reports minister’s “grassroots response” to withhold money from
Like, this is a new and creative idea??
Shouldn't the Layman claim some credit for pushing this for
The Layman’s report >>
Confession is good for the soul
... even in journalism
Berry Craig [3-7-05]
We live in
the journalistic Reign of Error. Scribes great and small regularly goof on
radio and TV and in print.
and Parker T. Williamson, a pair of preacher-pundits, come to mind. Moyers
‘fessed up to his foul-up. Williamson didn't.
The two are
not soulmates, theologically or politically. Moyers is a well-known
liberal TV journalist. He was an ordained Southern Baptist pastor.
Williamson, a Presbyterian minister, is CEO of the conservative
Presbyterian Lay Committee. He is also editor-in-chief of the
organization's publications. Moyers grabbed headlines after he gave a
speech in which he repeated a quote often attributed to James Watt, Ronald
Reagan’s loopy interior secretary.
quoted Watt’s purported prediction that "after the last tree is felled,
Christ will come back." Watt was famous for nutty comments, just not the
fool’s gold Moyers mined. Watt wrote a letter-to-the-editor of the
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, protesting that he said nothing about
tumbling timber and the Second Coming. Moyers rechecked his source and
found the quote was bogus. He apologized in a letter-to-the-editor to the
Star-Tribune. Moyers also told Editor & Publisher that he
telephoned Watt and faxed him a letter of regret.
Witherspoon Society posted [a link to] the text of Moyers' speech on
Witherspoon on the Web, the group's Internet site. "We regret our
minor role in perpetuating what is apparently a long-standing distortion
of Mr. Watt's views," wrote Doug King, webmaster. At the same time, King
suggested that "given the Layman's refusal to retract what it said about
Mark Achtemeier, Moyers' response makes an interesting contrast."
Read this posting >>
Williamson's controversial Layman Online article, which is still
stirring the blood of Presbyterian cognoscenti. "The Rev. Dr. Mark
Achtemeier, associate professor of systematic theology at the University
of Dubuque Theological Seminary and a member of the General Assembly Task
Force on Peace, Unity and Purity (PUP), told a seminary class...that his
position on homosexuality represents a 'departure from the Biblical
tradition,' ” Williamson wrote.
More about the
Layman article and debate >>
aren’t exactly gay-friendly. Evidently, Williamson took Achtemeier for a
kindred spirit before his students outed him. Some people, Williamson
wrote, had viewed Achtemeier as “an evangelical voice on the task force.”
didn't quote Achtemeier. His sources were “students who were in the
classroom.” He didn’t name them. Williamson, playing the role of objective
reporter, explained that "The Layman Online made numerous attempts ... to
contact Achtemeier for clarification of his comments, but he did not
return telephone calls."
PresbyWeb reply, Achtemeier dissed Williamson's story as
"categorically false" and "grounded in distorted, hearsay reports." He
demanded "that the editors of the Layman retract the article and
issue a printed public apology." Williamson refused. Since, Lay Committee
friends and foes have joined the fray, sizzing cyberspace with letters to
one website or another.
I'm a left-wing, card-carrying Witherspooner. But my problem with
Williamson's story has nothing to do with his theology or his politics.
It's his reporting.
turned to teaching, I was a daily newspaper reporter for more than a dozen
years. I suspect my editors would have sat on Williamson's story until he
got Achtemeier on the horn. That would have been my call had I been riding
defended himself on The Layman Online. He said his article was held
for seven days "during which the Layman's editorial office made daily
telephone calls to Dr. Achtemeier's office, both to his voice mail and to
seminary personnel." Williamson explained that “on the fifth day [nice
Genesis imagery], the Layman reached Mrs. Achtemeier at their home
telephone, explained the purpose of the numerous telephone calls, and
learned that he had been informed of the Layman Online's attempts to reach
him, but chose not to return the calls while he was out of town."
Williamson, this old reporter understands the frustration of trying to
track down important sources for a story and coming up empty-handed. It's
doubly difficult with deadlines looming and editors glowering.
Layman Online isn't a daily newspaper with daily deadlines. I doubt it
needs scoops to beat the competition. Williamson should have waited
and talked with Achtemeier. “A good reporter will get the story in its
entirety, no matter how long it takes,” the Rev. Tom Armstrong, a former
reporter and editor wrote PresbyWeb about the Williamson-Achtemeier
Being one of
the Frozen Chosen, I don’t usually do “amens.” But I’ll do one for
Williamson wrung nothing more than a “no comment” from Achtemeier, he
could have put that in the story and saved himself considerable grief. To
be sure, mainstream journalists often use unnamed sources who attribute
controversial statements to subjects of news articles. Good reporters give
subjects a fair chance to respond. If reporters initially don’t, editors
make sure that they do. Otherwise, it’s bushwhacking like Williamson’s
Williamson’s story is hearsay, as the professor charged. By relying on
unnamed sources exclusively, Williamson is guilty of shoddy reporting at
suggested that Williamson’s response to Achtemeier’s criticism just made
The Layman’s chief scribe look worse. “Let your journalistic
practices stand or fall on their own merit,““ he wrote. “The more you have
to justify yourself, the less professional you look.”
I screwed up
my share of stories when I was a reporter. Like Moyers, I felt obliged to
own up to my miscues and to try to make appropriate amends. Bill Moyers
accepted his responsibility to James Watt. It’s a pity Parker T.
Williamson won’t do likewise with Mark Achtemeier.
Craig is a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and
Technical College in Paducah and a former feature writer and columnist for
the Paducah (Ky.) Sun.
A modest correction [1-5-04]
The Layman Online has just
posted an article by John H. Adams about the
flood of letters they've been receiving - "94 percent in support of
[Parker] Williamson" as he faces the possibility that
presbytery may not validate his ministry as chief executive officer of
the Presbyterian Lay Committee and editor in chief of its publications.
Of the tiny pile of letters not expressing support for
Williamson, which Adams labels "some of the most incendiary," the first is
from Richard S. Hong, whose note he summarizes:
For instance, Richard S. Hong suggested that
Williamson pack his bags, go find a real job and cease his 'attack-dog
pseudo journalism.' Hong comes from a wing of the denomination that has
been trying for decades to repeal the PCUSA's historical ban against
ordaining practicing homosexuals and adulterers. He is the treasurer of
the Witherspoon Society.
Not much we can add to that, except to offer a slight
correction about mere facts: Mr. Hong did indeed serve as treasurer of the
organization until a year ago, and we appreciate his service. He no longer
occupies that position, however, as a new treasurer was elected last
We wonder whether this will be added to the "incendiary"
|Lay Committee urges Presbyterians to
consider redirecting gifts
In what may be its
clearest move in a long line of recommendations that conservative
Presbyterians give their money to anything but the denomination, the
Presbyterian Lay Committee has adopted a "Declaration of Conscience."
The statement opens with a declaration that "spiritual
schism exists within the Presbyterian Church (USA) because of a deep and
irreconcilable disunion among its members over the person and work of
Jesus Christ, the authority of God's Word written, and God's call to a
holy life. We are two faiths within one denomination." The statement
concludes that "without systemic change, the PCUSA will collapse."
In light of the coming collapse, the Lay Committee urges
"those who remain committed to reform and renewal of the PCUSA and those
who are seriously studying new forms of our connectional life ... to work
together for the glory of God and the strengthening of His witness in the
The concrete way of doing this, of course, is the tactic
that the Lay Committee has pressed for years: encouraging Presbyterians to
use their dollars for anything but "the General Assembly per-capita budget
or the unrestricted mission budget of the PCUSA."
here for the full text of the Lay Committee statement.
You may want to
read the Layman Online report, too.
|The Presbyterian Layman
has been a matter of concern to many Presbyterians for years.
While the Witherspoon Society is not interested in
attacking that journal for the beliefs it expresses, we do wish to offer
occasional statements correcting what we perceive as distortions in some
of their reports and articles.
Here is the first of those statements. If you
see stories to which you would like to offer an informed
correction, please feel free!
Just send a note to the Webweaver, and we'll do all we
can to share it with our wider audience. Now's your chance
to speak up for another version of the truth!
It may help us to understand the current tensions in
the Presbyterian Church if we see some conservative efforts as
reflecting the larger picture of "the paranoid style in American
politics." Witherspooner Berry Craig offers these reflections. He
is an associate professor of history at Paducah Community College, and a
member of Mayfield, Ky., First Presbyterian Church.
Justice comments on a Layman editorial, disputing the notion
that pastors should instruct their elder commissioners on how to vote at
presbytery, and that any commissioner should feel compelled merely to
"represent" his or her congregation. [3-7-01]
Check out other comments by attorney Doug
Nave and elder Marcia Casais,
each offering their own concerns with the Layman's notion of
voting "in lockstep," as Justice calls it. [3-8-01]
Kellam-Scott, a Presbyterian elder and moderator of Semper Reformanda,
is a professional writer. Out of that experience she does a careful
analysis of the Jan/Feb 2001 issue of The
Presbyterian Layman. Asserting that information
matters, she urges that we take seriously the
"misinformation" that is so influential in our church.
Dean Lewis has shared with us
his response to a recent article in the Layman, drawing on his
own knowledge of and concern for the continuing witness of Presbyterians
in Cuba. He wrote it originally as a letter to the Editor of the Layman,
but offers it here as well.
Click here for
more about Dean Lewis and the background
he brings to this concern.
The story by Celia Cejas on page 6 of the March-April
issue of The Presbyterian Layman, supposedly recounting a
"piece of history," contains several glaring errors as well as
a wholly unwarranted attack on the integrity of the Presbyterian
Christians who decided to stay in Cuba during the 1960s rather than
abandoning their church and homeland as she did.
Ms. Cejas is certainly correct in describing La
Progresiva as "one of the most prestigious institutions on the
island" but it was not "for anyone in Cuba to attend."
The Founder, Robert L. Wharton, was a son of the South and as long as he
remained Director no Black Cuban could attend La Progresiva or any other
of the network of Presbyterian schools. It was only after Emilio
Rodriguez Busto succeeded him in 1941 that this policy changed.
It is a canard to suggest that this fine Christian
educator abandoned the policy of religious services and spiritual
formation that Celia Cejas rightly remembers as the pervasive ethos of
La Progresiva. It was continued under his leadership up until the very
day in 1961 on which La Progresiva and all other private schools in Cuba
Celia Cejas has it exactly backward concerning the
participation of students of La Progresiva against the dictatorship in
1956 when she graduated. It is true that several took an active role and
some died - but it was in the struggle against the US-supported
dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, not against "the communist
Perhaps the most startling assertion is that "The
Presbyterians in Cardenas are no more." To the contrary, there has
not been a time since 1900 when there were no Presbyterians in Cardenas.
Along with numerous other Presbyterians from the United States, I have
worshiped in that vital, committed and growing congregation several
times in recent years. I assume that the confused reference by Ms. Cejas
to "this Council of Reformed Churches" refers to the
Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba. That church was organized in
January 1967 after the Presbytery of Cuba overtured the General Assembly
of the United Presbyterian Church to be dismissed to form an autonomous
national church as most other mission churches had already done. The
overture was submitted in proper order, was approved by the General
Assembly, and Stated Clerk William P. Thompson represented the General
Assembly at the formation of the church in Cuba. It, by the way, is the
only member of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches that confesses
both its democratic governance (Presbyterian) and its doctrine
(Reformed) in its name. It is willfully perverse to describe it "as
an integral part of the revolution of Fidel Castro."
Ms. Cejas and many other Cuban Presbyterians decided
to leave in the 1960s. Their decision has always been respected by the
Cuban Presbyterians who decided to stay in Cuba. They have kept faithful
Christian worship and made costly Christian witness as a small but
tenacious church. It is difficult to understand why many Cuban
Presbyterians in the United States, such as Celia Cejas, have not been
willing to respect the decision - and the Christian faith - of their
brothers and sisters who chose to remain in their native land to
maintain a Presbyterian witness to the Christian faith.
I would not expect the Presbyterian Layman to
edit Ms. Ceyas' uncharitable attitude toward the Presbyterians in Cuba,
but you could at least have checked the facts.
DEAN LEWIS, Medanales NM
March 24, 2000
Internet address: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rev. Dean Lewis says this
about the background that he brings to this issue:
When I left the General Assembly staff in 1988, I had
served for 20 years as the Director of the Advisory Council on Church
and Society and its predecessor bodies. I was also serving concurrently
as Associate Executive Director of the General Assembly Mission Council
(both in the former UPC of course.)
In retirement, I am a member of the Presbytery of
Santa Fe and serve as the convenor of its Cuba Work Group which manages
the mission partnership between the Synod Council of the Presbyterian
Reformed Church in Cuba and the Presbytery of Santa Fe, established in
1992. I have made 10 visits to the Presbyterian Church in Cuba since
1990, including participation in the last three meetings of the national
synod of that church. I have visited in nearly all the congregations of
the PRCC and repeatedly in the seminary it sponsors jointly with the
Methodist and Episcopal churches of Cuba and in the national
Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center. I have done research in the
archives of the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia related
to the history of Cuban Presbyterianism, and read in the original
language both Rafael Cepeda's book on Presbyterianism in Cuba and Emilio
Rodriguez Busto's book on the history of La Progresiva.
I was also one of the founders of the Presbyterian
Cuba Connection, an unofficial network within the PC(USA), established
in 1996 to inform Presbyterians in the US about the life and work of the
PRCC and to generate financial support for its needs. I serve as the
Executive Secretary of the organization.
Internet address: email@example.com
Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!