Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Schism Acceleration Act of 2008 Passes Committee

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

The Church Orders Committee voted to delete the "chastity and fidelity" amendment from the Book of Order.

In its place the committee proposes this new standard:

Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.

The vote was 41 - 11. Many on the losing conservative side did not return after dinner for the voting.

Liberals have tried to delete the chastity and fidelity standard twice before. One of the liberal proponents of this current deletion attempt, Rev. Sue Fisher, said “One day this will be deleted,if not today then some day and I want to give the Assembly the opportunity to determine if this is the day.”

I have found that many liberals have a sense that history is on their side. At the same time, they are more pessimistic about the future of the church than the conservatives tend to be.

There may come a time when the presbyteries trust one another to judge justly enough, without having to spell out a national standard. That time has clearly not come. I think the only effect of yet another attempt to delete the sexual behavior standard from the constitution will be to drive out more congregations that are sick of having to re-fight this fight.


Anonymous said...

Your title and last sentence of this blog item is spot on.

Anonymous said...

Amen and amen.

Jody Harrington said...

I fear the title of your post will prove to be prophetic, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you guys are going down the Episcopalian road.All that will be left are the liberals and the centrists.

Gruntled said...

I think the Episcopal Church provides a cautionary tale of exactly what is likely to happen if we keep promoting schism. That is why I am more hopeful about following PUP and nFOG.

Michael Kruse said...

I doubt schism is the result. Evaporation is probably more descriptive.

Stushie said...

The church I serve is a moderate congregation, but they are really getting tired of this see-saw debate. I fear that this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and we may seek to leave the PC(USA).

Gruntled said...

We lost a dozen congregations to dismissal this year -- an upward trend. If we send yet another "delete B" amendment down for a vote, plus the already screwed up Spahr decision, I would predict 20 lost next year.

Dave Moody said...

Michael Kruse is right, schism isn't the correct word for what will happen. Unless one perhaps looks at it from the other direction, the PCUSA walking away from Nicene Christianity. But the end result for the institution is.

thanks for your post,

Anonymous said...

From my perspective, sessions are having and will have an increasingly difficult job of holding congregations together.

Renee Guth

tbjohnston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
linda lee said...

Does anyone have a sense of the people running for stated Clerk of the GA and if one of them might be able to keep the "ship" from sinking?

Anonymous said...

As I see it, there are two candidates for Stated Clerk who have any chance of winning, especially at this particular Assembly: the committee's nominee, whose name I can't remember just now, and Ed Koster.

If I had a vote, and I wasn't going to waste it making a statement, I'd vote for Koster, because I think he might be willing to find procedural ways to keep the human, collateral damage of the destruction of the church to a minimum, and I know that the current regime will not.

No stated clerk can keep the ship from sinking, though, in the nature of the office.

Anonymous said...

A great analysis of this sad business.

And Stushie, be careful what you say in a public forum. The lawyers read too...

Anonymous said...


I have heard that Parsons is perhaps not cut from the same cloth as Kirkpatrick.

Let's hope!

Gruntled said...

The future of the church is in the hands of the presbyteries and congregations, not the stated clerk. The stated clerk is the single most important person in the church defending its standards.

Anonymous said...

This is indeed unfortunate, for it only reinforces the general notion that GA is a legislative body. That paradigm has not served us well since the fundamentalist/ modernist debates of the early 20th Century. The proposed FOG sought to promote a missional paradigm, yet it is actions such as these that undercut the trust required for such a paradigm shift. That is too high a price to pay. I suspect that instead of schism, the net effect that GA will continue its march towards irrelevancy in the lives of our congregations.

Anonymous said...

Renee refers to sessions trying to hold congregations together. When I hear statements like that I always wonder about the membership of those congregations? Who are these folks putting such pressure on their sessions.

I ask becasue I have never really encounterd such folks.

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 can only remember a handful of conversations about sexuality related issues in all this time. There is one that sticks in my mind. It was a session meeting just before a presbytery meeting on with of the big votes. The pastor asked every one on the session to share their view. There were elders on both sides of the issue with a slight majority for the conservative view. The reps to Presbytery had already been chosen. If I recall they both were in the minority. There was no attempt to elect new reps. The Session simply went on with the rest of the business. And they were all back the next month and the next. No debates. No arguing

These folks like being a part of the PCUSA. Being able to disagee and stay together like that is part of what they like.

I do know that when they come back fromt Presbytery meetings they express frustration with the folks from one of the conservative congregations (even if they agree with them) who are always upset about something. I suspect if we were not in the Bible Belt they would be just as annoyed with folks from a liberal congregation who were always upset about something.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous could be describing my church here in Alabama. But Michael Kruse is also correct, the issue for many PCUSA churches, especially in the southeast will be evaporation. The church I attend would never consider leaving the denomination. However I know a number of folks who, after finding out the "progressive" trend in the PCUSA, have simply found other churches to go to.

Gruntled said...

Most congregations do not have theological fights. This is not a peculiarity of the South. People in a congregation have to live with one another. People in special interest groups do not.

I do think, though, that there are a whole group of centrists who are sick of the repeated fight. They evaporate.

Still, just about every presbytery, especially the non-urban ones, has a congregation or two that is on a hair-trigger to leave. They may have been withholding per capita for a decade to two, stopped sending commissioners to the higher judicatories, and get most of their denominational news from the Layman. One more fight on G 6.0106b could mean that 20 of those, say, 120 congregations would throw in the towel.

The PUP/nFOG process is more hopeful than another amendment fight.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your concise analysis. Although the proponents of deleting G-6.0106b see it as a justice issue that requires persistence ("justice delayed is justice denied"), I think they fail to see the real consequence of stoking the same old polity battles at GA and in the presbyteries. To me, it seems more and more that they are stirring controversy, trying to ram legislation through the denomination when the consensus for such a move is non-existent. In fact, their persistence (and the same harsh rhetoric) seems increasingly divisive. Can't we just take a break, rather than sowing discord at every GA?
Ray McCalla