Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (13)

what-is-sinNone is Righteous (Romans 3:9-20)

The Great Apostle began this discussion about sin in 1:18.  So, at its end in 3:20 he has expended 64 verses (of course there were no “verses” when he wrote) on this topic.  Given that Romans’ systematic theology is a corner stone of Christian thought, we must ask ourselves why sin was the first component of Paul’s explanation of the Gospel, and, why he focused on it at such length and depth.

Perhaps the beginning of an answer can be found in John the Baptist’s proclamation preparing the way for Christ’s ministry (Luke 3:2b,3).

the word of God came to John the son of Zechari′ah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Thus, the first statement specifically about Christ’s Gospel was about repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

When Joseph was informed about the virgin pregnancy of his betrothed, Mary, the angel said of Jesus: “For it is he that shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  Near the end of His worldly life at the Last Supper Jesus said: “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).  And, very near the end, while dying on the cross He said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

The Apostle Peter speaks of our sin’s place in Christ’s Gospel: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).  And, the Apostle John also:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)

It is here that I return to the Progressive Christian belief regarding sin, though now at greater length.

There are some who say that liberal/progressive churches don’t believe in sin.  That we never talk about it—or call people to confess.  I would agree that we seldom talk about it.  When I first came here I soon learned that was the “s” word that was never mentioned.  But I don’t believe for a minute it’s because we feel no guilt or shame or remorse.  In fact I observe that many people here at Southminster, take on guilt way beyond their need.  But I think we are confused about how to describe, define, talk about sin.  We know it is not as narrow as sexual behavior (as some Christians try to make it); we know it is not as simple as breaking 10 commandments, as we probably learned in Sunday School…if we went to Sunday School; because we know it has something to do with context.  We many of us, don’t believe that Jesus had to come and die for our particular sins to atone a vengeful God. We don’t really know what to teach children because we don’t want them bogged down in shame and guilt—yet we also want them to grow into adults are moral and ethical and compassionate.

This is an important and remarkable statement.  It is honest about Progressive Christianity’s rejection of sin to the point of refusal to even use the word.  It admits utter confusion about how to define and therefore think about sin.  It is only confident about what sin isn’t (i.e., not “narrow sexual behavior” or “breaking 10 commandments”).

But, eventually, the truth is blurted out.  That being we: “don’t believe that Jesus had to come and die for our particular sins to atone a vengeful God.”  The bottom line is that acknowledging the concept of sin is verboten because it relates to something terribly wrong with God Himself.  Ultimately, sin speaks to God’s sinfulness, that being His vengefulness.  Therefore these Progressive Christians will not expose their children to this awful concept so that they won’t become “bogged down in shame and guilt.”  For, there are no “particular sins” for which they or their children need God’s atonement.

And yet these Progressives call themselves Christian while openly, defiantly contradicting the teaching of Holy Scripture about sin and its place in Christ’s Gospel.  I wonder when was the last time that anyone in the Christian Church confronted them with this fact?  In all probability for many the answer is never.  For, when candidates for ministry in the PCUSA stood before the Presbytery of Chicago Assembly and denied their belief in sin they were overwhelming accepted and sent forth to “preach the gospel.”

Over ninety years ago in Mainline Denominations (including Presbyterian) the “Modernist” defeated the “Fundamentalist” camp in the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy.  The “Modernists” claimed victory as Christians who were more accurately, more completely teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The membership of these denominations therefore placed their trust in the “Modernists” to lead their churches.

These “Modernists” who now call themselves “Progressives” have been leading for over ninety years.  It is long past time to ask what fruit they have generated.

It has been my misfortune to look deeply into that which the Progressive Christian leadership of the PCUSA is saying, thinking and doing.  I strongly suspect that similar results would be obtained for most other Mainline Protestant denominations.  I will not here rehearse my charges against them (though they can be easily found in this blog’s posts).  What I will say is that it is time for a true reckoning concerning their stewardship.

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Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (9)

moral-hazard-ethicsThe Moral Hazard of Intentions Based Policy

Some readers may have been wondering how a series of posts titled “Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics” could have focused almost exclusively on general Progressives for so long.  The answer is that Mainline Christian politics (from the leadership and organizational perspective) is often virtually indistinguishable from secular Progressive politics.  The only difference is that a sentence here or there in Mainline political statements might mention Jesus or the Bible or something else vaguely religious in origin.

For the last four posts I have been indirectly describing the “moral hazard” associated with the intentions based policy philosophy used (though certainly not exclusively) by Progressives (Christian or otherwise).  A useful definition for this term is:

Moral hazard is a situation where somebody has the opportunity to take advantage of somebody else by taking risks that the other will pay for. The idea is that people might ignore the moral implications of their choices: instead of doing what is right, they do what benefits them the most.

end-poverty-now

Intention: Demonstrate superior virtue.  Result: Assume unbearable moral hazard.

It’s now time to directly call out the key dimensions of moral hazard into which Progressivism has fallen headfirst.

Votes and Political Power

In the recent presidential election candidate Donald Trump asked black voters: “What do you have to lose by trying something new?”  Candidate  Hillary Clinton wasted no time in answering that question: “What do black people stand to lose under Trump? Everything!”  Her response adds additional evidence to the conclusion that Progressives literally believe that Republican’s “bad intentions” will inexorably lead to “bad results.”

However, this incident also illuminates a massive moral hazard for Democrats.  For, given that they depend on 90%+ of black votes for continuance of their political power, isn’t it far more certain that the Democrat Party would lose “everything” were the black community to lessen their level of support?

So, given that current welfare, education and crime policies (among others) have created this massive block voting by the black community, the downside to any reforms that might lead to improvements in their lot could be political death.  Given the stakes, is it really credible that Democratic politicians, bureaucrats and supporters are so morally superior that they are immune to such a temptation?  I say absolutely not.

Codependent Relationships

If your self-image is that of a Progressive “hero” who delivers the best possible results to the designated “beneficiaries” because of your “good” intentions, then it could become acceptable for those beneficiaries to remain in need.  If you have been a “beneficiary” and become dependent, then you also could come to desire that the Progressive “heroes” remain in power.  This codependence can tempt both sides into supporting a failing status quo.

Hate-Based Self Esteem

If your self-image is that of a morally superior “hero,” then besides the need for “beneficiaries” there is the need for “villains.”  However, beyond providing “proof” of your own moral superiority, “villains” also can become objects of hate.  That’s because the “heroes” can begin to believe that “villains” exist not because they make honest errors or hold mistaken beliefs, but because they harbor “bad intentions.”  So, the Progressive moral model demands that the world be split into “heroes,” “villains” and “beneficiaries.”  Thus, our shared humanity can be denied, creating a world with greater strife and violence.  And so, Progressives obtain their fraudulent fantasies of moral superiority at the expense of other human beings and create a debased culture in the process.

Works-Based Salvation

If you are a Christian who erroneously seeks a works-based mark of salvation, you might well be drawn to the easy moral superiority promised by adherence to Progressive politics.  “Evidence” for a works-based salvation can be most easily found by comparing oneself to others.  Is there currently a more potent, visible ideology that allows the manufacture of accredited “heroes” and “villains” than Progressivism?  And, if you are a Mainline Progressive Christian leader, might the temptation to encourage such false belief in order to advance your preferred political policies be strong?

There is another dimension to this theological error, that being the narrowing of Christian virtue and vocation to only those acts directly associated with Progressive sources.  Thus, for example, were a person in their private-sector job to enable creation of many well-paying jobs (through honest, hard work) throughout the world, it may not count as “good works” in the Progressive Christian worldview.  That’s because, by their blinkered definition, these works were not motivated by approved “good intentions.”

Therefore, those of us who define our Christian vocation as encompassing all of our lives are yet regularly harangued by believers who only allow their pet Progressive Christian projects to be included in “good works.”  They literally don’t appear to care that we are generating good results outside of their narrowly defined domain.

Of course, I am not here thinking of good works as having anything to do with our salvation in Christ.  Rather they are thank-offerings for that undeserved grace by which we have been saved through Christ Jesus.

Finally, trusting souls are told that slavish adherence to secular Progressive positions makes them into “super Christians.”  That is, because of their superior Progressive-derived “good intentions” they hold a special place of authority in the church.  From that fraudulent perch they decide what works are actually Christian.  They also sometimes imagine that they are free to misinterpret the Bible as necessary to bring its teachings into line with the positions determined by the secular Progressive elite.



This analysis may explain why Progressives have such a powerful compulsion to claim moral superiority.  For, by virtue of the scope and aggressiveness of their ideology they unavoidably place themselves in positions of great moral hazard.  Only by presuming that they have moral purity and perfection far beyond that of normal humanity can they convince themselves that their power will not result in bad, even evil results.  Of course, this presumption is built from pure fantasy, as they are made of the same fallen moral material as is everyone else.  However, the fact that they so convince themselves of falsehood makes them far more dangerous when in power, and far more fragile and unstable when they are on the outs.



 

Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (7)

Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Intentions vs. Results 1965 Case Study: The Moynihan Report

The chasm between intention-motivated vs. results-motivated anti-poverty policies was revealed over 50 years ago.  The instigating event was a 1965 report titled The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, which has become  known as the Moynihan Report.  The author was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sociologist serving as Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Lyndon B. Johnson.

This seminal but controversial report was revisited in a 2005 City Journal article titled “The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies.” The tag-line is “Rejecting the Moynihan report caused untold, needless misery.”  A key excerpt follows (emphasis added).

Read through the megazillion words on class, income mobility, and poverty in the recent New York Times series “Class Matters” and you still won’t grasp two of the most basic truths on the subject: 1. entrenched, multigenerational poverty is largely black; and 2. it is intricately intertwined with the collapse of the nuclear family in the inner city.
By now, these facts shouldn’t be hard to grasp. Almost 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers. Those mothers are far more likely than married mothers to be poor, even after a post-welfare-reform decline in child poverty. They are also more likely to pass that poverty on to their children. Sophisticates often try to dodge the implications of this bleak reality by shrugging that single motherhood is an inescapable fact of modern life, affecting everyone from the bobo Murphy Browns to the ghetto “baby mamas.” Not so; it is a largely low-income—and disproportionately black—phenomenon. The vast majority of higher-income women wait to have their children until they are married. The truth is that we are now a two-family nation, separate and unequal—one thriving and intact, and the other struggling, broken, and far too often African-American.
So why does the Times, like so many who rail against inequality, fall silent on the relation between poverty and single-parent families? To answer that question—and to continue the confrontation with facts that Americans still prefer not to mention in polite company—you have to go back exactly 40 years. That was when a resounding cry of outrage echoed throughout Washington and the civil rights movement in reaction to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Department of Labor report warning that the ghetto family was in disarray. Entitled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” the prophetic report prompted civil rights leaders, academics, politicians, and pundits to make a momentous—and, as time has shown, tragically wrong—decision about how to frame the national discussion about poverty.

That “resounding cry of outrage” occurred because Mr. Moynihan dared to challenge the then Progressive party line that it was only “the system” that stood between the black community and full equality in American society.  Let’s return to the City Journal article for a clear explanation.

For white liberals and the black establishment, poverty became a zero-sum game: either you believed, as they did, that there was a defect in the system, or you believed that there was a defect in the individual. It was as if critiquing the family meant that you supported inferior schools, even that you were a racist. Though “The Negro Family” had been a masterpiece of complex analysis that implied that individuals were intricately entwined in a variety of systems—familial, cultural, and economic—it gave birth to a hardened, either/or politics from which the country has barely recovered.

Note that, in 1965, the Progressive party line focused on “the system” as opposed to the current “good intentions.”  However, the utility of these two ideas is similar, that being something over which Progressives imagined they have direct control, and, that can be changed by government power to gain the desired results.  Note also that already the epithet “racist” is being applied to anyone who deviates from the Progressive party line on how best to improve the lot of the minority community.

However, correspondence between the report’s alternate viewpoint and the previous post’s description of the results based philosophy is striking.  For, Moynihan’s perspective of “complex analysis that implied that individuals were intricately entwined in a variety of systems—familial, cultural, and economic” correlates exceeding well with the reality model description of “a large number of inputs with highly variable controllability.”  Also note that culture, family and economy, along with others in a variety of inputs, correlates well with the above description of Moynihan’s philosophy.

Thus, at the very beginning of the “war on poverty,” the Progressive powers that be explicitly rejected the results based philosophy of public policy in favor of one that simplistically and erroneously allowed them to pretend hero-ship for themselves.  This self-serving decision has indeed “caused untold, needless misery.”  However, we shouldn’t expect an acknowledgement of this cruel failure by the intention based Progressive community.

 

Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (5)

good-intentionsThe Question of Good Inventions vs. Good Results

Background

What is the proper relationship between intentions and results from the perspective of political policy choices?  I touched on this issue in a previous post, in which the strange behavior of Progressives in response to our failed Welfare State was discussed.

This discussion hasn’t yet included the human and social wreckage wrought by the Welfare State, where entire communities descended into generations of broken families, hopelessness, violence, addiction, and yes, poverty.

One would have thought that our moral betters would have been so appalled by this situation that a massive effort at reformation and renewal would have been pursued.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Rather, the poverty industrial complex has been on a unending campaign to prevent any reform and to expand failed policies to new areas of our society.

If there is doubt about this conclusion, I simply ask when was the last time that Progressives, Christians or otherwise, admitted failure for the current welfare policies and then proposed fundamental reforms?  Yes, they have proposed doubling and tripling down on those same failed policies, but doing more of the same certainly is not fundamental reform.  Moreover, when anyone dares to question the effectiveness of current welfare policies, let alone propose actual reform, they are shouted down as racist, selfish, uncaring and unChristian.

The Chicago Experience

I have lived for the past 34 years in the Chicago suburbs.  Over that time the City of Chicago has been governed exclusively by the Democrat Party, which is home for the Progressive political movement.  As a member of the PC(USA) I have seen how Progressive politics dominates the Presbytery of Chicago and a significant part of the local churches.  And, over that significant time period, I have consistently witnessed the obstructionist Progressive party-line that demands continuance of failed policies.

The results have been catastrophic for the city’s poor.

Murder

Here’s how John Kass has described the city’s murder situation in the Chicago Tribune.

How bad is the bloody violence in Chicago, where more than 700 people have been murdered so far this year and thousands have been shot in the street gang wars?

The gangs keep shooting, the survivors mourn, police morale is down, anti-police sentiment is up and the mayor says some cops have gone fetal.

And the politicians do nothing in the bloody city. Street gang violence in Chicago is as bad, if not worse, than the record-setting death years of the 1990s.

But there is no penalty for Democratic politicians who sit back in the Democratic city and do nothing to compel tougher sentences for gun crimes to keep the most aggressive shooters off the streets.

Some say this a gun issue. But that’s a con job. There are many guns in the suburbs, yet suburbanites aren’t slaughtering each other.

This is a street-gangs-with-guns problem, on the South and West sides of Chicago. And calling it anything else is a distraction to give cover to the politicians.

If there is a downside, it is only for the dead and the maimed and their families.

And there is a downside for police, too. Because if something goes wrong, the cop is the headline.

Yet what of the politicians who do nothing? They really have nothing to lose. And they’re doing just fine.

Another reason for Chicago’s tragic murder situation is utter failure by the authorities to solve these crimes in the first place.  Don’t look away, Chicago Progressive do-gooders, the city that has been under your control for generations has a murder case clearance rate of less than one-third the national average.  Yet, I hear virtually nothing from our Progressive betters about this appalling failure of Chicago’s governing authorities.

Chicago-Clearance-Rates-FINAL

But, as terrible as Chicago is from a total number of murders perspective, it is far from the worst in terms of murder rate.  The following figure shows the worst 2010-2015 murder rate (i.e., murders per capita) numbers for cities with populations greater than 250,000.

murder-rate-cities

And, who has been governing these cities for generations, well, Progressive Democrats!  To begin, note that the City of New Orleans has been governed by Democrats since 1872.  The following image from National Review allows us to see that the other four of the top five murder rate cities have also been continuously run by Progressive Democrats for generations.

NR-Urban-Dem-Dominance

When I hear Progressives address this issue at all, it’s at least 90% about gun control.  Apparently they believe that in minority communities inanimate objects called guns hold a magical power over the inhabitants, causing them to commit murder.  The fact (as explained by John Kass above) that guns lack this magical power in suburban and rural communities gives them not the slightest pause.  For people who tend to shout “racist!” at the slightest deviation from their party line, this looks like a pretty shaky glass house.

Education

Over this same time period Chicago’s public school system has performed disgracefully.  With regard to educational performance, the Illinois Opportunity Project states that:

… of CPS high school students who graduate in four years, less than 20 percent of them will be considered “college ready.”

With regard to financial responsibility the story is just as horrible, as documented by The American Interest.

Chicago’s public school system is on the verge of facing financial insolvency, and it’s not because selfish taxpayers have been starving it of revenue—both the Windy City and the state of Illinois have significantly higher than average tax rates. Much of the school district’s acute fiscal distress can be chalked up to mismanagement, plain and simple—short-sighted decisions by blinkered public officials who chose to mortgage the school system’s future against pension benefits for current retirees. Crain’s Chicago Business reports that CPS is finally drowning under the weight of interest on debt it has accumulated over the last decade …

Once again, Chicago’s utter failure to educate its children is only one specific case of a general situation, as is shown by the following figure.  As reported by the federal government, only 33 percent of public-school eighth graders scored proficient or better in reading in 2015 and only 32 percent scored proficient or better in mathematics.

urban-public-ed-failure-reading-chart

Does this abject failure of public education in our cities, which primarily affects the poor, bother our Progressive betters?  It’s hard to conclude yes after decades of watching them support the status quo with a ferocity that leaves no doubt as to their purpose.

What Really Matters?

These catastrophic failures, despite the incessant insistence on their benevolence by Progressives, Christian or otherwise, forces us to wonder about the relationship between intentions and results.  That is, if someone does things or supports policies because of “good intentions,” is that sufficient in and of itself as an act of charity?  Or, does their moral responsibility extend to the realm of demonstrable results?  These two philosophies lead to very different attitudes towards how best to help the poor, with corresponding differences in practical policies.

Occasional Confirmations (1)

greenAs I’ve blogged about many and sundry topics I, by necessity, have stated opinions and drawn conclusions.  Certainly there have been cases in which I wasn’t correct.  Being a fallen man, I’m far more sensitive to those occasions in which new evidence appears to confirm rather than contradict past ideas.  Three of these confirmations come to mind that rise to the level of sharing.

Jesus Christ as a Progressive Avatar

Early in this blog’s life I focused on the theological issues that appeared to be the primary sources of the PC(USA)’s movement into open apostasy.  One of the primary conclusions of this study was that Progressive Christianity had replaced Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture with one of their own making.  I discussed this idea in a February 2, 2015 blog titled “Jesus Christ Avatar.”  At that time I was using the term “postmodern Christian,” which I have come to consider as a subset of the larger group of Progressive Christians.  My statement of the issue was:

I contend that through the incessant repetition of these misleading statements postmodern Christians have emptied Jesus Christ of who He is and refilled him with who they would like him to be. They have turned him into an avatar whose purpose is to act as an embodiment of their philosophy. He has been turned into “that guy who surely agrees with whatever I decide is good and true” as opposed to the objectively real incarnation of God who said and did specific things that are authoritative in defining our Christian understanding of faith and it’s playing out in our lives.

The fascinating aspect of the associated confirmation experience was that what I had imagined to be a relatively recent development was actually at the very least decades old.  For, in a May 16, 2016 post titled “A Brief Excursion into PCUSA Heresy” I reported on the words of 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.

Is not this text, written fifty years ago, describing Jesus Christ the Avatar, but in more precise and theologically sound terms?  I say yes.

I have no wounded pride that my supposed “insight” was predated by at least fifty years. No, I’m simply thankful that someone of greater wisdom than myself was able to see where the PC(USA) was heading.  You might rather say that I confirmed Dr. Van Til’s brilliant foresight.  I’m certain that, were he still with us, this would be a matter of sorrow as opposed to pride.

 

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.

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.