listeners, not only the Sadducees but also the silent crowd, of the God who was able to rescue from Egypt. Yahweh is the God who rescues even from the oppression of sin. To come full circle, Jesus, the living word offers his forgiveness and righteousness because of the power of his resurrection.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Veterans Today & Joining Hands for Justice of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta-Update

Some are silent & some are talking
(See update below)
After posting my article Presbyterian 'Joining Hands for Justice in Israel & Palestine' & Veterans Today join hands! I have found there is a lot of confusion about the event I wrote about and a lot of confusion about who actually participated.

The event was a program featuring Gilad Atzmon, an extremely anti-Semitic writer and speaker as well as the author of The Wandering Who. The two sponsors were Joining Hands for Justice of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and an extreme anti-Semitic group Veterans Today. The only group who seem to know what took place is Veterans Today.

Originally the Atlanta Presbytery group Joining Hands for Justice Palestine was a part of the Presbyterian Joining Hands program including the Hunger Program. According to an e-mail received from Alexa Smith, Joining Hands Associate of the Presbyterian Hunger Program “Joining Hands for Justice-Palestine was part of the broader JH network, but has not been so for the last 1.5 years. When the network closed in Palestine, the Atlanta’s group was no longer tied to us, but wanted to keep working on issues they care about very much.” [1]

So the organization exists backed by several Atlanta churches with Sarah Humphreys as its founder. Sarah Humphreys did not answer my e-mail.

But evidently little else is known since I am not able to get any further information on the organization or the event. When I first contacted someone at Villa International where the event was held they were confused about who had sponsored it thinking at first it was Joining Hands for Hunger, but after thinking for a few minutes they said no it was Joining Hands for Justice. They were looking for the brochure which they did not find. But the big problem here is very clear.

An organization belonging to the Greater Atlanta Presbytery joined with Veterans Today, and VT knows that it happened and  will not be silent.

Gordon Duff, Senior Editor of VT, has a rather rambling article on VT where he in fact insists that most of the Islamic terrorists are really Jews in disguise, showing a picture where supposedly a terrorist is tattooed with a Star of David. Right in the middle of his article is this:

[Editors Note: Gilad was sponsored in Atlanta Saturday night by VeteransToday and the Greater Atlanta Presbyterians. I will be posting some video highlights when I can.

We had a very mixed crowd, Christians, Jews, Muslims, young and old. The Wandering Who books were gone before I got mine. I will know better next time. If you ever get a chance to see him, you are in for a treat...Jim W. Dean]

While Gordon Duff is the Chairman of the Board and Senior Managing Editor, Jim W. Dean is a Managing Editor. Dean is the one who was listed as a contact for the Atzmon event in Atlanta. The day after the tragedy that happened in France, the killing of the soldiers and the adult and three children at a Jewish school, Dean published his own article. His attitude is cold and cruel indeed:

And the Israelis, never slow in exploiting killings anyway possible, are suggesting to French Jews that the only place they can really be safe is in Israel. They didn’t even wait until the bodies were buried. I wonder where they think the victims of Israeli state terrorism should go?

Dean goes on finally bringing in 9-11, ‘hinting’ that Israel had something to do with that tragedy. And them toward the end of his diatribe he writes:

Before the victims are cold, the political terrorists and Israel are hard at work taking advantage of the killings as best they can. There is of course a difference between them and the shooter. The shooter has fewer victims.

It is such a shame that we don’t have a reality TV game show where we can all vote on which degenerates gets water boarded on camera for an hour. It would be so wonderful to look forward to.

So although we do not know what members of the Join Hands for Justice-Palestine set up the Atzmon event with Dean from Veterans Today, and we do not know what Presbyterians attended, we do know that in the greater Atlanta Presbytery someone joined hands (in the name of justice) with those who are cold, cruel and tell lies about Jewish people.

I am hoping and praying that someone will be good and brave and stand up and tell the truth about what happened. And then I am hoping and praying that someone will apologize first to the Jewish people and then to the Presbyterians in Atlanta who must be offended by this sorry event.

Update- This is an e-mail from the Executive Presbyter  of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta-

It was good to talk to you today.

Regarding Joining Hands for justice. Like all partnerships within our presbytery they do not represent the presbytery nor can they speak on behalf of the presbytery. They are a group of people within constituent churches that have come together for their own sense of mission. They do not receive any funding from the presbytery. The presbytery had no part in the recent event hosting Gilad Atzmon.
Tom Evans"

[1] It still is important to read this note from the JHJ Palestine NewsLetter-

Picture by Stephen Larson

Monday, March 19, 2012

Causing the little ones to stumble

See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 18:10)

Before Jesus tells his disciples not to despise “one of these little ones” he explains that all those who convert and become as children will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus also teaches that any who causes those who believe in Him to stumble, would find it better to be cast into the sea with a millstone hanging about their neck. Jesus adds to this the story of the shepherd who leaves his ninety and nine sheep to find the one straying, concluding “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that any of these little ones perish.” And so the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is beginning to carve out the heavy weight of death as she stands over a dark and troubled sea.

This item on the More Light Presbyterian site, Affirming Churches Can Save Lives of LGBT Children & Adults, is simply foolishness as is the article they refer to, written on the Huffington Report. The statement from both articles that, “There are many more Tyler Clementi tragedies waiting to unfold if we continue to close our minds to the harm caused by religious teaching’s bias and intimidation toward gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender individuals, …" is loaded with bias, intimidation and innuendo that is untrue.

Certainly the Church is called to love all sinners, no matter their sin. And Christian parents sin horribly if they exclude children who believe they are sexually different. But the greatest sin is embracing the sin of a child or adult and not including truth in your loving response to them.

Any person who is a sinner, as we all are, is to be loved and cared for, but that love and care includes discipline. And discipline means guidance, teaching and accountability. There are several ways of causing a little one to stumble. By our own actions, being a poor example, or offending by hard and unloving attitudes. However in the PCUSA an emerging way of causing those who belong to Jesus to stumble is by encouraging the stumbling. Too many are calling sin no sin and ignoring the basic need of the sinner, which is to find forgiveness and transformation in the cross of Jesus.

As the apostle John puts it:

If we say we have fellowship with him [God] and yet walk in the darkness we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He himself is in the light we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 6-10)

To love Jesus is to love other little ones with the kind of love given to us. If we cause these little ones to stumble by encouraging them to keep walking in sin, we also spurn the life giving death of Christ. Over and over various Presbyterian groups who are advocating for ordination of gay and lesbian candidates and marriage of same gender couples are rejecting biblical care for those who belong to Jesus.

In the midst of the verses I have quoted is this, “… whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” What does it mean to receive a brother and sister in the name of Jesus? Why does that mean that the receiver receives Christ? Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out that we do not properly have access to brothers and sisters without Christ as the go between. As Bonhoeffer puts it in his Life Together:
Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ. (21)
But taking this thought of knowing and relating to one another through Christ alone, Bonhoeffer carries it to my first subject. How do we treat the brother and sister who is sinning? And in particular I am thinking of those who ignore sin, and call sin not sin. Bonhoeffer writes:
Reproof is unavoidable. God’s Word demands it when a brother falls into open sin. The practice of discipline in the congregation begins in the smallest circles. Where defection from God’s Word in doctrine or life imperils the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the word of admonition and rebuke must be ventured. Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin. It is a ministry of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine fellowship, when we allow nothing but God’s Word to stand between us judging and succoring.
Yes, if the church is harsh and unloving that is sin-that is bullying. But to take the sinner, in particular the young sinner, into the care of the church which includes truth about their sin as well as the truth about the love of Jesus and his transforming grace is not bullying nor is it homophobic but rather it is kindness and comes out of the righteousness of Christ. Despising the little ones, causing them to stumble, refusing to give biblical care, that is the great sin of the Western Church.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Another update on Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento-Update

Edit and clarification at the end is in italics. (Also see update below)

Earlier I wrote that Fremont had filed a complaint with the Synod of the Pacific on the grounds that they did correctly comply with Sacramento’s dismissal policy. They asked that a stay be given on the administrative commission placed on them. They received the stay.

I also wrote that a motion had been made at the Presbytery’s council meeting to dissolve the negotiating team because without meeting with Fremont’s session or Fremont’s negotiating team they had opened an escrow account for those who wanted to stay in the PCUSA, gave them a place to worship, and allowed them to use Presbytery’s stationery to invite others to join them. The motion passed. (For a clearer understanding of this go to my last update-An update on Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento .)

(More information follows the letter I have placed here.)

In reference to the complaint that was filed the Executive Presbyter sent out this letter:

"Dear Colleagues,

Yesterday afternoon our Stated Clerk, Nancy Clegg, received notice that a “complaint” has been filed by the Session of Fremont Presbyterian Church against the Presbytery regarding the action taken at the January 9, 2012, meeting of the Presbytery. Along with that complaint was a request for “a stay of enforcement” of the action to institute an administrative commission. The Stated Clerk of the Synod has said that the papers received yesterday afternoon are in order. Attached to this email should be two documents on the complaint and the stay.

Our Stated Clerk informed the Presbytery’s Council and the members of the administrative commission of these actions, and the work of the administrative commission is stopped.

What happens next? The Presbytery is guided in this process by our By-Laws, our Standing Rules, and the Book of Order:

The By-Laws state: “7.000 RULES OF DISCIPLINE. In accordance with the Rules of Discipline D-6.0302a and D-10.0201b, the following persons are empowered to appoint a committee of counsel and an investigating committee when needed: the chairperson of the Committee on Ministry, the moderator, the stated clerk, and the associate synod executive.”

The Standing Rules state: “K. COMMITTEE OF COUNSEL 1. In accordance with the Presbytery Bylaws (7.000), a Committee of Counsel shall be formed when the Stated Clerk becomes aware of the need for one as defined in the constitution (D-6.0302a and D-10.0201b). The creation of the committee shall be reported at the next regular meeting of the presbytery.

The 2011-2013 Book of Order gives this guidance at D-6.0103g: “Objection to Stay of Enforcement g. The respondent may, within forty-five days of the filing of a stay of enforcement, file with the permanent judicial commission having jurisdiction over the case an objection to the stay of enforcement, whereupon no fewer than three members of such permanent judicial commission shall conduct a hearing on all of the issues relating to the stay of enforcement. The parties may be present or represented at such hearing. At such hearing, the stay of enforcement may be modified, terminated, or continued until the decision on the merits of the case by the permanent judicial commission.”

And, at D-6.0302: “Committee of Counsel: When a council, the General Assembly Mission Council, or an entity of the General Assembly becomes either a complainant or a respondent, it shall designate no more than three persons to be a committee of counsel. This committee shall represent that complainant or respondent in the case until final decision is reached in the highest council to which the case is appealed. Provide by Rule a. A council, the General Assembly Mission Council, or an entity of the General Assembly may provide by rule for the appointment of a committee of counsel. Shall Not Serve b. The clerk of session, the stated clerk, or executive of presbytery or synod shall not serve on a committee of counsel of the council served.”

As I have shared in officer training events across our Presbytery, the Rules of Discipline is a part of the Book of Order with which I am not too familiar. My interpretation of what happens next is that Nancy Clegg, our Stated Clerk, will work with the chairperson of the C.O.M. (the Rev. Tom Tripp), with the Moderator (the Rev. Bob Yule), and myself to identify three persons to serve as the Presbytery’s Committee of Counsel. Those persons will prepare a response in the next 45 days to the issues raised in the attached documents, and then work with the Synod’s Permanent Judicial Commission until a resolution is reached. The action (“relief”) requested is “to rescind the appointment of the administrative commission, and other such relief as justice requires.”

As we enter the season of Lent in two weeks, I covet your prayers for the Fremont Church and this Presbytery.

Yours in Christ,


Jay Wilkins

Transitional Presbyter

Presbytery of Sacramento"

What I now know I received from a friend, and I have now obtained a better update.

 It was reported [during Presbytery meeting] that Fremont had received from the Synod PJC a stay of the administrative commission. The commission had been appointed by presbytery at its previous meeting to investigate whether there was "schism" at Fremont within the meaning of the Book of Order. Presbytery was further told that a Committee of Counsel was to be appointed to defend the commission.

It was also reported at presbytery that there had been some informal discussions between presbytery leadership and Fremont leadership. There was, however, no report to presbytery of council's vote to dismiss the negotiation team, which vote came before presbytery's meeting and had already been announced to the congregation at Fremont.

Executive Presbyter Jay Wilkins advised COM before presbytery most recently met that council's vote was out of order. I believe the reasoning to be that council lacked power to dismiss the negotiation team because presbytery's dismissal policy gives COM the ability to appoint negotiation teams.

We have subsequently learned that presbytery's Committee of Counsel has now been appointed. One of the three members is on the negotiation team. Another of the members is on the administrative commission. The third member hasn't, to my knowledge, participated in either the negotiation team for Fremont or the administrative commission.

UPdate: Nancy Clegg Stated Clerk of Sacramento Presbytery answered my question about members picked for the Committee of Counsel. "(one who served on both the Negotiating Team and AC, and two who served on the Negotiating Team). An attorney was hired to file the response with the Synod PJC."

Please keep praying that the Presbytery will finally allow Fremont to go with their property. One other Church, Redding, has already gone. They followed the same procedure that Fremont did. But their property was smaller and not next to Sacramento State University.

For the whole PCUSA denomination may Jesus our Lord be with his people that some will not heap the sin of greed and ill-used power upon themselves and that the others will learn to love all without measure in the midst of their trials.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Presbyterian 'Joining Hands for Justice in Israel & Palestine' & Veterans Today join hands!

The Presbyterian group ‘Joining Hands for Justice in Israel & Palestine’ of the Greater Atlanta Presbytery cosponsored with Veterans Today, anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon in a meeting at the Villa International on March 10th.[*] Veterans today is the vile organization which I have lately written so much about. They believe that Israel is responsible for the 9-11 attack on the world trade center. They also believe that Israel and American Jews are in control of the United States government and media. Recently I quoted from their Chairman of the Board and Senior Managing Editor, Gordon Duff. He wrote:

”Federal Reserve” means “Rothschild.” “Rothschild” means poverty, hunger, ignorance and, most of all, war. This is all you really need to know. Everything else, the Pentagon, Wall Street, the corporate news, congress, the Supreme Court, the arms industry bandits are nothing but their [the Jews] henchmen, cowards and thieves that sold their souls for cash, the perception of power and vice.
Gilad Atzmon, although Jewish, is the ultimate anti-Semite—he is referred to by many as a self-hating Jew. He is now touring the United States promoting his book, The Wandering Who. He is evidently being promoted by Veterans Today a group he also writes for. Atzmon contends that there are few true ethnic Jews and he views most Jewish political leaders as immoral, writing, “Robbery and hatred is imbued in Jewish modern political ideology on both the left and the right.”[1]

A source at the Villa International, where the meeting sponsored by VT and JH met, stated that they were sorry that Atzmon had spoken there; that he used foul language and spoke against Israel causing some of the older people listening great distress. A great deal of accountability needs to be laid at the feet of those in the Atlanta Presbytery who are connected in some ways with the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)The relationship page of the IPMN gives an e-mail address for Sarah Humphrey of Atlanta Presbytery who is a part of JH, and on the Joining Hands for Justice in Israel & Palestine page the editor writes:
Several years ago the Joining Hands for Justice Partners in Palestine in consultation with PHP decided not to continue as a JH network. The organizations that made up the network each carry on their efforts for a free Palestinian state, and from time to time collaborate with one another.

The JH team from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta continues their amazing journey, visiting and working with their respective Palestinian partners. JH Atlanta is an active force within the Presbyterian Israel Palestine Mission Network
There is a so much that could be stated here. But perhaps a thought will do. In Nazi Germany the state ideology led the German Christians. It is a fearful thought that in the United States it is possible that the secret inner meetings of some PCUSA organizations might influence our culture toward one of the greatest evils of the last century-extreme anti-Semitism.

[*] see also

[1] See but be wary. (Hat Tip David Fischler at

Monday, March 12, 2012

My birthday & a favorite record

Today is my birthday (March 12, 41) and I just found a birthday present on YouTube. I have been looking for a song by Debbie and Ernie Rettino for a long time. I have the song on a record but no way to play it.

This was my all time favorite record during the Jesus movement, “More than Friends.” First a different song from the same record:

And now the one I just found which is pure Scripture:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Protected by 'powerful people' or the keeping power of Christ?

In some whys one could correctly say that some progressives in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have conspired to undo the biblical standards that Presbyterians held for most of their history. I have mentioned before how in my own presbytery the head of a commission sent to find out why two gay elders had been ordained in one church (before 10-A was passed) made fun of an evangelical teaching elder when he complained that they did nothing about the problem. But certainly a remark by a gay teaching elder in another presbytery points to the same problem. The Rev. Brett Webb-Mitchell wrote in his article Out and Ordained:

The reason no formal complaint was brought against me was because I was part of a Presbytery where powerful people protected me as an out gay pastor. There was an informal "underground railroad," where those in authority shielded us from prosecution but could not assure us employment.
There are conspiracy theories and then there are conspiracies. The first has to do with worldwide movements consisting of several hundred years and consist of fraudulent details and nameless people. They do not lead one to repentance but rather to suspicion and even hatred. The second has to do with real conspiracies confined to no more than a few years or less. It is usually possible to name the people and seek both confession and repentance. And looking at the biblical examples, where there is no repentance, there is often, eventually, God’s judgment.

Some biblical examples are Ahab and Jezebel conspiring against Naboth in order to gain his vineyard. Their plot ended in Naboth’s murder but also eventually in their own judgment. Another conspiracy was Rebecca and her son Jacob conspiring against Isaac (the father of Jacob and husband of Rebecca) to gain the family blessing for Jacob. It is a long story with a great deal of sorrow, but it finally ends with some reconciliation and redemption. There is also, in the book of Acts, the forty Jewish men who bound themselves to an oath, plotting to kill Paul. God protected him. And then there is Judas conspiring to betray Jesus. God’s will was accomplished.

But is there more? That is, do the schemes deepen? Webb-Mitchell writes:
In order to become more inclusive, there are many "next steps" to be taken in righting past wrongs. For example, as more states permit LGBTQ people to wed, churches will need to craft a theology of marriage that includes LGBTQ congregants. As ordained religious leaders, our health-care and retirement benefits will need to be inclusive of our families. In order that LGBTQ clergy will never be discriminated again in the Church, denominations will need to include LGBTQ people among those who are represented and protected as a minority group.
And where do orthodox believers stand in all of this—how will they face tomorrow? Should we be angry, in despair or fearful? When Jesus tells Peter that his Church will be built on the rock of Peter’s confession and that the gates of hell (Hades) would not overpower it (Matthew 16:18)-he was not referring to physical enemies, not even to Satan in particular but to death. The Church, the true Church, will not die. As R.T. France puts it, “To say that the powers of death (so RSV, correctly) shall not prevail against the community is thus to say that it will not die, and be shut in by the ‘gates of death.’ The Church is forever and our place in the hands of the Father will continue on ceaselessly. (John 10:25-30)

Clothed with the righteousness of Christ, loved by Father, Son and Holy Spirit we can love those who conspire and even bully their way into power. Strengthened by the word of God written and the living Word of God we can go on proclaiming, teaching, praying and serving. God has given a tremendous calling to his people.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

C.S. Lewis, Paul & Unity

I keep returning to a sermon posted on the Covenant Network. It isn’t so much that I agree with “In Praise of Unity,” by Rev. Christopher A. Henry, I disagree with some of it, but I find some very familiar subjects enveloped in its thoughts, namely C.S. Lewis, his Screwtape Letters, and Paul’s thoughts on church unity. On a recent weekend I saw the stage play of Screwtape, and this morning’s Lenten devotionals moved, thankfully, from Ecclesiastes to I Corinthians beginning with Paul’s admonition about unity in Christ.

Henry quotes the demon Screwtape’s advise to his nephew Wormwood about his tempting of a new Christian:
“…if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don’t mean on real doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is the better…the real fun is working up hatred between those who say ‘mass’ and those who say “holy communion” when neither party could possibly state the difference between (the two).”
Henry goes on to I Corinthians and writes of Paul’s admonition to that church with its unity problem. “The church had devolved into fractured factions. Rather than coming together for worship and fellowship, each affinity group gathered secretly to proclaim their superiority over the others. They had fallen into personality-driven discipleship. I belong to Paul; I belong to Peter; I belong to Apollos.” As Henry points out Paul quickly exhorts the members to get along because “division in the church undermines its mission in the world.”

But I want to go further than Henry—I don’t believe he has covered enough ground nor used enough of either Lewis or Paul in sorting out the problems of division. He did quote that part of Lewis that gives some hint of what righteous and unrighteous division might be about—and yes I did use the word ‘righteous’ division. Here, once again is the Lewis quote, “…if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don’t mean on real doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is the better …” (Italics mine)

The division comes not from the person rejecting false doctrine but from the one promoting false doctrine. And as Lewis puts it the demon knows that the enemy (God) wants the Christian to be “critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but” … “wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise-does not waste time thinking about what it rejects—but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.”

And there is also a description of a pastor who in unbelief and disregard for the word of God “has undermined many a soul’s Christianity.” The pastor, Lewis describes, is more concerned with shocking his congregation with his disbelief than he is in nourishing them. This is true division on the part of a pastor or a leader—to divide the sheep from the Shepherd.

So the sheep themselves begin separating from the false shepherds by rejecting their words, taking only small bits of any nourishment they can find in an otherwise bleak offering. That is the righteous division—rejecting false teaching. In a sense not even hearing it. If that kind of division happens a battle begins, not outside of the church but within. And if many churches are engaged in such a battle then it occurs within a whole denomination. Notice, it would be those who are leading the sheep astray, leading them away from Christ, who are the cause of the division.

So turning to Paul and his call to unity, Henry is right when he states that Paul believes that, “division in the church undermines its mission in the world.” Notice the sin in this case is failure to see themselves as one in Christ. And the phrase ‘in Christ’ holds a lot of theological weight. It means set aside as holy to the Lord. It means wearing the righteousness of Christ. It means being a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul is so concerned about this that he asks the church of Corinth to set a man who has committed grave sexual sin outside of the church. And he does this for the sake of the man—that he may be saved—and for the sake of the church that they will not be contaminated by allowing and condoning gross sin. Paul calls them arrogant, both for their sin of division and their sin of allowing a sinner to continue on without repentance.

There is one more important issue involved in the division of the Corinthian church. They were evidently depending on worldly wisdom and not on the cross of Christ. Paul makes a point of emphasizing the cross. He places the cross right in the center of the issue of division. After Paul states that the message of Christ crucified is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks he speaks of Christ as both the power and wisdom of God. So the understanding that unity exist because Christians are in Christ is absolutely connected to the death of Christ on the cross. He is their only power and wisdom.

The arrogance displayed by the Corinthian Christians both in their divisions and their allowance of sexual sin had to do with their failure to lay all at the feet of the crucified Savior. At the foot of the cross no one will find a reason to boast of an allegiance to a particular leader or a particular sin. Rather total dependence on Christ both for unity and for righteousness is necessary

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage: A Christian Ethical Analysis by Marvin Ellison- a review

The apple in the Presbyterian garden is already partially eaten; when the whole apple is consumed marriage will not be marriage and the denomination will certainly not be Christian. More Light Presbyterian’s recently touted author Marvin M. Ellison and his book Same-Sex Marriage: a Christian Ethical Analysis in their posting “Marriage Equality Honors the Humanity of All.” MLP offers the book on their 220 General Assembly resource page. The book calls for changes that will ‘decenter’ marriage allowing for many different types of relationships to share the central position. In fact, no marriage, a plurality of marriage partners and marriage moved from the constraints of civil government are all options lifted up in the book. [1]

Ellison a Christian ethics professor at Bangor Theological Seminary, an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a gay man does not approach the subject of marriage from the biblical text. He does not use the word of God at all. Rather he looks at marriage from what he calls a justice lens and from the view of feminist liberation theology. Because of his starting point his assumptions are simple and his solutions are essentially pagan. That is, his view of the ideal society as far as sexual relationships are concerned is not about Christ and the Church but about mutual pleasure and humanistic ideals of freedom shackled simply to a poorly defined view of justice.

Ellison’s assumptions include his belief that society constructs the definition of marriage. Another is that the church promotes an understanding that sex is not good, and for this he uses the tired feminist assessment that, “… sex-negativity is pervasive in Western culture, largely influenced by patriarchal Christianity’s discomfort with body, women, and nature.” Ellison’s most overused assumption is that, “Normative heterosexuality as culturally scripted requires male dominance and female subordination.” (53)

Ellison calls for a justice that is based on knowing the experiences of others. Using Karen Lebacqz’s “historical, experimental” approach he posits the LGBT community as those who experience “political disenfranchisement,” “economic disadvantage, and cultural marginality.” And then Ellison explains that what is at “the heart of every justice struggle is conflict over how to interpret the world and whose authority counts in that naming.” (48) In this he is right.

The great battle in the church is over the authority of the word of God. Ellison keeps his arguments from even touching the text of the Bible. Even when explaining the objections of the “religious right” in the chapter, “Marriage Traditionalist” he does not mention their objections that are based on Biblical teaching. He instead keeps pushing the theme that men are afraid they will lose their right to dominate women. In the chapter, “Contested Christian Teaching” he once again ignores the Bible and goes so far as to condemn the Church because, “no Christian saints are revered for attaining the vision of God through disciplined erotic refinement.” (133)

While Ellison does allow those in the LGBT community who advocate for marriage and those who advocate for no marriage to speak, he critiques their thoughts suggesting that at this time marriage rights are probably needed in order to bring LGBT people out of their marginalization. However, in his final conclusions he offers multiple choices with the thought that diversity is important for justice to be real. Calling this justice love he writes of the four things needed for justice love or a reformulation of Christian sexual ethics:

"1. A decentering of marriage as the “exclusive mode of human intimacy.”

2. “A plurality of benign sexualities should be affirmed.”

3. “... mutual pleasure should be seen as a morally worthy pursuit within intimate relationships.” This is based on the feminist idea that there is no mutual pleasure in heterosexual marriage.

4. “... sex also should be decentered as the defining criterion for partnerships, marriage, and families of any sort.” [While this last one may sound right what it does is totally devalue marriage as the only place where sexual union is permitted between a man and a woman. It is not unlike the first idea.]"

In the chapter “Queer Notions,” Ellison speaks of what he feels is the relevant image of God for the issues he is writing about. Although he writes that there are other acceptable versions of God, Ellison believes that the God who is both unmarried and promiscuous is ideal for the time. He writes:
The image of God as unmarried, promiscuous lover, while not the only God image to retain, has relevance in our context as a reminder not to invest overly in marriage as an identity-defining category. From a progressive Christian perspective, far less attention should be given to culturally prescribed identities and far more to socially liberatory practices. What matters most ethically, religiously is not who or what we are, but the quality of our actions toward self and others. (167)
Ellison believes he is standing against injustice; however, he is actually standing against biblical justice. His ethics is grounded not in God but in human desires which are often in conflict with God’s demands. When one looks at Old Testament pronouncements against injustice they not only call for care of the needy and oppressed they also call for a right relationship with God.

Micah 6: 8 if properly contextualized can be placed among a people who not only have rejected kindness and justice but have also worshiped strange gods giving themselves over to a sexualized worship. In chapter six among all the sins God accuses the people of is this, “The statues of Omri and all the works of the house of Ahab are observed; and in their devices you walk.” And this is true of almost every biblical pronouncement against injustice: false gods, sexual worship on the high places and disregard for the needy. Biblical justice includes a sexual union that is confined to a man and woman in marriage.

Moreover, the Christian’s vision of God occurs, not because of any disciplined erotic refinement, but because of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ the living word and the word of God written The Christian has experienced the kindness, righteousness and justice of God because of the cross. Ellison and those who follow his ethics, standing on the sand of human based morality, will eventually fall before the storms of cultural relativism. Without the biblical text, without the justice of the cross, without the Lord of the cross we dare not talk of justice or love. We are only safe and in true community in the costly grace of Christ.

[1] Ellison does argue rightly that the vulnerable do need civil protection in sexual relationships, but he fails to understand that when the whole concept of marriage is cut loose from its Judeo-Christian heritage—its sacred texts—all  are vulnerable and in need of protection.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

An update ....

I am updating the posting I wrote on February the 27, “Nice Jewish girls," the "Rothschilds" & the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”

The posting was about a James Wall article linked to by the Communication's Chair of Israel/Palestine Mission Network of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The article, “Which Matters Most, AIPAC’s Power, or Rachel Corrie’s Death?,” included the mention of a friend of Wall’s Debbie Menon who is both Administrator and Editor of My Catbird Seat and “also Middle East Issues Editor at Veterans Today’s very vile anti-Semitic site.” I also pointed out that Wall is also friends with the VT’s chairman of the Board as well as Senior Editor, Gordon Duff.

After clarifying why I called My Catbird Seat & Veterans Today anti-Semitic I asked three questions. Is James Wall anti-Semitic because he writes for and befriends MCS & VT? / Is IPMN anti-Semitic because they keep linking to and praising James Wall? /Is the PCUSA anti-Semitic because they keep allowing IPMN to continue in this relationship?

Now my updates: Wall’s article has been placed on both MCS & VT’s sites. Despite protests by one of my commenters that James Wall should not be characterized in such a manner, on my blog’s feed I saw Wall visiting my article. The next evening which was the 29th and today the first of March, I began seeing visitors from all over the world coming through VT on my blog’s feed. I checked and in the comment section under Wall’s article on the VT site Menon has put a link to my posting with the words, “This Blogger has a problem with us. Check her out.” The same comment and link is on her site under Wall’s article.

There are really four connections here; there is Wall and Menon and Duff, but there is also a fourth person, the IPMN’s Communication's Chair, Noushin Framke who linked to and commented on Wall’s article. With the comment Framke linked to a Middle East newspaper writing, “Here is the latest on this front: Progressive Democratic hero Elizabeth Warren enlists to serve AIPAC’s pro-war agenda, by Max Blumenthal. She also quotes from the article. It is basically a diatribe toward Warren insisting that although she is progressive she has sold out to the Jewish lobby.

But here is another important detail: the paper is Al Akhbar based in Lebanon. It is a paper some refer to as a Hezbollah paper. That is a militant political group with connections to Iran’s totalitarian government and also to Syria. In the paper are some articles insisting that the Western Media and governments are wrong about what is happening in Syria. That includes an insistence that the military of the Syrian government hasn’t committed the carnage of which they have been accused. For instance there is, “Questioning the Syrian Casualty list,” and “High-Tech Trickery in Homs?,” both are also posted on VT.

None of this is particularly about Christianity, except for this: Jesus Christ, who is truth calls us to live truthfully. And He who is a kind Shepherd calls us to kindness and righteousness. Making alliances with the despot, the slanderer, and the liar is not the calling of any Christian or any Christian organization.

Also it should be pointed out that under Menon's link to my page is this comment by one of VT's readers:
Debbie, judging by the comments on that link, the ADL’s job is finished over there and it can close down operations. I only scanned through the comments, but I get the impression the premise of the discussion is that criticizing the behavior of organized Jewry or Israel is ipso facto proof of anti-Semitism, which presupposes that Jews acting collectively have never, nor will ever, do anything wrong. To even quote prominent Jews in context on the subject of their organized behavior is apparently grounds for anti-Semitism. If you, Gordon, or Mr. Wall were to quote Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s reaffirmation of Talmudic halacha that the Jews should kill all the goys except those needed to serve the Jews, those bloggers would probably call for your head, not his.
That is anti-Semitism and the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as well as James Wall, are helping to spread it all over the world.