A Chance At Camp

When it comes to summer camps for kids, sometimes they can get quite costly.  But one in Luzerne County has plans in place to make sure all youngsters get their chance at summertime fun this season.  The YMCA’s Camp Kresge  near White Haven has camps now underway through fall.    Newswatch 16’s Ryan Leckey visited the […]

Barron Gets Beach-Bashed at NorCo Council

Though noting in the Home Rule Charter requires it, Controller Steve Barron usually attends Northampton County Council meetings. He even has an agenda item for any remarks he wants to make. Bur he was absent on Thursday night. He and his family were at…

I. Holy War: A Church Divided Against Itself

Blogger’s Note: I wrote this story two weeks ago, but wanted to wait until it appeared in The Bethlehem Press before running it here. I especially like the graphic. Like yesterday’s story, this is a three-part story. Comments are welcome, but all comments concerning any part of this story can only be made here. I disabled comments for parts II and III. The weakness of this story is that i was never able to speak to Rev. Crumpler, despite repeated attempts. I believe she and other ECO proponents have decided to avoid press inquiries. 

A Holy War is raging in Bethlehem. It’s not Christians against Jews, Jews against Muslims, or Muslims against Hindus. It’s actually a battle within one denomination and at one church. The congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, which has existed for the past 141 years and includes 2600 members, has voted overwhelmingly (76%) to break away from the Presbyterian Church USA. It has instead opted to join the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterian Church (ECO). Not so fast, says the Lehigh Presbytery, the regional arm of the national church, which claims that the Bethlehem church has no authority to leave with its assets, which include a beautiful church and a sprawling 50-acre campus. The result has been dueling lawsuits over the church’s assets and an uncertain future.

One lawsuit, filed by the Presbyterian Church USA and Lehigh Presbytery, seeks to prevent the Bethlehem Church from conveying church asserts. The other, filed by Bethlehem, claims that its Charter, first granted in 1877, gives the congregation control over its property and staff, and not some “self-written spiritual rulebook.”  

At a hearing on June 24, President Judge Stephen Baratta resolved the dispute between the warring factions in King Solomon-like fashion. He has ordered that both sects may continue to worship within the same four walls, with one offering services early in the morning and the other a little later. Neither side may interfere with the other, and both must act in good faith  A nonjury trial is scheduled in October. Both sides claim to be in the miracle business, and they’ll need one to resolve this dispute before a judge decides for them, which will likely be next year. After that, appeals could linger for years.

What’s it all about?

Though she failed to respond to multiple requests for comment, First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem Pastor Marnie Crumpler derided the Presbyterian Church USA in a WFMZ-TV69 interview as a “bureaucracy that is trying to protect itself. … The denomination is trying to make [same sex marriage] the issue. But that is not really the issue. The issue is control and authority and what they would like to do with our property.”

But same sex marriage and gay clergy members are very much a part of the discussion, too. According to a church member named Ellen, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) has “become a political organization supporting ‘progressives’agendas. This is NOT biblical. The General Assembly meetings keep the organization in constant turmoil. They started back in the 1970’s with the homosexual issue and would not take NO for an answer. This is not the work of an organization which is looking for Unity. This is more the work of Satan. Kill the church and Christianity from the inside. Focus on political issues — not on spreading Christ’s message.”

Over the past three decades, the Presbyterian Church USA has mirrored the same conflict and debate concerning gay issues that exists throughout the rest of the nation. In 1976, the practice of homosexuality was regarded as sin. But by mid-2014, the Church’s General Assembly modified its Book of Order to recognize same sex marriages, although each congregation was given the freedom to decide on its own whether to perform same sex marriages.

The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, the largest religious congregation in Bethlehem, is a mainstream Protestant Christian that had been affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA since 1983. That’s the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country, and is known for a relatively progressive stance on doctrine.

A group of elected leaders or “elders” make up the church’s session. The session in turn is represented in the Lehigh Presbytery, which includes 31 churches. The Lehigh Presbytery has representation in the Synod of Trinity. The highest authority is the General Assembly. A Book of Order suggests worship services, but each local congregation retains a great deal of autonomy.

Linda Robertson, a former Moravian, first joined the church in 1988. She loved its sprawling campus on Center Street, with “lemonade on the lawn” after Sunday services. She enjoyed the high standards of preaching. She eventually was elected to the Session, where she served for six years. At that time, she said the church was known as “the center on Center.” But she acknowledges that, over time, the Bethlehem church has grown more conservative.

Over the past three decades, the Presbyterian Church USA has mirrored the same conflict and debate concerning gay issues that exists throughout the rest of the nation. In 1976, the practice of homosexuality was regarded as sin. But in 2011, it was ordaining gay clergy. By 2014, the Church’s General Assembly modified its Book of Order to recognize same sex marriages, although each congregation was given the freedom to decide on its own whether to perform same sex marriages.

Courts refuse to involve themselves in religious disputes. “The law knows no heresy,” said Supreme Court Justice Samuel Miller in an 1871 dispute between another set of Presbyterians. But courts have full authority to resolve property disputes and interpret corporate charters.

The facts in this case are almost identical to those confronting the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court when the Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church voted to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church USA, and wanted to take its assets with it. In a 4-3 ruling, President Judge Dan Pellegrini concluded that the church had no such authority because it unequivocally incorporated into its own Charter and by-laws a commitment not to disaffiliate without permission from the local presbytery. That is exactly what has happened here. The local church also was unable to assume control of the real estate because it ratified a PCUSA Book of Order providing that all property owned by local churches are held in trust for the PCUSA.

Mark Twain, himself a Presbyterian, once said, “You never see any of us Presbyterians getting in a sweat about religion and trying to massacre the neighbors. Let us all be content with the tried and safe old regular religions, and take no chances on wildcat.”

He never visited First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem.

II. Holy War: Where Churches Stand on LGBT Issues

Opposed to same sex marriages:   Roman Catholic Church; Orthodox Jewish movement; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Southern Baptist Convention; National Baptist Convention; Assemblies of God; United Methodist Church; Lutheran Chur…

Are Casino Host Fees Legal?

Three Pennsylvania casinos are challenging the constitutionality of the host fee it must pay each year to their municipal hosts, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rivers Casino (Pittsburgh), Mount Airy (Poconos) and Harrah’s (Philadelphia) have each filed complaints alleging that the host fee, or “local share tax,” is unconstitutional. They are being heard by the state Supreme Court.

Under current law, casinos are subject to two different rates of taxation. If gross revenues are more than $500 million, the host fee is two per cent. But if revenues fall under that amount, the host fee is $10 million. So a casino with gross revenues of just $1 million could hypothetically be subject to a $10 million host fee.

Pennsylvania’s Constitution (Article VIII, Section 1), states that “[a]ll taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be collected under general laws.” This single sentence is why Governor Wolf is unable to impose a graduated income tax.

Casinos argue that the Gaming Law unconstitutionally imposes two different tax rates on the same class, i.e. gaming houses with licenses. The Rivers lawsuit calls this “arbitrary and not rationally related to any legitimate governmental purpose.”

If the Sands Casino were to file this kind of suit and win, it would have a devastating impact on Bethlehem. In his State of the City, Mayor Bob Donchez said that without the $9.7 million host fee he received last year, he’d have to increase taxes 39% or lay off 110 cops.

III. Holy War: First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem Timelime

1875 – A group of 22 men and women form the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem (FPCB).1877 – Church Charter filed1907 – Church Charter amended, placing it under control of Presbyterian Church of the United States. This Charter requir…

Two Taken to Hospital After Shooting in Hazleton

HAZLETON — Two people were taken to the hospital after a shooting in Hazleton. It happened on North Manhattan Court just before 10 p.m. Monday. Officials said their injuries do not appear to be life-threatening. There is no word what led to the shooting. Police are still investigating. Check back for updates.

Preparations well underway for Musikfest

One of the biggest free music festivals in the country is less than two weeks away.Crews have already started setting up for Musikfest. Jon Lunger is the director of marketing at ArtsQuest.He said, “It takes about 2 weeks to set up the entire thing. …

DNC 2016: Bernie Sanders, Michelle Obama thrill convention crowd on Day 1

First lady Michelle Obama stepped into the presidential election Monday with a forceful, impassioned defense of Hillary Clinton, casting her as the only candidate who can be trusted as a role model for the nation’s children.

Watch video

PHILADELPHIA — Seeking to bridge deep Democratic divides, Bernie Sanders robustly embraced his former rival Hillary Clinton Monday night as a champion for the same economic causes that enlivened his supporters, signaling it was time for them, too, to rally behind her in the campaign against Republican Donald Trump.

“Any objective observer will conclude that — based on her ideas and her leadership — Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States,” he declared in a headlining address on the opening night of the Democratic convention.

Sanders joined a high-wattage lineup of speakers, including first lady Michelle Obama who made a forceful, impassioned case for the Democratic nominee. Mrs. Obama’s address all but wiped away earlier tumult in the convention hall that had exposed lingering tensions between Clinton and Sanders supporters.

Mrs. Obama, who has spent nearly eight years in the White House avoiding political fights, took numerous swipes at Trump, all while avoiding mentioning him by name.

“This election and every election is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives,” she said. “There is only one person I trust with that responsibility, only one person I believe is truly qualified to be president of the United States, and that is Hillary Clinton.”

While Sanders had endorsed Clinton previously, his remarks Monday marked his most vigorous and detailed praise of her qualifications for the presidency. It came at a crucial moment for Clinton’s campaign, on the heels of leaked emails suggesting the party had favored the former secretary of state through the primaries despite a vow of neutrality.

Sanders scored the resignation of party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a nemesis in the primaries, but that wasn’t enough to quell the anger of supporters. As the convention opened, they still erupted in chants of “Bernie” and booed Clinton the first several times her name was mentioned. Outside the convention hall, several hundred marched down Philadelphia’s sweltering streets with signs carrying messages such as “Never Hillary.”

Behind the scenes, Sanders and Clinton aides joined forces to try to ease tensions. Clinton’s campaign quickly added more Sanders’ supporters to the speakers lineup. Sanders sent urgent messages to supporters asking them not to protest.

By the time Sanders took the stage for the night’s closing address, much of the anger had been overshadowed by speeches promoting party unity. Sanders did his part, imploring his supporters to consider a country under Trump’s leadership.

“If you don’t believe this election is important, if you think you can sit it out, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump would nominate and what that would mean to civil liberties, equal rights and the future of our country,” he said.

President Bill Clinton, watching from the audience, leapt to his feet and applauded, as did most of the delegates filling the convention arena.

Sanders spoke just after Massachusetts. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of liberals who has emerged as one of the Democrats’ toughest critics of Trump.

“Donald Trump has no real plans for jobs, for college kids, for seniors,” she said in the keynote address. “No plans to make anything great for anyone except rich guys like Donald Trump.”

Mrs. Obama was one of the night’s standouts. While she has often avoided overt politics during her nearly eight years in the White House, her frustration with Trump’s rise was evident. She warned that the White House couldn’t be in the hands of someone with “a thin skin or a tendency to lash out” or someone who tells voters the country can be great again.

“This right now, is the greatest country on earth,” she said.

Clinton’s campaign hoped the nighttime line-up would overshadow a tumultuous start to the four-day convention. The hacked DNC emails fed the suspicion of Sanders’ supporters and sapped Clinton’s campaign of some of its energy following a well-received rollout Saturday of her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

Campaigning in North Carolina, Trump seemed to revel in the Democrats’ commotion, telling supporters that Clinton made a mistake by not choosing a more liberal running mate to appease Sanders’ base. “Crazy Bernie’s going crazy right now,” he said.

But in Philadelphia, Delegates waved “Love Trumps Hate” signs and cheered as immigration supporters, gay rights advocates, and labor leaders took the stage.

Comedian-turned-Sen. Al Franken, a Clinton supporter, and actress Sarah Silverman, a Sanders supporter, made a joint appearance to promote party unity.

“I am proud to be part of Bernie’s movement,” Silverman said as the crowd roared. “And a vital part of that movement is making absolutely sure Hillary Clinton is our next president of the United States.”

Trump was a frequent target throughout the night, though the jabs were often more mocking than mean. The tone was a sharp contrast to the Republican convention, where the attacks against Clinton was bitingly personal, including chants of “Lock her up.”

Wasserman Schultz had planned to be among those taking the stage, despite the email hacking controversy. But she stepped aside, bowing to pressure from Democrats who feared the mere sight of her on stage would prompt strong opposition.

The outgoing chairwoman did watch the gathering from a private suite at the arena.

Go Joe 19: Day 1

Go Joe 19 kicks off from Charlottesville, Virginia at the home of Thomas Jefferson. Meteorologist Joe Snedeker battles the blazing heat as he makes his way to the Washington D.C. area. If you’d like to donate to Go Joe 19, click here.