Wednesday, October 22, 2014

First Creek, Mercy Junction, Kindred Spirits Retreats-where is redemption?

In a rather embellished story, two of the first Moravian missionaries on their way to live among and preach the gospel to the slaves of St. Thomas Island, cried out to those watching their ship leave, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!" The two missionaries and those who followed left vibrant churches in their wake. The desire to reach peoples, cities and nations for Christ is the Church’s story and history. It was and is often the story of men and women dying to natural human desires as they bring the word of God and the message of redemption. But sometimes, too often, Christians have melded their own lifestyles into a witness that becomes no more than cultural accommodation. A witness that fails to lift up the living, dying, resurrected Lord.
I have already written about two of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Mercy Junction and Kindred Spirits Retreats. Both of those communities are involved in cultural accommodation, one by actions which infer that Jesus is not the only way to a relationship with God, the other by lifting up unbiblical sexuality and self-awareness as true spirituality.

The Presbytery of East Tennessee is responsible for Mercy Junction, and they are now considering another community, First Creek, which will be birthed with the same spiritual outlook. This one will be in Knoxville.  As teaching elder Kally Elliott, who will lead this community, states: 

At first glance downtown Knoxville seems saturated by churches. There are several large mainline churches, including First Presbyterian Church. There are also many new church developments meeting in various places such as Cafe 4, The Bijou Theater, Remedy Coffee, and the Convention Center. All of these churches are doing good work and serving a need in the community. However, there are more needs not being met. Most of the churches in downtown Knoxville have a specific identity and/or theology. The mainline churches usually center around a traditional worship service and way of doing/being Church. While their worship styles vary, the new church developments in downtown tend to be more conservative and evangelistic in their theology.”

 Elliott goes further,

 “There is a need to serve those in downtown (and other parts of Knoxville) who have ties to the traditional mainline church (i.e. were raised in the mainline church or have experience with the worship style) but who yearn for more connection, conversation, and authenticity during meeting times. This is not to say that worship or other activities in the mainline Church do not breed authenticity and connection, however, we need to be open to trying new things to reach more people. There is also a need to serve those who, while they enjoy the openness, creativity and informality of some of the new church developments, might find their theology too conservative and desire something more progressive.”[1]

 So the intention of this particular call for a new worshiping community is not that the sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus can be made known to those who are without the hope of the good news, but that those who are unsatisfied with any of the existing churches, including the Presbyterian ones, can find a more progressive theology in the midst of a new kind of community.

 And then there is the confession that not only are there diverse shops, artistic attractions and diverse people in downtown Knoxville, it is also Elliott’s home, her place of familiarity. It is also the place of familiarity of those members of the team working to build the new community. Kally writes:

 “We have lived in Knoxville for many years and find ourselves working and hanging out in downtown over any other place in Knoxville. Downtown Knoxville is our community. It is the natural place we would plant a church because we already feel at home here. We know the place and the people. To plant a church somewhere else in Knoxville would feel inauthentic to us. We care about downtown Knoxville and want to see the community grow and flourish.” (Italics mine)

 While there is a great deal of good in loving your place, in caring about neighbors and neighborhoods, in attending worship in your neighborhood, none of Elliott’s reasons for a ‘new’ worshiping community have the authentic, (if I may use that word), ring of a biblical call. Elliott and her team want to introduce people who are similar to them to a Jesus who bears their image. Missing is the longing to introduce the people of downtown Knoxville to the one who loved them enough to tent in their neighborhood[2], walk among them and shed his blood for their salvation. The heavy cost of grace, to paraphrase Bonhoeffer, is missing.

 The community will:


1.       Provide progressive answers to theological questions about faith.

2.      Be a part of the atmosphere of a postmodern community with coffee shops, cafes, artistic venues, farmer’s markets, etc.

3.      Plant a garden, clean a creek, offer theological conversations with dinners, and eventually offer various forms of liturgy.[3]

4.      The people who are part of the community will create the liturgy.

5.      Help the homeless.

There is a lot of good constructive ideas in the intentions of those planning the new community. But basically, because most of the churches in the downtown area are already committed to the community, and committed to the poor, and because of the absolute slant toward progressivism, the purpose of the new community, First Creek, is, seemingly, to solidify and satisfy post moderns with their own particular ideas about worship and theology.  

 An inoffensive Presbyterianism meets in these communities. The Reformed faith will shape First creek, so states the proposal, and yet it will be changed by the community so states the proposal. The Reformed faith is needed for the Southside of Chattanooga, says the proposal for Mercy Junction, because they, the authors, are “proud of our Reformed heritage that reminds us that to know God, we must first know ourselves.” The proposal also points to “faith in mercy, justice and relationship with our Creator …” And even Presbyterian “discipline and structured accountability” of the tradition is lifted up.  And, of course. Presbyterian polity.

 But what of faith in mercy and justice?  Poor cheated sinners, where is Jesus who gives mercy because of his cross. Where is Jesus who procures justice by way of his cross? Know ourselves? In Christ we are known and loved by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace which he lavished on us. (Eph. 1:7)"


[1] This sentence has all of the earmarks of what is called sheep stealing. That is not the proper kind of new church building.
[2] I am thinking here of Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
[3] The proposal states: - All will be invited to participate in worship. Each week those from the community will be equipped and encouraged to help write the liturgy. They will also be encouraged to share their gifts during worship. The liturgy will be set out and as people enter for worship if someone wants to help lead worship he or she can take the piece of the liturgy he or she would like to lead. Worship will be messy. It will not be polished but will be authentic to the people gathered.” Given the push for progressive theology and the lack of care about biblical Christianity, some in the PET are concerned that the sacramental part of worship will  fail to uphold not only the reformed faith but Christianity itself.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Kindred Spirits Retreats-1001 Worshiping Community- " have mercy on some"

There were these among the church in her early days:

These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever (Jude 12-13).

The church has always been so troubled:

 Kindred Spirits, a 1001 New Worshiping Community, although involved in spirituality, is not a Christian ministry.[1] The organization, Kindred Spirits Retreats, offers get-togethers for small groups for dinner encounters and retreats for gay men including those who are bisexual and transgender. Their spirituality is best expressed on a different site, Men of Spirit. As part of their retreats description they state, “Kindred Spirit Retreats are not affiliated with any religious organization or structured pattern of belief. Kindred Spirit Retreats is a personal growth community that creates a space for gay men to build friendships, receive encouraging support, and self-discovery.”

Kindred Spirit Retreats seems to have some connection to Men of Spirit, thanking them on their Facebook page for updating their links. Men of Spirit lists events for several groups including a nude yoga event and training events entitled “Power, surrender and intimacy.” The latter is about sadomasochism.

I could write more on this but it is ugly and as far away from the loveliness of Jesus Christ as alternative spiritualties can be.

The two founders of Kindred Spirits, Chris Caldwell and James Tvarian, are also leaders with “Other Sheep,” an organization that uses the verse in John (10:16) about Jesus having other sheep as a reference to the gay community.  Other Sheep is a global organization that offers the book, “The Children Are Free,” on their web site. The book, among other ideas, suggests that Ruth and Naomi as well as David and Jonathan were romantically involved.

There is a link to Christianity because Chris Caldwell has a background in evangelicalism and is now director of information and technology at a United Church of Christ in Claremont. The church on their about us page answers the question “what if I don’t believe in the Trinity?” with:

“That’s OK.  Our members have varying views of the Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus, the existence of heaven and hell and many other “doctrinal” issues.  We are a non-creedal congregation, believing that creeds are “testaments of faith” not “tests of faith.  It’s more important that we discern how to answer Jesus call to “follow me” than it is to believe the right dogma.”

Jude gives the description, the Holy Spirit through Jude’s book also gives the solution:

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh (17-23).

Jude goes on to remind the believer that our God is able to keep us from stumbling and that His is the “glory, majesty, dominion and authority.

The 1001 Worshiping Communities would be a good thing, in many cases it is, if it had essentials and boundaries for those who participate. But because there is none the movement’s communities, within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), will simply add to the drift toward meaninglessness and even in a few cases touch evil.

The broken among us are left to whither and die because our compassion is not tied to Christ and His word.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The newest 1001 New Worshiping Community, Mercy Junction & their Holy Heretic

Who is God? The newest 1001 New Worshiping Community, Mercy Junction, isn’t certain. Their new e-magazine, Holy Heretic, within its August edition, will help you embrace any viewpoint, including atheism, pantheism, polytheism and goddess worship. If that isn’t good enough they will allow you to read a spoof (I hope it is a spoof) in which founder Brian Merritt encountered a god who was drunk.  The whole community is backed by East Tennessee presbytery and Renaissance Presbyterian Church. And, of course, because it is a part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and their 1001 New Worshiping Communities project, it is endorsed by the denomination
The “devotional” e-magazine, Holy Heretic, has been published several times on various subjects including prayer and justice. But the August edition on God seems to me to lay the foundation for their advocacy work. Since Holy Heretic is intended to be devotional after each description of the various views of God is a little exercise to help the reader experience that type of belief.

At the end of the page on the goddess, the devotional author writes:

“The moon has been used since ancient times as a symbol for the feminine and the Goddess (And her three incarnations, mother, maiden and crone.) The connection likely began because the moon’s 29 day cycle of waxing and waning is a schedule similar to menstrual cycle.[1] Tonight the moon will be more than halfway toward waxing into her fullest, most glorious self-reaching her complete magnificence on Sunday. Starting tonight take time to spend at least 10 minutes in the moonlight, returning each evening until the full moon is achieved. Let yourself relax, let your brain rest. Just be. Go with what you feel. Do you want to dance in the moonshine? Sing to the lady in the sky? Throw back your head and howl?”

At the very end they ask for the readers experiences and give their Facebook page.

On the page about pantheism, which is written under the title, “God is Nature,” the exercise is:

“Today recognize yourself held safely by the universe. Imagine yourself within the womb of god, as you move about planet Earth. The Universe is providing you with all you need- air to breathe, nourishment, water, love. Be extra good to yourself today. Drink water, eat a healthy meal. Go for a long walk after dinner- touch nature with your hands, see her with your eyes, hear her with your ears. Get a full night’s rest. Be safe, be comfortable, be nurtured.”

There are several pages that speak of Christian beliefs, but the exercises are never directed toward the word of God and the worship of the triune God. Not even the page on the Trinity. Instead there is this:

“Both the dove that descended during Jesus’ baptism and the fire in Cantus’ drawing [picture on the page] are symbols of the Holy Spirit. The Celtic Church used the Wild Goose, a loud, independent untamed bird as their symbol. Today, create your own symbol for the Spirit, whatever you might conceive the Spirit to be.”

One trembles before such arrogance that so clearly defies the exclusive claims of God’s Word.  This is all done, supposedly, in order that those of other faiths could be included in the advocacy work of Mercy Junction. But not only is the Church called to do works of righteousness, she is first of all called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. She is called to proclaim Jesus and his redemption. This isn’t done by worshipping the moon, the self or any other thing. Only the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is worthy of our praise.

The denomination is sick and in need of God’s healing. But that healing will not come until the denomination turns back to Jesus the Lord of the Church.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the Judgment that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wought in God.” (John 3:16-21)

[1] The idea that the moon and her cycles have anything to do with some kind of ancient goddess worship is a myth. The idea of “mother, maiden, crone” is a myth invented in the 19th century. See The Rise of Radical Feminism in Mainline Churches: A History # 4


Saturday, October 4, 2014

The reality of evil & videos- scapegoating the innocent

This is about human evil via two very different radical feminists. It is also about how a failed view of human nature too often leads to greater evil. One of the radical feminists, Naomi Wolf posted on her Facebook page her thoughts about ISIL and the beheadings of innocents, the other radical feminist, Camille Paglia, wrote an article, “The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend evil,” which is published on Time's news site.
Wolf is an author and activist I used and quoted in my master’s thesis. Her latest book is “Give Me Liberty: A Handbook For American Revolutionaries,” and one of her more popular books is “The Beauty Myth.” On her blog she states that she is co-founder of “The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership” and “The American Freedom Campaign.”

Wolf on her Facebook page posted her thoughts, about ISIL and their beheadings. Because a reporter who covered the NYT’s article about the beheadings and ISIL questioned her integrity on posting the information and gave her more information she removed her posting just several hours after I began work on this post.* But here is what she wrote:

“Ok….two of the hostages just happened to go from long careers into the military to…sudden humanitarian work? (same was true of the latest British hostage.) Where are they getting all these folks from? If someone is abducted there is a record with Amnesty and with Reporters without Borders. Can someone please confirm that these organizations have any record of this person having been abducted? The NYT yesterday ran a depressingly sloppy editorial claiming that all the ISIS beheading videos and atrocity videos must be real because "there are so many of them on youtube." THAT's journalism??? They also called ISIS "evil" many times -- which is not language of a news analysis, it is a theological category for some faiths and a Global War on Terror talking point… this may all be true but it takes five people to stage an event like this -- two to be 'parents' -- two to pose for in a ninja outfit….and one to contact the media that does not bother checking who ANY Of these other four people are....…/isis-militants-threaten-kill-a…

Following this posting of Wolf’s were many comments speculating and even insisting that the YouTube videos were all faked and produced by Israel, or the United States or both. Wolf went on later to try and avoid criticism by suggesting that she was just asking for better reports.  She never denounced those who tried to make a conspiracy theory out of the beheadings. She attempted to safe guard her statement by saying yes she believed ISIL was “Very, Very, bad.” But even after taking her posting down Wolf is still complaining. Her words:

“For the record…sigh…internetland, I am not "calling into question the authenticity of the ISIS videos." I don't KNOW if they are authentic or not -- no one can -- because no one that I am aware of has found a second source for them. I am not making ANY assertions or drawing ANY conclusions. I am just…engaging in journalism which requires two independent sources before you can post or publish something as true. I wonder why this bears so much repeating….it used to be something all journalists abided by.”

But seemingly, Wolf didn’t do any double checking herself. She could have researched the parents and friends—they did have friends—of those who died at the hands of ISIL. She should have noted that even government agencies were cautious about the videos until they were confirmed as real. If anyone is doing bad reporting and wild speculation it is truly Wolf. But my point here is that as it happens too many times, failure to accept the evil inherent in all of us—in humanity, leads to gross scapegoating. Wolf is willing to accuse the Western governments. Her readers truly wanted to pin the awful episodes on Israel. They probably still do. And this is where Paglia’s article, “The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend evil,” is helpful.

The first time I became aware of Paglia, she was on a team of women, including Betty Friedman, debating William Buckley, Ariana Huffington, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and another woman whose name I don’t remember. The debate centered on whether the feminist movement had lost its way over the abortion movement. Paglia was plucky and Buckley wished her on his side. She didn’t budge.

Paglia, who sometimes surprises her readers, writes about the vulnerability of young college women who are led to believe that all attempts by males to have sex with them are simply misguided efforts, a part of the “hook up” culture. As Paglia puts it, “Misled by the naive optimism and “You go, girl!” boosterism of their upbringing, young women do not see the animal eyes glowing at them in the dark.” She blames both progressives and conservatives. But Paglia’s words about progressives are stinging:

“The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.

Liberalism lacks a profound sense of evil — but so does conservatism these days, when evil is facilely projected onto a foreign host of rising political forces united only in their rejection of Western values. Nothing is more simplistic than the now rote use by politicians and pundits of the cartoonish label “bad guys” for jihadists, as if American foreign policy is a slapdash script for a cowboy movie.”

And here is the big problem—Paglia’s words—a lack of a profound sense of evil. Wolf cannot envision any human removing the head of another in the name of their ideology. Most of us can’t but it isn’t because of our ideology, it isn’t the backbone of our understanding of human nature. We know humanity is evil. We know what evil is. We are not surprised by it. No scapegoating allowed. As Pogo says, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

So as Christians, who understand that one of the truths about our humanity is the existence of evil, in us and outside of us, we also believe in redemption.  When one acknowledges real personal evil, one can also acknowledge redemption.

Wolf only makes it more difficult when after all is said and hopefully done, she links to a news item reporting on the UN’s report of ISIL’s horrific deeds. She acknowledges that they are, “super, super bad,” but then in the comment section cannot refrain from writing, “Still can't help asking….if they are in charge in that region, why the masks?” Once again, terrible comments follow which she allows and even in at least one case praises.

Thomas doubted the goodness of the resurrection because he knew the evil and reality of the crucifixion. Wolf doubts the great evil and danger in ISIL because she doubts the evil of the human heart. And perhaps in doubting doubts redemptive grace, while perpetrating additional evil.  So likewise do too many of us.

* The changing Facebook of Wolf: She now writes that she stands by her original post and adds this:

"On a larger picture note: had an evening with a group of well-informed international attorneys and prosecutors. A Pakistani lawyer who is a fourth-genera...tion scion of a major Pakistani political family explained what I keep hearing from many parts of the plugged in educated elite of the Middle East: ISIS, he said, is grassroots Wahabism - the extreme and brutal "version" of Islam (many moderates say it bears no likeness to Islam.) But these grassroots, uneducated, extremist people are funded heavily by a) Saudi Arabia b) Israel (!) and c) America. Why? I asked. He replied: Saudi Arabia which has 14,000 princes and princesses -- vast wealth -- wants to replicate its extremist version of Islam around the world for ideological reasons and have endless resources to do so. B) Israel has long had a policy of 'divide and conquer" Muslim states and wants an alliance with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to go up against Assad and Iran (this is the third solid source we are hearing this 'new alliance" from.) He said that Israel has heavily infiltrated the Egyptian army and security services by bribery, which is one reason Egypt did nothing for Gaza but close its borders.And C) America has several powerful factions: Big Oil, war interests, right wing christians, AIPAC, the Armenians (!) who are trying to organize like AIPAC, and Arabists, who are the only groups who care about what happens in the Middle East. And they all mint money and prestige by having a brutal Muslim threat on the horizon."

Wolf's anti-Semitism is huge.