Reply to "Overcoming the Presbyterian Power Trap: Toward an Authentic Multicultural Witness in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)" by J. Herbert Nelson II.
This is the fourth in a series of responses to the five articles in Beyond Rebuilding, which were written in answer to my Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment.
Like Rev. Nelson I want the leadership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be made of men and women drawn from all the classes, ethnicities, and cultural groups of America. I have every confidence that if the church seeks leaders who are faithful, loyal, and thoughtful Presbyterians, such a mixture will naturally emerge. We may differ on whether that is happening fast enough, and on whether the season of affirmative action is still needed, or whether the need has passed.
On a larger question, though, I think Rev. Nelson and I may disagree. Neither of us wrote specifically enough in our short essays to settle the point, so I don't want to be too definitive here. I would welcome further dialogue on these points.
I agree with Rev. Nelson that the leadership of the church should have a multicultural background. I do not agree that what the church should be seeking is a multicultural future. The church, like any viable institution, has and constantly recreates its own culture. The culture of the Presbyterian Church should be Presbyterian. This has a definite meaning for our polity, as the name presbyterian suggests. It also has a strong foundation, and is supposed to have clear limits, in our confessional constitution. The Presbyterian Establishment should be able to bring in people from all backgrounds and shape them into Presbyterians.
The content of Presbyterian culture is not rigid or fixed, as the church's changed culture about women in leadership and racial exclusion shows. Leading the discussion about whether and how to change while still being true to the theological convictions of the church is what an establishment is for. But I contend that the aim of a Presbyterian establishment is not to produce a multicultural witness, but to be a group with a multicultural background that gives a Presbyterian witness.