29 February 2008


Frederick the Great’s motto, "L'audace, L'audace, Toujour L'audace" (Audacity, Audacity, Always Audacity), has been replaced in the PC(USA) by a new strategy of delay and intimidation. In the hope that congregations will surrender to bureaucratic indifference and the cost of scorched earth legal tactics, a national game plan is slowly being revealed. And under pressure from Louisville, the leadership of the church is collapsing to its earthly master’s will.

The most recent evidence of such a strategy is found in a “Property Policy” proposed for adoption by the Presbytery of South Louisiana (“PSL”). The strategy is based on the determination by an Administrative Review Committee of the Synod of the Sun that the only connectional element still left in the PC(USA) is the coercive tie of property.

In late 2006, PSL had entered into stipulated judgment in the case of a declaratory judgment action styled The First Presbyterian Church of the City of Baton Rouge v. Presbytery of South Louisiana. That stipulated judgment acknowledged that the property of the church “is held and owned for the sole and exclusive benefit of the First Presbyterian Church of the City of Baton Rouge.” The record reflects that prior to executing the stipulated judgment, PSL was represented by counsel who, presumably, had reviewed all of the relevant documents and were well-versed in the property law of the State of Louisiana.

Nonetheless, in January 2007, the Administrative Review Committee reported that by following the advice of counsel and stipulating to a judgment, thus avoiding a costly and unnecessary trial, PSL had “negate[d] the connectional covenant of our Presbyterian (sic) polity.” In spite of the obvious error in that statement, a chastened and submissive PSL has now proposed to adopt the strategy preferred by Louisville in its future response to requests for dismissal from the PC(USA). The key to that strategy is delay, Delay, DELAY!

The Book of Order is silent with respect to procedures applicable to requests from congregations for dismissal from the PC(USA). In fact, the only direction in the Book of Order with respect to dismissal is found in § G-11.0103:

"The Presbytery is responsible for the mission and government of the church throughout its geographic district. It therefore has the responsibility and power

* * * * *
i. To divide, dismiss, or dissolve churches in consultation with their members; . . .."

Nonetheless, with the blessing of Louisville, a number of presbyteries have begun to establish dismissal procedures that are , on their respective faces, unconstitutional because they mandate prerequisites that are counter to explicit provisions of the Book of Order.

The salient features of these procedures are:

1. A multi-part process. For instance, some “procedures” require that the session call a first congregational meeting for the purpose only of discussing the dismissal question. The Presbytery is allowed to appoint a special committee to meet with the congregation at that meeting, the special committee having the privilege of the floor with the right to speak. No type of vote may be taken at that first congregational meeting.

2. Thereafter, the Session may call a special congregational meeting for consideration of dismissal, but the meeting cannot be held sooner than three to six months after the date of the original congregational meeting held for discussion of possible dismissal. Once again, the presence of the Presbytery Committee at the meeting is required and the committee is given privileges of the floor with the right to speak. The presbytery usually sets a mandatory minimum quorum and affirmative vote before it will even consider the request. The most frequent minimums are a quorum of two-thirds to three fourths of active members and similar required super majority of those present and voting.

3. At least one recently proposed procedure, that of the PSL, requires that if the congregation desires to retain its property, the session must notify the presbytery of the results of such a meeting and request a meeting to discuss property. The presbytery then has 120 days to schedule the meeting. The participants on both sides of the meeting are prescribed: for the church, the Clerk of Session and two ruling elders and for the presbytery, the Stated Clerk, the Moderator of Council, and the chair of the COM.

Thereafter, the presbytery representatives will submit a report for consideration at the next meeting of the Council. Council then forwards the request “or a separate recommendation” to presbytery for consideration and action at the next meeting of the presbytery.

From this, it is evident that the presbyteries want look for every opportunity to delay the will of the congregation.

First, the procedures set unconstitutional quora and super-majorities for the congregational meeting. The Book of Order provides a quorum for a congregational meeting of 10 percent of the active members, unless the congregation asks for a lesser percentage, or the congregation adopts a greater quorum. Decisions are made by majority rule (50 percent plus 1). See, §§ G-7.0305 and .0308. But in the procedures forced on congregations by their presbyteries, the presbytery unilaterally and unconstitutionally amends the Book of Order in rder to protect its own interests.

Second, the presbytery interposes delays by requiring multiple meetings and then interposes the Council in a decision-making role.

Third, although the PC(USA)’s own legal manual clearly recognizes that property law is a matter of state law, the PSL procedure makes it highly likely that the negotiations will be kept free of legal arguments, giving the theological bureaucrats the freedom to misstate the import and applicability of Chapter VIII of the Book of Order to block the congregation’s will.

The apparent purpose in all of this is to frustrate the members of the congregation in the hope that they will just throw up their hands in desperation and leave. Additionally, all of this delay gives the presbytery plenty of time to appoint an Administrative Commission, remove the pastor, depose the session, and take over the congregation.

One final unconstitutional practice on the part of some presbyteries, such as Peace River Presbytery in southwest Florida, is to automatically consider the number of members who did not attend a congregational meeting as votes against separation. Thus, when Covenant Presbyterian Church voted overwhelmingly (787-237 or 77%) in favor of dismissal, the general presbyter, Rev. Graham Hart, argued that dismissal would be inappropriate. "While 787 members at Covenant's congregational meeting on Feb. 3, 2008, voted for dismissal, 554 members, by either not voting (317) or voting against dismissal (237), did not express that desire." (Emphasis added.)

The Book of Order does not allow absentee balloting or proxies. Yet, in this one instance, the presbytery assumes that those who had notice of the meeting and elected not to participate must be counted as voting against dismissal. That sounds like a de facto absentee ballot to me.

So, churches who desire to leave the PC(USA) can expect to have the deck stacked against them. Delay and other trickery is the plan of the day.

22 February 2008


Have they no shame?

That loud "thump" was the other shoe dropping. Not satisfied with using an extra-constitutional amendment process to change the Book of Order to their own liking, the bureaucrats and their allies strike again.

First, the Presbytery of Mississippi, having failed to adopt an overture asking the 2008 General Assembly to sever correspondence with the EPC, has written to Louisville asking Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick and General Assembly Council Chair Allison Seed to file a complaint against the EPC and the NWAC requesting that the organizaations "cease and desist from recruiting or receiving congregations of the PCUSA before they are officially dismissed, and to meet with representatives of such bodies for the purpose of coming to an amicable agreement with respect to such matters."

The letter goes on to state that "Thanks to much help, we are recovering from Hurricane Katrina. However, other foul winds are blowing, and we seek your help. Our concern deals with the best way to respond to the unwelcome interference and hostile actions of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the harm this is causing in our presbytery."

The presbytery is upset because Grace Chapel church has sought to enforce a previous judgement that it alone owns its property. After obtaining that decision, the congregation voted overwhelmingly to leave the PC(USA) for the EPC. As a result, the presbytery appointed an Administrative Commission to attempt to replace the elected session and prevent the departure.

Because the presbytery refused to honor the property judgement, the church sought the equitable protection of the civil courts. But in the eyes of the presbytery, it would not "be in this position but for the active involvement of the EPC, which encouraged the congregation to leave, and which accepted this congregation while the presbytery was contesting the election. This is hostile. This is morally wrong. It is illegal."

So now, EPC and NWAC are outlaws! Welcome to Sherwood Forest. Have a bite of roasted venison.

There is so much that is wrong about that letter that one is almost stunned. With whom will the complaint be filed?

Think about it: a congregation that was dissatisfied with the PC(USA) and apparently could obtain no relief from its presbytery opted to follow God's call for them to labor elsewhere. That is "morally wrong." They claimed a right to their property, as ajudicated. That is "illegal." In search of a new denominational home, the church asked representatives of EPC to talk with them. In so doing, the EPC became "hostile."

A poor choice of words when compared to the facts.

Second, at yesterday's meeting of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley (Alabama), the docket called for consideration of a constitutionally-valid request by a church to be dismissed to the EPC with its property. Instead, according to my sources, "an official from Louisville" asked that the request be tabled until after the General Assembly in June. It was suggested that at that time, correspondence with the EPC will be severed and it will then be impermissable for a presbytery to dismiss a church to the EPC.

Over a year ago, the Synod of the Sun declared that the only connection between a congregation and the PC(USA) was the property trust. I commented elsewhere that if the only thing connecting us is dirt, there is no real connection. Now, the presbyteries and their sponsors in Louisville seek to enforce that warped view. If a church is feeling theologically abandoned, the remedy for keeping it in the PC(USA) is for the leadership to work for its members rather than the liberal folks of whom they are so enamored. Refusing to do that, they have decided to use artificial parliamentary means to defeat the reasonable desires of the folks in many pews.

Have they no shame, indeed.

20 February 2008


As anyone who has stayed abreast of the situation in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is aware, the bureaucrats have seized control of the institution. When the choice is between Scripture and the Book of Order (Constitution), they go for the Book of Order.

I recently met an elder of a PC(USA) church in California. She told me about what she described as her "last" (i.e., final) Presbytery meeting. A candidate for ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament was being examined. So far, the toughest question posed by the Committee on Ministry was "If you are called to this church, what color will you paint the sanctuary?" (She admitted to being "slightly facetious.") Bottom line: the examination was far from rigorous.

My friend rose and asked, "Your Statement of Faith confuses me. Do you have an understanding of the atoning nature of the Cross? If so, what is it?"

She was immediately showered with boos, hisses and cat calls from the other members of the presbytery. The Moderator ruled the question out of order as "designed to embarrass and harrass the candidate."

Afterwards, another older elder came to her, took her hand and patted it gently, as a grandmother would a confused child. "Oh, my dear," she said. "I was once young like you. But don't worry. I'm sure you will see the light and return to our beloved Book of Order."

For over a decade, the Book of Order has contained as an ordination requirement the mandate that the candidate live a life of fidelity within the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman or of chastity in singleness. As soon as it was adopted, there were repeated attempts to amend that requirement out of the Book of Order. The idea that marriage was confined to a man and a woman was anathema to gays. They insisted that their lifestyle was not sin (Scripture be damned) and that they had a right to be ordained. Each time they managed to get an amendment to strike the orination requirement through the General Assembly, it was defeated by ever-increasing majorities of the presbyteries.

Finally, realizing that amendment was probably not going to work, they looked for an end run on the Constitution. A "Theological Taskforce on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church" (referred to as the PUP Taskforce) was formed and commissioned to report back to the General Assembly in one year. In the end, it took five years. As part of its report, the Taskforce proposed an "Authoritative Interpretation" of the Constitution that seemed to say that candidates whose lifestyle would pordinarily bar them from ordination could declare a scruple (a mental reservation) against the standard. The examining presbytery could then decide if the scruple went to an essential tenet of the faith. If the answer was "No," the candidate could be ordained.

As would be expected, many in the denomination were appalled by this extra-constitutional effort to amend the Book of Order without the consent of the presbyteries. Ah, but the bureaucrats and the liberals had an answer. "This changes nothing," they declared. "Those pesky evangelicals are just being alarmist. The requirements remain in force."

Nonetheless, several presbyteries adopted resolutions stating that in those presbyteries, the fidelity and chastity requirement would be deemed an essential tenet. No one who declared a scruple would be ordained. Those actions were immediately appealed to higher judicatories by the proponents of gay ordination.

Recently, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (the "Supreme Court" of the PC(USA)) ruled that those resolutions were an impermissible act, but also ruled that individuals could declare scruples only to provisions of the Constitution but not to conduct. In other words, they could say "I disagree with the orddination standard as written," but they could not say "and I do not intend to follow that standard." In effect, the GAPJC said that the authors and proponents of the Taskforce report were right; nothing had changed as a result of the Authoritative Interpretation.

But that was not what the bureaucrats and the lobbyists for gay ordination wanted. A member of the Taskforce has now introduced an Overture (resolution) for consideration at this summer's General Assembly. The Overture would have the General Assembly declare that the Authoruitative Interpretation adopted as part of the PUP Taskforce report was intended to allow candidates to declare a scruple with respect to forbidden conduct. The Overture declares that it was always the intent of the Taskforce and the General Assembly that candidates could do so.

Another nail has now been driven into the coffin of the traditional understanding of presbyterianism in the PC(USA). The imperial bureaucracy that has hungered for a monolithic hierarchical church has stricken back. Now we need wait only for June to see if the PC(USA) is a connectional church or an episcopal monarchy.

16 February 2008

Into the Woods

It is 4:30 in the morning, and as I have on this weekend for 25 years, I am waiting for my ride to pick me up for our annual trek to western Maryland for "the Campout." For the past twenty years, my camping partner has been my eldest son, Michael, my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. It is hard to believe that this is the quarter-century mark.

We were young men, then, two brothers, Duke and Barry--school teachers-- and a Navy officer, Bill, who had become my friend as we were Scoutmasters together. Later we brought our sons along. Now that they are the age we were when we statrted this adventure. They do most of the planning and logistics now and that's OK.

Over the years, we have endured illness, the vagaries of raising teenagers and seeing them develop into fine young men and women, abandonment, divorce and re-marriage, and the simple joy of friendship with men you can trust. I have often said that if I were in the direst of straits, there is no man other than Michael who I would want at my back. (His reply? "Well thanks a lot for inviting me into that mess!)

So, we will camp on the flat little spot near Tom's Run, pitch our tents in the accustomed spaces, build our usual huge fire, cook, shoot up an inordinate amount of many calibers of ammunition from rifles and pistols old and new--my M-1891 Mossin-Nagant, Mike's M-1, several SKS's, and whatever new toys that show up, and tell the old stories that get better each year.

In God's magnificent wilderness, we will travel back to a time when we were young and unstoppable and will watch our sons as they prepare to take our places with their sons.


14 February 2008


Several recent developments emanating from Presbyterian Church (USA) headquarters in Louisville call into question whether or not that denomination can still call itself either presbyterian or Reformed. The attempts by the bureaucracy to convert a presbyterian connectional form of government into one controlled in the episcopal form continue unabated.
First, the Louisville Papers counsel presbyters to "[f]irmly present the PCUSA (sic) as a hierarchical church," while conceding that "[c]ertainly, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A. does not refer to itself as a hierarchical church." Church Property Disputes: A Resource for those Representing Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Presbyteries and True Churches in the Civil Courts, at § III (Office of Legal Services, PC(USA) 2006).

Next, the Synod of the Pacific unilaterally, and without constitutional support, assumed the right to replace the Presbytery of Sacramento as a party in interest in a civil suit because it disagreed with the presbytery’s decision on a dismissal request, a decision left by the Book of Order to the sole discretion of the presbytery. See, G-11.0103i. In so doing, the synod assumed that the presbytery had no discretion, that the presbytery was subject to the direction of the synod, and that the presbytery’s only option in the face of a constitutionally-valid request for dismissal was to defend the so-called property trust contained in Chapter VIII of the Book of Order.

Finally, when the current Stated Clerk announced his retirement, Louisville prepared a procedure by which a select few bureaucrats were to review all candidates for the post and to anoint one as the bureaucracy’s choice. Other candidates and their proponents were to be subject to a gag order, under pain of disqualification.

When the sitting Pope dies, the College of Cardinals is assembled to select his replacement. The Curia does not vet the candidates and the voters (i.e., the Cardinals) are free to take as long as they wish and to use whatever means they desire to identify the candidate revealed to them by God. Louisville, unwilling to leave such a momentous decision in God’s hands, has surpassed even the Roman model to which it so clearly aspires. By this action, Louisville became more Roman than Rome.

12 February 2008

Be gentle with me

After enjoying so many other people's blogs, I have succumbed to the temptation to try it myself. I am sure that I will find that being the originator is a lot more difficult than responding to the originality of others.

This is an amazing age in which we live. My written journal, kept in fits and starts, was at best a legacy for my kids. A blog opens its author to the eyes of the world. Am I ready for this?

About the Blog name. In the old Navy--that of oaken ships and iron men--the fresh water for drinking was stored in a large cask or "butt" known as the "scuttlebutt." As the sailors gathered to get a drink, they shared the news of the day, some fact, some fanciful. After a while, gossip and general conversation came to be referred to as scuttlebutt.

I chose this title because I am a Marine, and have been for over forty years. The Marine Corps is a world with a salty lingo of its own. It is a world of "decks" (floors), "overheads" (ceilings), "bulkheads" (walls), "heads" (bathrooms), and "galleys" (kitchens). It is a world in which Sergeants and Captains--the two best ranks in the Marine Corps-- have awesome responsibility at a very young age.

In 1968, I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Marines. On Christmas Eve, I joined Charlie Company, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division at a place called Liberty Bridge, about 25 miles southwest of Danang. It began an association with some of the finest men I have ever known. Our annual reunions are still an almost holy experience as we gather to renew our bonds and to remember all of those who have gone before.

So, for my innaugural blog, I share some thoughts about my brothers from Vietnam.

They were a curious mix of boy and wise old man, meeting adversity with grim determination and gritty humor. There were boyish pranks and incredible gallantry. They were entrusted with the lives of other men at an age when many of their peers were still not allowed the use of the family car without parental supervision.

They quickly learned to "read" an "FNG"--a brand new guy in the unit. They did so in a hurry because war and the enemy do not allow a very long learning curve. They give few second chances. Each new Marine's inexperience posed a deadly threat to his fireteam, squad and platoon. The old hands were unforgiving of carelessness and stupidity.

But they also retained the ability to laugh at the absurdity of life, of war, of the military in general and the Corps in particular. This was the release they needed in order to avoid insanity or the paralysis of fear or clouded senses that lead inevitably to tradgedy.

And alway--always--they dreamed of getting on that "freedom bird" and returning to "The World," to home, family, friends, and normalcy. To a place where you picked up a lunch bucket or a briefcase without the fear that it was booby-trapped. A place where you did not automatically settle your helmet and flak jacket and check your weapon before walking through the door.

Although they would later learn that those thoughts and habits did not go away, they merely went to sleep, that was the ultimate dream.

These, then, were the Marines of Stationbreak Charlie.