Dispassionate Meditations on Mass Shootings (5)

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Video screenshots from the Yahoo News story “Beto O’Rourke says Trump ‘is in large part to blame’ for El Paso shooting”

Is President Trump Responsible for Recent Mass Shootings?

The Democrat Party has decided to blame President Trump for the recent El Paso mass shooting, with Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke as their primary spokesman.  Their “case” against the President is that the manifesto allegedly published by the shooter uses words that have also been used by the President.  In particular the word “invasion” as applied to mass illegal immigration at our southern border.

You don’t need to dig far to find manifesto text that counters this thin reed of logic.  In particular, this insane, evil person specifically rejected the idea that his deeds were tied to President Trump.  Note also that the shooter also disavows potential blame of “certain presidential candidates” for his actions, which can only refer at this point to Democrat candidates.

Crusius ended the manifesto by saying he expected to be killed in the attack he would allegedly carry out on Saturday. As it turned out, the shooter was not, and he is now behind bars, charged with killing 22 people and wounding 26 others. He said his actions would be misunderstood as being tied to Trump.

“My ideology has not changed for several years,” Crusius wrote. “My opinions on automation, immigration, and the rest predate Trump and his campaign for president. I [am] putting this here because some people will blame the President or certain presidential candidates for the attack. This is not the case. I know that the media will probably call me a white supremacist anyway and blame Trump’s rhetoric. The media is infamous for fake news. Their reaction to this attack will likely just confirm that.”

That was the only time Trump appeared in the manifesto, and it appears clear that Crusius borrowed his “fake news” characterization of the news media from the president. But that is not what Trump’s critics have charged. They have charged that Trump inspired Crusius to kill. They have charged it so often in the last few days that it has hardened into a general perception that Crusius was inspired by the president. But read the manifesto. It’s just not there.

*The word “invasion” has been used in connection with illegal immigration since long before the president ran for office. In the 1990s, for example, the state of California unsuccessfully sued the federal government, claiming the government did not protect states from an “invasion” of illegal immigrants. In 2010, the state of Arizona also unsuccessfully challenged the federal government over a similar “invasion.” The word was also used, well before Trump, in general commentary, usually by those who sought to restrict immigration levels into the United States. And more generally, too: Bobby Jindal, the son of immigrants and governor of Louisiana who ended his 2016 presidential campaign with a bitter attack on Trump, used to say that “immigration without assimilation is invasion.”

Why would the vile, evil killer mention Democrat candidates in his comments?  Probably because he uses the same eco-dystopian future ideas as numerous of them.

After all, these misanthropic ideas, this green miserabilism, this anti-modern guff about humanity being a plague on poor Mother Earth, is a central feature of the El Paso killer’s manifesto. And if Trump can be held responsible for the shootings on the basis that the manifesto echoes his Mexican-bashing, why shouldn’t greens, who pollute public debate with the kind of anti-humanist ideology that clearly moved and enraged the El Paso murderer, shoulder some responsibility, too?  …

… In his alleged manifesto, the killer, alongside his racist rants about Hispanic people and the ‘replacement’ of whites, attacks modern society for being eco-unfriendly. Westerners’ lifestyles are ‘destroying the environment’ and ‘creating a massive burden for future generations’, he says. He seems obsessed with the core element of green thinking – the idea that mankind is overusing limited natural resources. We are ‘shamelessly overharvesting resources’, apparently.

As with green ideology in general, there is a strong streak of anti-humanism in his eco-obsessions. He attacks ‘urban sprawl’ – also known as human habitation – and the way it ‘destroys millions of acres of land’. As for ‘consumer culture’ with its production of ‘thousands of tonnes of unnecessary plastic waste and electronic waste’ – he slams that as another part of humankind’s ‘decimation of our environment’. The solution? Surprise, surprise: population control. Echoing the numerous eco-Malthusians who have spent decades calling for a restrictions on human natality in order to save the planet, he says we need to ‘decrease the number of people in America using resources’.   …

… somehow in recent years, this backward, anti-modern obsession with cleansing nature of foul mankind’s uncaring, destructive behaviour has morphed into a supposedly progressive, leftish outlook. And it is now utterly mainstream, being promoted by virtually every public and political institution.

Also, were the Democrats to apply their supposed logic consistently then they would have to blame Elizabeth Warren for the Dayton Ohio mass shooting.  In fact, the case is much stronger.  Here’s what the Dayton shooter allegedly had to say.

Heavy.com got access to the shooter’s social media. Contrary to the media narrative currently boiling over, this shooter was not a Trump fan. In fact, he hated Trump, hated Republicans, was an avowed leftist, used antifa style language in his posts, and loved Elizabeth Warren. …

He used language often used by Antifa, exclaiming that he wants to “kill every fascist.” He also liked and commented on posts expressing support for the group.

“#2016ElectionIn3Words This is bad,” he wrote on Nov. 8, 2016. “You can’t kill 50+ people and injure 600(!) In 10 minutes with cigarettes my dude,” he wrote in 2017. In response to a Buzzfeed story that read, “Virginia has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the “Unite the Right” rally anniversary in Charlottesville this weekend,” he wrote: “Kill every fascist.

Betts was a politically active socialist who supported Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

On the Twitter page, Connor Betts indicated he’d vote for Elizabeth Warren for president but not Kamala Harris, responding to a person’s tweet suggesting they be co-presidents. “Nahh, but only cuz Harris is a cop – Warren I’d happily vote for,” he wrote.

I don’t recall a single Democrat or MSM source drawing attention to this information in an accusatory manner with regard to Mrs. Warren.

Finally, recall from this previous post that the significant increase in mass shootings began and continued under President Obama.  What’s going on now is just the continuation of a process rather than something new under the Trump administration.  Were it my goal to “blame” President Obama for the significant increase in mass shootings that occurred on his watch I could dig up many quotes in support.  But that isn’t my goal. Yes, President Obama said many things that I believe to have coarsened our political dialogue and caused social turmoil.  However, I don’t blame him for the mass shootings that occurred during his Presidency, nor should anyone else.

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If you blame President Trump but bestow innocence upon President Obama and the current crop of Democrat candidates then you are engaging in divisive politics.

But we should rather be looking at ourselves, at the culture and values that we have embraced for answers, not convenient scape-goats be they be Democrat or Republican presidents or candidates.

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Dispassionate Meditations on Mass Shootings (4)

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The Lott study results (right) contradict the Lankford results…why?

Does the United States Have the Most Mass Shootings (2)?

Lankford’s Credibility Challenged

Given the publicity given to the Lankford study it was certain that attempts to review and replicate the results would be made.  However, from the beginning of this coverage in 2016 to well into 2019 Dr. Lankford absolutely refused to release the data upon which his conclusions rested or to engage in substantive dialogue with other researchers.  Therefore, anyone attempting to assess his results was completely on their own.  And, given Lankford’s striking and highly publicized results, John R. Lott, Jr., President of the Crime Prevention Research Center took on the challenge.

Given the previously discussed uncertainty about terms and definitions combined with Lankford’s refusal to share his definition or data, the Lott study used a widely accepted definition of “mass shooting.”  The following definition was used by the Congressional Research Service in their 2015 study titled “Mass Murder with Firearms: Incidents and Victims, 1999-2013,” which is similar to that used by Mother Jones.

… a “mass shooting” could be defined as a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms—not including the offender(s)—within one event, and in one or more locations relatively near one another.

Using this definition and a comprehensive review of foreign news sources (including non-English language sources), the Lott study came to a contradictory conclusion, that being (emphasis added):

Lankford’s study reported that from 1966 to 2012, there were 90 public mass shooters in the United States and 202 in the rest of world. We find that Lankford’s data represent a gross undercount of foreign attacks. Our list contains 1,448 attacks and at least 3,081 shooters outside the United States over just the last 15 years of the period that Lankford examined. We find at least fifteen times more mass public shooters than Lankford in less than a third the number of years.

Coding these events sometimes involves subjectivity. But even when we use coding choices that are most charitable to Lankford, his 31 percent estimate of the US’s share of world mass public shooters is cut by over 95 percent. By our count, the US makes up less than 1.43% of the mass public shooters, 2.11% of their murders, and 2.88% of their attacks. All these are much less than the US’s 4.6% share of the world population. Attacks in the US are not only less frequent than other countries, they are also much less deadly on average.

Lankford Finally Responds

After almost three years of stonewalling by this public academic, Lankford finally respond to his critics and released his data in March of 2019.  He did so by publishing a paper titled “Confirmation That the United States Has Six Times Its Global Share of Public Mass Shooters, Courtesy of Lott and Moody’s Data.”  Though Lankford spun this paper as a devastating rebuttal of Lott’s work, in reality it amounted to an admission of professional malpractice (if not worse).

It turns out that Lankford had, without disclosure, limited his study to include only mass shooters who “acted alone.”  As was discussed in the previous post, the only definition that assumes a single perpetrator is that for an “active shooter,” and even there the FBI had extended it to include multiple shooters.  Even more devastating to Lankford’s position is the fact that he led his original paper using the 1999 Columbine attack which had two shooters.

One is also left to wonder why, if Lankford had such an easily available “devastating” riposte to Lott’s work, he waited so ling to respond.  The most likely answer is that Lankford had pulled a definitional trick in order to place the United States in a bad light.  For, by supposedly limiting (though he was not consistent, see above Columbine example) his study to lone active shooters Lankford was able to manufacture a statistic that appeared to show the United States to be a “mass shooter” negative outlier.

In order to better appreciate the gravity of this apparent deception, ask yourself if you would rather go to a nation that had 1.57 mass shooter attacks per 100,000 people (Northern Mariana Islands) or 0.015 (the United States)?  Would you really care if you were murdered in an event with only one person doing the mass shooting?  Of course not!

It is for this reason that Lankford most likely refused to explain his definitions, share details of his methodology or publish his data for almost three years.  Only when the pressure to explain himself became overwhelming did he finally come clean; and then in a manner that attempted to hide his malpractice behind a fog of accusations.

Lankford’s Open Admission of Bias

Lankford in his original paper made it absolutely clear that he was a deeply biased source.  Following is the first paragraph from his original paper (emphasis added, see end of post for information on H. Rap Brown).

Are public mass shooters predominantly an American problem? For years, people have wondered whether the dark side of American exceptionalism is a cultural propensity for violence. Political activist H. Rap Brown once claimed that “Violence is a part of America’s culture. It is as American as cherry pie” (Lehman, 2014). Similarly, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Richard Hofstadter (1970b) concluded that the most notable thing “about American violence is its extraordinary frequency, its sheer commonplaceness in our history, its persistence into very recent and contemporary times, and its rather abrupt contrast with our pretensions to singular national virtue” (p. 7). Although United States history includes the killing of indigenous people, a revolutionary war, a civil war, many foreign wars, slavery, race riots, domestic terrorism, and high rates of homicide, perhaps no form of violence is seen as more uniquely American than public mass shootings.

This appears to be the work of a man on a mission to denigrate and discredit the United States.  I have read hundreds of research papers in my lifetime.  No researcher who desired to maintain a posture of disinterested inquiry would ever start a paper in this manner.  However, if your goal were to catch the eye of like-minded politicians and media organizations then this is an excellent opening paragraph.

Thus, this situation appears to be a glaring example of how a supposedly disinterested academic can distort research to support a predetermined outcome due to their personal bias.



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H. Rap Brown: “I say violence is necessary.  It is as American as cherry pie.”

H. Rap Brown:

Rejecting the prosecution’s call for a death sentence, a jury sentenced the former ’60s radical known as H. Rap Brown to life in prison for killing a sheriff’s deputy in a shootout two years ago.
The jury deliberated for about five hours before deciding Wednesday to spare the life of the Muslim cleric now called Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. He will not have a chance at parole.

So, a supposedly disinterested, public spirited criminology professor quoted a convicted murderer and Black Panther Party member as a credible source on the nature of violence in the United States.  This would be amazing had I not lived through the past ten or so years.

Dispassionate Meditations on Mass Shootings (3)

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The Lankford study … is it credible?

Does the United States Have the Most Mass Shootings (1)?

In the previous post I confirmed that the incidents and associated death toll of mass shootings in the United States is on a precipitous increase.  Since we live here this turn of events is at top of mind (e.g., note the recent Times Square panic).  And, since most of our news is about the United States it’s not unreasonable to fear that there is something uniquely wrong here, resulting in a higher incidence of mass shootings than occur elsewhere in the world.

So, when an academic study by Adan Lankford  (University of Alabama) was published showing that the United States is indeed unique (in a bad way), many people’s emotional response was confirmation of their worst fears.  And, since that study was cited by major media organizations and politicians the presumed credibility of these results was confirmed.

But there was something strange about this study.  It turned out that Dr. Lankford’s paper was vague/inconsistent about key issues like definitions and methodology.  He also refused to release the data set upon which his conclusions were based.  This behavior is extremely odd for an academic who speaks on key public policy issues.  The generally expected behavior is clarity on definitions and methodology and complete transparency on the data set.  In this way other researchers have the opportunity to replicate or challenge the findings.

For example, the New York Times story based on the Lankford paper consistently refers to “mass shootings” as the topic under study.  Lankford’s paper uses multiple terms interchangeably, such as “mass shooters,” “rampage shooters” and “active shooters.”  The Lankford paper’s title uses the term “Mass Shooters.”  The New York Times article uses the term “mass shooting” twenty-four times but never mentions “active shooter.”

The definition of a “mass shooting” is uncertain and highly variable as discussed by the Washington Post.

But “mass shooting” is a term without a universally-accepted definition, which complicates news coverage of events such as Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas.  …

The FBI does not officially define “mass shooting” and does not use the term in Uniform Crime Report records. In the 1980s, the FBI established a definition for “mass murder” as “four or more victims slain, in one event, in one location,” and the offender is not included in the victim count if the shooter committed suicide or was killed in a justifiable homicide, according to a Congressional Research Service report detailing the definitions.

After the 2012 shootings in Newtown, Conn., Congress defined “mass killings” to mean “three or more killings in a single incident.” Some media outlets and researchers still use the four-fatality definition, and have adopted the CRS definitions of “mass shooting” and “mass public shooting.” Other researchers include injuries in the victim count. Some researchers include acts of terrorism, drug deals gone wrong or gang conflict in their research. Others don’t.

Some media reports, such as those of our Wonkblog colleagues, and advocates use a broader definition used by the Mass Shooting Tracker maintained via Reddit, an online forum. In this case, mass shootings are incidents in which four or more people, including the gunman, are killed or injured by gunfire. By this count, the San Bernardino shooting is the 355th mass shooting this year. (In comparison, CRS counted 317 mass shooting incidents from 1999 to 2013.)

Note that none of these definitions place a limit on the number of shooters.  And, the San Bernardino incident in which there were two shooters is explicitly included under any definition of a “mass shooting.”  This distinction is, as we will see, central to assessment of Lankford’s results.

Well into the Lankford paper a definition for the data utilized is provided (emphasis added):

Data for this study were drawn first from the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) 2012 Active Shooter report. This report employs the Department of Homeland Security’s definition of “active shooter”: “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area” (Kelly 2012, p. 1). More commonly, these offenders are referred to as rampage shooters or public mass shooters. According to the formal definition, their attacks must have (a) involved a firearm, (b) appeared to have struck random strangers or bystanders and not only specific targets, and (c) not occurred solely in domestic settings or have been primarily gang-related, drive-by shootings, hostage-taking incidents, or robberies (Kelly, 2012). For this study, attackers who struck outdoors were Public Mass Shooters and Firearms included; attackers who committed sponsored acts of genocide or terrorism were not. This is consistent with the criteria employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in its 2014 active shooter report (Blair & Schweit, 2014).

It turns out that even the FBI acknowledges that the definition of an “active shooter” is uncertain and open to interpretation (emphasis added).

The agreed-upon definition of an active shooter by U.S. government agencies … is “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” Implicit in this definition is that the subject’s criminal actions involve the use of firearms. For purposes of its study, the FBI extended this definition to include individuals, because some incidents involved two or more shooters. Though the federal definition includes the word “confined,” the FBI excluded this word in its study, as the term confined could omit incidents that occurred outside a building. Whether inside or out, these incidents still posed a threat to both law enforcement and the citizens they seek to protect.

So, what we have is a confused situation in which terms with varying definitions are used interchangeably by the paper’s author (Lankford), with the term “mass shooting” used in the paper’s title and “mass shooting” used exclusively by the New York Times in its article based on this paper.

The consequences of this confusion and the author’s complete refusal to answer questions or simply share his data set significantly complicated the process of review and replication that normally occurs for academic research results.

This assessment continues with the next post.

Dispassionate Meditations on Mass Shootings (2)

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Here’s an example of the significant differences between three sources on mass shootings: (1) Mass Shooting Tracker, (2) Mother Jones and (3) the FBI.

Is the Occurrence of Mass Shootings Increasing?

This question seems ridiculous given that last Saturday the United States experienced two mass shootings within a 14-hour period.  Certainly this was a shocking turn of events that has left us all reeling.  But it turns out that this question is more difficult to answer than our emotions would suggest.

The header figure for this post was chosen to make this point.  It shows data on mass shootings in the United States from three information sources, those being: (1) Mass Shooting Tracker, (2) Mother Jones and (3) the FBI.  Note that for the year 2013 (the only year for which data is available from all three sources) the number of mass shooting events are 363, 5 and 17!  The number of deaths and injuries all varies widely across these three sources.  Also, no trend in number of events, deaths or injuries is apparent in any of these sources.

The primary reasons for this huge variation across sources are determined by the methodology and definitions used.  For example, the Mass Shooting Tracker uses a crowd source (use of information contributed by the general public, often via the Internet and without compensation) methodology and a broad definition for mass shootings.  Mother Jones and the FBI use much narrower definitions (but not identical) for mass shooting and the data is collected and validated by that organization.  While there are cases for which crowd sourced data is credible, the uncontrolled nature of this methodology isn’t a good match for mass shootings.

Since Mother Jones* has the longest time span (1982 to 2019), a consistent definition and centrally managed methodology I will focus on their data.  There are many ways to display data of this type.  The following figure shows two key aspects of the mass shooting data, those being number of events and number of deaths per year.

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Mother Jones data through June 2016: Each rectangle is an individual mass shooting event and the height of each rectangle is the number of deaths for that event.

It’s easier to identify trends if we plot the number of annual events and number of deaths separately, as shown in the following two figures.  For each figure I have included the fifth-order polynomial best (least squares) fit curve to highlight the underlying data trend (dashed line).

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Mother Jones data: 1982 – 2018

The trend line clearly shows the number of mass shooting events began to rise significantly starting approximately in 2009.  Note that this rising trend continues through the last full year of 2018.

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Mother Jones data: 1982 – 2018

The trend line clearly shows the number of mass shooting deaths began to rise significantly starting approximately in 2007.  Note that this rising trend continues through the last full year of 2018.

These results indicate that our perception of significantly increased events and deaths due to mass shootings is backed up by the available data.  Of course the Mother Jones data set isn’t perfect (nor is any other).  However I’m satisfied that it is sufficient to accurately identify the trends associated with this tragic situation.


* Comment on credibility criteria

Some readers may wonder why I’m using mass shooting data from a very Progressive organization.  After all, a primary theme of this blog is severe criticism of Progressivism. There’s no doubt that I strongly disagree with Mother Jones on interpretation of events and policy positions.  However, all this doesn’t necessarily mean that Mother Jones’ mass shooting data itself is tainted.  In fact, based on their methodology, definitions and transparency I’m comfortable using their data.

Mother Jones has clearly communicated their definitions and methodology for identifying and cataloguing mass shooting events.  Of absolute critical importance, they are also completely transparent with respect to the results.  I or anyone else can access their entire data set and evaluate it for consistency, accuracy and completeness.  This implies they are making a good faith effort to generate useful information in this critical area.

Finally, I note that if anything the Mother Jones data is conservative even when compared to the FBI data (see the above figure).  Were they attempting to bias their data to accentuate the number of mass shootings I very much doubt that this result would have occurred.

Note that the credibility of any data source will be severely compromised if these conditions are not met.

The Disappearing PCUSA: 2018 Data (5)

Explaining How Existing Members and Churches were Driven Out of the PCUSA

Note: This is an unusually long post, but by necessity to explain this root cause of the PCUSA’s debacle.

It appears that a few years of surface quiet were experienced between 2002 and 2006.  However, behind the scenes the PCUSA national leadership must have been preparing for the coup that occurred at the 2006 General Assembly.  An informative report by David and Tim Bayly on this event follows.

Even more troubling to us is the approval of the so-called Peace, Unity, and Purity (PUP) Report, which, for the first time in our denomination’s history, allows local congregations and regional governing bodies to ordain as ministers, elders, and deacons people who refuse to accept or obey requirements for ordination established by the denomination’s constitution, if they convince the ordaining body that they can nonetheless serve. While this refusal to comply may apply to any requirement, the issue has been primarily focused on and driven by the question of ordaining practicing and unrepentant homosexual candidates…

A number of years ago our denomination’s constitution was amended to limit ordination to those who are faithful in marriage, which is between one man and one woman, or chaste in singleness. This wording was approved by a majority of the regional bodies, and re-approved twice by larger majorities each time. At the time it was added it was not a new limitation, but made explicit an understanding that had historically been practiced within the denomination (and for that matter in nearly all Christian denominations).

What made the PUP Report unconscionable was that it amends the denominational constitution by an unconstitutional process. It by-passed the regional bodies whose approval is required by the constitution itself. It is as though the U. S. Constitution were to be amended by a simple majority vote of Congress, by-passing the states. Advocates of the ordination of ineligible people, unable to change the constitution, proposed to “interpret” it by altering the meaning of the phrase “shall not” so that it from now on it means “may.” A prohibition was changed by interpretation into permission, because the advocates of change could not muster the votes to pass an amendment.

Lest you assume that this is a biased report, here is a contemporaneous report on the same General Assembly by NBC News. 

Like other mainline Protestant groups, Presbyterians have been debating for decades how they should interpret Scripture on salvation, truth, sexuality and other issues.

But tensions erupted after a June 2006 meeting, when delegates granted new leeway in some cases for congregations and regional presbyteries to sidestep a church requirement that clergy and lay officers limit sex to man-woman marriage.

The “delegates” in this quote are those to the General Assembly.  Thus, it is the General Assembly, acting alone, that granted the “new leeway” to local congregations and Presbyteries.

The General Assembly continued down the path of democratic nullification in 2008, where numerous additional steps were taken.  This article lays out what occurred.

… the denomination then turned to the issue of standards for ordination. The language to be replaced requires that all ministers of the church must live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” That language, consistent with Scripture and Christian tradition, is to be replaced with a new standard that would require nothing at all with reference to sexual integrity.  The new wording would read:

“Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation, pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation and establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.”

The proposed amendment to the standards now moves to the denomination’s 173 regional units (presbyteries) where it must receive sufficient support. Similar efforts have failed in the past, but many believe that this proposal will be difficult to defeat. The defection of many conservatives from the denomination (and some churches as well) may weaken the opposition.

Nevertheless, even without the change in the standard, local presbyteries may well move to ordain active homosexuals anyway. The Associated Press explains how:

“Of equal importance to advocates on both side of the debate, the assembly also voted to allow gay and lesbian candidates for ordination to conscientiously object to the existing standard. Local presbyteries and church councils that approve ordinations would consider such requests on a case-by-case basis.

That vote was an “an authoritative interpretation” of the church constitution rather than a change to it, so it goes into effect immediately. The interpretation supersedes a ruling from the church’s high court, issued in February, that said there were no exceptions to the so-called “fidelity and chastity” requirement.”

The “standards for ordination” change would require further action by the next General Assembly to be fully accepted.  The “authoritative interpretation” did not requite Presbytery approval to go into effect.  Thus, “consent of the governed” had been in effect nullified.  That is, regardless of how the Presbyteries voted, the PCUSA had enabled ordination of practicing homosexuals.

By these General Assembly actions the PCUSA was flipped from a denomination that rejected demands to align theology and policy with contemporary sexual liberation ideology to one that had lost it’s will to resist.  This result was obtained by two distinct but related mechanisms, those being:

  1. by making it absolutely clear that the demanded policies would be implemented by illegitimate means, it encouraged those members and churches who formed the core of the resistance to leave the denomination
  2. those in opposition who still remained were so demoralized that many gave up and retreated into passivity.

Thus, between 2008 and 2011 the Progressive camp was able to achieve their demanded ends in a denomination that had effectively resisted them for decades.

As explicit standards on blocking homosexual ordination [are] starting to disappear, the General Assembly finally voted to approve of the ordination of … gays and lesbians on July 8, 2010 by a vote of 373 to 323. This new amendment was ratified on May 10, 2011. Approximately 19 presbyteries that voted against the issue in 2008-2009 switched to “yes” votes, including conservative areas, like northern Alabama. Some that resisted the issue in the past felt that gay/lesbian ordination was “inevitable” in any case. 

The approval of gay/lesbian ordination upset conservative members, with some leaving to join more conservative denominations, like the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, which formed less than year after the new amendment was ratified.

This is political nullification posing as a legitimate process.  Once this coup became successful it was virtually certain that Progressives would achieve dominance as orthodox members and churches fled what had become an overtly corrupt denomination.

Note in the following figure that it is after 2006 that the number of members and churches exiting the denomination began to significantly increase.  Were our leadership not corrupt (or utterly incompetent, a perhaps more charitable but unlikely explanation) they would have easily recognized that the denomination was nearing a debacle between 2006 and 2011.

However, they likely viewed this situation as positive since it guaranteed eventual Progressive political dominance.  What we know for certain is that they used the diminishing presence of orthodox Christians to obtain approval of gay ordination in 2010, thus driving the denomination from danger into outright debacle.

Debacle-Data-Print

Stages of the Debacle:  In the General Decline period membership loss was increasing but few if any churches were dismissed.  In the Danger Warning period membership continued to decrease but now churches were being dismissed at a much higher rate.  In the Debacle period both membership and dismissed churches went off a cliff and remained at unprecedented levels.

The current Progressive leadership doesn’t want us to know about these dirty dealings.  While they may avoid accountability they shouldn’t be allowed to avoid the shame of their conduct.

The Disappearing PCUSA: 2018 Data (4)

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For at least twenty-one consecutive years fewer people joined the PCUSA than in the previous year.  Not a single church has joined the PCUSA since 2010.  And yet our leadership prattles on about “improvement” and “welcoming” and “inclusion.”  Can this be explained? 

Explaining Fewer New Members Each Year for at Least 21 Consecutive Years

Our current leadership openly admits that the reasons for the PCUSA’s devastating decline.

The larger losses between 2012 and 2016 were brought on by … the 2010 General Assembly voted to allow the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as church officers and the 2014 Assembly voted to allow same-gender marriage.

Why haven’t gays and other Progressives flocked into the PCUSA? 

To begin, Progressives (or also called Liberals) are generally less religious than are Conservatives or Moderates.  The Pew Research Center has generated relevant data in support of this statement, as shown in the following figure.

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Note that as we move from Conservative through Moderate to Liberal political ideology the percentage who “Believe in God, absolutely certain” falls from 78% to 59% and 45%, respectively.  Note also that the group who “Don’t know” their political ideology are more religious (at 65% absolutely certain) than are Liberals and Moderates.

Thus effect is magnified by the fact that while Liberals are shown by Pew to comprise only 24% of the U.S. population, Conservatives, Moderates and Don’t Knows are 36%, 33% and 7% respectively.  Thus, Conservatives, Moderates and Don’t Knows outnumber Liberals by a ratio of more than 3 to 1 (i.e., 76% to 24%).  If we use the “Believe in God, absotely certain” as the group most likely to join a church and then scale this data for each ideology by their percentage of the population we find that the Conservative plus Moderate plus Don’t Know population pool is 4.8 times larger than is the Liberal pool.

Thus, the PCUSA has chosen to tailor its theology and policies to the preferences of a very small cohort in the U.S. population.  The technical name for this strategy is “boutique,” or an organization that is by design small and fashionable.  This is a strange strategy for a denomination that claims to be pursuing maximum inclusiveness.

But, since the PCUSA has become so “inviting” to “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people” why haven’t they flocked into the denomination?  While it may be true that this group will find a denomination like the PCUSA more inviting, it is also very likely they understand that Christianity as practiced by the vast majority in the U.S. and the world doesn’t affirm their lifestyle.

The following figure shows that only a tiny fraction of Christians in the United States belong to a denomination that allows same-gender marriage.  Thus, the fact that a few small and quickly declining denominations have been taken over by radical Progressives does little to offset the position of the vast majority of Christians.  Were the same analysis conducted on a worldwide basis the results would be even more lopsided.

Gay-Marriage-US-Denom

All U.S. denomination membership (left) compared to membership of denominations that support gay marriage (right).  Also note that membership of the denominations allowing gay marriage are declining relative to many of those which don’t.

Of course, were the PCUSA in the right on these issues then they should be pursued regardless of the impact on membership.  However, my research and analysis has shown that the PCUSA leadership has utterly failed to meet even the lowest standard of Biblical and Confessional justification.

Thus we have a leadership that has driven the denomination into a debacle in pursuit of a losing strategy that has no credible justification within the context of Christianity.  This situation constitutes one key ingredient of a debacle — the failure to draw in new members.

The Disappearing PCUSA: 2018 Data (3)

Selected Updated Charts

Although I have in previous years published a large number of charts, this year I will be more selective.  The goal is to prevent data overload while supporting my primary message from the previous two posts. Recall that the PCUSA has been in existence since 1983, so this is the farthest back in time that data can go.

While total membership change is useful, percentage change is a more accurate metric.  This is true because as a group shrinks in membership the same absolute loss becomes a higher percentage loss.  For example, a loss of 10 from a group of 100 is 10%.  But that same loss of 10 from a group of 50 is 20%.  Since the PCUSA is a quickly shrinking denomination we need to account for this effect by calculating annual membership loss as a percentage of the previous year’s total membership.  This metric is shown in the following figure.

PCUSA-Percent-Mbr-2018

Note that in 2011 this metric fell below the 3% annual loss level and hasn’t yet recovered.  In fact, for the past seven consecutive years percentage membership loss has been well below 4%.  So, the fact that in 2018 there was a small improvement doesn’t support the conclusion that things are getting better.  Quite the opposite, as we remain in a state of historically unprecedented membership loss.

I have come to call the following figure a “fingerprint” because it combines both key metrics (i.e., membership loss and dismissed churches) of the debacle.  Note that this is a dual axis plot.  Membership change is plotted by a solid red line with associated axis on the left.  Dismissed churches is plotted by a dashed blue line with associated axis on the right. 

Membership-Churches-2018

Note that net annual membership loss has been below 60,000 since 2008.  Although the number of dismissed churches is falling, this is because most of the churches that wish to exit have already done so.  Also, for any year prior to 2012 a total of 35 dismissed churches would have been considered a catastrophe.  Thus the 2018 “improvement” in dismissed churches cannot plausibly be credited to a healing denomination.

The following plot shows the four components of church gain/loss discussed in a previous post.

Church-2018

The dashed black curve shows the annual net change in PCUSA churches (by combining the four components).  Note that prior to 2011 net loss was less than 100 (and less than 50 prior to 2006).  Since 2011 the annual net church loss has always been greater than 120.  Note also that:

  • The number of dissolved churches has been increasing each year since 2016;
  • No church has joined the PCUSA from outside the denomination (i.e., received) since 2010;
  • Less than 25 new churches (i.e., organized) have been added each year between 2009 and 2018.

Previous charts focused on net membership, which obviously is the difference between membership gain and loss.  While net information is informative and useful, the detail provided by annual membership gain and loss enables additional insight.

Therefore the following figure shows membership gain and loss data so that these constituent elements of net change (also plotted) can be observed.  This data is plotted over the past twenty-one years.

Mbr-Gain-Loss-2018

This data results in a couple of rather shocking observations:

  1. The number of members gained has fallen for each consecutive year since at least 1998.
  2. The number of members lost has increased and decreased with a maximum of 184,000 in the year 2000 and a minimum of 109,000 in 2018 and a twenty-one year average of 163,000.

The unavoidable conclusion is that the primary reason for net membership loss over the past twenty-one years is falling membership gains as opposed to rising membership losses.  For example, 2012 was not the worst net loss year ever because of unprecedented loss, but rather because loss returned to the 1998 – 2004 level while gains had fallen by almost 51% from the 1998 value.  Comparing 1998 and 2018 membership gains shows over a 70% reduction.

One can hardly imagine a result more damning of the PCUSA leadership.  For, it is over this period that they proclaimed their motivation for radical theological and organizational change to be increased inclusion for a changing population.  Thus, while this gut-wrenching change was being foisted upon an unwilling rank and file, the exact opposite of their stated goal was occurring.

The above data clearly contradicts the “happy talk” used by our denominational leadership.  The fact that things appear to be getting “better” is only because the denomination is exiting an unprecedented period of debacle.

However, we are not approaching health.  Rather we are entering a new period of general decline that is far worse than the previous period of general decline.  So, our denominational leadership continues its gaslighting (“What debacle, can’t you see that things are just getting better and better?”) of the membership. Would any self-respecting organization accept this performance by its leadership?  It’s far past time that we demanded accountability for the debacle that our leadership has created.



Perhaps some readers are unconvinced that the preceding PCUSA data indicates that a debacle has indeed occurred.  One final data set should settle this issue.  In 2015 the Pew Research Center published data on America’s Changing Religious Landscape.  This data covered the change in United States membership of Catholic, Evangelical, Mainline and All Christians between 2007 and 2014.  This time span includes the first three of the PCUSA’s six-year debacle period.  The following figure shows the Pew membership change data along with the PCUSA change over the same time span.

Denom-Change

Note that the PCUSA’s percentage membership decline is twice the rate of Mainline churches, four-times the rate of the Catholic church and eight-times the rate of all Christian churches in the United States.  Evangelical church membership increased by 4%, thus falsifying the canard that all denominations are experiencing membership decline.  These results would have been worse were the time span 2010 through 2017, as all the massive PCUSA losses would then be included.

I rest my case. 

The Disappearing PCUSA: 2018 Data (2)

PCUSA-Debacle-Fire

Step One of the bureaucratic gaslighting two-step: Minimize and obscure what is happening while the debacle is actively occurring.

The Bureaucratic Gaslighting Two-Step

Bureaucratic organizations intent of self-preservation often use what I’m calling the “gaslighting two-step” to hide their failures, those being:

  1. Minimize and obscure what is happening while the debacle is actively occurring;
  2. As the debacle dissipates claim that things are getting better while obfuscating the true nature of the disaster.

The goal is to so confuse the people whom the bureaucracy is supposedly serving about what has happened that they don’t believe anything like a debacle has even occurred.  And thus anyone who claims that a debacle has occurred is considered to be uninformed or overreacting.

I know this strategy has been effective because I have observed the utter bewilderment by many engaged PCUSA members when confronted by the actual membership and church loss data in context.

Step One

The reality of this debacle is that between 2011 and 2017 the PCUSA experienced a net loss of 601,000 members and 1146 churches. Thus, over this period the denomination lost a net of almost 30% of its membership and almost 12% of its churches.  But while this was occurring the PCUSA leadership was peddling happy talk and cherry-picked good news.

For example, in 2014 the Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly made these comments about the massive loss of members and churches.

Yes, the numbers reflect a decrease in active members in the denomination, but the numbers also illustrate fewer losses than the previous year. The membership declined by 89,296 in 2013, compared to 102,791 in 2012. We are meeting the challenges that we have had and it’s showing, and, our decline in total congregations is holding fairly steady.

As we will see, 2012 was by far the worst year for net membership loss in the denomination’s history.  Therefore, the fact that 2013 was a bit better isn’t credibly encouraging. 

His comment on church loss is downright deceptive.  In 2012 the PCUSA dismissed (i.e., allowed to exit) 110 churches and in 2013 dismissed 148.  In 2013 there was a reduction in dissolved churches that partially counteracted the increase in dismissed churches.  Thus it is technically true that “our decline in total congregations is holding fairly steady” (i.e., -183 churches in 2012 versus -198 in 2013).  However, characterizing a substantial increase in dismissed churches as “holding fairly steady” on church loss (with 2013 being the worst year ever for the denomination) simply fails the red-face test.  Finally, “holding steady” at the worst levels of church loss in PCUSA history isn’t a positive development.

In 2017, after six straight years of devastating loss, the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly said the following about the 2016 data.

Membership loss, which was experienced since the 1970s, is slowing down.

In 2015 net membership loss was approximately 95,000 and in 2016 was 90,000.  However, 2016 was still the fourth worst year for membership loss in the denomination’s history.  Thus, while it is technically true that in 2016 membership loss “slowed down,” it is also a highly misleading formulation.  Thus, even as late as 2017 our denominational leadership continued to have faith in their ability to obfuscate devastating loss by deceptive happy talk.

Step Two

Finally, in 2018, the denomination admitted that “a five-year period of unprecedented losses” had occurred between 2012 and 2016.

At the same time, a five-year period of unprecedented losses neared an end as net membership losses returned to previous levels over the last 50-plus years. The larger losses between 2012 and 2016 were brought on by the dismissal of about 100 churches (and their members) each year to splinter denominations after the 2010 General Assembly voted to allow the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as church officers and the 2014 Assembly voted to allow same-gender marriage.

Even while admitting that something bad had occurred, they continued to practice deception about the severity.  For, as the data will unambiguously show, it is nothing short of dishonest to claim that in 2017 “membership losses returned to previous levels over the last 50-plus years.”

Now, in 2019, the national leadership proclaims that things are getting better.  There’s no interest, they hope, to understand the full extent of the debacle, to examine their claims or to seek accountability.  Let’s all us nice people just ignore what’s happened and pretend with them that we’re moving into a bright future.

That may serve the interests of the denominational leadership, but it certainly does not the membership who have been deceived by this dishonest bureaucratic “gaslighting two-step.”

PCUSA-Debacle-Ashes

Step Two of the bureaucratic gaslighting two-step: As the debacle dissipates claim that things are getting better while obfuscating the true nature of the disaster.

The Disappearing PCUSA: 2018 Data (1)

leavingfeb052016

By Tom Olago, February 15, 2016.

Things Are Getting Better Edition

The PCUSA released the 2018 data on denominational status in April.  The first three paragraphs stressed an improving situation.

After years of seeing hundreds of churches leave the denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is starting to see the number of departing churches decrease. The Office of the General Assembly has wrapped up its latest review of membership statistics which indicates the decline in membership may be slowing down.

In 2015, the total number of PC(USA) members was listed at more than 1.5 million. Within a year, membership declined by nearly 90,000. Last year, the decline was just over 62,000. The number of churches leaving the denomination between 2015 and 2016 totaled 203. In 2018, it was 34.

Screen Shot 2019-05-20 at 2.44.02 PM

“While the difference is not great, we are encouraged by the slowing trend downward,” said the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). “The church of the 21st century is changing and we still believe God is preparing us for great things in the future.”

The article included the above table that shows total number of churches and members for 2015 through 2018.  While the Active Membership data is clear, the Total Churches data is not.

The PCUSA generally reports church data in four categories.  On the gain side they can be organized (new church) or received (joins from the outside).  On the loss side they can be dissolved (church closes) or dismissed (exits the denomination).  Thus the Total Churches number includes these four gain and loss categories.

The article’s discussion of “churches leaving” only includes the dismissed component of church loss.  In fact, the number of  churches being dissolved is increasing.  It’s also confusing that the authors compare the sum of two years of dismissed churches (2015 and 2016) to the single year of 2018.  If this detail isn’t noticed then it appears that the number of dismissed churches has improved much more than it actually has.  A valid comparison would have been to compare two year values in each case (e.g., 2015 and 2016 compared to 2017 and 2018).

While the article does admit that something unfortunate has occurred, the primary focus is on how things are now getting better.  However, the true situation is obfuscated by:

  • Including only the most recent years in which there was apparent improvement because the denomination was exiting the worst of the losses;
  • Showing only total numbers without context or details that illuminate what has actually happened.

We are missing the big picture if we limit our focus to the single year of 2018.  We are now in a new phase of the campaign to obfuscate, deny and diminish the truth about our denomination’s debacle that has been in progress from 2006 to the present.

The following posts will shine much needed light on this situation.

Title-Image

The PCUSA in 2005.  It is the denomination’s Progressive leadership that holds the needle (to be explained in the fifth post of this series).

Looking Back over 500 Posts

500posts

Data and Discussion

The Top 20 Posts (Plus 1)

I have occasionally published this information for a given year.  In this case the results are for all 4.5 years of this blog’s existence.

A reader has two options for accessing this blog.  They can go to my “Home Page” and take in whatever happens to be there or they can specify a post (by using a link from some source such as a Google search, email, etc.).  The former access means occurs approximately 40% of the time, so the latter is 60%.  Thus the majority of blog site accesses are targeted on a single post.  The following list shows the top 20 (plus one) of these targeted posts in order of more to less occurrences.

  1. A Brief Excursion into PCUSA Heresy
  2. The PCUSA’s Continuous Decline
  3. HONORING CHRIST IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS
  4. Jesus Christ Avatar
  5. Can Christians Support a War Against Islamic Terrorism?
  6. The Language of Suffering (LoS): Introduction
  7. What does the Bible Teach on Immigration and Refugee Policy? (3)
  8. LoS: Exposition – Genesis 1:1, 27-31
  9. The PCUSA and Israel (Part 4)
  10. The Strange Persistence of Guilt
  11. Postmodern Christianity: A Primer
  12. The PCUSA and Israel (Part 2)
  13. God’s Acts of Providence (9)
  14. Environmentalism Becomes a Death Cult (4)
  15. Gnosticism Reimagined? (Part 6b)
  16. Confession of Belhar Questions Already Answered! (Part 1)
  17. Progressive Christianity’s Strange Bonhoeffer Compulsion (1)
  18. God’s Acts of Providence (56)
  19. Taking Stock at the 100th Post
  20. LoS: SUFFERING IN GOD’S WORD
  21. Stinging Satire from the Babylon Bee (3)

Note that the “Top 4” posts all directly address or are derived from meditations on the PCUSA.  I thus conclude that a high proportion of my readership has a specific interest in this denomination.  Eight (numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 12, 15 and 16) posts in the “Top 20” are related to the PCUSA.

The top non-PCUSA, but Christian-focused  post comes in at #5 (Can Christians Support a War Against Islamic Terrorism?).  This post along with numbers 7, 11, 15 and 17 fill out this category.

A significant number of posts contain Biblical exposition.  The most popular of these comes in at #6 (The Language of Suffering (LoS): Introduction).  Other popular Bible exposition posts are numbers 8, 13, 18 and 20.

The top general political post is at #10 (The Strange Persistence of Guilt). The only other general political post is at #14.

Filling out the Top 20, my meditation at the 100th post (#19) covers multiple topics,

I have included a #21 because it is the first satire/humor focused post on the list.  Note that this post focuses on the PCUSA.  Clearly I’m no comedy powerhouse!

The Top 20 Countries

This blog is overwhelmingly dominated by visitors from the United States.  However, it also attracts readers from throughout the world.  The following is a list of visit numbers ordered from more to less.  I find it intriguing that the second highest number of visitors come from Hong Kong,  The population of this city is small compared to many of the other countries with fewer visits.  I don’t know if there are just a few very heavy readers or many light readers.  In any case I hope that they and all the other international visitors find interesting and useful information.

  1. United States
  2. Hong Kong SAR China
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Canada
  5. India
  6. Philippines
  7. Puerto Rico
  8. Australia
  9. Romania
  10. South Africa
  11. Russia
  12. Ireland
  13. European Union
  14. United Arab Emirates
  15. Italy
  16. France
  17. Malaysia
  18. South Korea
  19. Mexico
  20. Panama

Now, back to blogging!