Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (3)

pcusa-bubbleThe Mainline Progressive Bubble

A Revealing Incident

Let me share an experience from the floor of the Presbytery of Chicago.  A large committee had created a draft statement on evangelism that was under review.  At one point we were asked to split into small groups to discuss the draft.  A colleague from my local church and I asked two Commissioners, one younger and the other older, to join us.  They were more than happy to do so, and we started the discussion.

We pointed out that the draft as written seemed to be less about Christian evangelism than it was about multiculturalism.  For, as far as we could tell there were minimal claims to any truth or value for Christianity.  Rather, it appeared to be just about getting along with all other religions and cultures.

This observation elicited an immediate angry reaction from the older Commissioner.  Rather than engaging in debate on this point they walked away while audibly speaking into the air about haters and racists.

The younger Commissioner remained engaged.  However, their response was that dozens of PCUSA elders and clergy of all races, sexual orientations, genders and cultures had come together to generate this text, so, it had to be correct because the creating group was so diverse.  We pointed out that there was also the dimension of philosophical / theological  diversity, which we didn’t see represented in the document.  They responded with the blank stare of one who is hearing something incomprehensible.

The Two Bubbles

Thinking back on this incident years later I realize that the responses of these two Commissioners are representative of the two types of bubbles within which our leadership live.  These bubbles need not be separate, but can be, in effect, two layers that create hermetic isolation.

The Social Bubble

The younger Commissioner was more than happy to continue our discussion to the end of the allowed time.  They showed not the slightest anger about or disapproval of our position.  Rather, they seemed amazed to be speaking with two such strange humans.  We elicited not anger, but rather curiosity.

Surely, even living in Progressive Chicago they must have been aware of people who hold strange, inexplicable beliefs.  However, here were two actual people, on the floor of the Presbytery of Chicago (!?), who were stating these beliefs.  What an unexpected and unique cultural experience!

Thus, we find here the bubble of social isolation, in which a person simply doesn’t interact with anyone who challenges their beliefs.  Everyone, of all races, cultures, sexual orientations and genders, in their wondrous diversity, agrees on the same thing!  It’s not that they aren’t aware that there are strange people who somehow have tragically not been brought into the Progressive fold, it’s that they simply don’t engage with any actual people like that.

The Ideological Bubble

The older Commissioner knew full well that people like us exist.  And, within the hearing of only a few of our words they walked away in utter disgust.  For, in their world, people who were stupid enough to say such things out loud could only be motivated by vile evil motives.  There existed zero intention to engage with such moral and ideological deviants.  So, away they walked, speaking our condemnation into the air as the haters and racists that we surely had to be.

Our Current Sorry State

There may have been a time in our country’s history in which the social Progressive bubble predominated.  I think of that, by current standards, innocent statement by Pauline Kael after the 1972 Presidential election.

“I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”

But, after eight years of being accused of voting for someone who was likely the new Hitler (George W. Bush) into the Presidency and then eight more years of being called a racist, homophobe, Islamophobe, totalitarian, etc. for opposing Progressive policies, be they political or theological, the ideological bubble clearly now dominates.

There are so many examples from which to choose, but one that I consider telling fell from the lips of no other than Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader of the House of Representatives (emphasis added).

“And I say, this will be a little not in keeping with the spirit of the day of unity, but I say they pray in church on Sunday and prey on people the rest of the week, and while we’re doing the Lord’s work by ministering to the needs of God’s creation they are ignoring those needs which is to dishonor the God who made them.”

You see, it takes the rhetorical skills of the highest ranking elected Democratic politican to so seamlessly combine their political and religious bigotry into a single steaming statement of contemptuous hatred.

Of course, former Democratic senator from Wisconsin Russ Feingold (a Progressive favorite!) has made perhaps the most disgusting and definitive statement in this regard (emphasis added).

“The lesson from Charlottesville is not how dangerous the neo-Nazis are, … It is the unmasking of the Republican party leadership. In the wake of last weekend’s horror and tragedy, let us finally, finally rip off the veneer that Trump’s affinity for white supremacy is distinct from the Republican agenda of voter suppression, renewed mass incarceration and the expulsion of immigrants.”

Yes, indeed, “finally, finally” the vile evil motives of all Republicans, hidden for generations, have been revealed for all to see!

Finally, lest you imagine that our PCUSA leadership is not within this same ideological bubble, consider the actions and statements of our current Co-moderators  and the Senior Pastor from one of our largest churches.  I should also point out that most of the cruel name calling referred to above was done in person by members of the PCUSA (see here for one written example).

The consequences of this ideological dominance in Progressive thought have been a major factor that has led to our current sorry state.

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Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (1)

religion-politicsOpening Thoughts

Religion and politics can’t help but mix.  In fact, it is inconceivable that the committed follower of a bona fide religion would be able to completely isolate their faith beliefs from their political beliefs.  So, I will not be arguing for a separation of religion and politics.  However, this doesn’t mean that the mixing of these domains is without challenge and outright danger.

In what follows I will focus on this issue at the scope of my actual experience, that being a mainline Protestant Christian.  Even here the scope will often narrow to my specific denominational experience, that being a member of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA, 1983 to present) and one of its predecessors, the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA, 1958 to 1983).

As the title of this series clearly implies, my experience of Christianity and politics has led me to an uncomfortable place.  For, although I fully support our Christian faith as the authoritative wellspring of political thought, I also find that this relationship has been undermined and, more recently, utterly reversed.  This excerpt from An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America by Joseph Bottum provides a concise summary of the modern beginning of this religious/political ideology.

Formed in the victory of civil rights activism, a new version of the social gospel movement became the default theology of church bureaucrats in the Mainline.  The churches “increasingly turned their attention to the drafting of social statements on a variety of contemporary problems,” as the religious historian Peter J. Thuesen has noted, and their statements “revealed a shared opinion among Mainline executives that the churches’ primary public role was social advocacy.”

Note well — not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but “social advocacy” of a particular secular stripe.

When the then General Assembly Moderator, Heath Rada, addressed the April 18, 2015 Presbytery of Chicago Assembly meeting he had precious little to say about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, he had a lot to say about the effectiveness of the PCUSA’s social advocacy.  In fact, I’d say that the central theme of his “pep talk” was something to the effect of ‘Rejoice sisters and brothers!  The PCUSA is a highly regarded little cog in the Progressive political machine!’

Most recently (July 28, 2017), the Wall Street Journal published an article by Libby Sternberg titled “Why Not a Day of Rest From Politics?”  She wrote from the perspective of a member of the Episcopal Church, another mainline Christian denomination.  The first paragraph describes the deep roots of faith and fellowship that she experiences at her local church.  But the second paragraph well states the issue that many non-Progressive Democrat members of mainline denominations are now facing at an unprecedented level.

Yet I do all this knowing that my church is effectively a political adversary.  I am a Republican.  The Episcopal Church, like many mainline Protestant denominations, supports a “social justice” agenda that reads as if it were pulled straight from the Democratic National Committee Platform.

The same thing can be rightly said about the PCUSA’s focus and supported political positions.  And, due to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of members since the PCUSA’s decisions to allow ordination of practicing homosexuals and same-gender marriage, the aggressiveness and pervasiveness of this ideology is clearly on the rise.

I have covered this rise throughout this blog’s existence.  I’ll try to link back to relevant posts as I discuss this sorry state of affairs at greater focus and detail.

The Disappearing PCUSA, 2016 Data

I finally got around to tracking down the PC(USA) 2016 membership data, and the results are as I recently predictedcontinued precipitous decline.

I’ve updated my Excel file with the 2016 data and generated the associated graphs.  Following are a few low-lights.

  • Total 2016 membership is 1,482,767, which is now less than half of the 1984 founding value
  • 89,893 members were lost in 2016
    • This is the fourth-worst total membership loss in PC(USA) history
    • The past five consecutive years have the five worst membership losses for all of PC(USA) history, for a total of almost 470,000 lost
  • In terms of percent loss for a given year, 2016 was the worst ever, at 5.72% of the 2015 membership
  • The PC(USA) extended its consecutive streak (18 years and counting) of bringing in fewer new members each year.  Thus, 2016 was, again, the worst ever in this category.
  • In terms of ratio between lost to gained members, 2016 was the worst year ever, at 2.63 members lost for every 1 member gained
  • in 2016 we have only 57% of the candidates for ministry that we had in 2011
  • We gained 17 and lost 196 churches, for a net loss of 179
    • Since 2011 the PC(USA) net loss of churches stands at 1015
    • For the last five consecutive years the net loss of churches has exceeded 175
  • Our Christian education population continues its steep decline
    • Approximately 508,000 in 2016
    • Approximately 802,000 in 2011
    • This is almost a 37% decline between 2011 and 2016

If someone after reviewing this data remains untroubled, then they likely either are in general agreement with the leadership’s destructive direction or are in an impregnable state of denial.

Our leadership will certainly continue down this path of catastrophic decline without the slightest accountability for their utter failure.

The following charts present a representative sample of the above discussed data.

2016-PCUSA-Membership

2016-PCUSA-Churches

2016-PCUSA-Ministry

2016-PCUSA-Ed

 

 

“The Strange Persistence of Guilt”

38cb7cf1a3608458634fI recommend this profound meditation by Wilfred M. McClay on “The Strange Persistence of Guilt.”  Over the past few years I’ve been struggling to understand what appears to be ever increasing levels of troubling, even bizarre behavior within Western Civilization.  This article comes closer to providing a workable hypothesis than anything I’ve seen.
And yet, in the end, even this inspired meditation appears to fall short.  For, after making a powerful case that Western Civilization is failing due to rejection of its Judeo-Christian foundations, Dr. McClay ends by, apparently, recommending a “social utilitarian” perspective for rediscovery of religion’s value.
I argue that the PC(USA) and many other denominations have already pursued this path to utter failure.  That is, we have argued that the value of Christianity is its usefulness as a tool (only one among many others) by which to identify and then advance the social good.
What Dr. McClay may not understand, and many of our denominational leaders certainly do not understand, is that Christianity’s power for advancing the social good is a consequence of actual, real belief.  And, without that real belief as a first thing, Christianity can’t be anything more than a derivative, inefficient and unreliable vehicle for social change.
It is only through real belief in Christianity’s foundational truths made available to flesh and blood people that there is any hope for humane social change.  Neither you nor I can presume to know or control the paths of God’s providence working through a Christian community.  I attempted to explain this point in a recent blog post.

The ensuing events that built Western Civilization were filled with violence, cruelty and injustice, which is not surprising to a Reformed Christian.  But, somehow, by a Divine Providence that transcends human understanding, out of this chaos of sin there yet emerged a culture that began to affirm the value of each human being as an individual, unique creation of a Sovereign God.  And, from that affirmation grew a civil tradition that, incompletely and imperfectly, sought to advance those humane values.

And so, we come to the crux of our current predicament, that being the increasing inhumanity in our supposed pursuit of social good (as profoundly explained by Dr. McClay).

What makes the situation dangerous for us, as Fredriksen observes, is not only the fact that we have lost the ability to make conscious use of the concept of sin but that we have also lost any semblance of a “coherent idea of redemption,” the idea that has always been required to accompany the concept of sin in the past and tame its harsh and punitive potential. The presence of vast amounts of unacknowledged sin in a culture, a culture full to the brim with its own hubristic sense of world-conquering power and agency but lacking any effectual means of achieving redemption for all the unacknowledged sin that accompanies such power: This is surely a moral crisis in the making—a kind of moral-transactional analogue to the debt crisis that threatens the world’s fiscal and monetary health. The rituals of scapegoating, of public humiliation and shaming, of multiplying morally impermissible utterances and sentiments and punishing them with disproportionate severity, are visibly on the increase in our public life. They are not merely signs of intolerance or incivility, but of a deeper moral disorder, an Unbehagen that cannot be willed away by the psychoanalytic trick of pretending that it does not exist.

May God bless and empower us in these troubled times.

What does the Bible Teach on Immigration and Refugee Policy (2)

bible-bordersThe Reverend Gradye Parsons’ Letter

I’ll begin the careful scrutiny of this issue by discussing the PC(USA) “Stated Clerk issues letter to Trump on refugees, immigrants” (dated October 2, 2015) that was introduced in my previous post.  The value is that a high officer is here explaining the denomination’s policy positions in an official capacity.  Thus, what is said, implied and unsaid is of great significance.  The Biblical interpretative, philosophical and communication strategies utilized are also important aspects of the analysis.  All text from the letter is included in order as quotes, with my commentary inserted as regular text.

Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.
725 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10022

Mr. Trump,

I am the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the denomination of the congregation in Queens, New York, where you were baptized. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) develops its policies through councils of teaching elders and ruling elders. At the national level it does that through the General Assembly. I would like to share with you the Presbyterian policies on refugees and immigrants.

There was a time in my living memory when such a preamble would have elicited an expectation of Christian profundity.  I detect a sense of chastisement here, as Rev. Parsons deigns to educate Mr. Trump on the refugee and immigration positions of his own denomination.  I must say that on this point we are in agreement.  However, whereas the issue at hand elicited this response, for me it began when Mr. Trump said “I’m Presbyterian.  Boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness.”

Presbyterians profess a faith in Christ, whose parents were forced to flee with him to Egypt when he was an infant to save him from King Herod. Knowing our Lord was once a refugee, faithful Presbyterians have been writing church policy urging the welcome of refugees and demanding higher annual admissions into the United States since the refugee crisis of World War II.

Here we find the one and only Biblical reference, summarizing Matthew 2:13-20.  What startles is the unexplained logical leap from our Lord’s specific experience to an apparently general application.  Does the fact that Jesus Christ was once a refugee mean that any and all who claim that status have been automatically bestowed with His sinlessness?  Is it possible in Rev. Parsons’ ideology for someone who claims refugee status to yet harbor evil intent?  And, if this is a realistic possibility, would a sovereign nation be obliged to welcome that person into their population?  Note that these real and pressing issues don’t even warrant acknowledgment let alone serious consideration in this authoritative statement of the PC(USA)’s positions.

Presbyterians have a mission presence in many refugee-sending countries, including Syria and Lebanon, where we have been present since 1823. Our relationship with people of faith and communities in these countries gives us knowledge of the root causes of the flight of refugees and further cements a commitment to welcome.

1983-beirut-bombing-by-hezbollah-iran-e1404967583363

1983 Hezbollah Bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut Lebanon

These two sentences manage to encompass the decadence and irresponsibility that defines our national denominational leadership.  Here we have mentioned two countries, one having experienced and the other currently embroiled in bloody, brutal civil war, held up as places from which blameless refugees are guaranteed to originate.  Who, I wonder, has been doing all of the killing in Syria resulting in almost 500,000 dead?  Weren’t upwards of 150,000 killed in the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90) by someone?  Isn’t Syria the home of ISIS and Lebanon of Hezbollah, both vicious, genocidal Islamic terrorist groups who target the United States?  Is it not possible that someone complicit in or directly responsible for this mass murder might seek to enter the United States as a refugee?

isis-san-bernardino-terrorists

2015 San Bernardino ISIS Terrorist Murderers

And yet, in the face of this absolutely obvious set of circumstances, the Rev. Parsons bestows blanket innocence upon all refugees from these troubled countries because of the PC(USA)’s supposed “knowledge.”  What can possibly account for the existence of this level of moral blindness?  The Rev. Parsons, speaking for the PC(USA) General Assembly, is more than happy to signal their supposed superior virtue while ignoring the real and present danger to their fellow citizens from uncontrolled entry of refugees.  That is, they will happily claim all of the virtue points for their “compassionate” stance on refugees but deny any culpability for associated crime and terrorism because “their intentions were good.”  This is not virtue, it is its opposite, and, it’s long past time that we ceased allowing our national leaders to have it both ways.

Presbyterians through decades of policy have demanded humane treatment of people of all nationalities and faiths who find themselves within our borders.

This sentence is a masterpiece of obfuscation.  On the surface it appears to be undeniable.  Yes, absolutely, we in the United States should treat all within our borders humanely.  And yet, what if someone finds “themselves within our borders” because they have entered illegally?  Is it inhumane to deny them social services, welfare, work?  Is it inhumane to deport them?  If they commit a felonious crime, is it still inhumane to deport them?  All of this is left unaddressed.  One has to dig a little to uncover the true position of the PC(USA).

We have challenged our government when it neglects to acknowledge the refugee status of those fleeing persecution.

Has the PC(USA) ever supported laws or policies that ensure careful vetting of refugees?  Unless information to the contrary can be presented, their position on vetting refugees from lawless, violent nations appears to be that it shouldn’t be done at all.

We have pushed for due process at the border and we continue to petition for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented persons.

I believe that “due process” likely means that a non-citizen of the United States should be given all of the Constitutional rights as has a citizen even when outside of the country.  Were this position to be accepted then the ability of the United States to control entry of non-citizens would be at the very least severely damaged.

As a Presbyterian I acknowledge my immigrant ancestors and my new immigrant sisters and brothers. I also respect that we came uninvited to a land already occupied by people. This creates a sense of humility about my citizenship that shapes my views on those who seek a place here.

This is an excellent example of the Jonathan Gruber school of political discourse: “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”  For, obscured behind all of the virtue signaling is effectively the demand for “open borders.”  Yes, the Rev. Parsons doesn’t explicitly say this.  However, since he admits guilt for his ancestors coming “uninvited to a land already occupied by people,” the most reasonable conclusion is that anyone who seeks “a place here” should be allowed in.  Of course to say so outright would create yet another reason for members to exit the denomination.  So, the position is only tacitly communicated.  However, I have little doubt that “open borders” is both what is meant and what is being pursued by the PC(USA) leadership.

I hope you will find this helpful. I especially hope it will inform you on your policies going forward.

In Christ,

The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

It certainly was helpful, but not necessarily in the way intended.  This letter helps by exposing the unsupported logical leaps, lack of theological seriousness, irresponsible virtue signaling, disdain for the safety of our citizens, obfuscation and purposeful ambiguity of the PC(USA)’s national leadership.  Only a leadership clique hermetically sealed inside an alternative-reality ideology could be capable of generating, approving and releasing such a defective statement.

Comments on the 222nd General Assembly (1 of 3)

Meet our New Co-Moderators

thumbRNS-PBUSA-WOMEN062116

The Presbyterian Church (USA) elected Jan Edmiston, right, and Denise Anderson as the Co-Moderators of their 222nd General Assembly. Photo by Danny Bolin, courtesy of PC(USA)

The GA elected the Rev. Denise Anderson as a co-moderator at its 222nd General Assembly, who wrote this in her blog on June 12 concerning the Orlando massacre by an Islamic terrorist (emphasis added):

This particular gunman took out fifty people in one night. How many LGBT sisters and brothers have we — the Church — gradually and systemically killed over a longer period of time? He and we have been in the same business. We’re simply not as efficient as he was.

And lest there be any doubt whom is included in this appalling diatribe (emphasis again added).

Sadly, many in our own ranks aren’t too idealistically different from this gunman. And, though he may have been a “lone wolf,” this kind of hate does not develop in a vacuum. It is nurtured. It is facilitated. It is given permission to thrive and grow. It is provided with a safe space. Church, for whom/what will we provide sanctuary? I believe God is calling us to make that decision today.

Much more could be said about the theology / ideology / mindset that is here on display.  For now, it is sufficient to convey that this person who accuses Christians of being “inefficient” mass murderers was overwhelmingly elected by our GA into the highest position in the PCUSA.

The other co-moderator is the Chicago Presbytery’s own Rev. Jan Edmonton, who’s Presbytery concurred with the Overture “On the Admission of, and Apology for, Harms Done to the LGBTQ/Q Members of the PC(USA), Family and Friends—From the Presbytery of New York City”.

This Overture demanded an apology by PCUSA Christians who object to same-gender marriage and/or gay ordination just a few years after the GA had promised respect for opposing views It was too extreme for even for the GA’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), who proposed a softened version (although other GA committees strongly supported the Presbytery of New York City Overture, emphasis added).

At the same time, despite rapid recent gains in social acceptance for marriage equality in U.S. society at large, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has pledged to remain a place where conscientious individual views on both ordination and marriage will continue to be respected. In the larger world, we are well aware that Christians hold a range of views about sexuality, celibacy, reproductive rights, freedom of religious expression, and human rights generally.

But lest you place your hope for honorable treatment in the ACSWP, note hat they are simply asking for a “decent interval” between the making and breaking of the PCUSA’s promise.  Note that “11-05” refers to the original Overture (emphasis added).

The proponents of Item 11-05 are deeply right to lift up the forty-year journey taken by our church on matters of sexual orientation. While the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy believes it is not time for an apology such as the one proposed

In fact, the ACSWP doesn’t even fundamentally disagree with the Rev. Denise Anderson’s views.

We are part of a society in which discrimination and even violence toward LGBTQ persons still occur and with which our faith community is sometimes complicit.

We have been pretending for far too long that our local church’s Christian witness can be conducted independently from the PCUSA at the Presbytery, Synod and GA levels.  The election of these individuals as co-moderators makes it absolutely clear what direction the denominational elites plan to take us.  That is, the strategic and daily decisions that set the direction for our denomination will be made by two individuals who have openly stated their disgust for and contempt of non-progressive (or even not sufficiently progressive) Christians.

Will a person who claims no difference between Christians who oppose same-gender marriage and Islamic mass murderers work to heal the wounds of a divided denomination?  Will a person who has attempted to force remaining Bible trusting PCUSA members into apologizing for their position respect their consciences?  The questions answer themselves.

I’m sorry to say that there’s more to report, but I’ll give you time to deal with this installment.

A Continued Excursion into PCUSA Heresy

The PCUSA 222 General Assembly (2016)

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.36.03 AMThe 222nd General Assembly (GA) of the PCUSA will occur from June 18–25 in Portland, Oregon.  It turns out that the official hosting Presbytery is the one that approved the Rev. John Shuck as a pastor.  By so doing, the Presbytery of the Cascades welcomed an open, aggressive atheist into its membership.

You can learn more about this Presbytery’s contribution to the same-gender marriage debacle here and here.  I’m certain that their prominent role in falsifying what Jesus Christ teaches about the institution of Christian marriage significantly contributed to earning them this honor.Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.37.25 AM

Certainly the fact that they accepted an aggressive atheist as a pastor for one of their churches didn’t count against them.  It was probably a plus, given the PCUSA’s love of inclusiveness for heretics.

I will have more to say about the 222nd General Assembly in the near future.  We have already established that heretics are fine as pastors in the PCUSA.  It’s possible that by this GA’s end, Bible trusting Christians will be under denominational condemnation.

Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!  (Isaiah 5:20, RSV)

A Brief Excursion into PCUSA Heresy

heresy1At a recent Bible Study I said that the PCUSA is being torn asunder by a “christianity” that believes in “god” as simply a human construct that can be used to manipulate others.  I made this comment as an inference based on my observation of our denominational elite’s behavior.  For example, that in the over 24,000 words written in support of gay marriage at the recent General Assembly, Jesus Christ Himself was not quoted even once.  Rather, the entire argument was based on what the proponents believed about Jesus Christ.
The very next day I was stunned to discover that there is a PCUSA pastor (the Rev. John Shuck) in apparently good standing who states openly that which I had inferred.  If you follow the links, you will go from the original source article to The Friendly Atheist, where you will find the Rev. Shuck’s summary of his beliefs:

For example, I believe that:

  • Religion is a human construct
  • The symbols of faith are products of human cultural evolution
  • Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend
  • God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force
  • The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being
  • Human consciousness is the result of natural selection, so there’s no afterlife
From “The Friendly Atheist” site we can continue follow links to Pastor Shuck’s blog site to Southminster Presbyterian Church (Beaverton, OR) to their Staff page.  There you will find that the Rev. Shuck has been their pastor since January 1, 2015.  You will also be told in Rev. Shuck’s staff bio that:

John has been involved in the work of the Westar Institute (the Jesus Seminar).   Westar promotes the advancement of religious literacy.   John is proud that Southminster engages spirituality and critical thinking.   John is a signatory of the Clergy Letter Project that advocates scientific literacy including teaching Evolutionary Theory.   John’s favorite Sunday is Evolution Sunday on the Sunday closest to Charles Darwin’s birthday.

Note that I have already investigated PCUSA ties to the Westar Institute and Jesus Seminar (focus on the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, see from here to here).
I would like to believe that Pastors Shuck and Reyes-Chow are isolated cranks who have no real connection to or influence in the denomination.  Unfortunately, I have to note that the Rev. Reyes-Chow was the 2008 Moderator of the PCUSA and the Rev. Shuck appears to be happily prospering in the denomination.
As I have expressed this concern the responses have varied from support and affirmation to disagreement and diminishment.  In particular on the latter response, some have attempted to diminish by pointing out that these individuals are both few in number and rendered ineffective by the “silliness” of their position.

I can’t shake the sense that the PCUSA leadership (particularly now that so many pastors/members/churches have given up and exited) see “following Christ” from a similar perspective.  Yes, I understand that these denominational leaders talk all the time about “following Christ.”  Yet, when they had the opportunity to make the supposedly compelling case for same-gender marriage, Christ as testified to in the Bible was completely excluded.  That failure destroyed the last shred of their credibility on my part.

My concern has been best put into words by Dr. Van Til in an essay on the Confession of 1967 (emphasis added).

Though we concede that the new creed and its new theology speak highly of both Christ and the Bible, we nevertheless contend that new meanings have been attached to old, familiar words. The whole question, accordingly, is one of reinterpretation. One may take a milk bottle and fill it with a poisonous white liquid and call it milk, but this does not guarantee that the poisonous liquid is milk. It may well be some thing that is highly dangerous to man. …

Though the twentieth-century church has been informed by the new theology that it can have no objective or conceptual knowledge of God and of Christ, this same theology still continues to speak about God and Christ in eloquent terms. But, as we have already noted, these terms have new definitions. The God and the Christ of this contemporary theology have very little in common with the God and the Christ of historic Christianity.  There is good reason to believe that the new theology has virtually manufactured a new Christ, a person who is essentially different from the Savior of the Scriptures.

I’m not attempting here to reopen debate on the Confession of 1967, but the theology described above is what I too often see in our denominational and presbytery leadership today.

Although there is a clear aspect of “silly” in what Pastors Shuck and Reyes-Chow are doing, there is another side far less humorous.  I see people such as them as the avant-garde who demonstrate that there are no theological bounds left within the PCUSA.  Yes, few do or even want to follow them.  But for those who are determined to obliterate Christ as testified to in the Bible and replace Him with an avatar carrying their own beliefs, they show that the denomination cannot rouse itself even to oppose in-your-face heresy.

Thus, I’m concerned that these two apostate pastors are only the tip of an awful iceberg.  That is, while they openly argue for heresy, many others quietly work incessantly to manipulate trusting Christian souls into great error.
My personal response is to pray that faithful PCUSA congregations continues to be a bright beacon of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in these dark, dangerous times.  We should support and encourage our pastors to continue preaching and teaching Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Bible as God’s Word.  We should speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) with courage and conviction.  And finally, we should, by trusting in God’s good providence, never despair and never cease praising His saving grace in our lives and in this broken world.

A Brief Excursion into the Middle East

We should pray for the personal safety of this courageous man.  He has dared to expose the true depth of evil that motivates the “anti-Zionism” of the Arab world, and, of those who fellow-travel or even outright support their “cause.”  If you wonder how the PCUSA elites fit into this statement, please read my posts starting with The PCUSA and Israel (Part 1) and ending with The PCUSA and Israel (Part 4).

The Arabs’ Real Grievance against the Jews (excerpt, read the whole thing).

As Arabs, we complain because Palestinians feel humiliated going through Israeli checkpoints. We complain because Israel is building in the West Bank without Palestinian permission, and we complain because Israel dares to defend itself against Palestinian terrorists. But how many of us have stopped to consider how this situation came to be? How many of us have the courage to admit that waging war after war against the Jews in order to deny them the right to exist, and refusing every reasonable solution to the conflict, has led to the current situation?

Our message to Jews, throughout history and particularly when they had the temerity to want to govern themselves, has been clear: we cannot tolerate your very existence.

Yet the Jews demand the right to exist and to exist as equals on the land where they have existed and belonged continuously for more than three thousand years.

In addition, denying a people the right to exist is a crime of unimaginable proportions. We Arabs pretend that our lack of respect for the right of Jews to exist is not the cause of the conflict between the Jews and us. We would rather claim that the conflict is about “occupation” and “settlements”. They see what radical Islamists are now doing to Christians and other minorities, who were also in the Middle East for thousands of years before the Muslim Prophet Mohammed was even born: Yazidis, Kurds, Christians, Copts, Assyrians, Arameans, and many others. Where are these indigenous people of Iraq, Syria and Egypt now? Are they living freely or are they being persecuted, run out of their own historical land, slaughtered by Islamists? Jews know that this is what would have happened to them if they did not have their own state.

The real Arab grievance against the Jews is that they exist. We want the Jews either to disappear or be subservient to our whims, but the Jews refuse to bend to our bigotry, and they refuse to be swayed by our threats and our slander.

Who in his right mind can blame them?

Fred Maroun, a left-leaning Arab based in Canada, has authored op-eds for New Canadian Media, among other outlets. From 1961-1984, he lived in Lebanon.

If you have any doubts about the intentions of Israel’s Arab and Persian neighbors, here is a summary of the situation.

Israel-under-siege3

Israel is Surrounded by Genocidal Enemies

How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ is? (Part 6)

The Confession of 1967 (2 of 2)

WHOHowJCThe Confession of 1967 was, by the admission of its primary authors, intended to directly contradict the Westminster Confession on numerous central doctrinal points.  The consequences for a denomination that purports to be “confessional” have been nothing short of disastrous.  Before proceeding further, allow me to quote from the authors themselves regarding their purpose (see here and here for expanded information).

This section is an intended revision of the Westminster doctrine, which rested primarily on a view of inspiration and equated the Biblical canon directly with the Word of God. By contrast, the preeminent and primary meaning of the word of God in the Confession of 1967 is the Word of God incarnate. The function of the Bible is to be the instrument of the revelation of the Word in the living church. It is not a witness among others but the witness without parallel, the norm of all other witness. At the same time questions of antiquated cosmology, diverse cultural influences, and the like, may be dealt with by careful scholarship uninhibited by the doctrine of inerrancy which placed the older Reformed theology at odds with advances in historical and scientific studies. (“The Proposal to Revise the Confessional Position of The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America,” p. 29)

The clearly described intent of these authors is transformed into the following two sentences in the Confession of 1967 (emphasis added).

The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written.

The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written.

As is so often the case, the radical break with previous doctrinal understanding is obscured behind subtle, confusing language that appears to be perfectly acceptable on the surface, but actually smuggles in a monumental theological change of perspective.  In this case, the crucial point of departure is clearly identified as follows.

According to the Confession, Jesus Christ is the Word of God, in distinction from Scripture; Scripture, the words of men, merely bears witness to Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

As I have discussed in detail, the practical consequence of this distinction is to completely decouple the person and purpose of Jesus Christ from the Words of Scripture.  That is, in practice, the Confession of 1967 frees pastors, elders and deacons to substitute who they believe Jesus Christ should be, based upon their own beliefs, for who the Scriptures actually describe Him to be.  They are so freed because in their ordination vow:

c. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

they are in effect committing to a nullity.  That is, since “the confessions of our church” simultaneously teach two diametrically opposed views of Scripture, they essentially cancel each other out, leaving nothing but a gaping doctrinal void.

The Confession of 1967 is a foundational component of the PCUSA’s demise.  It is the source from which the evasions, deceptions and outright heresies perpetrated by our ruling elite are justified.  For, as the most recent full “confession of faith,” the Confession of 1967 has negated huge areas of Reformed doctrine.  These areas have been replaced by whatever our PCUSA elite decide should be true on any particular issue at any particular time.

The Confession of 1967’s teaching on Scripture, and, on many other doctrinal issues as well, is diametrically opposed to the doctrines of our historic (i.e., pre-1967) confessions.  As an elder, I will not accept that I have vowed to follow Jesus Christ based on the leadership of a nullity.  Rather I will choose which of the two diametrically opposed confessional standards that I will follow.  I choose the historic confessions.

This post completes discussion of our confessional basis for general Biblical interpretation.  I will now apply these concepts to the specific question: Is Jesus Christ a pacifist and how can we know?