Shuck and Jive

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.


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.


  1. What I found interesting when I was a commissioner to GA in 2001 was the number of commissioners who, when it came time for them to speak, were clearly just reading things written for them by one of the various "Renewal" groups. Having taught both HS and college students, it's pretty easy to spot someone using language they don't normally use, and/or spot key phrases from other people's writing, etc. It was easy to to figure out who these people were, because they clearly had no idea what was going on most of the time, couldn't keep up with the fast pace of what was going on, and would therefore end up giving their little canned speech about something that had already been voted on 10 mins ago. (It also didn't help that they couldn't actually pronounce some of the words that others had written for them.)

    Now, having been pretty tuned into the various progressive groups, I didn't see anything like this going on with them. Clearly we're behind the times when it comes to using commissioners like Muppets. ;)

  2. So it's supposedly significant that some leaders of some renewal groups also belong to other renewal groups. And it's supposedly significant that individuals or groups who agree with one another list overtures they should support, and even share the same documents.

    (sarcasm on)

    I am sure the Covenant Network never works with the More Light Presbyterians, and that some leaders of one group are never active with another group, and that the same progressive overtures never ever appear in more than one Presbytery at once. Progressive groups never strategize with one another either.

    (sarcasm off)

    THIS is supposed to be significant evidence???

    BTW you've deleted my comments before. It's your blog and so have at it. But I should note that I have not personally filed a complaint against you or complained to anyone in your Presbytery about you. Your stated rules say those are the reasons for deleting comments.

    If I ever do take any actions such as that I promise I will not comment on your blog. But since I haven't done so, I am commenting today.


    John Erthein
    Erie, PA

  3. By the way it's isn't that hard to find out who is on the Board of the Presbyterian Coalition:

    And Hans Cornelder isn't listed, at least not for 2007.

  4. As far as I know, Covenant Network does not provide "fill-in-the-blank" overtures to Presbyteries.

  5. John,

    Thanks for the link to the board. I looked for it and didn't see the link. Witherspoon had reported that Hans Cornelder was on the board. Perhaps he is off now.

    "But I should note that I have not personally filed a complaint against you or complained to anyone in your Presbytery about you."


    A couple of responses in regards to these interest groups.

    I think it is in part a matter of scale including amount of funding and sources of funding. Perhaps there is information out there about that. I think it would be most enlightening.

    It is also matter of overarching goals and strategies to reach those goals. Tune in again and feel free to comment. I will be discussing this more on Shuck and Jive.

  6. Actually, as far as I'm aware, there is very little cooperation between CovNet & MLP. Their objectives are very different, as are their methods usually, as is their leadership.

    "(sarcasm on) .... (sarcasm off)"

    Am I the only one who couldn't tell the difference? LOL I guess it's yet another example of how the conservatives are so much more polite in their discussions than us hateful progressives. Alas. ;)

  7. It seens that either now or at some point Susan Ashton was Conference Manager for the Covenant Network and is now a board member of More Light Presbyterians,
    No I don't really think there is a conspiracy. I think it is time to put away conspiracy theories.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Well, Viola, that's a group website on which "The various groups will be posting on their own pages more information about the events they have planned during the Assembly, announcements they want to share with General Assembly participants, their statements on specific issues, and whatever else they choose to post there." [emphasis mine]

    So, Viola, a group website where the member organizations post their own info, refutes my assertion that there is little cooperation between these groups? (I didn't say "no" cooperation.)

    You didn't read my comment, so I doubt you read John's original post, but I'll quote him: "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. "

    A more lengthy comment really isn't worthwhile if you're not going to read the words I actually write anyway.

  10. I noticed that there is a rebuttal related to this DVD, Renewal or Ruin, posted on the IRD's own website.

  11. Grace,

    "I noticed that there is a rebuttal related to this DVD, Renewal or Ruin, posted on the IRD's own website."

    Of course there is. A good assignment for all of us would be to watch the video, read the rebuttal, and report back.