Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Trust, But Check Your Thermometer

The more I think about the recent doings at Presbyfest, the more I am struck by the observation that both the right and left wings of the PCUSA were dismayed by the passage of the PUP report, including the controversial recommendation #5, as amended, even while differing on the reasons for their frustration. Reading the websites of the affinity groups and the blogs reveals a lot of anxiety preceded that vote and is still roiling the Presbyterian pot a week later.

When recommendation #5 was amended in committee, there was consternation on both sides of the church because of the anticipation that a decisive action on the report and the ordination controversy would be forthcoming from the General Assembly. Most observers agreed that the original recommendation #5 did create a local option. Those who supported it as written were disappointed because the amendment may have closed a loophole that would allow a "scruple" to 6.0106b to be recognized by presbyteries wanting to ordain them. Those who opposed that recommendation were prepared to denounce it as schismatic--and then were stopped short by the confusion created by the amendment.

Bloggers Denis Hancock and Beau Weston interpreted the amendment and vote as an affirmation of the moderate, centrist point of view by this General Assembly. And maybe this is true, but I can't imagine that most centrists welcome a muddled decision either. Or was this vote just another step along the road to incremental change that will be taken further in 2008?

I think activists on both sides of the denomination were expecting a clear cut decision by the GA that would trigger planned responses. On the pro-gay ordination side, that would mean a flurry of well-publicized ordinations of non-celibate gays without fear of legal challenge. On the conservative side, that would mean a ratcheting up of moves such as attempting to orchestrate a recall of the GA for the purpose of voting again on the PUP report (bad idea-- likely to cause a big-time backlash), calling for the establishment of non-geographic presbyteries for evangelical churches to join, or organizing a widespread and coordinated withdrawal from the denomination of a large number of disaffected congregations.

Four years of time, effort and money went into the writing of the PUP report and its recommendations. People on both sides of the ordination issue are frustrated that the GA's actions were not decisive, but are still being debated, and worse--are likely to be litigated through a heirarchy of church courts which have not been willing to act consistently and decisively either.

The denomination reminds me of the frog in the kettle who doesn't realize that the heat is gradually increasing and expires because it didn't know when to get out of the pot. There's been a lot of blather about the need for "trust". President Reagan advised, "Trust, but verify." I say to those of us still in the pot, "Trust, but check your thermometer."


Denis Hancock said...

Ribbet. Ribbet.

Russell Smith said...

I think you're on to something here (though I don't think the conservatives had a plan to recall the GA -- I move in these circles, you know, and I heard nothing of such a plan).

The frog in the kettle analogy is apt. While some may interpret this as a victory for Centrists, I see this as but another step in an incremental strategy moving us away from traditional orthodoxy. Tim Halverson's words keep ringing in my years "The time is not now, but someday....".

In the meantime, we're in an ambiguous situation where the exact meaning of PUPS will have to be worked out by PJCs.

Ribbit, Ribbit -- is it getting warmer?

Denis Hancock said...

Nice analysis of the situation.

When the initial publication of the Task Force report was greeted by a flurry of amendments to do away with G-0106b, I had a feeling then that it was "dead on arrival". Sure, it has been passed, but what does that really mean?

Before PUP:

* Some Sessions and Presbyteries ordained whom they wished, without regard to constitutional standards, usually quietly, sometimes "in your face".
* PJCs seemed to look for grounds on which to dismiss complaints, when they were filed
* The church continued to be the Church in thousands of local congregations and scores of presbyteries.

After PUP:

* Those Sessions who were inclined to ignore the constitutional standards will, no doubt be similarly inclined.
* PJCs will probably be just as reluctant to take anything that could be interpreted as a a stand.
* The church will continue to be the Church in thousands of local congregations and scores of presbyteries.

Has anything really changed?

My "after PUP" predictions were deliberately couched in vague terms. There IS that pesky amendment. PJCs can apparently rule on whether the outcome is constutional. Before all they could do was review the process, leaving any resulting ordinations in force, and for the entire church.

The big question is whether the PJCs will have the moral courage to do their job. What part of "shall" is so difficult?

In all of this, the Church never ceases to exist, and God never stops being in charge. Now if I can only remember that when I get angry or frustrated...

Pastor Lance said...

GREAT POST!!!!!!!!!

Pastor Lance

Classical Presbyterian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Classical Presbyterian said...

I concur with Pastor Lance.

We are just one little step further down a long road to dissolution.

My family and my congregation in Cuero will continue to 'test the spirits' and seek the Lord's will on the future of our being in this franchise.

Until I receive a definitive 'shove' from the Lord in another direction though, I will continue to stay and fight for what matters--the preservation of the truth in the church of Jesus Christ.

In other words, the door to leave might be shut, but God has yet to open a window. So I'll remain until that happens.

Grace and peace!

Quotidian Grace said...

CP and Lance--thanks, and I'm glad to hear you remain in the pot, so to speak.

Who was it who said if we don't hang together, then we'll hang separately?

God bless.

Classical Presbyterian said...


Ben Franklin said that.

Rev Dave said...

I guess the funniest part of the 'we need to trust each other line' is that it forgets an tenet of our reformed anthropology: our depravity. Trust in the goodness of people is not an essential tenet of the reformed faith.

I tell my people that one of the reasons we have so much oversight built into our polity and the pastor has so little power is simply that we don't trust people left to their own devices to choose properly.

Maybe, 'trust, but verify' isn't the best about 'trust, but watch like a hawk' as our slogan. (Maybe another one of QG's campaign slogans?) Those of you with teenagers understand this perfectly, I'm sure.

islandpreacha said...

Great post and comments...

One of the continuing tragedies of our ambiguous PCUSA theology is that we are just rearranging deck chairs as our ship sinks.

You know, I'm in a presbytery that celebrated this year that we broke even on membership. It was reported glowingly. Yet we are in an area that is rapidly growing.

Four years, lots of time, plenty of arguments, who knows how much money ---all for the PUP and we continue to sink.

I'm with Toby in that I'm committed to stay at present. I am blessed to be serving a wonderful congregation. We mostly stay focused on the majors and it has served us well. But believe me... I'll be watching the thermostat!