Saturday, March 25, 2006

Presbytery Investigating Atheist Member Admission

Mission Presbytery's Committee on Ministry is sending a team to St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Austin to investigate the session's admission to chuch membership of Robert Jensen, an avowed atheist.

Jensen wrote about this in an op-ed piece published in the Houston Chronicle last Sunday and I posted about the situation here.

A pastor in that presbytery sent me a statement that was distributed to all members of the presbytery from the chair of the Committee on Ministry. Here is the text of that statement:

To: Ministers, Clerks of Session, Educators, Members of General Council of Mission Presbytery, and Members of Committee on Ministry of Mission Presbytery

I am writing to you as the Chair of the Committee on Ministry,

It has come to our attention that a session within the bounds of Mission Presbytery has received into membership an individual whom, according to his own writings, claims neither to believe in God nor to believe that Jesus Christ is who our historic Christian tradition and scripture claim him to be. We take this incident with great seriousness and want you to know that we will be sending a team from Committee on Ministry to visit with this session discover the facts and take whatever measures we feel appropriate to deal with the situation.

Though we are a denomination often divided by our interpretations of polity and nonessential matters of doctrine (though I realize that is open to debate itself) we have always understood ourselves to be Christians, followers of Jesus Christ; Savior, Lord and God incarnate.

We are Trinitarian people and the Committee on Ministry will work to insure that this understanding guides and directs all we do as a presbytery.

Yours in Christ,

John Judson
The op-ed piece has not been published in the Mission Presbytery area, which includes Austin and San Antonio, so the presbytery was not aware of this until questions came from concerned Presbyterians in the Houston area. I appreciate this forthright statement from John Judson and hope that the session of St. Andrews will correct their disregard of the requirements of the Book of Order after this meeting and remove Jensen from membership without the need for further action by the presbytery. If not, then the presbytery should not hesitate to take appropriate disciplinary action as provided in the Rules of Discipline.

I'll continue to follow the situation and post about developments since so many of you were interested and concerned about it.

(March 26)-- The link to the Houston Chronicle article is no longer active since the website has archived it, but Jensen also posted the article here where the link is still available.


rev-ed said...

Out of curiosity, why would an atheist even want to be a church member?

Quotidian Grace said...

Check the link to his op-ed piece for his explanation. I believe he is motivated to publicly undermine the church.

cheesehead said...

Keep us posted! Boy, between this and Joel Osteen, y'all sure do have some characters down there, don't you?

Bad Alice said...

From reading his article, it doesn't seem to me that he wants to publicly undermine the church--he wants to treat it as a sort of political action forum/think tank. He likes Christian ethics and wants to embrace them without having to bother with any of the supernatural implications. All very heady, very intellectual. He treats the church as a sort of club.

Why the church chose to let someone join who is not a believer in the basic creeds and allow themselves to be treated as a club is beyond me.

the tentmaker said...

A Baptist congregation is completely autonomous, accepting for membership any and all that they choose. Even so, I'm not sure why a congregation would want to accept into full membership anyone who is a professed athiest. The bit about using the church for a political forum could be accomplished through simple attendance without becoming a member.

Purechristianithink said...

I'm with Tentmaker. The PCUSA Book of Order is clear that non-members are welcome to participate in all aspects of church life--except sacraments (if they aren't members of another church) and holding office. The fellow in question could have done everything he says he wants to simply by being and active participant, but not member, of the congregation.

St. Casserole said...

I'd rather an athiest be in the company of believers than out on the streets. Don't holler at me! Ouch!
But I don't understand why membership is involved. I think this fella is out to damage the church. I wish the presbytery had handled this pastorally EARLIER.

Songbird said...

Reading his article, I don't think he's out to do damage in a deliberate way. In fact I agree with many of the things he has to say, particularly the paragraph that speaks of the "struggle going on for the soul of Christianity." As a member of a less orderly denomination (and I don't mean that as a slap at my own people or yours, just a useful way of putting it), I consider myself to be engaged in exploring questions and trying to overcome boundaries. He's describing something I'm doing, something I consider to be a focal point of my faith life and my call to ministry.

The question remains as to why the particular local church wanted to make him a member and whether *they* are really at home in your denomination.