Shuck and Jive

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Of Bullies and Squirrels

The last couple of weeks have been most entertaining.

Let's see if we can connect the dots.

Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola publish a paper demonstrating that the church is so mired in paranoid superstition that its employed clergy have to lie through their teeth day in and day out just to survive it.

Several commentators from the Washington Post responded. I recommend Dennett's summary of the responses. I thought that was an important paper and commented on it here, A Church Without God.

That post generated 120 comments including interesting conversation on
  • realism vs. non-realism,
  • whether creeds are fact or fiction and whether or not that matters,
  • whether the concept of "God" is a product of evolution or revelation,
  • ethics, meaning, and the role of the church when "God" comes "down to Earth",
  • the challenges that scholarship has provided to the church and to the clergy who have one foot in the academy and the other in the parish, and so on.
Interesting questions. Important questions. Who better to wrestle with these questions than the church, its clergy, interested church people, and the broader society who has to live with all these church people (who by the way do not seem at all bashful about inserting their views into secular laws)?

Enter Parker Williamson of the LayMAN. He is not interested in those questions, of course. He is interested in control. He tries his overused bullying tactics in attempt to shame my presbytery into dealing with my "in-your-face apostasy." Ho hum.

I responded that I had been Layed (and I still don't know the correct grammatical form for telling that truth).

This in turn stirs up his faithful to write letters.

I wrote one as well, challenging Mr. Williamson to file a charge. Why does he allow such apostasy and heresy to go unchecked in
his church? The BFTSs* have no problem filing charges against gays and lesbians and the ministers who marry them regardless of what presbytery they serve.

So Parker, why be such a wallflower about heretics and apostates? Surely they are worse than gay advocates?

Then I preached an Easter sermon about overcoming bullies.

Following that Lovely and I enjoyed a nice vacation. In between beach time I read more of Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life.

I am realizing more and more that evolution is a dangerous idea.

We are still connecting dots.

Big dangerous ideas, bullies, self-censorship, clergy, bullies, church, bullies, profound thoughts, God, "God?", scholarship, history, science, creeds, bullies, freedom of conscience, paranoia, evolution...

...and I return to find this story, Evangelical Scholar Forced Out After Endorsing Evolution:

When it comes to incriminating videos these days, the one of Bruce K. Waltke might seem pretty tame. It shows the noted evangelical scholar of the Old Testament talking about scholarship, faith and evolution. What was incriminating? He not only endorsed evolution, but said that evangelical Christianity could face a crisis for not coming to accept science.

"If the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult ... some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God's Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness," he says, according to several accounts by those who have seen the video. Those words set off a furor at the Reformed Theological Seminary, where Waltke was — until this week — a professor. (The seminary is evangelical, with ties to several denominations.)

The statements so upset officials of the seminary that Waltke had to ask the BioLogos Foundation, a group that promotes the idea that science and faith need not be incompatible, to remove it from its website (which the foundation did) and to post a clarification. The video was shot during a BioLogos workshop. But even those steps weren't enough for the seminary, which announced that it had accepted his resignation.
The Reformed Theological Seminary ("A mind for truth, a heart for God") is not affiliated with the PC(USA) however a number of PC(USA) clergy have received their educations there. The seminary that has a "mind for truth" does not have a mind for the dangerous idea of evolution.

Michael Kruse commented on the story:
People sometimes ask me how I can stay with the PCUSA in light of views I have on certain issues. And there is no question that there is a lot of squirrely stuff going on with my tribe. But if you want reasons for why I don't look to more conservative denominations, here is a one prime example. Unbelievable.
I haven't met Michael but I think he would describe himself as evangelical. Not sure what he thinks is "squirrely stuff" but he gets it right. Better to put up with a few squirrels than the alternative.

We are getting close to the end of the connect the dots game.

We began with Dennett's five clergy (including a Presbyterian) who are "in the closet" because they hold dangerous ideas that must not be spoken among the supposedly fragile worshipers and their even more fragile, self-proclaimed protectors (LayMAN, Seminary officials).

We witnessed on this very blog and in the recent news the consequences for seeking truth and for being open about the search.

Bullies exist. True enough.

There is a cure.

We stand together.

The strength of our denomination is the most precious freedom we possess, the freedom of conscience.

We need as a church to create and protect a culture of free inquiry. Laity need to be courageous in creating space for clergy to teach and preach what they learn even if (especially if) the ideas they are learning are dangerous (such as evolution). Truth is dangerous. It shall also set you free.

Clergy in turn, need to be courageous in demanding and using that space for the free exploration of ideas. If our denomination is going to have anything of significance to contribute to the commonwealth of ideas and to goodness in general we must affirm freedom of the pulpit.

We need to stick up for each other and defend one another from the bullies and tyrants whether they are trustees of seminaries or publishers of magazines.

This is not about me. Parker Williamson has been bullying people long before I came along. It isn't even about him. Bullies have existed before him. They will exist long after.

But in the faith in which I was raised, bullies don't get the last word.

*For the newly initiated, BFTS = Busybodies, Fusspots, Tattletales, and Scolds. They are everywhere but especially prevalent in churches.


  1. Lots of stuff to chew on there - some nuts for the squirrels, I guess you could say.

    By the way, I wrote a letter to the LayMAN in response to Parker Williamson's screed, as well as in response to a couple of tongue clickers who enjoy being scandalized by the likes of you. As of yesterday they had opted to not show it. For your entertainment, I include it here:

    "In his letter to the Editor regarding Parker Williamson's recent piece called "Caterpillar Christology", Rev. John R. Kerr, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville NC wrote, "No wonder so many of our stronger churches have left the PCUSA, and that so many of our pews have emptied." Well, guess what? I was at John Shuck's church today and the place was standing room only. We held Communion with open arms and sang in unbridled joy not only in celebration of the Risen Christ, but in celebration of one another, in all our imperfect glory. If Rev. Kerr's pews (or anyone else's, for that matter) are empty, they may do well to look at their own ministry; their "flock" may be fleeing to more welcoming places like FPC Elizabethton."

    Welcome back!

  2. John,

    Quite right about Parker Williamson I am afraid. And like most bullies, he also surrounds himself with a chorus of small minded people who feel empowered by him. Bully wanna bees who lack the courage to express themselves except from behind the protective cover of the bully.

    The part that irks me is how much money he's been paid to be the bully. More than most of the highest paid tall steeple pastors in the denomination.

    (you can find this info on the IRS web site because as a tax exempt non profit they have to publish this stuff)

    Plus a multimillion dollar budget to travel the world to search and destroy the non-Republican non-militaristic non-patriotic "commie pinko queer loving" liberals in the Church.

    I thought his kind were discredited along with Maccarthy, but clearly not.

    Then, most recently, he and his lawyer friend Lloyd Lunceford and his protege Russ we-are-bringing-our-women-with-us Stevenson (bullies all three) took over 1st Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge, tricked and bullied its members into walking out of the denomination, and then used it as their Tora Bora to launch a devastating assault on the Presbytery of South Louisiana. All in service of their agenda of bankrupting the PCUSA.

    It is about time the denomination stood up to these guys and called them for what they are:

    Enemies of Christ and enemies of the Church.

    They should take their little right wing tabloid and shove it where the Son don't shine.

    As far as Bruce Waltke is concerned, he is almost right in saying "evangelical Christianity could face a crisis for not coming to accept science." The truth is that their reluctance to accept science comes from an ongoing crisis of faith already.

    Believers who claim faith in Jesus but do not believe He can really save them feel the need to hide from science, and "defend the faith".

    Better to be a true non believer than an false believer. Any day.

    (So there. I feel better now)

  3. @Snad,

    Your marvelous letter was posted! Thanks!

  4. Welcome Back. I missed you. Progressive Christianity needs to realize we are in an epic struggle to reform the church so that it can be relevant and truly compassionate and welcoming. Your leadership is inspiring and illuminating and courageous. Thanks again.

    love, john + + "The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, humankind will have discovered fire." -- Teilhard de Chardin

  5. I loved watching PW's lackeys and dittoheads chime in with their hand-wringing and whining: "Oh yes! Someone should do something about that horrible John Shuck! Oh dear me! Someone should!" Nothing makes them look more like brainwashed members of the LayMAN cult to the rest of the denomination than their unquestioning allegiance to their dear leader.

    And it isn't like filing charges is hard. There's a fill in the blank form in the back of the Book of Order! So are the BFTSs too lazy or too stupid or too cowardly to fill in the blanks?

    I'm still laughing about your calling him out, and him backing down. Like any bully, if you stand up to them, they run away, tail between their legs. He'll look for someone else to harass now.

  6. Welcome back to the fray.

    I heard the tail end of a report on NPR news around noon today to the effect that genetic science has some proof that humans with a particular gene sequence are unable to recognize other races (or other tribes/humans in general) as a threat.

    I can't find this on Google at the moment -- can't figure out what words to search with.

    But my point here is that -- as I have long thought -- there are two kinds of people in the world: those who live their lives out of love, and those who are (genetically?) unable to do so, and lives their lives out of fear.

    It would make evolutionary sense for such a gene to be recessive -- there is some value to being wary of strangers -- but as we progress, the gene that allows us to proceed with trust/love in stead of fear/hate will be the one we need if the species is to survive.

    That idea should strike fear into the hearts of the bullies.

  7. Here's the link I could not find on Monday, thanks to Snad in another thread: