“At the Next Available Exit, Please Make a U-Turn”

Most new cars come equipped now with a GPS mapping system. We’re all familiar with those voices which prompt us to make the appropriate adjustments in our driving to get us to the destination we’ve entered into the unit. All too often, when I’ve gotten lost, I’ve heard this embarrassing refrain, “At the next available exit, make a U-turn.” When I’m not too stubborn, I usually obey.

Metaphorically, I see my writings concerning the PCUSA (and other mainline denominations) as one of those GPS voices. The destination for the church has been plugged in by the Scriptures and our confessional documents, but for a long time now, the drivers have been ignoring the suggestions given to keep them going in the right direction, and are so lost they are headed away from their intended destination. Much of my blogging could be summed up with the exhortation, “At the next available exit, please make a U-turn.” Those in the driver’s seat are so tired of hearing this that they have turned off the GPS, or just tuned it out completely. In their minds, they are headed the right way, even if it is at odds with the stated destination coded into the unit.

There are many voices serving this guiding function. I have been but one, and a minor one at that. Yet recently I have come up on the radar screen of a neophyte PCUSA pastor who vented some negative energy by blogging about me. A good friend from my congregation drew my attention to a piece entitled “PC(USA) antagonist to lead conference in denomination he fled“. It was written by Matt Curry, whom I don’t believe I have ever met. Yet he seems to believe he knows me well enough to characterize my mind and heart, in a less than flattering way.

*****UPDATE: THE BLOGPOST IN QUESTION HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM http://www.witnesstograce.com AS OF 7/24/2013*****

I am an antagonist to the PCUSA, stirring up rancor through my blogs, writing only negative things about the leadership and apparent theology of the denomination, “a bitter opponent who helped form a rival denomination,” “someone engaged in open warfare with the PC(USA).” But what sticks most in his craw is that I have accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the next Presbyterian Men’s Conference at Mo Ranch. Mr. Curry seems offended that I would be offered this opportunity, even more so that I would take it. Perhaps a few facts will soothe his ruffled feathers:

– I accepted the Mo Ranch speaking invitation over two years ago, more than a year before the 2012 GA and long before our church session made the decision to seek dismissal from the PCUSA.

– After our church determined to seek dismissal, the incoming president of the Mo Ranch Men’s Conference Council (whom Mr. Curry rightly identifies as a member of our congregation) and I contacted the leadership of Mo Ranch with the offer to step down from our commitments so as to spare Mo Ranch any potential embarrassment. The trustees and president of Mo Ranch decided not to accept our offers to resign, but in the spirit of deeper unity in Christ to reaffirm our roles.

– I have participated in three of the last four Mo Ranch Men’s Conferences as a seminar leader (I missed two years ago to attend our daughter’s graduation from pharmacy school). No one could come away from encounters with me at the conference and have the impression that I am in open warfare with the PCUSA, or an antagonist in any form. Each of my seminars had to do with teaching on Islam, and I am told they were the highest attended of any seminar each year. In another blog, Mr. Curry — who did not attend my seminar entitled “10 Ways That Jesus Outshines Muhammad” — nevertheless seeks to undermine my teaching by offering 10 areas of common ground between Muslims and Christians. I will respond to that specific blog tomorrow. In any case, I have done nothing at any Mo Ranch Men’s Conference to stir rancor or ill will toward the PCUSA.

– The new Presbyterian movement (ECO) to which my congregation and I now belong has never defined itself as a “rival denomination” to the PCUSA. Instead, we see ourselves as a sister Reformed denomination. The fact that Mr. Curry describes ECO this way says more about his own ecclesiology than it says about me or the Covenanted Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

– It is true that I have used the word “apostate” with regard to the PCUSA. To my knowledge, I have not used that word of any individual in the PCUSA, but applied it specifically to the institution and the direction it has unrepentantly and increasingly headed for the past 40 years or so. (Anyone interested can view my arguments in support of this found in an August 2011 post entitled “An Evangelical Declaration.”) Mr. Curry seeks to link me to those of another age who burned apostates at the stake, though relents a bit by admitting I confine my pyrotechnics to the blogosphere. I resist this categorization: the farthest I will go is to admit that I have burned many steaks in the past on the grill. I am willing to debate anyone on the merits of the arguments I have put forward concerning the present state of the PCUSA. I am not impressed by those seeking to sway others by innuendo and mischaracterization of my position.

– Mr. Curry notes that most of my 43 blogposts have had to do with the PCUSA. He has taken the time to comb through them enough to discover that I have apparently used the word “homosexual” some 50 times total (make that now 51). What can one learn from this? He apparently leaves that to the reader’s imagination. I recently did an RSV Bible concordance search for the word “pomegranate.” Did you realize it occurs 33 times throughout the Bible? What would you conclude from this? Nothing, I hope, without going to each of the references and reading them in context. Innuendo is often the mark of a weak or lazy argument. I would prefer a cogent response challenging my suppositions or conclusions on biblical/theological grounds. Then perhaps we could make some headway.

– I am not bitter toward the PCUSA as a denomination of real people. I am deeply saddened by the long slide into sin, darkness and disobedience allowed (perhaps even encouraged) by those in leadership who felt they knew a better way than the teachings of Scripture to pilot a once honorable denomination into a free-fall of theological and behavioral ignorance.

– As a Christian committed to seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, one does not need to be a member of the PCUSA to express concern and attempt to speak truth to power. It is certainly possible that I have failed miserably as a GPS voice pointing out the misdirection of the denomination. If so, leaders and people like Mr. Curry have every right to ignore my voice. But what I have found is that few take issue with the matters I and others point out as signs of lostness; instead we are merely castigated for urging a U-turn at the next available opportunity.

– Lastly, Mr. Curry’s blogsite goes by the name “Witness to Grace,” a phrase taken from the Confession of ’67 which emphasizes the theme of reconciliation, a truth Mr. Curry heartily endorses. Since I have apparently so offended him unwittingly by my writings and speaking commitments, I would have hoped he would have sought to be reconciled by following the teachings of Jesus outlined in Mt 18, coming to me personally to address his concerns before airing publicly his faulty assumptions about my actions and character. Perhaps, if he continues to have concerns in the future, he will do just that. In the spirit of Christian charity and unity, I certainly hope so.
Wouldn’t that be a wonderful witness to grace! On the other hand, our Lord does not let me off the hook. In Mt 5 he declares that when we know someone has a grievance against us, we are to take the initiative in seeking reconciliation. I guess it’s time for me to make a U-turn….Pray it goes well, please.

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6 Responses to “At the Next Available Exit, Please Make a U-Turn”

  1. Cay Wright says:

    To my fearless pastor God go with you whatever you decide, I know it will be after much prayer. Thanks so much for sending your blog along to my Email. Miss all of you at FPCECO but must say I’m really enjoying “God’s country” here in N. WI where the lake is blue, the sky sunny with temp of 73 at present and all the old women are good looking !!! Cay


    • mateenelass says:

      I wondered where all the good-looking silver foxes had fled to. We miss you, and the 73 degree temperatures, and the blue lakes — ours are brownish orange at the moment!


  2. Gregory Yankey says:

    I am a world history teacher who follows your blog. I am very interested in your teaching about Islam. It seems to me that many of our secular textbooks put Islam in a better light than Christianity. I don’t believe history requires me to be neutral on this issue. I want to see some counter arguments I can show students. On the PCUSA issue, I am encouraged by your courage in what you write. I am a Reformed believer and a member of the PCA. I have an M.Div from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, but chose the life of a school teacher.


    • mateenelass says:

      Gregory, thanks for reading and commenting. If you want more info on my teaching about Islam, let me direct you to the two books I’ve written on the subject. The first came out in 2004, entitled Understanding the Koran. The second was released in March of this year, and is entitled The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad. Just today an online review of this new book was posted on the Layman website — . I hope to write more substantive blogs on this subject in the future.

      Thank you for your encouraging words. If I can be of help to you in your comparative study on Christianity and Islam, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


  3. Paul Richard Strange, Sr. says:

    Thanks for clearing this up. I receive Pastor Matt’s blog ‘Witness to Grace’ and was floored by how furious he is at you. Right now I am in the process of visiting other churches. Ironically, our former pastor, Anna Whitehead, was very instrumental in the development of ECO! I am grateful for what you are doing and saddened at the status quo vitriol of hyper-liberals.


  4. Paul Becker says:

    Mateen, your blogs are clear, concise, cogent and they exhibit the spiritual fruit of self-control. Thank you.


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