Category Archives: popular media

Presbyterians And Brexit

On the eve of the referendum in the United Kingdom on whether they should leave the European Union I wanted to very quickly look at where various Presbyterians stand on the issue.

To my knowledge, the only top governing body or denomination that has taken a stand is the 2016 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland which endorsed remaining in the European Union. In the article the convener of the Church and Society Council, the Rev. Sally Foster Fulton, says that it is a work in progress and remaining is the only way to influence the transformation.

While the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has not taken a stand, they did publish an article to help people understand the referendum and think about it.

And some churches have been hosting debates as well including the London Kirk and Craigy Hill Presbyterian Church.

If there is another official denominational voice on this please let me know and I would be happy to update.

There are some prominent individual voices that have weighed in so sticking with the Church of Scotland one of those voices is the Hanna Mary Goodlad, the Moderator of the National Youth Assembly, who was highlighted in a separate article articulating reasons to stay. She tied it to her trip to the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial Centre and Cemetery in Bosnia where more than 5,000 people are buried, the scene of the worst European genocide since World War II. The message was Europe is more peaceful and stable if it is united.

There are prominent individual voices on the other side. One of these is the Rev. David Robinson, the immediate past Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, who says that after spending no small amount of time studying the issue:

[Democracy] is for me the key issue. Those who make our laws should be accountable to those for whom they are made. The elected should answer to the electorate. The demos needs a democracy. And the European project is fundamentally at its core anti-democratic.

And for a very different perspective, from Northern Ireland we have the Rev. David McMillan of the Free Presbyterians who favors leaving. The article in the Irish Times talks about his view that the European Union was prophesied by Daniel and that “this union of nations would bring to a close ‘the Times of the Gentiles'(the end of the world)”.

I will leave it at that.

Our prayers are with the UK tomorrow as they make this important decision.

Review Of The BBC Documentary “An Independent People”

I had heard about the BBC – Northern Ireland producing a documentary on Ulster Presbyterians titled “An Independent People.” Well, it is now released and was broadcast on the BBC this past week with the final part airing last night.

Since it was on the BBC it is available on their iPlayer, but that did not help those of us outside the UK. Well, this past weekend I found it on YouTube and spent some time watching it. In short – I was not disappointed!

This is a documentary that presbynerds and those interested in Presbyterian church history will enjoy and I suspect that others with a more passing history of Presbyterianism will as well.  As I will explain in a moment, the first episode is a good general background for any Presbyterian and the second episode has some interesting background for Americans – Presbyterian or not.

This is a three-part documentary, each part one hour long, hosted by BBC NI religion correspondent William Crawley. The program presents the history of the Ulster Presbyterians with a wonderful balance of Mr. Crawley’s narrative, expert quotes, historical and current imagery, and plenty of location shots at historical sites. I don’t think there is a studio shot in the whole three hours.

But beyond the visual richness of the series it does a great job of explaining the history and the individuals behind it without taking sides in the many conflicts and controversies throughout the history. While it seemed to me that it presented a fairly complete history – and helped fill in several holes in my understanding of the Ulster Presbyterians – I do not have a deep enough knowledge of the history to know if there were any glaring errors or omissions.

It is also worthwhile to note that it sticks very close to the Ulster Presbyterians so when it talks about Scottish or American Presbyterians it is only to the extent that the Irish were involved. The primary exception is the very beginning when the origins of Presbyterianism in Geneva and Scotland are discussed.

The first episode titled “Taking Root” begins by recounting that early history and then the first wave of Scots to Ulster in the Plantation movement and resistance they found there. The next episode is “Seeds of Liberty” and talks about the Ulster Presbyterians in American and the ideas of the Enlightenment they brought with them that found expression in the American Revolution. It also discusses how that revolution, the French Revolution and the Enlightenment influenced Ireland. The final episode is “Union and Division” and traces the history in the Union of the UK and the divisions within Ireland as well as touching on the early Presbyterian missionary efforts.

The program was produced by Below the Radar for the BBC. You can find @williamcrawley and the show’s producer Fiona Keane (@fikeane) on Twitter. There are notices from both the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland promoting the show. In addition to the BBC the show was funded in part by the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.

A trailer/ad is also available but I’m not sure it does the series justice — but what can you do in 30 seconds?

As you can probably figure out, the title reference to an independent people works on many levels. For those that think Presbyterian realignments are a new phenomenon this series makes it clear that it is not.  Mr. Crawley begins the third episode with this lede:

[P]resbyterianism has always been a fractious faith. The democracy that defines it also creates division and dissent.

While the Ulster Presbyterians have components of their history that are unique in the Presbyterian universe, much of their history has interesting influences and parallels throughout global, and especially western, Presbyterianism. This documentary does a good job of helping us see where those puzzle pieces fit in the larger picture.

UPDATE: After posting this I found that Gladys Ganiel had written about the series. Some interesting insights from her background living in both The States as well as currently in Belfast. She did alert me to one error in the program – the statement that Francis Makemie founded the first Presbyterian Church in America. The program could have meant the oldest active congregation but a Long Island congregation founded by English Presbyterians in the 1640’s is generally regarded as the first. Makemie did however organize the first presbytery. But Gladys has a good point that I remember no mention of Amy Carmichael in the third episode and generally little coverage of the role of women in the history. She has also written some thoughts on the first episode.

UPDATE: Another insightful review and discussion of the program by Steve Stockman on his blog Soul Surmise. (And thanks to @alaninbelfast for bringing it to my attention.)

New Pastoral Terminology – Or – Is That Above His Pay Grade?

I am trying to figure out if this is now standard terminology, or if the New York Time has invented a new pastoral position description that we need to consider for the Book of Order (tongue firmly in cheek).

This is from the controversy around President-elect Obama’s choice to have Baptist pastor, the Rev. Rick Warren, give the invocation at the presidential inauguration.  The Times article begins with this:

President-elect Barack Obama this morning defended his choice of
evangelical megapastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at next
month’s swearing-in, saying that although he differs with the
conservative pastor on social issues, he wants to have diverse voices
at the ceremony.

So, what we have in Rick Warren is not a pastor of a megachurch, we have a megapastor.  So, if we are going to write this into the constitution, alongside pastor, designated pastor, associate pastor, etc., what are the requirements and qualifications?  Is it the size of the church, or the size of the shadow?  I’ll have to think about this.

Anyway, if you want to look at this controversy a bit more seriously, there is a nice wrap-up of several of the different news reports at GetReligion.

UPDATE 12-29-08:  I should have done my research first.  A quick check on Google reveals that the term “megapastor” has been around for at least a couple of years and while the term seems to get applied to the Rev. Warren the most, a few others (who you could probably guess) get the term applied to them by the mainstream media.  Writing popular books seems to be a common thread as well as having multi-thousands of attendees at your church.

Religion Commentary on CNN web site

In this week where religion stories with some “mass appeal” seem to appear on the cover of every news magazine and evening news broadcast, the CNN web site is carrying a very smart and honest commentary by contributor Roland Martin.  Now, there is a tie-in here since the commentary goes by the same name as a current feature on CNN called “What would Jesus really do?” that, from the description, seems to be a roundtable discussion by the likes of Rick Warren and Jerry Falwell.  (I don’t have cable so I don’t know if I’ll ever see it.)

Mr. Martin takes on the current climate of the (predominantly white) evangelical churches in the US that seem to have their focus on two issues: abortion and homosexuality.  He says: “Ask the nonreligious what being a Christian today means, and based on what we see and read, it’s a good bet they will say that followers of Jesus Christ are preoccupied with those two points.”

But he is even handed here and while he criticizes the religious right for this narrow focus, he also points out the religious left’s liberal attitude about what is sin.  But one of his strongest points is that the predominantly “white” church shares little in common with the priorities of the predominantly African-American church.  If we are all Christians, it would speak well of us to at least understand each other’s perspective and focus.

Yes, this is commentary and his opinion, but he makes a good case and it is a good read which should provoke the reader to some thought.