The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has issued a Call to the Church that presents an unprecedented opportunity to re-think how the PCUSA is organized, how it operates, how it treats those seeking to realign with other Presbyterian denominations and how it bears authentic witness in the world today.
The call for a restoration of trust is a public admission that trust has been breached. The Moderator has made that admission but he has done so on behalf of agencies, bodies and judicatories that have not, to this point, admitted that they have violated the trust of their members and congregations. Nor have the trust violators indicated a willingness to repent and commit themselves to a “whatever it takes” posture in order to restore trust. That is not to say that it won’t happen. That is just to say that to this point, the trust violators are not the ones calling for a radical change of course.
The Moderator’s call centers on a process that he hopes will restore trust. In the statement, he says, “I ask our … people who have felt disenfranchised, people from different theological positions … to participate actively and expeditiously in order that we might gather data which can help our Portland General Assembly next June to make informed and healthy decisions about our future.” The Layman accepts the Moderator’s call to participate in such a process by raising up disenfranchised evangelical, conservative and theologically orthodox voices and concerns. We are initiating here “active engagement” in the Moderator’s call with the hope of stimulating others to join in the conversation.
So, what is trust and how can it be restored?
What is trust?
Trust implies truthfulness and requires honesty. Organizationally the word is “transparency.” So, the Moderator might start by posting the full line item budget of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Office of the General Assembly so that the members of the church can actually see what their monetary gifts are being used to fund. A second step of transparency would be releasing the million dollar report produced by Alston-Byrd that resulted in the removal of four members of the PMA staff earlier this year.
But we all know that trust is a deeper and more personal issue than transparency in governance. Trust is a mutual peace, freedom and ease in a relationship where both parties are committed to each other in such a way that the interest of the whole is set above the interests of the parts. In the spirit of Philippians 2, it is regarding others as better than self and sacrificing self for the good of the whole. The Moderator points out the necessity of the restoration of this when he talks about the reality of “teritoriality.”
How can trust be restored?
#1. The question must be honestly asked and answered, “Is there a willingness to be reconciled?”
For some, on both sides of the breach, the answer to that question is “yes” and for others, on both sides of the breach, the answer is “no.” It’s not just theologically conservative Presbyterians who feel betrayed and disenfranchised. Those who consider LGBTQ concerns as a genuine justice issue are not — and should not be — satisfied with a denomination whose mind is split on the issue. Allowing for gay ordination and allowing for same-sex marriage is not full acceptance and it is not celebration. The trust chasm is wide and there are those on both sides who are not genuinely interested in seeing it bridged. As much as the right wants to evangelize the left, the left wants to evangelize the right – and both believe that they have discerned the mind of Christ on the matter – which means they are not likely to give up their position for in-so-doing they would be betraying their conscience.
#2. For those who genuinely do want to be reconciled and participate joyfully together in the resurgence of a renewed, redesigned PCUSA, the first step may be to allow those who do not want a future together to leave peaceably. So, where the restoration of trust is possible among some within the PCUSA, there are others who need to be allowed to leave in order that those who remain can rebuild trust among a willing, committed body that intends to be the PCUSA in new ways in the future. On both ends of the theological spectrum, exit ramps may need to be created and blessed.
A few concrete steps the Moderator might lead the denomination to take in that direction include:
- The creation of a safe space for teaching elders to pursue their calling without threat of trials, defrocking, other vindictive actions by their presbyteries, and loss of productive pastoral calls. The transferability of evangelical clergy in the PCUSA is virtually stagnated. Committees on Ministry that are using pro-gay-marriage litmus tests and fidelity-to-the-PCUSA pledges prior to allowing a candidate to be considered for a call must be reigned in.
- The provision of a reasonable way for churches who desire to depart to do so peaceably with their property. This might be accomplished by a time delimited (2-3 year) suspension of the “trust clause” and the implementation of a fair process. This would necessarily include the relief of churches who wish to enter discernment from punitive and unreasonable administrative commissions. This might also include the creation of a route to appeal unreasonable actions by AC’s.
- The development of a means of and encouragement for the expression of our divided denomination within local churches that find themselves theologically divided. Teaching elders across the theological spectrum, should be encouraged to express the intrinsic unity of the Body of Christ universal, while recognizing – rather than ignoring – the very divided understanding and application of His message to us today.
Speaking from one identifiable side of the trust divide
The position of The Layman has not changed but we recognize that the PCUSA has changed substantially in recent years. We will continue to speak the truth about Jesus as the only way to salvation, the Bible alone as the Word of God and the call to holiness that includes all aspects of human life, including sexuality. We recognize that we do what we do in a broken denomination and in a culture that is broken in many of the same ways. We believe that the Word of God must be restored to its rightful place in the life of the church, that the church might be restored to the rightful place in the life of the culture, that the Lord might be glorified and people edified. So, we will love our neighbors regardless of the disagreements that arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about marriage and ordination and we will participate in the process envisioned by the Moderator with those who may disagree with us for the sake of the common good.
The Moderator has indicated that the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly will take the lead, admitting that trust does not even exist among PCUSA agencies. The Moderator said,
“I hear the concern that some people feel which suggests that if we rely on one area of our denomination to take the lead in this process, they may be tempted to control the outcome so that their interests will be served. They feel the same way about any other agency or body taking the lead. This is not a specific condemnation of COGA. Instead it is a general suspicion and unrest with our organization. When the Committee on the General Assembly (COGA) discussed tackling this issue, they recognized that their position needed to be clear and that any bias or preferred outcome from them should not have any more influence than those of other bodies. I am convinced that they believe this and will utilize objective processes and procedures including resources outside of our denomination which can help us hear the will of our membership.”
While The Layman sees the importance of hearing from people, this is the Church and hearing God’s authentic and authoritative voice through the Scriptures must come first. Coming to one mind in the matters before the PCUSA is useless unless the one mind arrived at is the very mind of Christ.
Additionally, for those within the PCUSA who now see The Layman as “outside of our denomination,” we welcome the Moderator’s inclusive call that the disenfranchised not be excluded from the conversation about the positive possible future for the PCUSA. We look forward to being invited to participate in the process on behalf of those in the PCUSA who feel disenfranchised by a myriad of changes in the denomination’s theology, practice and witness over the past 50 years.
Well written. Should COGA decide to actually pick up the mantle, I believe there could be a wounderfully equitable and amenable solution to the issue of trust. My fear, however, is that this call will simply be allowed to die a slow, quiet death by inaction and a lack of follow through. And that blame will be placed on a perceived lack of interest or insuffiecient resources. Nevertheless the call has been answered, at least by one side…
Also, the moderator should take counsel from our former Head of Worship and Theology – Joseph Small – regarding the way issues are brought before and voted upon at GA meetings. His article Presbyterians Procedural Problems appears here. Search Joseph D. Small.
Assunming the best, that this is truly what it is purported to be, I welcome it and hope we all pay attention. I am a life long Presbyterian and the latest generation of a Presbyterian family that does, indeed trace its heritage to Scotland. In that lineage are numerous teaching elders and ruling elders, Seminary board chairs, National Board of Missions (old speaak here)chairs, founding congregation memebers, and on and on. Being a moderate progressive, I have chosen to stay, but in many instances feel my church has left me. I do not take umberage over most of the decisions that were made in support of our brothers and sisters who are members of the LGBT community as well as of our community of faith. However, in those areas in which I do not always agree, I have been pilloried, insulted and “hated” at a level that exceeds any of the hatefullness that I have ever experienced our more conservative past members leveling at that group. I also have seen first hand, the punative manner in which those who have been ordained in our faith have been punished for following their conscience. I have seen many of my more progressive brothers and sisters exhibit the very levels of self-righteousness that they have condemned in those who have left us. As one who has fully dedicated my adult life to being a peacemaker (although I sadly fail), I am pained by where we have landed, and hopeful at this future action. I greatly appreciate Glen Hallead’s comments that we have to truly act. I also think another starting point is to get rid of the terms “winners” and “losers”. The only force that really “won” over the recent direction of the Church is Satan, not for the decisions that were made, but for the new level of “pride” and new group of scribes and pharisees it has enabled. And we all have lost, by focusing on things that divide us, we have lost touch with what should be uniting us – our Love of Christ.
Please forgive all the typos. The connection between my keyboard and my chair is malfunctioning today.
“The creation of a safe space for teaching elders to pursue their calling without threat of trials, defrocking, other vindictive actions by their presbyteries, and loss of productive pastoral calls.”
Odd that the Layman only calls for this now. Where have you been for the last 30 years when you and your allies were the ones threatening trials, defrocking, and other vindictive actions against LGBT people and their allies?
Let’s pray you get treated better than you deserve.
This message is excellent as far as it goes. One major corrupt power player not mentioned (as is clear if you read OUT OF ORDER) is the seminaries. 1. Trust must be earned. 2. Those that have achieved power will not yield UNLESS greater power can overcome. 3. There’s an assumption that all parties are imbued with some level of grace. The GLBTQ zealots have repeatedly demonstrated that grace nor repentance is NOT in their DNA. 4. The loss of millions to Christ over recent years is extremely disheartening due to their political behavior.
During those previous years, those actions were all in accordance with the Constitution (both parts) which were being violated.
What parts of the Constitution are being violated today??
Turns out, RC, as we’ve seen for the last 30 years, even you’re not actually violating any parts of the Constitution, it doesn’t mean that people won’t still bring charges, threats, and other vindictive action. Just ask all the good folks who had nuisance suit after nuisance suit brought against them — suits cheered on by the LayMen crowd.
I’m surprised how little time it is taking the LayMen to try to rewrite their own sordid history on trials in the PCUSA. I guess Mr. Jensen’s name no longer rings any bells, eh? Heh, heh.
pcusa has breached the trust so long ago and for a long time I foolishly thought I could contribute to a revival and a return to Scriptural authority in the denomination I belonged to for many decades. That turned out not to be possible.
pcusa left me behind, I moved on to PCA and my faith has been restored and strengthened. Personally, I see no reason for pcusa to make the attempt to renew trust in them. For me, it’s way too late. For a while after I left pcusa, I prayed for the friends I left behind who were determined to remain in an apostate denomination.
That the PCUSA is currently apostate is very disturbing to me since like Mark Snyder my Presbyterian roots go back to Scotland! Sadly at a world-wide family reunion in Aberdeen on a Sunday morning at St. Nicholas Presbyterian Church there were three choir members and about ten members of the local congregation present. The rest of the congregation was made-up of my family members. What a sad state of affairs for the legacy of John Knox! When I asked the pastor if this was a normal Sunday attendance, he replied that it was! Such is the current state of most Scottish congregations!
The question is how did the PCUSA become apostate? The answer is by accommodation and acceptance of what is clearly called and identified as sin in the Bible. The church is the place where all of us should be able to come together to worship, ask for forgiveness, and mutually strengthen our resolves to fight our sinful natures. Sadly, unless and until the PCUSA changes its ways, it will remain doomed, and its congregants in danger of being denied by a holy God!!
Please tell us about these nuisance suits. I’d like to know, as I readily admit, I’ve only been actively reading the Outlook and Layman for the past 8 or so years.
Of course, I’m wondering why if your side is so reasonable, why you keep writing ‘LayMen’ as if men are the only people included under the term Layman, which is generic, as in huMAN.
Without the issuance of a call for repentance and reconciliation based squarely upon admonition to do so in the scriptures thus call for restored trust is going to look and feel like.mere group process and problem solving. Our sins of self-pride and unfaithfulness to the teachings of Christ must be dealt with first. Someone in leadership in Louisville will need the courage and humility to issue this call. Or possibly a prophetic voice from without? If it’s not too late the Lord will surely raise that prophet up. Our only hope imho.
I think the solution is simple: PCUSA is sticking its theological nose into areas where it does not belong. 1) Had the GA conference not insisted on written changes regarding same-sex marriage and let each church choose its own way, there would have been no conflict. 2) Being in a governing body or group does not mean you must do anything or make new laws. The conference tackled issues far beyond what they had any moral authority to change. Discussing political divestments and climate change and even the mortgage deduction are not the business of the church. Just because you go to a conference doesn’t mean you have to start creating new laws or changing old ones. This is not your 15 minutes of fame. Heaven only knows what they will do in 2016. We need to pray they will stop thinking they are there to “make things better” as activists. Perhaps it should be a prerequisite that everyone who attends a GA be required to have read (at least) the New Testament cover to cover and be working on the Old.
22 years ago, after a particularly contentious meeting, I asked the presbytery moderator how we could have such a discussion since we all take the same vows and say we believe in the same things. Her response was, “You have to say that if you want to be ordained. That doesn’t mean you believe it.”
While I appreciate the moderator’s concern, re-establishing trust would require a degree of honesty that is not prominently on display currently in the PC(USA). For example:
1) Even with a new definition of marriage, same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The Form of Government explicitly states that the Confessions declare “to its members and to the world who and what it is, what it believes, and what it resolves to do.” (F-2.01) And the Confessions tell us that marriage is for a man and a woman (5.246, 6.131, 9.47).
If the PC(USA) wants to have integrity in this matter, the Confessions need to be revised. Until that time, the denomination commits an act of fraud each time it ignores what is forbidden.
2) And the abuse of the trust clause needs to end. The Form of Government explicitly states that each congregation “shall have the following powers: to receive, hold, encumber, manage, and transfer property, real or personal, for the congregation . . . to accept and execute deeds of title for such property; to hold and defend title to such property” (G04.0101). The next section, G-4.02, has the trust clause which clearly applies to congregations that become extinct or abandoned.
So, if the Moderator can re-write the Confessions, and stop the extortion, it would go a long way toward re-establishing trust. But it won’t heal the breach or stop the exodus.
Amen! A total surrender to the Holy Spirit and repentance for all of us, including me!
Donna C – the GA is required to act on overtures from Presbyteries? Do you understand how these changes come about – the GA does not sit around and just decide to change things, they act on business coming up from the congregations/presbyteries? I do not think you have any understanding of Presbyterian governance, your post makes no sense.
How about suit after suit being brought against elders and MWS when the accuser never responds to IC and the suit is dismissed (after taking up time.) Lawyers are retained, ICs are created, etc., etc. etc. and then the acusser disappears. There is one accuser in the PCUSA who did this repeatedly over the last few decades (Let’s call him Mr. J.)
My pastor was sued for ordaining me. The accuser didn’t even bother to find out that I had been ordained 10 years prior to the start of that pastor’s tenure. An IC was formed. The pastor’s job was threatened by the EP. The pastor was not allowed to serve on any Presbytery committee. After a year-long investigation, the charges were dropped because the accuser never bothered to respond to questions from the IC.
A suit against another MWS had someting like 10 co-accusers and was widely reported in the Layman. I think only one of them could be bothered to show up to trial and the prosecution couldn’t be bothered to actually bring anyone to the trial who would testify for the prosecution. Again, defrocking was threatened, laywers were engaged, ICs were formed, PJCs were activated, etc., etc., etc., and it was all for nothing.
These are just a couple examples, but there are many others. In many cases these suits were lost because the accusers and their lawyers were simply inept: Missing filing deadlines, failing to show up, failing to respond to requests for information, etc., etc. To me that’s the very definition of nuisance.
Unfortunately, “following our conscience” too often means we are reflecting the popular culture that shapes us. There’s often a distinction between believing and preaching our interpretations of Scripture (always subjective)–what we think is right (super-tolerance, our version of kindness) and the Word of God as it is given us in Scripture. We are called to counsel sinners like ourselves, and do our best to guide them on their faith journeys, which sometimes means correcting wayward behavior, even though it pains us. The PCUSA is suffering from too much dissecting God’s Word, and a blindness regarding the reasons so many of us are leaving for more Bible-based denominations. And of course too much politics.
Same gender marriage is not the only issue for the loss of trust and disappearing congregations. PCUSA has been drifting left for many many years, as we all know and I see the marriage issue as the straw that broke the camel’s back. I find their stance on Israel in siding with terrorist in HAMAS more offensive. To divest from doing business with companies that do business with Israel to side with known terrorists is deplorable and I want nothing to do with a denomination that sides with HAMAS.
Donnie Bob / what is going on here? I am out of town and return to find you saying I am trolling this site? I still want to know what Donna is saying? Her post makes it look like the GA sits around finding trouble, it’s a valid question. Why the harsh comment?
Almost all of the commenters on this website once were or still are associated with the PCUSA organization, and for that reason our comments have tended to focus on different aspects of the death throes of that forlorn institution. This focus has tended to blind us to some of the really great things happening in the Presbyterian Church in this country in and through the EPC, ECO, PCA, ARP and other biblically faithful denominations.
My own personal experience visiting and preaching in a variety of Presbyterian and Reformed churches is that there is an incredible vitality within those churches that have chosen to be Bible-based, Gospel-centered and faithful to the five Solas and other central tenets of the Christian faith. God is doing some truly wonderful things through these faithful Presbyterian churches.
There is much that can be learned by observing the PCUSA organization’s decline and fall, and by making note of the pathologies that have been at work within it. The PCUSA is a cautionary tale not to be ignored. But the time is coming when we will need to change our focus, leave the dead to bury the dead, and get on about being a part of the new things that God is doing in our world (which are, of course, the same things that God has always been doing among his covenant people).
God is good, and faithful Presbyterians have much for which to be thankful.
The attack on Israel and support of the terrorists in the name of political correctness by the assembly is the straw that broke this camel’s back. I do not consider myself a member of the pcusa any longer although my church is still part of it.
The saving grace is that our local congregation (diminished by half over this) considers itself a local church and most ignore the national church.
Donna makes some good points About what happened at this last GA
in response to the amendments brought to the vote at GA . I ant to add some thoughts along the same line about the waywardness of the leaders and commissioners:
First, the commissioners should vote their conscience and that conscience should be “captive to the Word of God”. They did not use scriptural foundations to make their decisions. Secondly, they should have heeded the recommendations coming out of the committees. Instead, leaders orchestrated the out come and allowed voting against the advice of committees. Thirdly, they
Improperly used an AI to change the BOO and change the definition of marriage. I.e. they misused the rules as pointed out by Donna.
Fourth, they ignored the Book of Confessions. Fifth, they did not listen to warnings from Missional leaders like Hunter Ferrel, who warned that our mission partners would not be in agreement with these changes.
Sixth, they put politics above the Great Commission given by Jesus
as a priority for Evangelism and Discipleship when they voted for Divesting
essentially cutting off a witness to Israel.
Lastly, they created schism in the churches by allowing divisions to play out at the local level pitting diverse aliegences to fester in Sessions, Presbyteries, committees and and among church members.
Allowing a big tent with many interpretations creates a false Unity.
Now all this was done in God’s name and I am sure God will be executing His will as we see the consequences play out according to GOD ‘s WILL.
Our moderator seems to have have had a belated epiphany. The damage is beyond repair by a national staff that has “poisoned the well” over the years. This is a desperate cry that has the effect of smoke in the wind.
I agree. I left the church when it took the pro-murder stand on abortions. The position the church re: LGBT violations has convinced me it was the correct decision.
Also, politics in the church has been a Presbyterian principle before and since the founding of the United States. The problem becomes a problem when the position is in opposition to biblical principles. Some of the finest statements of Christian political positions were presented as sermons, long before the 501(C)3 limitations of the recent decades.
We must put our faith and trust in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. God’s Word is true–yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Restoring trust at this point?
PCUSA: “hey, where did all the people go?”
The Real World: “you sued them and they left”
PCUSA: “what? Evangelicals are a little over sensitive…”
The Real World: “yeah, people are like that. Steal their money and tell them they are haters and before long they may just leave. ”
PCUSA: “but we can’t pay our huge bills and inflated ministers salaries if evangelicals leave ”
The Real World: “well, maybe you should have work shopped that scenario before you sued them.
PCUSA: “they can’t leave us. We need their validation of our liberal causes before we will be taken seriously.”
The Real World: “maybe they are excercising their right to choose?”
PCUSA: “but we choose for them!”
The Real World: “yea, that is probably the attitude they are leaving”
PCUSA: “then we will screw ’em on the way out!”
The Real World: you are making their case, so….”
PCUSA: then what can we do? What will make them trust us again and keep giving us money?
The Real World: “I’m not sure you are getting this…”
ECO/EPC: “We’re getting it. Bank account is lookin good, baby!”
This is too little, too late.
Reform should have started when the PC (USA) was sponsoring the worship of the “Goddess Sophia” more than twenty years ago.
More than 1/2 of the denomination has left. They won’t be back.
Most of the rest are elderly and likely to die off soon.
As the commercial for MasterCard used to say, “Priceless!”
Really?! Have you never been to a PHEWA conference or read any of the bilge promulgated by the denomination’s Washington office?
In 1975 the denomination had already lost 16% of its membership…and was already spreading the same “explanations” for the decline spread for the next forty years: “everyone is losing members because the Greatest Generation is dying off;” “people aren’t sophisticated enough theologically to become Presbyterian;” “we must be more inclusive of….” and my favorite, “we’re called to be faithful, not successful!”
One of the areas that Heath Radda and OGA say needs to be discussed is the nature of our connectional cohesiveness. Does what happens at the PCUSA church across town matter to my church? What does it mean to be connectional? When the denomination resists essential tenants of the reformed faith in favor of all inclusive interpretations of Scripture, then it does matter. It is worth thinking about this issue
in the context of local options and the PCUSA. It matters, because it is about our witness as a. Denomination to Christ alone and our commitment to priorities going forward. The power struggles for control of the message is still a reality.
Yeah, RC, that’s what I thought. 🙂