Friday, August 11, 2006

Double Standard—A Legal Loophole?

Toby Brown’s blog was eye opening. Most of the strings holding me to the PCUSA were severed this week. Theology, Christology and biblical faithfulness have always been the areas I use to determine whether the PCUSA (or any church or denomination for that matter) is still a church of Jesus Christ and not just some “spiritual club.” I have always thought that the denominational leadership was out of touch with the people in the pews. I have always thought that the people in our leadership were good people—we just disagree on some foundational points of our faith. This week I found out that at least some of them are two-face hypocrites.

I don’t expect our leadership to be perfect, we all sin. I do expect them to be up front and honest. When they make mistakes they need to admit it. There is silence from Louisville.

Advisory Opinion #18 says: “This means that ordaining bodies should be given the “benefit of the doubt” [quotations in original document] in making individual judgments regarding fitness for office…,” and, “We remind the church that it is the duty of both individual Christians and Christian societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each another (G-1.0305). We pray that all ordaining bodies will exercise restraint and Christian charity.” We are to trust ordaining bodies (sessions and presbyteries) in making decisions on ordaining gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender persons. We are to trust ordaining bodies as they decide that believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus is not an essential part of the Reformed faith. We are to trust ordaining bodies with deciding whether to ordain women and minorities. We are to show restraint in filing charges against presbyteries in matters dealing with ordination. We are to show mutual forbearance with each other in matters of ordination.

Now comes the internal documents that show that these ideas of “trust” and “forbearance” applies to you and me when we disagree with a decision by an ordaining body (session or presbytery), but do not apply to denominational leaders when our sessions make decisions that they don’t like. This shows the greed of our leadership. They want us to accept decisions that aren’t biblical but they don’t want to accept session decisions that might hurt their pocketbook.

As churches leave the PUCSA (and they will leave), I hope that good lawyers present Advisory Opinion #18 in court on behalf of the churches that seek to leave with their property. I hope they call Clifton Kirkpatrick to the stand and have him read those sections I have quoted. I hope that they ask him how he can ask us to “trust” ordaining bodies in one area and then not trust them in another area. I hope that Advisory Opinion #18 becomes the main ammunition of departing congregations as they struggle to keep their property.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lack of Institutional Control

Major university/college athletics are governed by the NCAA. The NCAA has a set of rules that are to be enforced. Just this week the University of Washington announced that four football students are academically ineligible—they did not meet NCAA rules concerning academics. A university can be hit with severe penalties if they have numerous infractions across their athletic programs. The NCAA has a title for this type of problem—“lack of institutional control.”

Has the PCUSA reached the point where there is a lack of institutional control?

1. The NCAA has a set of rules that must be followed. The PCUSA now has a set of rules that any ordaining body can say are not an essential part of the Reformed Tradition.

2. The GA Stated Clerk has not stated whether, in his opinion, the approved PUP report allows ordaining bodies to ordain sexually active LGBT persons.

3. The August 2006 issue of Presbyterians Today says that the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians “is possible even now…”

4. The General Assembly Council appoints the board members for Westminster/John Knox Press (WJKP). There has been no public apology by WJKP over the publication of The Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11 by David Ray Griffin. No one has been fired. The book is still being published. The GA Council has issued no statement about the book and its publication.

5. The main writer of the Trinity paper has said that the paper was “fuzzy” and “rough” in key areas. This is the same staff person who was with the group that met with Hezbollah in 2004. Why is this staff person still employed by the PCUSA?

6. The Redwoods Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission acquitted the Rev. Jane Spahr of the charges against her pertaining to performing a “marriage” of gay couples and lesbian couples. She admitted that she has performed such marriages.

The list could go on and on!

The NCAA has a list of acts that demonstrate a lack of institutional controls. That list includes:

  1. “A person with compliance responsibilities fails to establish a proper system for compliance or fails to monitor the operations of a compliance system appropriately.”
  2. “A person with compliance responsibilities does not take steps to alter the system of compliance when there are indications the system is not working.”
  3. “A supervisor with overall responsibility for compliance, in assigning duties to subordinates, so divides responsibilities that, as a practical matter, no one is, or appears to be, directly in charge.”
  4. ‘Compliance duties are assigned to a subordinate who lacks sufficient authority to have the confidence or respect of others.”
  5. “The institution fails to make clear, by its words and its actions, that those personnel who willfully violate NCAA rules, or who are grossly negligent in applying those rules, will be disciplined and made subject to discharge.”
  6. “The institution fails to make clear that any individual involved in its intercollegiate athletics program has a duty to report any perceived violations of NCAA rules and can do so without fear of reprisals of any kind.”
  7. “A director of athletics or any other individual with compliance responsibilities fails to investigate or direct an investigation of a possible significant violation of NCAA rules or fails to report a violation properly."
  8. “A head coach fails to create and maintain an atmosphere for compliance within the program the coach supervises or fails to monitor the activities of assistant coaches regarding compliance.”

It is laughable that a sports group like the NCAA is run better than the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). A “church” should have higher standards of conduct than any other organization.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

It Is In Print So It Must Be True

“Given these results, the controversy is unlikely to disappear. Whether current policy is maintained is less easy to predict, since voting to permit ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians—especially as deacons and elders—is possible even now, depending on the particular mix of ministers and elders at relevant General Assembly and presbytery meetings.” (Presbyterians Today, August 2006, page 7, “Go Figure” by Jack Marcum)

To my knowledge this is the first time that an “official” denominational publication has said that it is now possible to ordain sexually active gays and lesbians. The PCUSA’s Stated Clerk has yet to say that sexually active gays and lesbians can be ordained. I have not seen such a statement in any other official publication of the PCUSA. Well, now that it is in print it must be true.

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.