Tuesday, December 29, 2009


OK, I admit it. I am on old fogey. This isn’t terribly surprising as I am 57, (turned so just last Thursday).
BUT I prefer rock. Disco was appalling. The boy and girl bands of the 90s and the 21st century are not rock and roll. Neither is rap or hip hop.

My heart is wrapped up in music and the late 60s through some of the groups from the 80s. Give me Jimmi Hendrix, the Doors and the Who any day over Snoop Dog. And toss in Queen, the Cars, the Supremes and James Brown. Spare me from the Osmond brothers.

Part of the difference is the message although I truly appreciate the message from ghetto rap groups. The Who gave me principle evaluation of politics: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” The Beatles in their later albums beginning with Rubber Soul provide great music and a message, even while stoned. And all rock has to be played loud. You can’t truly hear, “The End” without turning the volume up.

Rock and roll gave a clear rebellion against society. Some since have do some but not too many. And that back beat with the screaming guitars cannot be beat. Led Zeppelin played loud is not only great music but the propler music to destroy your ear drums.

And let’s toss in a few Christian groups or singers, beginning with Phil Keaggy, the true master of the guitar.
So yes, I am old fashioned. But thank God for Youtube that give of classic concerts and great music. Excuse me now as I go listen to “The Midnight Train to Georgia.”

Bob Campbell: Old fogey and loving it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience
First let us be abundantly clear: The Manhattan Declaration is not a Church document.  It was not adopted by a council of a denomination or even a group of pastors within a denomination.  It is a document developed by a group of like minded people and signed by individuals.  Thus it is not confessional.  Comparisons to the Barmen Declaration are inappropriate. 
On the other hand the writers and those who have signed it, as far as I know, are all Christians.  Its very title claims that it is a Christian Declaration:  “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience.”  It is an attempt to speak to certain societal issues from a particular Christian perspective.  It is not a theological document.  Others have pointed out the lack of references to Jesus.  It is an ethical and political statement. 
One question raised by some is whether Christian or people from any faith tradition have the right to bring their tradition into the public square and use the perspective of that tradition to speak to public issues.  Some have spoken of the separation between Church and State.  Are people of faith allowed to speak from their faith to public issues? 
I think a more appropriate question is how can they not?  If faith is, to use an overused term, a “worldview” how can anyone speak outside of their own world view?  One can hear the views of others and perhaps understand them intellectually but one does not abandon one’s faith at the gate to the public square.
Unfortunately some argue that this is precisely what people of faith must do.  Some interpret the American experiment as primarily a secular one.  There is some historical justification for doing so. 
The earliest writers about the American experiment were of a generation that abhorred the role religion had played in the long Protestant/Catholic wars in Europe.  Actually those wars were more complicated than wars between Protestants and Catholics.  Lutherans fought against Catholics and Reformed.  Reformed governments in Switzerland punished Baptists by drowning them. 
The early politicians who formed the American system of government and provided the philosophical and intellectual underpinnings for that system reacted against the religious wars of Europe.  While in some states particular denominations were the established churches the first Amendment to the U. S. Constitution says that there would be no established church in the United States.  At the time this meant that no particular denomination would be the state church.  It has come to mean that no particular faith tradition can claim to be the main faith tradition in America.  Following Thomas Jefferson present day Americans speak of the wall between Church and State as if such words were in the U. S. Constitution.  Put simply American political tradition says that the no faith tradition shall be given primary place in America and the government will not interfere with the faith traditions of religious institutions.  What exactly are religious institutions is the subject of much debate today.  So is the place of religious symbols on public lands.
Some claim that one can only speak in secular terms when one speaks to political issues.  And indeed if any group seeks to gain enough political strength in American today to influence public policy that group must find ways to speak about issues that appeal to those of various faith traditions.  (I include within the term faith traditions those who claim to have no faith.  I suggest that even saying one has no faith is a faith statement.)
So the Manhattan Declaration is an attempt to speak to issues of the day from a Christian perspective.  And while the authors of the Declaration may disagree with me I suggest that the Declaration speaks to those issues from a particular Christian tradition, not from the only Christian tradition.  Whether the writers of the Declaration speak from correct Christian tradition (and from my perspective that means to properly interpret Scripture from within the Christian faith and apply that interpretation to issues of the day) there are other Christians who disagree and say that the writers of the Declaration have failed to properly state the Christian and Biblical positions on the issues discussed.  If American Christians have learned nothing else in the past two hundred years we should have learned that there are many people of differing Christian traditions all seeking to speak what they believe is a proper way to look at political issues from a Christian viewpoint.
The first issue raised in the document, one that might be called the right to life, is a matter of much debate among Christians, particularly in the formerly mainline denominations.  In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), my own denomination there are documents adopted by General Assemblies on the issue but there is no confessional statement that makes a particular position on the subject of abortion (and for that matter capital punishment) an essential of the faith. 
To put it another way, denominations make theological and ethical statements and then seek to influence the political process by lobbying those in public office.  The bishops of the Roman Catholic Church do so.  The Washington office of the PCUSA does the same.  Separation of Church and state does not mean that the Church in its various forms cannot speak to political and ethical issues.  It also does not mean that individuals and groups cannot do the same.  It does mean that denominations are not allowed to dictate to those who represent the people in government as to what actions the government shall take.
Any time a government enacts a law those who voted for and against the law take ethical positions.  American tax law takes a wide variety of ethical positions.  The tax deductions for home mortgages say that the government encourages individuals and families to own homes.  Tax deductions for minor children say that the government encourages people to have children (although the deduction comes nowhere near the cost of raising a child).  Even if the government were to institute a flat tax that would be an ethical statement.  There are no ethically neutral laws. 
So I suggest that anyone who says that a group of Christians from a variety of Christian traditions should not and do not have the right to express political positions based on their faith completely misunderstand the American tradition of freedom of speech.  Even denominations are allowed to take ethical positions that speak positively or negatively about particular legislation.  The one limit the U. S. government has placed on religious institutions is that the institution and the leaders of the institution may not declare support for a particular candidate for office.
So the authors and signers of the Manhattan Declaration have the right to speak to political issues from a particular religious position.  Whether the Declaration appropriately describes a position based on right interpretation of Scripture is a matter of debate that I will speak to in the following blogs.  Americans all have the right to say what we think, no matter how obnoxious or revolting our statements may be to others.  And we can all be sure of one thing: if one American says something another is bound to disagree.  That is the uncomfortable joy of the American experiment.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Let’s start with a moment of truth: I signed the Manhattan Declaration.  Cheers from one side and gasps and boos from the other.  That doesn’t mean that it was worded as I would have.  Neither does it mean that I agree with every proposition in the statement.  How could I?  A statement written by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Fundamentalists Baptists and people from various other denominations and theological traditions is bound to either go for the lowest common denominator or say things that people might agree upon but would word differently if speaking within their own tradition.  So as I go through this I will say what I agree with and what I disagree with.

I was going to skip the preamble and go straight to the section on revelation and reason but the preamble talks about some of Christianities best moments.  Here is what it says:
Christians are heirs of a 2,000year tradition of proclaiming God’s word, seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering.
While fully acknowledging the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in all ages, we claim the heritage of those Christians who defended innocent life by rescuing discarded babies from trash heaps in Roman cities and publicly denouncing the Empire’s sanctioning of infanticide. We remember with reverence those believers who sacrificed their lives by remaining in Roman cities to tend the sick and dying during the plagues, and who died bravely in the coliseums rather than deny their Lord.
After the barbarian tribes overran Europe, Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture. It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery: Papal edicts in the 16th and 17th centuries decried the practice of slavery and first excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade; Evangelical Christians in England, led by John Wesley and William Wilberforce, put an end to the slave trade in that country. Christians under Wilberforce’s leadership also formed hundreds of societies for helping the poor, the imprisoned, and child laborers chained to machines.
In Europe, Christians challenged the divine claims of kings and successfully fought to establish the rule of law and balance of governmental powers, which made modern democracy possible.
And in America, Christian women stood at the vanguard of the suffrage movement. The great civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians claiming the Scriptures and asserting the glory of the image of God in every human being regardless of race, religion, age or class.
This same devotion to human dignity has led Christians in the last decade to work to end the dehumanizing scourge of human trafficking and sexual slavery, bring compassionate care to AIDS sufferers in Africa, and assist in a myriad of other human rights causes – from providing clean water in developing nations to providing homes for tens of thousands of children orphaned by war, disease and gender discrimination.
Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good. In being true to its own calling, the call to discipleship, the church through service to others can make a profound contribution to the public good.
Good words, right?  And Christians did all of those things down through the ages.  St. Francis not only washed the sores of lepers he also kissed their wounds.  Monks fought against Conquistadors and insisted that Native Americans were humans.  There were movements in every Christian revival and awakening down throughout history to make life better, not only for those who had experienced revival but also for those around them.  The abolition movement grew, in part, out of the 2nd Great Awakening in America.  Martin Luther King Jr. preached the Word of God in the face of evil.  Christians have fought against the modern slave trade.  Christians have sought to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and set the prisoner free.  Christians started schools to teach and hospitals to heal.  Of course others were involved in those good acts too.  Christians can’t take all the credit.
The Manhattan Declaration starts out with Christianity’s finer days.  It skips the dark underside. 
Some have criticized the Declaration saying that some of those who have signed it would have (and maybe did) stand with the segregationists in the 50s and 60s.  I haven’t seen any criticism of the failure of more conservative Christians to care for those with AIDS until they had been hit upside the head a bunch of times by those pointing out that Jesus loves everyone but it is true.  Conservative Christians, some at least, called AIDS God’s retribution on gays.  Then, way too late, they discovered that AIDS in Africa is mostly a heterosexual disease (oops) and got on board. 
So let’s all admit it.  The Declaration was written by sinners.  Hypocrites too.  For going on 25 years now I’ve called the Church Hypocrites Anonymous.  One of the relaxing things about going to worship, if you really believe the Gospel, is that you know everyone should accept you because they are all sinners too.  All are equal in the Church. 
Unfortunately Church members often don’t act that way.  People who called themselves Evangelicals were scandalized when Billy Graham integrated his crusades in the 1950’s.  Other so-called Christians stood at the doors of their churches and refused to let African Americans in to worship in the 1960’s.  To the shame of denominations of most stripes Sunday morning at 11 is still the most segregated hour of the week.  Curiously the Pentecostals overcame this in the early 20th Century.  They didn’t care what color you were.  They just wanted to be sure you spoke in tongues.
And going back to those monks and the dark underside of Christianity, the people the monks fought against called themselves Christians too.  But they were in the Americas to find gold and make money.  Slaves produced more money than free workers.  It was simple economics. 
Through most of the Church’s history (during Christendom) you took your life in your hands if you failed to toe the party line.  There were crusades in the Middle East, yes.  But there was also a crusade in southern France against the Albigensians.  Translating the Bible was, for a while, a capital offense.  So was being Catholic in England for a long time.  And in America.  Being a Puritan in England in the early 17th century could get your ears clipped or your tongue pierced (not a fashion statement) with a stick particularly when you dared to criticize the established church.  And if you were Jewish Holy Week was the worst time of the year because the Christians took note of the “fact” that week that Jews were Christ killers and went off and killed some Jews.  An interesting way to remember the death and resurrection of a Jew named Jesus, wasn’t it?
So let’s all take a look at that list.  We weren’t there for most of it.  We might not risk going to the trash heap at night to rescue a baby or go to the Coliseum for refusing to deny Jesus.  Kissing the sores of lepers would probably gross most of us out.  Caring for those who have AIDS is a long, terrible task.  And fighting slavery seems to be an ongoing problem that may never go away.
I hope I would have the guts to do at least some of the things on that list.
But Christians we need to remember the good times and give glory to God.  We also need to remember the bad times and learn from them.  The second paragraph of the Declaration starts with these words: “While fully acknowledging the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in all ages.”  I think “imperfections and shortcomings” are too mild.  I would prefer sin and evil. 
Anyone who writes a theological and/or ethical statement must always recognize their own sin.  And I would feel comforted if this Declaration also included some form of these words from the Barmen Declaration:
Try the spirits whether they are of God! Prove also the words of the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church to see whether they agree with Holy Scripture and with the Confessions of the Fathers.  If you find that we are speaking contrary to Scripture, then do not listen to us! But if you find that we are taking our stand upon Scripture, then let no fear or temptation keep you from treading with us the path of faith and obedience to the Word of God, in order that God’s people be of one mind upon earth and that we in faith experience what he himself has said: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Therefore, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Voice Actuated Remotes?

I will freely admit that I am one who loves new techno gadgets. I've used a computer since the late 80s and feel lust in my heart when faster computers come available. Not that my current computer isn't fast enough. I just long for the faster.

And I use a fancy cell phone. It not only makes and receives phone calls it also tells me when I am supposed to do something, holds a long list of people, their addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. I could use it to go on the internet but I admit I am too cheap to do so. I also have music and books stored in the thing as well as a copy of Quicken.

But I have limits. The picture here is one of them.. It is a voice actuated remote for use with televisions, dvd players, sound systems, etc. Instead of pressing buttons on the remote you can tell it what you want it to do. You can name the channel you wish to see, turn your various techno items off and on, etc.

I am not quite this lazy. I am willing to pick up a remote and push the buttons. Besides I think this remote will be a source of much conflict within families. You see it can be programmed to recognize 4 different voices. Right now the one who holds the remote is ruler of the television. Image if people started shouting out what they wanted to see but disagreed. Dad wants to watch The Office. Mom wants to see the football game. Son wants to watch MTV. Daughter wants to see 60 minutes. And they all tell the poor remote to change to the channel they want.

Anyway, I refuse to get this thing. You of course may do so at your peril. And no, I am not going to tell you where I found this item online.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


So San Francisco Presbytery has approved Lisa Larges for ordination and allowed her to declare a scruple.  This blog is about why scruples are a bad idea and why I don’t think the action that San Francisco Presbytery has taken will deal with the issue at hand.

It is no secret that I think scruples are a bad idea.  I think they are a 250 year old band aid put on a 35 year old wound.  The old band aid doesn’t promote healing and it is likely to cause infection.

Scruples were brought up by the PUP task force as the answer to the conflict over ordaining sexually active faithful homosexuals.  It was an attempt to promote harmony by saying some sessions and presbyteries will allow scruples on G-6.0106b and some will not.  Anyone who has followed the great homosexual ordination conflict in the PCUSA knew that there would be no harmony.  The rigid stances of those on both sides made that clear.  Frankly I think it would have created a bigger mess.  How would someone ordained with a scruple in one presbytery be allowed to serve, say, a More Light congregation in another presbytery that would not allow the scruple?  By a remedial case, what else?

The task force hoped that people could just sit down and talk and all get along as they had.  But they had three or four years in closed rooms to learn to get along.  The probability that others would form such groups voluntarily was and is fairly low.  (I actually participated in one for two years and discovered I really rather liked and shared most theological convictions with those who disagreed with me.  But no one changed their minds.)  Such coming together in the PCUSA had and has about as much possibility of happening as Rodney King’s plea to Los Angeles in mid riot that people all just get along. 

And yes, a sad part of the problem is that we have been arguing about this for so long that most of the time we don’t even listen to each other anymore.  We all have our programmed talking points and we say them no matter what the opponent says.   

But the arguments used by the task force caused me great concern.  I already didn’t like the idea in general but when two members of the task force, Barbara Wheeler and Mike Loudon argued that the GAPJC should have allowed Walter Kenyon a scruple about ordaining women back in 1975 I became more than a little concerned.  I think ordaining women is an essential and am willing to back that up with theological argument.  And no I don’t think presbyteries and sessions that currently don’t ordain women by stealth should just be given the ability to do so by an Authoritative Interpretation.  I don’t think allowing Kenyon a scruple in 1975 would have caused less conflict.  It would have caused more.

It seems that the GAPJC agreed with me as is evidenced by the Bush v Pittsburgh Presbytery decision.

I don’t think scruples are an adequate answer to the question of ordaining sexually active faithful homosexuals.  If you believe homosexual feelings and marriages are gifts from God then having to declare a scruple about it is shameful.  The right thing to do is work hard to remove G-6.0106b.  If you believe homosexual feelings and marriages are not gifts from God then you are going to vote against such scruples and (yes) bring remedial cases.  Which is about to happen again.

So now we are going to do the judicial dance again.  I think that was foreordained.  If Lisa Larges was allowed a scruple then others in the presbytery were going to file a remedial case.  We all knew that was going to happen. (I’m not sure what would have happened if San Francisco Presbytery had not allowed the scruple.  Maybe someone would have filed a remedial case!)  Calling people names in either direction as is happening doesn’t help the situation.  Frankly given the level of conflict I don’t think it hurts the situation either.  It just is.

I think the GAPJC is going to make a narrow decision in this case as it did last week in both the San Francisco and Twin Cities cases.  Here are some possible narrow decisions:

  1. The GAPJC could declare that Lisa Larges is not allowed to declare a scruple but does not have to do so and may be ordained because she does not currently have a partner, which was in effect the decision in the Twin Cities case.
  2. The GAPJC could declare that Lisa Larges is not allowed to declare a scruple on a required prohibition in the Book of Order and therefore cannot be ordained overruling the AI made at the GA in 2008.  Which of course allows GA 2010 to come up with another AI and we can go through it all again.
  3. The GAPJC could declare that Lisa Larges has not actually declared a scruple and therefore can be ordained.  I know this sounds a bit far fetched but who among us thought that the GAPJC would say that doing a wedding for two people of the same sex and saying it was a wedding was not actually doing a wedding and because it was not a wedding no offense had occurred?  That decision by the GAPJC still has my head spinning.  If you believe God blesses lifelong same sex couples then you probably also find that decision of the GAPJC shameful.
  4. There are probably other options that I can’t think of at the moment.
So here we are.  I suspect that GA 2010 will send an amendment to the presbyteries that either seeks to delete G-6.0106b or change it so that it doesn’t say what it says now.  Whether the presbyteries will approve the change is up in the air.  Personally I think they will turn such a change down again but I’ve been wrong before.  Of course even if the amendment passes that would not prevent presbyteries from refusing ordination to homosexuals with same sex partners.
And it just may be that such an amendment will be approved by the presbyteries before the GAPJC rules in what will again be Naegeli et al v San Francisco Presbytery.  Wouldn’t that be ironic?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Alan semi challenged me to write a blog about Mark Achtemeier’s speech at the Covenant Network’s recent convention.  I wasn’t going to do so.  After all I do actually have a job, a family and other stuff.  But I did read a transcription of Mark’s speech.  This isn’t going to be what Alan expected.  But I think it’s important.

Several Evangelical colleagues have commented on Mark’s speech saying that he made a mistake (well, maybe they weren’t quite that polite) by placing experience over Scripture.  And while I continue to disagree with Mark on the subject of sexual relationships between people of the same sex I think there is an important point here.  That is when we come to reading anything; and for that matter when we come to any event in life we always come as ourselves.

Over the past year or so we have had more and more African immigrants attending Tully Memorial.  I find as I talk with them, at least those who lived in small villages, that they understand the gospels and particularly the parables much better than I do.  I understand the parables through much study.  My friends from Africa understand the parables because the cultural situation in which they grew up was so much like village life in Jesus’ day that the parable is automatically clear to them.

So when I approach the Bible, wanting to understand what it means I take with me a lot of baggage.  Some of that baggage is cultural.  I grew up, for the most part, in New Jersey in the 1950’s and 60’s graduating from high school in 1970.  Believe me; anyone who went through the late 60s in their teens or early twenties was marked by that experience for good or ill.   But on top of that I’m white.  My African American friends’ approach the Bible from a whole different cultural background than I do.  I’m in my late fifties now which gives me a different perspective than I had in my twenties.  The list goes on and on, some things that I know consciously about myself and some things that are in the dark reaches of my unconscious. 

Some of that baggage is theological.  I tried out Bultmann, Altizer and a bunch of other for lack of a better term liberal Biblical scholars and theologians back in the early 70s and ultimately found them spiritually unsatisfying.  I could at this point make all kinds of arguments about why they and others were wrong, and some pretty good arguments too but the fact of the matter is that when I needed a path to God in a time of darkness they provided no help at all to me.  At that time the God described by the Evangelicals – Calvinists, of course – gave me the comfort and hope I needed. 

So while I could say that I think those theologians are wrong, and I do, part of my statement that they are wrong grows not out of my intellect but out of my experience of the love of God when I desperately needed God or better, my experience of God from a particular theological viewpoint.

Now we Calvinists aren’t followers of John Wesley.  (OK everyone now you can say “Duh!”)  What I mean to say is that we don’t accept the Wesleyan quadrilateral that theology grows out of the Bible, Tradition, Reason and Experience.  We Calvinists have looked down our noses at the followers of Wesley over the years saying that Wesley put tradition, reason and experience on a level with the Bible.  That isn’t actually true.  While Wesley held the Bible above the other three he realized that the Bible doesn’t speak about everything and for that matter the Bible has to be interpreted.  We Calvinists have suggested that the Bible stands alone.

But the Bible cannot stand alone for humans.  One of the great truths we have discovered as Modernity has fallen apart is that there is no independent place to stand and observe the world.  Modernity claimed that one was able to approach a subject with objectivity.  At the end of Modernity we have discovered that we always bring our own prejudices to every observation we make. 

So part of what we need are different voices from different cultures reading the Bible to help us all to get the true message and flavor of the Bible.  We shouldn’t abandon the attempt to get the message right.  I don’t want to descend into the form of post Modernity that says we each have our own truths and perspectives and each is true for the individual.  The following two sentences cannot both be true in this world.  Jesus is fully divine and fully human.  There was never a man called Jesus in the Augustinian and Tiberian Roman world that taught and was ultimately crucified.  From a logical point of view both of those sentences may false but both of them cannot be true. 

In any case I think this part of what Mark Achtemeier said is true: our experience colors our reading of Scripture.  And when Mark got to know gay and (possibly) lesbian Christians and discovered that they loved the Lord Jesus and, in some cases, were “better” Christians than he was Mark was faced with what for him was a crisis.  He had believed that gays and lesbians were sick, disordered or willfully sinful people.  Or maybe I should say he didn’t really see them as people.  And his experience drove him back to Scripture asking the question, “How can these people be such wonderful Christian brothers and sisters and sick, disordered or willfully sinful at the same time?  His conclusion was that he had misunderstood Scripture and he was man enough (to use an antiquated phrase from my childhood) to stand up in public and say so knowing full well that he was going to lose friends and be counted as a traitor.  After all, Mark had watched what happened to Jack Rogers when he decided that lifelong same sex relationships that include sexual loving were gifts from God.

So let me be – well probably not the first – to say that I respect Mark Achtemeier.  He is a man of conviction.  He changed his mind and had the guts to say so in public having first counted the cost.

Second and I think this is very important; we all have something important we can learn from Mark.  We all bring our experience – our baggage – to the study of Scripture.  Mark went back and studied Scripture again because his experience did not match what his subculture told him Scripture taught and implied.  I would add to this that none of us can bypass our baggage.  We need to study Scripture together and humbly point out each other’s baggage.  We particularly need to study Scripture with Christians who disagree with us about particular issues as they have much to teach us whether they are right or wrong (or maybe we are both wrong).

Now, what some are waiting for: here is my reaction to what Mark said.  Mark brought a very important point forward, one that I have never heard put quite the way he said it.  “It is not good for the human to be alone.  I will make a helper. . .”  In other words God created us as people who are intended to be in relationship.  As Paul points out, some are created for the single life.  Most of us are created to not just have good friends but to have that one special relationship that is marriage.  God created most of us with sexual desires.  Yes, some deeply desire such a marital relationship and never find it and mourn.  Others in our overly sexualized culture jump from bed to bed and never discover the sense of oneness that can be had with one special partner.  God created most of us to be in lifelong partnerships that celebrate love sexually.

Mark went on point out that some people, a minority certainly, desire to have that one special relationship with someone of their own sex.  They don’t know why they feel that way.  They know that life would be much simpler if they didn’t feel that way.  Many who are Christians sought to pray away or get counseling to drive away those feelings, to become good Christian heterosexuals.  And it just didn’t happen.  Some a minority, to be sure, came to their desires through traumatic experience in childhood: sexual abuse.  Most however don’t know how they came to desire another of their own sex.  And as far as I can tell from reading the scientific literature we should all admit that for now we don’t understand why some desire a lifelong marriage with someone of the opposite sex and others desire a lifelong marriage with someone of the same sex.

Mark raises a good, indeed an agonizing point.  God says, “It is not good that the human should be alone.”  God didn’t say “It is not good that most heterosexuals should be alone but those gays and lesbians are on their own.”  And God is a God of love. 

As far as I can tell from his speech this is what changed Mark Achtemeier’s mind.  And we Evangelicals did to Mark what we did to Jack Rogers and to all who have not toed the party line.  We borrowed from the Amish and shunned them.  Worse, we talked about them in little whispering circles and then in bigger circles and then in print.  Brothers and sisters that is not something we learned from Jesus.  Such shunning and hatred is of the devil.

I freely admit that Mark Achtemeier has caught my emotions.  Who am I to say that I get to be married because I am heterosexual and a wonderful woman (who must also be rather foolish because she loves me) is my wife but someone who desires a similar love with someone of their own sex must go without?  Sorry, there is something wrong with you; you can’t have a lifelong love.  You get to burn with lust but never be fulfilled.  You get to long for married love but never find it.  I can feel what Mark feels.  I cannot go beyond that to feel what homosexuals feel.  I can observe but I cannot see or feel the world as homosexuals do.  I carry my own baggage.

BUT – and it is a large but – Mark didn’t finish the quote from Genesis 2.  God made a helper and at the end of the story there were a man and a woman.  I try to listen to the story the way Mark hears it but I keep tripping over the stone of heterosexuality in the story.  Maybe that is part of my baggage that makes me read the passage in a way that God does not mean for it to be read.  Maybe I’m reading the passage correctly.  Obviously I think I read it correctly or I would either be a man and stand up with Mark or crouch down in a quiet corner and keep my mouth shut.  I hear the story as part of a heterosexual theme in the Bible.  It certainly isn’t the main theme.  But I believe it is there.

Two things I know for sure.  It is time for us Evangelicals to stop hating those who do not walk in lock step saying all the same things to each other.  Jack Rogers is my beloved brother in Christ.  We disagree but we are still one in Christ.  I don’t know Mark Achtemeier very well but he also is my brother in Christ.  We are one in Christ. 

And I have many homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ.  Some will not like what I have said.  Some may be tired of hearing the same old schlock.  Others may be angry or just give up on me.  But we are one in Christ.

And I still need to hear those other voices.  After all a lot of my baggage isn’t from God.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

GAPJC Decisions

I suspect there are some people, including friends of mine who will not like what I have to say here. I’m not going to apologize. This is strictly a Book of Order response to the Lisa Larges and Paul Capetz decisions.

Lisa Larges first. There is no requirement in the Book of Order that candidates for ordination promise to obey all the required parts of the Book of order or that they will take the ordination oath before they get ordained. A presbytery makes its own decisions about who will and who will not be a candidate. San Francisco Presbytery decided to receive Lisa Larges as a candidate. San Francisco Presbytery has not decided to remove her from the role candidates. There was a case in West Jersey Presbytery in which a man either refused to promise that he would not enter a sexual relationship with another man or refused to give up his sexual relationship with his partner. I forget which it was. In any case the GAPJC said that since he was not being ordained the presbytery could not be forced to remove him from the role of candidates.

Further the appropriate time to question candidates to determine their fitness for ordained ministry is during an ordination trial, not when declaring the candidate ready to seek and receive a call. I believe Lisa Larges was not even in the room either before or during the debate as to her readiness to receive a call. If Lisa Larges receives a call (which I understand she has), then it is proper to question her as to her fitness for office.

We Presbyterians do things decently and in order.

The central question is did the GAPJC overturn the Bush vs. Pittsburgh Presbytery decision. It is my understanding that it did not and in fact the GAPJC quoted the Bush decision in the answer. If the Bush decision stands then one would think that the GAPJC, if asked, would not approve the ordination of Lisa Larges. We will only be able to answer the question if and/or when the GAPJC rules on her call.

As to Paul Capetz. As I understand it - and this is not a quote from the GAPJC but rather my observation - he was allowed to again assume the role of a Minister of Word and sacrament for two reasons. First Dr. Capetz does not currently have a sexual partner. Thus he is not in violation of G-6.0106b. Second and, I think more important was his response to a question about whether he would abide by G-6.0106b in the future. His answer was the he would not make a promise to remain celibate. G-6.0106b does not require a MWS to remain celibate. The second sentence requires that a candidate for ordination or installation either be faithful in marriage or chaste in singleness. I know there have been debates about the meaning of the word chaste in this particular sentence but from what I have read Dr. Capetz did not promise to nor was he asked if he would be faithful in marriage to a woman or chaste in singleness. His statement was not about chastity bur rather about celibacy.

The GAPJC spoke to his response. It said that if Dr. Capetz took on a sexual partner who was male (or a female partner with whom he was not married) then a disciplinary case could be filed against him. Thus the GAPJC did not overturn past decisions about obedience to G-6.0106b but rather said that the section did not apply because, as I understand it he did not refuse to obey it. I freely admit I may not have understood all the nuances of the situation.

There is, I think, a question of the continuing validity of the Kenyon and the Suwannee Presbytery (that was the name of the presbytery about which the decision was made; I don’t remember the names of the people involved.) cases. Kenyon said he was unable, because of his conscience to ordain women. The case in Suwanee Presbytery was different and even more curious. A man who was a Baptist sought to join the presbytery but would not say that he believed women should be ordained or that baptizing babies was acceptable. Curiously, despite what he thought, he was willing to ordain women and baptize babies. The GAPJC held that since he was willing to ordain women and baptize babies what he believed didn’t matter. How one can think women shouldn’t be ordained and that babies shouldn’t be baptized and yet ordain women and baptize babies is beyond me but it takes all people to make a world.

In other words the questions at hand is this: when Lisa Larges has her ordination trial (which I believe is going to happen this week) San Francisco Presbytery may vote to accept her scruple about G-6.01106b and then the case will go up the ladder again to the GAPJC and we will see then whether the GAPJC believes the Authoritative Interpretation of 2008 about scruples is legal or not. In the Bush vs. Pittsburgh Presbytery it was clear that theAI recommended to the 2006 GA by the Peace, Unity and Purity Task Force (which was approved by the GA) was not accepted as law by the GAPJC.

I could comment about the curious system that allows both the GA and the GAPJC to make Authoritative Interpretations of the Book of Order but that is another post entirely.

So according to the GAPJC nothing has changed. It even quoted the Bush decision. But if Lisa Larges is approved for ordination by San Francisco Presbytery and there is no rush to ordination as has happened in the past in California then San Francisco Presbytery will most probably again have a remedial case brought against it and the GAPJC will hear a similar case about her once again.

One last note: neither case was actually directly involved Lisa Larges or Paul Capetz. In both situations remedial cases were brought against the presbyteries. So while the cases certainly affected them in neither situation were charges brought against them. Thus is the Presbyterian justice system, such as it is.

We will have to wait and see.

Of course the 2010 GA may bring another amendment to the constitution that would either change or G-6.0106b and a majority of the presbyteries may approve the amendment. Then this whole blog would become superfluous.

Monday, November 2, 2009


All this talk about ordination – and particularly Alan’s comment about serving on a nominating committee got me to thinking.  We Presbyterians – and me maybe more than most – tend to talk about the controversial stuff about nominations and ordinations.  So I’m going to use this blog to talk about some basic but very important stuff about nominations.  If you find it to be first grade nominating committee stuff that’s okay.
So some basic rules:
1.      Nominating committees seek to do the work of God.  The members better take their task seriously.
2.      If you are the pastor you are NOT A MEMBER OF THE NOMINATING COMMITTEE!  That means, if you value your position in the church you serve you do not suggest names to the nominating committee.  After a while people tend to see this as an attempt to manipulate the process; i.e. the pastor trying to get his or her cronies on the session.  This is a very good way to become unemployed.
3.      Nominating someone to serve on the session, the deacons or the trustees is not a good method to encourage someone to start attending worship again.  You will find that a person chosen to serve in the hope that they will start attending worship will attend neither worship nor the meetings of the board.
4.      Being a deacon is not a way to earn your way onto the session.  Being a deacon is a special calling requiring particular skills and traits.  These include compassion, the ability to listen, knowledge of how to serve the poor and other skills and traits listed in the Book of Order.  Being an elder requires a different skill set.  Some elders should never serve as deacons.  Some deacons should never serve as elders.  There are a few saints who can do both.
5.      New members of the congregation, particularly those who have never been Presbyterian before should not be nominated to serve on the session.  Session meetings can be very messy.  Sessions have to talk about difficult subjects.  It can be like making legislation in Congress which is like making sausage.  A new member most probably is not ready to hear some of the stuff said at a session meeting or to observe the process.  On the other hand a new member who has served on the session in another Presbyterian Church may be a great elder bringing experience and an outside viewpoint that the session needs.
6.      Variety is a good thing on the session.  People from different backgrounds, of different racial-ethnic groups and different personalities help a session to make good decisions that are informed. 
7.      Conflict at a session meeting is not necessarily a bad thing.  How the conflict plays itself out, however, is very important.  Having someone (who may or may not be the pastor) who knows how to manage conflict on the session is critical.
8.      A congregation that elects the same old people who have always served on the session time after time will never look at its situation in new ways. 
9.      One of the primary tasks of the session is to tell the pastor when s/he is wrong.  A pastor will discover that at least 90% of the time when the session tells her/him “No” that the session is right.  This is because the members of session, for the most part, have been around a lot longer than the pastor and know where the bodies are buried.  Nominating people who have the courage to tell the pastor s/he is wrong is very important.
10. Never nominate a gossip to serve on the session.  The story spread throughout the community may be your own.
11. People who are nominated to serve are not guaranteed election.  Although rarely used (we don’t want to offend people) the congregation always has the right to nominate people from the floor.  The person nominated from the floor may be elected.  A person who does not understand this process should not be nominated.  Alas the nominating committee usually discovers the person who does not understand the process when the person is not elected gets their feelings hurt and never comes to church again.
12. Anyone who things that these are just practical statements and not theological statements doesn’t understand the Church, theology or human nature.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Conservative Fears in the PCUSA

 This is a rather long winded response to something Alan said in response to me on one of John Shuck's comments pages.  The link to that page is above.  I had commented about Evangelical fears that ultimately we would be required to ordain sexually active homosexuals or we would not be ordained or installed. 

Alan the fear is not that one would be required to vote for a particular candidate for office.  The fear is rather that one will be refused ordination or installation if one does not agree to ordain sexually active homosexuals.

To understand what the slippery slope argument as it pertains to ordination and installation you have to take a look at the history of Fundamentalists and Evangelicals in the PCUSA and the PCUS beginning in the 1920's or more particularly how they read that history. 

In 1920 the Fundamentalists had control over the PCUSA.  At the end of 1929 they didn't even control the seminary which was their flagship: Princeton.  Why and how this happened is terribly important.  The Liberals (this was the word used at the time) didn't have the votes to change anything.  The reason their position ultimately won is because there were Fundamentalists who were not willing to split the denomination.  They valued unity over purity of doctrine.  Charles Erdman is an example of such a Fundamentalist.

This compromise was ultimately reached on the basis of what became a slogan and a way of life in the PCUSA "theology divides, mission unites."  The PCUSA did not resolve its theological differences in the 1920's.  It decided to ignore them.  Jack Rogers contends, and I agree with him, that the present conflicts in the PCUSA are a second fight that is a result of failing to find a central theology against which candidates for office can be measured.

One more important item.  The decision made on who could be ordained was based on a statement by the GA that if it wasn't in the Book of Order (this being a reference to the 5 fundamentals) then you couldn't refuse ordination to someone if he (it was he back then) on the basis of the 5 fundamentals.

Two important things happened in the 1930's.  Neo-Orthodoxy became the core doctrinal position in the PCUSA and provided a new theological center in the PCUSA.  The conflicts of the 1920's were forgotten (although not by the Fundamentalists) as Neo-Orthodoxy became ascendant.  The Fundamentalists thought that even Karl Barth was of the devil.  On the other hand those who continued to fight what had become the status quo were kicked out of the denomination.  Machen was kicked out not for any theological reason but rather because he refused to support the denominational mission agency and started his own.  Instead of theological orthodoxy the denomination made organizational orthodoxy the test for ordination.

The Fundamentalists and later the Evangelicals who remained quietly formed their own educational and mission organizations outside the denomination.  Young Life, Campus Crusade, Intervarsity and other organizations were born as evangelizing agencies and also as educational agencies.  Mission organizations were formed like World Vision.  Finally Evangelical Seminaries were formed like Fuller and Gordon Conwell.  Curiously Evangelicals were being ecumenical!  Their shared beliefs enabled them to reach out across denominational lines to form organizations based on their theology.  What the Evangelicals did was stay in place but form their own organizations parallel to the denominational agencies.  They believed they were shut out of the denominational structure and that they had no power in the denomination.  And Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches were criticized for not supporting the denominational agencies even for using non denominational curriculum.  I got jumped on back in the 1970's for supporting the use of Kerygma and Youth Club materials and methods because they weren't denominational.  Yet both organizations were developed by mainline center oriented Presbyterian seminary professors.

Then theological consensus fell apart in the 1960's.  Ironically just as the Confession of 67, a Neo-Orthodox document, was passed the Neo-Orthodox consensus fell apart with various liberation theologies, process theologies and others taking their place.

Then in the 1970's two things of great importance happened.  Evangelicals coming out of the Jesus movement started to go to seminary and became MWS's in the PCUSA (acutally the UPCUSA then).  They/we went to interdenominational seminaries and mainline seminaries as well.  As the 1980's began Evangelicals had the potential of becoming either a very large minority or maybe even a majority in the PCUSA.  But we were too young.  Our power became greatest in the late 80s and the 1990s.

The second important event was the Kenyon case.  While the Book of Order did not require anyone to ordain women as elders, deacons or MWS's the GAPJC interpreted the Book of Order to say this.  This is the great underlying fear of Evangelicals.  We are afraid that when sexually active homosexuals are allowed to be ordained within 20 years a candidate for ordination or even an already ordained MWS would be required to say s/he would ordain a sexually active homosexual or be denied ordination or a new call.  After all, it's a justice issue, isn't it?  So shouldn't everyone be required to fall in line?  If one congregation refuses to ordain sexually active homosexuals the COM might/will come down on them like a ton of bricks.  This happens in some presbyteries if a congregation doesn't have at least one woman on the session.

Then comes the 1990's.  A large minority on the GAPJC suggest that since there is no prohibition of ordaining sexually active homosexuals in the Book of Order that, despite Authoritative Interpretations, sexually active homosexuals could be ordained.  And thus was born amendment B or G-6.0106b.  The Evangelicals, remembering the 1920s (that the fundamentals could not be used to deny someone ordination because they weren't in the Book of Order) and hearing the minority of the GAPJC decided to put the prohibition in the FoG.

Now a bit of honesty.  In 1996-7 Amendment B would never have passed if it had only denied ordination to sexually active homosexuals.  The amendment was written as it currently reads to pick up votes from the center.  Curiously I think such an amendment that only denied ordination to sexually active homosexuals would have passed back in the late 1970's but it was decided then that an AI was enough.

So we combine several things. First the experience of the Fundamentalists back in the 1920's of losing even though they were the majority based on the fact that the 5 fundamentals were not in the Book of Order.  J. G. Machen got kicked out for opposing the entrenched bureaucracy.   Kenyon was denied ordination because he refused to participate in the ordination of women.  Evangelicals fear that the day will come when one cannot get ordained unless s/he believes that sex between two people of the same gender is blessed by God in a lifelong, committed relationship which ultimately be marriage.   And we don't trust those who say this won't happen because we remember Machen and Kenyon.

And that is where my comment came from.  I'm not worried that I will be forced to vote a certain way.  I vote the way I want, even when I'm the only person saying "No!"  I am concerned that the day will come when someone like me will be denied ordination in the PCUSA because of what I believe.  Or that I won't be able accept a new call because I will be told that promising to obey the Book of Order means that I agree that I will ordain sexually active homosexuals. 

After all, it happened to Kenyon.  Ordination of women became an essential not by denominational vote but by a GAPJC decision.  How do I know that a future GAPJC won't make the same decision about ordaining sexually active homosexuals?

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I was going to write a bit on civil rights and I will but first I had a very curious experience on my way into my own blog.

I've kept up to date all the Norton Internet Security stuff so imagine my surprise when I visited my own blog and was told that it is blocked by Symantec and has been submitted for consideration! Now this is the first piece I've written for a while so I haven't been here recently. But is my blog being used for nefarious purposes?

I'll have to wait and see what Symantec has to say.


I was watching the news tonight and saw stories about the big demonstrations in Washington about civil rights for homosexuals and President Obama's promises to a group of homosexual rights leaders last night. So I got to thinking . . .

The president basically seems to be saying that the economy and health care come before civil rights. I know he didn't say that directly but that seems to be the message. So I have a question. Put aside all disagreements about morality, legality and homosexuality. Let us all agree for the sake of argument that this is a case of civil rights being denied. Do the economy and healthcare come first or do civil rights?

It seems to me that, aside from cases of national emergency (like a civil war or fatal pandemic) that civil rights come first. If H1N1 becomes a real killer I think civil rights like the right of assembly can and should be curtailed if necessary. The right to life comes before the pursuit of happiness or even liberty in my book. No life means no liberty. But if life and severe illness or other national emergency are not in question, if the economy is in the tank - as it is or may be and certainly is for those without jobs - that should not curtail civil rights for anyone.

So if the president is correct, that homosexuals in the military and homosexual marriage are matters of civil rights, then shouldn't the president and congress deal with those first?

Forget whether you agree with the president (or me) for the moment. What is more important: civil rights or the economy? Civil rights or health care?

Pastor Bob

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wedding Liturgy and Christian Marriage

I sent the following to the Civil Union and Christian Marriage Committee

As I prepared to do a wedding a few weeks ago I was struck by the theology in the Statement of the Gift of Marriage and thought of your work as a committee. The Statement reads:

We gather in the presence of God to give thanks for the gift of marriage, to witness the joining together of N. and N., to surround them with our prayers, and to ask God's blessing upon them, so that they may be strengthened for their life together and nurtured in their love for God.

God created us male and female, and gave us marriage so that husband and wife may help and comfort each other, living faithfully together in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, throughout all their days.

God gave us marriage for the full expression of the love between a man and a woman. In marriage a woman and a man belong to each other, and with affection and tenderness freely give themselves to each other.

God gave us marriage for the well-being of human society, for the ordering of family life, and for the birth and nurture of children.

God gave us marriage as a holy mystery in which a man and a woman are joined together, and become one, just as Christ is one with the church.

In marriage, husband and wife are called to a new way of life, created, ordered, and blessed by God. This way of life must not be entered into carelessly, or from selfish motives, but responsibly, and prayerfully.

We rejoice that marriage is given by God, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, let marriage be held in honor by all.

Please notice the theological statements about man and woman and marriage. The Statement says that God created us male and female and relates marriage to that act of creation. The statement reflects the second creation story in Genesis. The Statement says, indirectly, that sexual expression is a gift from God to be celebrated with marriage between a man and a woman. The giving of the self to the other, the man to the woman and the woman to the man of course includes more than sexual expression.

Marriage, the statement says, is given for the ordering of human society. This includes the birth and nurture of children but also, again indirectly, speaks against the sexual disorder of society in which people live together without being married. While not a direct reference one can hear in this a passage from C-67:

The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind. Anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of man’s alienation from God, his neighbor, and himself. Man’s perennial confusion about the meaning of sex has been aggravated in our day by the availability of new means for birth control and the treatment of infection, by the pressures of urbanization, by the exploitation of sexual symbols in mass communication, and by world overpopulation. The church, as the household of God, is called to lead men out of this alienation into the responsible freedom of the new life in Christ. Reconciled to God, each person has joy in and respect for his own humanity and that of other persons; a man and woman are enabled to marry, to commit themselves to a mutually shared life, and to respond to each other in sensitive and lifelong concern; parents receive the grace to care for children in love and to nurture their individuality. 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.

Since 1967 this anarchy has gotten significantly worse with teenagers and young adults (and many in middle age and older) treating sexuality as only a means for pleasure and not as a commitment. Marriage, as the statement says, is intended for the ordering of family life, and I would suggest that this means with or without children.

The Statement says that marriage joins the man and the woman and they become one and points to the marriage of Christ and the Church.

Nowhere in the statement is there any suggestion that marriage can be between two people of the same sex. Nowhere does it suggest that living together, whether in a heterosexual relationship or a homosexual relationship, carries the same deep unity that God intends for a man and a woman brought together in marriage.

Of course neither the Statement on the Gift of Marriage nor the quote from C-67 is scripture. But they do pick up and point to Biblical themes. God creates humans male and female. Sexual behavior is to be expressed only within marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman points to the coming revelation of Christ’s marriage to the Church. Nowhere in Scripture or the Confessions is there any suggestion that sexual expression outside of marriage or a civil union or marriage between two persons of the same sex is acceptable to God. Instead such sexual behavior, whether long term or short, is condemned in Scripture and Confessions.

Liturgy reflects theology. The marriage liturgy says what the Church believes about marriage.

You have a very difficult task. The denomination has wrestled with the questions you study for decades. I urge you to retain the present definition of marriage as reflected in Scripture, Confessions and liturgy so that the Church may continue to stand against the sexual anarchy of our times.