If you are new to this blog....

Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Friday, November 07, 2008

power and trust

If this is too long, these next two paragraphs are the bottom line... (also repeated at the end).

This GAPJC ruling does not help foster trust, increase dialogue, heal wounds, or move us forward. It is a show of force and power, demanding trust and requiring compliance. It is not the way of grace any more than starting in court. It reminds me of the husband who forbids his wife to spend time with friends, travel away from home, or do anything other than stay close, near, and servile. As a way of fostering dialogue, trust, and grace, that approach is toxic.

I appeal to those in positions of power: re-read the rationale and comments along with Item 04-28, given in my supporting notes HERE. Our witness to Jesus Christ in our communities is of far more value than getting the stuff. More important than the outcome is the process itself, and many of our presbyteries have no process. I am speaking as one of US to US; WE must do better in how we treat our brothers and sisters who are separating, if we are to survive and serve Christ.
=================

The longer version... (with some background if this is new to you)

A recent judicial action of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC), set in the witness-tarnishing context of church splits and property lawsuits, compels me to write. It's not entirely off-topic for this blog since our effectiveness as a witness for Jesus Christ in our community is affected by the way Presbyterians are treating each other right now.

Going into the 2008 General Assembly, I was aware of a number of pastors, elders, and congregations talking about and exploring a move to another denomination. I also recognized that there was an assumption that the denomination was instructing the local governing bodies (presbyteries) to play "hard-ball" with any congregations considering this action. Only a very few presbyteries had an established process that mitigated that impression. My analysis has been that this context has led and perhaps even required congregations who were moving forward to exit the PCUSA to take pre-emptive legal action to make a claim on the local church property and buildings. For many reasons, this situation grieves me, and led me to offer a resolution (04-28) to the General Assembly calling on presbyteries to establish a process to relate to such churches, and hopefully a process that was gracious and offering a Christlike witness. More detail on that resolution is available HERE and the text, rationale, and oral presentations I gave are available in a 4-pg. PDF file HERE.

That resolution called on the Stated Clerk to share the resolution with every presbytery and congregation. Frustratingly, it was only sent to the middle governing body mailing list (synod and presbytery staff) with no explicit direction for them to forward it on to the local churches. So, I have been trying to share this resolution - strongly supported by the General Assembly - with those who need it most: HERE (please share widely!).

My frustration elevated this past week when I read the decision of the GAPJC in case 219-03: Sundquist v. Heartland Presbytery. That 14 pp. decision has a number of parts, but several things jumped out as unusual and over-reaching.

First, there is a whole section (II) given to ruling that "withdrawal from the Presbyterian Church (USA) is not a matter that can be considered at a congregational meeting." If that is true, then the following statement is non-sensical, since the presence of presbytery leadership or an administrative commission doesn't change what can or can't happen at a congregational business meeting.

Congregational meetings called or conducted by sessions for the purpose of voting on dismissal without the involvement of the presbytery are improper and have no binding effect.
It is not clear how withdrawal would be considered then, when the ruling goes on to state,

This does not mean that a congregation is prohibited from requesting dismissal. However, it is the presbytery...that has the responsibility to consult with the members of a church about dismissal (G-11.0103i).
I've read the ruling several times now and it seems to me that if there is to be any talk, prayer, discussion, wrestling with, or other consideration of separating from the PCUSA, that the GAPJC is forbidding local leadership and congregations from broaching the subject without direct leadership and involvement of the presbytery. That is impractical, unenforceable, and poorly explained.

  • Impractical: no pastor or Session (or individual church member) should dial up their presbytery with an invitation to dismissal procedures without first discussing the matter prayerfully and at length with the leadership and with the whole congregation.
  • Unenforceable: if it can't be a matter of business at a congregational (business) meeting, can it be discussed ever? The congregation can come together for fellowship, fun, or any other topic under the sun. Is the ruling really trying to tell us we can't ever talk about it at the congregational level?
  • Poorly explained: I hope this isn't forbidding free speech... rather, I've got to think the GAPJC is trying to say that (in their interpretation) the congregation can't make the decision to be dismissed; rather, the presbytery does that. Well, GAPJC also seems to say the congregation can't ask to be dismissed either... but I'd think a well-handled town hall meeting could instruct the Session on what to communicate to presbtery.
Second - and here's the part that got my goat - the ruling appeals to Assembly action 04-28 as rationale for forbidding congregational discussion. What?! It is used at the end of section II of the ruling to shame and threaten congregations when the primary recipient of Item 04-28 is the Presbytery. Perhaps the single biggest reason for that resolution (and this was stated in the resolution) is the lack of process for this very matter at the presbytery level. The resolution calls on presbyteries to establish a process for interacting with churches seeking dismissal; it sees the establishment of such a process as inviting to congregations and encouraging of dialogue... and the GAPJC jumps over that purpose to wield the resolution like a hammer.

This obligation and mutual responsibility for dialogue was made explicit by the 218th General Assembly when it adopted the Resolution for a Gracious, Pastoral Response (Minutes, 2008, Item 04-28).
...
Thus congregations, sessions, and pastors {RMA: and presbyteries??} who fail to abide by the principles of the Resolution for a Gracious, Pastoral Response or presbytery policies (such as the Heartland Resolution) that embody these principles shall have breached important responsibilities and duties. As Presbyterians, the church at every level must visibly demonstrate the covenantal ties that bind us as the one church of Jesus Christ.
In fact, Item 04-28 calls for presbyteries to make a process of dismissal available to its churches (rather than first demand that churches walk blindfolded to the table). Let every presbytery take that challenge seriously, then let's talk about how to get folks to the table.

I've been pondering these dynamics for a week now - this is no hasty post. (In fact, I've been pondering these things for years.) In the rationale for GA Item 04-28, I compare the relationship between a congregation seeking dismissal and the presbytery to a divorcing couple. One obvious thing to focus on in divorce is the "stuff" - the property and all, which usually requires attorneys and litigation. But we are the church! We are pastors and elders and if I were counseling with a divorcing couple, I would steer towards the attitudes and practices described in 04-28.

Here's the bottom line...

This GAPJC ruling does not help foster trust, increase dialogue, heal wounds, or move us forward. It is a show of force and power, demanding trust and requiring compliance. It is not the way of grace any more than starting in court. It reminds me of the husband who forbids his wife to spend time with friends, travel away from home, or do anything other than stay close, near, and servile. As a way of fostering dialogue, trust, and grace, that approach is toxic.


I appeal to those in positions of power: re-read the rationale and comments along with Item 04-28, given in my supporting notes HERE. Our witness to Jesus Christ in our communities is of far more value than getting the stuff. More important than the outcome is the process itself, and many of our presbyteries have no process. I am speaking as one of US to US; WE must do better in how we treat our brothers and sisters who are separating, if we are to survive and serve Christ.
=================

RESOURCES FOR PRESBYTERIES
Here are two processes that I've seen that best embody the spirit of Item 04-28...

Discerning God's Leading Together: the Jubilee Process - submitted to the Presbytery of Olympia for consideration. [I don't know the result, but this document builds explicitly on Item 04-28 and looks full of grace and truth]

Presbytery of San Joaquin - Property Covenant - San Joaqin has had to use this more than once and are worth consulting. The EP is Rick Irish, whom I met at GA when he presented an overture on "Solemn Assemblies" - also adopted by the Assembly.

Like Us!

Good Shepherd Creative Arts Ministry Video

Loading...