Sunday, March 16, 2014

The 3 - March 16, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3", includes some news from 2 mainline denominations - a large California church is moving from one Presbyterian denomination to another, and a United Methodist bishop in New York has decided he will not allow church trials for ministers who violate church law and perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.  And, the top story involves news surrounding religious freedom in the military - this time, a cadet leader at the Air Force Academy had a Scripture verse removed from the whiteboard outside his room.

3 - Large California church approved to leave its denomination

A story that has been developing for some time now is nearing its conclusion, as the departure of California's Menlo Park Presbyterian Church from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., has been approved.

It took place on Tuesday, when the Presbytery of San Francisco approved the congregation’s request for dismissal by a voice vote. The church, whose Senior Pastor is noted author John Orterg, will now begin the formal transfer process into another Presbyterian denomination, ECO, according to a press release issued by the church and linked to the website,  

On Sunday, March 2, members of the church voted to request the transfer. About 64% of the church’s members participated in the vote, with 93%, or 2,024 members, voting to approve the motion. There were 158 members who voted to oppose the motion.

Ortberg is quoted as saying, “This has been a spiritual journey of discernment for our church...I’m grateful
for the learning, praying, and engagement of the whole congregation, including those who voted for a different outcome. We are committed to moving forward together in fulfilling our mission as we discern God calling us.”  The church and Presbytery agreed upon dismissal terms of $8.89 million, in order for the church to be dismissed with title to its property.

The church noted that the reasons for its Session’s recommendation to change denomination fell under four key areas: identity, mission, governance and property. As a multisite church seeking to open five new campuses in the next five years, MPPC leaders felt that ECO’s flexible, innovative denominational structure would best help the church achieve its mission.

The Blaze reported that in a document published by Menlo Park last year, leaders described their reasons for seeking a split with the PCUSA, noting that the church’s “evangelical identity around who Jesus is and our understanding of the authority of scripture are increasingly out of alignment” with the denomination as a whole.

Specifically, the church expressed concern that many Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders do not believe in the deity of Jesus, nor do they embrace salvation through Christ. The Blaze article points out that these are central tenets of most mainstream Christian churches, leading to a difficult ideological splintering.

2 - United Methodist bishop refuses to hold church trial of minister who performed same-sex wedding

Within the United Methodist denomination, there has been quite a bit of wrestling with the topic of homosexuality, and events this week may cause a heightened level of concern regarding ministers who perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.   According to a report on the Christianity Today website, Bishop Martin McLee of New York committed to end all church trials dealing with ministers who perform such ceremonies, even though they violate the church's Book of Discipline.

McLee wrote in a statement that, "The just resolution provisions of the Book of Discipline are clear in voicing just resolution as the preferred response in Judicial Administration...Church trials produce no winners."   He committed to "a cessation of church trials for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions or performing same-gender wedding ceremonies and instead offer a process of theological, spiritual and ecclesiastical conversation."

Thomas W. Ogletree, a minister who performed a marriage ceremony for his son and partner in 2002, was set to go on trial.   The cancellation of his and future church trials under this Bishop's jurisdiction was, according to CT, frustrating for those who support the Methodist Book of Discipline, which affirms "the sanctity of the marriage covenant … between a man and a woman."

Randy Paige, one of the pastors who brought the complaint against Ogletree, wrote in a statement, "The impact of this settlement today will be that faithful United Methodists who support the church's teachings will feel ignored and will face their own crisis of conscience, as to whether they can continue to support a church that will not abide by its own rules...Far from avoiding schism, today's settlement increases the probability that schism will take place."

Tom Lambrecht, vice president of the conservative Good News ministry, agreed. "When certain parts of the church decide they can no longer live according to church teachings, you've got an intolerable situation in the church," he told the Boston Globe.

Also this week, according to a report on the Religion News Service website, complaints were filed against retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, who officiated at an October 25th ceremony in Birmingham, even after the local bishop and the executive committee of the Council of Bishops urged Talbert not to go ahead with the ceremony.

The denomination’s Council of Bishops had requested complaints be filed against Talbert. According to the complaints lodged with the bishops in the denomination’s Western region, Talbert is alleged to have “violated the sacred trust of his office.”

1 - Controversy at the Air Force Academy over cadet writing Scripture on whiteboard

Questions over religious freedom in the military are continuing to proliferate, and the flame was fanned this week in the aftermath of an incident involving a cadet leader at the U.S. Air Force Academy, who had written the text of Galatians 2:20 on the whiteboard outside his room.   The message was removed, apparently as the result of a complaint filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, according to a report by Todd Starnes for the website.

The head of the MRFF, Mikey Weinstein, told Starnes, "It clearly elevated one religious faith [fundamentalist Christianity] over all others at an already virulently hyper-fundamentalist Christian institution...It massively poured fundamentalist Christian gasoline on an already raging out-of-control conflagration of fundamentalist Christian tyranny, exceptionalism and supremacy at USAFA."

Starnes reports that exactly two hours and nine minutes after Weinstein complained to Air Force Academy Superintendent Michelle Johnson, the Bible verse was erased from the cadet leader’s whiteboard. Johnson said in a written statement that the verse was removed because there was a “potential perception” problem.

The removal of the Bible verse led what Starnes referred to as "a small uprising among cadets."  At least a dozen posted Bible verses on their personal white boards and some even went so far as to post passages from the Koran. Those verses were not removed, presumably because the cadets were not in leadership positions.

Family Research Council reports that the incident at the Air Force Academy has been aired in the halls of Congress. At a hearing before a House committee, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Walsh were originally scheduled to talk about branch spending until some lawmakers demanded a detailed explanation of the events that unfolded at the Academy. Representatives from Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) to Democrat Mike McIntyre (N.C.) took turns grilling the duo on the incident.

The Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition, a group of two dozen like-minded religious liberty organizations, announced Thursday that they are ready to offer assistance to any Air Force Academy cadet who faces repercussions for writing Bible verses on their hallway whiteboards.

No comments: