Archive for pcusa

GA222

My friends from Seminary, many of them, are posting from #GA222 in Portland. Reading their posts, I feel like such a dog in the manger. “They’re happy. Why can’t you be happy for them?” I ask myself. The reason is the same reason I wouldn’t be happy if someone had cancer and they were treating it with homeopathic remedies. (“None of the side-effects of chemo!”) They may be happy, but they’re not addressing the problem.

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Good grief. The brain trust at World HQ published the PC(USA) Book of Confessions as a PDF without a table of contents. Way to move (cautiously) into the 1990s!

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Sexual Relationships — Theory and Practice

In view of all the changes to the PC(USA)’s Book of Order, it’s worthwhile to look at what its Book of Confessions says it believes. We wouldn’t want our practice to get ahead of our theology, after all:

d. The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind. Anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of man’s alienation from God, his neighbor, and himself.

—Confession of 1967, §9.47

That’s pretty good. But it goes on to explain this problem as follows:

Man’s perennial confusion about the meaning of sex has been aggravated in our day (1) by the availability of new means for birth control and the treatment of infection, (2) by the pressures of urbanization, (3) by the exploitation of sexual symbols in mass communication, and (4) by world overpopulation.

—Confession of 1967, §9.47 (Numbers added for reference.)

There’s as much wrong as right with the list of reasons. (1) and (3) are obviously true; (2) has some truth in it, and (4) might be true if it weren’t for people like Norman Borlaug who solve problems instead of whining about nebulous potential dangers whenever the status quo is challenged.

Another problem with this list is that by lumping everything until about WWII together and calling them “perrennial” problems, backward views about sexual relationships like those of Boko Haram and ISIL don’t rate a mention, for all the violence and sorrow they’re causing.

In other words, our confusion about the meaning of sex was reflected in the very documents that tried to address it, almost fifty years ago.

Yet it reads like a breath of fresh air in today’s climate. The last two generations have not fared well (by any metric) as a result of what appears to be not a linear but an exponential accumulation of problems.

In the intervening years, new ways our confusion is aggravated have become apparent. I would include among them, (5) by the welfare state’s need for a broad tax base, which led to the creation of many inducements for women to work outside the home, and (6) by society’s misinterpretation of marriage as being about conferring approbation of and support for sexual rather than parental relationships.

Many of these causes are in fact symptoms of another, deeper, problem: the idea that we are smarter and more enlightened than our ancestors. We have made more progress along some invisible track. This gives us the audacity (or impetuosity) to implement change based simply on theory, rather than promising results from field tests. We impose our theory across all of society rather than using small laboratory environments to discover what works and what doesn’t.

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Will the Last Congregation to Leave…

…turn out the lights? Another one bolts for the exit. I don’t think they’re going to be the last.

The church in Richland became one of 20 southwestern Pennsylvania congregations to vote to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) and join the EPC. Of the 400 members who voted Sunday, 368 voted to leave; only 31 voted to remain affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church and Round Hill Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth Township also voted to join the EPC recently.

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Issue Advocacy Funding

Just awesome: I’m helping to fund a tool Presbyterians can use to pressure congress without the effort of writing a real email of their own. (Bonus: it uses Flash.)

Just take a look at the items in the “Legislative Alerts” tab.

Good grief. That’s what the PC(USA)’s Presbyterian Mission Agency (i.e. the GA Council, lately known briefly as the GA Mission Council) is doing in its Office of Public Witness?

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GA Update

I’ve been too busy to follow the GA closely, but I’ll post a few items that I noticed over the weekend.

(By the way: the only way to get timely information about GA seems to be by following Twitter or the RSS feeds for the Christian Post. Our denomination’s official sources are either unnavigable or updated at a tempo that is rather, umm, leisurely.)

The big news, of course, is that GA did not approve the committee’s redefinition of marriage. The defeat was by a narrow margin, however, and is probably only a matter of time, however, with the continuing exodus of more-conservative congregations.

In other news, GA:

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High-Percentage Tithing “Accelerators”

Here’s an article about some things that are found in Presbyterian churches with a higher-than-average proportion of people who contribute a high percentage of their income to the church.

(Did you get that? These are factors that, when you find them in a church, give you grounds to predict that the church will have a more high-giving contributors than average churches. The article calls these factors “accelerators” but that suggests causation, as if these factors somehow stepped on the tithing gas pedal. From my reading, a better term would be “predictor.”)

Anyway, these “accelerators” are as follows:

  • More conservative worshipers.
  • More people who attend at least weekly.
  • More (i.e., a higher-than-usual proportion of) men.
  • Larger congregations.

It’s interesting to speculate what the connections are (besides statistical anomaly) between these factors and higher giving.

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Calvin on Tradition

Preparing for my last sermon, I found some choice quotes from Calvin on submitting to traditions. (These are from the Institutes 3.19.7-11, with tiny modifications for readability).

We are not bound before God to any observance of external things which are in themselves indifferent (“adiafora”), but that we are now at full liberty either to use or omit them. … Once the conscience is entangled in the net, it enters a long and inextricable labyrinth, from which it is afterwards most difficult to escape.

In one word, we see whither this liberty tends viz., that we are to use the gifts of God without any scruple of conscience, without any perturbation of mind, for the purpose for which he gave them: in this way our souls may both have peace with him, and recognize his liberality towards us.

“A haughty mind often dwells in a coarse and homely garb, while true humility lurks under fine linen and purple.” Let every one then live in his own station, poorly or moderately, or in splendor; but let all remember that the nourishment which God gives is for life, not luxury….

… We should assert our liberty before men. This I admit: yet must we use great caution in the mode, lest we should cast off the care of the weak whom God has specially committed to us.

… Our liberty was not given us against our weak neighbors, whom charity enjoins us to serve in all things, but rather that, having peace with God in our minds, we should live peaceably among men. What value is to be set upon the offense of the Pharisees we learn from the words of our Lord, in which he says, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind,” (Matt. 15:14).

Bend over backwards to accomodate the weak, and ignore the Pharisees. How easy it is for me to do just the opposite!

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Apparently We Don’t Believe Anything

Another problem with the new PC(USA) web site: apparently we don’t believe anything anymore. Or, if we do, those beliefs are carefully hidden.

Now, I’m on record as liking the new look of our denomination’s website. And I’ve already commented, negatively, about a particularly smarmy “reasons I’m a Presbyterian” badge posted there.

But I was hoping the PC(USA) web site would at least be better organized. I entertained the hope that it would be easier to find things there now, and it’s not.

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Checking Our Heads

Yesterday, I enthused about the PC(USA) website’s makeover, and one of my Facebook friends went to see it. He’s a Southern Baptist, and he wasn’t impressed with this quote on the home page:

Check Our Heads!

The pull quote you see here isn’t quite a quote; if you watch the video you’ll see they “punched it up” a bit. What he actually said was,

“It’s a reasoned faith. I don’t believe we should check our heads at the door when we go to church. That’s one of the reasons I’m a Presbyterian, I guess.”

I sighed when I read that, but the way the page looks, you can hope it’s dynamic content and different visitors will see different quotes. But so far, it appears to be stuck on this one. That’s regrettable.

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