Is any one else getting tired of the Layman?


In our denomination, we have an ultra-conservative (and ultra-powerful, in many ways) independent newspaper called The Presbyterian Layman. They consider themselves the watchdogs of our church, protecting us from all sorts of heresy and foul behavior. And, maybe I’m just getting this from the name, but it seems as if they’re shielding the church from…err…our own ministers.

I don’t read it. I have a lot of friends who do, but I had to put it down, because it made me feel all irritated. It gave me the same overwhelming frustration I got when I was in second grade and I wanted to punch my older brother (he was in eleventh).

So now I just read it when my friends make the cover. I call them, tell them I’m sorry, and we laugh about all of the mistakes and misinformation that the reporters passed on. If I can mix up some more family metaphors, the newspaper’s like that weird, embarrassing uncle that everyone tries to avoid at the reunion, but then he gets so loud that he’s hard to ignore.

Likewise, the rant rag has gotten more annoying. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in denomination for more years, and so I’m more invested in it. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched my conservative friends get run through the gristmill along with the liberals, and I just don’t think it’s fair. And, of course, there are the wonderful people who are just doing their jobs….

A couple years ago, my dear friend Beth Sentell was engineering a merger between two small churches. To do something like that successfully is no small feat. Often one congregation is simply engulfed by another, but she and a neighboring pastor managed to do the delicate work of uniting two congregations without losing anyone along the way.

And then, of course, there was the issue of property. They didn’t need two buildings any longer, so they put the church up for sale. After months, they got an offer–a really good offer–from an Islamic Community Center. They sold the property, and figured that the matter was settled.

It was, until the Layman decided that the good laws that govern that govern our good nation (namely that you can’t discriminate against people on real estate deals on the basis of religion) weren’t good enough.

They wrote a story, misconstruing the facts. Among other things, they wrote that the congregation had turned down solid offers from other churches in order to sell it to the Muslims. Soon after the story ran, an anti-Islamic blog reprinted it. And so now, when someone does a google search on Beth’s name, all of this stuff comes up….

I’m all for free speech, but shouldn’t free speech be tempered by some sort of responsibility? And, we’re all Christians, right? Shouldn’t that apply to us even more? How long do we put up with this? Is there anything that we can do to defend people whose reputations are ruined by nastiness? Do any other denominations have this sort of thing? What do you do?

I don’t know the people who run the newspaper. Parker Williamson looks like he’s close to retiring. I hope that his way of thinking retires when he does.

The photo’s of my brother, Mark Howard (whom I haven’t wanted to punch in 25 years), shredding up the waves in Hawaii.


50 thoughts on “Is any one else getting tired of the Layman?

  1. So sorry to hear about the Beth debacle. Working for a year as a reporter, I learned to turn down stories when getting a good story became more important than getting the story right. Such a shame.

    Great picture!

  2. I learned years ago that the Layman literally has no interest in sharing truths but in promoting their own agenda. I wish I’d had a tape recorder when Peggy Hedden said those words to me several years ago, as I challenged a couple of their articles.

    I once tried to establish a prayer partner relationship with someone from the Layman and nobody was interested. There is a dark spirit in any organization that intentionally tells half-truths or complete lies. It becomes about them and their survival.

  3. The Layman reminds me of the current presidential office. They use fear, intimidation, and power to construct a reality that holds everyone hostage to their ideals. Then they proclaim it is justice that motivates them.

    No matter what you say they spin it to highlight their opinions. It was pioneered by Wally George, who bullied folks that sought dialogue and the hope of being part of the incarnation.

    I support your critique that there needs to be responsibility of speech when we engage each other.

  4. Thanks for this. I just found your blog and I like it very much. That presbymeme thing directed me here! I believe it the best response to the LayMAN is to expose and mock it.

  5. In two other denominations The Laymen equivalent is “The Good News” for The Methodists and the Episcopalians have “The Living Church”. Both denominations also have a host of foreign born publications (coming mainly from the conservative wings in the central African jurisdications) that are even more loose with their fact checking. It is at least hopeful that while ridiculous, The Laymen is still marginally fringe. I don’t know if this is still true, but I could never find a copy at the SFTS library.

  6. For some things laughter is better than angry-pants diatribes.

    My More Light/TAMFS friends and I refer to getting in the Layman as “getting Laid.” I’m kind of annoyed that I haven’t yet.

    Even better was when a former seminary colleague of mine, a straight woman, got on the front page of, for coordinating worship services for a More Light conference. She got giggling congratulatory phone calls for weeks.

  7. I think that’s the problem. They have a ton of funding from outside, non-Presbyterian sources. It’s impossible to strain their resources.

    We’ll have to think of another plot…

  8. Heather: Ha! I got laid and you didn’t!

    Let me tell you though, its over-rated. Quite underwhelming actually. You’re not missing anything.

    So, yeah, what do we do about the LameMan? Letter-writing campaign to other religious publications calling them out on their filthy lies? Throw down the gauntlet? Or would that involve paying too much attention to them?

    Maybe start a zine called the LameMan and try to get more subscribers?

    Blogswarm against the LameMan?

    I dunno. I don’t read it either, honestly, but I’ve never heard of them doing anything good, and I’ve heard of a lot of not-good coming from them.

  9. Thanks! Glad you liked it. And as for your concern about the Layman’s outside funding, it’s not what it used to be. They used to get huge bucks from the Pew Charitable Trusts, as one of the Pew scions was a reactionary friend of the Layman.

    That, however, changed about three years ago. After the Layman sabotaged one of my Presbytery’s programs (a partnership with the Elburgon presbytery in East Africa, which did such pernicious things as building churches and schools and hospitals), I wrote a letter noting my concerns to the president of the Pew Charitable Trusts. She was gracious enough to respond, and indicated that funding for the Layman was already being phased out. It was around 15% of their budget.

    I do read the Layman regularly still…it’s good way to know what The Accuser is up to. I like your blog idea, but I’m not sure if satire works on the shameless.

  10. TC, thanks again for this post. It takes courage to do this. I linked to your article on my blog. I am sure you all remember about a decade ago the website the Presbyterian Gayman. This is when the Layman and the Voices of Orthodox Women teamed up to attempt to shut down the National Network of Presbyterian College Women.

  11. After reading some of the writings of the Layman I find my head spinning. Why has fear and intimidation replaced compassion and caring? I met a man Easter Sunday who was the epitome of these qualities. John Shuck, pastor of First Presbyterian. I was privileged, as a visitor from North Carolina, to attend service in this church where I found all things in order. Yet, he seems to be under constant attack…along with Burger King????

    Gee, maybe I am just a dumb blonde

  12. The funny thing is how The Layman now includes blogs among its news sources. The wholely laughable term ‘Louisville Papers’ comes from a hack named Toby Brown who has his own little conspiracy blog. Despite the fact that Toby is a 30 something pastor of a no-name church with absolutely no journalistic credentials his blog is often posted on their website along with news articles.

  13. Is it ok if I leave an alternative viewpoint?

    I have personally experienced assistance in my ministry from both The Layman and the PLC. When a church in my presbytery asked to be dismissed with property to the EPC and the presbytery trustees voted to make them pay some big amount to leave, only The Layman published an account for people to read. They called all parties involved in a professional manner. Their report spoke to the injustice that was done to a small, hurting congregation.

    It is my opinion that many of those who hate the Layman and the PLC are upset that they bother to exist at all. Again, my experience in this denomination is that the most offensive thing that evangelicals can do is simply exist and speak up about it.

    But, we’re all entitled to our opinions!

    BTW, Carol–It’s good to see you writing! APTS seems a million years ago. Blessings to your family!

  14. Hi Toby. How’s Marcie doing? I sure do miss her…

    I’m glad you’ve found some support in your ministry.

    You wrote, “my experience in this denomination is that the most offensive thing that evangelicals can do is simply exist and speak up about it.”

    The thing that’s odd about this is, well, the evangelicals have gotten their way on just about everything, haven’t they? I mean, b’s been in the book for a decade, the recent judicial cases are going the way that the evangelicals want…. I don’t really see evangelicals as an oppressed group.

    I’m not out to attack evangelicals. I am concerned with defending good people.

    This is what it often comes down to: I would love for evangelicals to exist in our denomination. Some people find comfort in that path. But, will the evangelicals allow people like me to exist? Will they ever allow my friends to flourish in leadership positions?

  15. Carol,

    Sorry it took me so long to reply. I don’t really have any great answers, other than my observation that our denomination has determined that almost any perspective is fine to hold and to teach, as long as we have the same practices in our polity. We decided to have the ONE essential of the faith as property. So much for Jesus…

    I don’t think you are attacking evangelicals, but certainly some of the comments here seem to be. That’s fine. We all need places to vent.

    On the topic of polity–from the evangelical perspective we win all the battles and lost the war. Meaning that all of our legislative ‘victories’ are Pyrrhic at best.

    Witness my own presbytery: We have congregations that don’t believe in creeds, pastors who deny the Resurrection, congregations that have John Spong and John Dominic Crossan as guest preachers and other churches who will not abide by our fidelity/chastity standard for their officers. Who won?

    We all lose in this scenario.

    I think you and your friends SHOULD flourish in leadership, if called to do so, but the question is about teaching. Are we allowed to teach ideas that are in clear contradiction to the Reformed confessional faith? And of course, who decides what that is?

    It’s hard for mush to be exciting or relevant and I think the PC(USA)’s Anything Goes theology makes us all into mush.

    And Marcie is doing well—she just works too hard. What else is new for working moms? 🙂

    See you around the blogosphere!

  16. Nothing. Unless they use a name that I’m associated with and make me, by covenant association, a party to something that I abhor. Our Presbyterian heritage warns us about this by renouncing the binding of conscience. At the way I read it.

  17. Aahhh… so that’s why conservatives so often splinter off of our denomination. They can’t abide sharing the label…

    Well, as long as your associated with any community, there will be people thinking and doing things that you abhor. Even if you mandated every single thought and action. We’re humans. Living, breathing, believing, and doubting humans.

    I guess I’m the part of our heritage that’s always protesting, challenging, and reforming. I love the vital stream that’s living out the faith, engaging with culture, and finding God in the midst of so many different people.

  18. I don’t want to dominate this, so I’ll leave this as my last comment on this thread.

    I would first ask you: Have you spoken with anyone who has left our denomination for another, more classically Reformed, denomination? I think that they would tell you that it is more than just the concerns that I voiced. There is real persecution and discrimination towards outspoken evangelicals. It’s real and we can’t just dismiss it. But there’s more–

    When a colleague in ministry openly preaches that Christ was not bodily raised–with my name attached by our mututal sharing in a presbytery fellowship–then I have a problem. Not to mention that the lack of church discipline is startling and infinitely discouraging to those of us who hold to the apostolic teaching on the matter of the bodily resurrection of Christ.

    I would commend to you for your reading the work of my good friend, Will Spotts, at his blog, A Recovering Presbyterian. He was written very ably on why some of us choose to leave the PCUSA fellowship over our concerns.

    Some degree of diversity and divergence will always exist in our human relationships and institutions, certainly. But once we as a denomination decided to have no essential beliefs except for polity then we began the long, slow road to irrelevancy and decline as a witness in this fallen world.

    Peace of Christ be with you this Eastertide!

  19. I haven’t read it yet. I will. But, I’m getting ready for Sunday worship…

    I keep feeling like I need to have the last word in… but… I guess I am hosting this blog… and SO MANY people are still reading this post. What’s up? Is it that the answer to the question, “Is anyone tired of the Layman?” is a resounding yes? Or are all the hits from people at the Layman?

    Well, as the host I need to question this strange notion that evangelicalism is “relevant” and liberalism is “mush.”

    I left the evangelical church and became Presbyterian because of how frightfully irrelevant evangelicalism had become.

    It made no sense in the world that I lived in– a world that I love. A world where men and women are considered equals and a world that takes biology and science seriously.

    I watched the evangelical political movement side time and time again against the poor and for corporate shareholders.

    I watched them buttress the political careers of those who cried for war over diplomacy.

    I listened to them mock people who wanted to care for God’s creation.

    I watched as good pastors lost credibility and jobs and their lives have been destroyed because they believe in the inclusion of gay and lesbian leadership.

    I couldn’t find much in evangelicalism that was relevant to my life and faith. I dare say, with the way that the majority of evangelicalism has been played out in the last 25 years in our country, it’s not relevant to most people.

    I had to leave the evangelical movement so that I could live into the fullness of my calling.

  20. Thanks TC!

    I resonate very much with your last comment. You might get a thrill out of the link Toby gave to Spotts’ post. It is rather odd, that Spotts, whom I don’t even know, declared that Jim Rigby and I are among his reasons that drove him to leave the PC(USA).

    Maybe the evangelicals are persecuted. However, it is those who call themselves evangelical who through the court system attempt to boot those with whom they don’t agree out of the denomination.

    As far as I am concerned, Toby and Will and all the other fundamentalists can do their ministry. I don’t attempt to restrict their ministry or to take them to church court or to “report them.”

    They can be in the PC(USA) as far as I am concerned. They reach people I do not.

    So I am not ashamed to call them brothers.

    The reverse is not true.

  21. Actually, I think I’ve tried to read that one before… it is long. But I read most of it this time. I can see, with his views why he wouldn’t feel comfortable with the PCUSA. But again… I don’t really see where he was persecuted….

    People change traditions all the time. It’s part of our religion in this country. He didn’t leave the faith, and that’s what’s important. I hope he found a spiritual home with more like-minded people.

    Hey… I think all of these hits are coming from you John. What kind of super-blog are you running out there in TN?

  22. JLEdmiston hit the nail on the head. Yes, a dark spirit rests within that organization indeed! If the Lay Committee spent even a smidgen of the effort to promote the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ as they do promoting themselves, their political agenda and their buddies, they would gain a lot more credibility. As an organization, they are NOT evangelicals. They don’t do anything to evangelize. The leaders of the Lay Committee are nothing but self-righteous politicians in a religious arena, hiding behind a non-profit cloak.

    And, typical of the worst of politicians, it has indeed become “all about them.” What a bunch of arrogant lay pharisees, a bastion of hypocrisy per Jesus’ warnings against the pharisees in Matthew: v. 23 “They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.”

    And v. 28: “So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”

    For example, during his validation trials a few years ago Williamson claimed in his arguments that he had been denied “due process and fundamental fairness.” Yet he and his cohorts often neglect giving fundamental fairness to the people they attack. Readers of the Layman are neither as blind nor as stupid as the PLC seems to think, and this hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed.

    The lies, half-truths and deliberate omissions that are the Layman’s stock in trade seem to go hand-in-hand with their fund raising. J. Howard Pew was one of the Lay Committee’s founders; yet the PLC lost the Pew Grant funding as mentioned in the post above. The steady barrage of fund-raising mail that the PLC sends out seems to indicate that it is heavily reliant on direct mail fund-raising, which is most effective when it can keep people riled up and push emotional hot-buttons. The Layman HAS to keep issues (whether real or contrived) stirred up to try to keep money coming in, and if they can’t do it with truth and fairness, they’ll do it with spin. These bullies love the sound of their own voices, and they have to keep the funding up so they don’t lose their megaphone.

    One of their recent fund-raising letters had the following on the outer envelope:

    “Dis-in-gen-u-ous adj.

    1. withholding or not taking account of known information
    2. giving a false impression of sincerity or simplicity”

    How important is the TRUTH?”

    I saw that and nearly died laughing at the irony and hypocrisy. It’s so pathetic it’s almost funny! What grandiose — and false – claims they make to be harbingers of “truth!” The only “truth” they tell is that which serves their agenda — the very same charge they often levy against the denominational bureaucracy. The leadership of both the PLC and the PC(USA) are the two sides of the same coin. Both practice spin, neither one of them tells the whole truth, both have over-inflated egos sitting in leadership positions. One side is “conservative,” the other “liberal” — but both of them corrupt. And I think they will both go down in flames together, for much the same reason. Both are accurately perceived to talk out of both sides of their mouths.

    Another bit of highly humorous irony: the PLC is hosting a conference this summer, and according to their online brochure, will base their Bible study on “the conference’s theme verse of Micah 6:8, specifically focusing on:
    Christian justice
    Christian kindness
    Christian humility”

    Is that not a riot! They haven’t demonstrated that they know about any of those things, yet here they are puffing themselves up to teach others about “kindness, justice, and humility.” Are they really that blind to their mean-spirited jabbing, injustice, one-sidedness, and impious arrogance?

    I wonder if Williamson and the PLC would withstand the same close scrutiny of their integrity, ethics and business practices that they delight in giving others? Take a look at the 990 forms on Guidestar — if you’re paying attention, it certainly raises some interesting questions.

    I thought maybe things would improve when Williamson and the PLC’S lead attack dog John Adams “retired” (that’s yet another farce). Perhaps I imagined a slight change in flavor toward a more Christian attitude following the publicity of Williamson’s validation trials. But alas, the most recent issue of the paper and visit to their website shows they’ve dredged up these two old yellow journalists again (of course, I use the word “journalist” loosely) and have returned in full force to their signature inflammatory style, ignoring or twisting any information that does not agree with their agenda.

    How does one respond to such insidious evil? There are several choices already mentioned: fight them, expose their falsehoods, ignore them, laugh at them, pity them, pray for them — and I would add “forgive them, even if they know full well what they do.” God will see to their just desserts in His own way and His own time, just as He will with all of us.

    I wonder if the new “Executive Director” will be able to influence the PLC for the better, or if he’s just a puppet of the PLC board and the allegedly retired Williamson and it’s just going to be more of the same sewage in a different package? If so, what a waste.

  23. Gabe wrote, “The leadership of both the PLC and the PC(USA) are the two sides of the same coin. Both practice spin, neither one of them tells the whole truth, both have over-inflated egos sitting in leadership positions. One side is ‘conservative,’ the other ‘liberal’ — but both of them corrupt. And I think they will both go down in flames together, for much the same reason. Both are accurately perceived to talk out of both sides of their mouths.”

    Sorry. I feel awful that I didn’t respond earlier. I was looking at other comments and I’m just now reading this… I have to disagree about the PCUSA leadership. I have many wonderful friends working in Louisville, and I don’t find these characterizations to be accurate.

  24. Thanks TC. It is definitely not two sides of the same coin. The PC(USA) is the church and the Layman is an outside group. The PC(USA) is us (conservative, moderate, and liberal and whatever else). We make our decisions through a process of accountability. We participate and vote.

    Some people do not agree with the decisions of the PCUSA and its staff. I don’t many times. I particularly don’t agree with our policies against lgbt people.

    Who can possibly agree with everything? But just because someone disagrees with something the staff, the ministries, the governing bodies, or the judicial bodies do, it does not make these entities corrupt.

    If you don’t like a what is happening, participate in the process. The LayMAN chooses not to participate. It stands on the outside throwing stones in order to create dissension.

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