Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "Who is Tom Daschle?," Oct. 12, 2002

Today, 38 states run lotteries and 30 allow and regulate casino gambling.

More darkness

Sara Herwig was a male, a husband, and a father, but in 1997 (following divorce) decided to switch gender and become a female, with the necessary medical assistance. Now "she" wants to be ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. She holds a Master of Divinity seminary degree.

The PCUSA's Boston Presbytery last month voted 45-32 to approve her as a candidate for ministry, a preparatory step to ordination. She is a worker at First Presbyterian Church in Waltham, Mass., which has an average Sunday attendance of 35 and is a "More Light" congregation. More Light congregations choose leaders regardless of sexual preferences.

Some presbytery members sought to postpone the decision in order to consult more resources and examine the matter more closely. The only resource they had was a six-page paper Ms. Herwig read, describing her "journey," the Presbyterian Layman reported. One of her main points: Problems of the transgendered are Western society's fault for insisting "that there can be only two genders and that these must be consistent with one's biological sex."

Among the dissenters was Rev. Richard Brondyke, who said the presbytery acted out of supposed compassion for the candidate without a basis for deciding whether it was the right thing to do. He told the Layman: "We had no presentation of a theological or biblical reflection on transgenderism; rather, we seemed to rely on one-sided psychology. If the PCUSA is going to be the Church, it must be willing to obey the Lord of the Church, not the winds of cultural relativism." | Edward E. Plowman

The view from the top

No news is good news. But if there must be news, then it should have the right spin. That seems to be the thinking of the gatekeepers of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

At last month's meeting of the PCUSA governing council, the 43 members considered a paper with some new guidelines aimed at controlling how staffers at the Presbyterian News Service report "sensitive" stories. Uppermost: the "institutional voice" of the PCUSA must be heard in the stories. In effect, it meant that if the news service, for example, reported on controversial action in or by a regional presbytery, the story would have to include counterpoint from headquarters.

Council member John Bolt, who is an Associated Press bureau chief in West Virginia and, as he said, "a journalist by God's calling," argued for defeat of the paper. He warned the language would allow administrators to spin stories to their own liking. There's too much interference already, he indicated. For example, he said, the news service at one annual PCUSA assembly had to change the first paragraph of a story "because it didn't exactly sound right" to some administrators. The news service's audience is Presbyterians in the pews, "not the people at [headquarters]," he declared. The service "exists to report on the church for the church."

Council member Marj Carpenter, a former moderator of the PCUSA and former director of the news service, also argued against the proposed revisions. The service "is not the institutional voice for the church," she asserted. "If we tie their hands too much, I guarantee you Presbyterians will find something else to read, and it won't be out of [headquarters] no matter how many communications experts we hire in different divisions."

Hers was a veiled warning about driving more PCUSA members to publications like the influential conservative Presbyterian Layman. It also was a putdown of top PCUSA administrators who are hiring their own spin doctors to produce sanitized messages.

Roots of the proposed changes go back to the news service's coverage of a speech by Rev. Dirk Ficca of Chicago in 2000. The story reported that Rev. Ficca questioned the biblical teaching that Christ is the only way to salvation, and quoted him as saying, "What's the big deal about Jesus?" As the story spread, the PCUSA plunged deeper into controversy. Administrators blamed the news service for "mishandling" the story and using the inflammatory quote.

When it came time for the council to vote, it was close: 22-21 not to approve the revised guidelines. | Edward E. Plowman

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