Friday, June 30, 2006

Church Options - Day 2

Yesterday I started a series of post based on the Peace, Unity and Purity (PUP) report, as approved by the General Assembly of the PCUSA. Many churches and individuals feel that the Assembly made a major mistake and that the approved report will seriously harm the denomination. This series focuses on possible courses of action these churches can take.

Second Option A – Fight with Your $$$ “Light”

The PCUSA has long used its financial investments as a way to influence the actions of major corporations. The PCUSA will not own Boeing stock due to Boeing’s contract work for the military. Local congregations have followed this lead and have withheld their financial contributions to the denomination when a church’s Session disagreed with denominational policies. Typically, “mission dollars” are withheld. The church then gives their mission dollars by “designating” where those dollars are to go. A church that uses this option (Fight with Your $$$ “Light”) could “designate” their giving to Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly mission causes based on the beliefs of the local Session.

Positive Aspects of this Option

1. The local church is using the same “strategy” as the investment group of the denomination (MRTI).

2. The church still supports “mission” in the PCUSA.

Negative Aspects of this Option

1. The “mission” of the church suffers—not the agencies of the denomination!!

2. There is no assurance that this option will be effective.

Second Option B – Fight with Your $$$ “Hardball”

In this option the local church again tries to influence the denomination with their dollars. This strategy is design for MAXIMUM impact. If this option is employed in a wide-spread, denomination wide effort by groups opposed to the PUP report it will have a catastrophic impact on the PCUSA. This option would have the local church giving NO MONEY to the PCUSA—period! The congregations would not give Per Capita or mission dollars to PCUSA entities (this would include Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly). Congregations could give their “mission” dollars directly to mission causes that they support. Imagine the impact of this option if affinity groups (such as the Confessing Church Movement, New Wineskins, Presbyterian Coalition, Presbyterians for Renewal, etc.) were to implement this strategy. Presbyteries, Synods and the General Assembly would be financially crippled. The pressure on General Assembly to change their decision on the PUP report would be overwhelming. A special meeting of the Assembly could be called to reverse the PUP decision. Failure of the Assembly to act would result in wide-spread layoffs at all levels of the denomination.

Positive Aspects of this Option

1. Once again, local churches would be using a strategy that our denomination uses with its investments.

2. I believe that it would force the General Assembly to act ASAP. The General Assembly would find out that the local churches will not tolerate Assembly decisions that move the denomination in particular directions without allowing the Presbyteries to vote on the changes.

3. Failure of the Assembly to act would show that the leadership of the denomination is truly out-of-step with the people in the pew.

Negative Aspects of this Option

1. Churches and groups that implement this option could be viewed in a very negative way by the “middle” of the denomination.

2. Good people will lose their jobs.

3. Missionaries will still experience financial difficulties; however, those difficulties could be shorter in duration than in the “light” form of this option.

Option B (either “light” or “hardball”) would only be effective if implemented in a wide-spread manor throughout the denomination. I just don’t see this happening.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Church Options - Day 1

The Peace, Unity and Purity (PUP) Task Force report, as approved by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has frustrated and angered many individuals and churches. What plan of action should/could these churches take? My next several posts will look at various options. I will examine one or two options per day.

First Option – Submit.

The Presbyterian Church is a connectional church. We value working together. We value our polity and form of government. The local church elects people to serve as Elders. The Elders who are currently serving elected terms are called the Session (please change this to “Church Board” so everyone else in the WORLD will know what we mean!). The Session oversees the ministries of the local church. Each church Session sends delegates to the Presbytery meetings (plus the pastor attends). The Presbytery makes regional decisions. Each Presbytery sends delegates to General Assembly. The General Assembly makes decisions that impact the entire denomination. When the denomination’s constitution is changed the adopted change goes back to the Presbyteries for ratification. While we recognize that governing bodies can and do error, we are to submit to their authority and then work through “the system” to correct such errors.

The “good Presbyterian” church that disagrees with the adopted PUP report will submit to the new Authoritative Interpretation. They can then work within the system to change the new Authoritative Interpretation.

Positive Aspects of this Option

1. The “connectional” aspect of the PCUSA stays intact.

2. It is the “decently and in order” way of doing things.

3. This option will help preserve the “unity” of the PCUSA.

Negative Aspects of this Option

1. Local churches will begin to openly ordain non-celibate GLBT persons. This will have a HUGE impact on future votes at the Presbytery and General Assembly levels.

2. Persons who openly live their lives in defiance of the constitution of the PCUSA and scripture will be in positions of “authority” in churches, Presbyteries, Synods and the General Assembly.

3. Pro-GLBT groups and individuals will continue to try to remove all roadblocks to their ordination.

4. The Bible clearly condemns GLBT sexual activity.

5. This option WILL NOT bring “peace” or “purity” to the PCUSA.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Must See Cartoon

Truth in Love Network has posted a link to a fabulous cartoon dealing with the GA Trinity paper. Check it out!!!

Israel, Exile and the PCUSA

Is God “serious” when He talks about sin? At what point do the sins of a few become the sins of a group or nation? If Israel was “exiled” because of its sin, why would God not do the same thing to the PCUSA?

I am glad that we serve a loving God. The love of God for his creation is evident throughout the scriptures. The greatest example of that love is the sacrifice of his son, Jesus, so that we could be reconciled to God. God is a loving God!

There are other ways to describe God: holy, righteous, and jealous, to name a few. We can get so wrapped up in the love of God that we forget that love is only one attribute of God. We need to have a healthy, holistic picture of God. We must read the whole Bible to inform our view of God. We must read difficult passages that talk about what he did to his people when they turned from his words and commands—such as 2 Kings 17.

How is the PCUSA different from Israel? How the PUP report is implemented will answer this question!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"Passively Submit" or "Peaceably Withdraw"

Gruntled Center raised the issue of “passively submit” or “peaceably withdraw.” It is my contention that to raise this issue at this point in the life of the PCUSA is disingenuous. Look at my reasoning—I have been wrong before and will be wrong again and again—but I don’t think so on this issue.

For DECADES the liberal/progressive camp of the PCUSA HAS NOT “passively submitted” or “peaceably withdrawn.” Some have, many (if not most) have not! Churches have knowingly ordained GLBT elders and deacons. Presbyteries have ordained GLBT pastors. Judicial Commissions have creatively ignored our denominational standards on ordination of GLBT persons. WHERE HAS BEEN THE “PASSIVELY SUBMIT” OR “PEACEABLY WITHDRAW” ADMONISSION BEEN? The rank-and-file of the PCUSA let them openly break the rules with little or no consequence.

Now that the large numbers of Presbyterians and Presbyterian churches are examining the possibility of leaving the church what do we begin to hear? We hear that the correct response to the Pup report as passed by the Assembly is “passively submit” or “peaceably withdraw.” What a crock!

The “scent of fear” is in the air! What would happen if the 1000+ churches of the Confessing Church Movement pulled out of the PCUSA? What would happen if the New Wineskins churchs pulled out of the PCUSA? What would happen if churches like Evergreen Presbyterian Church, which has not signed on to either of these movements, pulled out of the PCUSA? Such denominational defections would serious cripple the PCUSA. What would happen if these churches stay in the PCUSA but refuse to give a single penny to the church (both Per Capita and mission $$$)? That type of organized revolt would serious cripple the PCUSA! The “scent of fear” is in the air!

If there are churches that leave the PCUSA, let us remember who really left! The PCUSA left those churches and the historic Christian faith! It is not schism if these churches leave. A body that is no longer biblical is not a Christian church. A local church that walks away from a body that is no longer a Christian church is not involved in schism!

I recognize that this is strong language and will offend and anger many. We have to remember that we are not a “country club” that gets to make up the rules as it goes along. The definition of a “Christian” church is found in scripture. Is the PCUSA still a “Christian church?” That question will be answered as the decisions of the 2006 General Assembly are implemented and Judicial Commissions interpret the Assembly decisions.

The Letter, the General Assembly and Confusion

It is my contention that the recent General Assembly tried to please everyone and in the process frustrated the masses. The Assembly had to deal with at least three hot button issues: the PUP report, the Israel-Palestinian issue and the Trinity report (I would say that the rewrite of the chapter of the Book of Order and “open meetings” were also huge issues). The Assembly did not act decisively on any of these issues!

The PUP report was an attempt to give enough to both “sides” on the issue to keep them in the denomination. The result will not be peace and unity—definitely not purity. What will happen? The progressive/liberal side will keep pushing to remove all obstacles to the ordination of GLBT person. Few, if any, from this camp will leave the denomination because they have won a MAJOR victory. The PUP report was to appease the evangelical/biblical/conservative camp by keeping the ordination standards the way they have been. The evangelical/biblical/conservative camp is in confusion because of the amendment added to the PUP report on the floor of the Assembly. Most will stay in the denomination and try to fight. Some will leave. In trying to please everyone the Assembly created chaos and confusion.

The previous Assembly made news around the world in its decision on divestment and Israel. Presbyterians were angered. Jews felt betrayed. It was a quick decision and the ramifications were not thoroughly explored. There were numerous requests to overturn that decision. So what did the Assembly do? They tried to please everyone. East Coast news papers said that the PCUSA had thrown out the 2004 decision. The letter from the GA Stated Clerk and Moderator said exactly the opposite! Those who desire to “punish” Israel still have license to move forward. Those who want to “punish” the radical-militant arm of the Palestinian people DO NOT have license to do that. The PCUSA can give $$$ to “peaceful” endeavors in the area but there is no mandate to financially punish the militant Palestinians. Once again, in trying to please everyone the Assembly created chaos and confusion.

Now we move to the Trinity report. There are those under the PCUSA umbrella who do not like the biblical image of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They desire to use other language for the Trinity. The report was, and is, UNBIBLICAL. The Assembly should have either sent it back to the committee to be re-written or they should have voted it down. So what does the Assembly do? They try to please everyone and in to doing cause confusion to the “average” Presbyterian. The difference between “receiving” a report and “accepting” a report is huge. It is confusing to the average person and most, if not all, non-Presbyterian-types. Why would the Assembly “receive” an unbiblical report? They did it to please the progressive/liberal camp of the denomination! That group now has license to use the language of the report in worship even though the report was not “approved.” The report was not “approved” to please the evangelical/biblical/conservative camp of the denomination. So where does the PCUSA stand on the Trinity? “Officially,” we still believe the biblical model BUT our churches are free to use the unbiblical model. Once again, in trying to please everyone the Assembly created chaos and confusion.

Some will say that the Assembly was “middle-of-the-road” and that the middle won. But did they? I don’t understand “the middle.” How can both biblical and unbiblical be ok? How can we have a prohibition on GLBT ordination and open the door to that ordination? How can we be for peace in the Middle East and yet not have any way to “punish financially” both sides? How can we have a biblical view of the Trinity yet give an opening for an unbiblical model to be used in worship? In trying to please everyone the Assembly created chaos and confusion.

Is it any wonder that the letter sent out to the churches was less than pleasing? The letter put a “positive spin” on these three issues but never informed the PCUSA as to what the true outcome of these decisions will be. I’m glad that I didn’t have the assignment of writing the letter. My letter would have been HONEST and told the denomination that we are in a time of confusion and crisis and need to be in serious prayer for the PCUSA.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Sick to My Stomach

My e-mail inbox holds a letter from the new GA moderator and the GA stated clerk. I opened it with interest yesterday morning. What I read surprised and sickened me. I expected them to put a positive spin on the Assembly meeting—that is part of their job. It started with the normal spin of how the Assembly meet was uplifting and meaningful. Then they launched in on the “three particular decisions that made immediate headlines.” Their coverage of the PUP report was most surprising. There was no mention of “scruples.” There was no mention that ordaining bodies can declare that a denominational requirement ruled as a non-essential part of Reformed theology. There was no mention of the turmoil that the PUP report is having. It reminds me of the Emperor who had no clothes. It was obvious that the emperor had no clothes on, but people were afraid to say anything. Our GA Moderator and Stated Clerk seem to refuse to recognize the obvious. The PCUSA is at its most precarious moment in my lifetime and our highest elected officers go on as if it is business as usual.