Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jeffrey DeYoe, Brian Ellison, divestment and misinformation

There is a story to tell about committee 15, the Middle East and Peace Making Issues committee of the 220th General Assembly, that I put aside and intended not to write. But after reading the first section of Rev. Dr. Jeffrey DeYoe’s article “Investment, Divestment and the Collective Amnesia of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” I decided to share the story and add necessary information to DeYoe’s posting. What I am concerned about is that the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and those they work with are perpetuating misinformation about the investment/divestment policies of the PCUSA’s General Assemblies in regard to Israel and the companies doing business there.

In committee 15, Rev. Brian Ellison, the chair of Mission Responsibilities Through Investment, and now DeYoe, Advocacy Chair of Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are insisting that the policy has never changed, that the 2006 GA did not reverse the 2004 GA. But there was change.

During Ellison’s presentation, in committee 15, asking commissioners to vote for the Mission Responsibilities Through Investment’s recommendation that three companies doing business in Israel be divested from, he insisted that the GA policies on divestment had not changed. He cited as his proof a news article published by the Presbyterian News Network.

I remembered that news article and how it tended to distort what actually happened in the 2006 committee on the Middle East. When I was asked by a commissioner, and then by vote of the committee to advise them on this issue-I suggested that rather than using a news item they go to the original minutes of both GAs.

The minutes were found and then Ellison read one part of the 2006 minutes stating that what he had said before was his interpretation of those minutes. And although he did read a crucial part he did leave out some important facts. Now DeYoe is attempting to back up what Ellison stated. But that was simply Ellison’s interpretation of the 2006 committee decision. And in fact the moderator of committee 15 suggested that members of the committee read the minutes for themselves and form their own interpretation.

Using an overture from the Mississippi Presbytery to rescind and modify the actions of the 2004 General Assembly the 2006 General Assembly answered with this:

"On this Item, the General Assembly, acted as follows:


The Assembly rejected two attempts to amend the recommendation and then adopted the Committee’s recommendation to answer this item with the following alternate resolution and with comment (by a vote of 483/28/1).


On this Item, the Peacemaking and International Issues Committee, acted as follows:

Approve Alternate Resolution

The committee hereby recommends in response to this recommendation, that the 217th General Assembly (2006) approve the following alternate resolution and comment:

After careful consideration of the overtures brought before the Assembly Committee on Peacemaking and International Issues of the 217th General Assembly (2006), we offer the following recommendations.

1. We acknowledge that the actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004) caused hurt and misunderstanding among many members of the Jewish community and within our Presbyterian communion. We are grieved by the pain that this has caused, accept responsibility for the flaws in our process, and ask for a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue.

To these ends, we replace the instructions expressed in Item 12-01 (Minutes, 2004 Part I, pp. 64–66) Recommendation 7, which reads

“7. Refers to Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) with instructions to initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel, in accordance to General Assembly policy on social investing, and to make appropriate recommendations to the General Assembly Council for action.”

with the following:

“7. To urge that financial investments of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, be invested in only peaceful pursuits, and affirm that the customary corporate engagement process of the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investments of our denomination is the proper vehicle for achieving this goal.”

2. Direct Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) to ensure that its strategies for engaging corporations with regard to Israeli and Palestinian territories

a. Reflect the application of fundamental principles of justice and peace common to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism that are appropriate to the practical realities of Israeli and Palestinian societies.

b. Reflect commitment to positive outcomes.

c. Reflect awareness of potential impact upon the stability, future viability, and prosperity of both the Israeli and Palestinian economies.

d. Identify affirmative investment opportunities as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank.

3. We call upon the church:

a. To work through peaceful means with American and Israeli Jewish, American and Palestinian Muslim, and Palestinian Christian communities and their affiliated organizations for an end to all violence and terror against Palestinian and Israeli civilians.

b. To work through peaceful means with American and Israeli Jewish, American and Palestinian Muslim, and Palestinian Christian communities and their affiliated organizations to end the occupation.

c. To work through peaceful means with American and Israeli Jewish, American and Palestinian Muslim, and Palestinian Christian communities and their affiliated organizations towards the creation of a socially, economically, geographically, and politically viable and secure Palestinian state, alongside an equally viable and secure Israeli state, both of which have a right to exist.

d. To encourage and celebrate efforts by individual Presbyterians, congregations, and judicatories of our church to communicate directly and regularly with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities, sponsor programs likely to improve relations among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and engage in peacemaking in the Middle East.

4. The 217th General Assembly (2006) does not believe that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) should tell a sovereign nation whether it can protect its borders or handle matters of national defense. The problem with the security wall, in 2004 and presently, is its location. The 217th General Assembly (2006) supports fair criticism of the security wall insofar as it illegally encroaches into the Palestinian territory and fails to follow the legally recognized borders of Israel since 1967 demarcated by the Green Line. To the extent that the security barrier violates Palestinian land that was not part of Israel prior to the 1967 war, the barrier should be dismantled and relocated.

5. Recognizing that the situation on the ground in the Israel-Palestine area is rapidly changing, the General Assembly Council (GAC) is directed to carefully monitor ongoing developments of the situation in the Middle East and to examine the polices of the PC(USA) related to the Middle East, in order to make a comprehensive report to the 218th General Assembly (2008).

6. Instructs the Stated Clerk to communicate Recommendations 1. through 5. above to the United States’ president, vice president, secretary of state, and members of Congress; to Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the Middle East; to the membership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); to leadership of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith bodies and denominations in the United States and the Middle East with whom we are in communication.

Comment: The Assembly received twenty-six overtures pertaining to the Middle East. The recommendation is the result of the General Assembly’s honest and sincere effort to address the issues and concerns that appeared in the overtures in a comprehensive and concise document.

[Counted Vote - Committee]

Affirmative: 53

Negative: 6

Abstaining: 3 "

It is important to read all of this in order to understand that the 2006 GA did change the actions of the 2004 General Assembly and that change began with an apology which I will repeat since this was an important part that Ellison and now DeYoe left out of their story:

"1. We acknowledge that the actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004) caused hurt and misunderstanding among many members of the Jewish community and within our Presbyterian communion. We are grieved by the pain that this has caused, accept responsibility for the flaws in our process, and ask for a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue."

It also must be remembered that this statement, “7. Refers to Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) with instructions to initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel, in accordance to General Assembly policy on social investing, and to make appropriate recommendations to the General Assembly Council for action,” was removed.

Notice that nowhere in the new instructions does the 2006 General Assembly ask the MRTI “to initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.”

There is much more in the article by DeYoe including a slur on Presbyterians For Middle East Peace—but it is extremely important that DeYoe and Ellison do not, with their words, wipe out the actions of the 2006 GA.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bad Religion: How We became a Nation of Heretics: A Review

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

By Ross Douthat

Published by Free Press 2012, 337 pages

How does one wash away the sorrow of heresy and yet rejoice in the faith of many brothers and sisters after returning from both the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly and the Presbyterian Women’s Gathering? By reading a Catholic’s book about false religion in America, of course! Ross Douthat, author and columnist for the New York Times and author of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, explores many facets of the disintegration of Christianity and her offshoots in the United States. Douthat lays biblical understanding as well as Christian tradition beside the rising tide of heresy.

In his prologue Douthat explains that heresy arises from the desire to bring rationality to a faith that is full of paradox and mystery. Writing of the consensus of the orthodox, Douthat beautifully states:
What defines this consensus, above all—what distinguishes orthodoxy from heresy, the central river from the delta—is commitment to mystery and paradox. Mysteries abide at the heart of every religious faith, but the Christian tradition is uniquely comfortable preaching dogmas that can seem like riddles, offering answers that swiftly lead to further questions, and confronting believers with the possibility that the truth about God passes all our understanding. (10)
The essentials Douthat shows as paradox and mystery include “Christ’s incarnation and atonement, the Trinity and the virgin birth, the forgiveness of sins and the possibility of everlasting life.” He continues with the word of God, “a belief in the divine inspiration and authority of a particular set of sacred scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, with no additional revelations added on and nothing papered over or rejected.”

Douthat adds the moral aspects of the true faith, “It includes an adherence to the moral vision encoded in the Ten Commandments and expanded and deepened in the New Testament: a rejection of violence and cruelty, a deep suspicion of worldly wealth and power, and a heavy stress on chastity.” And finally:
It includes a commitment to the creeds of the ancient world—Nicene, Apostolic, Athanasian—and to the idea that a church, however organized and governed, should guarantee and promulgate them. And it includes the idea of orthodoxy—the belief that there exists “a faith once delivered to the saints,” and that the core of Christianity is an inheritance from the first apostles, rather than being something that every believer can and should develop for himself. (10)
Douthat, at times, gives a history of early heresy in the United States, but his main concerns deal with heresy as it began and existed in Christianity’s boom years in the fifties and as it grew in the following decades. And there is fairness in Douthat’s history and thoughts since he analyzes both the right and left laying blame at both doors. He examines heresy and orthodoxy within the Roman Catholic Church, the mainline denominations and Evangelicalism. Among the orthodox that Douthat looks at is the Evangelical Reverend Billy Graham, the Catholic Father Richard John Neuhaus and the mainliner Dr. Richard Niebuhr (Niebuhr was neo-orthodox).

Douthat’s examination of the many heretical movements that have fed into all three branches of American Christianity is fairly complete. In a chapter entitled, “Pray and Grow Rich,” he looks at part of the metaphysical movement (Christian Science) rightly aligning it with the so called prosperity gospel. (Here however Unity School of Christianity would have probably been a better example.)[1] He explains how the idea that God is meant to fulfill all of our desires is continued today in the sermons, books and TV shows of such popular figures as Joel Osteen.

Douthat also links the prosperity gospel to a form of liberalism that bypasses God’s redemptive work bound up with human suffering; instead opting for only good works and a utopia of the present.

Douthat’s critique is biblical and frank:
In its [the prosperity gospel] emphasis on the virtues of prosperity, it risks losing something essential to Christianity—skipping on to Easter, you might say, without lingering at the foot of the cross. (205)
Douthat’s history of the search for the historical Jesus is of particular interest to me, as it well might be for many mainliners. Working in apologetics in an independent church in the 70’s and early eighties the only real mainline Protestant heretic I was aware of was Bishop James Pike. (And of course Jim Jones who was an apostate mainliner.) I was later, as a Presbyterian, to discover a host of Pike’s duplications in the mainline denominations. Douthat’s history of Pike is informative, from apostasy to séances to death in the barren regions of the Holy Land while searching for further lost gospels.

It is imperative that one read Douthat’s chapter on the religion of nationalism. The chapter, “City on a Hill,” covers a subject that is usually not covered when authors write of heresy, but that particular heresy was the greatest cause of World War II. In fact, a professor in a college class on the cults I attended used Nazi Germany as an image of one vast national cult. Douthat points to both the left and the right when writing about nationalism, explaining that in an earlier period the left fed on utopianism while the right was concerned with apocalyptism.

Of the first, the progressive side, Douthat writes:
Piggybacking on the parallels between American universalism and Christian universalism, messianic Americanism turns liberal democracy into a religion unto itself; capable of carrying out the kind of redemptive work that orthodoxy reserves for Christ and his Church. (255)
Of the conservative urge he writes:
We are not just “almost chosen” but actually chosen, and our constitution is not only consonant with Christian principles but literally divinely inspired. The founding is our Eden and our Sinai; everything else is a tragic falling away, a descent into idolatry that God will justly punish. (255)
Of the combining of these two views by both the right and the left, Douthat writes:
Instead of the normal pattern of American History in which conservatives are tempted by the reactionary pessimism of apocalyptic style, and liberals by the seductions of utopianism, now messianic and apocalyptism have increasingly become bipartisan afflictions. (265)
I have simplified, with my quotes, Douthat’s extensive and carefully laid out understanding of religious nationalism as it exists now in the United States. As I stated above it is imperative that the chapter be read. But there is another section of the chapter “City on a Hill” that should be read by members of the mainline churches. That is Douthat’s thoughts about the Jewish people and the question of a chosen people. Because Douthat is orthodox in his faith, he is not afraid to state the biblical view concerning both the Old Testament and the Jewish people. He writes:
When the universal God actually entered history … it was as the champion of a very particular race and people. This is the strange revelation at the heart of the Old Testament story: a Being who seems at first like a particularly powerful tribal deity gradually reveals himself as the eternal YHWH, the great I Am without ever abandoning his unique covenant with the Jewish people. Indeed, the Old Testament, or at least the prophetic tradition therein, argues that Yahweh’s particularity is actually the means through which His universality will be ultimately manifested to the world. Of all the scandalous claims embedded in the Hebrew Bible none is more scandalous then this: that Israel, alone among the peoples of the earth, will have immortality as a people, and that if the rest of the world claims a share of that same immortality, they will claim it through the Jews. (246)
And of course, once again there is more. But the important point here, much like the points made by Karl Barth in his essay on the Jews found in Against the Stream, there is only one exceptional people and even they are only exceptional because God, through them, provided grace for broken people. No other nation, race or people are chosen—only those engrafted into the tree Israel by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In conclusion there is so much thought provoking reading in Douthat’s book, a review might become far too lengthy. If there is any criticism it would be to simply state that adding a bit more about the emergence of radical feminism in the Catholic Church, as well as some references to the rise of some very orthodox and reformed black pastors and churches, would be helpful and add to the reader’s understanding of what is happening in Christianity in the United States.

But overall Douthat’s book superbly and very seriously meets the crisis that many Christians in the United States now find themselves facing. While upholding ecumenical dialogue and political activism by the orthodox, Douthat turns the believer back to the Church, be it Reformed or Catholic. While not forsaking the issues of the times, which include sexual morality and life issues, Douthat calls for a holistic faith that does not neglect any aspect of Christianity. Bad Religion is an important book for the days ahead.

[1] Unity School of Christianity has grown, expanded and evolved its teaching which in many cases has entered into the mainline denominations. (Consider a Course in Miracles.) On the other hand, Christian Science has insisted on staying within the teaching of Mary Baker Eddy.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Cross and the River of Hope

The theme of this year’s Presbyterian Women’s gathering was “River of Hope” and everywhere that theme was applied. Both spirituality and advocacy became a part of the definition of river of hope. As an orthodox reformed woman I must admit I felt a great deal of confusion while listening to both sermons and advocacy speeches. The question for me was “what is the river of hope?”

Both a text in John (4:1-42) and a text in Ezekiel (47: 1-10) were used as well as texts in the Psalms “Psalm 78: 12-16 and 65:5-13. There were more texts about rivers and water. You get the picture, if a biblical text was about a river and/or water it was a possible choice. And the liturgy was a mixture of how the river of hope is the work of the church and how it is also about God being present. For instance, one reading referred to as a litany of faith and titled “This is the river of Hope” was read by several women:
“I am the river that flows through poverty, prisons and pain.

I am the river that flows unafraid of war, violence and madness.

I am the river that flows boldly through our streets, cities and nations.

I am the river of courage, kindness and love.”
And then all were to read:
“We are the rivers of hope flowing deep and wide.”

In another place the liturgy as the gathering of community was:
"I am the Pishon River that flows through the land of Arabia.

I am the Gihon River that winds through Ethiopia.

I am the Tigris River that flows to the Persian Gulf.”
And then all read:

“We are all the Rivers of Hope.”

All of this, in my mind, bled into part of the reading for communion, which was both traditional and different. The difference was the troubling part:
“Today we bring bread to Christ’s table,
made by many people’s work from an unjust world
where some have plenty and must go hungry.
At this table, all are fed and no one is turned away.

We bring wine, made by many people’s work
from an unjust world where some have leisure and must struggle to survive.
At this table, all share the cup of pain and celebration and no one is denied.

These gifts shall be for us the body and blood of Christ,
our witness against hunger, our cry against injustice,
and our hope for a world where God is fully known and every child is fed.
So come, there is a place at the table for you.”
This is a mistake, an error. The bread and wine are not gifts given through the works of Christians. The bread and wine are a symbol of the gift Jesus gives to his body the Church. They are a sign that he feeds us continually because of his shed blood and broken body. In our union with him we are nourished. The communion is given by Christ Jesus—he blesses his Church with his life and his presence. The works of the church follow and they include not only good works of help and advocacy but also the right preaching of the word and the good teaching of the gospel.

And this was the problem through most of the gathering, the cross was missing and Jesus Christ as Lord of his Church was often absent. While the gathering featured some nice spirituals which used the name of Jesus and spoke of God’s care for his church, the great hymns that speak strongly of the work of Christ and his Lordship were missing. One reading lifted up the shed blood of Christ- 1 Peter 1:13-25, however the song that followed simply referred to baptism as that hope for the sinner. Relying on water it simply speaks of “water that flowed from that first garden” and “Waters of baptism bind us/ in our desert lives remind us/there is no place Love can’t find us/ River of hope.”

The Scripture text that featured Jesus and the Samaritan woman was only touched on in one sermon—and his position as the giver of life by death and resurrection was absent. The generic name ‘God’ was over used. But more importantly the river in many ways became a substitute for the cross. It seemingly was used to pull all together in community and advocacy without offending anyone.

At least one Reformer, John Calvin, saw the river in Ezekiel 47: 1-10 as a prophetic word pointing to the coming good news of Christ’s salvation. And certainly, taking the whole Scripture together, Jesus words about living waters spoken to the Samaritan woman are connected to his death and resurrection as well as his life. The cross cannot be disconnected from John 4:1-42. The living waters given here cannot be given without the death and resurrection of Jesus. And the living waters, the gift of the Holy Spirit are tied intimately to Jesus and his work. Jesus gives the gift of the Holy Spirit who only and always lifts up Christ Jesus our Lord.
Picture by Penny Juncker

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Shall we knock it off or proclaim Christ?

The question isn’t “Has the whole world heard the gospel,” the question is “Does Christ still call the Church to proclaim good news?” But the Rev. Dr. Randall K. Bush, preaching at his church, on July 1, during the General Assembly, insists that it is time to “knock it off” and “cut it out.”

Bush's view of the Church’s mission is simple—Micah 6:6-8. In Bush’s O Church, What Does the Lord Require of You, posted on the Covenant Network’s site, he presents a rather pallid and misinformed view of the history of missions. He divorces that history from any biblical references to missions beginning his historical overview with:

In the fullness of time, the good news of Jesus Christ came into our world. At some point we began treating it like a commodity – as something that some possessed and others did not possess. Those who possessed it read their scripture and decided that they needed to go out and share this possession with others, and make disciples of all nations.
From there Bush skips to William Carey the early nineteenth century missionary to India. After Carey and a scattering of American evangelists such as Billy Graham are dismissed with the tongue in cheek understanding that the good news has already been preached to the whole world, Bush has two main points:
Once the evangelical commotion of the modern church is turned down for a moment, the wisdom of other people of faith can be heard again.
Once the evangelical commotion of the New Testament is turned down for a moment, the wisdom of our foundational faith can be heard again. Micah 6: O mortals, God has told you what is good: To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God
In answer to Bush’s dissolution of the mission of the Church and his disregard for the completeness of the word of God, there must be a proper definition of the good news as well as a proper exegesis of Micah 6. (Bush does attempt an exegesis, but because he disconnects it not only from the New Testament but also from the Old Testament it is not helpful to the question of proclaiming the good news.)

So biblically speaking what is the good news?

It isn’t just that God loves unconditionally, nor that God is seeking through humanity a world of goodness and righteousness—these concepts or ideas are simply modern religious versions of political ideology and/or modern views of parenting. Instead one must go to Christ and his word.

The writer of Colossians explains that not only were all things created by Christ, but all things were created through him and for him. All that is, and that will be, exists because of and for Jesus Christ. So the mission of the Church, her proclamation of the good news has its beginning and purpose in Jesus Christ. This good news begins with God’s gracious act in Christ, “for he rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.” (Col. 1:13-14)We are taken out of an evil kingdom and secured in a righteous place which belongs to the Son.

In the life, death and resurrection of Christ those individuals who are reborn, changed, made new, make up the Church which is Christ’s. Christ makes even creation new, but through the transformation and resurrection of his people.

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:19-21)

Free from condemnation Jesus opens the way for his people to do the works that God has planned for them. (Eph. 2:10) None of this has anything at all to do with the voices of other faiths but it is connected wholly to Christ. And more importantly Micah 6: 6-8 is not disconnected from faith in Christ. Without Christ we will not do justice, love kindness or walk humbly with our God.

Bush speaks of the Hebrew word, “hesed” and using what seems to be process theology writes, “Hesed” redistributes power, refocuses priorities, and by grace redeems us all. “Hesed” believes that nothing we do is ever lost; rather, it all becomes part of God’s eternal memory where it is ultimately judged.” But hesed belongs to God and is covenant love grounded in the redemptive work of Christ. The emphasis needs to be placed on God as he moves in the promises of the coming messiah and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

If one goes to the ending of Micah chapter 6, all of the oppressive sins of Israel are laid on top of their idolatry. They are following in the way of King Ahab. “The statues of Omri and all the works of the house of Ahab are observed; and in their devises you walk.” (Micah 6: 16)

To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before God requires that one submit to the true God. It is only through Jesus Christ that one is led to the Father. That is good news and is meant to be proclaimed until the coming of the Lord.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Confessing Christ....

Timothy F, Simpson in his article “The Politics of the General Assembly, Part 2: The Committee of the Confessions,” badly uses a faithful Presbyterian woman, Sylvia Dooling president of Voices of Orthodox Women, to make his point about the Heidelberg Catechism. He also fails to understand the poor Christology of the Belhar Confession. The two subjects are not disconnected. When we place the interests of our lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, which is the proper subject of a confession, we will not misuse people.

Dooling, who was joined by Dr. James Edwards, another conservative member of the committee, in endorsing the new translation, has not endorsed the translation because it lacks a direct statement on homosexuality, but because it has the integrity of a proper translation. But it should also be added that Dooling who is a friend to me and many, many others is not extreme. She is orthodox, meaning that she holds to the faith as it has been delivered to the church through the apostolic witness of the Scriptures. If she is extreme then so is the global Church, the historical Church and the Church universal.

As for the Confession of Belhar I was the person who at the last General Assembly brought the overture from Sacramento asking the Assembly not to pass the recommendation to accept Belhar. I was going to testify in the confession committee this year but instead found myself waiting for a time to testify on something else in committee 15.

Because of that I once again well continue writing on Belhar which does emphasize unity over the Lordship of Christ. My testimony which I was unable to use had to do with the pastor of a Lutheran church in Bethlehem who at a 2004 Reformed Church of America conference suggested that one could take the words “people of God” from the Confession and make it an interfaith confession of unity for the Jews, Muslims and Christians. That is how very badly Belhar can be used. Belhar’s emphasis of unity was needed in South Africa but the failure of the authors to focus on Jesus Christ reduces it to a document useful only to a particular people and time.

The need of the Church in our day and any day and place is to confess Christ.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dr. Günther Juncker & demon possession

Since I am in Georgia this is a good time to direct readers to my Son-in-Law Dr. Günther Juncker’s faculty web site. He teaches in Georgia at Toccoa Falls College, a Missionary Alliance College. There is a great deal of good academic information on his site including his articles showing that Christians cannot be demon possessed. For those articles on demon possession scroll down the page. The latest is Hermeneutics 101: Thinking Clearly About Demons and Deliverance., toward the end of the page.

Professor Juncker begins his article:
Not entirely unlike St. Paul, whose spirit was provoked within him when he saw the city of Athens full of idols (Acts 17), my own spirit was provoked within me recently when I saw an internet article full of bad arguments. The bad arguments were in favor of Christians needing deliverance from indwelling demons, and this deliverance was seen as the key to enjoying true “freedom” in Christ. The very title of the article was “Freedom Ministry.”1 This title is ironic, since nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that there is no bondage greater than that of a Christian who thinks he is inhabited by demons and in need of so-called deliverance to get them out. I am not going to deal with all of the bad arguments in that article, but I will deal with enough of them to raise serious doubts in the mind of any thinking Christian that people who teach such things are reliable guides, spiritually or otherwise.
I will put a link on the side with my other links.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Middle East and Peacemaking Committee and the shadows of Veterans Today-Correction

I wasn’t going to blog until I left Georgia but despite my joy in listening to the cicadas and watching the beautiful lightening bugs in the warm twilight evening of yesterday, of listening to sharp cracks of thunder during this evening’s storm I am very troubled by something I just saw and read. There is a storm of vileness brewing in the PCUSA. The information has to do with the work of committee 15, The Middle East and Peacemaking Issues committee, at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly.

In my posting, "The 220th GA's Middle East and Peacemaking Issues committee and too many controls" I pointed to many of the connecting links among those pushing for divestment. Tonight reading an article about the PCUSA and divestment by Eileen Fleming on the loathsome web site Veterans Today I discovered further connects that tie anti-Semitism to the denomination.

At the top of the article, “Dear Presbyterians: why it is Apartheid,” is a picture of many of those I saw working as resource people for committee 15 to help bring about the passage of not only a divestment item but also an apartheid item as well as other items working against Israel. They were also in the plenary.

Fleming, the author of the article writes for Veterans Today and several other sister sites. And as I have reported over and over VT and its sister sites accuse Israel of being behind 9-11, often deny the Holocaust, accuse Israel of trying to control the world and use just about every ploy that the propaganda machine in Nazi Germany used.

In the comments below the article Fleming states about the picture:
I did not shoot the photo-it came in an email from Rae Abileah [bottom right keeling] and Anna Baltzer [standing second from right] and I also see Hedy Epstein in second row-3rd from left, but I do not know anybody else.
Rae Abileah, is one of the young Jewish women who were pushing for boycotting products from Israel an overture which did pass. What I did not realize when I saw her is that she is co-director of CODEPINK. Their web site offers this information:
Rae Abileah is the co-director of CODEPINK Women for Peace and is a co-organizer of Occupy AIPAC, Stolen Beauty boycott of Ahava cosmetics, and Women Occupy
The Israel/Palestine Mission Network sent a tweet of thanks to Abileah:
IPMN ‏@IPMN @raeabileah it was an honor to work with you at ‪#PCUSA‬ ‪#ga220‬ Thx for your support!
I wrote about Anna Baltzer who was introduced as a resouce person for the Presbyterian Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns .[see correction below] I wrote:
Another resource person who was introduced was Anna Baltzer, a Jewish activist who is part of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. [2] She is also co-founder of US Campaign member group, the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee.
The fact that both Abileah and Baltzer knew Fleming, and sent her a photo of part of the working group for committee 15, links many resource people to a group of vile Jew haters. (And that despite the fact that most of the people in the picture are Jewish.)

There are also summaries by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network posted in the comments section. However the summaries are news releases and could have been simply picked up by Fleming and posted. I would hope the IPMN did not post them there. But the fact remains that the PCUSA by promoting a one-sided stance toward those in the midst of conflict in the Middle East are pulling in as cohorts those involved in hatred of the Jews.

Correction: Some of the information I gave on Anna Baltzer has been corrected. I stated that she was introduced as a member of ACREC, but she was introduced as a resource person for ACREC. This still afforded a non-Presbyterian activist more time than other Presbyterians who wished to testify for fairness for both the Israelis and Palestinians.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): two spirits

 I began this on my way to Georgia to see my daughter—it may be my last posting for a week or so.

I sensed two spirits at work in the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). One was certainly the Holy Spirit lifting up the Lord of the Church in such a way that he was evident to those who found Jesus the only haven in the midst of insult, insinuation and failure to lift up the his Lordship.

God was there allowing several surprise votes. Committee 13 gave the orthodox little hope that the denomination would hold on to biblical sexual standards. The last vestige of purity seemed to be on its way out as marriage was in the process if being redefined. And those who wanted to sustain good relationships with Israel while also helping the Palestinians were fearful of the call for divestment from committee 15. Yet the plenary voted, with close votes, to hold on to biblical marriage standards and to keep in dialogue with the Jewish people of both Israel and the United States. But still ….

Idolatry: From the beginning one felt the increase of ill will, manipulation and idolatry. I believe idolatry led all else. It always does-(Romans 1:18-32)

The idolatry began when, Landon Whitsitt, who is a pluralist, someone who believes that Christ is not the only means of salvation, read the prayer after communion. It included this:

Grant us the grace to recognize you wherever bread is broken,
wherever love is offered,
wherever compassion is shared.
Then our praise will be sincere,
And our thanksgiving holy.

Instead the bread that is broken is the body of Christ alone. The sacraments are meant for those who in faith have professed Jesus as Savior, and the broken bread is a symbol and sign of the continual nourishment Jesus provides to both individual believers and his whole Church in their union with him. Jesus is present in his meal. Bread broken in an act of fellowship and hospitality may be a part of this but sometimes bread is broken for the sake of sin—some love and compassion are worldly events that have nothing to do with the body of Christ.

But the idolatry grew and overpowered many faithful sensibilities. During one session of the plenary a Hindu priest offered prayer chants. He was Nagali Srinivasa who is a follower of ‘Lord’ Venkateswara who is a manifestation of the god Vishnu. Venkateswara is the Hindu god who destroys sin.

The priest also spoke of 'Lord' Jesus. For a Christian this is blasphemy because for a Hindu to say this is to name Jesus one of the manifestations of the one who is considered everything in monistic Hinduism. Jesus would simply be a greater manifestation of Vishnu perhaps equal to Venkateswara.

Idolatry, manipulation and ill will: Idolatry underlined the position of the progressive side of the denomination when first a play and then a gay ruling elder, Tony De La Rosa used a sermon to advocate for same gender marriage. Preceding the sermon the story of the man, who was paralyzed and put down through a hole in the roof, so that Jesus might heal him, was read. A play followed which was a parody of the text. It was creative, funny and extremely manipulative.

The main person was a session member who cared little for anyone; she had made a mat of welcome to help pull into the Church younger, rich, married couples. She allowed no one to stand on the mat accept such people. When the first richly dressed young couple came to check out the church, they said they were not married but friends. The session member told them they didn’t want anyone like that in the Church. She also did not want any who were poor or dirty.

Needless to say she fell paralyzed onto the mat and was carried down to the river to be healed by Jesus, who was portrayed as a young woman. Although I don’t think that all who were involved understood, this was simply a setup for the vote—one intended to leave the orthodox too embarrassed to say anything. The play was a double bind.

But if it was aimed at the orthodox who want to uphold biblical standards it was not truthful, because the orthodox care about the poor, the dirty and the sexually broken. And they care about their own sins. They also know that Jesus in his death on the cross, by the shedding of his blood offers forgiveness to the broken. Both the Scripture text, creativity, and the preaching of the word were misused.

Breaking vows: After resigning from her position as vice moderator, Tara Spuhler directed some very ugly words at those who were in disagreement with her signing of the marriage license of two lesbians. Later, during a question and answer time in a small forum there was a lively outburst from those who wanted to confess to having ordained LGBTQ persons before 10-A was adopted and who had also married same sex partners. The same outburst occurred during the debate on same gender marriage. The world is seeping into the denomination.

Anger: During one of the debates on an overture that would have allowed those leaving with their property some freedom by removing the trust clause there were several more outbursts directed toward the orthodox. Several commissioners stated that they were stealing property that belonged to the PC (U.S.A.).

But God: But I will not say that it is the progressives who are the other spirit. No, that spiteful spirit, who always hates the Lord of the Church and those who belong to him, is the other spirit. He is the one who goes about seeking those whom he might destroy. All that is holy, all that belongs to Christ Jesus, Satan seeks to either destroy or to harm. Like the Hindu priest he attempts to erase the uniqueness of Christ so that he may lead the Church away from her true Lord.

But God in the midst of unrighteousness protected his Church. Now in the midst of unrighteousness and with several more years of strife ahead, even in weariness, those who have seen his protection, felt his presence and experienced his surprises, must, if called, continue on making a prophetic stand. As the hymn states, we must be lifting high the cross of Christ. Only in Jesus Christ will this denomination survive the onslaught of the agenda of unrighteousness. The righteousness of Christ is the Church’s only defense.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The 220th GA's Middle East and Peacemaking Issues committee and too many controls

Working with Presbyterians has often been referred to as herding cats. While the commissioners and moderator of committee 15 (Middle East and Peacemaking issues)  performed carefully and thoughtfully, General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) and Mission Responsibility Through Investments (MRTI), and those organizations and people they are aligned with kept tight controls, occasionally without some commissioners realizing it. The leadership organizations may have thought they were trying to herd cats, but instead they were in some cases controlling thoughtful, intelligent Presbyterians.

The contingent of resource people guiding the Middle East and Peacemaking Issues committee was the controlling factor. In fact, most items voted on by members of committee 15 were carefully and tightly controlled by a whole gamut of people, some interested in a one state solution, delegitimization of Israel, apartheid, the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions movement (BDS), and even people who are truly anti-Semitic.

Communication’s Director of the Presbyterian Israel Palestine Mission Network, Noushin Framke was a resource person speaking several times. She was introduced as a member of The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (She is the chair)but she is also the Communications Director of Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) and according to a report by The Jewish Federations of North America has a seat on MRTI, the organization that brought the recommendation to divest from three companies doing business with Israel.

Just recently the IPMN closed their Facebook page where they often linked to sites that are truly anti-Semitic. In one case they posted a picture of President Obama wearing Star of David earrings. One commenter had written “Our glorious leader has his head firmly lodged between AIPAC’s buttcheeks.” Framke clicked ‘like.’ Framke has expressed a desire for a one state solution for the region, meaning that Israel would no longer be a Jewish State.[1]

Carol Hylkema, who is head of IPMN and the previous chairperson of MRTI, spoke before the committee. Her influence is wide in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Before the General Assembly in 2010, the IPMN linked a letter to an overture which had a note in it accusing Jewish groups of sending a bomb to Louisville and burning a Church. Hylkema returned a harsh letter to me when I posted an article about the letter and emailed her with my article. My article can be found here, I have no words: Carol Hylkema's answer to my e-mail. The IPMN letter can be seen here, “’Christians and Jews’ and Example of Occupation Theology.”

Another resource person who was introduced was Anna Baltzer, a Jewish activist who is part of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. [2] She is also co-founder of US Campaign member group, the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee. Baltzer was also introduced as a member of the Presbyterian Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns.

There was a great many official resource people and in a real way they often over powered the desires of the Committee. One example, when some in the committee wished to not only recommend divestment but at the same time lift up 15-10 from the Philadelphia Presbytery highlighting the call for ministry in both Israel and Palestine they were informed that there was already a task force doing that very thing, but their report on the needs of the Palestinians was not ready.

However the committee wished to emphasis the interests of the makers of the item. That is use a wider base of many grassroots organizations who would not necessarily be Presbyterian officials; organizations of which many were already operating in the Middle East. Too easily ideas kept being redirected toward Louisville and Presbyterian agencies.

When the committee looked at an overture that insisted that Israel be named an apartheid state several people, including Noushin Framke and Anna Baltzer were called up to give definitions of racism. Thankfully the committee did not wish to call Israel an apartheid state. Nor looking at item 15-09 did they want to make Israel the cause of the Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land.

It is truly unfair for a committee, who has been chosen to seek the mind of Christ and vote on policies for the church, to be overwhelmed with so many institutional Presbyterian organizations all with the same viewpoints about Israel—some of course more extreme than others. Resources are good and helpful, but this was too much of a good thing.

[1] Taken from a booklet by Peggy Obrecht with information copied from the IPMN Facebook page by Ethan Felson. (And I am also a witness to this and much more.)

[2]  U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation seeks to end all given to Israel by the United States.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The rainbow & the cross at the 220th General Assembly

There was some concern by myself and others that everything to do with communion at the opening of the 220th General Assembly was draped in the rainbow. The dancers, the communion table and even the cross. But several other people (in our little discussion) said that after all it belongs to those who uphold the authority of Scripture and claim Christ as Lord. It is a covenant given to God’s people, symbolized by the rainbow.

So although it might have been a symbol used to point to a denomination filled with a radical diversity, or a pointer to the diversity of God's creation, nonetheless God’s beautiful promise and our circumstances have another meaning.

The rainbow drapery on the cross should remind all that in that cross there is hope for those who are sexually broken. The rainbow in Scriptures is one of God’s pointers to the cross. It is a remembrance of mercy and forgiveness on God’s part. It is God’s gift after wrath, yet it is a remembrance that the flood of water covered sin and killed the sinner. But there is another flood that washes clean and renews and transforms the sinner. That is the blood of Jesus.

If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each ones work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1: 17-18

Because the LGBTQ community has chosen the rainbow symbol and now it is connected to the cross, as it should have been, they are combined symbols that the Holy Spirit can use to both enlighten and convict the sinner of their sexual brokenness. The Holy Spirit is always wooing us to Christ. The Father is always pleading with us to come to Christ. The Israelites in the desert looked to a bronze serpent and were healed. May the community that we are all in prayer for look to the cross of Jesus understanding that he forgives, saves and transforms.