16 July 2009


Well, our noble elected leaders in Washington are at it again—demonstrating that many of them could not lead a bunch of condemned sinners out of Hell.

It all started when the so-called “Torture Memos” came to light, a first example that politicians are genetically incapable of keeping the Nation’s secrets and if given the opportunity to place the Nation’s best interests ahead of their own, they will usually take care of themselves first. The latest fracas started because, a few short months after the World Trade Center/Pentagon attack, Speaker Pelosi was briefed in to some degree on steps that the United States might take if necessary to get timely information to prevent other similar or even more deadly attacks.

Seven years later, when her core constituency (the hate America first crowd) discovered that we might deprive Al Quaeda operatives of sleep (gasp), or put them in solitary so they could not arrange a common story (shudder) or use a physically harmless technique that nonetheless triggers the biological fear of drowning as a last resort means of getting such information (moan), Nancy the Great backtracked like a pro.

Knowing that much of the information that would disprove her allegations was classified, she tried to claim that she was “lied to.” Then, when that was not working so well, she learned that , (or her "supporters") revealed that shortly after September 11, 2001, the president of the United States ordered the CIA to examine the possibility of targeted assassinations of Al Qaeda leaders. The AQ leadership would be fair game anywhere in the world. No actual operations were launched, and there was no legal requirement that the mere existence of a planning group be revealed to a notoriously porous Congress, but Nancy the Great waved her magic wand and, presto, change-o, there was a "lie."

And the useful idiots in Congress are aghast. “You mean, like, shoot them without like, you know, warning them of their (non-existent) Constitutional rights?”

I think most Americans had already assumed that those orders had gone out. I surely did. If someone had asked me that question, my answer would have been, “Yup! Twice, in the head, just to make sure they’re really dead. That’s how we respond treachery and cowardice. Just ask the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Of course, the problem goes back much further. The Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID) (“the Church Committee” ) was established in 1975 to look into intelligence activities that might have been connected to the Watergate affair.

Delving into highly classified activities in a televised series of hearings, the Democratic majority of the Committee revealed, among other things, that the United States government had attempted to assassinate or actually succeeded in assassinating foreign leaders, including Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers of Vietnam, Gen. René Schneider of Chile. They also revealed President John F. Kennedy's plans to use the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro of Cuba.

The evidence with respect to Lumumba is very tenuous—it was the Belgian government that did him in. The rest, with the exception of Schneider, were authorized or openly condoned by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

I recall watching the hearings. In particular, I was amazed by Senator’s feigned shock that the President of the United States (John F. Kennedy) had repeatedly ordered that Fidel Castro be killed.

Senator church and I were both shocked. Church was just disconsolate that JFK had taken such action. I asked, “If, in 1962 or ’63, the President of the United States said he wanted Castro dead, then why is the sob still breathing?” I guess it’s a frame of reference thing.

At any rate, in response to the Church Committee revelations, President Ford issued an Executive Order banning U.S. sanctioned assassinations of foreign leaders. He was strong-armed into doing so by threats that the Congress would enact those prohibitions into law; an EO can be superseded by the President. Whether any American would have the guts to stand in front of a jury and argue that bin Laden is a “foreign leader” is an open argument, but I am sure that there are some boneheads out there that would try.

But, here we are, once again. Lint-for-brains pols put their interests before ours and warn people who intend to do us harm that they may continue to make such plans with impunity.

11 July 2009


The flight to An Hoa lasted about 10 minutes. The LZ was on the south end of the runway. As I left the bird, a Marine directed me to the Ops bunker.

From there, I began my trek into the maze that was the combat base. There were rows upon rows of strongback tents, wooden frames designed to fit the standard General Purpose tent. They were built on stilts approximately 4 feet above the ground—a necessity to allow air flow, drainage during the wet season, and rodent control. The side walls were 8 feet high—the bottom four feet were plywood and the top four feet were screened. Three or four light bulbs provided lighting. A boardwalk of pallets connected the strong backs to dirt roads that ran through the combat base.

Strong backs were used for billeting and for offices. Other offices were in prefabricated bunkers. A frame made of 12 x12 supports that were 12 feet by 20 feet, and then walled and ceilinged with 2 x 12 boards. The floor was three-quarter inch plywood. Once set in place, the bunker would be sand-bagged. The S-4 bunker had approximately 25,000 sandbags for protection: walls were 6 sandbags deep, from the ground to the roof level. Three layers of sandbags were placed on the roof, then a layer of steel runway matting followed by three more layers of sandbags, another layer of matting and a final three layers of sandbags.

Charlie Company’s office was in a strong back on the battalion street, three rows down from the main supply route (Main Street An Hoa.) Office furniture was field desks and camp stools. A field desk was a 4 x 4 x 4 “suitcase.” One side could be removed and attached to the box (that contained drawers) to form a desk.

As you entered the office, the First Sergeant’s desk was on the left. In front of the desk, he had had the troops paint a pair of yellow (properly, “gold,” because as one of our Jodie chants says, “Marine Corps colors are scarlet and gold…”, but we’ll go with yellow) footprints. Any graduate of MCRD Parris Island or MCRD San Diego will know the purpose of those footprints. They are a recruit’s first sight at a Recruit Depot.

As a new recruit leaves the bus, he or she is herded to rows of yellow footprints, heels together and feet at a 45 degree angle, the first position of “Attention.” And that is what the First Sergeant had in mind.

As I entered the office, First Sergeant Lee was hunched over the desk, signing the Skipper’s signature to the Unit Diary, then the principal daily personnel document in the Marine Corps. I entered and positioned myself on the footprints. “Just a minute, Marine,” the First Sergeant growled without looking up. “Be with you in a minute.” A couple of the clerks were grinning ear-to-ear.

As he finished the Diary, he yelled “Brown, get this over to S-1.”

PFC Brown took it and “got.”

“Now, Marine, what can I do. . . my Gawd in heaven, Lieutenant, just look at you!”

He was looking at a 6’2” Marine who weighed 118 pounds (down from 171 in December). My helmet cover was faded, muddy, and covered with the black print of my “zap number” (M6086), blood type, and my short-timer’s calendar. My flak jacket was faded, ripped, and most of the plates were bunched over my right kidney. My towel was around my neck, and under my flak jacket I wore the faded green T shirt I had worn since 23 December. My rifle was clean, but my utility trousers were still wet and muddy to the knees and my jungle boots were muddy.

“Morning, First Sergeant.” [The Army calls the unit First Sergeant the “top kick” or “top” for short. No good Marine First Sergeant will tolerate that. “A ‘top’ is a goddam kid’s toy! I’m the First Sergeant!”]

“Well, damn, Lieutenant. You are a sight! Johnson, scoot down to Supply and get the Lieutenant a clean set of dungarees.”

“Which Johnson, First Sergeant? Light green Johnson or dark green Johnson?”

First Sergeant Lee had about 21 years in the Corps. He was one of those pioneers who had entered the Marine Corps at about the time that President Truman had issued the Executive Order which desegregated the Armed Forces.

Serving with Marines such as Sergeant Major Edgar Huff (the first black Sergeant Major in the Marine Corps) and Sergeant Major Gilbert H. “Hashmark” Johnson as mentors and role models, First Sergeant Robert E. Lee was one of those giants who helped mold both the modern Marine Corps and the America we know today. (“Giant,” you ask? Well Hashmark Johnson served in two wars, three branches of service, and for 32 years, half of which were in a segregated Armed Forces. Two years after his death from a heart attack, the Montford Point facility at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, which had been the segregated “black boot camp” during WWII, was renamed Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, the first military installation to be named after an African-American. I’d say that qualifies for “Giant.”)

And First Sergeant Lee’s first maxim was “I ain’t got ‘black Marines’ or ‘white Marines.’ All I have are ‘green Marines.’”

But I digress. “Light green” Johnson took off.

“Thompson, you get over to the shower point and tell them the Lieutenant will be there in five minutes.” He shook his head. “Now, Sir, let’s get you squared away.”

Within an hour, I was showered and shaved (cold water, but who cared), had new, clean clothes and had had my first real meal in over a month. (There was a huge sign on the mess hall bunker—in scarlet and gold, naturally—listing the hours of operation, followed in large letters by “MARINES IN FROM THE FIELD—ANY TIME.”)

I returned to the office, ready to get to work. “What should I do, First Sergeant,” I asked?

“Well, Sir. Why don’t you go over to the BOQ tent (Bachelor Officers’ Quarters) and take a nap? Maybe write a letter home?” [Interpreted, he was saying “Everything is under control. Don’t try to fix what ain’t broke.”]

Hmmmmm. Not a bad idea.

The only other officer in the BOQ was Lieutenant Jim Webb, a platoon commander in Delta Company. We introduced ourselves and settled in for the afternoon. I explored the Q, noting many jagged shrapnel holes which were circled and dated—reminders of rocket and mortar attacks on An Hoa. Suddenly, I missed my nice safe hole out in the Arizona.

What would tomorrow bring?

10 July 2009


I'm still having some problems with my regret that I couldn't let Wandro know that I was wrong. Talked to my Pastor who, after praying with me, said, "So, how do you think Peter felt for all those years?"

Wow. Pretty heady company, but I thank God for my Pastor.

08 July 2009


The night was quiet and uneventful. The next morning, we moved out to establish a company patrol base. It was the first time since Monday (four days and four centuries ago) that we had not been in a battalion position.

We headed back to “The Hot Dog,” a small hill so named because of its shape on the map. Like the shepherds of the ancient days, we had plenty of time to look at our surroundings. The ancients looked at the night sky. We looked at the ground—physically and on our maps. Shapes leaped out and we named the ground: “Battleship” and “Rock Pile” and “The Hot Dog.”

Charlie 3 drew the night ambush, with a late afternoon patrol en route. Our patrol intentionally took us through the impact area of the Arc Light. It was unbelievable.

Imagine if you will the Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Great Blue Ox had gone to Vietnam. The ground looked as if Paul and Babe had pulled some gigantic plow through a field 900 meters wide by nearly 3 clicks long. Trees were mangled and reduced to kindling. What was left of one village revealed that the hooches had been interconnected by a tunnel system. We found body parts and pieces of AK-47s and a couple of RPD machine guns. We also found a couple of caches of B-40 rocket launchers and rounds, all of which revealed that the NVA had been using the ville as a base or supply depot.

We proceeded on to our night ambush site and set in for what was another uneventful evening. What was left of the 90th NVA Regiment and its VC cadre had apparently withdrawn back into the mountains to lick its wounds. At first light, we moved to a new position about 800 meters from the Hot Dog and secured it for the rest of the company.

From our position, we watched a CH-46 fly to the Hot Dog to resupply the Company. A couple of hours later, the Company moved to our new position. After we linked up, Frank called me to the CP.

“Your relief is in.” He signaled another officer who was in the CP and introduced us. “Take today to snap him in. You’ll go back to An Hoa on tomorrow’s resupply bird.”

I knew that Jerry Ayers had gone back to Regiment to the 3 Shop (Operations) the day before, meaning that I was the last of our class that had reported in December who was still commanding a platoon. I guess the powers that be decided I need a little extra time to get it straight!

My relief was an officer who had done a year in the Second Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina before coming to Vietnam. He was eager to take over, and I was cautious about putting my Marines into unknown hands. Throughout the day, I learned that one of his favorite expressions was a variant of “That’s not the way we did it at Camp Lejeune.”

Another quiet night ensued. I told Frank that I would lead Charlie 3 on the morning security patrol, taking the new guy for an orientation. He agreed, but told me to get back by 1030.

We headed out at our usual pace. The troops picked up an interval of 10 to 20 meters between men, and set a slow, cautious pace. Before each checkpoint, I would examine the area through binoculars and then usually, work the area over with a 60mm mortar fire mission.

When I offered to let him adjust one of the mortar fire missions, my relief was hesitant. “Doesn’t the FO (artillery forward observer) do that,” he asked?

I was amazed and a little unsettled--I had called and adjusted about 250 artillery and mortar fire missions and air strikes in the past six months. How would this guy think that he could just let the FO, who was in the Company CP, try to call a fire mission for a patrol several hundred or several thousand meters away. And what would he think when a Lance Corporal squad leader called a fire mission?

[At Camp Lejeune the next year, I discovered the basis for his assumption. In an exercise, I began to call for an artillery fire mission. Our FO from the 10th Marines was aghast.

"What do you think you are doing," he asked? "I'm the FO, I'm the graduate of the Artillery School (at Fort Sill, Oklahoma). If you haven't been through Fort Sill, how can you possibly call and adjust artillery fire?"

He was a second lieutenant who, because of President Nixon's "vietnamization" wind down, would never make it to Vietnam. He seemed to think that calling and adjusting artillery was some arcane practice known only to those admitted to the Guild and taught the magic words and phrases. Naturally, the First Lieutenant infantry officers who were commanding rifle platoons (many of whom had commanded rifle companies) in combat were amused at such presumption. We soon put these poor clowns in their place.]

Back on patrol, I simply told my relief that it was all his now--artillery and mortar support, air, medevacs, the whole megilla-- and had him call every fire mission for the rest of the patrol. Part of his hesitance, I discovered, was that he was having a hard time reading the map. As I mentioned before, the Arizona was really flat, and figuring where you were could be dicey. We worked on that, too.

Once we reached each checkpoint, I would stop to take a hard look at our route to the next check point. That gave me an opportunity to let half the platoon get a nap of 20 minutes or so. My relief was getting antsy because our pace was "too slow," definitely not the way things were done at Camp Lejeune. Finally, I pulled him aside.

“Listen up, jack! Two nights ago, this company was up to its ass in gooks. They may still be out here, and if they are, they don’t like us very much. There is nothing at the next checkpoint that requires us to get there in record time. Do it right and we get a prize—we accomplish our assigned mission and everybody gets back to the company in one piece. Oh, and by the way, in case you haven’t noticed, we are not in Camp [universal modifier] Lejeune. Now just calm down, listen and learn, and everything will be OK. Got it?”

He nodded and we had a nice quiet patrol from there on out.

When we got back to the CP, we reported to the Skipper for a quick change of command.

“OK, XO," Frank grinned, "grab your trash and get ready to go. The resupply bird should be here in about half an hour.” It was the first time that I realized that I was now the second-in-command for real. My mind returned briefly to a hot Company Street at Camp Upshur, three years and a lifetime ago. I was actually that exalted personage--the XO.

I hurried down to Third Herd. Gibby had my pack made up. I went from Marine to Marine to say goodbye and to wish them luck. I pulled Levi and Henson aside to ask them to take good care of the new Lieutenant. Bob Henson just smiled, handed me a last cup of C-rat coffee, and we shook hands.

Levi chuckled. “Yessir, I heard your little chat. Don’t worry, Sir. If I could train your sorry ass, I guess I can train anybody.” He grinned and we shook hands.

At least I knew that I was leaving Charlie 3 in the hands of two solid Marines. Bob was nearly 20 and Levi was nearly 21. Dear God, we thank You for men such as these.

The resupply bird whop-whop-whopped in, dropped the net and then settled to ground. I hustled up to the CP and said goodbye to Frank. Violating one of the rules of the bush, we exchanged salutes and then I grabbed my gear and ran for the bird, still wet and muddy from the patrol.

As we lifted off, I noticed how small a company perimeter really was. I felt as if I was leaving my family and our little home.

07 July 2009


According to the Associated Press,
Robert S. McNamara, the brainy Pentagon chief who directed the escalation of the Vietnam War despite private doubts that the war was winnable or worth fighting, died Monday at 93.

A numbers cruncher, the "whiz kid" was one of JFK's "best and brightest" who knew as early as 1965 that our strategy in Vietnam was unworkable. David Halberstam's classic, The Best And The Brightest, portrays McNamara and his co-horts for what they were: people who had no problem sacrificing on the altar of northeastern elitist intellectualism and political expediency the lives of men they were supposed to lead. Better men than were they!

Kow-towing to LBJ who wanted his so-called Great Society as a legacy, they conspired on such marvels as "Project 100,000" that lowered enlistment standards to allow induction and enlistment of young American men in mental group 4A as a "jobs program" so as to get them off the streets. (My oak kitchen table has an IQ higher than a 4A and is better suited to carry a rifle in combat!)

In the 1990s, one of my TBS classmates sent a group of us a letter asking for our forgiveness. "Last week, I was on the ferry to Martha's Vineyard. Looking down the rail I saw Robert Strange McNamara. I write to humbly ask your forgiveness. I did not throw that son-of-a-bitch overboard."

Well, McNamara is now reunited with LBJ and their cronies. I hope LBJ saved him a seat really close to the fire.

06 July 2009


As we recovered from the night of June 10-11, 1969, morale was low. We had suffered two killed in action, and the strength of the NVA attack was unexpected. The medevac birds were in the zone by 0700, and knowing that our WIA were on their way to good medical care helped a little.

At about 0900, Frank ordered me to take a patrol to our east to see what was out there. We moved cautiously, out of tactical concern and simple physical exhaustion. About a click to the east, we found several rows of packs which looked as if the NVA had formed into a battalion formation of three ranks.

We spent time looking through the packs for intelligence materials and then I allowed the troops to look for souvenirs. Afterwards, we piled them up and used a couple of flare grenades to burn them. At about 1145, Frank called me on the radio and told me to make sure I was back in the lines by 1215.

We headed back across the paddies and entered the lines just as a CH-46 landed in the LZ. Marines in mess whites began to off-load vacuum cans and to set up a mess line. We later learned that at about 0830, Col. Riley had called the Battalion S-4 and ordered him to get a hot meal out for the troops. Now, that is not a lot of time, but the Four got it done.

The menu was steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, green peas, and white bread. The steaks were from canned “B” rations, but it was steak. Because we lived on C-rats, no one carried a mess kit, but that was no problem. We tore up C-rat cartons to use as plates and nearly everyone had a knife of some kind (bayonet, K-Bar, or some other form of sheath knife) and our plastic C-rat spoons. It was a messy meal—and the best I have ever eaten. Morale sky-rocketed.

I suppose many folks will think that I exaggerate. How could canned steaks do that? I guess you had to be there. These men had lived on the same monotonous menu for weeks. They had been in contact with the enemy for several days, and they had fought a monumental fight just hours before. Anything different was exciting. Col. Riley knew that and it was his leadership in the little things that mark him in my mind as one of the finest leaders I ever knew.

That evening we stayed in a battalion perimeter. At dusk, I was standing along the edge of my lines, just looking out into the paddy. Suddenly, to our southeast, the sky lit up in what appeared to be sustained yellow heat lightning. Suddenly there was a “swoosh-Swoosh-SWOOSH-THUD” about a foot to my right front. I looked down and saw a metal ball. I bent and touched it and jerked away. It was painfully hot.
At the same time, the ground shook and a rumble filled the air. I had just observed an Arc-Light.

Arc-Light was an Air Force tactic in which three B-52 bombers, flying in a trail formation, dropped their bomb-loads by radar from 25,000 to 30,000 feet. The bomb load per aircraft was 108 five hundred pound bombs. (That is 27 tons per aircraft, 81 tons per 3 ship mission.) The first time the folks in the impact area knew they were being targeted was when the first bomb detonated. An Arc Light strike could obliterate an area 1.2 miles long by .6 miles wide. It was awesome.

Had I stood but a foot forward and a foot to the right, it would have been lights out for me. And I didn’t give a damn!

01 July 2009


This is a long post because I could not find a logical break point. I won't do it again in the near future.

“I believe in . . . the holy catholic Church . . ..” Apostles Creed.

And I do. Thus, I had planned to stay away from the latest PC(USA) attempt to gloss over its continued loss of members, especially after reading some great blog comments by Quotidian Grace and Reverend Kim, just to mention two. I think it matters not who can claim the most members, because we are all brothers and sisters in the one catholic or universal Church, the bride of Christ. So, if people are called by God to move from one construct, i.e., a man-made denomination, to another, it is unimportant by what name they call themselves.

But when a denomination strays from orthodoxy, losses huge numbers of members, and then attempts to suggest that those losses are not in response to the denomination’s departure from the norms of the historic Reformed faith, and to paint those who leave as people who have turned their backs on Jesus Christ, an answer is required. The intentional misinterpretation (through omission and misstatement) of the numbers by the spin-meisters in Louisville must be answered. Consider the following:

1. The report acknowledges that 25 congregations have been dismissed to “other denominations.” Now, 23 of that 25 have come to the EPC, but as interested as the PC(USA) is in asserting EPC recruiting, they refuse to acknowledge that PC(USA) presbyteries have dismissed churches to the EPC, usually after extorting obscene ransoms to do so.

2. The report includes only those churches that asked permission for their departure. It ignores churches that disaffiliated, as they are permitted to do under Chapter 7 of the PC(USA)’s Book of Order. Instead, the leaders of the PC(USA) suggest that most of the rest of their losses are people who turned their backs on the Christ in favor of the world and, for the PC(USA), that is at best unproven and at worst simply untrue.

3. Many congregations have simply walked away from the PC(USA), abandoning their property to small “loyal remnants” and forming new vibrant congregations. For instance, New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, Fla. Was formed when 1,300 members formed a new EPC church. Another is Lighthouse Presbyterian Church in Paola, Kansas where over 300 members left the First Presbyterian Church in the hands of a small remnant. In that case, Heartland Presbytery refused an offer from the departing congregation of a cash payment and assumption by the church of a nearly $1,000,000 mortgage that had been guaranteed by the presbytery. At the very least, the statistical reports for those two churches reflect some departures. Others still claim their previous totals.
A case in point is Londonderry Presbyterian Church in New Hampshire. In order to justify actions that led to the loss of the second largest congregation in the presbytery, the expenditure of over $650,000 by the presbytery to coerce the congregation to remain in the PC(USA), including paying the costs to enable the so-called “loyal remnant” to sue the members of their former session personally, and a result that can only be described as a phyrric for both the remnant congregation and the presbytery, the PNNE helps support the gross misstatements now emanating from Louisville.

Londonderry Presbyterian Church: A Study in Deception

CORRECTION: Thanks to GA Junkie via Reformed Catholic in the PCUSA, I got to read a recent newspaper article appearing in the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Massachusetts about both Londonderry Presbyterian Church (the PC(USA) remnant) and Orchard Christian Fellowship. The news for both churches is good. LPC now has some 225 members (although their presbytery continues to state a membership of 534), up from the original remnant of 39. Why their recent congregational photos are so small, I cannot say.

OCF now has 475 members, up from the 212 who voted to leave the PC(USA) and to move to the EPC. Increases like this are good news for the holy catholic Church, and I'm glad to hear of the good work being done by both churches.

I was intrigued to read in the newspaper that a recent three-year grant to LPC from their Synod for evangelism is being used to pay staff salaries, but you have to have evangelists to evangelize.

In 2007, in response to departures from orthodox Reformed theology by the PC(USA), capped by the General Assembly’s 2006 reception of the “Trinity Paper” and the adoption of the “Report of the Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity in the Church,” the leadership and congregation of Londonderry Presbyterian Church in Londonderry, New Hampshire voted overwhelmingly to disaffiliate from the PC(USA) and to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. At that time, the pulpit at LPC had been vacant for nearly three years. As the PNNE states on its current website (as of July 1, 2009).
In late summer of 2007, it was clear [to the Presbytery] that there was a schism within the congregation. A mail vote (sic) of the congregation was conducted by the session concerning the issue of leaving the denomination. A majority of the votes (sic) were to stay in the denomination. Only 29% voted (sic) to leave.
Notwithstanding this vote (sic), the session of the LPC voted to recommend leaving the denomination, and began a campaign to reverse the mail vote (sic). It was then apparent that a formal process of dealing with the schism was necessary. The COM decided that the search for a pastor could not proceed until the issue of leaving the denomination had been settled.
In fact, as early as four weeks prior to the departure of the vast majority of the membership from the PC(USA), the session had decided that it must wait until it could call a pastor to guide them in decisions regarding their continued membership in the PC(USA). It was only when the Committee on Ministry made it clear to LPC that no action would be taken to approve its Church Information Form [a document that had to be approved by the presbytery before the pastor search process could continue, a document upon which the COM had been sitting for months], and that unless LPC would guarantee in writing that it would never leave the PC(USA), the COM would not let them search for a pastor.

And because of the need to justify the results of its action, PNNE has made many different and contradictory statements about the “history” of the crisis. For instance, in a report the presbytery at its September 13, 2008 meeting, PNNE admitted
The work with Londonderry Presbyterian Church (LPC) began several years ago with the connectional work normally done by a General Presbyter. The LPC Session expressed concern over several actions of the General Assembly. The pastoral conversations became more intense during the past three years. Elder Ingrid Cyros and Rev. Jim Stuart were assigned as liaisons to LPC by the Committee on Ministry. They worked with the LPC Session and PNC for a couple years.

During the Spring and Summer of 2007, Presbytery officers and other leaders met with LPC session members for a series of informal lunch meetings to build relationships and to talk about matters of concern of LPC with PNNE and GA. [ In] June 2007, the LPC Session brought a resolution to PNNE in response to PUP report. This failed to pass.

The Presbytery leadership had discussions about whether an administrative commission (AC) was needed to help settle the LPC issues. The general thinking was that an AC would be a tripping point to incite further action by the LPC Session. (Emphasis added.)
In other words, the PNNE decided to “incite” the session to protect itself by preparing to form an administrative commission. This occurred about a week after the session had decided to stay in the PC(USA) until it had a pastor to lead its deliberations. However, upon learning that PNNE intended to form an Administrative Commission to remove the elected session of the church and to replace it with pastors and elders from other churches whose sole loyalty would be to the presbytery and the PC(USA), the session called a congregational meeting to consider leaving the PC(USA).

PNNE’s action fully comported with the plan of action that had been secretly prepared by the legal department of the PC(USA) some two years before and which had only come to light when it was leaked to the press. The plan was in the form of two documents which came to be known as the “Louisville Papers.” Among other things, the plan counseled presbyteries and their attorneys to tell judges that the PC(USA) was a “hierarchical” church, just like the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and other such denominations. Sadly, that advice contained the qualifying admission that the argument should be made even though the PC(USA) was not hierarchical.

Presbyteries were counseled to seize and freeze bank accounts, change locks on churches, cloud the title to property, fire pastors and take over the governance of the congregations.

It must be remembered that LPC was a 270 year old congregation whose establishment pre-dated the Revolutionary War and the subsequent establishment of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, a predecessor to the PC(USA). It had owned most of its property since the 1700s and none of the deeds mentioned any ownership interest in the denomination or the presbytery. It was only the 1981 unilateral addition by the PC(USA) to its constitution of a claim that churches held their property in trust for the national denomination that put the title to PLC’s property in question. LPC had never affirmatively taken any action to create such a trust.

In 1979, the United States Supreme Court had adopted a standard for deciding church property cases known as the “neutral principles” doctrine. In other words, cases not related to church doctrine or theology, church corporations could be treated just like any other corporation. Property decisions could be based solely on deeds, articles of incorporation and corporate by-laws.

The Louisville papers counseled churches to ignore this legal doctrine and to argue that the decision as to whom owned the property ought to be made by the very presbytery that the Book of Order claimed was the owner!

In that light, when PNNE tried to form an Administrative Commission, the session (board of elders) of LPC retained counsel to file what is known as a suit to quiet title. In such an action, the court examines the conflicting ownership claims under the neutral principles and then decides the sole issue of title. The same rules of law would apply whether the claimants were Londonderry Presbyterian Church and Presbytery of Northern New England or Londonderry Petroleum Company and Petroleum Nitraters of New England.

Additionally, because the Louisville Papers counseled the presbytery to attempt to change the status quo with respect to property, the session sought and obtained a temporary restraining order preventing the presbytery from taking over the congregation’s property and assets. Once again, such action by a court to maintain the status quo is the norm.

So, in September of 2007, a simple issue of disputed ownership of property was before the court. Such narrow issues are usually decided without the necessity of trial and at fairly low cost to the parties by way of cross motions for summary judgment.

But that was not what the PNNE told its members that it spent $650,000 on. Instead, on its website, it claims that
The primary issue in the law suit brought by this session of the Presbytery which later became an Evangelical Presbyterian Church congregation, against the Presbytery of Northern New England is whether the trial judge can replace the PCUSA Constitution with civil court procedures and substitute the judge’s decision for that of the Presbytery.
In fact, that question has already been answered by the United States Supreme Court and a large majority of the states, including New Hampshire. Under New Hampshire law, neutral principles would still allow a member church of PNNE today to initiate the same action against PNNE for resolution of the property issues under state law. As late as last week, the Ohio Supreme Court, in ruling for Hudson Presbyterian Church, affirmed that the so-called property trust provision of the PC(USA) Book of Order is not enforceable.

In other words, the PNNE’s stated reason for spending $650,000 means that they spent all that money for nothing. Had they been truthful, they would have admitted that at the behest of Louisville, they spent that money to intimidate any other congregations that might put faithfulness to the call of God above the polity of the PC(USA). And if there is any doubt that that is the case, consider the following from the website of the loyal remnant’s July 2008 newsletter. In describing what it means to be a member of a PC(USA) congregation, it says:
We even reaffirm through our vows, at that juncture, to uphold everything that we stand for as a connectional church, and to uphold The Book of Order; a document that is, in addition to Holy Scripture and The Book of Confessions, at the very core of our structure and existence as a denomination.
For the PC(USA), the Book of Order is, at the very least, a 67th book of the cannon, and that was what PNNE was fighting for! But, you might ask, if the PNNE was fighting for the PC(USA), how could it incur such costs?
We requested financial assistance from the Office of General Assembly and from the Synod,and eventually from the 218th General Assembly, with the costs of this law suit because the issues at stake are much more than property. The connectional nature of the Presbyterian Church (USA) was on trial. Website, July 1, 2009 (emphasis added).
Sadly, this statement is, apparently, a correct statement of the PC(USA)’s view of connectionalism. When the Presbytery of South Louisiana entered into a stipulated judgment, conceding that it had no legal or moral right to the property of First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge, its synod convened a commission to examine the presbytery’s action. The presbytery established that it would have lost the property case based on neutral principles. It made the decision to be good stewards of its limited resources and ended a suit it would have ultimately lost.

The commission could not reverse the action, but, in its report, it castigated the presbytery for failing to protect the property trust clause of the Book of Order. It asserted that by so acting, the presbytery had destroyed Presbyterian connectionalism. In other words, in its view, the only thing that connects the PC(USA) is the ability of Louisville and the presbyteries to terrorize churches into maintaining PC(USA) membership under pain of losing their property.

PNNE justifies its actions thusly:

Because the Presbytery has successfully defended this attack, the PCUSA now has a successful strategy for defending any such suits in the future, making such suits much less likely.
What were those actions? To explain that requires another correction of PNNE’s warped view of history. You will recall that, even today, its website says
In late summer of 2007, it was clear [to the Presbytery] that there was a schism within the congregation. A mail vote (sic) of the congregation was conducted by the session concerning the issue of leaving the denomination. A majority of the votes (sic) were to stay in the denomination. Only 29% voted (sic) to leave.

Notwithstanding this vote (sic), the session of the LPC voted to recommend leaving the denomination, and began a campaign to reverse the mail vote (sic).
What actually took place is this. As part of the process of discerning the views of the congregation, in the summer of 2007, the session conducted a written confidential straw poll, asking the congregation “Shall we stay or go?” The raw answers were about as the PNNE states: 29% checked “Go,” and 71% checked “Stay.” Those numbers were leaked to PNNE.

What did not get to PNNE was the results of the “Comments” also solicited in the straw poll.

And it must be clear that this was merely a poll. No one suggests that the PC(USA) Book of Order permits absentee voting or any voting outside of a congregational meeting. So the attempt by the PNNE to describe this poll as a vote which decided the issue is yet another attempt to justify its later action.

The comments to the straw poll indicated that if there was a good chance that the congregation could both leave and keep its property, the numbers reversed. So, at the congregational meeting called to vote on disaffiliation, the vote was 71% for disaffiliation and 29% for staying in the PC(USA). And the presbytery was stunned into momentary silence.

Nonetheless, PNNE then spent $650,000 to try to punish nearly three-quarters of a congregation that no longer understood God to call them to membership in the PC(USA). And what was the result for the PNNE and the loyal remnant? The PNNE website states

The PNNE’s lawyers’ fees totaled approximately $650,000 by trial’s end. PNNE has paid approximately $200,000 and still owes approximately $300,000.

The General Assembly has contributed $27, 351 to our 2007 expenses, and arranged pro bono assistance from a national law firm to advise our legal team, all of which we greatly appreciate. The Synod of the Northeast through the New England Partnership Group has contributed $2,000. The 218th General Assembly provided no relief (although it did establish an Extra Commitment Opportunity Constitutional Legal Defense Fund that is unfunded). The Synod of the Northeast has established an Ecclesiastical Integrity Fund for such situations, which is yet unfunded. (Emphasis added.)

Our lawyers have contributed approximately $250,000 through pro bono service and reduced fees. One lawyer reduced fees by 50%. The other reduced fees by 20%.

The Synod has approved a loan of $200,000 to be repaid over 15 years at $18,000 per year or $1500 per month. The lawyers have agreed to let the Presbytery pay the remaining $100,000 over the next two years at no interest.

The consequence of the burden of these legal costs has been devastating to the Presbytery’s mission and ministry. The printing and mailing of the newsletter has been eliminated. Instead of mailing it to about 2,000 households in Northern New England, it is being emailed to about 200 individuals. Support for training and work-shops for our pastors and church members has been slashed by $12,000, essentially eliminating this ministry support.

Comparing the 2009 Budget to the 2007 Budget, Partnership aid with congregations for ministries in their communities has been reduced by 40% and support for denominational mission has been cut by over 50%. The Evangelism support for congregational programming has been eliminated. Staff consists of one General Presbyter and one secretary and their cost of living salary increases have been eliminated. The stipend for the Stated Clerk was also held steady. Travel expenses throughout the four-state region has been cut by 25%.

The Presbytery is saving rent by moving into one of its church’s buildings.[Office rent will go to $0 after October when the Presbytery office is moved to the Londonderry Presbyterian Church at no charge. PNNE Minutes 9/13/2008 at 615] Ministry expenses of COM and CPM have been cut by 72%.

Drastic cuts have been made. These are temporary, but it will take a couple of years before our normal financial processes will be able to begin to renew mission and ministry support for the Presbytery. The process has been financially hard. But the Presbytery made the right decisions for its congregation in Londonderry, but more importantly, for our denomination. The Presbytery made the commitment alone, but always with the conviction that it acted on the behalf of the denomination. As a part of the connectional church, it could not abandon its responsibilities.

When the process was begun, it was never anticipated that it would cost the Presbytery so dearly. The case law was clear. Everyone anticipated that the legal process would be concluded quickly and relatively inexpensively ($50,000). The Office of the General Assembly committed to partner in the legal costs.

Our faith tells us that the Lord does not put us to a test that we cannot meet.

Had the Presbytery in September of 2007 been presented with the question of spending $500,000 and 18 months to defend the Book of Order, it might responsibly have answered that there is no way the Presbytery can pay such a sum. It just doesn’t have that kind of money. Presbytery might responsibly have said that this is a national issue, and relied on the Office of General Assembly’s wisdom and lawyers as to whether and how to make a defense. But that was not the question presented. At each step, challenges were presented and ways forward were discerned. Presbytery has successfully defended our Book of Order and our connectional system and now looks to the future with significant financial handicaps for continuing mission and ministry throughout a four-state area. (Emphasis added.)

After championing the good cause for Presbyterianism, the many small churches throughout Northern New England are themselves now struggling to keep their own doors open, the heat on, and their pastors paid. At a time when mission needs are increasing, the Presbytery’s ability to participate in meeting those needs has been compromised. Now is the time Presbytery of Northern New England needs special mission gifts from all who are able so that our witness to Christ through mission and ministry in our area and through our many small and rural congregations may continue. PNNE Website 7/1/2009
Ultimarely, PNNE spent $650,000 to keep a couple of heavily mortgaged buildings (see PNNE minutes for December 6, 2008 at 660), and to terrorize its other members into staying in the PC(USA). One wonders: If another congregation in PNNE voted to disaffiliate today, would PNNE try to stop them?

The settlement agreement between the majority congregation and the remnant congregation probably effectively prevents the presbytery from selling the property because the majority congregation, which received 15 undeveloped acres of property as part of the settlement, also received the right of first refusal on any sale of the buildings and land of the remnant congregation. I doubt that the PNNE could explain to its members the expenditure of $650,000 to “keep” land that it then sold to the majority.

How does this all apply to the PC(USA)’s intentional misrepresentation of its membership numbers?

Prior to the split, LPC claimed about 530 members and had regular worship attendance of about 300. After the split, the majority now has nearly 250 charter members of Orchard Christian Fellowship and worship attendance in the 275 range.

The remnant LPC claims the pre-split membership of 534 [PNNE Website 7/1/2009], and says in different editions of its newsletter that it is seeing worship attendance in the range of 125 to “nearly 200”, but keeps showing the same 60 people in photographs of the congregation in its newsletter. See, e.g., June 2009 newsletter. And Louisville claims those same numbers. One could argue that Louisville allowed PNNE to spend all that time, money and spiritual effort simply to keep nearly 500 names associated with a 60 member congregation so that membership losses would not be even greater than reported.

At the same time, as may be seen in the PNNE report, the presbytery is suffering. PC(USA) leaders in Louisville promised PNNE (and other presbyteries) monetary support that the General Assembly refused to give. The PNNE General Presbyter who was Louisville’s great supporter has moved on to another presbytery and will not be replaced anytime soon. The fact that the presbytery had to freeze his salary may or may not have influenced his decision. He is being replaced by a part-time administrator, and the presbytery is being effectively divided into three groups with volunteer leadership because of the poor financial condition of the presbytery.

Because “I believe in . . . the holy catholic Church . . ,.” I pray that the congregation at LPC prospers so long as it remains faithful to Scripture. When they do, the entire Body of Christ prospers. Likewise, as Orchard grows, the entire Church should celebrate.

Perhaps in the fullness of time, LPC (the “victorious” remnant church) will once again actually have the membership it now claims. But wouldn’t it have been better for the “catholic Church” if the remnant had, in true Presbyterian fashion, merely accepted the call God placed on the majority?

Louisville’s desperate need to keep numbers so as to disguise the effect of its departure from Reformed orthodoxy in favor of post-modern practice has had a tangible destructive effect that did not need to occur.