From Bill Sutter’s Desk Jan/Feb 2004
The continued, self-inflicted decline of mainline Protestant denominations was rarely more evident than during 2003.
While awaiting a flight at the Denver, Colorado, airport in May, a headline from The Denver Post captured my attention: “Opening service unites Presbyterians.” Eric Gorski, the newspaper’s religion writer, was reporting the start of the weeklong, 215th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) being held at the Colorado Convention Center.
Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, the first Arab-American to lead a major denomination, played a key role in the service, completing his year as assembly moderator. In a burst of anti-Israel rhetoric, this Presbyterian leader addressed the assembly.
Gorski wrote, “He said Palestinian Muslims and Christians need to for- give Israeli Jews for conquering them and taking their land, and Israeli Jews need to refrain from violence and recognize lasting peace hinges on both parties having peace.”
In total disregard of the facts, Rev. Abu-Akel chose to depict Israelis as the violent conquerors of the Middle East who are victimizing their peace-loving, Palestinian neighbors.
My initial reaction was to marvel that the leadership of the Presbyterian Church (USA) would be so publicly bent on hastening the exodus of people from its pews. History bears witness that truth-seeking churchgoers will not sit indefinitely under clergy who consistently spin national and international events according to the dictates of political and theological liberalism. Presbyterian congregants have a vote, albeit a different type of vote, than that of their convention delegates. They vote with their feet.
According to PCUSA statistics, it has lost 328,437 members over the past ten years, or 11.8 percent of its congregants. Although not everyone left because of liberal theology, sociology professor Ken Sanchagrin told The New York Times, “When I looked at those [churches] that were declining, most were moderate or liberal churches. And the more liberal the denomination,…the more they were losing.”
A second bombshell detonated in August, this time at the triennial general convention of the Episcopal Church, USA (ECUSA). At the center of this explosion was the convention’s vote to approve the election of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Robinson is an active homosexual. In a further assault on biblical standards, the convention officially sanctioned same-sex unions.
Headlines about these events ranged from “Formally Heretical” (World, 8/16/03) to “A House Divided” (Time, 8/18/03) to “Gays Force the Issue” (U.S. News and World Report, 8/18-25/03).
Conservative ECUSA leaders, including clergy delegate Kendall Harmon from the Diocese of South Carolina, fought unsuccessfully on the side of biblical orthodoxy. Harmon, editor of the Anglican Digest, summarized the significance of the convention’s actions: “A major line was crossed,” he said. ECUSA “is now formally heretical in its teaching about the family.”
Opinions vary on the future of the ECUSA and its larger and more conservative international body, the Anglican Communion. However, it is clear that the membership losses the ECUSA has experienced in recent decades will persist. In the 1990s, the Episcopal Church shrunk by 5.3 percent.
Yet the problem here is not the ECUSA ’s loss of members or its divisions and splits. The real tragedy is that a major “Christian” denomination can so officially disregard the Bible and so flagrantly violate God’s standards.
A friend of mine told me recently she used to attend a large ECUSA church in South Jersey until the wife of the former minister told her one day, “I don’t believe in God. And Father [the presiding minister] doesn’t either. I’m very sure of that.” My friend said she left and never turned back.
God will surely hold these leaders accountable for supplanting the authority of His Word with the quick- sand of political correctness.
As we enter the New Year, we may find it increasingly unpopular to support Israel. But God’s Word is clear, and His way has never been popular. The Friends of Israel has consistently proclaimed the glorious, “unpopular” truth of the Bible throughout its worldwide ministries for sixty-five years. And with this issue of Israel My Glory, you will see how God loved the Jewish people years ago—just as He loves them today.
Our prayer is that God’s truth about His people and His standards of righteousness will fill your life—for His glory.