30 May 2008


Well, it has finally happened. I’ve been memed by Toby Brown over at The Classical Presbyterian.

The Start of Summer Meme

1.) What first tells you that Summer is here?
2.) Name your five of your favorite distinctively Summer habits or customs.
3.) What is your favorite smell of Summer?
4.) What is your favorite taste of Summer?
5.) Favorite Summer memory?
6.) Extreme heat or extreme cold? Which would you choose and why?
7.) What books do you plan to read for the season?
8.) How does the Summer affect your faith? Is it a hindrance or an ally?

Here goes:

1. That warm, grassy smell—with some freshly mown alfalfa thrown in, if possible—that hangs over country that has been baked all day. It is subjective, but there is that one evening each year when I step out on my deck, take a deep breath, and say “Summer’s here.”

2. Firing up the grill most nights of the week.
Sitting on the deck listening to the Phillies and/or the Cardinals (a benefit of XM Satellite radio)
The first firefly hunt of the season
The annual neighborhood trip to see our nearby double A ball club play in Reading.
The weekly Friday night gatherings at the head of one driveway or another and not getting into the house until 10 or 11.

3. Tie: fresh cut hay and the smell of the rain during a thunderstorm.

4. Tie: sweet corn grilled in the husk and fresh tomato slices.

5. Summers in my home town (Stanberry, Missouri). It was quintessential America in the 1950’s and early 60’s.

6. I’ll take the heat any time. As an infantry officer, I got to experience both. There is nothing more miserable in my book than being so cold that it seeps into your very bones. Plus, there is no snow in the Summer. As my Grand Dad used to say, “No one ever died of a heart attack shoveling sunshine.”

7. Re-read Romans to prepare for Senior High Sunday School
Newt Gringrich, Winning The Future
Newt Gingrich, Real Change
Complete J.J. Norwich's three volume history of Byzantium
David Halberstam's The Coldest Winter
Re-read Lloyd Lunceford’s A Guide to Church Property Law.

8. Summer neither advances nor hinders my faith, although I do like to take my Senior High class outside occasionally and it is a break for them. Additionally, I admit that it is easier to lay in my deck hammock and wonder at His universe when it is warm. (I have been out there on a cold January evening, too, but summer is easier.)

27 May 2008


For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out, the brute!'
But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot;

"Tommy" by Rudyard Kipling. [Historical note: “Tommy” is Great Britain’s equivalent of America’s “G.I. Joe,” (as used in WWII, not the doll).]

Yesterday was Memorial Day. As I observed in my blog dated May 19, there is a lot of confusion amongst our citizenry regarding the meaning and intent of Memorial Day.

As usual, I attended the annual Memorial Day Parade and service at the Downingtown Veterans’ Memorial. It was a glorious day, sunny, warm, perfect. The huge flag hung limp at half-mast until the service began. A small breeze kicked up and the flag (19’ x 39’) billowed magnificently during the rest of the 90 minute service, falling still, as if in mourning, during the three volleys of musketry and Taps.

The MC made the same point that I have made so often—-Memorial Day is about our honored dead, those who fell on the field of honor. The WWI memorial at my university said it best: “They sacrificed all of their tomorrows for our today.”

So imagine all the Christian love I felt from the PC(USA) when they did the following on this hallowed weekend:

1. On the eve of the weekend, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, released a recommendation to the upcoming GA that it undertake the task of getting our country to “Repent, Restore, Rebuild, and Reconcile” for the current war in Iraq.

2. The PC(USA) high point of the weekend was Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s weekend-long retreat at a PC(USA) camp. Entitled “Resisting Militarism,” the purpose of the conference “. . . is to train students (ages 14 to 20) to . . . counter[] the military recruitment efforts on their high school and college campuses."

The ACSWP paper is a one-sided, “hate America first” document. It calls upon the United States alone to

1. To repent of engaging in an unnecessary war, to express remorse for the suffering, and to change the disposition to exercise power without understanding the lasting effects of coercion on both occupying and occupied peoples.
2. To restore responsibility for sovereignty and security to Iraqi civil authorities bolstered as necessary by international troops under UN auspices, with U.S.-built bases contributed to the multilateral effort and control.
3. To rebuild a battered Iraq through serious, well-managed, and accountable foreign aid, including massive healthcare assistance for the wounded and maimed.
4. To reconcile political, ethnic, and religious groups through diplomatic and peace-building measures based in truth-seeking, mutual respect, and peace with neighbors, including the supervised return of as many as three million refugees from Syria, Jordan, and other area countries and two million who have been internally displaced.

It is full of praise for the U.S. Constitution in its admiration of the First Amendment (the freedom of the press and the freedom of religion), ignoring the Preamble that recounts that a principle purpose of government is to “provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. . ..”

Careful reading of the report reveals its true purpose: to bolster the liberal desire that the United Nations be transformed into a world government and the end of our national sovereignty. In so doing, it ignores the reality of the threat to this country by a rabid fundamentalist association of Muslims whose intent is to destroy all believers in the risen Lord and all of western civilization that makes “social witness,” free from the control of intolerant religious courts, possible.

And in releasing its report when it did, it treads disrespectfully on the memory of the men and women who died to preserve the very liberties that make it possible for ACSWP to engage in the activities it espouses. (I’ll ignore the demand that all veterans of the Gulf War, and, by implication, all combat veterans, be given psychiatric care.)

In the late 60’s, former President Truman was asked whether he was ready to apologize to the Japanese for the use of atomic weapons to end WWII. He characteristically replied, “I’m still waiting for them to apologize for Pearl Harbor.” Likewise, I’m still waiting for an apology for the attacks on USS Cole, New York City and the Pentagon before I get into a repentance and reconciliation frame of mind.

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship program is another product of muddle-headed thinking. There are those who are insulated from the real world by the freedom and security that come with American citizenship. They refuse to see that our country has enemies and therefore needs to defend itself. There is no way to counter such naïveté. A dangerous world will take care of that if they achieve their aims.

What really bothered me was that former Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase could expect us to believe that the scheduling of the training session on Memorial Day weekend was a mere coincidence. He said the scheduling " . . .is in no way intended to dishonor the valuable service and the great service that has been offered by so many people, Presbyterians and others, who have served in the armed forces, but to create alternatives for students who may not know that there are other, non-military options for living out a life of service to the Church... . . Actually, the significance of the timing was just that it was a long weekend when I thought I could get more participation," Rick Ufford-Chase told The Layman.

As my 11 year-old daughter would say, “Oh, puh-lease!”

First—Ufford-Chase (intentionally, I believe) perpetuates the myth that the weekend is meant to commemorate “the valuable service and the great service that has been offered by so many people, Presbyterians and others, who have served in the armed forces.” In his view, the weekend merely about all those poor misguided folks who never had the benefit of his guidance and actually wore their country's uniform.

If he conceded that Memorial Day recalls, in President Lincoln’s immortal words , those “who gave the last full measure of devotion,” then he would also have to admit the disrespect which his little program displays for those who made it possible for him to live in a society that protects his villainy.

But that's not all!!! He next turns the United States into that which he and those of his ilk claim to decry: a theocracy. He and his cohorts seek to “create alternatives for students who may not know that there are other, non-military options for living out a life of service to the Church.” Service to the nation and service to the Church are one and the same!

So, I am just not feeling all that PC(USA) love today. As Mr. Kipling reminded us “makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep, Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap.” I would simply remind Mr. Ufford Chase and the ACSWP that when they engage in this kind of conduct, the troops recognize it for what it is. “An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please; An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!”

24 May 2008


My nine year old son, Bionicle Boy, has hit a new milestone. After our bed time routine last night (bath, prayers, hug the number one and number two bears--Peanut and Poopsie, put Bobo Big Bear and his wife, Mrs. Bobo, on the chair where they stand guard at night, water, a story, more hugs), I left the room and went in to watch the Phillies give away a game to the Astros. (I hope Quotidian Grace is happy.)

I dozed off and awoke at about 11:30 to the sound of a tv from BB's room. I figured he had awakened and turned it on. He was sitting in his top bunk, happy as a clam, watching Sponge Bob. After a very short conversation, the tv was off and he and the bears were down.

At 3:15, She Who Must Be Obeyed woke up. "Is his tv on?" she asked. After SWMBO invoked Rule 1.1 of the Wive's Handbook ("Husband is at all times responsible for getting out of bed for nightime investigations and responses."), in I went.

More Sponge Bob was broadcasting merrily to the stuffed animals assembled on the bottom bunk. I turned it off, only to hear an agrieved cry of "Hey! I was watching that." This time I stood by his bed until he was asleep. (No sacrifice--it took about 20 seconds!)

It is now 11:00 am and he just came down, chipper and his usual merry little self. I am blessed by God to have the opportunity to do this Dad thing all over again.

23 May 2008


Next Tuesday, 27 May, marks the 39th anniversary of the death of PFC Jimmy Wayne Phipps, USMC. It is fitting that it always comes in the week of, and every so often falls on, Memorial Day.

I first met Phipps (it is a Marine Corps tradition that enlisted men below the rank of Corporal are routinely addressed by their last names) in February 1969. He was a combat engineer attached to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. I was the platoon commander of 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company. An NVA sapper team had infiltrated the 5th Marines regimental combat base at An Hoa and had destroyed the ammunition dump. We were dispatched to try to find and destroy them.

As we secured a small ville northeast of An Hoa, I came upon a fighting hole at the perimeter of the village. It was complete with overhead cover. In other words, the hole was dug and then logs, earth and finally sod were put in place to camouflage it and to provide cover from artillery and mortar air bursts. It had to be destroyed.

Who should walk up but Phipps. “Watcha got, Lieutenant?” he asked.

I showed him and we agreed that a C-4 charge would do the job. C-4 is a clay-like white substance that is commonly referred to as “plastic explosive.” It came packaged in satchel charges made up of numerous plastic-wrapped quarter pound sticks. All you had to do was punch a hole in the plastic wrap, insert a blasting cap, fuse and fuse lighter, ignite the fuse lighter, and run like hell.

I had a quarter pound stick in my pack. (I had scrounged it to use it to heat my C-Rations.) Phipps had another two sticks. We agreed that that should probably do the job. I peeled the sticky tape on the back of each stick and put them together, while Phipps cut a piece of fuse, inserted and crimped it into a blasting cap and then crimped on a fuse lighter. He pulled the pin, set the charge in the back side of the hole, and we took off, yelling “Fire in the hole!”

We soon learned that in our inexperience, we had slightly overestimated the amount of C-4 we needed. The ground erupted, and I suspect that some of that bunker is still in orbit. The Skipper had a few choice comments, fatherly and memorable, about adding to his age, about our judgment, and the future location of our posteriors if we did it again. Thereafter, Phipps and I laughed about it every time we saw each other.

By April, he had finished his tour in the bush and returned to his parent unit, Bravo Company, 1st Engineer Battalion in Danang.

In mid-May, 1/5 waded the Song Thu Bon River and began a six week operation in what was known as the “Arizona Territory,” a low area of rice paddies and tree lines between the Song Thu Bon and the Song Vu Gia rivers. It was a free fire zone, meaning that non-combatants had been evacuated to a refugee camp and only bad guys were left. Of course, it didn’t work that way, because the peasant villagers insisted on returning to their ancestoral homes. Nonetheless, it was an area in which at least two NVA regiments were operating. It was a very bad place.

At around midnight on 26-27 May 1969, Charlie Company made one of its patented night moves to a small village and established a cordon around it. At first light, we entered the ville, rounded up the inhabitants for an id check, and searched the hooches for weapons and ordnance. We then dug in for the day.

Third Platoon was ordered to conduct the morning local security patrol out to about three clicks (kilometers). We would make sure that there were no enemy forces in the vicinity and also recon the area for that night’s move. We found a couple of dud mortar rounds which we destroyed with C-4.

In the last ville we entered, we found a dud 175mm artillery round sitting next to a hooch. It had obviously been moved there. We also found a rusted sheet of scrap tin covered with a chalk diagram used to teach machine gunners how to lead an American helicopter in order to shoot it down.

I called it in and we then rounded up all the villagers (old men, old women, young women and kids—no young men), and herded them back to our perimeter for air evacuation to the refugee camp. I told the Skipper about the dud. I had no more C-4, so he told me to note the location. I understood that he would send the afternoon security patrol out that way to finish it off.

As we were moving back to the Company, we saw the resupply helicopter land and then take off. As we entered our lines, I told the platoon sergeant to get our people set in and to get them to work on their holes. I headed for the command post.

As I walked up the gentle slope, there was Phipps, with his usual shy grin on his face. He had come out on the resupply bird.

“Phipps, what the hell are you doing here?" I asked.

“Aw, you know me, sir. Me an’ the First Sergeant didn’t see eye to eye. I ain’t cut out to be a garrison Marine, so I told him ‘For two cents, I’d go back out with my friends in Charlie Company.’ Here I am.”

By then, we were both laughing. “Well, c’mon along while I brief the Skipper, ‘cause I’ve got some business for you.”

That afternoon, my OCS Bunkie, Lieutenant Neal Meier, took 1st Platoon out on the patrol. Phipps went along. His Medal of Honor Citation tells the rest:

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to


for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a combat Engineer with Company B, First Engineer Battalion, First Marine Division in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 27 May 1969, Private First Class Phipps was a member of a two-man combat engineer demolition team assigned to locate and destroy enemy artillery ordnance and concealed firing devices. After he had expended all of his explosives and blasting caps, Private First Class Phipps discovered a 175mm high explosive artillery round in a rice paddy. Suspecting that the enemy had attached at the artillery round to a secondary explosive device, he warned other Marines in the area to move to covered positions and prepared to destroy the round with a hand grenade. As he was attaching the hand grenade to a stake beside the artillery round, the fuse of the enemy's secondary explosive device ignited. Realizing that his assistant and the platoon commander were both within a few meters of him and that the imminent explosion could kill all three men, Private First Class Phipps grasped the hand grenade to his chest and dived forward to cover the enemy's explosive and the artillery round with his body, thereby shielding his companions from the detonation while absorbing the full and tremendous impact with his own body. Private First Class Phipp's indomitable courage, inspiring initiative and selfless devotion to duty saved the lives of two Marines and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.


Jimmy Wayne Phipps was 18 years, six month and 26 days old, the third youngest Marine to be awared the Medal of Honor in Vietnam. His name appears on the Vietnam War Memorial, Panel 23W at line 2. Phipps Hall at Marine Corps Base, Quantico is named in his honor.

The Marine’s Hymn assures us that the streets of Heaven are guarded by United States Marines. If so, I pray that the ultimate Sergeant of the Guard has given Phipps a special liberty for eternity.

Semper Fidelis

22 May 2008


I am an unabashed listener of XM Radio's POTUS 08 channel (130). A joint project of CSPAN and XM, it really does provide balanced coverage of the on-going campaign.

Since West Virginia and Kentucky, Senator Clinton's campaign has dug in for the final battle, adopting "count every vote" as its strategy. While I know that she must be in a state of disbelief that the wheels have fallen off her campaign, I think her latest ploy is a symptom of why so many folks have a visceral dislike for her. She is the epitome of the '60's generation, the "Baby Boomers."

Let me explain. I am one of the first Boomers. (I strongly suspect that I am the result of a VJ Day celebration!! In late November 1944, my Dad came back from 36 months at sea, including 5 opposed landings at Tarawa, Kwajelein, Saipan, Tinian, and Pelelieu. Mom wanted to start a family right away, but Dad said "No. When we invade Japan, they will send me back and I won't come home from that one. I've used up all my luck." I was born 9 months after the Japanese surrendered. The math works.)

Mom and Dad survived the Great Depression and the War. As did most Americans, especially those from the mid-west, they were folks who played by the rules. When Dad's business failed in 1949, they did not declare bankruptcy--they paid off every cent, making the last payment 4 months before he died in 1963.

We learned that breaking the rules was one thing that my Dad would not allow. It just wasn't done. These were folks who expected that if you played fairly, you would succeed. The cheaters (which in their world included those who shaded the truth) lost their respect and their trust.

But along about 1965, as my generation began to come of age, things changed. We had had it pretty easy. America post-war economy was booming. Things that would have seemed impossible in the 1930's were readily accepted in the 50's and 60's. There were guys in my dorm who had TV's in their room! Most Boomers gradually came to believe that we had a right to success and prosperity. Having the "right" meant that they could do anything to get what they wanted. Hillary was part of that generation.

So, fast forward to 2008. Hillary is losing the primary battle because the party rules that were in place when she started her campaign have worked against her. Michigan and Florida were warned that running their elections early would have dire consequences. They wanted the patronage advantage of being able to claim that they were key to the presumptive winner's effort. They adopted the "We have a right to do what serves our interests and the rules be damned" philosophy. They ignored the rules and scheduled early elections.

Most candidates abided by the rules--Hillary did not. Now she wants the rules changed so she can get what she wants, fair or not.

We'll see if the DNC has the courage to set a new example. I hope they do. It is a matter of trust.

19 May 2008


And it rolls around once more. Memorial Day 2008 is but a week away.

And once again we will be bombarded with articles about the start of the “summer retail season,” advertisements for “GIANT Memorial Day Sale,” and a page in many newspapers for memorial messages, remembering Great Aunt Sadie or Cousin John’s fatal fishing accident. Almost assuredly, someone will wish me a “Happy Memorial Day,” confusing it with Veterans’ Day.

And I will grit my teeth and march on. Memorial Day is not about sales and Sales. It is a day on which we remember our honored dead who have given their all for our Nation. For some privileged few of us, it is the special day the Nation remembers those of whom we think every day: the men we were with when we forever put away our youth and became warriors and a band of brothers.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon (1914)

In Henry V, Shakespeare’s portrayal of “Harry the King” lays out what for the combat veteran is the true meaning of Memorial Day.

We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

In Vietnam, my 18 year old radio operator, himself a poet, once told me, “Remember their names, Lieutenant. They ain’t really dead so long as we remember their names.” Here, then, are my names:

Classmates from Basic Class 12-68

2dLt Charles “Chip” Pilkington, USMCR
2dLt James “Jay” Simms, USMCR
2dLt Mike McCormick, USMCR
2dLt Mike Quinn, USMCR
2dLt Roy Phillips, USMCR
2dLt Bob Christian, USMCR

From Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division ("The Old Breed")

2dLt Fred Andrew Hartman, Jr. USMCR (Chip was also in BC 12-68)
PFC Don Lucas, USMC
PFC Rich Zimmerman, USMC
LCpl Ernie Tews, USMC
PFC Jimmy Phipps, USMC (Medal of Honor) (Phipps was a combat engineer from Bravo Company, 1st Engineer Battalion, attached to Charlie Company 1/5 at the time of his gallant sacrifice.)
LCpl Barry Unfried, USMC
PFC Jimmy Wandro, USMC

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, indeed . . . Semper Fidelis..

14 May 2008


Note: The posts in this series are the opinion of the author. They do not reflect, nor should they be construed to reflect, the opinions or positions of Cozen O’Connor, Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church, the New Wineskins Association of Churches, or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

To wrap up:

A mandatory State-church is anathema to Americans. We cannot send out press gangs to force people to become members of the PC(USA), the EPC, or any other congregation or denomination. People may come and go as the Spirit moves them. If a majority of the individual members of a faith community collectively and collegially determine that they are called to move together, they have the right to do so with the property that they have purchased and maintained for that community and its ministry and mission. Cf., Genesis 12: 5. The suggestion that such a conscientious decision may be made only by individuals, rather than through a corporate decision, can only be the result of a truly bureaucratic mind.

Attempts to coerce continued membership through the use of unnecessarily bureaucratic and dilatory processes and the in terrorem effect of confiscatory “property trusts” are doomed to failure. Although parishioners are naturally emotionally tied to “their” church [building], faith and God’s call will ultimately lead faithful believers to abandon their baggage if faithfulness so requires.

The claim that power to sever relations with an entire congregation is reserved solely to the presbytery does not appear in the Book of Order. In order for such power to reside in the presbytery alone, Book of Order § G-11.0301 would have to read:

T h e presbytery is responsible for the mission and government of the church throughout its geographical district. It therefore has the sole responsibility and power
* * *
i . to divide, dismiss, or dissolve churches; . . ..

This wording is obviously unworkable when one applies it to the other 26 subparagraphs of § G-11.0301. Instead, a separate provision would be needed, for example:
a. The presbytery has the sole responsibility and power to divide, dismiss, or dissolve churches within its geographical district.
b. Dismissal is the only constitutionally permissible means for a congregation to sever its relationship with the PC(USA) and its presbytery.

Obviously, the PC(USA) has taken no such action to limit the decision to depart to the presbytery. In fact, the absence of such a clear and specific proscription led the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to recognize disaffiliation as a permissive option for a congregation. See, Presbytery of Beaver-Butler v. Middlesex, 489 A.2d 1317, 1324 (Pa. 1985) (“[t]he Constitution [of the UPCUSA] does not prohibit a congregation from disaffiliating . . .”; “when the local body voluntarily affiliated with the UPCUSA’s predecessor. . .”) (emphasis added).

In the ensuing 24 years, the PC(USA) has ignored that decision and its inherent warning and has taken no action whatsoever to remedy the absence of such a bar to disaffiliation. Until it does, the Book of Order is ambiguous and that ambiguity ought to be construed in favor of a reading of § G-7.0304a(5) to reserve to congregations a permissive power to disaffiliate.

Here endeth the lesson.

13 May 2008


Today is my birthday, so I am taking a break before I post the last part of Permissive Powers 101. It ends tomorrow--or maybe tonight.

I am drawn back to some memorable birthdays.

13 May 1963. On my 17th birthday, we celebrated on Saturday when my Dad and I went to old Busch Stadium (nee, Sportsman's Park) for a Cardinals game. It was my last ball game with my Dad, who died a month later. I think of that game every time I watch Field of Dreams.

13 May 1969. My most memorable birthday cake, at Liberty Bridge (on the north side of the Song Thu Bon across from 1/5’s CP and about 8 clicks northeast of the 5th Marines combat base at An Hoa).

When we came in after our 45 day rice security patrol on April 23, 3d Platoon was assigned to secure the Bridge while the rest of the Company went into the compound about 300 meters up the road. I put one squad at each end and set up my CP at the center of the span. (The Skipper had told me “If the Bridge goes, you may as well go with it!”) After 6 weeks in the bush, nice smooth, warm asphalt was almost as good as a bed.

Each morning, I sent the Platoon Sergeant with one squad up to the compound for breakfast, and when they returned I went up with the other squad. When I got to the Officers/SNCO “Mess,” a 10’ x 12’ area walled off with plywood containing two wooden picnic tables, only the Company Gunnery Sergeant was still there.

I was reading my mail, including a birthday card from my Mom. “Is it your birthday, Lieutenant?” Gunny Taylor asked. I told him it was. He got up and left me to my breakfast.

A couple of minutes later, he returned with a C-Ration pecan nut roll into which he had stuck a piece of time fuse which was sputtering merrily. “Happy Birthday, Sir.”

13 May 1975. I was Commanding Officer, Company F, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines in Okinawa. Saigon had fallen on April 30, and we were in the first days of "peace" since 1965. On the 12th, the entire battalion was in the field for training. I started the company on platoon tactics.

In the early afternoon of the 13th, we heard the Battalion XO call the CO on the radio, asking him to come back to Camp Schwab to talk about something he couldn’t mention in the clear. (We did not regularly take the AN/KY-38 encryption sets to the field for training.) The Gunny (Gunnery Sergeant Dave Ankrom) and I were intrigued because 2/9 was the air alert battalion.

At about 1700, the First Sergeant came out with the mail and the admin stuff that needed my signature. He also brought a birthday cake. As he got out of the jeep, I asked him if he knew what was going on.

“Them ***** gooks captured one of our damn'd ships, Sir.” Thus we learned that the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot’s bunch) had seized an American merchant ship, SS Mayaguez, in the Gulf of Siam.

At about 1930, we were recalled to Camp Schwab and by 2300 we had returned and were packing up. At 0300,May 14, we embarked on trucks for Kadena AFB and flew into U Tapao, arriving at about 1300.

At 1900, the Battalion Commander,LtCol Randy Austin, briefed a raid on the island of Koh Tang to recover the crew and the ship which was anchored just off shore. The best available intelligence was that 20 to 40 guerrillas were holding the crew on the island, but that there might be several hundred fishermen using it as a base. The Old Man's guidance to the Company Commanders was "Use common sense. Do not go in there and shoot up a bunch of itinerant fisherman. I want no My Lai's in my battalion."

The first wave left U Tapao at about 0400 on May 15 for the 2 hour flight to the objective. At first light, Golf Company landed on Koh Tang, taking heavy fire from some 250 to 400 Khmer Rouge. Seven U.S. Air Force helicopters were shot down or damaged in the first wave. (So much for itinerant fishermen!)

The remainder of Golf Company and a platoon of Echo Company were landed in a second wave at about Noon, but by then we were down to one operational bird. Fox , Hotel and most of Echo companies never got to the island because of the lack of helicopters. (There were several abandoned South Vietnamese LCM-8s at the base. John Gutter, CO, Hotel Company, and I suggested using those landing craft to get our companies out to the island for a surface assault, but the distance--200 miles--and the quick release of the crew put an end to that.)

By mid-morning, the ship had been secured by a boarding party from 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. The crew was actually on the mainland and was released unharmed by the Cambodian government about three hours after the initial landing. The Khmer Rouge made a hard stand on the island, using small arms, heavy machine guns, mortars and recoilless rifles. The fighting continuing through the afternoon and into the night. Golf Company was finally extracted under heavy fire late on May 15.

The raid was the last combat operation of the Vietnam War. 2/9 lost 14 Marines and two Corpsmen killed in action, and the Air Force lost two aircrew. Their names are the last appearing on The Wall

12 May 2008


Note: The posts in this series are the opinion of the author. They do not reflect, nor should they be construed to reflect, the opinions or positions of Cozen O’Connor, Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church, the New Wineskins Association of Churches, or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Some might suggest that this [the power to request dismissal] is a power held by the session. This argument must fail on at least two grounds.

First, the Book of Order is silent as to any power of the session to request dismissal on its own authority.

Second, when considering the other momentous topics that are specifically assigned to action by the congregation, such as pastoral relations and encumbrance of property, the idea that a session could unilaterally commit a congregation to a similar action—dismissal—fails the “smell test.”

Although any resort to common sense in discussions of government or polity is fraught with danger, in this case, it is probably safe to conclude that a presbytery may not unilaterally dismiss a congregation to some other denomination. Cf., Book of Order, anot. 21.194 (“When dealing with a request by a church for dismissal with its property. . .”) (emphasis added).

It then follows that a congregation would have to initiate such a request. However, the proponents of a strict reading of § G-7.0304 would have us believe that the congregation apparently has no constitutional authority to take such action. That erroneous and narrow reading of § G-7.0304 must fail, in favor of some broader permissive right of termination reserved to the congregation. If a request to be dismissed is one of the permissive powers of a congregation, then other similar powers to modify or terminate the voluntary affiliation between congregation and denomination should also be included in that broad, undefined category.

The congregation rather than a “governing body” is granted express power with respect to buying, mortgaging, or selling real property. It would follow that the congregation is also empowered to take at least one other action which impacts on its ownership of its property: maintaining that unfettered ownership even as it decides that it is called to embrace a new denominational affiliation.

By the PC(USA)’s own definition, the congregational meeting discusses property issues, melds individuals into a unified (corporate) congregation, and, repeatedly, gathers information and takes action to forward its mission. Because the church’s property is the home base for its mission to the community, state, nation and the world (cf., Acts 1:8), the congregation (as opposed to any other entity) must have control over its property.

Obviously, after prayer and deliberation, a congregation may actually decide to create a trust and then place its property in that trust for the use and benefit of some other entity, e.g., its presbytery or the PC(USA). However, the decision is that of the congregation, not a unilaterally imposed edict of the denomination.

Boiled down to its basics, at its annual meeting, the congregation asks and answers the following questions:

• Who shall be our leaders?
• What shall we agree and promise to pay our pastor?
• What shall we do with our land, buildings and other property which we, as a congregation have purchased for the purpose of our worship?

All of these questions go directly to the root of the congregation’s unique identity. Surely, the final component of that identity—denominational affiliation—must also be reserved to the congregation. Thus, we add to the foregoing list the question

• How (by what denominational name) shall we identify ourselves to the community?

Observe that in every instance, these questions go to the core issue of the identity of the congregation.

Accordingly, while a request to be dismissed is clearly one option for terminating denominational affiliation, it is not necessarily the only option under the Book of Order. Because the congregation is the body designated to make such essential missional decisions, absent a clear, unambiguous limitation on congregational authority, unilateral disaffiliation must also be an option open to a congregation. And such power is absolutely necessary to avoid the consequences of a presbytery which, wrongfully or in bad faith, withholds dismissal.

Some might argue that a presbyterian veto is necessary to prevent untoward departures. That is yet another symptom of the modern preference for coercion over trust.

While a presbytery’s deliverances and policy statements are not binding on the membership of the local Church, if a presbytery refuses to give its assent to a request for dismissal, and does so for valid reasons, its statements should be considered worthy of the respect and prayerful consideration of the requesting congregation’s members. Ordinarily, only if dismissal is improperly withheld would resort to unilateral disaffiliation be necessary.

Of course, when evidence exists of presbytery’s predisposition to withhold, such as previous action by the presbytery to ignore dismissal requests or previous resort to administrative commissions or civil suit, immediate resort to disaffiliation would be reasonable. A recent example of such appropriate evidence is the secret distribution by denominational headquarters to the presbyteries in 2005 of two documents: “Church Property Disputes: A Resource For Those Representing Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Presbyteries And True Churches In The Civil Courts” (Office of the General Counsel, PC(USA), rev. 12/05) and “Processes for use by presbyteries in responding to congregations seeking to withdraw,” (Department of Constitutional Services, PC(USA), September 2005).

These documents, which have come to be known as the “Louisville Papers,” are plans for a punitive and pre-emptive legal campaign against congregations merely suspected of considering seeking to leave the denomination.

Despite the attempt by some writers to characterize denominational affiliation as a permanent choice, we all know that members of a congregation may “vote with their feet” and change churches and even denominations at will. The most often used comparison is enlistment in the armed forces. See, e.g., Elder Bill Newkirk “To Leave or Not to Leave: An Open Letter to fellow Presbyterians,” Presbyterian Outlook on-line (03/05/2007) (“What makes anyone think that they can pick up and leave any time something comes along they don't agree with? In the military services they call that desertion.”); Rev. Paige McRight, “Personal reflections on the New Wineskins convocation,” id. (03/12/2007) (“Until I was ten, my father was an Army officer and we lived our lives by military orders. We drove the posted speed limit on base, my dad wore the uniform prescribed in the orders of the day and when the Army said move, we packed.”) But see, Elder Michael R. “Mac” McCarty, “Going Where God Has Ordained Us To Be,” id., (03/21/2007) (“The desertion analogy would be correct only if the PC(USA) were the one true church. But it isn’t. In this case, many congregations have received an order from God to ‘stand detached from the PC(USA) and proceed and report to the EPC for duty.’ God is our commander-in-chief. The entire Church is His. When He issues orders to ‘Go,’ and to ‘Do this,’ obedience of those orders is mandatory. Obedience cannot be desertion because the departure is with authority. The recipient of those orders must pack and go.”)

That's the finish line ahead!

10 May 2008


Note: The posts in this series are the opinion of the author. They do not reflect, nor should they be construed to reflect, the opinions or positions of Cozen O’Connor, Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church, the New Wineskins Association of Churches, or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

What are the permissive powers of the congregation?

Any discussion of the powers, both inherent and permissive, of the congregation must start with the understanding that the congregation is not itself a court of the Church. Any suggestion to the contrary is unsupportable by fact or by logic. Unlike the age-old question about the priority of the chicken and the egg, the congregation must precede the session, both temporally and logically. The congregation is the most basic expression of the Church of Jesus Christ. Without the congregation there is no session, and without the congregation, there can be no presbyteries, synods, or a general assembly.

The court of original jurisdiction for the congregation is the session. The presbytery is a court with a wider jurisdiction. It properly has original jurisdiction over the ministers and, to a lesser degree, session, but not the congregation. Presbyteries are not given the power to unilaterally dissolve congregations but can only do so by a process that necessarily involves due process, including conversations with the congregation and other procedural safeguards. Even here, the Book of Order is ambiguous with respect to the issue of dissolution of a congregation. Other than a mere recitation that a presbytery has the power to dissolve a congregation, §G-11.0103i, and the assertion that the property of a dissolved congregation becomes that of the presbytery, §G-8.0601, the Book of Order states no bases upon which a dissolution decision must rest. Thus, a covetous presbytery might consider dissolution for no better reason than to confiscate the property of one of its member churches for the pecuniary gain of the presbytery.

Definition of permissive powers of the congregation is extremely important at this juncture in history. For the first time in over a quarter-century, a significant number of congregations are voicing their desire to terminate their affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In response, the national headquarters of the denomination and various presbyteries are loudly and repeatedly asserting with no support in either fact or law that the only avenue for such departure is by way of “dismissal” by the presbytery in which the congregation is situated. Absent dismissal, says the denomination, a congregation is forced to either stay in the PC(USA) or to disband and forfeit its property to the presbytery. (In so doing, they are following that oldest of propaganda rules: a false statement or interpretation, voiced often enough and loudly enough, will soon take on an aura of truth.)

Section G-11.0103i is the only mention in the Book of Order of dismissal as a means of departure from the PC(USA). (Mere reference to §G-11.0103i in §G-8.0601 is not an independent mention of dismissal. ) Section G-11.0103 makes it clear that the congregation (“members”), not the session, is on the other side of the situational equation from the presbytery. Nowhere in the Book of Order is there any mention of how the dismissal process is to be initiated or executed.

There is a presumption that each word contained in a document such as the Book of Order has a meaning and is not mere surplussage. Londonderry, et al. v. Pby of Northern New England, (Remedial Case 213-2, GAPJC 2001)(it is the task of governing bodies and judicial commissions to resolve tensions and ambiguities in the Constitution’s provisions in such a way as to give effect to all provisions).

Giving a presbytery the right to dismiss a congregation presupposes that the congregation can constitutionally request dismissal. To empower a presbytery to respond to a request that a congregation has no authority to make would be a nullity of the first order.

Therefore, because § G-7.0304 makes no specific mention of request for dismissal, the congregation’s right to do so must be one of the “permissive powers” reserved to the congregation.

More tomorrow.

09 May 2008


Note: The posts in this series are the opinion of the author.They do not reflect, nor should they be construed to reflect, the opinions or positions of Cozen O'Connor, Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church, the New Wineskins Association of Churches, or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Boiled down to basics, the congregation reserves the power of self-government, including the right to organize itself, so that, at the local level, its witness and ministry is most effective. Among the powers expressly reserved to the congregation are:

- election of officers of the local congregation (elders, deacons, and trustees),

- calling a pastor or pastors, matters related to the relationship between the pastor and the congregation, such as changing the terms of call, or requesting or consenting or declining to consent to dissolution,

- matters related to major financial impacts on the congregation, such as buying, mortgaging, or selling real property, and

- organization of its local, internal governance, such as lodging all administrative responsibility in the session, or requesting exemption from one or more requirements because of limited size.

Self-government has always been a hallmark of American presbyterianism. As part of their self-governance, congregations, voluntarily give, and through their elected elders, collect and spend the tithes and offerings in order to further their mission and ministry. They do so free from any legal or constitutional power in presbyteries, synods, or general assemblies to tax them or to otherwise confiscate their funds.

In most cases, they purchased and continue to maintain the property that is central to their local ministry and mission through the gifts, tithes and offerings of their local congregations. Congregations alone elect the elders who will lead them and call the pastors who will be their shepherds. Leadership of the local church is not imposed from on high by bishops, cardinals or other hierarchies.

It follows then that the permissive powers of the congregation must include those which protect the congregation from governmental, political, and bureaucratic tyranny.

More tomorrow.

08 May 2008


Note: The posts in this series are the opinion of the author.They do not reflect, nor should they be construed to reflect, the opinions or positions of Cozen O'Connor, Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church, the New Wineskins Association of Churches, or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

So, what powers might fall within the rubric of “permissive powers?” Clearly, it is a general article or catch-all clause, intended to account for the distribution of powers not specifically mentioned but necessary to the function of the congregation and to protect it from the arbitrary exercise of unauthorized power by a “governing body.”

In this regard, § G-7.0304 is instructive. At §G-7.0304a, it provides:

a. Business to be transacted at meetings of the congregation shall include the following:
( 1 ) matters related to the electing of elders, deacons, and trustees ;
( 2 ) matters related to the calling of a pastor or pastors;
( 3 ) matters related to the pastoral relationship, such as changing the call, or requesting or consenting or declining to consent to dissolution;
( 4 ) matters related to buying, mortgaging, or selling real property (G-8.0500) ;
( 5 ) matters related to the permissive powers of a congregation, such as the desire to lodge all administrative responsibility in the session, or the request to presbytery for exemption from one or more requirements because of limited size. (Emphasis added.)

Some may opine that the list is exclusive, relying on § G-7.0304b:

b . Business at congregational meetings shall be limited to the foregoing matters (1) through (5). Whenever permitted by civil law, both ecclesiastical and corporate business may be conducted at the same congregational meeting.

However, when §G-7.0304 is read as a whole, that argument must fail, if for no other reason than that the entire section is ambiguous. The inclusion of the phrases “shall include” and “such as” clearly connote that the list is not exclusive and that other business “such as” the topics set forth may properly be “include[d].” In other words, the topics listed are by way of example.

07 May 2008


Note: The posts in this series are the opinion of the author.They do not reflect, nor should they be construed to reflect, the opinions or positions of Cozen O'Connor, Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church, the New Wineskins Association of Churches, or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

The Book of Order recognizes a separate and distinct set of powers that belong, not to the “governing bodies,” but to the individual congregations. These powers are referred to as the “permissive powers of the congregation.” Book of Order, §G-7.0304a(5).

At least one chapter of the Book of Order begins with a section entitled “definitions,” (see, § G-9.0101. See, also, § G-9.0401). However, nowhere in the Book of Order can one find a definition of the elusive and ambiguous phrase “permissive powers of the congregation.” It is this very ambiguity that presents the greatest obstacle to those who argue that the power to depart must reside only in an all-powerful presbytery.

The doctrine contra proferentum stands for the proposition that an ambiguity in a document shall be construed against he who wrote the document. In this case, the Book of Order was written and adopted by bodies other than the congregations against whom it is being used. In fact, it was written by the very bodies who seek to benefit from their own interpretation of their ambiguity. The Book of Order is suspiciously akin to a contract of adhesion.

The General Assembly has long been aware of the ambiguity, see, e.g., Presbytery of Beaver-Butler v. Middlesex, 489 A.2d 1317, 1323 (Pa. 1985); Presbytery of Donegal v. Calhoun, 99 Pa. Cmwlth 300, 513 A. 2d 531, 538 (1986); Presbytery of Donegal v. Wheatley, 99 Pa. Cmwlth 312, 513 A. 2d 538,540 (1986).

It has always had the power to cure the ambiguity, but, for over 20 years, has failed to do so. Therefore, the ambiguity must be construed against the General Assembly (as sponsor and beneficiary of the Book of Order) and in favor of the congregations which had no say in the drafting and adoption thereof.

The conspicuous absence of a definition of the permissive powers of the congregation, coupled with the vague descriptive list in subparagraphs (1) through (4), leads to the necessity of a contextual definition. Studying the theme of §G-7.0304a, one comes to the conclusion that those powers include any that are central to the life and ministry of the congregation and that are not specifically granted to one of the governing bodies. It is reasonable to assume that such powers are those that are of greatest concern to, and which have the greatest impact on, the core identity of the individual congregation.

Note the limitation of this assertion: it claims for the congregation only those undefined powers that impinge upon its own ministry. By way of example, it makes no claim to the right to take under care inquirers or candidates or to examine candidates for ordination as Ministers of Word and Sacrament, or to exert judicial power beyond the four walls of its church.

More to come.

06 May 2008


We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for a bulletin.

A letter to The Layman

Well, they are at it again. Imperial Louisville and its barons and earls (or is that Cardinals and Bishops?) have gundecked a nice little piece of extra-constitutional justification and dressed it in constitutional trappings. This time the Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACOC) has recommended that this June’s General Assembly adopt an Authoritative Interpretation regarding the constitutionality of dismissal of congregations to the New Wineskins Transitional Non-geographic Presbytery of the EPC.

Friends, as pigs go, it is dressed up real nice….but it is still a pig.

In a feat of legerdemain that would do the Spahr court proud, they admit that presbyteries have the power (unless you are in Southern Louisiana), but they must actively assure themselves that the receiving body is one “whose organization is conformed to the doctrines and order of this church.”

They then opine that the EPC is not such a body because it has a defined set of Essential Tenets which elders, teaching and ruling, must affirm without any reservation! Oh, the shame of it all. The EPC is ready to say to the whole world just what it believes.

The Merlin's of Louisville go on to state that

In both our polity and in the theology on which it is founded, we have long recognized that “reservations” and points of disagreement in some matters of faith are not only inevitable but ultimately nourishing for the health of the church. Moreover, we have resisted listing the “essential tenets of the Reformed faith” (W-4.4003c), precisely because such lists tend to confine the theology of the church within the narrow strictures of the historical moment in which the list was created, robbing it of its life and liveliness. For this reason, we have deemed it wise to have not one confessional statement but a Book of Confessions (Part I of this denomination’s constitution), in which are registered multiple statements of faith that stand in both mutual support and occasional tension. Can such theological suppleness be said to characterize the doctrines of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church?

“Theological suppleness” is the way to go. Forget the unchanging nature of God’s call on us. We need to make sure that no one goes to a denomination that does not reserve the right to change God’s inerrant and unchanging Word by adding the manmade “life and liveliness” of the moment. That is why it is better to have “multiple statements of faith that stand in both mutual support and occasional tension.” It is a Chinese restaurant theology—pick one from column A and another from column B.

So, out of an abundance of theological caution, they imply that dismissal is probably not permissible.

You know what? If they had just stopped right there, they might have at least had a colorable argument, weak though it is. But they go on to what really galls them.

What happens to congregations in transitional presbyteries that elect not to be received into full EPC membership . . . [w]hen the five-year sunset date for the provisions is reached [?]

* * * * * * * *

Neither the EPC Book of Government or (sic) the enabling actions of the 27th General Assembly contain any property trust provisions; indeed, both maintain absolute congregational ownership of church property. This appears to mean that congregations dismissed from membership in EPC transitional presbyteries at or before the sunset date for transitional presbyteries may thereby attain independent status. It thus appears quite possible that a congregation seeking membership in an EPC transitional presbytery may be, in effect if not in actual intent, seeking dismissal to independent status. Such an eventuality would result in the loss of the investment of the time, money, energy, and faithfulness of generations of Presbyterians to the witness of the Reformed faith. It would certainly violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the Anderson and Bagby decisions. (Emphasis added.)

So there it is. The property pig all dressed up in polity gingham. ACOC's real gripe with the EPC is that it trusts its congregations to stay in the denomination so long as the denomination stays faithful to Scripture. The difference between the two is this:

The EPC recognizes that if it strays from the essential tenets of the Reformed faith, the faithful have the right to leave; that coercion through a “property trust” (even one that is unenforceable, such as the PC(USA)’s ) is immoral, or as my nine-year old would say "just plain wrong."

In the PC(USA) the only essential tenet is “we can believe any old heresy we want and if you don’t like it, we’ll try to take your building and the hymn books and the little plastic communion cups.”

It is still all about property!


Note: The posts in this series are the opinion of the author.They do not reflect, nor should they be construed to reflect, the opinions or positions of Cozen O'Connor, Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church, the New Wineskins Association of Churches, or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Now Mr. Mott knows.

Beginning any discussion of power and jurisdiction within the PC(USA), it is important to remember that the denominational Constitution is prescriptive rather than proscriptive. A prescriptive constitution confers upon the judicatories of the denomination only those powers specifically enumerated. See, e.g., §G-1.0307, and §G-1.0308.

On the other hand, a proscriptive constitution surrenders to governing bodies all powers that are not specifically forbidden to them. It follows, then, that the governing bodies of the PC(USA) possess only those powers expressly delegated to them, respectively, in the Constitution. Any assertion to the contrary constitutes a patent usurpation of authority and contravenes the very foundations of Presbyterian polity.

Governing bodies have no civil authority or jurisdiction. See §G-9.0101. Moreover, the governing bodies have only shared ecclesiastical authority. Book of Order §G-9.0103 states in pertinent part:

All governing bodies of the Church are united by the nature of the Church and share with one another responsibilities, rights, and powers as provided in this Constitution.

While “higher” governing bodies may review the actions of a lower, the respect and obedience due to any governing body is both limited, §G-1.0307, and contingent, §C-6.174 . The Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) determined in Johnston et al. v. Heartland Presbytery, Remedial Case 217-2:

G-1.0400 does not characterize the task of governance as power and authority to carry out edicts, but in terms of arriving at the “collected wisdom and united voice of the whole Church”. While the Book of Order refers to a higher governing body’s “right of review and control of a lower one” (§G-4.0301f), these concepts must not be understood in hierarchical terms, but in light of the shared responsibility and power at the heart of Presbyterian order (G-4.0302) (emphasis added).

The Westminster Confession of Faith (as amended in 1788) states the limiting conditions on the authority of governing bodies:

. . . which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God, appointed thereunto in his Word (emphasis added).

The current tendency of some leaders in the PC(USA) to view the governing bodies of the church as legislative bodies is historically flawed. Until 1983, the proper reference was to “judicatories” rather than to “governing bodies. Although the descriptor was changed with the reunion of 1983, the functions remained essentially unchanged. The powers of sessions, presbyteries, synods and the General Assembly are powers of jurisdiction and interpretation of the Law of the Church which is the word of God. The Constitution, in both the Confessions and the Book of Order, is merely a historical compilation of the interpretation of that law by one particular branch of the Church universal.

It is also important to remember that § G-9.0103’s reservation of certain “powers not mentioned” is limited in its application to “governing bodies.” In other words, powers of governing bodies are distributed among the several judicatories, with those powers of the governing bodies which are not enumerated devolving to the presbytery. See, also, Strong and Bagby v. Synod of Mid-South (PCUS, 1976, pp. 92-99, (No. 1 - 1976)) (“It is critical to the maintenance of this form [of government] that the various [governing bodies] exercise the specific jurisdiction conferred upon them, neither usurping that not given them nor declining to exercise that given, whether by default or by attempted delegation. . . . ”) (emphasis added).

Strong and Bagby is often cited as support for the proposition that under the Book of Order of the PC(USA) only a presbytery can dismiss a congregation. Strong and Bagby was decided based on the Book of Church Order (“BCO”) of the old PCUS. There is no indication that the BCO contained any recognition that the congregation has its own discrete permissive powers, nor, apparently was any such issue briefed in that case.

Ultimately, the judicatories/governing bodies/councils of the denomination are limited in their jurisdiction to ecclesiastical matters, to be determined as a matter of theology. This limitation on church authority and jurisdiction was the genesis of the development by the United States Supreme Court of the “neutral principles of law” approach to instances in which church organizations were embroiled in matters of purely civil law.

More tomorrow.

05 May 2008


We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for a bulletin.

The Presbyterian Outlook reports here on the proposed "new Form of Government" ("nFOG") which will be offered up at the PC(USA) General Assembly this June. Included is a report on a debate between Cynthia Bolbach, Esquire, co-moderator of the nFOG Task Force and Rev. James Berkley, Director of Presbyterian Action for Faith and Action.

Imperial Louisville is pushing hard to have the GA adopt nFOG and to send it out to the presbyteries for prompt ratification. A number of presbyteries, noting that this is a drastic overhaul of the current Form of Government, have overtured the GA to simply receive the nFOG and to then send it to the presbyteries for two years of study. Action could then be taken at the next GA in 2010.

Why the big push from Louisville to get this done now?

The nFOG makes several changes that inure to Louisville’s game plan to establish a hierarchical, episcopal government within the PC(USA). In particular:

The reference in the current Book of Order to “permissive powers of the congregation” has quietly disappeared. The matters on which a congregation can act will be limited to four narrowly drafted topics in which Louisville has no interest.

Moreover, in an ambiguously written revision, it appears that payment of per capita by congregations can be forced. Arguably, failure to pay per capita can then expose a session to action by its presbytery to assume original jurisdiction to force payment.

Churches that want to leave the PC(USA) with their property had better act quickly. They can no longer trust that the constitution means anything to those people in Louisville. More and more, disaffiliation appears to be the only constitutionally permissible means of severing a congregation’s voluntary affiliation with the PC(USA.

02 May 2008


Note: The posts in this series are the opinion of the author.They do not reflect, nor should they be construed to reflect, the opinions or positions of Cozen O'Connor, Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church, the New Wineskins Association of Churches, or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

As I will discuss later, the various “governing bodies” (session, presbytery, synod, and General Assembly) of the PC(USA) are constitutionally fashioned to have limited powers. Although referred to in the current Book of Order as “governing bodies;” traditional presbyterianism has always deemed its elected representative bodies, from the session through the General Assembly, to be judicatories or courts as opposed to legislatures. See, e.g., the ambiguous statement of Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly in amicus brief filed in the United States Supreme Court in Full Gospel Tabernacle, et al. v. Community School District 27, et al.(U.S. Supreme Court, No. 98-1714; May 26, 1999)(“ The General Assembly does not claim to speak for all Presbyterians, nor are its deliverances and policy statements binding on the membership of the Presbyterian Church. The General Assembly is the highest legislative and interpretive body of the denomination, and the final point of decision in all disputes. As such, its statements are considered worthy of the respect and prayerful consideration of all the denomination's members.” (emphasis added).)

The Kirkpatrick affidavit, repeated in numerous cases in which the PC(USA) filed "friend of the court" briefs, also undercuts the recent claim by Louisville that the PC(USA) is a hierarchical church. The statements of a legislature are mandatory, not simply “worthy of the respect and prayerful consideration.” You can bet that Pope Benedict, the head of a real hierarchical church, would never sign such a statement.

In fact, the Form of Government Task Force created by the 217th General Assembly has proposed that that term “governing bodies” be replaced by the word “councils” in the proposed new Form of Government.

Finally, the assertion by the bureaucracy that denominational polity does not provide any right to disaffiliate, that no such authority is given to a congregation, and that no such authority is delegated to the session, actually presents the foundation for the conclusion that such a power is therefore reserved to the congregation under the scheme of limited powers.

So, before we look at the powers of the congregation, we must consider the limited powers of judicatories/governing bodies/councils.

Stay tuned.