20 September 2010

14 September 2010


Since at least the mid-1960’s, the liberal left has taken for granted that certain acts, e.g., burning an American flag, during a protest are “protected speech” under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

In the past few weeks, however, the loony left has gone berserk over the possibility that a pastor in Florida might burn a Koran. To do something so disrespectful of a another culture runs contrary to their views of diversity and apparently cannot have First Amendment ramifications. The President, the Secretaries of Defense and State, and General David Petraeus, Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), either spoke to or otherwise directed comments to this lone citizen, asserting in language that is eerily reminiscent of the Espionage Act of 1917, that he was endangering US troops. The pastor was even allowed to have coffee with a bunch of FBI agents who dropped in at the behest of the Attorney General.

Ever since now-Vice President Biden took to task Judge Robert Bork for his scholarly writing, asserting that his comments in such writings disqualified him for confirmation as an Associate Justice of the Supreme, candidates for the Court have asserted a “principle” that candidates and serving Justices ought not comment on cases that might come before the Court. They routinely do so in order to avoid being “borked” by the Senate.

In a recent interview with ABC's George Stephanopolous, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, appears to have departed from that principle.  Breyer, a Clinton appointee to the Supreme Court, said that it is likely that the First Amendment to the Constitution does not protect persons from being arrested and tried for burning the Koran. In so doing, he misquotes one of the landmark decisions of the Supreme Court, Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).

Schenck was the Secretary of the Socialist Party during World War I. A “war protester”, he had printed and then distributed or mailed 15,000 leaflets to men eligible for the draft. The leaflets advocated opposition to the draft. They suggested that the draft was identical to slavery, outlawed by the 13th Amendment, and contained statements such as: "Do not submit to intimidation", "Assert your rights", "If you do not assert and support your rights, you are helping to deny or disparage rights which it is the solemn duty of all citizens and residents of the United States to retain." 249 U. S. at 51.

Schenck was tried under the Espionage Act of 1917 which prohibited any attempt to interfere with military operations, to support America's enemies during wartime, to promote insubordination in the military, or to interfere with military recruitment. He was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison.

On appeal, Schenck asserted, inter alia, that his actions were protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a Civil War veteran, wrote that “when a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right." 249 US at 52.

Because Schenck was later watered down in a series of cases, including Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969)(government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless it is directed to inciting and likely to incite imminent lawless action), it is primarily remembered for the quote that Breyer botched.

Justice Holmes wrote that "the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic." 249 US at 52 (emphasis added). The resulting test announced by the Court was stated thusly: “The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree.” Id. (emphasis added).

So Breyer—and this is surprising for a man of his judicial experience and intellect—left out an important word. If the theater is, in fact, burning, it is quite permissible to shout “fire.”

In the interview, Breyer suggested that any “speech”, which now apparently includes burning some books or flags or ROTC buildings, can be suppressed if it would upset people in other parts of the world. (Stephanopolous posed his question on the ability of modern media to instantaneously spread around the globe the happenings in a kooky little congregation in Florida.)

So, protesters beware. It looks as if Breyer, for one, would return to Schenck and might allow prosecutions under the Espionage Act of 1917 for acts that would impede military operations or give support to America’s enemies during wartime (something that the President who appointed him had fun doing while your reporter was getting shot at on a daily basis).  At least one man in the current government recognizes that Iraq and Afghanistan are wars!

Justice Breyer, can you spell "recusal"?

11 September 2010


Today marks the ninth anniversary of the attack on America by radical Islam. Not all Muslims, mind you, but the attack was conceived, planned, executed and celebrated by huge numbers of Muslims around the world.

Now I don’t hold with burning books, whether they be Christian Bibles burned by Hamas (an Islamic theocracy)or by the American government. Likewise, I don’t agree with burning works of philosophy such as the Koran, Mao's Little Red Book, or Mein Kampf. They may be of great interest to historians, students of comparative theology, and political scientists, and should be preserved for study. Just because I don’t think a book has any application to my life does not require me to seek its destruction. The destruction of the written word is dangerous, because it is the first tumble down a slippery slope.

So the morons in Kansas and Florida who have decided that a book burning is really good way to spend a Saturday, should be ignored, not raised to international stature. But the useful idiots who loudly attempt to separate Islam from the attack should be equally ignored.

There is an entire stream of Islam, not just a few isolated, theologically ignorant dopes, that intends to do us in and impose their theocracy upon us. Anyone who thinks differently is living in Fantasy Land.

07 September 2010


Jody Harrington is a Presbyterian Church (USA) Ruling Elder and former Moderator the PC(USA)’s New Covenant Presbytery, located in south Texas. She is the author of a nationally known blog, Quotidian Grace. For any who have never read Jody’s thoughtful and entertaining blog—where she covers everything from dogs and Texas recipes to deep theological discussion and trenchant book reviews—I suggest that you give her a read. You’ll be hooked within a few sentences. (She is also running for the “Mom of Congress.” They need one! See her platform on her blog page.)

A few weeks ago, she wrote a blog entry entitled Sola Kerfuffle, where she reported that

The newly-installed Vice Moderator of the PCUSA, Landon Whitsett, was recently quoted in an interview saying:

Sola Scriptura is dead most places and dying rapidly in others. So where do we lodge the authority of our faith? That's the real battle we see fought in the church.
For those of you who are not Reformation scholars, the "Five Solas" are five Latin phrases that summarize the theological distinctions between the Protestant Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church of the Reformation era.

They are:
Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone)
Sola fide (by faith alone)
Sola gratia (by grace alone)
Solus Christus (through Christ alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone)

One of Jody's readers, Jessi commented on Sola Kerfuffle with a really good, succinct explanation of the five solas. She said

They are explaining different aspects of salvation.

Who/what is the authority on knowing God and having salvation: Scripture alone. (We can't add/subtract from it.)

How do we come to have salvation: Faith alone. (Faith, and not works.)

How does one acquire faith: Grace alone. (For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Eph 2:8)

What/who is the object of our faith: Christ alone!

Why: For God's glory alone, [which] means that God's own glory is why he chose to create us and then save us!! It is nothing in us, but his love for us. It is not me being kind, so God grants me faith through grace. No, grace is unmerited!!! I did nothing. I wasn't nice, I was mean. I was God's enemy!! But it brings him glory to make beauty out of rubble. I was worthless. I did not earn his love. "He loved us while we were yet sinners!"

Since we have lost a lot of the history with the solas, and other truths discovered during the reformation, I thought I should explain the God's glory part. Not that it'd be wrong for God to be interested in glorifying himself--he is God--but that is not exactly what Glory alone means. It means that we bring glory to God when we come to him--but not because we are these glorious creatures. Rather it's because it shows what God does with sinful man!!

In Sola Kerfuffle, QG (as she is affectionately known in the blogosphere) commented, probably correctly, that many (most?) Ruling Elders in the PC(USA) today might not know about the Five Solas. She recommended that they be included in elder training, a wonderful idea in my opinion. And in the Sunday School curriculum, too.

This morning, she followed up with a new blog, Sola Kerfuffle: The Podcast with the Moderators!

She reports that she was contacted by GA Moderator Cynthia Bolbach, who asked her to participate with Rev. Whitsett and Moderator Bolbach in a podcast discussion about the authority of Scripture. The podcast can be found here.

I listened to the discussion with fascination. If I understood Rev. Whitsett correctly, I am glad that God led us out of the PC(USA) and to our new home in the EPC. If I understood him correctly, his position is central to the troubles that continue to afflict the PC(USA), a denomination that many of us feel has lost its bearings.

I’ll start with one picky little comment about the format. I noticed that the podcast did not open with prayer. In the EPC, frequent prayer is an integral part of every meeting. In the GA, the Committee reports are invariably shorter than the prayers that mark the start of each such report. As a result, I have seen that opening with prayer in even the smallest, most informal endeavors adds to the discussions that follow.

Rev. Whitsett spoke first. He “likes”, even “reveres” the Bible, but cannot say what is its “level of authority.” He is “tired of hearing people use Scripture as a trump card.” I think I heard him say that the Bible is not the Word of God—only Jesus can claim that title.

True, he conceded that the only way to find out about Jesus is to go to Scripture, but Scripture “is not a foundational truth.” He implied that Scripture needs to be interpreted in a context, PC(USA)-speak for “we are oh so much smarter than those 1st Century fishermen and peasants.” Because he is unsure of what level of authority the Bible has, he suggests that we should also consider “history and traditions” to make Scripture “fit into the community.”

That’s a problem: The Reformation came about because the Roman Catholic Church had allowed man-made stuff to become co-equal to, or even trump, Scripture, hence the Reformation adoption of Sola Scriptura.

Moreover, that is exactly why many of us had to leave the PC(USA): we were told that when reading the Bible, we should “listen for the Word of God” (maybe it is there, maybe not) rather than “listen to the Word of God.” We were condemned for being too conservative rather than bending the Word to the world. We were told that sin is an out-moded concept and just because some sins are now acceptable in our “community,” i.e., adultery, homosexual practice, and perjury, we were bigots for insisting that sin is sin.

QG stood her ground. She was “troubled” by Rev. Whitsett’s opening remarks. She rightly said that we must struggle with Scripture to understand it. She agreed that simple proof-texting is not enough, but said that we must do the really hard work of delving into and prayerfully immersing ourselves in Scripture in order to understand God’s will for us.

I suggest that we often avoid that struggle because we know that the result of our study may, and probably will, lead us to do things that God wants, but we don’t.

A Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven, the report of the NWAC Strategy Team to the New Wineskins Association of Churches,identified two faithful options for members of the PC(USA)struggling with the drift of the PC(USA)'s national leadership. When Rev. Dr. Rick Wolling and I wrote the introductory chapter of that report, we summarized the findings in this way:

•Those who were called by God to leave the PC(USA) could faithfully do so.

•Those who were called by God “stay where they are and be a prophetic witness” and “to strive to reform, renew and repair the old homestead so that it can once again be a vibrant and welcoming lodging for those who are lost and hungry for the Word” could also do so faithfully.

We said one other thing: “That being said, we implore all to whom this report shall come: there must be a new thing, wherever it may occur. To simply stand fast. . .” is not a faithful option. See A Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven at pp 15-16.

QG is clearly a prophetic witness. I envision her, toolbelt strapped in place, hammering and sawing and painting at the old home place.

We who left the PC(USA) felt that no one in the presbyteries and the GA were listening to us. In taking on the role of a spokesperson for the many in the PC(USA) who feel that they are never heard, QG has once again witnessed to the power of the servant-leader.

Bravo Zulu, QG.

05 September 2010


Labor Day has traditionally marked the beginning America’s oldest full-contact sport season. Election Day 2010 is now 56 days and a wake up away. And what a season it looks to be, reminiscent of the Roman Coliseum in its heyday. There will be sacrificial rites, comedic plays, and enough blood and gore to satisfy the hardest cynic.

First, the Democratic Party, having nearly bankrupted the Country, finally sees the wolves (or as many call them, the electorate) nipping at their heels. Hoping to save the hides of their leadership, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee intends to toss many of its own from the chariot. Members of the caucus who polls and “other data” show are about to be trounced because of their support for Pelosi and Reid will be abandoned. As reported here, they refer to their actions as “triage.” That’s what happens when Representatives in Congress forget just who it is that they are representing.

In one entertaining ad run by Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), she compares Congress to her toddler. They are messy eaters who need potty training, have no concept of money, and “don’t listen.” Then she runs away from her party, reminding South Dakotans that she voted against Obamacare and the bailouts. We’ll see if that works, because the Chair of the DNC says any Democrat who denies President Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid is “foolish.”

As reported here, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine has a message for Democrats trying to run from President Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid.

"If you run away from who you are and you're a Democrat, it's foolish," Kaine said on "Fox News Sunday." "It's foolish because you've got a lot to be proud of." All that is missing is a cock crowing in the distance.

Now Party discipline is a necessary vice, but the chief disciplinarian needs to watch his own metaphors. A Gallup Poll released last week puts the Democratic Party 10 points down in a “generic ballot.” The so-called "Summer of Recovery" has been a bust, with a net loss of over a quarter of a million jobs. But Kaine doesn’t see it that way. "Here's what I say: We are climbing out of attic (sic), we are climbing out ... and the Democrats have built the ladder."

The last time I checked, climbing out of an attic was a downward trip. Maybe Tim needs to be triaged.

03 September 2010


This will be an historic month for our church—Forks of the Brandywine Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Glen Moore, Pennsylvania. On September 17, we celebrate the 275th anniversary of the founding of the congregation. Our fourth building, erected in 1875, is located on the same land—purchased from William Penn’s sons--as the very first log sanctuary. There are 13 veterans of the Revolutionary War resting in the church yard.

In its 275 years, the Forks has been through the Old Side-New Side era (as evidenced by our two cemeteries). It has sent its sons to 10 wars starting with the French and Indian War and culminating in the current wars in the Middle East. Dwight L. Moody and J. Gresham Machen have preached from our pulpit. We have seen the two great awakenings, as well as tragic deviations from the Reformed traditions, including the debacle of the 1924 General Assembly of the PCUSA and the steady worldly drift of the PC(USA). In 2007, we were one of the 4 original members of the New Wineskins Presbytery of the EPC.

We will also receive our new pastor, Rev. Wil Snyder, who will begin his pastorate as the 17th pastor of our congregation.

At the end of the month, we will be received into the EPC’s Presbytery of the East, finishing a journey that began 10 years ago.

Throughout the past two and three-quarters centuries, our people have maintained a vibrant and energetic faith in God and have gratefully declared the Lordship of His son, Jesus Christ, and the infallibility and inerrancy of His word set forth in the Holy Bible. We look forward with joy, excitement and confidence to the next 25 years.