Saturday, June 28, 2008

My Advice to Conservative Presbyterians: Stay and Compete

All this week I will be blogging on the Presbyterian General Assembly.

The General Assembly approved three out of four liberal measures on sex. They voted to amend the constitution to drop the "chastity and fidelity" requirement of church officers. They voted to replace the previous "authoritative interpretations" of the constitution that prohibited acknowledged, active homosexuals from being officers of the church. They voted to retranslate one of the confessions so that it no longer condemns "the homosexual perversion." Late last night they stopped short of redefining marriage away from "one man and one woman."

The coalition of conservative groups sent out a very disheartened message. A dozen congregations were dismissed to other denominations last year, mostly to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and there were some harsh words about the EPC at the Assembly. One of the last things that happened at the end of last night's grueling session was a proposal to deal with pastoral kindness with congregations that want to leave the denomination. It passed overwhelmingly. "Good bye and good luck," seems to be the liberal strategy, which is matched by the conservative mood.

I say to conservatives: stay and compete. The vast majority of Presbyterians do themselves believe the essential tenets of the Reformed faith. Almost all the growing congregations in the PC(USA) are conservative. Conservatives are more likely to marry, have kids, and be optimistic about the future. There aren't really many liberals in the church. What we see in the Assembly year after year are majorities of commissioners who personally have a traditional faith, but also believe in tolerating deviants (in both directions from the center). The future is actually pretty bright for traditional Presbyterian faith. It is just the rules that are getting loosened, not so many of the people.

So stay and compete. How people vote with their feet matters the most in the end.


Stushie said...

Why stay on board the Titanic rearranging deck chairs after the iceberg has been hit? If the liberals control the ship (GA), then they'll take us in the wrong direction and we'll become an apostate church.

Most conservatives have been very very very patient, but this is just too much.

Anonymous said...

We already did stay and compete. Once upon a time, that was known as the "Stay, Fight, Win" strategy of the Coalition. It is obviously in tatters.

I am in agreement with the new position of PFR: This has long since ceased to be a productive conversation. We now must be about defending the Constitution as far as we're able while defecting in place and looking toward a very different configuration in the future.

Anonymous said...

You have to be joking! Stay and drown!

Anonymous said...

The PCUSA continues her march to conform herself to this world and abandon the faith once given to the saints. The PCUSA is on the same path as the Episcopal Church. Indeed, the PCUSA seems to be running to catch up. I'm sorry for folks who are dependent on the PCUSA for a paycheck, pension, insurance, etc. As the Episcopal Chursh has demonstrated the official power structure, i.e. the keeper of the purse, will not tolerate for long folks preaching that homosexual acts are a sin.

Anonymous said...

At least until the Presbyteries vote, it's critical to stay and compete. And to pay critical attention to the teaching and preaching in our own congregations. Having watched just small portions of the GA proceedings online, even sadder than the outcomes were the many statements from YADs and others that showed no biblical grounding at all. It's time for lots of confession and repentance for the complicity in letting our denomination led so many astray.

Walter L. Taylor said...

Stay and compete? Do you not mean, stay and keep the dollars coming?

What Mr. Weston seems to forget is that the liberals have only to win once, while conservatives must win every time. That is the way our polity works. Oh, I can well imagine that some liberals want us to stay. They want our dollars.

It is over. We do not share a common faith. The General Assembly (a majority anyway) said, in effect, they will not have Jesus as Lord over their sexual proclivities, and they will not be governed by his Word.

It is over.

Alan said...

"Stay, Fight, Win" is done. It's over, it won't happen. Hopefully this will be understood by the leadership of renewal groups.

PFR has put out a good idea of affinity type groups but GA shot down any type of presbyteries made up of like minded theologies etc.

What are you saying to the people who, tomorrow, will have read the news about what our denomination has done? Will we cry, "Peace, peace, when there is no peace?" or will we take some very difficult, hard and costly steps.

good luck and may God have mercy on our denomination, I can't bring myself to use the word church

Alan Wilkerson

Tara said...

As a PCUSA seminarian and someone who came to the church from another Protestant denomination, I am seriously disheartened when my brothers and sisters in the faith declare their desire to leave-be they conservative, liberal, moderate, or living in the greys as most of us do. I have encountered in the Reformed faith and Presbyterian polity a sincere desire to embrace diversity and avoid the subscriptionism that has turned so many modern Americans off from Christianity. This of course does not mean that we believe in nothing at all but that we try to work out our disagreements through discernment and prayer. To be honest with you, although I am most likely on the opposite side of many issues than those who have posted on this blog, I beg you not to leave the denomination. But if you must, I also hope that presbyteries and other bodies will avoid vindictive and cruel behavior to those who wish to leave.
Dr. Weston- what is the deviant behavior to which you refer in the post?
I thank all of you for being honest on this blog and look forward to talking to you in the future. God bless.
Scott Spence
Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary Class 0f 2010
Centre College Class of 2002

Anonymous said...

Conservative Pastors, Elders, Deacons, Members, and Congregations have to look at these two options:
1. Stay and compete
2. Leave to another denomination that shares our theology

Then ask this question:
Which of these two is going to allow you and your church to better follow Jesus Christ and serve Him?

After this GA - for me - the answer is clearly #2. We lose visitors and members continuously in our local church because of the denominations stances - pro-abortion, pro-sexual immorality, cherry-picking the Bible and/or blatantly disregarding it.

I hope the comments late in the GA about allowing churches to leave "with our blessing" are sincere.

Anonymous said...


We have worked out our disagreement about this issue with discernment and prayer again and again since 1978.

I understand that it all seems new and full of promise to you, but to those of us who have been discerning and praying -- staying and competing, if you will -- for decades, continuing to discern and pray with people who would rather destroy the church than not have their way has worn smooth.

Anonymous said...

I am constantly bewildewred by the rage like I am reading here.

In response to an earlier post I offered the following description of my PCUSA experince:
"Over the last 25+ years I have been an active part of a handful of PCUSA congregations across the South.

None of them have been liberal congregations.I suspect they are all part of the Gruntled Center. As far as I know have never had a pastor who was part of one of the Liberal or Conservative affinity groups.

I cannot think of more than a handful of folks who have left those congregations for genuine theological reasons. (I am not counting a dispute over choir robes as theological).

On the other hand, I have known many folks who have joined the PCUSA for theological reasons. Lots of former Southern Baptists and Catholics have found homes in these congregations.

These folks like being PCUSA.

They have been happy to send their children to PCUSA sponsored camps and conferences.

They have no probelm with their children going to PCUSA colleges if they are a good fit.Austin, Trinity, Tulsa, Rhodes, Wooster, Ozarks, and Warren Wilson are ones that come to mind. Sorry no Centre folks Gruntled.

They are thrilled when thier young adult children go off for a PCUSA VIM year.

Adults over 50 fondly remember studying Guthrie's "Christian Doctrine". Adults on the younger side of 50 have read "Being Presbyterian in the Bible Belt" and found it to be an accurate desription of why they are Presbyterian. (Remember a lot of these folks are former Baptists and Catholics)."

I am curious. What would those of you who are so angry say to me and all of my friends through the years who love the PCUSA because they have experienced the love and grace of God within it's congregations?

Walter L. Taylor said...

Hey Anonymous,

You said that your young people liked "Being Presbyterian in the Bible Belt." I thought the book should have been, "Being a Mainline Liberal in the Bible Belt." Perhaps that reveals something about your experience.

Both the church I serve now and the one I served before lost members for theological reasons having to do with the public, official positions taken by the denomination. These were among the most generous and the most devoted.

Tara said...

Just as an FYI- even though I am posted under the name of Tara, my name is actually Scott. I just used my wife's google account to log in-I am one of the few people on Earth without a Blogger or google account.

Anonymous said...

To the southern Presbyterian "anonymous": Our church is probably the most conservative in the Presbytery. We have a few members very attuned to the issues in the PCUSA. But most by far are not---which actually frustrates some of us---and many have come to us from other churches, precisely because of our theology (which is very solidly reformed and very orthodox). There's no question where we stand. One reason I agree with the "stay and compete" logic is that we can yet be faithful---no one is forcing us to ordain those who shouldn't be ordained, or to hire pastors who shouldn't be pastors. And so we can yet be a faithful witness within the PCUSA. And as I commented earlier, at least until the Presbyteries vote, we must stay and do our part to defeat the proposed amendments. Of course, the key reason for hope in the PCUSA is that Jesus is Lord, and if he wants to revive the PCUSA, he can and will. My prayer after what I've seen from this GA is first confession and repentance---I think there's an awful lot of complicity by the conservatives/evangelicals in allowing what happened to happen---and then a prayer for revival. I don't want to run to a "safe" denomination. I want more than anything to see the Holy Spirit move to revive us all.

Anonymous said...

Those of you who want to "stay and compete" - What are you going to do when you go to a presbytery meeting or an PC(USA) regional or national function and get introduced to a minister or elder and his or her gay/lesbian partner?

This will happen in the near future - the authoritative interpretation now says homosexuality is OK in some instances and scrupling in now definitely allowed - the GA already approved that, regardless of the amendment b vote.

Are we not, by definition, blessing these gay unions/marriages by staying in the a denomination that allows and in some ways even encourages them?

Am I missing something here?

Stushie said...

All week long, I watched the 218th General Assembly. It astounded me how many times people stated that Jesus would do this or say that to bolster their arguments. What a load of baloney! None of us were around with Jesus in New Testament times. We have no earthly idea about what He would do or say with regard to our cultural dilemmas and ecclesiastical issues. We question the authenticity of the Gospels and the authority of the scriptures. We transfer our own cultural preferences and see our own societal prejudices in the texts that were written by the people who truly knew Him.

We are a bunch of narcissistic hypocrites looking to justify our politically correct ways and cultural orientations. We cast aside our allegiance to Christ because we don’t want to submit to Him. We change what the Bible says because we want everybody to like us. And then we get up to the microphones and tell other people what Jesus would do as if He’s our best buddy, turning Him into a theological ventriloquist’s dummy by putting words into His mouth and thoughts into His head.

Bovine manure! We are the biggest bunch of failed followers in the history of Christianity and we have so diluted the Gospel that we have deluded ourselves into shaping Jesus like play dough and making Him a bobblehead character to sit beside our PCs. Our modern Presbyterianism is a theological tacky, mood manufactured, and cheapened grace of a faith. Even the word faith is false when applied to us – we have spiritual trends, and that’s about all.

Perhaps we still have time left. Perhaps we can return to what we once were. Perhaps the Church will go through a revival, instead of cultural capitulation and doctrinal denial. Philippians 2:9-11 can be the starting point.

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Alan said...

Dear Anonymous,
You haven't seen people leave because of theological reasons because 1. they don't know why they're not happy with the status quo. OR 2 they just leave and never tell anyone why.

In this small urban church of 50 attendance I've already had 3 people ask why they should stay.


Anonymous said...


You wrote: "they don't know why they're not happy with the status quo."

Either I am misreading you or youy misread me.

I have been involved with several congregations of the Gruntled center type over the last 25 years. I have known may folks whp jhave come to the PCUSA from other traditions. I only know of a few who have left for theo. reasons.

I know lots of folks who are happy to be PCUSA. I rarely meet folks like the 3 with who you dealt this week. That's why I am bewildred when I hear stories like yours

In a little bit I will head off to church.

I'll go to a Sunday School class where most of the members didn't grow up PCUSA.

We will focus on one of the parables today as we explore, experince, and share the Christian story. It is bound to be a livley discussion. I know I will learn something.

But before we do that we will hear about and pray for a number of things such as:
* the health of friends and family members
* the class members who left at the crack of dawn to go on a msssion trip
* the youth who just got back from an "official" event
* Next week's VBS
* we may get an update on a class member who is doing outstanding work in seminary. We will all be excited. But some of us will be aware that when she reaches the point of ordination it is likely that her Roman Catholic parents and siblings will not attend.

After Sunday School we will go to worship. We will hear the Good News proclaimed and we will be both challenged and comforted by it. We will sing praises to God. We will give thanks as well. We will confess both our sins and our faith.

Before and after worship we will see those young people who will be buzzing from their confernece last week.

We will also watch people joyfully preparing for VBS.

This evening we will join with some other members to serve a meal at a local homeless shelter.

I will see a lot of olks enjoying being a part of a PCUSA congregation today.

I realize that there are PCUSA congregations that won't be a joyful place today. I find that sad and as I have indicated confusing. I continue to be bewildred by the rage.

Michael D. Bush said...

anonymous, we all, like being in the PC(USA), and even some of the reasons you list are common across the spectrum.

I work among subscriptionist presbyterians as well as PC(USA)s, and I know quite well how to value the freedom to think that we have.

That is precisely why actions such as this Assembly has taken are so disturbing. If we didn't value this church, we wouldn't be angry.

Anonymous said...

You guys are welcome to consider us.

Anonymous said...

The last anonymous commenter lists all the reasons that the GA and the ins and outs of Louisville are so very irrelevant to the actual "body life" of, I would guess, most PCUSA congregations, who have repeatedly voted through their presbyteries, the majority so far, over and over, to affirm what has been Christian teaching since the beginning: faithfulness to one's spouse if married, and celibacy if not married. ("Marriage" means persons of the opposite sex. Give anybody who wants to be legally joined to another *every* civil right and responsibility that married people have, but don't call it "marriage". It is not.)

The GAs are always discouraging for me.

Dana Ames

thomasboone said...

I'm neither anonymous nor running away. I do wonder had our discontented brothers and sisters who took churches with them to other denominations stayed, would the outcome have been different during this GA? The left voice dominated, but one reason for this is that there is less of a voice from the right. While some complain about a sinking ship, what definitely doesn't help is when evangelicals abandon the denomination rather than seek simply to be unequivocal about who they are, where they stand, and lead their sessions to do likewise. When evangelicals leave, they are contributing to the state of the PC(USA).

Why stay? Even with the IA's that have been passed at GA 2008 no one can yet tell me I must adhere to culture over scripture. I am still able to recommend to session and nominating committees not to adapt to standards of ordination that are contrary to scripture. I can still proclaim a prophetic message from scripture that carries the gospel into lives of people. I can still be an evangelical, serve on committees of influence such as a COM, CPM, or a budgetary committee, and I know that I am not alone.

Subsequently, I see much about which to hold the candle of hope rather than to let the shadow of the evil one dominate my horizon, or my session's vision for its future. Let's not leave! Let's regroup (yes, again I know), refocus from the sexuality argument to being missionally minded, hold the line where we can on the authority of scripture, and realize that there is no perfect place, church, or people on this side of heaven.

I will not let the evil one tempt me away from carrying this voice away from a church that needs to hear it more now than perhaps ever.

Anonymous said...

Beau: Do you realize how much your advice sounds like what we hear from the co-dependant spouse of an alcoholic? Minimizing the problem – refusing to confront the drunk because they themselves don’t want or can’t bear change? That spouse becomes as integral a part of the problem as the drunk. The chain must be broken. When the drunk resists intervention the only recourse for the one who loves them is to no longer perpetuate the conditions that help them drink – indeed it involves loving, purposeful detachment.
The anology is actually understated in relation to the church because we are not married to the church but to Christ –and the drunk church is denying that prior relationship. By their actions, the PCUSA is gainsaying Christ’s grace to sinners, and Christ’s word to the lost. This heresy is worse than drunkeness - more dangerous because by our reaction we lead others. The reality is that the church has chosen its course. It must be confronted. What you are proposing is not confrontation – call it what you will –but stay fight win is actually stay fight and lose – lose time, lose witness, lose people.
Beau, your solution is like the wife who slams a few pots, acts mad but still makes coffee and breakfast for your drunk husband the morning after –and in doing so you provide the conditions that help KEEP HIM DRUNK! And this week he has been on a major public bender -
In fact I think your advice to stay could be construed as not love but a form of deception, fear and failure to proclaim truth no matter the cost. It endangers the very people who think all is well. It isn't. In the PCUSA you are mated with a public drunk who denies your values - -unless of course you agree with what happened at GA – in that case just say it! The idea that you can simply complain is naive and frankly sounds disingenuous – the appeasers eventual reasoning that this doesn't touch me and mine is a failed approach. Anything short of confrontation and escape will almost certainly make things worse for more people. You are called to stand for truth -
Hey Pfr folks and other appeasers - You were warned about PUP – “oh it can’t mean that”…good guys like Ed Koster and Paul Detterman responded. We warned you about the Louisville papers – “oh you are seeing things” etc…
Well – what will you do now? I will continue to pray for miracles, and for you – - I ask you now - CONFRONT the DRUNK - take away any support, take the keys, tell them that in the name of love that you can't be a part of their denial – You have sworn to tell the truth in all your relationships.
I asked for change – I witnessed - I was defrocked for it – But it was worth it - I know many reformed drunks – and they have come to love those who told the truth.
What will you do? How will you stop your part of the madness?

Kirk Johnston

Anonymous said...

My urban Presbyterian church is growing and thriving. Every few weeks we have new people join, ranging from retirees to families with small children to singles and couples in their twenties and thirties to recent immigrants from Africa sending money home to their families. And, yes, every now and then some of our new members are gays and lesbians, excited to find a faithful Presbyterian community where they are welcomed with open arms into all parts of the life of the church.

And nobody is leaving. We've recently called a fourth pastor to work especially on Christian development. We are only getting stronger in our number of Bible study groups and Sunday School classes as well as in our involvement in the community. We are expanding our ministry to the homeless who sleep literally on our doorstep.

We are exactly what everyone insists can't exist, and yet here we are, the liberal congregation that is growing and thriving and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Gruntled said...

That is interesting, Liz. Which congregation is that?

Anonymous said...

this one

Anonymous said...

That's funny, Liz, because your congregation's statistics are posted on the denomination's web site and your church has been plateaued for years.

Inviting conservatives to stay and compete is a joke when you finish the sentence. "Stay and compete, while we make your per capita and gay ordination mandatory."