Gradye Parsons and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Apology

Two days ago I reported on the travesty which occurred last Saturday in Portland at the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA. Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons had asked some of his denominational employees to fashion a short worship service to commemorate the lives of shooting victims in Charleston and Orlando, and it was the first agenda item on the docket for Saturday afternoon. parsonsThe leadership deliberately designed this service not simply as an ecumenical affair (inviting leaders from other Christian denominations to help lead) but also as an interfaith event (inviting one leader from an anti-Christian religion — Islam).

Not surprisingly, the Muslim man, Wajdi Said, led the assembly  in a prayer in Arabic from the Qur’an,  and then proceeded to speak a prayer to Allah in English seeking the conversion of all there to Islam, and demoting Jesus to a status equal to other prophets, including non-biblical ones (Ishmael and Muhammad). The final part of the liturgy he read was something he, together with the denominational designers, must have created — it was a prayer based on four passages from the Qur’an (there was nothing recognizable from the Bible), and was in printed form as well as projected on screen for the assembly.

There was no visible negative reaction from the assembly, but a few days later the Stated Clerk received a protest letter written by a Korean Presbyterian and signed by 25 Assembly commissioners ( just under 5% of the 594 registered commissioners), drawing attention to the disgraceful judgment of those who had planned and permitted this act of casual blasphemy.

On Wednesday afternoon, Parsons read what has been billed as an apology concerning the matter (the apology begins at the 2:44:54 mark of the linked video). It was carefully scripted, intending to ease hurt feelings without accepting any responsibility. Even the timing seemed planned to convey disdain for those who’d lodged the protest.  At the end of business, just before the dinner break, the moderator called for announcements as commissioners were packing up. She turned things over to the Stated Clerk, who first announced that colorful ribbons could still be attached to prayer nets around the plenary hall. Then he gave directions for the community dinner about to start in the Portland Room. Then he paused, and without a word of introduction or explanation launched into the reading of his prepared statement as a final announcement:

“During the interfaith prayer service on Saturday in response to the killings in Charleston and Orlando, a prayer was offered that went beyond what had been scripted. It was an offense of the head, not of the heart; it came from one seeking to be authentically gracious, as part of the healing service. Some commissioners found it offensive. When in relationship with people of other faiths, sometimes we can inadvertently be offensive when meaning to be sensitive and ecumenical. It was never the intention of the one offering the prayer to offend any of us. Nevertheless, we offer an apology to all those who were offended.”

What is wrong with this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad apology? Where do I begin?

First, the fact that this statement was relegated to the obscurity of announcements at the end of the afternoon, when the least number of listeners would be there, without any advance notice or introduction, shows the lack of importance this matter held in the Stated Clerk’s mind. It is a silent snub of the protesters, disdainful of their viewpoint.

Second, either out of ignorance or intentionally for reasons of obfuscation, Gradye seems to equate “interfaith” and “ecumenical,” but the latter deals with relations among those of the same faith, whereas the former deals with relations among those of different faiths. By doing this, he hides the fact that he and his team concocted the plan to allow a follower of Allah to lead Presbyterians in a prayer dishonoring to the Trinity.

Third, in this “apology,” you’ll notice that Gradye never mentions exactly what the offense was, only that the one who prayed “went beyond what was scripted.” The implication is that if only he had stuck to the script, everything would have been all right. Is he really so spiritually tone-deaf as not to realize that inviting a Muslim, or any follower of a different god, to lead Christians in worship, is just plain wrong from a biblical point of view, regardless of the script followed? He never admits that his team came up with this idea, and didn’t see anything wrong with it.

Fourth, he exempts Mr. Said from any serious blame by saying he was trying to be authentically gracious, and that this was an offense of the head, not of the heart (whatever that means). I suppose by this Gradye is saying that when Mr. Said prayed to Allah that all the assembly be led to the “straight path”, thereby becoming Muslims, he really believed this to be the best option for Christians (who otherwise will end up in hell according to Islam), so he was being both authentic and gracious as a Muslim.

Fifth, when Gradye reports that only “some commissioners” found this situation offensive he implies there is room for doubt as to whether any transgression really occurred — perhaps it was just in the minds of the “super-sensitive” that a wrong happened, and ruffled feathers can be smoothed with some conciliatory words. But in fact, the true implication is that if most commissioners did not find this offensive, then indeed as Marcellus says in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” The PCUSA has much greater problems than one instance of blasphemous outrage at a General Assembly.

Lastly, and most egregiously, Gradye places the focus of blame upon Mr. Said. although he essentially excuses him by implying that “Muslims do what Muslims do — what else would you expect? He meant well, after all.” By doing this, he shifts attention away from his own wrongdoing of approving the invitation in the first place, and appears magnanimous in offering an apology on behalf of the misguided Muslim. And what is the apology? “We regret that you felt offended,” not, “We repent for having done something truly offensive to God and to His believing family.”

When I heard Gradye’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad apology, I couldn’t help remembering the golden calf incident in Exodus 32. Moses is up on Mt. Horeb receiving the 10 Commandments, and he’s been gone a long time. The people of God have grown impatient and turn to Aaron, Moses’ older brother. “Where is the God of Moses? Make for us a god we can see and believe in, who will lead us into a good future — to that god we will give our allegiance and worship.” So Aaron collects their gold and melts it, fashioning a gold calf and presenting it to the people, who respond with enthusiasm. Aaron is so moved by their joy over his leadership that he declares the next day will be a “feast to the Lord.” Meanwhile, on Mt. Horeb Yahweh is watching, and His wrath begins to burn white hot. He sends Moses back down the mountain, and when Moses sees the golden calf and the revelry of the people, and Aaron’s self-satisfaction, he confronts his brother with his own white hot anger. “What did this people do to you that you have brought a great sin upon them?” Aaron responds first by blaming the people, and then blaming the golden calf: “You know this people, how their hearts are evil. They came to me and said, ‘Make us gods to lead us forward.’ So I had them give me their gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out popped this calf.” The_Golden_Calf

Can you imagine what would have happened if Aaron had tried to further justify himself by saying to Moses, or to Yahweh, “Hey, the people meant well. This was only an offense of the head, not the heart. We were just trying to be sensitive and ecumenical. But if you were offended, we regret that we hurt your feelings”? I imagine that there would have been no further references to Aaron in the Bible, either dispatched by Moses or incinerated in the fiery wrath of God.

I pray for Gradye and the rest of the PCUSA leadership that they will jettison their terrible, horrible, no good, very bad apology, and bow before God in full repentance, following that up with a public confession of their wrong-headedness and the assurance that they will never treat the glory of the Lord so cavalierly again.


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29 Responses to Gradye Parsons and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Apology

  1. Larry Wood says:

    Well, what else did we expect from a PCUSA official. Shameful, but not unexpected. So sad…!


  2. Leslie Day-Ebert says:

    Outstanding explanation, Mateen. The golden calf analogy is especially accurate. Thank you.


  3. Don Edic says:

    Thank you, Mateen, for your insights. I weep for the PCUSA. There’s little difference between our denomination and today’s American secular culture. PC run amok.


  4. Holly Clelland says:

    By carefully choosing the words it was “an offense of the head” I can’t help but think that he is fearful of losing his own to beheading.
    Doubly shameful. First the blasphemy, then the cowardice…


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  6. Teaching Elder Bob in NE says:

    …and now let the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad apologist— be dishonorably retired so we can be done with this curmudgeon who seems to think of himself as always right while those who disagree with him as always wrong!


  7. Kenneth Harper says:

    Well said, Mateen. Thanks for your straightforward analysis.


  8. Member of PCUSA church in FL…I think that with fewer than 5% of commissioners expressing offense, this was more than adequate.


    • mateenelass says:

      Matthew, the purpose of an apology is to express contrition for having done something wrong. One shouldn’t determine right or wrong based on the percentage of people offended but by the rightness or wrongness of the action. One’s apology shouldn’t be stronger or weaker depending on the percentage of people who voiced their unhappiness. To use such determinations indicates one is not really sincere in apologizing for one’s offenses but rather merely using an “apology” to smooth over ruffled feathers. Perhaps that’s good enough for politicians. But it should not characterize leaders in church government.

      If Gradye didn’t think he had done anything wrong, then he should have said so, and expressed regret that anyone took offense. But let’s be clear, expression of regret is significantly different from apology.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Matthew, That is part of the major problem with our denomination. The real question should be why wasn’t 100% of the commissioners offended and grieved by this act of blasphemy? If less than 5% of the commissioners were offended, it means that the others do not take sound doctrine in worship seriously, which then leads to all practices of false doctrines and beliefs. May God have mercy on us.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Jodie Gallo says:


    With respect, there are several troubling aspects to your post that should be argued.

    In no particular order, it is troubling to hear you continue to refer to Allah as another god. There is but one God. This statement of belief is common between Islam, Christianity and Islam. To suggest that Muslims follow a different God implies otherwise, and spins the polemic between our religions and cultures as an expression of the conflict between two gods. That in itself is a pagan cosmology, more at home in Greek mythology than in the Judeo – Christian understanding of the order of the Universe. The Muslims – and I know you know this – are under the tutelage of Mohammad and his various apologists. These we do have a severe disagreement with. We should stand firm in our profession that “Mohamed is his prophet” is a false claim. But if we blow the bridge we have that we worship the same God, that leaves no peaceful resolution between our faiths short of mutual annihilation.

    Which leads to my second objection, that the passage you quote from Exodus ends in violent bloodshed. Are you calling for that? While the Christian world has often gone down that rat-hole, there has never been a time when upon climbing back out in to the light of the living God that we did not realize, with horror, how far we had strayed from the Gospel. No matter how much historians white wash those sepulchers on the outside, they are filled with rot and perversion and untold human suffering on the inside. Whether it be all the combinations of Christians vs Muslims vs Jews, or Muslims vs Muslims and Christians vs Christians, it is not the voice of the roaring lion that triumphs in the end, but the voice of a lamb, as if slain. We cannot hope to prevail if we forget that simple Truth.

    And finally, in your complaint about Gradye’s apology, you miss the purpose of the exercise. We invite Muslims into our households in the name of Jesus Christ, the prince of Peace, to lead by example. To show them we mean them no harm. If a Muslim dishonors our hospitality with calls for our conversion to Islam, that is on him, not on us. There is no call or reason for us to fight among ourselves over whether and how we should apologize for our hospitality. Frankly, and I concede to you this much, he should not have apologized at all, because in so doing he blinked instead of showing the courage of his convictions. We should be united as One on this. We should not cease to show hospitality in the name of Christ, nor should we answer evil with evil, and we should never apologize for doing so.

    The alternative path, the path Moses followed, and the one you suggest with your Mosaic analogy and metaphor, is the path of genocide. We can’t go down that path. Not again.

    I mean no disrespect. I admire your blog and its attempt to raise Christian awareness of the growing challenge the world of Islam presents to Christianity. If anything it should serve to sharpen our own understanding of our own core values and beliefs, but it is important that we not loose site of those same core values and beliefs in doing so.


    • mateenelass says:

      Jodie, thank you for expressing your thoughtful objections.

      In response to the first, let me invite you to reread my blog on the subject from Jan 2, I know you have read this, because we interacted concerning it in the comments section. On the one hand, philosophically you are right. If there is one God who created all that is, there can be only one God. The question is, when all people speak the word “God,” are they referring to the same being, or to one that they perhaps imagine? See if this analogy makes sense to you: There is only one Mateen A. Elass in this world (I can hear hundreds right now breathing a sigh of relief…). Suppose my wife and someone who knows nothing about me happen to share a conversation about me. The ignoramus begins saying things about me that come from his suppositions about me (I’m a male, American citizen, who lives in CO, and has a family.) So far so good. But then he goes on to say important, defining things about me that are just not true — he claims I’m a Buddhist, that I was born in Tibet, that I have 8 children and 19 grandchildren, that I have spent my life as a junkyard owner, that I’ve been married three times, that I’m 82 years old, etc. My wife, incredulously listens on until finally she can’t contain herself any longer. What does she say? “I don’t know who you think you’re talking about, but it’s not Mateen Elass. He’s my husband, and I know him better than anyone. The person you’re describing is a figment of your imagination!” That’s why I say that the God of the Bible and the God of the Qur’an are not one and the same being. One further fact: The God of the Bible blesses His Son and the atoning work of the cross, and anyone who embraces the Son; the God of the Qur’an curses anyone who believes he has a son, and curses anyone who believes that Jesus is divine, or that he died on a cross. Can the same God both bless and curse the same reality. As the letter of James says (3:11) in another context, sweet and salty water cannot flow from the same source.

      As to your second objection, my point in using the story of Aaron and the golden calf was not to point out how God executed His wrath (which of course He had/has every right to do) but to show how Aaron refused to take responsibility for his actions, much in the same manner as Gradye. You of course do not know me very well yet; to deduce from my blog that I am calling for violent bloodshed is a rather silly conclusion to reach from the fact that in this blog I am taking the Stated Clerk to task for an insincere apology. Or do you see bloodthirsty tendencies somewhere else in my blog? I’d like to know — I’ll quickly apologize for my moral error.

      By the way, I find myself attracted to your well-stated words, “it is not the voice of the roaring lion that triumphs in the end, but the voice of a lamb, as if slain.” However, I think you lean a little too much toward the image of the lamb slain. He is at the same time the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and when the final battle lines are drawn up in Rev. 19, he is described as leading the armies of heaven on a white stallion, and “out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty….” (v. 15). It seems wise to me to keep the balance that the Scriptures give.

      As to your third objection, I think you missed the purpose of my complaint. I am not focused on the issue of hospitality — that is a given for followers of Jesus, and I would never object to the demonstration of love for outsiders. I was not even calling for the Muslim to apologize for what he did in leading GA worshipers. My point was this: while it may have been an act of hospitality to invite a Muslim to bring greetings from his local community to the gathered GA, it was an act of insubordination and perfidy against God and His church to invite a Muslim to lead the GA in worship. That decision by Gradye and his team rightly demanded repentance, confession and apology, both to God and to the GA. Gradye didn’t see it that way, and instead tried to shift blame to the Muslim orant and then condescendingly pat on the head any who were offended, using the words, “No offense was intended.” No harm, no foul….

      Please read my words in their context — they were directed at the leadership of the PCUSA, not at the theological errors of Islam. The latter is the focus of many of my other blogs, but not this one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Mateen. I’m of the same opinion: I have no problem whatsoever with inviting and welcoming everyone into Christian fellowship, regardless of their viewpoints or religion. But welcoming someone into fellowship is not the same thing as inviting someone who explicitly believes that Jesus Christ is NOT God to “lead” (?) Christians in the worship of God Who is Father, Sin, and Holy Spirit.


    • Ted Wylie says:

      God and Allah are not the same. Read the Koran….then read the Bibile. We left the PCUSA (my wife and I0 nearly a year ago over just such outrages. We are presently searching for an ECOP congregation. No luck so far…but at this rate I expect some to be popping up. God help us all.


  10. Dan Patterson says:

    The fact that so few were offended reflects on the condition of the PCUSA. Is no one concerned that this offended Almighty God?


  11. Cay Wright says:

    Thank you again for keeping us all up to date. One of these days God will surely say “NO MORE”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. hallead says:

    I thought the apology re: offscript comments and those offended was an apology for Said using male and female… and that the assumption was that the only ones who were offended were the “binaphobes.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • mateenelass says:

      That was truly interesting. The Qur’anic passage in question speaks of male and female, but it obviously didn’t fit the PCUSA narrative. So it was left out of the liturgy. But the Muslim, true to form, recited the verse completely., leaving the gender police flummoxed!


  13. frizlanger says:

    Do you know the name of the Korean Presbyterian who was courageous enough to speak out and begin a petition? I want to write him a letter and encourage and thank him. His willingness to speak out was profound for me.


    • mateenelass says:

      Martha, I don’t know his name but am checking with contacts who were with him (and signed the letter), so I think someone will be able to get me his name, at least, and maybe some contact info. God bless you for your desire to thank and encourage him!


      • frizlanger says:

        We are all a part of this spiritual battle on earth, not fighting flesh and blood, but angels and principalities that are not of this world. The warriors are often unarmed, fighting in the flesh instead of wearing the armor of God, exhausted from loneliness and feelings of abandonment, wounded by the very ones who they thought were fighting and praying with them. We need boldness and courage to call a lie a lie, to speak truth in love and to identify what it is we are truly fighting: demons of idolatry, division, lies, mockers of God, fear, apathy, and many more. Let us encourage one another and fight the good fight, armed with the Word of God and the Spirit’s sword. I look forward and feel honored to have the opportunity to write to my sisters or brothers who spoke the prophetic voice.


      • mateenelass says:

        Amen! I like your style!!!


      • mateenelass says:

        Martha, I have a name and email address for you, but was asked to keep it private. Would you send me your email, and I’ll send you the info? Thanks.


  14. Pat Dickinson says:

    I am saddened and outraged to read this, but not surprised. My prayer is with those who call themselves brother and sister in Jesus but know Him not. Well spoken, Mateen. I hope this has been called to Gradye Parsons’ attention, but I’m not sure he would b able to GET the point. Somehow almighty God has not become real to him. A call to worship is not about God but is simply a form so perhaps in Gradye’s mind it doesn’t matter what God is invoked. May God have mercy on us all!

    Liked by 1 person

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