Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Picky Point About the Presbyterian Panel Report

The Presbyterian Panel is an ongoing survey of the church conducted by the PC (USA) Research Services office. It is, I think, the best denominational research tool in the country. Three times a year they survey a representative group of members, elders, pastors, and other ministers about issues before the church. Before the General Assembly this year the Panel were surveyed about the major item before the GA, the report of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church – the PUP report about which I have written much.

I was involved in that study. Research Services did a heroic job getting the data ready for analysis in time to be useful for the General Assembly. We were just about to start the analysis when the Stated Clerk, the Assembly's highest official, asked that no analysis of the Panel data be published before the Assembly met. He feared that such last-minute information could not be digested in time to be properly considered by the Assembly.

The Stated Clerk, Cliff Kirkpatrick, is a friend and someone I respect. He wrote a generous forward to Leading from the Center. I disagree with his decision not to report the Panel results before the Assembly. But I respect that he made a principled decision.

The Presbyterian Layman, the scourge of the denominational leadership, has reported that Kirkpatrick tried to suppress the Panel report because he didn't like what it would say.

It is true that most Presbyterians do not want to trade the church's purity for peace. They want the constitution as it is to be followed, and don't want local bodies to be making up their own lists of essential tenets of the faith. And most members, elders, and pastors (though not, surprisingly, a majority of specialized, non-pastoral ministers) agree that "a church that is not clear about what it believes is not worth belonging to." The Layman believes these results represent a rejection of the PUP report. I don't, but that is a matter for another day.

But here is the important point I want to clarify: Cliff Kirkpatrick did not withhold the Panel data because he had seen the analysis and didn't like it. No analysis of the Panel data had been done by anyone before the Assembly – you can take that from the horse's mouth. The Stated Clerk decided as a matter of policy that whatever it was the Panel might reveal, it would come too late to really help the Assembly's deliberations.

7 comments:

Quotidian Grace said...

Thanks for explaining this. Good to hear from "the horse's mouth"!

Denis Hancock said...

I wonder if Jack Marcum's memo inadvertently created the impression that there was an attempt to suppress the report?

I can see how it could be interpreted more than one way....

Pastor Lance said...

If we use the Stated Clerks reasoning on this issue there would be:
1. No testimony at GA committee meetings because there would not be time for the delegates to digest the testimony.
2. No debate on the floor of the Assembly because there would not be time for the delegates to digest the information given in the debate.
3. No amendments to motions in committee meetings or on the floor of the Assembly because there would not be time to digest the effects of those motions.

On matters a important as the PUP report the delegates needed as much information as possible. If they knew that the Presbyterian Panel Report indicated that there would be wide-spread turmoil caused by the acceptance of the report the delegates might have voted quite differently.


Pastor Lance
FullCourtPresby.blogspot.com

Mark said...

I wonder if Jack Marcum's memo inadvertently created the impression that there was an attempt to suppress the report?

I can see how it could be interpreted more than one way....


I think our denominational problems have created a lot of paranoid people.

Well, maybe paranoid is a bit strong. Let's just say that folks are assuming the worst in others' actions rather than assuming the best.

Personally, I try to assume that the other person is doing what they believe to be right. Sometimes that is 180 degrees opposite to what I think is right, but still what the other person thinks is right.

Unfortunately, folks seem to be assuming that if we don't KNOW the other person's position well, then they may be doing something sinister. And if you know their position and disagree with it, then folks assume that they MUST be trying to do something sinister.

It's really very sad.

I'd rather assume that everybody is doing what they think is right and I'm not gonna like it some of the time.

Alan said...

I usually take the position that if the Layman is railing about something, they're likely wrong. Once again, I see that position is correct.

Alex said...

Our stated clerk is an honorable, excellent presbyter. I am not surprised by Beau's assessment -- but it is nice to hear my feelings on this issue confirmed.

Lance -- please! The "widespread" turmoil has been created and sustained in the minds of a very few in our denomination.

Gruntled said...

Agreed. Most members don't even know the PUP report happened. I believe most of those who do know are waiting to see how the particular cases fall out.