Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Paint By Numbers

I found it interesting what inspired Rev. Steve D. Martin, who produced the documentary Renewal or Ruin about the IRD, to speak out. What disturbed him was the paint by numbers pieces of legislation that appeared. He writes:

I am a United Methodist, and every year we get together in regional meetings known as Annual Conferences. Ours is held at beautiful Lake Junaluska in the hills of western North Carolina (even though our region is comprised of east Tennessee and southwest Virginia). Like our Conference, the setting is tranquil and idyllic, seemingly free of trouble.

Each year at Annual Conference there's the usual amount of politicking and grandstanding. Some of our bishops have been comfortable with controversy, some quite averse to it. But I look forward to the debates we sometimes have, because in those debates and the diversity of opinions shared in them, I learn something about the issues facing our church. If you can't debate, you can't learn.

In the session of 2006 there were (as is often the case) several resolutions, submitted by a Sunday School class in a large church in Cleveland, Tennessee, before the Conference. While I did not agree with the resolutions or their intent, I was impressed nonetheless- they were quite comprehensive, were clearly written, and covered all the bases. This Sunday School class had really done their homework, and I applauded that.

But during the course of the debate on the Annual Conference floor, it came out that resolutions identical to these were on the Institute on Religion and Democracy's web site. The Sunday School class had NOT done their homework, but had copied it lock, stock, and barrel.

I have four children, all of school age. We have much to say in our household against copying homework or cheating. We like original work and are not impressed by copying something just to get the job done. Of course, copying a resolution from the IRD's web site is different from copying homework. But how is it different? One could take the view that the IRD serves as a voice for the voiceless, as a resource for those unable to fight the overly liberal "big dogs" out there. Therefore the IRD's providing resources to Sunday School classes who wish to fight right-wing causes (usually matters regarding sex, in their case) is simply giving assistance. Another view, though, might be that Sunday School classes, and therefore Annual Conferences through them, are being manipulated: that they are patsies in a grander plot. Still another view is that the IRD preys upon Sunday School classes with much passion, but not much brains.

It's too bad when we must let someone else do our thinking for us. Submitting a copied resolution is different from a schoolchild's plagiarism, but the effect is the same.

The net effect of this realization, for me, was that something had radically changed in our conference. Things had been quiet previously, but now we were going to get sucked into the divisive church politics I had known about in other areas, but not in ours. I was deeply disturbed.

I wrote about this on this web site that summer. Knowing that I am a documentary filmmaker, several challenged me to think about creating a film that somehow exposes the IRD, that such a thing could become a tool for churches struggling to understand what's going on behind several major controversies. That's when the journey I had unknowingly stepped into started to get interesting. (Read More)

The Presbyterian Church has an organization that will write resolutions for you and allow you to copy them.

It is the Presbyterian Coalition. Here is a list of their partners. They even have a declaration of faith which apparently guides them, that is not in the PC(USA) Book of Confessions.

If you go to their website you will find a page of sample overtures for General Assembly 2008. It is divided into three columns:

Overtures Already Approved
Draft Overtures
Overtures From 2006 That Are Still Needed

Still needed. By whom? God?

Here is a draft overture regarding shifting funding for ecumenical agencies from the per capita budget to the mission budget. Just fill in the blank with the name of your presbytery. That sounds pretty boring on the surface. But if you are a Presbyterian, think for yourself what that overture might mean. Read the rationale. BTW there is precious little money in the mission budget. Almost all of it is designated. This overture would bust our ecumenical and social justice work. The IRD would love to see that happen.

Oh, I almost forgot! Guess who is on the board of the Presbyterian Coalition? Go to the bottom of this page and you will find that Rev. Jim Berkley of the IRD is on the board.

I can't seem to find a list of actually who is on the board of the Presbyterian Coalition, but I am sure it is published somewhere. I do know that Hans Cornelder, the publisher of Presbyweb, is on the board.

What's the big deal? Sure groups with like minds get together to help people in their presbyteries write overtures. But not anywhere close to this scale.

I think it would be enlightening to compare the language of overtures that have been approved and sent to the General Assembly that have been essentially composed by the IRD and its various appendages.

If you are a commissioner to General Assembly or a Youth Advisory Delegate, you might check out the dvd Renewal or Ruin? and you might do a little research on where all these overtures to GA come from, who wrote them, and why.

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Update: Here are the board members of the Presbyterian Coalition. Hans Cornelder of Presbyweb is not listed. He may not be on the board any longer.


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