30 September 2009


Well, the Chevy is history. The Good Guys Insurance Company (honest, it is—just ask anyone who has ever served in the Armed Forces and is insured by a well known, military-oriented insurer) called with the news on Monday. Jumper Girl, who had selected the Chevy for me based on one important feature—a trailer hitch—was devastated.

Yesterday, we began the search anew. First stop, the place we got the Chevy. SWMBO said “Now, it is really unlikely that they will have another truck we can afford.” Wailing ensued from the back seat.

We drove in, and there it was. JG had her “Aha” moment. “Look, it has the big cab and a trailer hitch, and everything!” It was a year newer than the Chevy, had fewer miles, and all the features I wanted, irrelevant as they might be. And it was $35 more than GGIC had paid to settle my claim. There will be no living with a 12 year old who is always right!

I leave on Friday for Chattanooga, Tennessee for the 6th Convocation of the New Wineskins Association of Churches which convenes with worship at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church on Sunday evening. I’m leaving early so that I can visit the Chickamauga Battlefield just across the Georgia line. My great grandfather fought there as a 12 year old drummer boy under the Command of General George H. Thomas. I have never been there before and it is time.

Thomas, “The Rock of Chickamauga,” is not well known outside of the ranks of Civil War buffs. It was a battle that also involved another of my favorites, “Fighting Joe” Wheeler, a Confederate cavalryman who was the commander of US forces in Cuba in 1898, where while suffering from a fever, he was heard to admonish subordinates to attack and punish “those damn Yankees!”

So, Saturday will be a fun day for me.

My great grandfather was right in the middle of our family’s military line. Two of my ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, one in the War of 1812, three in the Civil War (2 generations), one in WWII, my war in Vietnam, and Moleson’s forays into the Gulf make for 7 generations and 9 combat veterans in our history. Only two were killed in action, both in the Civil War.

According to my great grandmother, Lieutenant William Jack, 10th Ohio Cavalry, was WIA near Nashville, Tennessee, on June 19, 1863, and died some 10 days later. The drummer boy of Chickamauga, John Kennedy, later married Effie Rankin Jack, the orphan of Ebenezer Jack.

On April 7, 1863, my great, great grandfather, Quartermaster Sergeant Pleasant Fountain, 6th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, was KIA in an action against “skirmishers” near Fidelity Missouri. My great, great grandmother was informed that he had been wounded and that she should come to Fort Scott, Kansas from far northeast Hiawatha, Kansas to take him home to recuperate. Loading her four children into a wagon, she set off, spending the nights with scattered homesteads. After a five day journey to Fort Scott, she learned that her husband was dead.

She headed back home with her three sons, ages 10, 8, and 6, and one daughter, age 2—my great grandmother. Late on the second afternoon of her return trip, they approached a farm at which they had stayed only a few days earlier. Something alerted her, and she stopped the wagon in a small draw.

She took the 10-year old aside. “I am going to that farm,” she said. “Now, no matter what you see or hear, if I don’t come back to get you, you hide here, and then get these children home.” (They were about 60 miles from Hiawatha.)

She went up to the farm to find the entire family dead, killed by the skirmishers who had won for Kansas the soubriquet “Bloody Kansas.” She returned to her children, and they drove on into the night.

Setting up a “cold camp,” they settled in for a long dark night. About an hour later, a band of armed men rode into her camp and demanded that she cook for them. She watched as they butchered a cow that she recognized as coming from the devastated farm. An hour before sun up, the men mounted up and rode away, never to be seen by her again. Family tradition has it that she “entertained” part of the force led by Captain William Quantrill. If so, it probably did not include “Bloody Bill” Anderson who would have killed even a defenseless widow and the children of a Yankee.

And then we meet as a presbytery…….

18 September 2009


. . . .or, as SWMBO was heard to say, "Another glorious chapter in the Scuttlebutt family adventure!"

I was driving to pick up my daughter at school yesterday. As I reached to pick up a cough drop on the console, the shoulder that has tricked me before showed that while you can't teach an old shoulder new tricks, it can still play the old ones. For the second time in my life, it completely dislocated. (I stopped counting the partials about 20 years ago.)

I reacted in a manful way, if screaming and spasming is manful, hitting the gas and sending the truck into a tree. A nice petite little lady in a black jump suit came running toward me to help--which I saw as a VC, so I fought my way out of my seat belt, bailed, and played hide and seek with her around the truck until one of my neighbors drove up and called my name.

After a fun few hours in the local ER, they finally knocked me out and the shoulder is back at home in its socket--and sore as can be. God was truly with me and I thank him for his mercies.

Truck may be totalled 8>(. As the bumper sticker says, "My wife ran off with my kids and my truck. Reward for return of truck.>" (Tongue firmly in cheek.)

But I have admit, injury causes wreck seems a lot like man bites dog!

17 September 2009


It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become prey to the active The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which conditionif he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

-John Philpot Curran, Speech before the Privy Council, July 10, 1790

For many years, withholding per capita has been the only means for churches to register their disapproval of actions of the GA or other courts of the church.

In several cases, those higher courts (now referred to as "councils") have sought to coerce payment of per capita through the institution of disciplinary measures or by limiting the right of congregations to participate in presbytery. For nearly the same amount of time, presbyteries and synods have attempted to make payment of per capita mandatory. Several amendments to the Book of Order added ambiguous language that could be read either way. Nonetheless, in every such instance in which such an attempt has been made, the PJC has reversed such decisions. See, e.g., Johnston v. Heartland Presbytery, Rem. Case 217-2 (GAPJC 2004) (“The Heartland policy improperly turns payment of per capita apportionments or the fulfillment of a mission pledge into a mandate”); Minihan and Richards v. Scioto Valley Presbytery, Remedial Case 216-1 (GAPJC 2003) (1992 amendment to G-9.0404d did not grant a presbytery power to compel a session to transmit the per capita apportionment assigned to it.); Session, Central Presbyterian Church v. Presbytery of Long Island (Minutes, 1992, page 179) (governing body may adopt a per capita system for financing its operations, but a church may neither be compelled to pay nor punished for failure to pay any amounts pursuant to such plan); cf., Westminster United Presbyterian Church of Port Huron, Michigan v. The Presbytery of Detroit (UPC, 1976, p. 228)

The basis for the GA PJC decisions has been the clear language of Book of Order §G-10.0102 , (Responsibilities of the Session), which states in pertinent part,

The session is responsible for the mission and government of the particular church. It therefore has the responsibility and power . . . to establish the annual budget, determine the distribution of the church’s benevolences, and order offerings for Christian purposes, providing full information to the congregation of its decisions in such matters . . . §G-10.0102i.

Because the session alone possesses control of the congregation’s purse, the bureaucrats may not unilaterally overrule the conscience of the congregation.

And they have tried! In 2001, Scioto Valley Presbytery overtured the 213th General Assembly to approve an amendment which proposed to add the following sentences to G-9.0404d:

Unless excused by the presbytery, a session shall be responsible for raising and timely transmission of per capita funds to its presbytery. A presbytery may exercise care and oversight over congregations in its bounds that fail to raise or transmit such funds to the presbytery.
The 213th General Assembly (2001) disapproved the Overture.

These decisions are, of course, repugnant to the bureaucracy. When a session of a church that does not agree with the actions of the GA elects to successfully withhold per capita, the lifeblood of the bureaucracy, it encourages other churches to do the same. However, as demonstrated by the example in 2001, an effort to make per capita mandatory would, even today, have a doubtful chance of making it out of the GA.

If, that is, it was presented as a stand-alone amendment. Enter nFOG.2. Hidden in nFOG section 3.02 (THE SESSION) is a new section that provides as follows:

3.0202 Relations with Other Councils

Sessions have a particular responsibility to participate in the life of the whole church through participation in other councils. It is of particular importance that sessions:. . .

f. send to presbytery and General Assembly requested financial contributions, statistics, and other information according to the requirements of those bodies (emphasis added).

Section G-3.0202f makes payment of per capita a “particular responsibility” of the session.

Elsewhere in nFOG, the presbytery is authorized to

assume original jurisdiction in any situation in which it determines that a session cannot exercise its authority. After a thorough investigation, and after full opportunity to be heard has been accorded to the session,the presbytery may conclude that the session of a congregation is unable or unwilling to manage wisely its affairs, and may appoint an administrative commission with the full power of session. This commission shall assume original jurisdiction of the existing session, if any, which shall cease to act until such time as the presbytery shall otherwise direct.” Section G-3.0303e [The Presbytery’s] Relations with Sessions

The standard for such action remains the same as in the current Book of Order, but by changing payment of per capita into a “particular responsibility” of the session, it will be easy for a presbytery to declare that when a session does not perform that “particular responsibility”, it has demonstrated that it “is unable or unwilling to manage wisely its affairs”. An AC can then come in, take over the checkbook, and send the congregation’s money to Louisville.

So, sessions and congregations beware. If §G-3.0202f is adopted, hang onto your wallets. The GA’s bagmen will be coming.

16 September 2009


“The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients and by parts.” Edmund Burke, April 3, 1777

Edmund Burke was a contemporary of the founders of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. The republican form of government adoprted in the Summer of 1787 in Philadelphia by both the PCUSA and the United States in their respective constitutions was no accident. And the fear of strong central governments held by the men of that day can still be found in the words of those constitutions.

The desire and demand of free men for liberty is anathema to despots, and they endeavor by all means to usurp the power that ought belong to the individual. That is especially evident in the restructuring of the Form of Government with respect to the congregations. Rights that have always been conceded by the leadership to reside in the congregations are quietly removed in the hope that the commissioners to the presbyteries will not notice their absence.

Compare, for instance §G-7.0304 of the current Book of Order with the proposed §1.0503 of nFOG.2. Section G-7.0304 declares that
a. Business to be transacted at meetings of the congregation shall include the following:

(1) matters related to the electing (sic) 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 decliningto 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.
Limitations b. Business at congregational meetings shall be limited to the foregoing matters (1) through (5). . . . (emphasis added).

New §1.0503 (“Business Proper to Congregational Meetings”) strips away all of the powers heretofore residing in the congregation and then sets forth a new, very limited authority:

1.0503 Business Proper to Congregational Meetings
Business to be transacted at meetings of the congregation shall be limited to matters related to the following:
a. electing ruling elders, deacons, and trustees;
b. calling a pastor, co-pastor, or associate pastor;
c. changing existing pastoral relationships, by such means as reviewing the adequacy of and approving
changes to the terms of call of the pastor or pastors, or requesting, consenting to, or declining to consent to dissolution;
d. buying, mortgaging, or selling real property;
e. requesting the presbytery to grant an exemption as permitted in this Constitution (G-2.0404).

Note the differences. The introductory phrase of §G-7.0304 (“Business to be transacted at meetings of the congregation shall include the following:. . . “) is changed to “Business to be transacted at meetings of the congregation shall be limited to matters related to the following: . .” (emphasis added). From being a constitutional form in which all powers not delegated to the GA belong to the congregations, it has flipped into an oligarchical form in which the oligarchs dole out those few meaningless powers,e.g., to appoint local leadership, that they do not want---yet.

In other words, powers that had previously belonged to the congregation alone have been stripped away. The phrases “shall include” and “such as” in §G-7.0304 clearly connoted that the list that followed was not exclusive and that other powers also resided in the congregation and could be the basis for a congregational meeting.

Because the current Book of Order is ambiguous, and because it was drafted by the GA, in the event of a dispute between a congregation and its presbytery or the GA over the right to disaffiliate, under the legal doctrine contra proferentum, the ambiguity would be construed against the presbytery or GA. Hence the change.

By nibbling away at the rights of the congregation, if nFOG.2 is ratified as written, congregations that previously had the power to disaffiliate will be trapped in the PC(USA) at the mercy of the GA. The right of a congregation to unilaterally disaffiliate from the PC(USA) will be gone.

And, once trapped, there is more. . . . .

15 September 2009


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

-Carl Sandburg-

SWMBO and the kids are back in school. The cats have settled down for a much needed 18-hour nap after the hard work of eating breakfast, staring out the window at the trash truck, chasing air, and looking beautiful. And I can get back to the blogosphere.

Over at A Classical Presbyterian, Toby Brown has written a very nice cautionary piece about stewardship of emotion and effort, noting that we can often use up our strength on outrage when our energies could be better directed elsewhere. That piece struck home. There was a time when I scoured the web for news from the PC(USA) out of a need to protect our congregation from the depredations of the gang in Louisville. The disclosure of the Louisville Papers over a year after they had been distributed to presbyteries and synods revealed that secrecy and ambush were to be their chosen methods. But I also needed a place to vent against the hijackers of a once great denomination.

Two years ago, our little church on the hill—with other similarly situated congregations—fought our way out. Since that time, we have marveled at the peace, trust, and fellowship that can come from finding a home in a denomination that knows what it stands for and is unafraid to say just that. In the EPC, we found brothers and sisters who are not afraid to declare the sovereignty of God, the divinity of Christ, and the inerrancy of God’s word revealed in Scripture. In the EPC, we don’t need to tear pages or whole chapters out of our Bibles.

I write this by way of preface. My review of the antics and actions taken by the PC(USA) are no longer driven by self defense. I now have the freedom to watch what PC(USA) leadership and its minions are doing simply as an intellectual exercise. And they are making it easy.

The 2006 GA of the PC(USA) commissioned a re-write of its cumbersome Book of Order, but forbade any changes to the ordination standards set forth in §G-6.0106b or the odious unilateral declaration of a so-called property “trust.” The resulting product was released late and met with an uncharacteristic distrust across the denomination. Despite efforts by out-going Stated Clerk Kirkpatrick and his team to get the new form of government through the 2008 GA, it failed. Instead, the GA added some new members to the committee and directed them to take another crack at a re-write.

To their credit, the new committee worked hard to get their proposal out in sufficient time for people to study it. (A major criticism of nFOG.1 was that it was not released for review until just before the 2008 GA. Commissioners were leery of voting on something they had not read and digested—oh that the folks in Congress were so conscientious! But, I digress.) So, now it is out, loaded with booby traps for the unwary, a ticking time-bomb. If the 2010 GA does not reject this effort, and if the presbyteries adopt it, they cannot say that they did not have an opportunity to know what they were doing. And reject this piece of work they should.

As was the case with nFOG.1, nFOG.2 is a plan for reforming the PC(USA) into the Roman Catholic model of church governance. It strips congregations of long-held rights which protected them from unilateral action by the bureaucracy, remodels the “presbyterian” form of government into a hierarchical directorate, adds language that can be used to make payment of per capita mandatory, and adds a “fuehrer oath” for members of congregations.

As a child of the prairies of Illinois, I learned my Sandburg. His description of the fog as a silent predator, creeping into place unnoticed until it is too late for the prey, is an apt comparison to the nFOG that has now been unleashed on the PC(USA). I hope that sessions of the PC(USA) congregations will take responsibility to study nFOG.2 and act accordingly when they send commissioners to presbytery and the GA. If they do not, they have no one to blame but themselves.

-30- (Extra credit to the first one of you boys and girls who can explain this.)