Thursday, January 30, 2014

From New York Presbytery an argument for same sex marriage: my response

On Presbyterian Voices for Justice there is a link to Plucky Presby Blog, owned by teaching elder John Russell Stranger. Evidently the Presbytery of New York City had a debate on the 28th of January, on same gender marriage. They were voting on both an authoritative interpretation and an overture. Stranger took the progressive side in the debate and teaching elder Clark Bradley the orthodox view. Stranger has placed his speech on his blog.

The core of his argument has to do with the person of Jesus Christ and the Bible. Stranger attempts to say that we cannot limit our knowledge of God to the Bible. And he goes further suggesting that we learn more about God from Jesus Christ than from the Bible. Here is his three main points which he believes aligns with Reformed faith:

1.We believe in the Sovereign God, so we know God cannot be captured entirely by the Bible. To limit the Infinite God to a book—even the most Holy Book—is idolatry.

2.We believe Scripture is a central piece of God’s revelation to us. But it must never become the central core of God’s revelation; that is Christ Jesus alone.

3.We believe the Bible reveals God only through the power of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of the Living God that is at work in the world today, surprising us again and again.

After these three thoughts Stranger states, “Ultimately, the conversation about same-sex marriages cannot be about what the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) thinks the Bible says. It must be about who we believe God—revealed in Jesus Christ—to be.”

So lets look at these in order. On number one, yes, God is undoubtedly more than what he has revealed in his word—we will surely spend eternity exploring his glory. But notice what Stranger's statement fails to say and this will be true in all three statements. While God is more, we can only know what God has revealed in his word, the Bible. Creation does reveal the “eternal power and divine nature” of God but that is all. And we also see those attributes more clearly in Scripture.

On Stranger's second point, yes Jesus is the central core of God's revelation. But how do we know that? We know it from Scripture. In fact, everything we know about Jesus we know from the word of God. And Jesus Christ shines through all of the pages of Scripture. In the Old Testament he is seen in the signs, symbols and types. He is the ark, the sacrifice, the star that comes forth from Jacob, the branch that grows out of Jesse's root. Jesus is Moses' “a prophet like me.” And indeed, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises given by the prophets.

Jesus himself tells his disciples that he is found in all of the Old Testament, “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which were written about me in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24: 44) (See also Luke 24: 25-27) So without God's Holy Scripture we would know nothing of Christ.

Stranger, with his third point attempts to separate the work of the Holy Spirit from the words of the Bible. He states that “the Bible reveals God only through the power of the Holy Spirit.” This is true, the Holy Spirit illuminates the word to us. But then Stranger goes on to say “the Spirit of the Living God that is at work in the world today, surprising us again and again.” The implication here—and it is a wide jump—is that what the Holy Spirit is doing in the world “today” is different or something more than what Scripture has stated. The further implication being that the Holy Spirit is revealing that same gender sex is okay! But this is both untrue and unbiblical.

Yes, we do speak of God doing something new, but when we say that, we don't mean something that is different from a biblical viewpoint. Perhaps we are speaking of a new ministry such as some of the recent ones to prostitutes. Ministries that help them out of oppression including separation from pimps and their own addictions. Ministries that help them reach safe places, provide job skills, build up their self-respect, and more importantly ministries that lead the women to Christ and transformation. This is truly something new but not unbiblical, in fact, very biblical.

Stranger's last statement, I have quoted, rings true, except he does not understand what he has written. His words, “Ultimately, the conversation about same-sex marriages cannot be about what the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) thinks the Bible says. It must be about who we believe God—revealed in Jesus Christ—to be.” It doesn't matter what the PC (U.S.A) thinks the Bible says, it matters what the Scripture actually says. That means careful study and attention to the texts. And it means obedience to the written word of God and the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.

And who is this God revealed in the written & living Word? This God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the one who, out of love, chose to take on human flesh—the Father sent—the Son took on humanity, lived died on a cross and was resurrected for our sins and our hope. The Holy Spirit speaks of Christ and reveals the things of Christ to his people.

The Holy Spirit reveals the suffering and humiliation of Jesus, to which we are called and united. The Holy Spirit reveals the transforming power of the risen Christ which is ours in Christ. The Holy Spirit reveals the sanctification found in Christ rather than the shoddy pleasures of the world. The Holy Spirit is constantly, everywhere, turning humanity, in repentance, toward a new, and yes, abundant life in Christ. We are a new creation called by the Holy Spirit to turn from sin and walk in newness of life.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the Kingdom of God. Such were some of you , but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9-11)

Picture by Ethan McHenry

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Israel/Palestine Mission Network & Zionism Unsettled denies the uniqueness of Jesus Christ

I am surprised that no one protested loudly about denying the unique Lordship of Jesus Christ. Maybe all of those who care are those who have left or are in the process of leaving the denomination—but I must be wrong, surely I am wrong. I, just a few days ago, posted a book review where I told you that the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) organization, not only had insisted that Zionism was evil at its roots, they also insisted that it was possible that God was intending a greater or fuller revelation then Jesus Christ. That is what this quote taken from Zionism Unsettled means:
“...many contemporary Christians choose to modify our traditional theology by saying that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is the most complete revelation of God that we know and that we have experienced. This statement affirms the revelation of God in Christ while at the same time recognizing the limits of our knowledge and experience ...” (30)

 Perhaps it is because I did not include some other quotes from Zionism Unsettled. After writing the above quote, the author states:
From a logical standpoint, only someone who had entered deeply into the faith and experience of every religion could claim to know from an insider's perspective that God's revelation in Christ is “the most complete revelation.”
In other words, unless you have a deep faith commitment to all other faiths you can't know if Jesus is God's most complete revelation.

And after trying to explain that Augustine and Anselm's insistence that we believe “in order that we might understand,” has some kind of relevance to the question of the uniqueness of Jesus, the authors write:
With Augustine's and Anselm's perspective in mind, the traditional view (that the life, death and resurrection of Christ is “the most complete revelation that God has granted to humankind”) claims more than any individual can know. Claims like this won't attract new members or keep existing members from falling away; in a pluralistic world any attempt to circle the wagons may alienate as many as it attracts.
Don't you see that in one swift move the IPMN has resurrected the old German Christian idea that there could possibly be another revelation of God to set beside the one we know in Jesus Christ? Don't you understand that with those words the Declaration of Barmen is wiped out?

In Barmen we hear the words of Scripture:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. … I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.“(John 19:1, 9.
And beneath the Scripture in the Confession:

“Jesus Christ as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and death.

We reject the false doctrine as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation , apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths , as God's revelation.” 8.10-8.12

One either believes that Jesus Christ is God's complete revelation or one does not believe it and denies that Jesus Christ is Lord. God is not asking us to play games but to affirm the truth. Christians all over the world are dying because they affirm this truth. Why are we all so weak in our faith that we will not stand up against the Israel/Palestine Mission Network? Why would we listen to anything they have to say when they deny Christ.

The German Christians didn't like Zionism or Jews, and especially not the confession that Jesus Christ is the Only Lord, either. But we must, if nothing else, stand for Christ and love our neighbor.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Telling stories that hurt and destroy: A review of Zionism Unsettled

The Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church(U.S.A.) has published a study guide, with a CD, on Zionism. The study guide is entitled Zionism Unsettled and contains various subjects including religions, history, liberal theologians and evangelical Christianity, all having to do with Zionism. [1] The booklet is filled with historical statements that are so simplistic that they change historical truth and insults lobbed at both orthodox Judaism and orthodox Christianity. The identity of contemporary Jewish people,within the context of the authors' views on Zionism, is denied. Above all, historical Zionism, contemporary Zionism, and Zionism in general, are maligned and insulted.

Vilifying Zionism:  For example in section eight, the author, after quoting Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, who explains how respectful Muslims and the Qur'an are toward other religions, writes, “Zionism, however, has not reciprocated this respect for all peoples. Instead says Abu Sway, Zionism is by nature a system of discrimination and exclusion.” (50)

Mixing religion with their views of Zionism the authors, in section five, quote Dr. Rev. Naim Ateek:
What is quite clear from a Palestinian Christian point of view … is that the emergence of the Zionist movement in the twentieth century is a retrogression of the Jewish community into the history of its very distant past, with its most elementary and primitive forms of the concept of God. Zionism has succeeded in reanimating the nationalist tradition within Judaism. Its inspiration has been drawn not from the profound thoughts of the Hebrew Scriptures, but from those portions that betray a narrow and exclusive concept of a tribal god.
Here the authors have slipped into a gnostic view of the Hebrew Bible and the Hebrew God. In a different section they tear apart the beliefs of any monotheistic believer who views the tenets of their faith as true. Of the Jewish and Christian belief that God called the Jews to be a unique people, a people chosen by God, they quote Rabbi Brant Rosen:
To put it plainly, a voice that affirms claims of theological superiority in the name of one people cannot be the voice of God. A voice that asserts God's word to humanity was vouchsafed exclusively to the children of Abraham cannot be the voice of God. A voice that looks to the messianic day in which all nations will ultimately serve the God of Israel cannot be the voice of God. (italics Rosen) (30)
 Interesting enough this is part of the ending of a section that deals with Christian views of Jews and Judaism, a section that seemingly attempts to point out where Christian antisemitism lies. But instead, carefully choosing a Rabbi to do the dirty work, it treats orthodox Judaism and other forms of Jewish religion with contempt.

And as I have stated above, orthodox Christians are judged in just the same manner. The author opines, “...many contemporary Christians choose to modify our traditional theology by saying that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is the most complete revelation of God that we know and that we have experienced. This statement affirms the revelation of God in Christ while at the same time recognizing the limits of our knowledge and experience ...” (30) (italics and underlining authors) Those evangelical Christians who are aligning with the Israel/Palestine Mission Network should take note that this booklet undermines their faith. [2]

Leaving out the whole story: The section on political Zionism begins with different quotes which attempt to define Zionism by both its adherents and its detractors. This is the section with simplistic historical statements that change the truth of the birth of Israel and its history. The authors look at five Zionist leaders: “Theodor Herzl, Vladimir Jabotinsky, David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, and Binyamin Netanyahu.” After writing a very short section on Herzl and his reasons for founding the Zionist movement the authors and editors of Zionism Unsettled attempt to make a case for early Zionism's detractors, those they refer to as cultural Zionists. And since many Jews in Europe were experiencing greater freedom as well as assimilating into western culture there was resistance against political Zionism.

The historical problem here is that IPMN, as they write of immigrants who came from Russia to the Holy Land, fail to mention the horrific pogroms (persecutions) that were occurring in Russia and other Eastern European states against the Jews. So something is left out. The same is true when the IPMN authors and editors write about the birth of Israel:
In November 1947 the United Nations adopted a plan to partition Palestine into areas designated for a Jewish state and an Arab state. Each state would consist of both Jewish and Arab citizens, but tragically no provision was made for an interim United Nations military force to protect the rights of the minorities during the transition. As expected war broke out between Jewish and Arab forces when Israel declared independence in May 1948.
The authors go on to insist that two months before independence, Ben-Gurion adopted the Dalet plan to expel the Palestinians from their homeland. But they leave out what occurred just after the 1947 UN mandate to partition Palestine. They leave out most of what happened after Israel declared her independence and they don't tell the truth about Ben-Gurion's plans.

According to Efrain Karsh, professor and head of the Middle East and Mediterranean studies program at Kings College, London, after the UN vote to partition Palestine, a criminal gang overtook two buses filled with Jews and killed and wounded many of them. Arab prisoners in the main Palestine jail attacked the Jewish prisoners. Karsh records that many more were harassed and some killed in various cities. He goes on:
The next day brought no respite to the violence. Shootings, stonings, stabbings, and riots continued apace. Bombs were thrown into cafes, Molotov cocktails were hurled at shops, a synagogue was set on fire. To inflame the situation further, the AHC [Arab Higher Committee] proclaimed a three-day nationwide strike to begin the following day. Arab shops, schools, and places of business were closed, and large Arab crowds were organized and incited to take to the streets to attack Jewish targets. … In a single week, from November 30 to December 7, 1947, thirty -seven Jews were killed and many more were injured. By the end of the year another 180 Jews had been murdered. [3]
 Walter Laqueur, historian and author of A History of Zionism: From the French Revolution to the Establishment of the State of Israel, also writes about the period after the partition mandate by the UN:
The next morning the Palestinian Arabs called a three-day protest strike, and Jews in all parts of the country were attacked. On that first day of rioting seven were killed and more injured; the fighting continued to the end of the mandate. The next months, as chaos engulfed Palestine were a time of crisis for the Jewish community. … The most pressing task facing the Jewish population was to strengthen its defenses, since the Arab countries had already announced that their armies would enter the country as soon as the British left. Syria was not willing to wait that long: an 'Arab Liberation Army' inside Palestine was established in February with the help of Syrian officers as well as irregulars.[4]
Laqueur's last sentence in the above paragraph is the rest of the story. Rather than the simplistic statement by IPMN's Zionism Unsettled, “As expected war broke out between Jewish and Arab forces when Israel declared independence in May 1948,” the new state, Israel, was attacked by five Arab nations. And this after continuous attacks on Jewish citizens, after the UN's positive decision for partition..

So what about Ben-Gurion and the Dalet plan which was supposedly about expelling the Palestinians?

Laqueur writing in 1972 and republishing in 2003 simply states that some insist that the Arab refugees were forced out by Jewish massacres and threats of massacres, while others insist that the refugees left because Arab leaders encouraged them to do so. Both Laqueur and Karsh, who published his research in 2010 agree that there was a massacre of the village of Dir Yassin, 254 men, women and children were killed. (Karsh puts the number at 100.) And they agree that there was retaliation by Arab forces against a convoy of Jewish doctors and nurses:
Three days later, a Jewish medical convoy on its way to the Hadassa hospital on Mount Scopus was ambushed in the streets of Jerusalem with the loss of seventy-nine doctors, nurses and students.[5]
This was a war, and an extremely bloody war at that. But, Karsh who has done extensive archival work on the question of whether there was a planned expulsion of Palestinian Arabs gives an absolute no to the idea that Ben-Gurion or any one else planned to expel the Palestinians. His notes are massive and primary rather then secondary, that is, they are not taken from an author who quotes another author's document. He writes a whole chapter on this question:
On March 18, shortly after the launch of plan D, the Jewish Agency denied any intention to expel the Arab population of the prospective Jewish state, emphasizing instead that it “considered them as citizens, safeguarded their interests and livelihood and intended that they should participate in the government provided they were not implicated in incidents or let (sic) by saboteurs. [6]
Breaking the Link: Finally there is the matter of the identity of the Jewish people. In section 9 of Zionism Unsettled, which is written by Naim Ateek, who I quoted above, there is an accusation against the Jewish immigrants to Israel which is as racist a statement as any bigot, such as David Duke, might make. It calls into question the legitimacy of the identity of many Jews. He writes:
Zionism commits theological injustice by its appeal to God, history and race. Zionism claims the right to Eretz Yisrael on the basis of Yahweh's promises to the ancient Hebrew tribes in the Torah; the age-long dream of religious Jews to return to Zion; and the erroneous claim that all Jews are racial descendants of the Israelites of biblical times. Thus, Zionism is considered “far from Christian teaching.”
Part of my ethnic heritage is English and I am well aware that may include Normans, even Vikings and perhaps a bit from the Romans. But still my English is English. The Jewish immigrants who fled to Palestine from Europe were Jewish. Only rabid anti-Semites say they are not. (It is interesting that “race” rather than “ethnicity” was used in the quote and in Zionism Unsettled.) Words do matter.

Those who read and accept the words of this booklet, Zionism Unsettled, will eventually find themselves walking down the same roads that too many racists and anti-Semites have walked. One of the historians I have used in my review, Laqueur, agrees with some concerns of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He is concerned about the settlements, the fear of strangers, the ultra orthodox, yet he writes honest history and does not insult his subject, Zionism.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can do a better job of caring for the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not need to insult Zionism, Jews or orthodox Christians. And they can tell the truth that the 1948 War for Israel's independence was started by the Arab nations. They can admit that war is bloody—it always has been and always will be. Now is the time to dialogue and speak out for peace—it is not the time to encourage hate as this booklet does.

[1] There are nine main sections in the booklet and smaller one page sections as well as inset boxes. All larger sections give the name of one or several authors and state the section is based on their material or is a condensed and edited version. In most cases there is little way of knowing what might be an extra statement that does not belong to the original authors.

[2]Despite this disregard for orthodox beliefs, that Jesus Christ is God's complete and final salvation, the IPMN authors and editors nonetheless use Gary Burge who claims that to see two covenants, one for the Jews and one for the church, “negates biblical texts that claim salvation is through Christ alone.” (47)

[3] Efraim Karsh, Palestine Betrayed, (New Haven: Yale University Press 2010) 100-101.

[4]Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism: From the French Revolution to the State of Israel, paperback reprint, With a new preface, (New York: Shocken Books 1972-2003) 582-583.

[5]See Laqueur, Zionism, 584; and Karsh, Palestine, 122.

[6] Karsh, Palestine,236; This is the extensive citation done on this one paragraph: “Commander of the Jerusalem District and Brigade, “Appointments of Governors in Conquered Territories,” May 15, 1948, IDFA/5254/13. See also: “Plan D – March 1948,” Matkal/Agam, Mar. 10, 1948, HA 73/94, pp. 5-8; “Guidelines for Treating Surrendering Villages,” Apr. 22, 1948, IDFA 1949/4663/84, p. 12; IDF Chief of Staff, “Discipline,” July 6, 1948, ibid., p. 19; “Summary of Meeting of Arab Affairs Advisers in Natanya,” May 9, 1948, ibid.,p.30; “Proposal for the Administration of Surrendering Arab Cities and Villages,” Apr. 1948, IDFA 1949/481/14; Matkal, “Abandoned Property,” May9, 1948, Part III, p.68.”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Presbyterian Women and theology: beginning from human experience rather than Scripture

Presbyterian Women' latest Horizons, January-February 2014, is about theology. For Christians theology's subject is the triune God, its foundational text is the biblical text. Reading theologians supplies the rest of the story. But because the Bible is the Christian's textual authority, theology belongs to all of us. We all have access to reading, thinking about, praying over, and meditating on Scripture and its main subject God. But Presbyterian Women use several authors who too often, begin their theological thoughts, not from Scripture, but from human experience.                                                             picture by Penny Juncker

When one finally moves beyond the subject of theology to another subject, the dedication service for PW's “Birthday Offering,” pluralism, the idea that all roads lead to God, unnecessarily, and sadly surfaces in a multicultural piece. So let us look at how this begins and how it ends. [1]

Horizons always begins with a devotion. This one, “Your Inner Theologian” by Cecilia Amorocho Hickerson, never mentions Scripture but finds God located in creation. And one can understand some things about God from creation. Paul in the first chapter of Romans states, “For since the creation of the world His [God's] invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen through what has been made, so that they [humanity] are without excuse.” (20) And the psalmist states that the heavens declare the glory of God. Hickerson, however, finds God as a divine spark in humanity.

Referring to Mother Teresa, but sounding like a Buddhist, Hickerson states:
I can look inward—exploring, discovering, questioning and embracing the holiness, the sacred spark of life, of love, of God within me. I can look outward—noticing in the minutia of moments, glimpses of the Divine within you. Yes, you! Here in this moment, I greet the God in you, in the hope of getting to know God better.

She misses the revelation found in Scripture, for the Christian it is Christ in you—it is our unity with the resurrected Lord, through the Holy Spirit—it is not a divine spark. We learn about God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, as we pray, meditate on God's word and follow in the good works he has provided for us. Do we rejoice at the creativity of God as we view creation? Certainly. Do we marvel at God's power as we see transformation in another person who claims Jesus as Lord? Of course we do. But only through God's revelation in Christ Jesus given in the word of God do we truly comprehend God.

Shannon Craigo-Snell, professor of theology at Louisville Presbyterian theological Seminary, in her article, “Hold on Tightly,” has some good ideas about understanding other religions. Don't subsume them under your own faith, because you might be implying that they are all like Christianity. As she puts it, “Ignorance is the beginning of wisdom. If I really want to learn about another religion, I must begin by admitting that I don't already know.”

Craigo-Snell goes on to talk about the diversity within Christianity, using the understanding of how Jesus saves as an example of Christian diversity. But using the theological understanding of soteriology (salvation) as a way of describing diversity within Christianity tends to embrace even heretical movements such as those which only understand salvation in terms of doing good works (Jesus as example).That means that rather them embracing the orthodoxy of the centuries one is open to all kinds of 'Christianity.'

Craigo-Snell attempts to mold her students into faithful Christians, but with an openness toward other's religious differences. The problem with the article is that she never lifts up foundational beliefs but rather prepares her students to navigate within pluralism without a strong foundation.

Arianne Braithwaite Lehn's “Growing Toward a Bigger God: My Theological Journey Through Suffering,” tells how the physical suffering of her father changed some of her views about God. She writes that: She no longer believes in the sovereignty of God, but she does believe in God's presence in the midst of her troubles:
Instead [of believing that God allows tragedy] I believed God would be with our family no matter what, responding to the suffering with a strengthening of our hearts, a girding of our relationships and a reimagining of our of our purpose. God was not in “total control” as I once understood it, but God was totally committed to “working all things together for good,” wherever that led.

Here again human experience is overriding biblical theology. It is understandable that Lehn has struggled with her theology in the midst of suffering-but it is hard to understand why she must let go of the sovereignty of God in order to realize God's presence in suffering. They can both be true and biblical at the same time. Perhaps it was Lehn's attempts to figure out how God was using the suffering that led to her problem. God's purposes belong to him. Centering our faith in our experience will continually change our faith. Our faith should always be centered in the word of God.

PW annually features Birthday Offering recipients—this year there is one, The Blue Corn Mother's Advocacy Center which is helping Native American women and children suffering from domestic abuse. Alongside news of the recipient is a liturgical piece. It is written by Irvin Porter, the Associate for Native American Congregational Support in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). After offering several prayers Porter offers a meditation with the Nez Perce people of North America as his main concern. He tells of how the explorers Lewis and Clark shared a Bible with them and promised to send missionaries to explain Christianity to them. But they were forgotten and so sent members of their people to ask for missionaries.

Porter goes on to tell how some good missionaries came but also some evil ones who tainted Christianity with their abusive and aggressive actions. All of this is undoubtedly true. It needs to be told. But the problem is, speaking of theology, Porter mixes up the evil of destroying a culture's traditions with what is true and biblical Christianity.

He writes that the Nez Perce already knew God and used such names as “Creator, Great Spirit, Great One, Hinuwat, Wakan, Tonka [sic] Josh and Mahalo.” But he goes further writing, “Native American pathways to God were different than the ones some of your ancestors traveled, but all paths ultimately bring us to the same place where the Creator speaks to us.” Porter also writes:
Out of the depth of hopelessness, God's light shines out. We belong to a God who will never leave us or give up on us. God is our salvation. There are many different pathways to the Creator. But the pathways lead to God, the Creator, Hinuwat, Wakan, Tanka, Josh and Mahalo.

There are several issues to note here. Porter speaks of Christ as the one who reconciles all of our divisions and correctly states that Christians are one in him. Yet somehow he does not see Jesus as the only way to God. And although he speaks of the Bible and writes of how much the Nez Perce wanted to understand it, he fails to connect its message to the needs of the Nez Perce. Furthermore, among the gods he mentions, Creator and Great Spirit may be generic names like God, but such gods as Wakan Tanka (which is really one god not two) is not generic and the attributes are not similar to the God of the Bible.

This is theology without Christology, impossible for a Christian theologian. Christ is central or Christian theology falls apart. Porter is using human culture, which is human experience to explain and solve the problems of human sin. He has not made his case. The only remedy for sin is the death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. Both the cultural damning missionaries and the syncretism of a Native American elder are unsuitable for the proclamation of the gospel. “Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14: 6)

[1] There are some good articles in this Horizons. I recommend “Living and Dying” by Patricia K Tull and “Who Do You Say That I Am?” by Rhonda Mawhood Lee. But the article would have been better suited to this edition if she had looked at those verses which proclaim Jesus as the eternal Son, God of very God, since some who see Jesus as Messiah or Son of God fail to understand that he is the incarnated second person of the Trinity.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The normalization of Israel & the BDS movement

 One of the important arguments that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly deals with is the issue of divestment versus investment in the Holy Land. Last GA investment in Gaza and the West Bank was seen as a way to better help the Palestinians and promote peace and dialog.

But with extreme reasoning, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement promotes divestment rather than investment. And it is a reason that was not articulated in the last GA. The BDS movement isn't interested in dialog nor do they want any real cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. No cooperation, that is, unless it is in the form of “resistance” and “exposure of the Israel occupation.”

To do the opposite is supposedly to normalize an “abnormal” Israel. Reading an article on Al Shabaka: the Palestinian Policy Network, “The Palestinian Capitalist That Have Gone Too Far,” by Tariq Dana, I followed his link to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement web page to find out the meaning of the normalization of Israel. Dana linked to their page after complaining:
Economic normalization is institutionalized in a wide range of joint activities such as joint industrial zones, Israeli-Palestinian business forums, Palestinian investments in Israel and its settlements, and joint management of water resources. This is the highest level of normalization activity in the history of the Palestinian struggle for national liberation.

The BDS Palestinian movement, on its campaign to boycott Israel's cultural and academic institutions page, gives this definition of the normalization of Israel:
The Palestinian Campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel (PACBI) has defined normalization specifically in a Palestinian and Arab context 'as the participation in any project, initiative or activity, in Palestine or internationally, that aims (implicitly or explicitly) to bring together Palestinians (and/or Arabs) and Israelis (people or institutions) without placing its goal as resistance to or exposure of the Israeli occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression against the Palestinian people. [2} This is the definition endorsed by the BDS national committee (BNC).

This is an all encompassing definition and aim. It is meant to prevent any joint ventures of good will, any dialogue between factions, any compromise that could bring peace to the area. And since the BDS movement completely demonizes Israel and acknowledges nothing but good toward the Palestinians, whether they are moderate or extremist, it leaves no place at all for peace. Such attitudes will lead to utter and endless war.

Jesus has given us a road map toward, at least, an inner peace, but with that we are able to work for peace waiting for that great day of peace, the return of Messiah. In his beatitudes he states, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship gives commentary on all of the beatitudes. Among other thoughts on being peacemakers, Bonhoeffer reminds the Christian reader that it is Jesus who is their peace, and he also reminds them that peacemakers “maintain fellowship where others would break it off.”

When all of the activist enter whatever committee addresses these issues in the 221st GA may those who name themselves as Christians not follow along with the Boycott, Divestment, Movement, whose only goal is too often to shame rather then bring reconciliation to the troubled Holy Land. Here is a wonderful video of Palestinian and Israeli young people talking honestly about their fears and issues. It is very well done by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace.

Voices / Peace from PFMEP on Vimeo.

Picture by Penny Juncker

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship delegates to the Holy Land & Omar Barghouti

The 26 delegates to the Holy Land sponsored by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship listened to a lecture given by Omar Barghouti the founder of the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions movement. Teaching elder, Aric Clark, one of the delegates, wrote about it and divestment on the blog Dispatches from the Holy Land. Clark insisted that the least the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) could do was divest from companies doing business with Israel. Clark is of course echoing Barghouti.

Barghouti spoke on behalf of the BDS movement at a Socialist conference in Chicago in 2011. I will place the video here and although it is long and I disagree with most of it, I think it is important for Presbyterians to understand what the PPF delegates are listening to and what they will be bringing as talking points to the 221st Presbyterian General Assembly. But first some highlights:

Barghouti states, during the question and answer time, that he won't speak to the idea of a one state or two state solution, but since one of the three prongs of the BDS movement is the right of return for Palestinians there would effectively be no Jewish State. If there is no Jewish state eventually the Jews would be either ousted or treated as inferior as Jews and Christians are treated in many Muslim states today.

Adding to this is Barghouti's insistence that a Jewish state cannot be a democracy. Clark and I, several nights ago, argued this via Twitter. Barghouti argued this from a secular, undoubtedly socialist, maybe Marxist's view. And it is a foundational view of the BDS movement which interestingly enough involves socialists and extremist Muslims. And while Barghouti certainly operates the BDS movement from a non-violence perspective in the video he insists that those Palestinians using violence were acceptable given they were defending their country. So suicide bombings and rockets aimed at the innocent with no military target in view are acceptable?

Is this the kind of propaganda Presbyterians need heaped upon them at the General Assembly, or do we all need some honest and fair dialogue?

For my first article on the PPF delegates see-The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship delegates and the wrong guide

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship delegates and the wrong guide

In committee 15, The Middle East Issues committee of the 2012th Presbyterian General Assembly, I remember a young man, a commissioner who took some flack because he had gone on a trip to Israel subsidized by a Jewish group. I don't remember his name or the name of the Jewish group, that isn't important, I just remember that he said he had also gone on a trip to the Palestinian Territories and that he would not vote on some issues. But I've thought of him as I have read tweets coming from the Middle East Peace delegation now in Israel and Palestine. They are sponsored by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship who have also stated that the delegates can be subsidized up to 50 percent although they do not say who is subsidizing them.[1] As the announcement of the trip states:

Participants will experience the realities of life in the Holy Land – the occupations, settlements, and peace efforts -- by meeting with those living there. Those who attend will be expected to be ambassadors for justice at the mid-June 2014 General Assembly in Detroit. Additionally, participants will be asked to make a commitment to work as advocates for the end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and control of the Gaza Strip, and for security for both Israelis and Palestinians.
 I know at least one of these delegates and I know that undoubtedly most of them are dedicated, kind and genuine people. But their words have been, in many cases, bought, and badly from what I am reading. They were trained at the Stony Point Center in New York. But they, of course, also are being guided and informed by other people in the Middle East. One person who was chosen to do this was Jonathan Cook who is a journalist and an author.

One tweet by a commissioner is, “Jonathan Cook gave us an incredible and eye-opening tour of Nazareth yesterday:  #PPFinAction.” In that tweet is a link to Cook's web site and blog. But he has also written for and his material is used by Veterans Today, the anti-Semitic web site that the Southern Poverty Law Center sees as having entered the neo-Nazi movement.

Cook on his own blog buys into all kinds of conspiracy ideas and libels against Jewish citizens including the killing of Arafat and the selling of Palestinian body parts. Cook concludes on that last issue that since the Israel's “long time” pathologist had been fired for stealing body parts from dead IDF soldiers, “he was undoubtedly doing the same to the bodies of Palestinians brought to his laboratory.” But his statement is conjecture and besides that it hardly backs up the libel that Israel was harvesting body parts and selling them. Almost all of his writing is that kind of writing. Logical thinkers should be troubled.

Cook also appears to believe that most of the European Jews descended from the ancient Khazars thus the Israelis supposedly have little claim on any of the land of ancient Israel. He finds nothing good in Israel and manages to ascribe evil intentions to every act they perform. For instance in one post he insists that some contrived acts of anti-Semitism in France are a plot to move more French Jews to Israel despite the very true fact that there has been a sharp rise in acts of anti-Semitism in France.

The Presbyterian delegates spending their time among local Arab and Jewish communities will undoubtedly find much to be concerned about, care about and love, but they will certainly be misled by some of their guides. May our prayers be with them that God will 'accidentally' lead them where their guides did not intend for them to go. May they see the good work of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. May they come to GA prepared, not to use the propaganda that others have pushed their way but the truth of the bad and the good on both sides of the region's peoples.

The delegates blog can be read at: Dispatches From the Holy Land

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pray for Catholic brothers and sisters, and look over your shoulder- Update

Now is the time to stand up for our Catholic brothers and sisters. And while we are at it we might cast a look over our shoulders at the antics of some Presbyterian folks who want to put their arms around secular worldliness and death. Catholic writers of blogs and columns are writing today of a very bigoted and vile article in the U.S.News and World Report's opinion section. The article, “The Catholic Supreme Court's War on Women” by Jamie Stiehm, is nothing but an ugly attack on the Catholic Church and the Catholic women who are faithfully attached to their faith.

Stiehm clearly places her own feminism above religious freedoms in this country. She slams Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for authorizing a temporary stay for the sake of the Little Sisters of the Poor to keep them from being fined for refusing to sign a paper concerning their beliefs about contraception and abortion. The effect of signing would allow a third party to provide birth control and abortifacients for the sister's employees—but it still means that the nuns are providing what they do not wish to provide. The injunction is only temporary, but it has angered many progressive and radical feminists to the point that they are willing to step beyond past liberal views of tolerance.

Stiehm's attack is toward Christian women since she writes, “Sotomayor's stay is tantamount to selling out the sisterhood.” In other words women are only allowed one position, that is a radical feminism which is open to the sacrifice of unborn children. Otherwise they are, evidently, just bowing to men.

But Stiehm's attack is also definitely against Catholics:
“Sotomayor's blow brings us to confront an uncomfortable reality. More than WASPS, Methodists, Jews, Quakers or Baptists, Catholics often try to impose their beliefs on you, me, public discourse and institutions. Especially if "you" are female.”
“Catholics in high places of power have the most trouble, I've noticed, practicing the separation of church and state. The pugnacious Catholic Justice, Antonin Scalia, is the most aggressive offender on the Court, but not the only one.”
There is more but that is enough. I remember the old question which I will try to paraphrase. “If you were being accused of being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you.” Our Catholic brothers and sisters are loaded down with convicting evidence at this moment.

Presbyterians are struggling with the same issues but ours is a different battle. In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) we are struggling against the Church leadership, against radical feminists and against affinity groups who keep mixing up social justice with oppression and death.

Just this day on the Facebook page of Presbyterian Voices of Justice there was conversation and debate around an article they had linked to, “7 Facts About Birth Control that Conservatives Don't Won't You to Hear.” This was the PVJ's answer to my comment that this was about religious freedom:

“Presbyterian Voices for Justice welcomes diverse opinions on this page, but people need to know that we stand firmly with other mainline Protestant denominations in supporting access to contraception and legal abortion. While we haven't done polling among our members and supporters on this particular issue that's before the courts, Presbyterian policy respects both religious freedom and the rights of individuals to determine their health care needs -- particularly women, who have been subject to legal regulations preventing their private decision-making. It seems like a dangerous precedent for an employer to be able to opt out of providing employees with health care coverage of things with which they disapprove. Churches are already allowed to opt out for religious reasons, and groups like the nuns merely have to sign a paper asking to opt out. [See above what this really means] (1) One's religious rights should indeed be protected, unless they interfere with another person's rights -- in this case, to health care. As the co-moderator of PV4J, I think I speak for a majority of our group in hoping that the Supreme Court rules in favor of accessible reproductive health care for all who want it.”

The problem here is that the issue isn't about birth control, it is about religious freedom; being forced to act against your own beliefs. This is really persecution, because if you stand up for your faith you will have to pay heavy fines which will destroy your ministry or your business if you are a Christian owning a business. And contrary to what may happen to religious freedom,  women are free to use and purchase birth control, it isn't against the law to do so. No one will fine them.

When a denomination aligns with the state in encouraging laws which damage Christian faith we are entering a terrifying time—except--the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church.

Pray for and encourage brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church. Pray for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that she will remove herself from the culture of death.

Update: The Presbyterian Voices for Justice just took down their link with all of the comments including their own. They of course have not stated whether they thought it was a bad article or whether they didn't want others to read many of our opinions including those of  Marie Bowen of Presbyterian Pro-Life. Now at least three people, including myself, have been banned from writing comments on their Facebook page.

(1) Here is how my daughter Penny Juncker, using a quote, explained the problem of just signing the paper:

"When the contraception mandate first caused an uproar, the administration contrived a so-called accommodation for religiously oriented groups (actual churches have always been exempt). But whoever crafted it had a sick sense of humor. The very same document by which a group registers its moral objection to contraceptives and abortifacients also authorizes the insurer to cover them for the group’s employees. What the accommodation gives with one hand, it takes away with the other." from a piece written by Rich Lowry.

Some excellent Catholic articles about the article in the U.S. News and World Report are:

Fisking Stiehm’s Bigotry at US News

Dear Jamie Stiehm & US News: Leave Jefferson Out of Your Know-Nothing Screed {The "Know-Nothing" party was an American  political party in the 19th century which opposed Catholicism.}

Great moments in journalism: the shocking bigotry of U.S. News & World Report

Monday, January 6, 2014

OVT-017-an overture about Israel that uses Angela Davis as a proof text. Update

See Update below

OVT-017- On Engaging Presbyterians to Witness for Palestinian Human Rights and for Ending the Occupation of Palestine—From the Presbytery of Grace. This is an overture with a concurrence from the Synod of the Covenant. It is an extremely troubling overture with clear goals hidden in very vague wording. It is also potentially dangerous because some of its rationale could involve the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the use of both anti-Semitism and Marxist ideology. And once again it is full of very one-sided history and in some areas contradictory.

First one should point out, as always, Israel does have problems with such items as the settler movement, water rights and the placement of the security wall. However, to speak of these problems without addressing Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State without threats of annihilation is wrong. To not address suicide bombers or rockets entering Israel from radical Islamist in both the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon shapes the overture and rationale into nothing but propaganda.

What is clear in the document is a call for the PC (U.S.A.) to define Israel as an apartheid state, to call for the United States to end military aid in the amounts they now give to Israel and insist that all other organizations of the PC (U.S.A.) use the document to shape their own policies toward Israel. Part of the statement rather then referring to Israel and the Palestinian Territories refers to those living within the former Mandate Palestine.

It should be noted that an attempt to bring reconciliation among all of these religious and ethnic groups in this area is a worthy cause but to define them as those living within former Mandate Palestine has too great an implication since this overture is bolstered by many seeking the end of the Jewish State. And this is where this overture turns particularly ugly.

One of the entities named in the rationale, as experts, is the “Russell Tribunal on Palestine,” which is an off-shoot of what was the Russell Tribunal on Vietnam. The description of the tribunal on their web site is, “The Russell Tribunal on Palestine is an International People’s Tribunal created by a large group of citizens involved in the promotion of peace and justice in the Middle East.” In other words this is an unauthorized tribunal heavily laden with socialist and even Marxist members. As the tribunal themselves explain:

"The legitimacy of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine does not come from a government or any political party but from the prestige, professional interests and commitment to fundamental rights of the Members that constitute this Tribunal".

Some of the more notorious members of this tribunal are: Angela Davis a member of the communist party, Cynthia McKinney, who claimed that President Bush was involved in 9-11, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, John Dugard , Michael Manfield, and Aminata Traoré.

In the rationale there are quotes by other persons not connected to the Russell Tribunal. One person that is quoted is Ramzy Baroud, editor of the Palestine Chronicle. Baroud, a Palestinian American, has had several of his articles published on Veterans Today, the web site that the Southern Poverty Law Center, on their Hate Watch blog, describes as having entered the neo-Nazi realm. Likewise Baroud's Palestine Chronicle uses many of Veterans Today's writers. Also Baroud writes for Press TV, Iran's state funded media. They use Veterans Today as their United States outlet.

The latter part of the rationale is devoted to information about the Israel and Palestine problems as seen by the United Nations and the policies of the PC (U.S.A.). There is also history which is not accurate such as:
“On November 29, 1947, the United Nations adopted a Partition Plan for Palestine that divided the League of Nations’ British Mandate of Palestine. In this partition plan, 44 percent of the land was allocated for an Arab state and 56 percent was allocated for the Jewish state. While Israel did become an independent state in 1948, the independent Palestinian state did not come into existence because the land designated as an independent Palestinian state was militarily occupied by Israel.

 Between 1948 and 2009, the state of Israel has systematically occupied and/or annexed most of the land that had been designated by the United Nations for an independent Palestinian state. In doing so, Israel has denied the Palestinians a right to a nationality.”

The first statement that Palestine did not become a state after 1948 because the land designated as an independent Palestinian state was “militarily occupied by Israel” isn't true. And the events that followed are so complex that it would take a very long paper to sort out the matter. The issues cannot be brought down to such simplicities.

Overture 017 is faulty at its core as it leaves out important information on Hamas and other radical Islamic groups within Gaza. It fails to tell the whole history of both sides of the Israel and Palestine conflict. It uses spurious groups and information to under gird its recommendations To pass this overture would bring shame to the PC (U.S.A.).

Update: This overture-017 states that it has a concurrence with the Synod of the Covenant. Under Presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order there is this:

" [G-3.0302d] under (The presbytery has a responsibility to maintain regular and continuing relationship to synod and General Assembly by:

d. proposing to synod such measures as may be of common concern to the mission of the church, and/or proposing to General Assembly overtures that have received a concurrence from at least one other presbytery, ... "

It seems that without another concurrence from another presbytery, this overture is not yet valid or at least should be challenged.  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A ministry in Mexico: His Ministry

Because so many Presbyterian Churches send youth and others to Mexico on ministry,( my church, Journey, sends whole families, young people, children and adults to build a house and teach vacation Bible school as well as other services), I am posting about a ministry I know in Mexico. It began in Baja. And its story speaks of God's great mercy and love.

In the seventies, at the same time my family was attending Warehouse Ministries in Sacramento, we also on occasion traveled to Baja, to an orphanage, His Ministry. I wrote about it several years ago, “Rosa and Other Children of Mexico: A Story and A Poem.” For too many years we lost contact with the ministry, but several years ago regained contact. Or I should say my husband did by receiving their newsletter. One came today which turned out to be the 2013 Annual Report. My husband left it lying on the kitchen table and I just picked it up. I am amazed at God's care for his people.

This is a ministry that began in Baja in Colonia Vicente Guerrero. 
 The beginning of the story is on the ministries web site. It begins:

God had a plan for the lives of Chuck and Charla Pereau, a fireman and housewife from North Hollywood, California. In 1966 they took an unforgettable journey 178 miles south of the U.S./Mexico border and received a supernatural call and vision. This would change not only their lives but the lives of countless others.

The vision came in the sound of children laughing at a place where there were no children…only old and crumbling adobe buildings. A verse from the Bible was whispered in Charla’s ear, “Lo the fields are white unto harvest…” As she looked, the sparse wild grasses around her were transformed into a waving field of grain. She and Chuck felt assured that God had brought them to this desert place. They prayed and shared the vision with a few trusted friends. God rewarded their faithfulness and soon they were able to purchase the old buildings on the 72 acres. Thus began “Hogar Para Niños,” FFHM’s first orphanage. Needy children came and were fed, clothed, loved, nurtured and discipled in Christian faith.
Now, according to their Annual Report, they have a ministry in Tijuana, (I was there for the beginning of that ministry.) a mission in Sinaloa (on the mainland) in Michoacán (on the mainland) and in Oaxaca, (on the mainland) which includes church planting and an outreach in the mountains. There are prison ministries and even help with music in a prison.

God's blessings are so many and so good.

*The picture is of one of the old and crumbling buildings, the theatre. My husband Brad took the picture almost forty years ago.