Two Dirty Introductions
Mr. Scott references Part 1 as his introduction to Part 2. He just jumps to his thesis, “I also mentioned that the more troubling revelation from the Big Leak, in my opinion, is the Big Reveal About the Character of Some NP Detractors.” Similarly, I’ll introduce my characterization of his Big Reveal, and then introduce one dogged detractor in light of that disclosure.
Smear: to spread a liquid or a thick substance over a surface; to publicly accuse someone of something unpleasant, unreasonable, or unlikely to be true in order to harm their reputation
Scott jumps from a defense of NP to criticism of its detractors. In so doing, he smears the important topics-- politics, secrecy, character-- with a paste of fault-finding and character ________-ing (careful diction fails). Disagreement with the NP must now slog through his representation of the other side. He has made the Big Leak a much more distasteful business than merely mopping up.
He could smear over the leaks with some thick anecdotal examples from church history. The Gospel Coalition or Acts 29 might yield recent parallels: organizations of admired men with laudable goals beset with vocal critics. The Fellowship of Saint James might unfortunately be too obscure a comparison, though it should be familiar from PCA History Exams. Instead, he gunked up the discussion by asserting about the detractors-- unpleasant things, things unreasonable on the face of his presentation, frankly unlikely to be true based on publicly available information.
The rhetorical argument is ad hominem. The clanging critics are hypocrites. They maintain a “double standard” and display “selective outrage.” These Gong Show hosts are divisive, pantomiming the disqualification of men for petty disagreements. They do not critique and disagree. They speak “war and witch hunts.” Hypocritical and divisive men forfeit a hearing.
Before I put on a glove to muck about, let me raise my honest right hand. I first spoke up in July 2021. The Reformation replaced Bishops with courts; did the PCA replace Bishops with senior pastors? I do not know if the aptness of this critique is scalable. It is scanty to argue from anecdotes to 88 presbyteries. The NP however is a dead ringer; but, please pardon and cut short my evasiveness. Gunk, what gunk? But, look right here: a plausible hypocrite caught in the very act in this very paragraph!
Before I glove up my other obviously sinister hand-- I must profess-- I have not engaged in the purportedly divisive wrangling about the NP’s putative progressive agenda. Please go read my other articles. NP didn’t show up as understandable to me until the Big Leak. I have called for presbyterianism. I have not called the NP gnostic or even narcissistic, but Mr. Scott demands that any critic give an account of himself. We were talking about something else-- what was it-- seemed important; but enough about me, ol’ NP buddy. What do me-myself-and-I think about le moi, that fellow, your detractor? That’s the stink, right?
This clumping grit and stink is just right for obscuring the puddled leaks. With the generosity of a neighboring feral cat lady in a real emergency, Scott has upended ten ripe and overflowing litter boxes on the sloshing basement floor.”Water, what water? Scientifically speaking, that’s a solution! Oh, no problem with leaks and plumbing; but it sure stinks in here. It's those horrible cats." I wish I had a third blue glove for my gag reflex.
I’m the same guy even with these gloves, and this I-will-not-vomit countenance. I’m resigned to the fact that mopping up will be no less necessary after we clear all this ______ (again, diction fails). Gonna need a shovel first. Mr. Scott has changed the task. I can’t really do more than organize it in piles, but you’ll be able to see how it befouls my protective blue industrials. Then I’ll take off the gloves for a clean break between PCA polity and NP politics.
“Oh, the hypocrisy!”-- Bugs Bunny.
Is the first rule of Fight Club, “You don’t talk about Fight Club"? Are there many detractors of the NP? Do many think the NP is fermenting bad brew for the denomination? Yes, yes, and yes. Being a man of honor and a rule keeper, Mr. Scott tries as much as possible to talk about others without flaunting his gift of confidentiality. As Mr. Scott dismisses the hoi polloi unnamed, let’s follow the gesture of his accusatory finger to the elite adversaries. He doesn’t want to talk about Fight Club, but he sure wants to talk about somebody else.
The GRN. Some acronyms are so good, you forget the name. The GRN. Sounds like a moderately sized and generally efficient node in the bureaucracy of a small Western European nation. The GRN. Maybe, the secret police of a small Eastern European nation. What does GRN stand for? I have read scores of announcements, summaries and news articles about them over the years.
I’m amazed at how many jests about the GRN leap to mind unbidden. Heck, I even know that they cranked up when general provocation assumed the face of a Teaching Elder with an unforgettable and unspellable name, whom hardly anyone remembers now. I’m not GRN, I’m not schooled by GRN, but even I know that GRN is as public as one can get. To be well schooled in the GRN would only take patience, time and too many videos. It would not require being vetted and included-- nor anything like espionage. Still, secrecy is only something that goes bump in the night until it is either compromised-- or is repeatedly championed as a virtue, as some do.
Mr. Scott’s manly confrontation of the GRN is not only a smear of obfuscation but a smear of reputation. For my part this is all difficult. It is a harrowing moment in ecclesiastical controversy when public fidelity requires defense of men who burgeon with hilarity for one’s every base, petty and idiosyncratic prejudice. I agree with a good bit of what I hear associated with GRN. I just have had neither necessity nor leisure to go looking into it much. I freely admit that to a significant degree this indolence rests on things at best negligible if not questionable about myself. GRN, you’re surely better than people like me idly think.
Mr. Scott, calls me out: “Where is your outrage over the GRN? Where are your blog posts?” This obsessive presbyterian knows much more about the GRN than he does about the NP. “The GRN runs a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a YouTube channel, a Vimeo channel, a website.” I don’t have time to engage with all their content, but I am in fact not allowed to even know the content of the members-only NP online discussion groups. “Many of their activities are strategically aligned to coincide with GA and major votes.” Public advocacy cycling like the church year neither distresses me nor disdains our polity, but the secret counterpart in the NP has hummed quietly in the same calendrical rhythm for 9 years. Mr. Scott surely would press me: the GRN is the same as the NP-- just everyone knew everything about it the whole time!
“Pastor Fred Greco stated clearly and without equivocation, ‘I’m on a national campaign to get you to vote for Overture 23.’” Every single session and presbyter or any slightly odd PCA college kid could thoughtfully consider: “Am I persuaded by the claims of that performatively near homonym for an affable lizard car insurance salesman?” Meanwhile, the NP hasn’t been on a national campaign at all; they just surreptitiously target General Assembly appointments in 88 presbyteries. They left out of their campaign as many people as necessary and as many as possible. We’ll get to polity and politics later, but for now see that Mr. Scott considers secret procedure and strategy nothing more than politics.
B-B-B-But what about your hypocwitic oath, Doctor? -- Elmer Fudd
Mr. Scott is flabbergasted with me. Why do I “neglect to talk about,” and “not address” and even “not speak out against” the GRN. I profess concern for “poor pastors” (oh, and also for real and royal ruling elders) “who didn’t realize there was this force of politicking in the PCA.” Why the silence-- because GRN is semi-truck on I-95 LOUD. Hissing, rumbling, klaxon backing up, and dropping the dumpster outside my window at 6:15 in the morning-- LOUD. Frankly, I think elders also have their eyes open and can see the GRN, even though they can’t see the NP. What about “GRN’s constant troubling of the waters in the PCA”: there is a conclusion framed as a question. Questions are proffered for answering; smears are applied to cover and conceal, or to disqualify opponents from debate-- or both.
Has the GRN engaged in “clear promotion of members to positions of influence and decision making?” I don’t actually know if this is specific and spot on, but it is a reasonable possibility that could be documented from their garrulous public output. Why no outrage: because it’s not a strategy depending on concealment and stealth like the NP. “Why not speak out against this well-funded and highly-organized constituency steamrolling others as they pursue particular aims for the denomination?” That’s simple: presbyters are competent adults. I don’t think they need protection from advertising, but they deserve warning against scammers; and scammers should stop trying to slip them the mickey. I see no steamroller. I see lots of unprotected drinks on the bar. It's a trusting crowd.
Mr. Scott then expresses mild pique: “At this point many will shift the goal posts. ‘It’s not that the NP is political,’ they’ll say. ‘It’s that it’s all so secretive. The confidentiality is the problem.’” For my part, I said the apparently stupid thing first, and I’ve only expressed disgust at the appeal for politics in reply to Mr. Scott’s stout embrace of it. I’ll say it again: if you want to find a Pauline political example, look to his words with enemies not brothers. Notice that concealment or a false face aren’t part of even that. This is just tit for tat and this for that ugly, but Mr. Scott’s “several responses” were given in earnest.
“First of all, nothing is confidential anymore.”
If you say so, but you have told us it’s wholesome practice; consequently, I’m not sure that’s significantly the case today and I have no reason to think it will be tomorrow. Did I call you a liar? You parse your words and my words, but I know that you believe secrecy is normal operating procedure.
“You have nine years and 447 pages of emails. It’s all there in print and as I said in Part 1 – there’s nothing revealed there about vision and strategy that hasn’t been stated and addressed many times prior to the leak.”
Right, you expect everyone to ignore my Part 1 of this exchange and my Tears for the National Partnership™. They might, since you are. Over the last decade did the NP inform everyone of their annual strategy-- as many NP members as possible from as many presbyteries as possible appointed to GA committees without ever mentioning the NP on the floor of presbytery?
“The NP, at its high point, had barely more than 200 people on the email list.”
The Society of Saint James was a quite small group of mostly Teaching Elders, and not just a multiple choice answer on a particularly thorough PCA History exam.
“Removal from the email list, and other avenues of discussion, came after people began acting in bad faith – misquoting others, taking information out of context, and violating the confidential nature of the group.”
Well, I suppose there are etiquette limits to factionalism as well as hard limits-- exclusion if a man’s unity isn’t uniform enough and secrecy begins to sour on him. Isn’t the exposing of secrets a standard political practice?
If the NP is moronic, then they have the solace of concealing it. Their hypocritical adversaries do their stupid aloud, in public, repeatedly on all sorts of social media. Mr. Scott presumes that secrecy is normal, so GRN and MORE must be hiding their goals, methods and agenda. With the NP perp walked in their special initiate-only-underwear, then it is only fair to assume that GRN guys wear the blue blazers as sartorial concealment.
I suppose that one could ask if the briefs match the bow tie. Oh, wait-- maybe they is boxer guys. Whoa, or something kind of European, and we don’t want to use a word that rhymes with bong. We don’t want anyone to ever hear GRN and think of “bong”. We don’t want some resounding, distracting “bong, bong, bong” filling the ears and minds of the folk whom we gather to ponder-- but not with any citations-- the GRN secret vault. Oooo-- I bet they don’t even use normal paper, just that discomfiting A4 stuff that you can only get in Europe. That’s the GRN’s kind of controversy: other people don’t use the right size paper, other people won’t show the GRN their underwear, other people don’t talk careful and funny like all the GRN minions.
Sure, the hypocrites may walk like fruit-of-the-loom. Still they haven’t done a boudoir photo shoot to prove they don’t have the same tassels as the NP! Maybe a video will come to light. This is a smear: has anyone ever pressed the GRN to be forthcoming without getting ten links, three book recommendations and an offer for some well (fully) dressed speaker to show up for an event? This is a smear: unpleasant, unreasonable and unlikely. Bugs Bunny is not only funny, he’s right, ”Oh, the hypocrisy!” Elmer Fudd should be able to spot a farcical diagnosis by the end of this cartoon.
“I think you’re pretty tough, don’t I?!” – Daffy Duck
But wait, there is more. “What about character itself?” I suppose Mr. Scott realizes that my Tears for the National Partnership™ implies culpability and corruption. I avoided affirming that of particular men. There is a lot of distance for me to smack surnames just for being on a vetted, secret and exclusive roster.
I do think that the men involved ought to drop the hot mess and then take their own temperatures. I leave remediation to the ill and their physicians. Repentance can benefit from clarity at hand and confidentiality from the horizon. Shame is wholesome when true and thorough, and in no small part because we can curtail fruitless public embarrassment.
“And yet, they raise no questions about the character of a man who willingly receives confidential emails for nine years, creates a database of them, then leaks them anonymously.” Well, I have the impression that Julian Assange is perhaps a pervert and not a signature I would accept on a contract. Of course, he never was speaking directly with me.
I just don’t know. Still, I want the NSA scoured, wracked and reordered by the substance of Wikileaks-- despite their dubious provenance. Our PCA Jules might well need to repent-- but I’m not in that discussion. I’ll acknowledge that he might need correction from Matthew 18, but private sins can become notorious without anybody else acting foolishly. Ignoring what comes to light from darkness is folly.
“Ohhhooo-- the divisiveness, yeah, mmhhmm. Right.” -- Dave Chappelle
“The other Big Reveal about the character of some NP detractors is just how divisive they really are. This divisiveness has been evident for a long time.” Was it divisiveness when fathers Kennedy and Smart advocated to exclude segregation from the founding of the PCA? Was it divisiveness when the General Assembly commissioned and adopted a report rejecting florid continuationism from the PCA? While disappointing in real world details for some among us, was it divisive when the General Assembly delivered a report on divorce and remarriage which has been decisively referenced repeatedly by the courts of the church? Did divisiveness prompt teaching elders and churches to depart our communion in order to ordain women? Is divisiveness on display when the specifics of our constitution are referred to as the substance of our vows?
Why haven’t I mentioned the National Partnership in this serial query? This history of rechalking the lines between games “has been evident for a long time,” some 50 years. The NP has only, by their own estimation, been running their better and better plays under the radar for not quite a decade. As is my impression of most elders, I’m not actually privy to instances of heavy pat downs and bag checks demanded vigilante style by the detractor militia.
It seems no surprise that secrecy provokes suspicion. Just as surely, frank disagreement gets twitchy when passive-aggressively fobbed off with, “you don’t understand, because I only forthcomingly discuss X, Y and Z in spaces that assure sufficient agreement.” I know that I’ve witnessed encomiums to "healthy differences" eclipse any substantial rationale for glaring obvious contrasts (contradictions?).
Still, I might be a thug, and I’m under oath to frank narcissistic disclosure. Not the NP but me-- that’s who needs a smear of tar so feathers stick. I’ll out myself by quoting myself:
I am not the most informed about the PCA. I have a cheap seat up by the A/C ducts. It gives a better view of the fans than the court. My general impression is that our confessional submission is neither careful nor ambitious. I do consider that ill-hued for the church in the next generation. I fear we should expect even now the consequences of intellectual hubris. The example of your views and your Presbytery's oversight has been the catalyst for my distress with the recent flurry of public praises for the PCA's confessional integrity and robusterynessitude.
Is that divisive? It is disagreement, and disagreement succinctly articulated and documented. It is not a celebratory letter but an appeal to temper advocacy for celebration. It connects the dots of published statements and formal court actions. It is charitable in assuming that an exception has been considered and granted. The brother received the letter first and expressed no reservation that I publish it, though not on his platform. He certainly excels me in public demeanor. Perhaps I am the least ill-mannered of the thugs.
Will this earnestness and openhandedness on my part be called divisive? I would not call divisive his original advocacy for confidence in the PCA’s health. Is it divisive to discuss public matters publicly or to publicly express criticism by citation and analysis? Was Paul divisive confronting Peter in front of everyone at Antioch-- with likely many miles and at least some months till a decisive council in Jerusalem? Will we call Paul’s “before them all” politics “understood properly?” The one thing it lacks, apparently wholesome in politics, is secrecy.
You conceal plans that depend on the ignorance of others. You hide what you don’t want examined. Division by conviction is lamentable but honorable among Christians-- even affectionate though with tears as Francis Schaeffer exhorted us. Division by subterfuge and ambition is not honorable. Confidentiality is for private responsibilities, particularly individual sin, weakness and struggle. Secrecy is for overcoming the other side in corporate and public actions by concealing the tools of victory.
Brothers may be face to face and divided on many points. It requires and forges Christlikeness. Divisiveness disdains and diminishes the legitimate, honest and contrary agency of others officers. Is it more grievous that a man struggles to look you in the face, or that he actually does so to conceal his machinations? Brotherly affection can ameliorate the one, but only contradict the other.
“War is nothing more than the continuation of politics by other means.”
I’ll take off the gloves. That trope has been worked thin and frayed. Now that I come to make a clean break between our polity and their politics-- my hands still feel dirty from the heft and shift of the smear. I have taken the tone of a jester where it might postpone expression of my stern lament. The gloves are off-- not for a bare knuckled conclusion, not as a prop to issue some stout challenge for a field of honor. The gloves are off because I’ve plowed through the schmuck, and finally reached the point.
Mr. Scott does not write, as he is clear, as a liaison of the National Partnership. He writes from within that unity that is not uniformity:
The word political is often maligned instead of understood properly. Politics is the art of getting things done with others and all ministry, organizations, and institutions are inherently and inevitably political.
Apparently others have centered the diction of politics to criticize the NP. Mr. Scott considers that malignant-- hypocritical expression of selective outrage-- the whole bucket he lugged out when cleaning up the leaks exceeded the calm and collected Part 1. He didn’t need the bucket full of smear.
He could have taught us much more about the proper understanding of political. He could have explained how the operation of the National Partnership is distinctly political, how such activity is inherent to our Presbyterian polity and in what ways this particular case of politicking is wholesome for the denomination. He could seek to rouse in us thankfulness not just tolerance. For some reason, he did something else.
Political is certainly a word that requires proper understanding, and proper understanding is not difficult in context. Don’t take it out of context. Find it in a paragraph or well crafted aphorism, and you rarely have a question if “political” rings as merely descriptive or as significantly pejorative. We properly understand political by how it fits into the context. If we grant Mr. Scott’s asserted definition, then we will learn from Von Clausewitz that war “is the art of getting things done with other people”-- “the continuation of politics by other means.”
In my stand alone essay on the NP email leak, I did not once take up the term political or one of its variants. In that context, political would not only be pejorative but vacuous. If in other contexts, we use the term for public advocacy, coordinated research, social media publication and enthusiasm in crowded gatherings, I grant the apt and accurate description. I will want to keep an eye on that gaggle and occasionally tweek them-- and I will want to observe that they cherish the courts and their brothers, and refrain from getting things done “by other means.”
Why did I not take up such a commonsensical term in discussing our polity? Presbyterian polity is beautiful. It is crafted from the unity of the body, instantiated by the graces bestowed with saving faith, and animated in the actions of faith endeavoring to live in Christ-- the whole ungainly and problematic crowd, even 88 presbyteries. The disclosure of the National Partnership lacks entirely the busy public energy that I concede is properly political and wholesome when found in the context of our polity.
The NP is first and foremost exclusive, and its strategy depends on concealment. Regardless of any other elements of its disclosed or undisclosed agenda and goals, be they progressive or regressive-- in the context of our polity the NP articulation of political is clearly derogatory. The NP is Presbyterianism “by other means” than the faith and grandeur of our polity.
My reply to Mr. Scott is first and foremost grief. Ironically, I wish he had written anonymously. He can't even attempt to rouse general thanksgiving for the NP’s work, but only pragmatic concession. For elaboration of why all of this is so lamentable, I refer you to my initial essay, Tears for the National Partnership™. By the cesspool is not a place to sit down and weep. Those are a different kind of tears.
Benjamin T. Inman serves as a Teaching Elder at
Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA), in Fuquay-Varina, NC.