Dr. King and The Outlook

It is fitting for The Presbyterian Outlook to salute the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday by remembering what tireless advocates Dr. E. T. Thompson and Rev. Aubrey Brown were for racial integration and justice.  (Thompson was the Outlook's first editor and professor of church history at Union Seminary in Virginia; Brown was editor from the 1940's to the 1970's.)  This paper stood tall on these matters when such beliefs were dangerous to espouse.  

When Thompson was tried for heresy in Mecklenburg (now Charlotte) Presbytery, everyone understood that the sub-texts of that trial, ostensibly about the faithful interpretation of Scripture, were his positions on integration and ethics. Because of the malign interweaving of biblical inerrancy with segregation in the South, people who agreed with Thompson and Brown were labeled communists by fundamentalist Presbyterians.

What have we done for Brown?

The 50th anniversary celebration of the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision was a necessary spotlight on that ruling’s profound contribution to goodness in this nation. With the commemoration over, that spotlight becomes a searchlight, seeking us out in the darkness where in an audience we sit, comfortably, when it is our turn to take the stage.

Time and Eternity

"What time is it?" is one of the most frequently asked questions, and no one wearing a watch has difficulty answering it. But change the wording slightly and mystery abounds. "What is time?" has been pondered through the ages and we think about it especially at the coming of a new year. Time is elusive--you can't smell, taste, hear, or see it even though you may have a lot of it on your hands!

What the New Year Holds

Two quotes I saved from a piece in the New York Times called "The New Designer Despair," take issue with a destructive tolerance that leaves souls shriveled and minds tired. The subject was education in moral judgment. The writer quotes the principal of his daughter's school: "We encourage our children by telling them that there are no bad ideas." He also references Modern Times by the English, Roman Catholic historian, Paul Johnson: "the church is the last place in the world where we make the distinction between good and bad ideas." 

If the biggest, baddest, and best story of 2004 is religion, religion in politics and public life, then the designer despair generated by too much tolerance is gone. There are scores of religious people who tell us what is good or bad. The presidential election was shamelessly religious. Jerry Falwell ran a partisan voter registration campaign in countless congregations, and Democrats cast their usual nets into African-American churches.

Defend God?

The morning routine at our house calls for reading the letters to the editor of the New York Times. Since the election, that’s become something of a trial. More often than not, the letters have to do with the role of “religion” in politics. Many letter-writers see the nation divided between the devout, who are concerned for “moral values,” and the secular, who are presumably interested in issues that have nothing to do with “morality,” such as war and peace, and the obligations of the rich toward the poor.

An American Holy Day Sermon: Sufficiency

Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 8:1-3, 6-10, 17-20; Psalm 65:9-14; James 1:12-18, 21-27; Matthew 6:25-33

”You crown the year with goodness, O God, and your paths overflow with plenty.  Amen.

How long do you suppose it has been since we have talked about – or even allowed ourselves to feel – a sufficiency of anything?

Is peace possible?

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Is peace possible?

I have been increasingly troubled by our continued reliance on the “just war” theory as a path toward credible peacemaking. In the last three years, my chagrin has grown to an almost visceral discomfort with the rhetoric and the reality of the “war on terrorism.”

My Mother’s Mary

Union Seminary had let out for the 1957 Christmas holiday, and I had come home, looking forward to being with my parents, and to sharing the good news that I had "met someone" with whom I might get serious. As I looked about the neat little house my parents had just built in the York County, S.C. countryside, I noticed that there was a new woman keeping watch over the modest Christmas display.

A crack in the chalice at Christmas

As the first faint light of Christmas cast its imperceptible glow around the celebration of Thanksgiving, I preached and celebrated the Lord’s Supper in the renovated chapel at an ecumenical Christian community, Richmond Hill.

Two PC(USA) employees “no longer employed”; Fallout from Hezbollah

The fallout from Presbyterian actions involving the Middle East continues to rain down.

On Nov. 11, the denomination announced that it no longer employs two Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) national staff members who traveled to the Middle East last month and were involved in a controversial meeting with Hezbollah, a group that the U.S. State Department lists as a terrorist organization.

Gone are Kathy Lueckert, who as deputy director of the General Assembly Council was considered part of the top level of the denomination's leadership, and Peter Sulyok, coordinator for the past dozen years of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.

In announcing the departures, John Detterick, executive director of the General Assembly Council, did not make it clear if Lueckert and Sulyok resigned or were fired -- or say precisely why they no longer are PC(USA) employees, citing in a written statement their right to confidentiality.

 But the Hezbollah visit, made during a two-week fact-finding tour by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy -- a visit that also included high-level meetings with political, human rights and religious leaders around the Middle East -- had provoked strong and immediate criticism both from Jewish leaders already angry with the PC(USA), and by some from within the Presbyterian church.

Presbyterian-Jewish relations have been tense since the General Assembly's decision, last summer, to begin a process of phased, selective divestment in some companies doing business in Israel, in protest over Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people.