Monday, September 17, 2007

So Long, Clif—Part 4.

Dahlia of the day: Ringo.

Clifton Kirkpatrick, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will not be seeking another term as Stated Clerk. Today is the fourth day of critiquing Kirkpatrick’s self assessment of his time as Stated Clerk.

In looking back at his service as Stated Clerk, Kirkpatrick said:

“Serving as Stated Clerk has offered me a platform I would never have dreamed possible—to serve the church I love and to give expression to my passions, my sense of call, and my gifts for the things that really matter. It has been a tremendous privilege to give voice to the witness of our church to the gospel and to justice and peace in the world, to be a leader in the ecumenical movement, to guide the church (even in our contentions) toward unity in diversity, to uphold our Constitution, and to pioneer in new ways to express old truth as we seek to discern the mind of Christ and develop a polity and a church for the 21st century.”

“…to guide the church (even in our contentions) toward unity in diversity…”

This is an impossible task for the PCUSA!!! The PCUSA is so theologically diverse that the beliefs are mutually exclusive. The issue of ordination standards is an excellent example. One wing of the church feels that it is wrong to exclude people from ordination based on their sexual preferences and practices. Another wing of the church feels that it is wrong to ordain anyone who is sexually active outside the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman. There can be no unity between those two positions. My heart goes out to Kirkpatrick. He tries to bring about unity in an impossible situation. He has done an acceptable job of making sure that there is more theological diversity at the national level. Still, there is a lot more that needs to be done.

“…to uphold the constitution…”

This is one area where many people feel that that State Clerk has not done a good job. Hold onto your hats but I believe that he has done a good job. It is not his fault that the Constitution does not give him the ability to discipline Presbyteries, Synods, churches or pastor. He has done a good job of telling Presbyteries that they must uphold the constitution. There are times when I wish that he acted a little quicker. There are times when I have disagreed with his interpretation of the constitution. Still, he upheld the constitution as best he could.

“…pioneer new ways to express old truth…”

This is not the job of the Stated Clerk! The Stated Clerk does not have the platform or the Constitutional authority to do this. Kirkpatrick may have done work in this area; however, I have not seen or experienced any of this work. The Louisville staff has done a poor job in this area. Take worship for example. The national staff seems to be oblivious to contemporary worship. My guess is that more than half of the churches in my Presbytery have some type of contemporary or blended worship service. Yet, we get absolutely no assistance in this area at the national or Presbytery levels. Has Kirkpatrick been an advocate in pioneering “new ways to express old truth?” Not that I can tell.

“…develop a polity and church for the 21st century…”

He must be joking! The PCUSA barely made it into the 20th century before the 21st century became a reality. The last General Assembly meeting was refreshingly high tech. I was able to keep u\up on the Assembly happenings from Graham, Washington. Good job, Cliff! On the other hand, our Presbytery recently had to have a “special meeting” to cover a couple of “issues” – to appoint an Administrative Commission and to transfer a pastor or two. The meeting lasted less than 15 minutes!!! It takes me 30 minutes to drive to the Presbytery office in good traffic from my house (45 minutes from the church). Then there is the return trip. What a waste of time!!! We could have had this meeting using 20th century technology if our polity would allow it! With 21st century technology we could have watched the meeting from a high speed internet connection!

Kirkpatrick has moved our denomination into the 20th century in some areas--that in itself has been a major feat. Our “polity” is rooted in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is a shame that change happens so slowly.


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