“Propaganda is amazing. People can be led to believe anything.”
~ Alice Walker
Propaganda is powerful.
Just look at what it is doing to the Presbyterian Church (USA).
More personally look at what it may have already done to your own congregation.
In 2013 when I first heard the Presbyterian Church (USA) no longer upheld the Lordship of Jesus Christ or the authority of scripture my heart was turned.
I would understand if your heart has been turned too.
But I couldn’t let it go. What I was hearing just didn’t resonate with any of my experiences or relationships in the denomination so I began to get curious and do my own research. Eventually I discovered nearly everything I was being told was a distortion of the truth; it was propaganda.
Propaganda is information that is not impartial and used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively (perhaps lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or using loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information presented.
Once I recognized what was happening I could see how pervasively it was being used by the people stirring up support to leave the denomination.
I’ve written about some of the ways I’ve seen propaganda used against the denomination in Jesus, The Bible, and Essential Tenets in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
And just this week I came across propaganda used in a document titled “Selected Points of Comparison in Theology and Practice Among the PC(USA), ECO, EPC” that compares twelve theological and practical positions between the three denominations. It appears to have been created by ECO several years ago, but that is not clear.
The first position compared in this document is The Nature and Understanding of Scripture in each of the three denominations.
The document describes the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s position regarding the nature and understanding of scripture by saying…
“The booklet ‘Presbyterian Understanding and Use of Holy Scripture’ (1983) underscores that there are at least five different perspectives in the PC(USA) on the nature of divine inspiration ranging from “‘inerrancy”’ to ‘the Bible is merely a record of the moral and religious experiences of Hebrews and Christians.’ No preference is expressed for any of the five positions.”
This makes it sound like the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s position approves of any and all perspectives of scripture without preference. That would be horrible if it was true, but it isn’t. What is true and horrible is that it appears someone choose this statement to intentionally misrepresent the position of our denomination.
Even a quick search through The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) easily reveals more accurate and responsible positions that could have been chosen. Several of these include…
“The church confesses the Scriptures to be the Word of God written, witnessing to God’s self-revelation. Where that Word is read and proclaimed, Jesus Christ the Living Word is present by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit.”
~ Book of Order W-2.2001
“We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men. For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures.”
~ The Second Helvetic Confession, Book of Confessions 5.001
“Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments…All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.”
~ The Westminster Confession, Book of Confessions 6.002
You get the point. Much better position statements could’ve easily been found and used but instead someone made a choice to use a statement that reinforced the narrative that the Presbyterian Church (USA) no longer upholds the authority of scripture.
Not only that but the statement representing the Presbyterian Church (USA) is not a position of the church at all. It is a statement describing the results of a member survey taken in the United Presbyterian Church of the Untied States of America more than 35 years ago in 1979, four years before reunification of the denomination in 1983.
So on the one hand you are comparing the beliefs of members in one denomination and on the other hand you are comparing the official church positions in the other two denominations. The comparison chart isn’t even comparing apples to apples.
But then notice the last sentence of the position ascribed to the Presbyterian Church (USA).
“No preference is expressed for any of the five positions.”
That’s not true at all.
The same Presbyterian Church (USA) document referenced in the comparison chart itself says,
“The confessions establish limits within which they may be invoked as guide and outside of which one may no longer be operating within the Reformed tradition. For example, we may not claim as confessional the position that the Bible is an inerrant account of technical information on matters of science. Nor, on the other hand, may we claim confessional support if we treat Scripture only as an account of ancient religious history.”
More than that though the survey results themselves showed that only 4% of the members surveyed believe “The Bible is merely a record of the moral and religious experiences of Hebrews and Christians.”
And actually the most recent Presbyterian Panel Survey with results from 2012-2014 shows only 2% of members surveyed believe “the Bible is not the Word of God.”
Having said all of that I know there are people reading this who will still believe the position printed on the denominational comparison chart is the position of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Propaganda is powerful.
It grabs hold of even the brightest and most thoughtful people and wins them over. Very few people are immune to it and facts don’t seem to be a very effective antidote.
Thomas Sowell, a conservative thinker and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, published an article online titled News Verses Propaganda in which he describes how ineffective facts are at changing strongly held beliefs. He illustrates his point using gun control advocates but in my experience the very same things could be said about many of those who advocate leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Here is what he wrote with his words
stuck through and mine (added in parenthesis).
gun control advocates (many of those who advocate leaving the denomination), I have no hope whatever that any facts whatever will make the slightest dent in their thinking — or lack of thinking….The real problem, both in discussions of mass shootings (the Lordship of Jesus Christ) and in discussions of gun control (the authority of scripture), is that too many people are too committed to a vision to allow mere facts to interfere with their beliefs, and the sense of superiority that those beliefs give them. Any discussion of facts is futile when directed at such people. All anyone can do is warn others about the propaganda.”
I know this is true. I’ve been uncovering and exposing the propaganda people are spreading about our denomination for the last two years in an effort to pursue, defend, and preserve the truth about the Presbyterian Church (USA). And in all that time, to my knowledge, it has not made the slightest dent in the thinking of those who were already bent on leaving.
Propaganda is powerful.
I wish it was otherwise because the propaganda is not only tearing the church apart and leaving a trail of bitterness, anger and resentment but it’s dividing relationships between friends and families within our congregations.
I am convinced this can’t be from God.
An historic principle of church order in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is that truth is in order to goodness.
And an essential tenet of ECO, where many of those who are leaving end up going, is pursuing the truth, even when such pursuit is costly, and defending truth when it is challenged, recognizing that truth is in order to goodness and that its preservation matters.
To be sure, there are theological differences among us, and for some those differences are best held in separate denominations so I’m grateful ECO is there to receive these members.
But if we could have truthful discussions about our differences without the propaganda I believe most people would see our differences really aren’t all that great and find that by staying together we can learn from each other and more fully, and authentically, be the body of Christ in the world.
And hopefully, in those situations where separation did still happen, it would help us leave each other on better – not bitter – terms.
If you’re interested in improving your propaganda senses this short video explains propaganda techniques and how they are used against us. I thought it was really helpful to watch, I hope you will too.
Let’s #StayPCUSA together.