Friday, March 28, 2014

Tricia Dykers Koenig, "Marriage and the Book of Confessions" more than unconstitutional

Tricia Dykers Koenig, national organizer of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, asks: “Would it be permissible for the PCUSA to interpret and/or amend the Book of Order section on marriage to reflect the reality of same-gender marriage, even though The Book of Confessions uses the language of ‘a man and a woman’?” In her posting, “Marriage and the Book of Confessions,” Koenig, writes about the concerns raised at the 2012 General Assembly as to whether changing the Book of Order’s wording without changing the Book of Confessions would be constitutional.  She also uses two papers, one by Joseph Small[1] and one by Charles Wiley, offered at the Moderator's second “Conversation on Unity with Difference,” December 11-13, 2013.
Remarkably, Koenig introduces the ‘Unity and Difference” conferences, with these words:

Anticipating that this question [on the confessions and the Book of Order]  would arise again at the 2014 General Assembly, current Moderator Neal Presa convened a group of theologians in December to consider the issue of how the Confessions function in the PCUSA, and the confessional, constitutional, and ecclesial implications of the marriage overtures coming to this summer’s Assembly …
In the first part of her posting, Koenig relies on the argument put forth by Paul Hooker moderator of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution at the 2012 GA, that the Book of Confessions is, because of its diverse nature, inconsistent and “therefore its nature is as the primary repository of our basic theological commitments, and it cannot be treated as a rulebook.” Koenig goes on to give a minor history of the evolving Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

And the idea that the Confessions are not a rule book but rather a help is seemingly her main focus. Using examples of discarded portions of confessions and the Westminster Confession, Koenig writes, “These examples illustrate the fundamental flaw of treating the Confessions as “a rule of faith and practice” rather than “as a help in both,” as Westminster teaches. [6.175]”
While Koenig and others, such as Hooker, have focused on the inconsistencies in the confessions, I would like to address the consistencies of the confessions.  And then I want to use several ideas that Small provides in his paper, ““Confessions and Confessional Authority in the Reformed Tradition.” I believe that something more dire than passing an unconstitutional overture may occur during the GA.

There is certainly consistency in the confessions’ views of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is consistency in the statements about the Incarnation.

The Lord Jesus Christ is “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and made man, was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. …”(The Nicene Creed 1.2b) There are no confessions in the Book of Confessions that contradicts this statement. 

There is consistency in the confessions’ view of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and Savior whose embrace includes life and denial brings death. “The same Jesus Christ is the judge of all men. His judgment discloses the ultimate seriousness of life and gives promises of God’s final victory over the power of sin and death. To receive life from the risen Lord is to have life eternal; to refuse life from him is to choose the death which is separation from God. All who put their trust in Christ face divine judgment without fear, for the judge is their redeemer.” (The Confession of 1967 9.11) No other confession contradicts this.
There is consistency in the confessions’ view that God is a loving God and that God’s love is known in Jesus Christ. “In everlasting love, the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people to bless all the families of the earth. … Loving us still, God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant.” (A Brief Statement of Faith 41-43, 47-48) God’s love is never questioned in any of the confessions nor is its manifestation in Christ denied.

There is a consistency in the confessions that the church possesses unity and that unity is in Jesus Christ. “And those who are such in the Church [sheep who follow the voice of Christ] have one faith and one spirit; and therefore they worship one God, and him alone they worship in spirit and in truth, loving him alone with all their hearts, and with all their strength, praying unto him alone through Jesus Christ, the only mediator and intercessor; they do not seek righteousness and life outside of Christ and faith in him.” (The Second Helvetic Confession 5.138) There is no confession which contradicts this view of the church’s unity.
Now please note that in all of this consistency there are barriers set against false doctrine and this can be stated as a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ of the confessions as Small points out in his paper:

When we listen to that part of the tradition given voice in The Book of Confessions, what do we hear?  We hear expressions of the search for distinguishing marks of faithful Christian community.  Those who have gone before us asked and answered questions about where to draw identifying lines between faithful and unfaithful confession of God, between faithful and unfaithful living out of that confession.  Christians in Nicaea and Rome, in Geneva, Heidelberg, and Edinburgh, in Barmen and Portland, shaped Christian faith and faithfulness by saying “Yes” to some things and “No” to others.  Genuine confession of faith is always both affirmation of truth and denial of untruth.  “If the Yes does not in some way contain the No,” said Karl Barth, “it will not be the Yes of a confession. . . . If we have not the confidence to say damnamus [what we refuse], then we might as well omit the credimus [what we believe].
To change any of the above consistencies would draw the denomination into heretical teaching concerning the person of Christ or the nature of God. The Presbyterian Book of Confessions would no longer be a Christian document.  Instead of a no to Arianism or to Gnosticism or to racism there might be a yes. A very heretical yes. All of these isms are rooted in a denial of the person and work of Christ. For instance, a yes to racism means that the unity connected to faith in Christ will be destroyed. A yes to Arianism destroys the deity of Christ and humanity is left without a God who has shared our suffering and experienced death for our redemption.

So here is one more important consistency:

There is consistency on the idea of marriage in the confessions. All of the confessions which speak of marriage, hold up marriage as a desirable existence for Christians, and that is only in the context of marriage between a man and a woman.
But first a return to Koenig’s posting, she offers several reasons of why the use of woman and man in marriage is unimportant. One is that “the Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in the United States prior to Reunion had a section on marriage (Chapter 15) without any gendered language, and apparently nobody thought that that section was in conflict with the Westminster Confession held as the PCUS confessional standard.” But of course everyone at that time understood those words to imply man and woman. So that is a silly argument, after all what Koenig wants is words that will mean something different than just man and woman.

One other argument is that in some of those instances which refer to a man and a woman in the Book of Confessions the authors are saying no to polygamy. Well surely they were as some fringe groups on the outer edge of the Anabaptist movement were practicing polygamy. But just as surely that was not the sole reason for the references to a man and a woman. For two thousand years the church has considered marriage to be between a man and a woman and same sex coupling to be sin.

The Second Helvetic Confession states of marriage that it was “instituted by the Lord God himself, who blessed it most bountifully, and willed man and woman to cleave one to the other inseparably, and to live together in complete love and concord.” This statement conforms totally with Jesus’ words about divorce and marriage when he turns to Genesis repeating that marriage is between a man and woman and the man is to cleave to his wife. Biblically speaking, in reality, the word, which is God’s word, belongs to Jesus Christ.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, states of marriage:

Christian marriage is an institution ordained of God, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, established and sanctified for the happiness and welfare of mankind, into which spiritual and physical union one man and one woman enter cherishing a mutual esteem and love, bearing with each other’s infirmities and weaknesses , comforting each other in trouble, providing in honesty and industry for each other and their household, praying for each other, and living together the length of their days as heirs of grace. (6.131)
The Confession of 1967 states of marriage: The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind. … Reconciled to God, each person has joy in and respect for his own humanity and that of other persons; a man and a woman are enabled to marry, to commit themselves to a mutually shared life, and to respond to each other in sensitive and lifelong concern; …The church comes under the judgment of God and invites rejection by man when it fails to lead men and women into the full meaning of life together, or withholds the compassion of Christ from those caught in the moral confusion of our time. (9.47b)

Looking at each of these quotes from the Book of Confessions one sees how they align with confessional truths about the person of Jesus Christ. His creativeness, his unity which he gives to the church, his redeeming and reconciling act on the cross, his life given to believers all undergird with grace Christian marriage—marriage between a man and a woman.
Small, whose whole essay should be read, states:

Confessions are understood as a crucial element in the continuing reform of the church.  Reformed churches understand themselves as “reformed and always to be reformed [ecclesia reformata semper reformanda] in accordance with the word of God [secundum verbum Dei].”  Reform of the church is not mere change, certainly not modernization, and never a product of the church’s own achievement.  The church is always to be reformed, not to imagine that it can reform itself, in accordance with the word of God, that is, in harmony with the clear witness of Scripture.  Because Reformed confessions are subordinate standards, always accountable to Scripture, they are authoritative only to the extent that they are faithful expressions of the primary apostolic witness.  The Reformation motto sola scriptura is often misunderstood to mean “Scripture alone”; it actually signifies that Scripture is the normative authority against which all other authorities are measured, including the confessions.  
Conservative Presbyterians, whether they identify as evangelicals or orthodox or both are reformed because they love confessing the faith and because they believe that the confessions must be “in harmony with the clear witness of Scripture.” No, although a standard, the Presbyterian Book of Confessions is not a rule book, it is the Church’s (through the ages) confession of faith and it is not so if it ignores Scripture. Marriage between a man and a woman is scripturally on the lips of Jesus our Lord. Marriage between a man and a woman is scripturally introduced in the first pages of Genesis when God creates a helpmate for Adam and the helpmate is a woman. Marriage between a man and a woman is used as metaphor for the care and love Jesus gives to his church. (Eph. 5: 25-33)

The Presbyterian General Assembly may change the Book of Order in such a way that it no longer conforms to the Book of Confessions when referring to marriage and insist that it is not unconstitutional. But by inserting words into the text of the Book of Order that are meant to be as readily interpreted as same gender (in marriage) in addition to man and woman, the GA will have cut themselves off from orthodoxy and faithfulness. They will have created a separate confession that has nothing to do with the Book of Confessions nor with Scripture. They will have created their own particular rule book which neither adheres to the Book of Confessions or to Scriptures. And they will, by moving away from the faith, be the cause of schism.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Will there be aggressive intimidators overwhelming the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly?

Will there be aggressive intimidators overwhelming the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly? Since 2004 the PC (U.S.A.) has voted on divestment from companies doing business with Israel. In 2004, commissioners voted yes, in 2006 the GA apologized to the Jewish Community and voted against divestment. Once again we are voting on divestment but some things have changed. The Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement has recently invaded many of America’s universities. And while some student councils have given an emphatic no, there have been those among the BDS movement who have manipulated, intimidated and threatened those who declined the invitation to divest.
One newspaper, the Washington Free Beacon on March the 21st published an article, “Palestinian Activists Violently Threaten Pro-Israel Students, with the subtitle, “Cops called in after Palestinian activists threaten BDS opponents.” This was at the University of Michigan where the student government refused to back divestment of companies doing business in Israel. While the student reported threats from those staging a sit-in, there were other reports one given by Dumisani Washington, director of The Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel. In a Facebook report he wrote:

 "I received disturbing news from a friend, and am speaking out (before I turn in).

Apparently there is an African American young man who is being ridiculed, shunned and even receiving death threats for voting against BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) measures against Israel. He is also being kicked out of the schools BSU (Black Student Union) in retaliation.”

And from a wider view, and an intimidating one, Philip Weiss, of Mondoweiss wrote of the aggressiveness of activist at Vassar. “Over 200 students and faculty jammed a large room of the College Center, and torrents of anger ripped through the gathering. Most of them were directed at Israel or its supporters.”
Weiss, in fact, in his article, “Ululating at Vassar: the Israel/Palestine conflict comes to America,” encourages such actions and attitudes as shouting, bullying, and belligerence. He writes about the conflict at Vassar in which some students and professors were traveling to Israel and Palestine to study water issues. The protest was over whether the itinerary was too Israel focused. After writing about the conflict Weiss writes:

But the meeting shows where the Israel/Palestine conflict is headed: to the United States. The battles we’ve seen so far on campus are just preliminaries. The ugly and intractable Israel-Palestine conflict is set to become a raging conflict inside the American progressive community and spread from there to the broader discourse. And given the liberal establishment’s marriage to Israel (from Pelosi to de Blasio to Jerry Brown to Vassar) things are going to get much more belligerent before there is any understanding.

In fact, that belligerence may be necessary to the resolution.
One particular university, Northeastern University, has banned the Students for Justice in Palestine, a group connected to the BDS movement, from campus and from funds. According to an NBC news report:

The administration cited several violations of campus policies and procedures, most recently when SJP failed to get university approval to distribute 600 fliers on February 23.

The fliers were designed as mock eviction notices to symbolize the Palestinian experience in occupied territory, where homes have been razed for Israeli settlements. It warned the reader that their dorm was “scheduled for demolition in three days,” followed by statistics on displaced Palestinian families. The flier was punctuated by a disclaimer at the bottom: “This is not a real eviction notice. #BostonMockEviction.”
There is a dispute about whether the group has been unfairly targeted—and it is a fair dispute—and yet if one scrolls down toward the bottom of the article there is a very telling picture which makes a statement that really defines the whole BDS movement and is itself intimidating. It is a picture of pro-Palestinian demonstrators with a sign that states: “From the River to the Sea: Palestine.”  That means no more Jewish State of Israel, in fact, no more Israel at all. How should Jewish students feel, if not intimidated? The SJP organization, which, as I have stated, is a part of the BDS movement, is asking for an end to the solid ground of the Jewish student’s world, the end of their safety net.  (*)

General Assembly leadership, take note, the Israel/Palestine Mission Network has already set the tone for this GA with their awful ZionismUnsettled, and they are part of the BDS movement. They constantly use and even write for Mondoweiss. They linked to the article on Vassar on their twitter page. They also read that quote that “belligerence may be necessary to the resolution,” and still thought it was a good article.
In a movie I am especially fond of, “To Sleep with Anger,” a character representing Satan, played by Danny Glover, visits a family who believe he is an old friend. Alongside him, eventually, comes a long string of other ‘old friends’ with various ugly character flaws who almost destroy every relationship in the family.[1] (One will notice in this case the mother in the family becomes the Christ figure.) But the point is one opens the door to evil and the host of hell follows.

The danger is far greater than we might imagine. Scripture reminds us that we are not struggling with flesh and blood, but we are struggling against “the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” That means that our souls are in danger because of our own anger and frustrations. And our concerns for both the Israelis and the Palestinians can be destroyed in the fray. We must remember, we are not struggling against people, but for the will of the Lord to be done. I believe we must be committed to His purpose and His peace.

* See also Stay Strong Northeastern

[1] This is the trailer. None of the other videos on YouTube have anything to do with the movie.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sinners all: but grace ...

I once heard Presbyterian theologian Andrew Purves speak of how God was like a mother cat who grabs her kitten by the neck and carries the kitten where she wants it to be. That is the way the grace of God comes to us as sinners. We can do nothing ourselves but Jesus’ death on the cross is our way into the kingdom. Bonhoeffer writes of God’s justifying grace excluding any way of our own. Christ Jesus is the only way. He writes of how it is Paul the sinner and Luther the sinner that is justified and only by Jesus death. Bonhoeffer writes:
“The content of the Christian message is not that one should become like one of the biblical characters, but to be like Christ himself. We are led to this, not by a method, but by faith alone. Otherwise the gospel loses its value, its worth. Costly grace becomes cheap. …

There is a time while God permits, warns prepares, and there is a last time when things before the last come to an end and are broken off. Luther must experience, the monastery. Paul must go through his passion for the keeping the Law, the thief must, through guilt, endure the cross, in order at last to hear the final word. A way must be trodden, the long way of things before the last must be endured, each must sink under the burden of these things unto his knees—and yet the last word is not the crowning of this way, but the total break with it. In the face of the last word Luther and Paul are no different from the thief on the cross. …”[1]
All of us are sinners and all must huddle within the grace Jesus provided through his sinless life, bloody death and bodily resurrection. There is no other place of safety.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons, Editor and translator Edwin Robertson, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2005)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Brian Ellison and an Authoritative Interpretation, the true crisis in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Brian Ellison, Executive Director of the Covenant Network, believes the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is in a crisis and the way to solve the crisis is to pass an authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order which would declare that teaching elders may perform same sex weddings. But Ellison, with his posting, “Why an Authoritative Interpretation Matters” is wrong.
Such an authoritative interpretation would throw the church into a far deeper crisis than its present crisis. And the present crisis is not about the inability of teaching elders to perform same gender weddings for those in their congregations, rather it is a crisis of rebellion against the authority of the living word of God and the written word of God.
Because of the rebellion the denomination is suffering painful losses. And the constant theological quirks which keep rising to the surface of our theological dreams will continue coming and multiply in number and nonsense, because a people who reject both their Lord and the authority of the word are without a solid foundation.

Further, this constant push to align with culture and civil authority will cause the denomination to eventually let go of any true form of justice and righteousness. 

When the original AI, the 1991, occurred, it was simply to affirm what both the Bible and the constitution of the denomination already stated. It was an interpretation of what was already held. And that would include the Book of Confessions which is extremely clear:
“For marriage (which is the medicine of incontinecncy and continency itself) was instituted by the Lord God himself, who blessed it most bountifully, and willed man and woman to cleave one to the other inseparably, and live together in complete love and concord. (Matt. 19:4ff). …” (The Second Helvetic Confession 5.246a)

Ellison is holding up a AI which adds to polity from a cultural context rather than a real interpretation of what is already there. He has stated that, “The Directory for Worship as currently crafted reflects a reality much different from our current context. We as a church can address our practice of marriage without changing our fundamental understanding of it, and an AI allows us to move forward in a faithful way.”
He also states “An AI at this summer’s General Assembly would resolve this crisis. It would allow for weddings in states where same-sex marriage is legal.” What he is actually saying is that as the law changes, so must the denomination. And he is basing that on what can only be seen as unbiblical views of love, and unbiblical sexual acts.

A church so involved with the world is truly a lost church, an empty shell that may be called a denomination, but not the Church. Furthermore, a denomination which embraces the dictates of civil government when those dictates collide with biblical teaching is preparing to stand against some of it on members who still hold to the authority of Scripture.

Ellison insists that his evangelical friend is wrong, that neither the PC (U.S.A.) nor his own organization the Covenant Network of the PC (U.S.A.) would think of insisting that orthodox TE would have to marry same sex couples and yet it is the Covenant Network itself which has laid down guidelines that will eventually, if adopted by the whole denomination force out orthodox TEs over ordination. Ellison insists:

This is not the goal, it is not the language proposed in any AI before the assembly, and it is not something the Covenant Network would ever support—in fact, the proposed AIs explicitly preserve conscience for those who do not approve of same-sex marriage. What we stand for is pastoral discretion and freedom—the ability of ministers to do what they always do with marriages, discerning the appropriateness of a marriage, offering counseling and prayer, and officiating at those weddings they feel are God-honoring and wise. No church would ever be required to host any wedding. No minister would be forced to perform one. On the contrary, this authoritative interpretation would best preserve our traditional affirmation that “God alone is Lord of the conscience,” trusting the Spirit to lead our ministers and councils, on a case-by-case basis, to know what is best.

But the Covenant Network guidelines insists that a TE must ordain whoever a session or presbytery chooses. That it is not “a discretionary one” but a requirement. The TE may not “substitute their own judgment.”[1]
Still, when one turns to the force of a denomination aligned with government laws the scenario is far more potent.  If a baker, or a photographer, or a florist who does not want to participate in a same gender wedding can be fined, forced out of their business, even jailed, what will happen to a pastor who is a member of a denomination which allows same gender marriage, when someone files a discrimination suit against her? She will not be able to state that her denomination does not allow same gender weddings.

For all of Ellison’s assurances, if a trap has been placed within their guidelines on ordination, and it was not there until the change on ordination was passed by the Presbyteries, how can anyone be sure of the future decisions of the progressive community within the PC (U.S.A.)? Ellison cannot guarantee and he stands, with his promises, on a very flimsy foundation. If the AI passes, the crisis, the true crisis, will surely tear the PC (U.S.A.) apart in so many ways.
The Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority of his word, the standards of the confessions will disappear. The PC (U.S.A.) undoubtedly will last many years—but hopefully not as an empty shell waiting for the darkness.

[1] For more information see The "Ordination Guidelines" of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians: changed? Update at

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Weaving a deceitful web: Neturei Karta a Jewish sect & the freedom of Iranian Jews

Recently as though to enlarge on their deception in the booklet Zionism Unsettled, the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), re-tweeted a link to this video which asserts that it is “Jews protesting IDF [Israel Defense Force] dinner in NYC:

There are several things to notice in the video. First the protesters are all male. Secondly there are few protesters. Thirdly they appear, slightly, to be a part of the Hasidic movement although they are not. If you listen to the very end of the video, (and it is rather boring because the main speaker keeps repeating himself) you will find that they are of the Neturei Karta sect, a group of probably no more than 5000 who believe that the Jews should not have a state at all until the coming of the Messiah.
Now there are other ultra-religious Jews who also do not believe that there should be a Jewish state, but they have rejected the Neturei Karta for several reasons including their activism. Probably the main reason is their friendship with several terrorist and anti-Semites. The full story can be found at where the list includes Louis Farrakhan, Yasser Arafat and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They are the sect which attended Ahmadinejad’s conference meant to deny the Holocaust. As the author Discoverthenetworks states:

In December 2006, eight Neturei Karta rabbis traveled to Tehran to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier, embracing him and endorsing his stance that Israel has no right to exist. "We tried to appease them [the Iranians]," Rabbi Dovid Weiss told the New York Daily News. "We explained how the Holocaust is used to intimidate people who want to speak against the unjust Zionist regime."

This was not Neturei Karta's first visit to Tehran. In March 2006 the organization had also sent a delegation to meet with senior Iranian officials and express support for Ahmadinejad's calls to eliminate Israel. In a statement to Iran's official IRIB radio, the group called for "the disintegration of the Zionist regime" and said that it "is a dangerous deviation to pretend that the Iranian president is an anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic personality." Neturei Karta added that it was "upset about the recent ploys, propaganda and tensions which have been created by the West regarding the statements of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about a world free of Zionism, since this is nothing more than wishing for a better world dominated by peace and calm."

This is not the first time that the IPMN has linked to the pronouncements of the Neturei Karta sect. And to add to this travesty in their book Zionism Unsettled they imply that the Jews of Iran live a relative free existence and that any destabilization was caused by the inroads of Zionism. This combination of promoting the anti-Zionism of a small Jewish sect and informing readers that all is well for the Jews living in Iran is deceptive.
An Iranian Jewish journalist, Karmel Melamed, has written an excellent piece concerning the lies told about the Iranian Jewish community in the IPMN publication. The title is, “Presbyterian Church USA’s guide is dead wrong about Iranian Jewry,”

Some of Melamed’s information includes:

If the Presbyterian Church (USA) thinks “Jewish life is alive and well in Iran” today, then why have Iranian Jews faced more executions, more imprisonments, more torture and been driven out of Iran in large numbers by the current Iranian regime since 1979? According to a 2004 report prepared by Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist who heads the Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, based in Los Angeles, the Jewish community in Iran lives in constant fear for its security amid threats from terrorist Islamic factions. Since 1979, at least 14 Jews have been murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents, at least two Jews have died while in custody and 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime. According to the report, Fayzollah Mekhubabt, a 78-year-old cantor in a Tehran synagogue was the last Jew to be executed by the Iranian regime in 1995. He was imprisoned, tortured and his eyes were gouged out before he was executed. Mekhubabt was buried in a Muslim cemetery and his family was forced to disinter his remains in order to bury him in a Jewish cemetery.

Additionally Melamed writes:

According to Nikbakht’s research of Iran’s Islamic based laws, not only does the current Iranian Constitution clearly indicate that all non-Muslims have inferior status to Muslims, but all non-Muslims must be humiliated and confined to prevent them from gaining any advantage over Muslims. A Jew’s life is worth half of that of a Muslim according to Iran’s current Shari’a law. According to a recent U.S. State Department report, the “Islamization” of Iran has brought about strict control over Jewish educational institutions. Nikbakht’s 2004 report indicates that before the Iranian revolution, there were some 20 Jewish schools functioning throughout Iran, but in recent years most of these have been closed down. In the remaining schools, Jewish principals have been replaced by Muslims. In Tehran there are still three schools in which Jewish pupils constitute a majority, but the curriculum is Islamic and Persian is forbidden as the language of instruction for Jewish studies. Again how on earth can the Presbyterian Church (USA) or anyone in their right mind consider living under such an unjust system of laws for Jews in Iran as humane and fair environments to live in?

The truth is that since the rise of Islam, there have been times of relative peace for Persian Jews and there have been times of great persecution. One extremely interesting article and video (it is just a fragment) is about the “Jews of Iran” filmed by a Muslim, Ramin Farahani who lives in the Netherlands.

The article, “Jewish Eye Film Festival / Truths, half-truths and documentaries,” is a well done review and the video is just right for ending this posting. Farahani who lives as a minority in a western country wanted to investigate the lives of minorities in Iran. He intended to look at Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians. The difficulties of filming a documentary on the Jews caused him to forgo the latter minorities. He states that he was dealing with a minority that was afraid to always speak the truth except for one:

  In the film, the only person who dares to speak directly about anti-Semitism is a girl named Farandis. Once, when she still attended public school, she left class for a drink of water, she relates. When she returned, she felt the students were looking at her strangely. Later, a friend told her that when she had stepped out, the teacher told the other students that because it was raining outside, Farandis had gotten wet and had therefore been contaminated. The teacher told them that anyone who touched her would also be infected, because the girl was now impure. As a result of this incident, Farandis transferred to a Jewish school and eventually left Iran. This, of course, made it easier for her to tell her story.

Farahani says he met other Jews who described problems, insults and discrimination at the hands of Muslims, but says they were unwilling to repeat their stories for the camera. He says he realized there was no point in pressuring them to talk. Even though he could have narrated their attacks himself, he chose instead to conceal this information from his viewers. Perhaps his subjects' fear infected him as well. Instead, he says, he tried to find ways to convey this message indirectly.
Farahani, who is Iranian, in the end says that the Jewish community has equality in the Iranian constitution. But his words and his film do not portray that equality in the personal lives of the Jewish community.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

A renewed Syria-Lebanon network, why should we be concerned?

There is a great need for ministry among Presbyterian churches in Lebanon and Syria. One reads with both joy and tears the updates on the Syrian churches on the Outreach Foundation site. Reading Syria Relief Update - February 2014 by Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development, one feels and sees the Christian care, need and love that is so very evident. But another ministry, undoubtedly of a more political type, is redoing itself in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a means to help the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, our partner churches. An announcement on the Chicago Presbytery site states:

An Organizing Group mainly from the Middle East Task Force of Chicago Presbytery has called a meeting for April 3 – 5, 2014 at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary to re-start the Syrian Lebanon Mission Network (SLMN). The Christians from Syria and Lebanon are greatly affected by the Syrian conflict and have asked for the support of their Ecumenical Partners.

Pauline Coffman attended a Consultation called by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon in Lebanon, January 12 – 22, 2014 and heard from Syrian and Lebanese pastors and Synod leaders of their current reality. Several churches have been destroyed in Syria. Lebanon, a country of about 4 million people, is dealing with another 1 million refugees now. Syrian Christians are scattered and meeting in homes where possible.

There is a similar news article on the Presbyterian News Service site, “A Church No Longer Subdued: Be a Voice for Peace: Syria-Lebanon Network Meeting. And there are several links to information about the meeting.

So why should this be a concern to members of the PC (U.S.A.)? Because the person one is to contact in the Presbytery of Chicago is Pauline Coffman. Because Coffman is the Temporary Convener for the working group for the renewed network. And because Coffman through her contributions to the soon to be published book, Zionism and the Quest for Justice in the Holy Land, became one of the main contributors to Zionism Unsettled the publication of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network.

In ZU one can read in the chapters attributed to her that, “As expected, war broke out between Jewish and Arab forces when Israel declared independence in May 1948.” Nothing about five Arab nations attacking Israel. In another section rather than commiserating with the Jews forced out of neighboring Arab countries she uses them to emphasize what she calls ethnic cleansing by the new Jewish nation. Coffman writes of the Holocaust, suggesting that all Israeli governments have used it to manipulate the, “fear for political advantage both in domestic and foreign policy.”

Another reason to be concerned with this new formation is because one of the working members is Rob Worley leader of a group of Presbyterians who, while visiting in the Middle East in 2005, met with a member of the terrorist group Hezbollah.  The New York Times reported that “Mr. Worley described it [Hezbollah] as "the group that's brought peace to that region of the world.”

Indeed, all of the working members of the group to re-form a new Syria/Lebanese network have, in the past focused on the Israel and Palestine issues.  And part of the aims of the meeting to re-form the group is to possibly “Draft a Commissioner’s Resolution for General Assembly.” Hopefully this General Assembly will put accountability to the General Assembly and other restrictions within any draft that seeks to form a new Middle East network such as the Israel Palestine Mission Network.

One hopes for a network that will be concerned with human suffering on all sides and not use the word peace as a means to play politics to the determent of real peace. One hopes for a network that will seek to uphold the biblical goal of making Christian disciples in all nations. One hopes that Jesus Christ and his redemption will be foremost in their minds. Certainly the churches of Lebanon and Syria deserve more than a political advocacy group.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My thoughts in song on my 73rd birthday ...

I’m one year older today well, it will be yesterday when you read this. It has been a quiet day and tonight I am reminiscing listening to some songs on YouTube and remembering days gone by, mainly Warehouse Ministries’ times when we all, friends and family, attended Saturday Night concerts.  So here are some of my favorite songs from those days. But not the loud ones instead soft and melancholy and prophetic, but full of the gospel.

This one is by Chuck Girard. His concert was one of the very first we attended as a family. He sat at the piano playing, singing on and on, it was one of those times the Holy Spirit could be felt in all of his reality and so Jesus seemed very near. There were some fun songs like "Old Dan Cotton," but "Hear the Angels Sing" is beautiful, like the final curtain coming down except eternity is in the wings.

A fun song, "Sidney the Pirate" is certainly full of the gospel. By Mustard Seed Faith:

I think I have posted this before--"Fool's Wisdom," but it is just right, simple but true:


And one more by these two English musicians. I believe one is a pastor in England now. This last video has three songs from their record "Wildwall." It might be because I'm reading Jeremiah during Lent, and the last two songs remind me of Jeremiah.  This has a song for England, it should be for the United States now also:
So my thoughts in song on my 73rd birthday.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Will Spotts and his friend Jon Haber's blog: good reading Update

I apologize, the blog Divest This, and it is a very good blog, belongs to Jon Haber and the articles I linked to, PCUSA and BDS: The Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) and PCUSA – Zionism Unsettled are his. So I will rewrite some of this:

Will Spotts, a friend and a member of the original ‘Consistory’ bloggers, who are now quite scattered, (and you can take that any way you want to) has a new blog. The new blog is A Time for Every Purpose. Among some very contemplative posts Spotts includes some of his very good poetry.
Spotts’ friend, Jon Haber's blog on the PCUSA and Israel is Divest This. His posting of March 10th is on the Israel/Palestine Mission Network with some thoughts on their latest misdeed, the publication of Zionism Unsettled. Haber begins “PCUSA and BDS: The Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN)” with this:

Whenever some story emerges having to do with PCUSA’s obsession with Israel, with the relentless drive to get divestment back on organization’s agenda (no matter how many times it’s rejected), with attempts to denigrate and even demonize the Jewish state, its inhabitants and supporters, all roads seem to lead to the Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN).

We saw this most recently when the organization decided the most important way to promote their (real) agenda was to drop all pretenses of peace-making and instead invest their time and resources into creating “Zionism Unsettled,” a “study document” designed to educate the flock regarding Zionism as the font of all evil (making it clear that the sooner an entity built on such a hateful ideology ceases to be, the better).
There is much more in other postings. For example, PCUSA BDS: What to do?, contains this:

A commenter asked when I started this series the obvious question of what he and others can do.  And short of converting to Presbyterianism and moving up the ranks of the organization, there are few ways to directly impact denominational politics, other than throwing support behind groups like Presbyterians for Middle East Peace or local church leaders who have made it a point to take a stand against BDS when they attend the upcoming General Assembly.

The organized Jewish community has relied on dialog for most of the last decade in the hope that honest discussion might tamp down the endless Israel bashing that has become liturgy at Presbyterian GAs.  And while I’m all in favor of dialog (especially in the form of honest and frank conversations with those with whom we disagree), there comes a point where the number of broken promises turns such dialog sessions into the equivalent of Lucy’s annual pulling away of the football with the Jewish community continually asked to return to the role of Charlie Brown.
And there are more words about Zionism Unsettled, in PCUSA – Zionism Unsettled. So,
both for wisdom and information, read, A Time for Every Purpose and Divest This.

I will now add that I am going to place these two blogs on my side where I have blogs I like to read.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The ER, the human condition & church

The experience happened before I read Carol Howard Merritt's blog posting, “The Menlo Park Difference,” but I was reminded of the event. The ER was kind of like church, a place for broken people: only there wasn’t enough beds so most of us sat in the waiting room, between tests. And this was the place where the homeless gathered because it was warm, or they were sick, or lonely. Over seven hours of waiting produced various views of the human condition.
One lady became angry when a man, large and boney, accidently stepped on her toe. The hospital policemen quickly gathered and the loud name calling subsided. One man, generous and kind, nevertheless spoke aloud every thought that entered his mind. He rambled on, talking to himself for several hours, offered someone a cigarette, and continually left to buy coffee or food. And then he decided to pull off all of his top clothing, shake it out and put it back on.

Another went to the rest room and when he returned he brought out a whole roll of paper which he left on a chair. No one sat there again. One lady troubled by anxiety talked on the phone to the nurse on the other side of the window. After she began screaming and falling, her husband and a nurse half carried and half pulled her to the other side.

A kind of camaraderie develops under such conditions.  When someone was called in for a test all others clapped. One young man with his foot in a temporary cast, after having too many people stumble over it, was relieved when someone else placed a 'wet floor' sign over his poor injured foot. Several ladies, two in a wheel chair, sat toward the back chatting, laughing and making good use of what seemed to many of us almost imprisonment. Every so often a nurse would come to the waiting room and administer pain medication to those who needed it.

But here’s the important part: there were nurses and doctors on the other side. There was medicine and beds for those who would finally need them. (The hospital is rebuilding so eventually there will be more beds in ER.) There was the potential for healing and wholeness.  No one was turned away until they were tested and hopefully treated or at least given advice. Church is supposed to be like that.  No one tells the sinner to go away. No one tells the sinner, he is not a sinner. Instead they tell the sinner that Jesus loves them, and died for them.
This is what happened to my husband and me many years ago. We saw a young hippy couple being snubbed at our home church and prayed that God would bring us to a place where those in the hippy culture would be loved and given the gospel. And He did for fifteen years. Several years later, a friend I shared a Greek class with at Fuller Theological Seminary, in Sacramento, told me how she and her husband would load their car up with young people and head to Saturday night concerts at Warehouse Ministries. They heard great music and they heard about Jesus, his death and resurrection. Drug pushers, prostitutes, the self-righteous, the addicted and pagans, they came and as they were discipled Jesus changed them.

As I said, I thought of this commenting on Carol Howard Merritt’s blog posting, “The Menlo Park Difference.”

Surely this is what church is about, bringing the sinner home to Jesus, teaching them and us, also sinners, to grow and be transformed in Christ. We should be rejoicing when anyone, pastor, ruling elder, layperson hungers to reach out and minister to the unbeliever in our communities. We should jump for joy whenever and wherever the gospel, the good news of redemption is proclaimed.  

The unity is not rubbed out by changing  denominational lines, rather it is torn apart when our love for Christ grows cold.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

One Great Hour of Sharing, New Age and the divine feminine

I was quite comfortable in bed, going to sleep, when I felt a bit of a nudge about this posting which I have already had up for half a day. I was not serious enough about what I was writing. God’s purposes and name are dishonored with the actions of the National Committee on the Self Development of People of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and it is his cause and his glory that they have defamed. I am doing a partial rewrite.

I hope for the sake of Christ, your church does not contribute to One Great Hour of Sharing. If you do contribute you are helping the New Age community propagate their eastern forms of religion, and uplifting the divine feminine at the same time.

The Critical Mass Dance Company of Los Angeles received $15, 000 to supposedly seek “to change the structures that perpetuate poverty, oppression and injustice by empowering women though the healing power of dance and mutual community.” Anyway that is what the National Committee on the Self Development of People of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) stated on the PNS site. However, the Critical Mass Dance Company, in their educational dance classes, according to their web site, teach you how to balance your “chakra,” a decidedly Hindu and/or New Age activity.
Actually Christians don’t “normally” believe in chakras which have to do with connecting to the one reality which is impersonal. Names for this New Age concept are, “psychic energy, consciousness, color, mind, light, vibration, vital energy, life force. ch’I, prana, or an aura.” [1]
The information on the workshop page speaks further to the use of the dances:

It reminds us we have the power to create the lives and world we wish to see through our intention. The workshops take place around a spiral or labyrinth. The spiral is used to energize and amplify our collective intentions for our lives and world.

When we declare our intentions, our word becomes our world. When we embody our word, we can be the change we want to see.
There is nothing biblical in that statement. The human is made to be the creator of their own world in place of submission to Christ and his word.
On a page for 0ne of the performances,[2] “Ama Terra,” that the company is involved in, a particular dance is featured, “Moving into Grace: Sacred Dance Performance of the Divine Feminine.” And there is a link to more information.  Here is some of the information:

Celebrate the beginning of a new era of consciousness birthing within YOU in 2014.

Inhale the beauty, mystery and love of the Divine Feminine as you watch dances designed to uplift, inspire and bless you with unconditional love.
This show is part of an emerging new form of performance where we inspire you… and you inspire us.  Enjoy beautiful, sensual performances by local women…and watch them invoke and embody the Goddess.  Be transported by belly dancers into the realm of Shakti – divine feminine energy.   If you choose to, spiral dance with us and set your intentions for the coming year.
And, this night is set to delight, with all that inspiration leading to an Ecstatic Dance Party right after the performance!  Merge with the wild beauty of womens’ sacred dance where the past and future dissolve and leave us in the NOW, where all intentions are empowered to manifest.

Feel the sparkle of the show ignite YOUR sacred expression.  Stay and play with us afterwards!
It would be an understatement to suggest that the PCUSA is not spending your money well. It is in fact, not your money, nor is it the National Committee on the Self Development of People's money, it is God's.  It is sad that money that has been given to help the poor and those who are oppressed will instead be given to help others preform ritual dances in honor of false deities. It is no less an issue of apostasy then the acts of those ancient Israelites who the prophet Jeremiah rebuked.

The Prophet Malachi rebuked the priests who refused to turn back the blemished sacrifices the people brought to the temple. But this contemporary gift brought to the Lord who has fulfilled the ancient sacrifices with his death is dishonored by the committee because it is given away for false worship. The offense is worse and without excuse. Malachi pleads for the priests to honor the Lord rather than corrupting the people. We must plead also.

(There is another grant recipient,  Women’s Press Collective, in Brooklyn, New York which is a member of the National Labor Federation, which has a connection to the Provisional Communist Party of the United States. The last entity is a secretive organization.  There is a web site which hosts a collection of articles about the National Labor Federation and Women's Press Collective is included. The group evidently has cultic leanings.


[1] The Illustrated Guide to World Religions, Dean Halverson, general editor, (International Students, Inc. 2003 edition)176.
[2]  On the Critical Mass Dance site under performances, Immanuel Presbyterian Church is noted as hosting a 2011 & 2013 performance.