Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining — Thanks be to Mammon!

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has just released its annual statistics for 2015, along with a statement offering its rosy assessment, or rather its silvery assessment.mammon2 The numbers paint a bleak picture (once again) of the denomination’s health, but especially in the area of membership loss. This is no surprise given the unbiblical trend of the national organization (ordination of practicing homosexuals and redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions being two of the more egregious decisions of the General Assembly in the last four years), but in 2015 the flood gates of departure opened even wider. After many years of net losses averaging around 2% of total membership, in 2007 those percentages began rising even as the denominational base was shrinking (percentage loss in 2007 was 2.5; each year after that has lost, respectively, 3.1, 2.9, 2.9, 3.2, 5.3, 4.8, and in 2014 5.3%).  2015, however, has broken all past records with a net membership loss of 5.7%. In real numbers that’s a net loss of 95,107 active members. Another way of saying this is that at the end of 2015, the PCUSA was 6.0% smaller than at the end of 2014.

Drilling down a bit more deeply, we discover that new members added in 2015 fell 14% among the 17 and under group compared to 2014; among 18 and over, the percentage drop was 10%. Likewise, transfers of membership from other churches (certificate) was down 10%.  This has nothing to do with churches departing the denomination, or present members leaving. Rather, it simply records how well the PCUSA is doing at “evangelizing” both within and without the denomination’s boundaries (i.e., it includes those joining through confirmation classes as well as those reached outside the membership borders of the local congregation). Even more alarming, the percentage of child baptisms is down 12% from 2014, and adult baptisms (never very strong in recent decades) was down 10%.

What these numbers show is that the PCUSA and its forerunners (whose declining membership streak has been unbroken since 1965) is becoming even more ineffective (or unconcerned) about reaching the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ. A quick comparison with official figures from 2005 show the following: total number of new members in 2005: 124,958; in 2015: 59,092 (less than half as many new members coming in that 11 years ago). Total number of losses in 2005: 173,432; total losses in 2015: 154,199.  Total membership in 2005: 2,313,662; total membership in 2015: 1,572,660 (the 2015 PCUSA has lost one-third of its membership in 11 years!). Total # of churches in 2005: 10,959; total in 2015: 9,642. Average congregational membership in 2005: 211; average size in 2015: 163.  Number of churches dissolved in 2005: 66; number dissolved in 2015: 91. Number of churches dismissed to other denominations in 2005: 4; numbers dismissed in 2015: 104.  Number of churches received from other denominations in 2005: 0. Number received in 2015: 0 (the PCUSA has been pitching a shutout in this category for 5 years running).

According to Vera White, Coordinator of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program, there is cause for optimism. She relates that there are now 339 new communities, and they are steadily increasing. But the definition of what constitutes a “new worshiping community” is very fluid, and many of these show little resemblance to an enduring congregation. Even granting the unlikely possibility that all of these survive and flourish, the “Final Report” on these communities, issued by PCUSA Research Services, cites on pg. 1 that the median community size is 33 regular participants. That would translate into a little more than 11000 additional folks brought into the PCUSA orbit through this program. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also insufficient to replace the hordes that are jumping ship.

Nevertheless, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons remains positive.  According to the May 16 press release, he said, “The PC(USA) clearly isn’t going away, even though some congregations have discerned another denominational path for themselves…..Mission and ministry remain alive and vibrant in the body.”

What leads him to this conclusion, in light of all the gathering clouds? The answer is: every cloud has a silver lining. In this case, the silver is literal. Parsons is impressed that in spite of the loss of members and churches, overall contributions to the denomination are up $9.6 million. Capital and building funds of local churches increased. Most to be highlighted, however, is the fact that local mission giving by congregations increased $7.7 million over 2014. So while the PCUSA is hemorrhaging members and congregations at record rates, nevertheless giving in certain areas is up. Indeed, every cloud does apparently have a silver lining! Where in all this is the concern for souls, for the eternal welfare of the lost, for the glory of God displayed in the salvation of sinners??? Instead we have talk of denominational life and vitality in the form of overflowing coffers.The_worship_of_Mammon

Even so, Parsons fails to note that though local mission expenditure is up by $7.7 million, “validated and other” mission giving is down by just over $13 million. It seems likely that congregations decided to keep more of their discretionary money at home to disburse for missions locally in 2015 than to hand it over for distribution by the denomination. This may indeed be a good thing for the Kingdom of God, having Christians more directly involved in caring for their local communities; it leads one to wonder, however, if this comes at the cost of local churches losing trust in their denominational bureaucracy. To date, Gradye hasn’t felt led to comment on this possibility.

Given the bleak numbers in the 2015 report showing accelerated losses of members from the pews of a once vibrant denomination and decelerating efforts at reaching and bringing in the lost, I search in vain for some salvific signs about which I can exclaim, “Thanks be to God!” Perhaps, I’ll have to settle, as Gradye apparently has, for a lining of silver, and say with him concerning the PCUSA, “Thanks be to Mammon.”wheel of fortune

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“Lies, Damned Lies, and the Religion of Peace”

Can a true religion really give its practitioners the freedom to lie? Many in the West have heard that Islam gives Muslims such freedom, and so have grown even more suspicious of Muslim acquaintances whom they might otherwise have come to know, befriend, appreciate and trust. What has fueled this perception of Islam, and is it accurate?pinocchio

Muslims, naturally, protest that such a conclusion is false, and that their Qur’an enjoins them to honesty in their words and deeds: “O ye who believe! Fear Allah and be with those who are true” (9:119). That seems very straightforward. Particularly with other Muslims, believers are to act honestly unless the use of lies would likely create greater peace. (According to Bukhari 49.857, Umm Kulthum reported Muhammad to have said, “He who makes peace between the people by inventing good information or saying good things is not a liar.”

Yet Islamic morality is not quite that simple.  The one great absolute to which all other moral commands bow is this: whatever behavior advances the cause of Islam is good or permissible; whatever weakens or demeans the cause of Islam is evil and forbidden.

So when it comes to truthfulness in word and deed, a Muslim is required to be honest and forthright in his dealings, unless the cause of Islam might somehow be negatively affected by the truth. Muslim jurists (both Sunni and Shi’ite) over the centuries have created five sometimes overlapping categories where the use of lies is permitted for the sake of Islam (as opposed to personal advantage – though sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference).

The first, and most well-known category is taqiyya, often translated “dissimulation.” A Muslim is permitted to mislead non-Muslims as to his identity when the truth would put his life and/or the cause of Islam in danger.  Often, Sura 3:28 is cited in support of this – Muslims are forbidden from taking non-Muslims as friends or protectors, except in self-defense; i.e., they may pretend friendship with nonbelievers in order to gain security or protection until such time as they no longer need such dependency. Such deception is often used in modern Islamic politics, particularly among Iranian leaders in their foreign policy. Since Islam sees itself (Dar al Islam = “Camp of Islam) at war with the non-Muslim world (Dar al Harb = Camp of War), deception is permitted, even commanded, in dealings with the enemy. Muhammad famously said (and it is recorded multiple times in Hadith sources), “War is deceit” (Bukhari, 4.52.268-269). In the arena of jihad, such deceit involves duping the enemy so as to surprise, weaken and ultimately conquer him.  Muhammad’s directives for the assassination of Ka`b bin Ashraf, a Jewish man accused of stirring up Muhammad’s enemies in Mecca, included permission for the assassins to deceive  to Ka’b in order to get close enough to him to hack him to death with swords.

Tawriyah, a second category of permissible lies, involves the intentional creation of false impressions while technically telling the truth. By use of double entendres or misleading words, one causes the listener to conclude the opposite of the truth. Say, for example, that a homeless person approaches you on the street and asks you for some money. Though you have quite a wad in your wallet, you don’t want to part with any of it, and knowing that you don’t have any change in your pocket, you say, “Gosh I’m sorry, but I don’t have a cent on me!” Technically, you are honest in that you don’t have a penny in your pocket, but you are misleading your listener into believing you have no money at all. Or suppose you are home with your family and some unwelcome person knocks on the door asking to see a member of the family who is standing in the kitchen waving frantically at you to send the caller away. You answer the door and say, “I’m sorry, but she is not here right now and I don’t know when she’ll be back.” By “here” you mean at the front door; the caller thinks you mean “in the house.” Though you are telling the truth in a limited way, you are concealing the truth at a deeper level, and so engaging in creative lying. Again, such a practice is not meant to be used for selfish purposes, but only the for advancement or supremacy of Islam. However, the manual of Shari’a law used today by one prominent school of Sunni Muslims (the Shafi’is) teaches that it is permissible in oath-taking to break the intent of the oath (or treaty) as long as one adheres to the letter of the oath. An example given is: “If one swears, ‘I will not eat this wheat,’ but then makes it into flour or bread (A: and then eats it), one has not broken one’s oath” (Reliance of the Traveller,o19.1). It doesn’t take much imagination to see how our fallen human nature can take this kind of justification and run with it.business-man-lying-under-oath

A third category of deception is known as kitman, and involves telling only part of the truth, and concealing the rest, so as to present a false picture. With regard to orthodox Islam, we see this regularly in the West when Muslims who know better declare, “Islam is a religion of peace.” What they mean is, “Islam is a religion of peace for those who have submitted to Allah, but it declares war on all those who refuse to submit to Allah.” Likewise, with regard to the practice of jihad a Muslim might say, “In Islam jihad means the struggle in the soul against evil.” This indeed is one meaning of the term, but all informed Muslims know that jihad in the context of the non-Muslim world means the struggle to overthrow (by force or other means) all groups which remain resistant to the advance of Islam. In short, kitman is lying by omission.

Muruna is a fourth category of deception. Meaning literally “flexibility,” muruna allows Muslims to set aside some commands of Allah in order to achieve others that have a higher priority in Allah’s service. Hence, one may engage in some of  the “minor evils” of an infidel society so as to blend in with the enemy while plotting his demise. This is the mindset of
stealth jihadi sleeper agents, who shave their beards, wear Western clothing, avoid the local mosque, drink alcohol, go to strip bars, marry non-Muslim women, and so on, so as to deflect any attention from themselves until they can carry out their mission against their host culture with a view to the supremacy of Islam. They believe that these “sinful adjustments” will be forgiven in light of the long-term victory they intend “for the cause.” Of course, just because a self-professing Muslim may drink alcohol or party or shave, etc., does not mean he is practicing muruna. There are many cultural Muslims for whom strict adherence to Shari’a is objectionable – they want to blend in with Western society because they love a Western approach to life. But for the Muslim committed to core Islam, muruna is a form of “permissible lifestyle lying” in order to accomplish the greater end of jihad against the enemies of Allah.

Lastly is the category of taysir, which translates literally as “ease.” Supported by the Qur’an (“For Allah desires ease for you, not hardship,” 2:185; see also 2:286, 4:26-28, and 5:6), taysir is the provision of “special dispensation” when obedience to Islam would create too much hardship for the Muslim in a non-Muslim context. Suppose the nearest mosque is 200 miles away – the command to join the community in Friday prayers may be “set aside” until circumstances change. If one’s employer will not make exceptions for mandatory prayers during work hours, one may in good conscience set aside the command to pray at that hour, and make it up at another time.  Taysir technically is not lying (except perhaps to oneself); it is arguing that the requirements of Islam are too burdensome in a particular kufr setting (i.e., infidel society) so that the obligations may be lifted during those times, and the Muslim can live more in line with the practices of the world around him.

So, what does this mean for the average non-Muslim weighing the words and actions of a Muslim? That depends. I would venture to say that most Muslims living in the West are here because they want the best of what Western civilization has to offer, even when it conflicts with an Islamic world view. They have eschewed the notion of Islamic supremacy and the goal of bringing all things under submission to Allah. They wish to integrate into American culture, they are eager to experience American hospitality, they would be thrilled to have you as a genuine friend. They may still wish to practice their faith privately, and are happy to see you practice yours. They take pride in being people of their word, and “permissible lies” of any sort are the furthest thing from their minds as they converse with you.

However, the same cannot be said, by and large, for Muslims in political and religious leadership roles, whose agenda is that of orthodox Islam. They are motivated by a supremacist ideology, and have no qualms about engaging in permissible lying so as to move from underdog status to the role of top dog, no matter how long it takes. Remember that next time you watch an Iranian mullah or politician, or hear a CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) representative hold forth on how Islam as a peaceful religion just wants to “fit in” as an American faith.


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Ain’t It Grand (to Be an Ayatollah)!

To become a Grand Ayatollah, one must be steeped in the Qur’an, in Islamic history and law, in the Shi’ite Hadith traditions about Muhammad, Ali and the eleven Imams descended from him. One must be recognized by other ayatollahs, mullahs and aspiring “seminarians” as having reached the summit of Islamic learning. Such was the case with Ruhollah Khomeini, who indeed was not satisfied merely with such recognition, but strove to be “first among equals,” which happened when by popular demand he became the “father of the Islamic revolution of Iran.”

To accuse Khomeini of misunderstanding Islam would be laughable. So when he speaks to fellow Muslims, especially to other clerics, about the message of Islam, one may be sure he is authoritatively reflecting orthodoxy (to which Sunni leaders would also agree).Khomeini on politics For those laboring under the misapprehension that “Islam is a peaceful religion,” please read the following message which Khomeini delivered on Feb 4, 1985 to Muslim leaders from some thirty countries:

Brothers, do not sit at home so that they [the enemy] attack. Move onto the offensive and be sure that they shall retreat….This was what happened in Iran and Iran’s power [under the Shah] was far greater than most of the other countries….Do not content yourself with teaching the people the rules of prayer and fasting. The rules of Islam are not limited to these….Why don’t you recite the sura of qital [armed fighting]? Why should you always recite the suras of mercy? Don’t forget that killing is also a form of mercy….There are ills that cannot be cured except through burning. The corrupt in every society should be liquidated….The Qur’an teaches us to treat as brothers only those who are Muslims and believe in Allah. [It] teaches us to treat those who are not thus differently; teaches us to hit them, throw them in jail and kill them.

— (As quoted in Amir Taheri’s The Spirit of Allah, p. 298.)

Khomeini and other Muslim leaders (whether Shi’ite or Sunni) did not always speak so openly about Islam’s call to subjugate or kill those unwilling to become Muslims. Instead, they made liberal use of various types of deception, as permitted under Muhammad’s teaching and example, in order to advance the reach of Islam in the world. Muslim leaders today in similar settings do exactly the same. In my next post, I will explain five terms used by Muslim jurists to justify various forms of deception permitted to Muslims in particular circumstances. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

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J. Herbert Nelson as Stated Clerk of the PC (USA) — a Match Made in Liberal Utopia?

It’s a Brave New World. No longer will the members of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) have to seek out God’s will together to know the mission of the Church. Instead, the Stated Clerk Search Committee has nominated a “priest and prophet” to lead the denomination to utopia.brave new world.jpg

I will reserve personal judgment as to whether J. Herbert Nelson will serve the people of the PCUSA  well or not until we have enough experience with him in that office to make an educated assessment. But from what has been released by official PCUSA news outlets so far, and especially the Vimeo announcement by Rev. Carol McDonald (moderator of the Stated Clerk Search Committee), things do not look at all promising.J-Herbert-Nelson

Having spoken side by side with J. Herbert at a Wee Kirk Conference, and having interacted with him a few times subsequently, I find him to be a warmhearted, engaging, high energy person, committed above all to social justice causes. I like him personally. Our understandings of the gospel are very different. But that is not at the heart of what bothers me about his nomination to become Stated Clerk.

My deep concern is that Rev. Nelson has no background or skill set to actually do the job detailed in the official job description of “Stated Clerk.” The qualifications which he is touted for having in fact have little relevance to the work of that office. No doubt he is a charismatic speaker, and is committed to the church, and has served a number of roles in the denomination, and is eager for the job. To hear the Search Committee moderator’s reflections on J. Herbert’s qualifications, one would think he is being selected as Head Bishop or Pope to lead us into a Brave New World. Rev. McDonald thrills to the idea that “…he will call us to be who God is calling us to be in this 21st Century.” He will be “…priest and prophet to us within our denomination.” He will build bridges and speak with prophetic voice. He will lead us into a golden age. He will usher in the Kingdom. The lion will lie down with the lamb. (Those last three sentences were my own addition.) And so on and so forth.

However, the job description of the Stated Clerk is more prosaic than messianic. Its duties and responsibilities are divided into four categories relating to: Administration; Ecumenical and Interreligious/Interfaith Ministries; the Constitution; and meetings of the General Assembly. I would estimate that 80% of the work is administrative and bureaucratic, needing someone with an authoritative grasp of the Constitution as well as of the interrelationship of all the moving parts of PCUSA bureaucracy. There is nothing about making pronouncements to the world, acting as priest and prophet, speaking eloquently as the voice of the denomination. The Stated Clerk’s role is not to lead the Church anywhere, but to correctly interpret the Church’s Constitution to keep the denomination from straying from its self-determined principles. He/she is to create the structure needed for General Assemblies so they may “do the business of the Church,” and to prepare budgets that accurately reflect the will of the GA in its purposeful spending. The Stated Clerk prepares dockets, transmits reports, receives overtures, ensures preservation of records, sits as a member of various delegations, reports decisions of the GAPJC, is an ex-officio member of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution and of the Advisory Committee on Litigation, and conducts general correspondence of the PCUSA. It is an administrative calling, neither priestly nor prophetic in nature.

Unfortunately, to date we ignoramuses (who have no inside scoop) know nothing of Rev. Nelson’s qualifications to carry out the published job description. A look at his employment history does not instill confidence that he is the right person for this calling: no evidence of parliamentary wisdom; no history of bridge-building among disparate groups; a highly partisan figure focused on one edge of the larger denomination’s stated goals; a trailblazer rather than an interpreter of ecclesiastical maps.

I hope I am wrong, but so far the fawning adulation over J. Herbert Nelson by the Search Committee makes me wonder if they truly read the job description before they made their choice. Perhaps in the coming days they will roll out evidence of his abilities to actually handle the job for which he is being nominated. If so, and if it is strong, well and good. If not, batten down the hatches.

Perhaps the words of King George III upon hearing the news of the demise of another Nelson (Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson) apply here, mutatis mutandis, “We do not know whether we should mourn or rejoice.” In this case, time will tell.

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“Scowl. You’re on Candid Camera!”

Did you ever notice that all the photos of Khomeini put out for public consumption show a man with a perpetual scowl? khomeini2They made him seem irritable, angry, even irascible. I used to wonder if he suffered from stomach ulcers, or lived with a contentious wife. I don’t know about the former, and I learned from The Spirit of Allah that he actually felt affection for his lifelong mate, Batool. The truth is that Khomeini did experience happiness at times, but he went to great lengths to cultivate a persona which conveyed seriousness, even joylessness. One of his first acts, upon returning to Iran to direct the revolution after the Shah’s departure, was to make sure that “…only approved pictures of him be printed and displayed” (p. 241). There were two in particular which especially displeased him. “One showed him wearing spectacles, which might create an impression of frailty, if not outright disability. The other showed the Ayatollah smiling benevolently. Islamic tradition maintained categorically that the Prophet never smiled, and dismissed those who did as superficial and morally loose (italics mine). Within a few days all the objectionable portraits of the Imam were replaced with new ones, showing him knotting his bushy eyebrows in a posture of angry determination” (p. 242).

Yet the image was not divorced from reality, as far as Khomeini’s understanding of Islam was concerned. He attempted to banish music from the lives of post-revolutionary Iranians. In a speech broadcast nationwide on July 11, 1979, he declared, “Music corrupts the minds of our youth. There is no difference between music and opium. Both create lethargy in different ways. If you want your country to be independent, then ban music.  Music is treason to our nation and to our youth” (p. 259). But music was just the tip of the haram iceberg for Khomeini. A month later, in a message broadcast from his home in Qom, he taught, “Allah did not create man so he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious. Islam does not allow swimming in the sea and is opposed to radio and television serials…” (p. 259).

What a sadly distorted vision of life! And what a grotesque picture of God as a slave-master whose goal is make man’s life miserable in this world to see who will gut it out in obedience so as to find sensual reward in the next. How different from the God of the Bible, who creates Adam and Eve in His image out of love and places them in a garden filled with “every tree pleasant for sight and good for food…” (Gen 2:9), and who fills His redeemed people with His presence in the person of the Holy Spirit, one of whose goals is to bring abundant spiritual fruit to bear in our lives – including as of highest priority the first two in the list of Gal 5:22, love and joy!

When I read of the bleak mindset of Ruhollah Khomeini, I can’t help but compare his vision with that of C. S. Lewis, who portrayed the Son of God as the larger-than-life Lion of Narnia Aslan playingwho could on the one hand command the obeisance of all in his presence, but on the other hand could roll around in the fields laughing and playing with children. It was also Lewis who said these words I’ve never been able to shake: “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

It’s no wonder the trajectories of Christianity and Islam can never merge. The God of the Bible and the Allah of Islam are and will always remain universes apart.

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The Spirit of Khomeini

The Spirit of Allah, written in 1985 by Amir Taheri, is a fascinating biography of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini from his 1902 birth to five years after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Spirit of Allah imageThe title of the book comes from the literal translation of “Ruhollah” into English. To me one of the most striking points of the biography is how easy it was for Khomeini to accept, encourage or even command evil against others as he plotted his rise to power. From lies and slander, demonizing innocents, turning a blind eye to rank injustices, ruining the religious and/or political aspirations of rivals, cajoling children to die in battle against Iraqi armed forces, even approving kidnappings and assassinations, Khomeini was obsessed with reaching the pinnacle of Shi’ite Islam, being recognized as A’alam, the one authority universally acclaimed as knowing more than any other ayatollah/religious leader and hence worthy of complete obeisance. Yet his striving was not driven purely by ego. Apparently he believed that he was called for the sake of the ascendancy of Islam to stand at this pinnacle, even if it demanded climbing over the corpses and reputations of hundreds of thousands of others.Khomeini

Time and again, Khomeini and others employed “loopholes” in Islamic ethics which allowed them to lie, mislead or dissemble in order to advance their own agendas (which of course they legitimized as Allah’s agenda). One gets the impression that good and evil are not measured by objective standards but only by whether actions will help or hinder the cause of Islam. When Taheri, who is Iranian himself, discusses Khomeini’s campaign of terror against the disparate groups within Iran opposed to the burgeoning Islamic revolution, he notes that the Grand Ayatollah saw this repression as “a necessary surgery.” Indeed, according to the author, “The argument [of Khomeini] was that no act was evil so long as it was performed in the service of Allah, whereas acts normally considered noble would be nothing but crimes if directed against the Almighty’s will” (p. 278). Such a view ultimately disintegrates into an “end justifies the means” mentality, which certainly proved itself to be the case repeatedly for Shi’ism’s “divine agent.”

Most amazing of all to me was the fact that no one castigated or condemned Khomeini’s actions on religious grounds – that is, while many opposed him when his plans or decisions stymied their own agendas, no one called him out for doing what was forbidden in Allah’s eyes, apparently because there was no absolute standard by which to judge his actions, only the very elastic guideline of advancing the rule of Islam.

I tried to imagine what would happen if a Christian leader attempted to use these same unethical tools in seeking ascendancy within the Christian world. Certainly there have been many cases of unethical Christian leaders lining their own pockets, bilking innocent and naïve victims, engaging in wide-ranging sexual improprieties, lying to save their own skins. But creating elaborate falsehoods to destroy other ministries? Ordering assassinations? Deliberately misleading others while plotting their deaths? Breathing hatred publicly toward enemies, vowing to “kick their teeth in”? Perhaps some of the Borgia Popes may have fallen into this category, I don’t know. But I do know that nothing in the New Testament would allow such behavior among God’s leaders, while the Qur’an leaves a lot of wiggle room, as long as Islam expands its reign as a result. If Khomeini truly represents the apex of Shi’ite spirituality, our Western societies may be in a world of hurt, especially after U.S. capitulation to Iranian demands in the recent “nuclear accords.”

More to come on Khomeini, according to The Spirit of Allah. Stay tuned.

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The Man of La Mainline

Gradye Parsons, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) is our very own reincarnation of the Man of La Mancha, Don Quixote.don quixote Riding on his tired old horse, Rocinante, whom he imagines to be a valiant charger, Don Quixote races into battle against ferocious giants that in reality are windmills. His sidekick, Sancho, tries to help Quixote see the truth, but the crusading knight will have none of it, and so becomes famous for “tilting at windmills.”

Gradye, in his apparent quest to outdo do other mainline religious leaders at curing all manners of social injustice, has been busy this last month, riding the tired nag of the PCUSA and leveling his lance at some of the ferocious giants facing our world. Tilting at WindmillsNotably, he has signed his name to letters seeking to extinguish some monumental evils:

On March 7th he penned a passionate missive to President Obama, urging him to participate in the signing of the international Paris Agreement on climate change to be held in NYC on April 22nd. According to Parsons, the PCUSA has been deeply encouraged by the Obama administration’s “…strong commitment to working for climate justice and environmental responsibility,” and the President’s presence is necessary to keep the momentum going in the right direction.

On March 9th he joined an amicus brief filed to support the Obama administration’s appeal to lift a court-ordered injunction against the President’s executive actions on illegal immigration policy.

 On March 16th he joined his name (and that of the PCUSA) to a letter urging the House of Representatives to vote to “…end our long-standing and counter-productive embargo on Cuba.”

On March 29th, he put out a call to the governor and legislature of North Carolina to repeal a new law which bans people from using bathrooms that don’t match the sex indicated on their birth certificate. While this might seem a common-sense protection to most, in the eyes of social justice crusaders it smacks of discrimination.

No doubt the Stated Clerk’s lance is drooping after taking on such ferocious giants of evil, but if he has any energy left, I might suggest some smaller giants to tackle, now that he has trounced the varsity team:

How about a letter to the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar University, who is the reigning theological leader of Sunni Islam, calling on him to eliminate the dhimmi laws of Islam, which discriminate against non-Muslims in Shari’a-governed societies. At the same time, the Sheikh could be asked to ban the death penalty carried out against those who leave Islam, or who say negative things about Muhammad, the Qur’an, or Allah. While not as serious as the issue of who can use what bathroom, such a change would save thousands of lives annually and ease the sufferings of millions living within Muslim lands.

How about a letter to the Castro brothers, urging them to stop arresting Cubans protesting for democracy, and to release their political prisoners?

How about a letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed Caliph of the Islamic State, taking him to task for beheading Christian and Yazidi men, for raping and selling into slavery women and girls as young as nine, for throwing alleged homosexuals headfirst off the highest buildings in the city, for stealing others’ possessions as war booty and forcing them to convert, flee or face execution? Why not urge him to see the light of mainline Protestant social justice concerns? What strides could be made in cooling the planet, freeing up bathrooms from the gender Nazis,  forcing recalcitrant churches to stay in the PCUSA, if only we could get the 30,000 Islamic State radicals to buy in to the PCUSA agenda!

How about a letter to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which calls itself “the collective voice of the Muslim world,” and is the second largest intergovernmental organization after the UN, calling on them to take action not just to denounce Islamic terrorism and genocide against Christians but to eliminate these evils from the face of the earth?

How about a letter to HAMAS, challenging them to remove from their Charter the jihadi commitment to destroy Israel and hunt down every Jew before the Day of Judgment?

How about a letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, or Grand Ayatollah of Iran, or the Presidents of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria (take your pick), urging them to wipe out Muslim-generated violence against innocents (including fellow Muslims), and to release prisoners of conscience, especially those arrested due to their non-Muslim convictions?

How about a letter to King Salman of Saudi Arabia, pleading with him to discontinue to financing of Wahhabi mosques throughout the world, including within the United States, and to renounce the teaching and spread of anti-Semitic and anti-Christian curricula through madrassas around the world?

Last but not least, how about a general letter of apology to the hundreds of thousands of former Presbyterians who have left the denomination over the last fifty years due to its “progressive” decisions to champion a “social gospel” and to downplay if not completely discard the gospel of the New Testament?

Certainly such issues do not rise to the level of bathroom rights, but perhaps if Mr. Parsons has some spare time before his term ends this June, he might take a crack at one or more of these minor “justice” problems.

Just some attempts at sanity from a wannabe Sancho Panza.sancho

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