Sunday, June 29, 2008


All that history in the last post was a prelude to this. The General Assembly endorsed The Amman Call, (See article in The Presbyterian Outlook).

While there are many things to agree with in the Amman Call, (who could not agree with a call for two states, Israel and Palestine, with secure borders and peace, with an open Jerusalem? Of course there will be great disagreement over whether Jerusalem should be an Israeli city or a Palestinian city or both and the real fight will be over freedom of religion for Jews, Muslims and Christians! When I was in Israel I was given to understand that if anyone who was not Muslim tried to pray on the Temple Mount that person was immediately hustled off by the Israeli police! And don't even get me started on the Waqf digging through archaeological areas with a backhoe!)

Whew! Anyway. I agree with the Amman Call that we need to support our Christians sisters and brothers in Israel and Palestine. What the call does not make clear is that part of the support they need is international light shining on the persecution of Christians by Muslims!

But the most important part is the part that sounds so innocuous. The call for the right of return. Read this part of the Call:

5. The premises of this action are the following:

5.2. That Palestinians have the right of self-determination and the right of return.

I'm all for Palestinian self-determination. Let them vote for whoever they want in free and fair elections. In fact they did when they voted for Hamas. The United States should have recognized the government, terrorist or not. Don't we believe in free sovereignty?

But the right of return is the real problem. Right of return means that all Palestinians who either voluntarily or involuntarily left their homes and villages since 1948 have the right to return to those homes and villages. This sounds very good but would create a variety of problems. It also does not take into account Jewish right of return.

As I stated in my last post after the 1948 war Jews all over the Middle East were forced from their homes, had their businesses taken from them, often even their personal possessions and were only allowed to take a limited amount of money with them when they left. As part of this agreement would the various Arab nations also allow their former Jewish citizens a right of return and compensation for their losses? I know the Palestinians are not responsible for what Arab governments did but why does the Amman Call make no reference to the suffering of Jews following the 1948 war? And why does it not take into consideration that there are many more Jews in Israel because the Arab governments stole from and kicked out their Jewish citizens? Should there not be justice for all? Or do only Palestinians get justice?

Quite honestly a Palestinian right of return is a deal breaker for Israel. The Amman Call says:

5.3That a two-state solution must be viable politically, geographically economically and socially.


5.5 That both Palestine and Israel have legitimate security needs.

These statements are meaningless if there is a Palestinian right of return. The reason is very simple. If Palestinians are allowed to return to their former homes in Israel then Palestinians will be the majority in Israel. In a democratic state the Palestinians would be able to vote out the Israeli government. Israel would not be a Jewish state. Then Israel would have no security concerns because there would be no Israel and no security for Jews in Israel. The two state solution would not be politically or socially viable for Israel because there would be no Israel. It wouldn't be economically or geographically viable either.

See, it's the little things that people don't mention.

One of several things would happen if there was a Palestinian right of return:

1. There would be no democratic government in Israel or Palestine. To be fair to the Palestinian people their choices of governments have been rather limited. Fatah was corrupt and really didn't want free elections. Hamas - well Hamas did get elected by a free and fair election. But Hamas has as one of its foundational statements that it pursues the destruction of Israel. If there was a Palestinian majority in Israel would Israel get a corrupt Fatah or a Hamas that wants to kick the Jews out or kill them?

2. At best there would be a secular state in which there was no Jewish majority or state. It should not surprise the world that this makes Jews very uneasy. After thinking that they were finally secure in Europe because of the Enlightenment the Dreyfus affair came along in France and then the Nazis came to power in Germany. And all through the 19th and 20th Centuries it was dangerous to be Jewish in Russia and, up until at least 1945 in Poland. Further antisemitism is on the rise in Europe. If you were Jewish wouldn't you want a land of your own in which your people were the majority and therefore there was a guarantee that no one would come and kill you just because you were Jewish? Besides rockets falling from Lebanon, (Hezbollah) and Gaza (at the very least tolerated by Hamas) suggests that Jews would not be secure in a secular state in Palestine.

3. There are more but I'll move on.

The security barrier. I've seen it. I hate it. From inside Bethlehem it looks like a prison wall. But if suicide bombers come into your country and blow up your children wouldn't you want a way to keep them out? I think the security barrier is in the wrong place. Too much of it falls on Palestinian territory. It has ruined the economic lives of Palestinian farmers. It has brought unemployment to many Palestinians. But the number of suicide bombers has gone down to almost zero. It would be wonderful if there was no need for the fences and the walls. The behavior of people in Gaza shooting missiles into Israeli towns does not suggest that the barrier is not necessary.

The other problem with the Amman Call is that it seems to assume that if Israel changed its ways everything would be fine. There are killers on both sides of the barrier. Yes there are some Israelis who want to kick all the Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza and claim all of Biblical Israel. They are a small minority. There are also Palestinians who want to kill all Israelis. There is no way to measure what percentage of the Palestinian population wants this. Those with the guns keep those who want peace very silent.

I want to think that the overwhelming majority on both sides want peace and prosperity. Certainly most Israelis will exchange land for peace if there will be a real peace. There is no way to tell how many Palestinians want this because it is dangerous in Gaza in particular to say that you want Israel to continue to exist.

Starting as far back as 1948 the Palestinians have been offered a variety of great deals. Either other nations or their leaders have always turned them down.

When the Presbyterian Church gets serious about peace in Israel and Palestine it will have to listen to both Jews and Palestinians. Until that day I will have to keep telling my Jewish friends please don't associate me with the statements of the General Assembly.

Pastor Bob


I think there are some problems that just aren't going to be solved before Jesus returns. Think of the problem of sinful lust. I'm like Jimmy Carter. I have looked at women who aren't my wife with lust in my heart. That's a sin Jesus says. Maybe if I stopped wearing my glasses when I go out I wouldn't see them and wouldn't lust. Of course then, given the extent of my vision problem, I would probably get run down crossing the street!

The problems in Israel and Palestine look like problems that won't be solved until Jesus returns. All of us know what has to be done. Or we think we do. Some radicals disagree but most people think that Israel should get out of the West Bank, including all the settlements, that both the Palestinians and the Israelis should have capitols in Jerusalem, that people who lost land, home and possessions should be compensated, (a complicated problem, more on this later), and that all should stop shooting guns, missiles, and shells at each other and that people should stop blowing themselves and others up. Sounds like a good deal, doesn't it?

Ah, but Israel offered most of this deal, (92% of the West Bank instead of all but with a good bit of money to compensate those who lost land), and Yasser Arafat turned it down in 2000. Why is a very curious question which I will not answer here because it would make the blog too long

But the problem looks very different on the ground. My child got killed by an Israeli missile. My child got killed by a Palestinian missile. Rockets land in Southern Israel towns on a daily basis (with a brief reprieve right now, thank God!). Israel responds with rockets. And it goes on.

The General Assembly passed some, I don't know, advice? about the situation in Israel and Palestine. Some of it was OK. Some if it looks good on the surface but the devil is in the details and commissioners don't get much time to consider the details.

But first a little history of Israel in the Middle East. I'm not going to go back to the Kingdom of David or the time of Jesus or even the 1920's. Let's start in 1948. In 1948 the United Nations proposed a partition of the land then called Palestine into two sections: an Israeli section and a Palestinian section. Jerusalem was to be a free city not part of either nation. Israel accepted the terms.

Unfortunately the nations around Palestine didn't accept the terms. (There wasn't any Palestinian government to accept the terms except for the Waqf, the ruler of the Muslim holy places.) Armies from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq attacked Israel. They told the Palestinians to join them in the fight or get out of the way because they would push the Israelis into the sea or kill them off quickly and then the Palestinians could return to their land. Of course it wasn't that simple. Some Palestinians fought against Israel and the Israeli army (the Palmach) attacked the villages those fighters came from. Some Palestinian villages were attacked by Jewish groups not aligned with the Palmach like the Irgun who attacked some Palestinian villages indicriminately. It should not surprise anyone that the people from those villages ran away. Palestinian groups attacked defensless Israeli villages. Some Palestinians moved out of the way so that the five armies could take out the Israelis. And some Palestinians were moved off their land by the Palmach.

At the end of the war Israel had more land than it would have had under the UN proposed partition. It also had part of Jerusalem. Some Palestinians lived within what now became Israel. A few were allowed back into Israel. The others who, for all the reasons listed above, had to stay in what became the West Bank and Gaza and ended up in UN run refugee camps. Jordan annexed the part of Palestine that became known as the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Egypt annexed Gaza. At the end of the 1948 war there was no Palestine.

A little known fact: soon after, in the 1950's Arab countries across the Middle East kicked out most of their Jewish populations. Jews whose families had lived in Babylon or Alexandria from before the time of Christ were kicked out of their homes, were not allowed to take their possessions with them and were summarily told to get out. They went to Israel. They have never received any compensation from anyone for their loss. And on a curious statistical note, there were more Jews kicked out of Arab nations across the Middle East than there were Palestinians who ended up in refugee camps because of the 1948 war. There are almost no Jews in the Middle East today except in Israel.

The quick version of the time between 1948 and 1967 is that the Palestinians who had to move out of their homes in what became Israel were kept in refugee camps. They were not allowed to integrate into the rest of the West Bank or Gaza. The Jewish refugees were integrated into Israeli society. Oh and the Syrians had fun shooting shells from the Golan Heights into Israel.

In 1967 there was a war between Israel on the one side and Syria, Egypt and later Jordan on the other. Egypt made all kinds of threatening statements and finally asked the UN troops to get out of the way. Egypt moved a large army into the Sinai desert near Israel. Israel struck first and in 7 days took Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, the whole Sinai peninsula and the Golan Heights. Everyone was shocked, including the Israelis.

Now there was a bigger problem. Israel proper already had Palestinian citizens. They were allowed to vote but weren't really integrated into Israeli society. But now Israel had all this land with Palestinians all over the place. And yes there were still all of those Palestinians in refugee camps. It was a mess.

I'm going to skip the other wars. There are whole books on just little parts of the whole history. To put it simply Israel became a country that had occupied territories. Ultimately after another war and much negotiation Israel gave the Sinai back to Egypt and they established diplomatic relations. Jordan and Israel found a way to get along, established diplomatic relations and Jordan said it didn't want the West Bank back. (Jordan didn't want the Palestinians either!)

Some Israelis believed that God gave them the whole of Israel, Galilee, Judea and Samaria as they called it, and started setting up settlements across the West Bank and Gaza. This really ticked off the Palestinians, particularly when their land was taken and they didn't get paid for it, (and besides they didn't want to sell their land anyway). With the settlements came guns and the Israeli army to protect the settlements. Some of the settlers were downright nasty to their Palestinian neighbors, including shooting at them. The Palestinians felt helpless.

So some Palestinians started what they thought was the only solution. They began to terrorize people. Often it was Israelis, like at the 1972 Olympics, but for a while it was airplanes around the world.

In the early 1990's Israel and Yasser Arafat came to an agreement called the Oslo Accords. This gave the Palestinians, (actually the PLO) limited sovereignty over parts of the West Bank and Gaza with the promise of more to come if things stayed peaceful. For a while it actually worked, in part. Light industry began on both sides of the border between Israel and Gaza. Life started to get better for some Palestinians.

But then Yasser Arafat turned down Israel's offer in 2000. And the second intifada began. There are a variety of opinions as to why this happened. Maybe the reason doesn't really matter. But rocks were thrown at Israeli soldiers and the soldiers shot back, most of the time with rubber bullets and sometimes with live rounds. Palestinians strapped explosives to themselves and blew themselves up in crowds of Israelis, killing the Israelis as well. One favorite place to blow oneself up was on a morning bus, which meant that Israeli school children died on their way to school. Those Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who had jobs in Israel lost their jobs. Checkpoints became popular as Israel tried to stop the violence. Palestinians were humiliated at checkpoints and complained that amublances with people who were critically ill were stopped at checkpoints and the patients died. The Israelis complained that sometimes the ambulances had explosives in them.

Israel responded with guns, tanks and missles. And finally Israel decided that the logical way to get rid of suicide bombers was to not let them into the country. So Israel build the security barrier. Most of it is a fence. Some of it is a wall. Suicide bombing dropped off dramatically. Life in Palestinian areas became unbearable. The unemployment rate went through the roof. I was in Bethlehem in February. There is a wall all the way around Bethlehem. The shop keepers begged us to come back to Bethlehem and bring our friends and stay in town. Children and adults try to sell beads and postcards to tourists. And the Christian population in Bethlehem and throughout the Palestinian territories, (or the occupied territories, call it what you want), is dropping off dramatically, in part because of persecution from their Muslim neighbors. Besides the Christian population tends to be wealthier than their Muslim neighbors and can afford to move to Europe or the USA.

Israel moved out of Gaza, forcing the Israeli settlers to leave. The Palestinians saw this as a victory. For a variety of reasons, mainly corruption in Fatah, the Palestinians elected Hamas as the ruling party in the last election. Both the US and Israel refuse to talk with Hamas. And someone, probably with the permission of Hamas, has been shooting missiles into Israel from Gaza. Of course the Israeli army responds. And it goes on.

This is more than long enough. I'll tell about what the General Assembly did in my next post.

Pastor Bob


Another positive blog! What happened to Bob the curmudgeon?

I feel really good about this one because I proposed an overture to the Philadelphia Presbytery which passed the GA with some minor changes.

Basically, the 2006 GA appointed a Task Force to write a new Form of Government, (nFOG). It gave the Task Force less than 2 years to come up with the nFOG! A preliminary draft was made available last September and the final form came out in January.

It is my experience that most Presbyterians are not Constitution wienies like I am. So the nFOG came out and it was my guess that few if any Presbyterians actually read the thing. So the Tully Memorial Session proposed an overture to the presbytery (which passed) asking the GA to put 0ff the final vote on the nFOG until 2010. I figured that maybe more people would read it if they had 2 years to do so.

I have a lot of problems with the nFOG. The biggest is that it assumes that Presbyterians trust each other. The fact of the matter is, we don't. To be honest I would have preferred that the GA would have voted it down. But I hope that 2 years for studying and recommendations to the expanded committee will produce a better document. If not maybe the GA will vote it down in 2010. Or maybe the presbyteries will vote it down. Or maybe the Spirit will settle upon the expanded committee and produce a FOG that God wants. I hope if that happens we all recognize it as a gift from God. After all synods and councils, (and General Assemblies and presbyteries), and even Pastor Bob do err!

Pastor Bob

Foundation and GAC

OK, after two negative blogs I'm going to say something positive.

It seems that the General Assembly Council (the GAC) and the Presbyterian Foundation have been having some problems. That's an understatement.

The Presbyterian Foundation, begun back in the late 1700's has received gifts and bequests to the denomination for centuries. Some of those gifts and bequests are simple. The income goes to support the mission of the General Assembly. Some are quite specific. I know there is one that gives money to support something in Iran and I think it is evangelism. Well right now trying to do evangelism is Iran is a very dangerous thing to do if not impossible. So the Foundation holds onto the income. As the Foundation says it has a fiduciary responsibility to the donors to make sure the income goes where it is supposed to go.

The problem is there are some that are not entirely clear. Or there are some about which the Foundation takes a very conservative legal position and the GAC thinks the Foundation is being too narrow.

This is not a new problem. But this year it kind of boiled over. There were accusations, recommendations on how to handle the problem, interpretations by the Assembly Committee on the Constitution (the ACC) and all kinds of stuff.

Fortunately the Mission and Budget Committee produced a recommendation that was acceptable to all sides.

The Committee and later the GA voted to form a committee that include some folks from the Foundation, some from the GAC and some others to make decisions when the GAC and the Foundation disagree. Good idea! I hope it works.

Pastor Bob

Saturday, June 28, 2008


First to my homosexual friends: I love you. Those of you who fight the good fight against your desires to sin, I honor you. You are better people than I am. Those who think you behavior is given by God, I disagree with you but I love you in Christ nevertheless.

I like weird sounding words. OK, that makes me weird too, I know. For good or ill I have passed this trait on to my daughter. She likes the name of a Philadelphia suburb, Conshohocken, because it sounds strange. Go figure.

Anyway, when I was taking Greek in seminary I learned the word "splankna." It literally means guts: intestines, livers, all the yucky stuff. When used as a verb, "splanknizomai," it actually refers to compassion. It can also refer to anger. When Jesus looked at the crowd before the feeding of the 5,000 he had compassion on them splanknizomai, (okay I got the person of the verb wrong).

But that isn't the point of this story. I think splankna sounds neat. It's kind of like squish. So of course I taught it to my two younger brothers who are just as weird as I am. Worse, they were in high school and junior high at the time.

One Sunday as Mom brought the meat to the dining room one of my brothers took a look at it and said, "Oh no! Splankna again?" And then of course we were in trouble, he for what he said and me for teaching him the word.

All of which leads me to the General Assembly. I don't use the work splankna here in its verbal form like compassion. I'm too angry for that today. I use it like my brother did. I've eaten this dish before. I ate it in 1996, 1997, 2000, (or was it 2001?), and in a different form with the PUP report in 2006. I've eaten it too many times and I'm tired of it. We are going to have the battle over G-6.0106b. And on top of that the GA has done an end run around the constitution again, like it did in 2006 by interpreting the constitution to say that behavior can be scrupled and a presbytery can say it isn't essential. This, of course is to overrule the GAPJC which said that behavior cannot be scrupled, at least not about G-6.0106b. So it looks like a lose - lose situation. If the presbyteries, as they likely will, vote against the amendment to change G-6.0106b the Authoritative Interpretation theoretically will let presbyteries ordain who they want no matter what the constitution says.

What should be really interesting is whether the GAPJC rules that the new AI passed by the GA is an improper interpretation of the constitution.

Anyway, I'm tired of eating the splankna that GAs keep dishing out. The pro homosex crowd just won't let it go. I want to say you lost, shut up, sit down. Let's have some peace for a few years. But they aren't going to do that. They see this as a justice issue. They will bring it up and bring it up until they win. I hope they are prepared for the long haul because I suspect they won't win, at least about G-6.0106b, for at least 10 years. Also, no matter what they say about letting sessions and presbyteries make their own decisions I am certain that in the long run a requirement will be inserted in the Book of Order that says we all have to ordain people who do varying sexual practices. It will be in the section about diversity in congregations and again in the sections about required diversity in governing bodies. After all, it isn't just for homosexuals to be discriminated against in my congregation or presbytery is it?

But splankna is on the menu in my presbytery for January 2009. I have to eat it. Well, I could stay away but I can't do that. I'm a good presbyter, I am. So, to mix metaphors, I say as Tibault said to Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, "I am for you," meaning I will fight the fight.

And just so those who agree with me and those who disagree with me know where I really stand, let me make it clear. The Bible says homosex behavior is wrong. It isn't just the 7 passages that make direct references. There is a Biblical theme of heterosexuality that arcs from Genesis to Revelation, ("God created the human in God's own image, in the image of God God created the human. Male and Female God created them." and at the other end of the Bible, "And I saw the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven adorned as a bride for her bridegroom.") Just try to find a reference in the Bible that even uses a metaphor of homosexual relationships! Where does it say that God is the husband and Israel is the husband? Or Jesus is the wife and the Church is the wife? They aren't there are they?

But of course the Bible really isn't the issue is it? We have friends, they have feelings, they don't know where their feelings came from but they think they've had the feelings since birth (and maybe they have) so the feelings must be from God. It doesn't matter that the science is equivocal on the subject. And it doesn't matter that there are lots of other feelings that are wrong and sinful whether we choose the feelings or not. They are people, we love them, so their feelings must be given by God!

But isn't it possible to love people whose feelings are not given by God, feelings that are sinful?

Oh, and besides we know so much more than those ignorant people who wrote the Bible! Sure we do! We know how to make atom bombs too. The argument is that the writers of the Bible didn't know anything about sexual orientation so therefore they must be wrong. It must be God given. This argument fails on two grounds. Just because something feels like it's always been there doesn't make it right. I have lots of feelings that I've had all my life that aren't right. I've been jealous as long as I can remember. Does that make the feeling right? And second, Paul knew about sexual orientation. The ancients weren't stupid. They could see that some people wanted to have sex with the opposite sex and some people wanted to have sex with the same sex. Check the ancient literature. It's there.

So to finish this rant let me introduce another Greek word. scubala. Paul uses it in Philippians. The RSV cautiously translates it as rubbish. RUBBISH! The word means dung, only it is dung in the vulgar sense. The word means shit.

I am tired of stepping in this scubala! I am tired of being accused of being homophobic, unloving and all the other things people accuse me of because they disagree with me! (My friends who disagree with me but love me please ignore the last sentence.)

But once again we have to wade through the scubala. And if it doesn't pass this year it will come up again in 2010. Those who push so hard for this don't care if they split the church. They just want what they want.

And I will be there to fight the fight. With love I hope. It's very difficult to feel loving today. Maybe by January I will be able to forget my favorite Greek words and calmly argue from the Bible.


May God's will be done.

Pastor Bob

Friday, June 27, 2008


About 10 years ago a friend of mine said he hated when General Assembly came around because he always ended up having to answer questions from outraged members. Well this year is going to be a biggy. I can't wait until my members find out what happened at GA.

Let's see, the GA voted to:

1. Reverse the Authoritative Interpretation of 1978-79 that said homosexual sexual behavior was sinful;

2. Approve an Authoritative Interpretation that overturns the GAPJC ruling to basically say that if a presbytery decides that sinful behavior is not a bar to ordination then no one can overrule the presbytery;

3. Ask presbyteries to amend the constitution to remove section G-6.0106b from the constitution which requires those being ordained to be faithful in marriage or chaste in singleness; and

4. I'm told that I got item # 4 wrong. I'll post another blog on it when I find out what the real facts are

The PCUSA and its former denominations have been fighting about homosexuality since before I was ordained in 1979. That's 33 years, friends. I'm tired of the conversation, to say nothing of the rancor, accusations of homophobia and refusal to obey the Scriptures. Sometimes I think those leaving have the right idea. I would be so glad to be in a denomination that didn't have these fights.

But. I believe in the doctrine of the covenant. God put me in the PCUSA and I am part of the covenant. The covenant has not been broken. I still can preach the true gospel. No one prevents me from doing that. In fact I believe that in most PCUSA congregations around the country the true gospel is still being preached. Some pastors may be wrong on some issues like homosexuality, (I'm right, of course), but the true gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ who died and rose for our sins, the true gospel of Jesus the divine/human Son of the Father is preached almost everywhere.

Further, so far no one is trying to force me to do something that goes against my conscience. My suspicious side says that if the presbyteries vote to approve the amendment that deletes G-6.0106b sooner or later there will be another amendment that says I am required to ordain people who have sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman. When that day comes I will have to leave. Maybe I'll be fortunate and it will happen after I retire.

Now, a little something to tick off those who disagree with me. If this amendment passes does this mean I can ordain someone who is heterosexual and and lives with and has a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex? How about someone who commits adultery? Or someone who has 10 wives like those people on that ranch down in Texas? I know, those who disagree with me don't like to talk about this. The message is that we are only talking about homosexual couples who make lifelong commitments. But the truth in America and in the Christian community is that the discussion has gone beyond homosexual couples. Those who live in polygamous relationships are asking why is homosexual behavior fine but their behavior isn't? And seminary professors are saying that fidelity is for the heterosexual community, not the homosexual community, (some professor in Bangor Seminary). Yes, I'm using the slippery slope argument. But the slope is there.

So this coming January I will stand up in Philadelphia Presbytery and argue that G-6.0106b is based on the Bible. I will argue that homosexual sexual behavior is wrong according to the Bible as is heterosexual sexual behavior outside of marriage. I will not hate the people who disagree with me. As a matter of fact some of them are my best friends! And I do not hate those who have sex outside of heterosexual marriage. After all, some of my beloved relatives do this. Saying you are wrong is not hateful. It is, in fact, loving if said in a loving manner.

But tonight I grieve for my beloved PCUSA. Here we go again. I think a verse from "The Church's One Foundation says it best:

        Though with a scornful wonder
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

May the morn of song come soon because tonight
is a night of weeping.

Pastor Bob

P.S. The Church fought for over 150 years about the doctrine
of the Trinity which is
much more important than this. I won't live
150 years but I will fight while I