Fake News Headline #7: “Hey, Allah, God, Yahweh, Brahma — They’re All the Same Anyway! There’s Only One God, After All. (Part 1)

One of the most vexing questions facing Christian-Muslim dialogue is this: Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? The answer to this is often plagued by a grammatical confusion which must be cleared up before proceeding to a fruitful discussion.

Nouns in the English language are separated into two categories: generic and proper. nouns.pngGeneric/common nouns refer to things in general – tree, cloud, animal, dog…. Proper nouns, on the other hand, refer to a specific, usually one-of-a-kind object, and so are capitalized to indicate their uniqueness.

One may speak of “god” as a generic noun, defining it along the lines of “a supernatural being often worshiped as having power over nature or human destinies.” In this sense, the term is not capitalized for it does not refer to a specific being as such. On the other hand, when we use the term “God” we are referring to One specific being whose nature is uniquely defined in contradistinction to every other being.

According to Christian thought, God is the being who has revealed Himself to humanity over the course of history, particularly in His interactions with Abraham and his descendants. The Bible, inspired by His Holy Spirit, is the record of this self-revelation, which culminates in the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, the fullness of God in human flesh. To Moses, God revealed His everlasting name in the Tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew letters we transliterate as Yahweh, a form of the Hebrew verb “to be.” tetragrammaton.gifIn Exodus 3:14, He defines His name or essence as “I am who I am;” in other words, I define Myself – no one else can accurately assess My nature, except as they depend upon My self-revelation. He declares that “This is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Ex 3:15). Yet, interestingly, when we get to the Qur’an some 2000 years later, this name of God is nowhere to be found, even in what would be the Arabic equivalent of this Hebrew construct. Instead, we find the name “Allah,” literally “the God.” [Either the God of the Bible forgot His name and its meaning by the time He spoke to Muhammad, or the God Muhammad was listening to was some other being….]

So when we as Christians speak of God, we mean the specific Being who has revealed Himself uniquely in biblical history, not some generic being whose nature we define according to our own philosophical or religious categories.

One-of-a-kind entities, by their very nature, are unique. One may find imitations or counterfeits, but ultimately they prove themselves to be false copies of the original. Simply slapping the proper name on the counterfeit does not thereby make it real. For example, suppose you have always dreamt of owning a Rolex GMT 116769TBR watch, which retails for $485,350, and you travel to the Rolex dealer at 655 5th Ave, NYC, to view and perhaps purchase it. Once there, after having seen it and tried it on, reason grabs hold of you, you decline the purchase and exit the store. A man on the street observes you and asks, “Did you just purchase a new watch?” You tell him the Rolex was too expensive for your taste, and he replies, “I have the model you want with me, and can part with it for $50,000.” With that, he opens his overcoat to reveal a slew of watches pinned to its inside. He detaches one of them and hands it to you. retail-street_peddler.jpgThe casing looks exactly like the watch you drooled over in the store, and sure enough the face bears the name Rolex. Would you part with 50 grand to purchase this watch? Of course not, because you would soon discover that although it looked like the real thing, the inner working mechanisms would be a cheap imitation. Simply carrying the right proper noun does not guarantee the reality behind the name.

Hence, when we ask whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, we must compare what the unique term “God” means in each case, and then judge whether both religions point to the same reality.

Upon doing that, we discover that the God of the Bible and the God of the Qur’an are so different in their “make-up” that they must describe different beings. Let me give you a sample of these differences:

  • Knowability – both Christianity and Islam teach that God is unknowable in His essence, but Islam teaches that God cannot/does not reveal His true self to the created order, whereas the Bible makes clear God has revealed His heart to the human race through His interactions with His covenant people, and supremely through His Son, Jesus.
  • Nature – power or sovereignty is what is central to the nature of God in Islam; that is why the religion is so named: Islam means “submission,” thereby indicating the proper relationship of human beings, and indeed all creation, is voluntary submission to the will of its Creator. In Christianity, on the other hand, what is most central to the nature of God is love, and the Bible portrays God as One who seeks and saves His lost and rebellious creation. He is spoken of as a Father, a jilted Husband, a loving Shepherd, a tender Vinedresser, the God who comes into the world as one of us to bear our sins as the sacrificial Lamb of God that we may go free.
  • Nature, part II – even more telling, Islam speaks of the tawheed of God, an Arabic term built from the word for “one” (wahid) meaning “indivisible oneness.” As such, God cannot by nature be love, for love demands both a subject and an object, and for the eternity before creation came into being there was nothing for God to love – only God existed in His majestic, stark aloneness. Christianity, on the other hand, speaks of the Trinitarian nature of God, recognizing that while there is only one God, He has existed from eternity as a community of three persons sharing one essence, revealed to us in their relationships to each other as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because of this communal nature, God has always been a being of love, for even before the creation, God’s love was freely shared within the Trinity, each member giving himself in communion with the others.
  • Attributes – while both definitions of God share many attributes in common (omnipotence, omniscience, creativity, wisdom, justice, mercy, etc.), there are also significant differences, and after all, it is the differences that matter most. When seeking to decide between a real $20 bill and a counterfeit, it is not the hundreds of thousands of likenesses that matter, but the relatively few differences which are sometimes hard to spot. With regard to divine attributes, we discover a huge difference with regard to holiness. Although the God of the Qur’an is called holy twice (59:23; 62:1), this holiness is never explained; it remains merely a title. On the other hand, the God of the Bible is referred to as holy hundreds of times; even more hundreds of times, holiness is associated with God’s works and actions. As one scholar put it well, “If every reference to holiness was removed from the Quran, the Islamic faith would be barely touched, but if the same were to be done with the Bible, it would be absolutely gutted.”[i]

Likewise, with regard to divine love, we discover that eighteen times the God of the Qur’an shows an impersonal love (the impartation of material blessings and pleasures) toward those who earn His approval, but no personal relationship. Conversely, twenty-two times He declares He has no love (but rather rejection and hatred) toward those who resist His will. For more details on this, check out my previous blog here. On the other hand, the God of the Bible declares His love for sinners, even those in outright rebellion against him. As John 3:16 notes, God’s love for a recalcitrant world is shown in His sacrificing His Son for the evils of humanity. In Romans 5:8, the apostle Paul records the stunning truth that while we were still helpless sinners and enemies of God, He showed His love for us through the death of His Son (Romans 5:6, 8, 10). The biblical God’s love takes the initiative to love the unlovely; the qur’anic God’s love is reactive, showing itself as a reward for those who have pleased Him.

[i]Durie, Mark. Revelation? (City Harvest Publications: 2006), p. 108.

(To be continued with Part 2, tomorrow).

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The Best Kind of Horsing Around!

Our hearts stir with longing, don’t they, when we see signs of harmony between the human race and the animal kingdom? These types of encounters remind us of God’s promise that one day the fractures which separate us from God, from nature and from one another will finally be healed. Love will pervade all, and we will enjoy unfettered joy with everything and everyone in God’s redeemed heavens and earth.

Distressing times like today make this longing all the more piercing. Come, Lord Jesus, in the glory of your Kingdom!

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Revenge Is Not the Same as Terrorism

“When seeking revenge, dig two graves — one for yourself.”

— Douglas Horton

Three days ago, Welshman Darren Osborne drove 160 miles from home in order to cause mayhem to Muslims in Finsbury Park (famous for its once radical mosque which has reopened in a milder version after being shut down in 2003). Darren OsborneDriving in a rental truck shortly after midnight, Osborne intentionally veered into a crowd of Muslims who were on the sidewalk after evening prayers celebrating the month of Ramadan. This malicious attack wounded ten innocent people, and perhaps contributed to the death of a man who was already unwell on the ground being tended to by others. Officials have not yet released confirmation of whether or not the van attack contributed to his demise.

This appalling attack, obviously a copycat tactic modeled on the recent spate of Muslim terror attacks using trucks or other conveyances, was intentionally designed to victimize Muslims. All those with a modicum of humanity condemn this heinous act as we do all other attacks against innocent parties. Mr. Osborne is now under arrest and will receive judgment at the hands of the British justice system.

Interestingly, three parties have been quick to label this a terrorist attack, although authorities in the past have always been extra cautious to not use that label for days until overwhelming evidence has been gathered (even when terrorist groups such as ISIS have quickly claimed “credit”), instead using “possible terrorist incident” and urging the public not to jump to conclusions. In this instance, however, within a few hours politicians, the news media, and Muslim spokesmen used the “terrorism” label liberally, leaving no room for doubt. Even Prime Minister Theresa May climbed on the bandwagon, describing this attack as an instance of Islamophobic terrorism and pledging that she would do all in her power to squelch this now-burgeoning evil, as well as those pesky few “Islamist terror” incidents which seem to pop up now and then.

I happen to think they are wrong. The evil perpetrated by Darren Osborne is undoubtedly a hate crime, but not an act of terrorism. Why? His intention was not to “strike terror into the hearts” of his enemy (as Allah describes his own intentions against unbelievers in the Qur’an 8:12), but rather to exact revenge against a group he felt responsible for attacks against his fellow citizens on British soil. Though in his twisted thinking all Muslims are responsible for the acts of jihadis, and thus to target any is to get “just vengeance,” Osborne’s moral blindness must not obscure his motive: rage against those he perceived had perpetrated evil against “his nation.” As Shakespeare once penned:shylock

If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?                                                                                       — Shylock in The Merchant of Venice

Investigations so far have revealed that prior to the Westminster and London Bridge jihadi truck attacks, Osborne harbored no obvious ill will toward Muslims. His Muslim neighbors indicated he had typically been friendly, even helpful, to them, but that in recent weeks his attitude had dramatically changed, coinciding with the London Bridge attack. Add to that an unbalanced mental state (he had recently sought to be committed for mental health care, and when refused by health authorities he attempted to drown himself in the River Cardiff), and the testimony of his mother and sister that he had not one political bone in his body nor any pre-existing, anti-Muslim animus, and you are left with a troubled soul stewing in vengeful anger after watching recent Muslim terror attacks in his homeland, and finally giving vent to his rage.

As far as anyone can tell, Osborne is not the devotee of some belief system which commands the destruction of certain people groups or “unbelievers.” Nor is he connected to a network seeking to sow fear in a coordinated way among Muslims. His drinking buddies described him as “a loveable [sic] mentalist” (in American terms, an endearing nutcase). His private act of revenge was a “one and done” event, even according to his purported statements in the aftermath of his atrocity: “I want to kill Muslims…you deserve it…I did my bit.” and “This is for London Bridge.” There is nothing to indicate this is part of some larger plan in his or others’ minds to rain terror down on all Muslims in Britain or around the world. Rather, it has all the earmarks of a single act of vengeful rage, sadly directed at those who had nothing to do with the cause of his anger.

If this crime does not rightly fall under the designation of terrorism, nor is it accurately described as “Islamophobia.” That term, coined by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to play the victim card successfully in Western societies, paints Islam and its adherents as objects of irrational fear, and claims that for some unknown reason, Islam is the target of bigotry, racism and xenophobia. The fact that there is no comparable Western phobia to other seemingly exotic religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Jainism, or Zoroastrianism is left unexplained. The fact is, there is very little irrational fear in the West toward Islam, but much fear that is justified by the historical record of Islam as well as its recent role in worldwide terror. Darren Osborne showed no evidence of fear concerning Islam, only anger generated by Muslim terror attacks on his homeland that he apparently took personally.

Tsunday-politics-terror-ramadanhe attempt by some to play the moral equivalence game of Islamic terror on the one hand and Islamophobic evil on the other is risibly misleading. Since the 9/11 attacks, which most people use as a starting point in the study of modern terrorism, there have been over 31,000 lethal attacks by Muslims in the name of Islam/Allah. In that same time period, perhaps a hundred or so in the name of all other religions combined. In 2016, for example, jihadi Muslims accounted for 2478  attacks in 59 countries, in which 21237 people were killed and 26680 injured. As I write today, the Muslim world is in the last week of the special month of Ramadan, where Muslims are meant to show their devotion to Allah by surrendering all the desires in submission to Allah and his will. For more radical Muslims, this means not just fasting and doing good deeds, but engaging in jihad, which is the best of all deeds in Allah’s eyes. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, Ramadan is often the month in which an abundance of attacks are carried out by aspiring martyrs, who believe that their divine rewards will be exponentially multiplied if accomplished during this unique month in the Muslim calendar. So far, as of day 26 of Ramadan, 2017, there have been 149 Muslim terror attacks around the world, with a death toll of 1378 (this of course does not include the myriads wounded). In this same time period, there have been no recorded terror attacks in the name of any other religion. If you count deadly attacks on Muslims (leaving out those perpetrated by other Muslims), Darren Osborne stands out as the lone non-Muslim, non-religious actor, who injured 10 Muslims and possibly killed one.

All murder is evil, no matter who the victims are, for all the victims are fellow human beings, wrongfully deprived of the gift and blessing of life. But if we are going to make some headway in the “war against terrorism,” we need some perspective on the major engine generating this carnage. It is not Islamophobia, or xenophobia, or bigotry, or racism (please remember that Islam is a religion, not a race — Muslims come in all colors and backgrounds, as do Christians) that is fomenting terror around the world. The blunt truth is that core Islamic teaching intrinsically creates jihadis who engage in violence against non-Muslims because such a mindset is engrained in the DNA of Islam. Muslim terrorism sinks its deep roots into the rich soil of Muhammad’s authoritative teachings and actions.

If those who promise to fight terrorism on our behalf would face the real problem and work to undermine the jihadi and Shari’a guardians of Islam rather than giving them free rein in the West and on the world stage, then we would begin to see a diminution in the bloodshed and intimidation affecting so many innocents. As Islamic terrorism recedes from our shores, so will a fear of Muslims and the natural, if wrongly directed, desire for revenge. Theresa_e1087a_6216331If the British government had early on targeted the rising evidence of Islamic extremism in its midst rather than turning a blind eye and becoming apologists for a quixotic “multiculturalism,” perhaps they could have prevented the recent devastating attacks carried out by devoted Muslims. And if they had cleansed Britain of the jihadi mindset as well as those steeped in it, then there would be no Islamically-inspired atrocities against which to seek revenge, and Darren Osborne, though still a troubled man, would not be behind bars today, and ten innocent Muslims would be hale and hearty, going about their ordinary lives in peace.

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To Whom Should the Future Belong?

On September 25, 2012, former President Obama spoke to the United Nations two weeks after the riotous Benghazi attacks on the US Consulate resulting in the deaths of four Americans. At that time, the President and his administration were still blaming the attacks on an uploaded YouTube video entitled “The Innocence of Muslims,” which lampooned the life of Muhammad, even though they knew beyond any doubt that the video played no role in the Benghazi uprising.

This false charge, however, gave the President warrant for one of his more dramatic declarations during that speech: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

I am in full agreement with Mr. Obama’s statement. Slander is never a good thing; in fact, the Bible labels it a sin. To slander anyone is an evil act; how much worse when the object of that slander is highly revered by one fifth of the world’s population!

However, though I oppose slander, I am all in favor of telling the truth about someone, even when it is unpalatable, if such revelations will prevent others from being misled to their own detriment.

Early this month, a billboard message went up beside Interstate 465 on the eastern side of Indianapolis. billboardIt purports to describe “the Perfect Man,” though it never refers to anyone by name. Nevertheless, Muslims immediately took it as an attack on their prophet. Rima Shahid, the executive director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana, expressed her outrage, claiming the billboard’s message is one of hate. Other Muslims are calling this an example of bigotry, racism, Islamophobia, and again, “hate speech.” Democratic Congressman from Indiana, Andre Carson, one of two Muslims in the US House of Representatives, described it as “unacceptable, disappointing and … un-American.”

Why are Muslims so sure that this billboard points to their prophet? Perhaps, first of all, because one of the most popular titles for Muhammad in Islam is “the Perfect Man.” He is seen as the human ideal which all others are meant to emulate. And, no doubt, many Muslims know some of the sordid details from their own sacred sources (Qur’an, Hadith and Sira) that are encapsulated under the six bullet points on the billboard:

  • Married a 6 year old
  • Slave owner and dealer
  • Rapist
  • Beheaded 600 Jews in one day
  • 13 wives, 11 at one time
  • Tortured and killed unbelievers

For these to be made public in such a stark way is understandably upsetting to those who revere Muhammad as the primary object of their religious affection, along with Allah. Media interviews with Muslims lambaste the billboard’s claims as “vicious lies,” “completely false,” “negative narrative and rhetoric.” Some folks are lobbying to have the billboard removed by legal (or not so legal) means.

Interestingly, the billboard owner has come forward to identify himself and to issue a counter-challenge to those opposed to the message: The billboard will be removed immediately if anyone can prove its statements to be false.

And that’s the problem for Muslims — according to their own ancient sources, which they hold to be historically reliable, each of these claims is basically accurate, if starkly stated. So how can Muslims state so confidently that this is a smear campaign against the prophet, and such lies cannot be tolerated? I think there are only three possibilities:

  1. They are ignorant of their own sources, and cannot believe such things could be true of their prophet. Thus the claims must be the work of hate-filled bigots who will say anything to discredit Islam.
  2. They know these things are true, but are practicing taqiyya — religiously sanctioned lying to protect their religion when it is under attack.
  3. They have been raised to love and revere Muhammad to such a degree that even though they know these things about him to be true, they see them as insignificant flaws compared to the otherwise overwhelming brilliance (in their minds) of his character and life.

I believe the majority of Muslims are in the first category, whereas most well-informed, moderate, pious Muslims fall into the third category. It pains them to be confronted with the truths contained in their own early sources, and so they lie or dissemble in order to avoid having their cherished convictions challenged and the object of their affections tarnished publicly.

Truth and beauty are meant to go together, but in a fallen world truth has a second duty — to expose the ugliness of evil. When depravity is revealed, we have a choice: side with the truth, as painful as it may be to our past convictions, or reject the light and cloak ourselves in the darkness to avoid the hard work of rebuilding our lives on a more solid foundation.

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet. UN General Assembly Convenes In New YorkOn this we can all agree. But what about those who reveal the truth — truth that is available for anyone to find with just a little bit of research into orthodox Islamic literature? The billboard in question is telling the truth. The choice of allegiance is offered with no sugar-coating. Is anybody listenting? Does anybody care?

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PCUSA Coming Attractions (or Repellants)

In these days gender confusion and aberrant sexualities, the PCUSA has yearned to take the lead, but has sometimes been eclipsed by other mainline denominations who beat the heirs of Calvin and Knox to the front of the cultural line in championing LGBTQIAPK (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersexual, Asexual, Pansexual and Polygamous, and Kinkiness) causes.

Today, it is the United Methodist Church blazing the path that soon, no doubt, PCUSAers will travel down, “walking and leaping and praising tolerance.” According to a Juicy Ecumenism blog post by my friend and Methodist renewal worker, John Lomperis, the Northern Illinois Conference of the UMC earlier this week commissioned for deacon’s orders the first “openly non-binary trans person” for ministry. No doubt they are very proud of themselves.M-barclay-2017-commissioning

The individual in question, biologically a female, does not personally identify by either natural gender, and goes by the name M Barclay. Having rejected the feminine pronouns “she” or “her,” Barclay demands to be referred to by the use of “singular they pronouns.” This is rather amusing, since “they pronouns” were specifically constructed in the English language to express plural rather than singular objects.

However, M Barclay can find New Testament precedent for such conflation of singulars and plurals, should she wish any biblical support. In Mark 5:7ff., Jesus is having a conversation with a conflicted man, who refers to himself alternately in the singular and plural. His opening words to Jesus are, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, by God, do not torment me.” Jesus replies, “What is your name?” (the “you” referred to here is singular in the original Greek). legionThe man replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Mark picks up on this numerical confusion in his narration: “And he begged him (Jesus) eagerly not to sent them out of the country…; they begged him, ‘Send us to the swine, let us enter them. So he gave them leave.”

Of course, the confusion in this story is related to the fact that the man in question is possessed by a plethora of demons, and so sometimes the man is in focus during the conversation, other times the demons. Finally, when Jesus exorcises the evil spirits from the man, the numerical confusion is cleared up. From that point on, the former demoniac is “clothed and in his right mind, and spoken of in the masculine singular from that point on by all who know him.

So, M Barclay can find some biblical precedent if she wants personal pronouns referring to her to be of the “singular they” variety. However, as a self-identifying non-binary trans person, she may not like the company she’s in biblically, unless she ultimately receives from Jesus the same help the former demoniac did. One can always hope — and pray.

While we’re at it, perhaps we can expand our prayers to the PCUSA leadership and that of the other mainline denominations, whose minions are Legion. What a wonderful transformation it would be for Jesus to set these leaders free, clothedthat they may find themselves clothed and in their right minds, seated with gratitude at the feet of their true Master!

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What Do Putin and the Prophet Share in Common?

It would seem that Vladimir Putin, the contemporary Communist leader of Russia, and Muhammad, the 7th C. Arabian leader of the followers of Islam, should share little in common, particularly when it comes to metaphysics. Putin, a purported dialectical materialist, has a decidedly this-worldly orientation. Muhammad, on the other hand, seemed obsessed with how to live in light of the looming destinies either of Paradise or Hell. Putin apparently has little interest in the question of God. Muhammad claimed to be God’s spokesman.

On the other hand, both are purveyors of totalitarian ideologies which seek to bring the whole world under their sway. Both find it permissible to use military force to bring about their visions for humanity.

Yesterday, it became apparent that there is one other curious connection between the two — their denigration of women as weaker and less dependable than men (or at least than they themselves).

According to Bloomberg Politics, in a series of wide-ranging interviews conducted by Oliver Stone (to be released as a Showtime special from June 12-15), Putin argued the superiority of men over women with his declaration that he never has an off day as president of Russia because he’s a man. To clarify, he went on:

“I am not a woman, so I don’t have bad days. I am not trying to insult anyone. That’s just the nature of things. There are certain natural cycles.”

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin works out at a gym

Muhammad also viewed the female sex as weaker, prone to error, and hampered by “natural cycles.” From his own mouth came the words, now enshrined in the Qur’an:

“Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded….” (Qur’an 4:34)


“Women have such honorable rights as obligations, but their men have a degree above them…” (2:228).

Further, when it comes to legal testimony, we see that since women are so prone to error it is necessary to have two women to corroborate something, whereas only one man’s testimony carries the same weight:

“And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not found then a man and two women.” (2:282).

The inferiority of women according to the Qur’an is confirmed contextually by this report found in Bukhari, the most authoritative collection of the Ahadith:

Narrated by Abu Said Al-Khudri : Once Allah’s Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer)…. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Apostle ?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.” (Bukhari, 1.6.301)

Apparently, Allah doesn’t think much of women. At least not if we believe that Muhammad speaks infallibly for him. The prophet is able to back up his beliefs by appeal to divinity. Putin, on the other hand, having no god to rely on, falls back on male chauvinism and an argument from “nature.”

Fortunately, when Putin exits the stage of history, no one will any longer care (if they ever did) what he believed about male supremacy. His views will not be enshrined as an authority for future generations to follow.

Unfortunately, the same has not been true of Muhammad. According to Islamic doctrine, Muhammad is al-Insan al-Kamil, the “Perfect Human.” His teachings are to be believed without question, his example is to be followed as nearly as possible if one hopes to end up in Paradise. Today, the vast majority of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims exalt him as the paragon of human virtue. What he said about the role of women and their place in Allah’s Shari’a-driven society cannot be questioned without undermining his position as Allah’s perfect messenger. Muslims who seek to “modernize” Muhammad’s approach toward the female sex are in danger of apostasy by denying that their prophet’s words are Allah’s inspired words, incapable of change.

Misogyny is a terrible wrong in the hands of anyone. But when it becomes enshrined as the will of Allah, misogyny is no longer merely a personal sin but becomes a movement destructive of human society and harmony, demeaning half of the world’s population and shackling them from expressing and utilizing the full range of their God-given gifts for the expression of His glory and the well-being of His created order.

Putin and the prophet are strange and unpalatable bedfellows, especially to those who believe in the equality of the sexes.

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Watching a Remake of The Titanic — Presbyterian Church (USA) 2017

There’s a new captain at the helm, and a new course plotted for the voyage, but the good ship PCUSA continues to sink. Today, the Office of the General Assembly released its annual comparative statistical report for the denomination, highlighting numbers for 2016. Once again, it was not a pretty sight.Titanic-Hitting-The-Icebery

Jerry Van Marter, from the GA Communications Office wrote up a summary, and tried to spin it with as much sweetener as possible, but the news continues to be awful. The headline is factually correct in one way, but misleading: “…membership decline continues but slows.” In 2016, the denomination lost a net 89,893 members. According to Van Marter, this is the lowest numerical loss since 2011, when net losses were 63,804. This is not exactly accurate: net losses in 2013 were 89,296, some 600 less than 2016’s number, but why quibble? The fact of the matter is that the net loss numbers since 2012 have been dramatically high, and 2016 is not substantially different:

  • 2012  —  102,791
  • 2013  —  89,296
  • 2014  —  92,433
  • 2015  —  95,107
  • 2016  —  89,893

When you compare these with figures from 2001-2005, the difference is depressing (even back then the losses were depressing, but in 2001 the denomination had a million more members than it does today):

  • 2001  —  31,549
  • 2002  —  41,812
  • 2003  —  46,658
  • 2004  —  43,175
  • 2005  —  48, 474

As you can see, net losses just ten years ago averaged around half of what they are now, and the denomination was much larger then. One would expect that as the denomination shrinks the net losses would shrink as well, but that hasn’t happened yet. Another way to say that is this: back then the PCUSA was averaging a net loss of about 1-2% of its total membership. In the last two years, the average net loss per year has been 5.7%. It’s hard to sugarcoat that.

Van Marter also notes that the total number of church dismissals to other denominations has decreased to 99 — “…the fewest dismissals since 2011.” This is indeed accurate, but he fails to mention that the dismissal number in 2011 was 21, and the number dismissed in 2015 was 104, so the decrease in 2016 was not very significant. Even less so when you look at numbers of churches dismissed back in 2001-2005:

  • 2001  —  2
  • 2002  —  3
  • 2003  —  3
  • 2004  —  3
  • 2005  —  4

It’s crucial to look not just at churches dismissed (we all know that in 2016 presbyteries began sealing any further leaks, with some even going so far as to announce that they were no longer going to entertain dismissal petitions from member congregations). The other critical category is churches dissolved (usually because they are no longer viable). In 2015, the number of dissolutions was 91. Last year it was 97. In the years from 2001-2005, the average per year was in the upper 50s. One doesn’t need a Ph.D. in prophecy to project that numbers in this dissolution category will begin to skyrocket in the next decade as the PCUSA ages out and its members “graduate” in larger numbers. The majority of PCUSA congregations are small and elderly, and in a desperate holding pattern. down-decline-graphThe average size of a PCUSA congregation today is 157. I don’t have access to data for determination of the median size (the midpoint size where half of all PCUSA congregations are larger and the other half smaller), but I’m guessing it’s somewhere in the high 70s. This would indicate that thousands of churches are a small step from closure.

Nevertheless, Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson is awash in exuberance. “We are not dying,” he says. “We are Reforming [sic].” The secondary title of his official response is “Significant Aspects of the 2016 Statistical Report,” but in fact only one short sentence actually deals with the report at all, and that sentence is highly misleading: “Membership loss, which was experienced since the 1970s, is slowing down.” Actually, membership loss has been an unbroken trend since 1965. And as I have shown above, the claim that it is now “slowing down” is at this point wishful thinking. To lose 11% of the total membership of the denomination in two years’ time is hardly cause for celebration.

This is oddly reminiscent of the former Stated Clerk’s assessment of the 2013 statistical numbers. Gradye Parsons declared on May 29, 2014:

“Yes, the numbers reflect a decrease in active members in the denomination. But the numbers also illustrate fewer losses than the previous year. The membership declined by 89,296 in 2013, compared to 102,791 in 2012. We are meeting the challenges we have had and it’s showing,” he said. “And, our decline in total congregations is holding fairly steady.”

It’s the Titanic all over again. Steady as she goes.

J. Herbert Nelson says all the expected things to calm anxious hearts: “We are moving towards a new future as a denomination….Congregations are refocusing on their mission….We are well-respected for our priestly and prophetic voice within Christendom….We have much more than we recognize….I pray that a move of the Spirit will come over us in this new period of reform.”

grand ballroomBut as he speaks these uplifting words in the Grand Ballroom of the luxury liner, the passengers are huddled on the listing deck, crowding to get into the lifeboats, or just jumping overboard into the sea. It might be better for J. Herbert to cut short his paean of praise concerning the SS PCUSA and order his crew below decks to seek to repair the gashes in the hull — if they still know how to do that kind of work.

Otherwise, having contributed to the shipwreck of a once great ecclesiastical ship, it will be off to Davy Jones’ locker, Davy-Jonesand we observers from other vessels will watch with sadness as she slips to a cold and silent death.


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