By Leslie Scanlon, The Presbyterian Outlook.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency has been rocked in recent months by a trifecta of investigations and a lot of criticism involving the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program, the Special Offerings 2015 advertising campaign and overspending for the last Presbyterian Youth Triennium. That’s leading some to ask harder systemic questions about why so many problems are emerging at the top levels of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
“This is a symptom of a much bigger problem,” wrote Fritz Gutwein, co-director of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, on Twitter. “Changing the artwork (of the Special Offerings campaign) will fix this incident but not the broken system that allowed it to happen. Too many large mistakes are happening out of an instinct to survive. It may be time to let a lot things we hold dear go so something new can emerge.”
What’s not working? No doubt, Presbyterians privately have all kinds of theories – and no shortage of people they’re willing to blame. It’s a difficult issue to raise – in part, because complicated problems rarely have simple answers. The PCUSA also is a connectional church – the General Assembly often is referred to as the denomination’s family reunion – and there is a deep desire among many Presbyterians to be part of building something up, particularly at a time when the denomination is stressed by finances, departures and declining numbers, rather than contribute to tearing something down.
Presbyterians desperately want the news about their denomination to be good – to reflect the faithfulness they see exhibited week after week in their local congregations. They believe there is much to celebrate in PCUSA ministry, in creativity, in Presbyterians caring for the pains of the world.
At the same time, however, the frustrations run deep. As many have learned, not discussing or acknowledging a problem rarely makes it miraculously disappear. And the recent difficulties in the PCUSA have reached to the very top levels – resulting in an erosion of trust and significant expenses to a denomination where dollars are in short supply.