Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Trinity Paper -- Rough Edges?

Is the General Assembly’s Office of Theology and Worship out of touch with the people in Presbyterian pews? Recently, Presbyweb carried a link to a Layman article on the Trinity report. There were a significant number of quotes from Charles Wiley, the primary writer for the Trinity paper and a GA staff member in the Office of Theology and Worship. The Layman reported that Wiley is “both distressed and embarrassed by the response to the paper.” He is reported as saying that the paper had “rough edges.” He also admits that the paper was “fuzzy” in how the triads were to be used. All of this is from a GA staff member!

The Trinity paper, if adopted, was to become an official policy paper of the PCUSA (that is if I understand my polity). How could a GA staff person agree to submit a paper that was “rough” and “fuzzy?” God and the denomination deserve better than “rough” and “fuzzy” work.

Put on your thinking cap and remember back to October 2004. A Presbyterian delegation met with Hezbollah. That meeting caused uproar across the PCUSA. A member of that delegation was Charles Wiley from the General Assembly’s office of Theology and Worship. Granted, he did not plan the meeting with Hezbollah. However, we are never forced to be in a situation that is compromising. My family and I have gone to see a movie and walked out in the middle of it. We had paid our admission and could have stayed; however, we did not choose to subject our kids and ourselves to the content of that movie. We chose to walk out. Wiley could have walked out of that Hezbollah meeting; but he didn’t.

Why bring up the Hezbollah incident when writing about the Trinity paper? It goes back to whether the Office of Theology and Worship is out of touch with the Presbyterians in the pews. The Office of Theology and Worship should have known that the Trinity paper was not going to be received with praise and fanfare. They should have been aware that it was going to cause a firestorm in parts of the denomination. They should have learned from the 2004 Hezbollah experience. If nothing else they should have learned to seek out direct input from those who might be offended by the Trinity report. They should have gone directly to The Lay Committee, Presbyterian for Renewal and other renewal groups for their input. They should have talked to their sharpest critics to get their opinion. So what did they do? They sent out a letter across the denomination asking for input. This method usually draws very little response from people.

The Office of Theology and Worship is either incompetent or they are out of touch with large parts of the denomination. They should be fired if they are incompetent. They should be fired if they are out of touch with large parts of the denomination.

There is a third option for you conspiracy theory people out there. Could it be that the Office of Theology and Worship knew exactly what they were doing? Could it be that they thought that the report would fly under the radar because of all the attention focused on the PUP report?

This incident shows what can happen when people are involved at the highest levels of the PCUSA for years and years. It is time for the General Assembly Council to clean house (another example of this is the 9/11 book recently published by Westminster/John Know Press—but don’t get me started on that…). It is time for rules that allow a person to work in Louisville for six years; then they would be forbidden from working at any national or synod level for six years. This would keep our national staff in touch with the people in the pews. The GA Council should also mandate that if a person serves on a GA committee for one three-year term they cannot serve on another committee for at least three years and they cannot be employed by the General Assembly for that same three years. We need new blood in Louisville and on all of our national committees. The current staffing in Louisville has lost the trust of the people in the pews. It will take time to earn that trust back. If the GA Council is serious about re-establishing trust they will clean house and start over.


At 10:30 AM , Blogger Xtrsk33r said...

I'm all for rotating new blood in positions in Louisville. Unfortunatly, if I understand correctly, any overture that might suggest this change would have to go through GA staff and they decide which committee gets to discuss the overture and who is on the committee.

Kind of "Stacks the Deck" against any rational overtures that might remove some of those in Louisville.

Plus, it changes the status quo and anyone who puts forth such an overture will be labled as trying to disturb the new-found Peace and Unity the Church has since the GA. (How does one type sarcastically?)

At 10:29 PM , Blogger PJ said...

A decade ago, there was some discussion of the wisdom of term limits and rotation of LVL staff. The argument that finally won the day was that term limits would keep the best and brightest from applying for the positions.

After all, parish ministers apply for an indeterminate and effectively unlimited term. Many start positions planning on staying in a community for six or eight years (say, long enough to get a child through elementrary school). So some asked, Why would we expect ministers to apply for anything less simply because they're serving the national leadership?

The last vestige of term limits disappeared a few years ago when the Stated Clerk was allowed to stand for an unlimited number of terms.

At 1:18 AM , Anonymous will spotts said...

I'm skeptical trust can be rebuilt at this point. There is certainly hope for that, but it strikes me as unlikely. With God all things are possible.

Term limits would be a good idea -- they would help to ensure that we never again get an entrenched, monolithic bureaucracy that is so detached from Presbyterians.

Another needful thing is for the GA to actually demand accountability. Right now so many things prevent this from happening. At best a GA can resist being manipulated to a certain degree. Having more time to debate and consider issues would help. Having more care on the part of presbyteries in selecting their commissioners would also help.

There are many people in this bureaucracy who are well-meaning. They do not intend harm. But they have gone without accountability to ordinary Presbyterians for a long time. Human nature dictates that they will not be receptive to suddenly finding themselves subject to oversight.


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