I thank the Witherspoon Society, the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s venerable liberal activist group, for posting a critique of my Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment. A distinguished group of professors, lions of the Sixties struggles that created the current affirmative-action model of church authority, defend the status quo. In so doing they bring out several misconceptions about my argument. As one young blogger wrote, "I'm not sure what the 'Witherspoon Society' is, but I can only hope that one day I write something that gets that many teachers cranky enough to sign something like that..."
They want to fight the old war; I am ready to move on to the new one.
The "PCUSA Professors' Response" reads my argument as nostalgia for sacramental authority of the clergy. They cite the stirring Biblical claim that in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female" (Gal. 3:28) as proof of the need for structures in the church to represent different demographic groups. The cite Neibuhr to argue that we are prone to distort all human structures with our pride and sin, including structures that were meant for good. Most importantly, they believe that “The challenge for the PCUSA in the 21st century is to figure out how to further the work of reconciliation in a world with different social realities and challenges than the world of the 20th century.”
My point exactly. The affirmative action model championed by these activist professors in their youth is outdated now. Demographic representation rules were meant to foster a consciousness that diversity is good. They worked. Now those required structures perpetuate judging people's fitness for church leadership by their race, sex, and age. Galatians 3:28 is a call for the church to get beyond the world's obsessions with ethnicity, class, and sex -- not permanently institutionalize them in the church. What we need is not nostalgia for the structures of two generations ago, but a clear focus on spiritual service to Jesus Christ and his Great Commission. We should make every effort to try to draw into the burdens of church leadership people from all backgrounds who love and competently serve the church.
The church will always face internal competition, sometimes even conflict. What has gotten us through as a supernatural institution is our commitment to Christ and Scripture, and generous help from the Holy Spirit. What has gotten us through as a human institution is a body of leaders, both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders, who have learned great practical wisdom about how to run Presbyterian institutions. When those leaders work together for the good of the church, we honor them as the Establishment who can be relied on in crisis. The church faces crises today, as we did in the past, and we will have to rely on our leaders in the future as much as we had to in the past.