With Kirkpatrick and Ivory gone, what is the future of the PCUSA?
The Layman October-November 2007 Volume 40, Number 3, the Presbyterian Church (USA) stands at a crossroads:
Will the denomination’s decades-long slide into theological pluralism continue its ongoing dilution of the Gospel in the world, the hemorrhaging of its members and churches, the reduction of its staff and missionary force, the annual cutting of its budget and services?
Or will it rise up and reclaim its historic place as a beacon of hope in a troubled world by proclaiming – without hesitation or excuses – that Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth and the life and that the denomination operates solely within traditional, orthodox Christianity in the Reformed tradition? Will it abandon its political alliances and secular, political accommodation and return to a mission emphasis and an increased commitment to the Great Commission?
In the midst of this crossroads comes the announcement that two people who have been lightning rods for what ails the Presbyterian Church (USA) – Clifton Kirkpatrick and Elenora Giddings Ivory – are leaving their positions within the denomination:
- Kirkpatrick – who has been at the center of controversy as stated clerk over such issues as ordination standards; the report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity; the preparation of “The Louisville Papers;” and others – has announced that he will not seek a fourth term in office and will retire when his current term expires at the 2008 General Assembly.
- Giddings Ivory sparked controversy by urging Congress in 2004 to reject a proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, and by criticizing a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a ban on partial-birth abortion. She said the ruling “basically determined that the law does not violate a woman’s constitutional right to choose abortion.” She also was identified in 2003 as a longtime director of an organization that formally is aligned with groups promoting atheism, humanism, secularism, skepticism and Wicca. She is leaving as the head of the denomination’s lobbying office in Washington, D.C., after 18 years to become the director of the Public Witness: Addressing Power and Affirming Peace program with the World Council of Churches.
Some people believe their departures may signal a possible change for the better in the denomination. Others, like Gashland Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Mo., say it is time to recognize that there are “some deep theological differences with many in the denomination and their tolerance of some very radical beliefs that … cannot be called Biblical or Christian” or First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, which believes that “remaining in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and fighting for reform is not a viable option.”
The tenures of Kirkpatrick and Giddings Ivory are symptomatic of the ongoing theological crisis that is fracturing the Presbyterian Church (USA). While we cannot forcast the future, we can rely on God’s Word:
“And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.” Joel 2:32
The Layman Editorial Board