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Sunday, July 06, 2008

gracious witness resolution - rationale

This is the written rationale for item 04-28. Unfortunately, the rationale section doesn't always get passed on with the action portion.

There are many scenarios and reasons for dismissal of churches. Furthermore, presbyteries have constitutional discretion in how to respond to such requests. Nonetheless, it is not sufficient to follow the letter of church law and miss or transgress the Spirit of Christ in that law. This resolution is deeply needed for two reasons.

First, it is easy for us to emphasize the property trust responsibilities of presbytery/synod oversight to the exclusion of the pastoral responsibility of caring for the congregations (members staying and leaving) and the responsibility of public witness to Christ with the larger body of Christ and the community and world.

Second, across the church our presbyteries are inconsistent in communicating how they will respond to churches seeking dismissal. There are several helpful and gracious processes available on the middle governing body website (and by the example of some presbyteries), but many presbyteries and councils are guarded about the local application of G-11.0103i. This fosters a pre-emptive all-or-nothing posture from a church seeking dismissal. Our desire is to urge each other into a more grace-filled exchange.

Our concern is practical and is rooted in the commission to care for Christ’s sheep. To be direct, if a church goes through the trauma of an internal split, wouldn’t we rather the members go to church anywhere than end up disillusioned and quitting on a local church and presbytery that have been to court in a protracted legal battle? Wouldn’t we rather lose some dirt or brick or even lose face than poison the well of witness in our community? As the resolution states, we believe litigation by Christians against Christians is deadly to the cause of Christ.

What do we envision? We call on local church leadership and presbytery leadership to care pastorally for majority and minority groups in a church seeking dismissal. This could result in a final picture, not of two embittered enemies in court, but in mutual blessing and partnership in the midst of the sadness of parting. We envision presbytery leadership and local church leadership working together to bless and make way for a majority group and to take great care to re-locate and shepherd a minority group. This could be the last great joint mission effort of two parts of Christ’s body who are focusing on different mission fields.

Brothers and sisters, we can do better than we are doing! But it will take a re-prioritizing of how we exercise responsibility and power and a commitment to act. Failure to act will perpetuate communication and practice that we believe is not only harmful to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) but to our witness to Jesus Christ in the world. Choose to act by endorsing this resolution for the cause of Christ in the world.

See also the text and presentations of the "gracious witness resolution" in committee, against 03-21 (legal fund), and speaking for 04-28.

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