Presbyterian Church in America

Weaponized Calvinism? Accused shooter said his salvation was assured, no matter what

Weaponized Calvinism? Accused shooter said his salvation was assured, no matter what

At this point, I think reporters have no choice but to dig into the Calvinist themes in the manifesto published by John Earnest, the accused shooter at Chabad of Poway.

It’s crucial to find out, of course, what he learned during his many hours in the pews at Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It would appear that Earnest then blended pieces of Calvinist theology into the white supremacist beliefs that he says that he learned elsewhere.

Here is the key question at this point, as I see it: Was there an online website (a specific writer, even) that twisted Calvinist doctrines into the form that Earnest blended into a radicalized, violent white nationalism that embraced some things that he heard at church, while rejecting others?

Let’s take this one step at a time, starting with the following, from my first GetReligion post on this subject:

Yes, reporters … need to note that Earnest said, in that same manifesto, that he didn’t soak up this twisted version of Christianity while frequenting church pews with his family. His hateful, deadly heresies grew out of a private, secret life online, listening to true radicals. Church members tried to talk to him, but he turned away.

Nevertheless, there is no question that reporters will have to deal with two clashing versions of Christianity when covering this story — that white supremacist brand proclaimed in this digital testimony and the Orthodox Presbyterian — uppercase “O” is part of the name — faith taught in his family’s congregation. In this case, the accused gunman did everything that he could to put the word “Christian” into play.

This brings us to two Washington Post stories that can — by savvy readers — be read together. They cover two parts of the same equation.

Here’s the headline on the first one I’d like readers to study: “Ancient hatreds, modern methods: How social media and political division feed attacks on sacred spaces.” And here is the overture, which covers the crucial ground:

Inspired by the devastating impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and enabled by the largely unchecked freedoms of social media, individual extremists have launched a steady series of assaults on religious institutions around the world, the latest at a California synagogue. …

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News angles abound, as Evangelicalism’s unlikely missionary to Manhattan leaves his pulpit

News angles abound, as Evangelicalism’s unlikely missionary to Manhattan leaves his pulpit

On February 26, the Rev. Timothy Keller, 66, announced to parishioners at eight Sunday services that he’ll retire July 1 as the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Keller is no publicity-seeking celebrity preacher, but if U.S. evangelicals were to create a Mount Rushmore Keller’s carved visage would deserve a place.

So far as The Religion Guy can discover, national media and even reporters in Keller’s own town didn’t cover this milestone, so there’s ample room for follow-ups. A good place to begin research would be solid features in The New York Times (2006) and New York Magazine (2009).

When Keller began Redeemer with a handful of people in 1989, a Manhattan mission startup was considered so dicey that two prior candidates had rejected the job offer. Keller seemed an odd choice because his only pastoral experience was in far different Hopewell, Va. Moreover, latitudinarian “mainline” Protestantism would have seemed far more marketable in Gotham than the strict orthodoxy of Keller’s Presbyterian Church in America. Yet eventually thousands of young professionals were flocking to Redeemer each Sunday.

Significant themes reporters could pursue: While many evangelical congregations have forsaken downtown for the ease of suburbia, Redeemer offers dramatic proof that city centers are not only spiritually hungry places but that biblical conservatism can thrive there under the right conditions. Against stereotypes of evangelicalism, Redeemer members volunteer time and donations with 40 organizations to help society’s marginalized, and Keller shuns Religious Right politicking and pulpit-pounding, offering instead calm, content-rich sermons. Explore this link, for example.

Then this: While many congregations sit on their successes, Redeemer is all about fostering new congregations, including ones in New York City that could provide competition.

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If Donald Trump seeks a Presbyterian pew in Washington, will he pick the mainline brand?

If Donald Trump seeks a Presbyterian pew in Washington, will he pick the mainline brand?

I really had my hopes up when I saw this "Acts of Faith" headline in the Washington Post: "Will D.C. churches invite Donald Trump to come worship?"

As someone who worked in Washington, D.C., during much of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama era, I heard quite a bit of chatter related to the whole issue of presidents trying to go to church "for real," as opposed to occasionally finding a pew as a media event. There are, after all, legitimate security issues involved in a president going to the same sanctuary at the same time over and over. Plus, the security teams can be an inconvenience for other worshipers.

But people do talk. Washington is an amazingly small town, when it comes to people chatting about these kinds of symbolic issues (and my old office was only a few blocks from Obama's apartment during his short U.S. Senate stay).

Now we have Donald "Baby Christian" Trump coming to D.C., with a very photogenic family. What's the plan? Here is the overture of the Post story:

Every four or eight years, after the nation goes through the ritual of picking a president, some of Washington’s churches go through another ritual -- getting a president to pick them.
When Bill and Hillary Clinton came to town in 1993, preachers from Baptist (his denomination) and Methodist (hers) churches across town picked up their phones and their pens to invite the new first couple to their pews. After hearing from at least half a dozen congregations, the Clintons picked Foundry United Methodist Church on 16th Street NW, where they became active members.
George W. Bush, like Ronald Reagan before him, opted for the convenience of St. John’s Episcopal Church, just across from the White House. Ministers from numerous denominations tried to woo the Obamas, but the first family never picked one church, instead visiting many churches over the course of their eight years in the White House.

Hidden inside those summary paragraphs are some interesting news stories that never really got covered.

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New York Post flubs the strange case of a liberal church and a lesbian minister's pension

New York Post flubs the strange case of a liberal church and a lesbian minister's pension

What we have here is one of the most ironic little religion-news stories that I have come across in quite some time.

However, readers of The New York Post would almost certainly not know that, since the team that produced the story left out The. Crucial. Fact. that made the story so ironic and interesting in the first place. The headline: "Lesbian pastor’s widow takes on church to get pension payments."

I think that the Post team thought they had yet another story about generic, Christians being prejudiced against a lesbian Christian. They didn't realize that this story was much more ironic than that. Let's look for the crucial missing detail at the top of this news report. Read carefully.

A lesbian pastor’s widow is battling the Presbyterian Church for refusing to pay her pension.
Letty M. Russell, a Harvard-trained author who became one of the first ordained women ministers in the United States and one of the first female teachers at the Yale Divinity School, served as pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Ascension in East Harlem from 1959 to 1971, says her widow, Shannon Clarkson.
Russell collected a $600 monthly pension for seven years while she was alive and designated Clarkson, her partner of 32 years, as her beneficiary. But when the 77-year-old Russell died of cancer in 2007, the Presbyterian Church’s pension board quickly cut Clarkson off.

OK, here is the crucial question: What in the world is "the Presbyterian Church"? Which denomination is that, pray tell, out of the alphabet soup that is Presbyterian life in America?

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A Buddhist parable that applies to the Presbyterian Church in America and race

  A Buddhist parable that applies to the Presbyterian Church in America and race

The Religion Guy urges religion writers to monitor parochial media, but beware the obvious pitfall: Such sources can offer limited perspectives.

Remember the ancient Buddhist parable about blind men and the elephant? One touches the beast’s tail and thinks it’s a rope, another touches the trunk and thinks it’s a tree, a third touches the belly and thinks it’s a wall.  Limited perception distorts the fuller reality, something journalists are duty bound to depict fairly.  

So with the Presbyterian Church in America, well worth coverage as one of this generation’s most successful and innovative denominations, with influential conservatives among its members. Major secular media give the PCA little  notice and ignored its newsworthy General Assembly in June.

Christianity Today headlined a piece on the assembly “PCA Goes Back to Where it Started: Women’s Ordination.” True, one reason the PCA broke from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS) in 1973 was opposition to women in  church offices. The 2016 assembly ordered a study of whether women can be ordained as deacons (though not lay elders), and encouraged females’ full participation “in appropriate ministries.”

The assembly also approved overwhelmingly a declaration that the PCA “does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era.” Denounced as past PCA sins were claims “that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages interracial marriage” and members’ “participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations.”

CT reported on this second action, which Religion News Service covered with both a spot item and a Tobin Grant analysis headlined “What Catalyst Started the Presbyterian Church in America? Racism.” Grant thinks “the PCA exists only because of its founders’ defense of slavery, segregation and white supremacy.” That’s truthy, but overly simplified.

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Hey reporters: Donald Trump tries to woo Iowa evangelicals, by attending liberal church?

Hey reporters: Donald Trump tries to woo Iowa evangelicals, by attending liberal church?

So you are a billionaire Republican candidate from New York City and your goal is to demonstrate your conservative, man-of-the-people bona fides in the final days before the Iowa caucuses. You know that evangelical Christians are a crucial constituency in this contest, so on Sunday morning you visit a:

(a) Nondenominational megachurch, the kind with a praise band, an altar call at the end of the service, a history of sending people to the "March For Life" and backing centuries of church doctrine on marriage and family.

(b) Southern Baptist congregation that is putting down roots up in the rural, small-town soil of the north.

(c) Conservative Presbyterian Church in America flock, since you have been reminding doubters that you are very, very proud to be a Presbyterian.

(d) Solidly progressive church in the liberal Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that represents almost everything that evangelical voters in Iowa consider dangerous.

The answer for reality-television superstar Donald Trump was (d).

However, perhaps there is another answer. Perhaps it doesn't matter where you go to church since elite reporters won't know the difference (or spend a few seconds online to learn)?

Consider the top of the Washington Post story that ran under this headline: "Trump goes to church in Iowa and hears a sermon about welcoming immigrants."

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