The Noble and the Ignoble
On an episode of Arial America about Hawaii, I heard the story of Father Damien of Molokai. Born in 1840 in Belgium, he became a Catholic priest and was sent as a missionary to the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1864.
In those days, leprosy was considered contagious and incurable, and lepers were isolated in leper colonies. The secluded island of Molokai was designated a leper colony by the Royal Board of Health, and lepers were sent to Molokai to fend for themselves as best as they could until death. Without resources to care for the leper colony, the government could only supply a little food.
Volunteering to serve as priest to the lepers on Molokai, Father Damien arrived on the island in 1873. When speaking to the residents of Molokai, Father Damien’s Bishop said that Father Damien was “one who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you; to live and die with you.”
Father Damien was more than a priest. The community on Molokai was in social and economic chaos. Under his leadership, municipal government was formed, laws were enacted, basic sanitation was developed, hospitals were built, homes were repaired or built, a reservoir for clean water was dug, farms began to produce enough food for the island’s needs, roads were built, schools were established, a church was built, and the critically sick were attended to until death. Father Damien personally cared for his leper community. He dressed leprous ulcers, he made furniture for those who did not have chairs, tables or beds, he built coffins in order to bury the dead with dignity, and he dug individual graves so that the dead were not buried unceremoniously in an unmarked or mass grave.
In a letter to his brother, Father Damien wrote, “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.” In 1889, at the age of 49, Father Damien died of leprosy related diseases. In both the Roman and Eastern churches, Father Damien is held a Saint, Protestant missiologists admire his spiritual leadership and humanitarianism, the State of Hawaii remembers him with April 15 as “Father Damien Day,” and lepers all over the world know his name with respect. Father Damien was a man of nobility!
Sometimes, in the midst of a dread crisis, some Christian leaders run to the crisis to help in Jesus’ name — regardless of the consequences. They are noble. Sometimes, in the midst of a dread crisis, some Christian leaders run to the crisis with no thought of asking the government for help, for they are aware Caesar is not God; and unlike Caesar’s coffers, God’s resources are never limited. They are noble. Sometimes, in the midst of a dread crisis, some Christian leaders run to the crisis to help, and have no thought of taking advantage of government monies just in case God’s people will not give or God is found to be impotent. They are noble.
Tuesday last week, April 7, in the midst of our Covid-19 crisis, the Executive Board of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, sitting in an “emergency” meeting, voted 9 to 7, to run to the federal government for $300,000 to $350,000 in financial aid just in case we are unable to pay the salaries of those who are employed by Central Services, the ARP Magazine, and the ARP Foundation. With no pending emergency, without calling on God’s people in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church or praying to the God of the Bible who declares He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50.10), the members of the Executive Board voted to call on Caesar. Somehow, these sophisticated and urbane churchmen have forgotten the children’s song which goes, “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills / The wealth of every mine. / He owns the rivers and the rocks and hills; / the sun and stars that shine.” I wonder why their mamas didn’t teach them to sing this song?
Now mind you, this call for help to the federal government comes not because we are in financial crisis and cannot pay the salaries of our Synod employees; rather, they are running to the federal government because WE MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO PAY SALARIES AT A LATER DATE — a sum of $300,000 to $350,000! But, at this point, I equivocate: let me say it plainly: there is free federal money available to small businesses; so, let’s get ours — first come, first served! And that describes the actions of the leadership of the Executive Board as ignobly as it clearly is. Instead of calling on God’s people in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church for help, the majority of the leadership of the Executive Board voted to run to the federal government in order to get Caesar’s $300,000 to $350,000 lest we miss out! Do they think Caesar is God? Do they think the God of the Bible will not be found faithful to His people? Are they overwhelmed with fear? Well, maybe they are simply greedy! Or, maybe, just pragmatic! As my children used to say, “Everybody else is doing it!”
As I understand it, this emergency meeting of the Executive Board was called by Roger Wiles, Executive Director of Central Services, in order to inform the members of the Executive Board of and encourage them to apply for the “free” federal PPP loans. At this point, a number of questions arise: (1) Are we in a financial crisis? (2) Why are we not calling on God’s people in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church? and (3) Saying we believe in the separation of church and state, why are we seeking Caesar’s help? Seeking Caesar’s help is a denial of our Scottish heritage. There is a reason our Covenanter and Associate forefathers boarded unsafe, wooden, sailing ships and braved the storms of the Atlantic to settle in North America. Our Covenanter and Associate forefathers were men and women of nobility. Covid-19 has frightened such nobility out of us! Whatever happened to these words from Psalm 56.3. “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee”?
My wife and I live in Seneca, SC. On Monday morning, April 13, at 3:30 AM, we were terrified by the winds and the rains of the tornado which devastated Seneca. As the center of the storm roared just over our house, the sound of the wind was like a fast freight train rushing over us; our house shook like we were in the midst of an earthquake; and the rains were like an ocean flooding in on every side. The storm moved at 80 MPH, and the winds in the vortex were announced to be 160 MPH. A little over a mile from where we live, the storm sat down and tore a 12 mile swath of destruction through Seneca. At the time, we were comforted by the words of Psalm 56.3 and prayed, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” We did not pray, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Caesar.”
I understand the Board of World Witness has already applied for the small business loan. The Board of World Witness operates independently from the other boards and agencies in Greenville. Is this not wonderful? We can now send missionaries in the name of Christ AND CAESAR! Is this not a form of syncretism? And why did the Board of World Witness not appeal to the people of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church for help if they are experiencing financial distress?
I also understand Erskine has already applied for the PPP loans. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Erskine is eligible for $587,360.
My sources tell me the discussion on the Executive Board was “odd” and “puzzling.” Remember, at this point, not a single job has been eliminated, no one’s salary has been reduced, and no one has been laid off. The folks representing Christian Education Ministries and Outreach North America informed the members of the Executive Board they have enough resources to cover expenses for this year and next year. CEM has over $1,000,000 in reserves. As a matter of fact, the boards and agencies housed in Greenville have hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in reserve. Central Services has $250,000 in reserves. The folks at Outreach North America informed the members of the Executive Board they did not need the PPP loan. ONA has over $4,000,000 in reserve. And, as far as World Witness is concerned, WW has over $600,000 in reserve.
Individuals on the Executive Board pointed out the federal loans were meant to be used immediately and not banked for a “rainy day.” So, is our Executive Board taking advantage of the situation, and are they opening the church to federal litigation and the shame of being identified as a “hoarder?” Or is this just plain fraud?
Since the vote was recorded, we see there are two groups of on the Executive Board. The Noble Seven who voted against applying for federal money, and the Ignoble Nine who greedily lust for federal money, and, whether they like it or not, they call on Caesar to save us in the financial troubles that may follow the Covid-19 pandemic. The Noble Seven are worthy of recognition and honor. Their names are Bill McKay, Philip Malphrus, Rob Patrick, Leslie Holmes, Tim Phillips, and the representatives from First Presbytery and Northeast Presbytery, Tim Watson and G. J. Gerard. They are a band of principled and noble brothers. And, since the Zoom conference did not go off without a hitch, there may be an eighth vote which was not counted. This has yet to be cleared up.
The Ignoble Nine are NOT worthy of public mention. They are, however, worthy of scorn. They are willing to sell the church for $300,000 to $350,000 in federal money when there is no obvious emergency. Their names may be found by looking in the Minutes of Synod, 2019, pages 284-285 or emailing me.
The unresolved question for me is this: why did the Ignoble Nine vote to take Caesar’s money — and such a small amount of $300,000 to $350,000?
A second meeting of the Executive Board was called for Tuesday, April 14. Certainly, after a few days to reconsider their actions, the Executive Committee would think better of themselves. But the opportunity to get “free” money is too great. Remember the way it works: first come, first served! Get the money while you can!
Here is what took place on April 14: since the matter of reconsidering the vote to apply for the PPP loan is not an emergency, the vote failed 10 to 7. Well, if reconsideration is not an emergency, how was the vote for Caesar’s money an emergency when there is no emergency?
I have a number of questions for those who voted to call on Caesar for the PPP loans.
What evidence do you have demonstrating the unwillingness of God’s people in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church that they will not support the work of our denomination? I am a member of Synod’s Stewardship Committee, and there is no evidence of nonsupport.
How do you expect not to be labeled as opportunists who greedily grasp for all they can get and can all they get? At this time, there is no existential crisis. How is this not hoarding. Indeed, there are small businesses needing this money and some of them are owned and operated by Associate Reformed Presbyterians. There is no nobility in hoarding!
These PPP loans are meant for small businesses. Do you think the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is a business? God help us if we have come to the place where we think the church is nothing more than a business. Listen, I hope you believe with me that a Christian denomination which cannot support itself by the tithes and offerings of its people is not worthy of existence. Can the soul of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church really be bought for the tiny sum of $300,000 to $350,000?
Do you not think when a Christian denomination actively seeks and then receives Caesar’s money this is not a tacit acknowledgement that the government is over the church? How is this not not declaring “Caesar is Lord”?
This is not a small matter; it is most serious. Is not the independence of the church jeopardized? Much blood has been shed and many martyrs made regarding this very issue which has been adjudged so blithely.
The action by the Executive Board on our behalf in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is a matter of shame.
I say shame on those on the Executive Board who called for this emergency meeting when there is no financial emergency.
I say shame on those on the Execute Board who ignored the fact we have hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in operating reserves and unrestricted funds (all available to our Synod’s agencies) while pretending we are in danger of laying off or furloughing employees.
I say shame on those on the Executive Board who voted on our behalf to accept federal monies without addressing the fact that no one has taken a pay cut. So, how are we different from corporations which took federal bailout monies in 2008 to pay their CEOs? Are we not taking money to pay the salaries of some of our CEOs, Do we not despise such actions and such people?!
I say shame on those on the Executive Board, who, knowing how controversial this issue is, have tyrannically decided, on our behalf, for our denomination to suckle at the great welfare teat of the federal government, making us a de facto ward of the state — and only for $300,00 to $350,000.
I say shame on the majority of the Executive Board for their wanton opportunism, daring to pretend we face a financial crisis. We are taking funds which could be used by small businesses which are genuinely struggling, not knowing if they have a future, while we have hundreds-of-thousands of dollars at our disposal. Remember some of those small businesses are owned and operated by Associate Reformed Presbyterians.
I say shame on the majority of the Executive Board for deeming this a financial emergency when in fact we face a FAITH EMERGENCY: trusting Caesar rather than God! In greed and insecurity, they have ejected our noble heritage as Covenanters and Associates.
I say shame on the majority of the the Executive Board for knowing there are many of their brothers who have serious objections of conscience to taking federal money. Are they not bringing discord to us in a 9 to 7 and in a 10 to 7 vote? Do they think we will remain silent? Yes, for the sake of 30 pieces of silver, their insecurity, and their unwillingness to call on God’s people in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, they have trampled on their brothers. However, all of us are aware the government has no money to give except what it takes from us in taxes or prints. We also know federal money never comes without long strings
I hope you will join me in fervent prayer that, at the meeting of General Synod in August, we will repent and reverse the actions of the Executive Board. In my opinion, the majority of the Executive Board has not well served the Name and Cause of Jesus Christ, the only King and Head of the Church.
Father Damien of Molokai is well remembered as noble. The majority of the Executive Board are not worthy of memory. Ignoble is their name!!!
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson