Friday, January 30, 2004

Editing by blender, whim, and dogma 

A week ago, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy took another whack or two at the slurry of barely congealed paragraphs compiled into the umpteenth draft of the “Transforming Families” paper. This, you will remember, is the “Families in Transition” paper sent back to the ACSWP factory from the 2003 General Assembly for some major theological and ethical retrofitting. A truly diverse writing team had cobbled together various argued-to-death sections into one not-quite-finished draft for the entire ACSWP to review and approve. That’s when blender, whim, and dogma came into play.

Blender: After an initial mugging by ACSWP members who objected to just about everything in the draft's theological section except for the color of its socks, that section was hastily put through a blender late at night by a tired writing sub-committee. They sliced and diced, cutting up sections, removing parts, changing the order and flow of ideas, and generally blending together a new section that lacks the logic and flow of the former draft and now kind of clunks along as a random collection of disconnected statements. Is it Deconstructionism that allows the structure and flow of an argument to be so wantonly hacked into hash?

Whim: Actually, the blender editing came about mostly because of a whim. “I don’t think marriage should have such a central part in the theology piece,” someone declared. The next thing you know, the fourteenth draft of a carefully written essay by Charles Wylie of the Office of Theology and Worship was being blenderized. Goodness gracious! We wouldn’t want anyone to think that Christian marriage has any inherent value, would we? Wouldn’t want to intimate that God has ordained it for the welfare and happiness of humankind, or that it might be good for kids. Send it to the back of the paper. Quick! So off marriage went to be buried without ceremony in a less-prominent spot.

A lot of things happened like that at ACSWP. Someone voices a personal whim (which might be enormously provocative or just flat-out insipid), and everyone, without any discussion of the merits of the whim, just goes along with it as if it actually made sense. The silliest was when someone objected to referring to items as “bullet points,” because it sounded so violent. From then on, people struggled to find other words: “The second little mark,” or “The third point with a symbol in front of it.” And so it went.

Dogma: The biggest factor at work in the editing, however, was a strongly-theologically-liberal-to-the-point-of-being-off-the-charts dogma that was so evident in the previous “Families in Transition” paper as to make it unacceptable to General Assembly and anathema to anyone centrist to conservative in our denomination. That old dog of a dogma came roaming back in the very specific edits the whole ACSWP made on the final day of their meeting. Piece by piece, the ACSWP members homed in on the best language in the draft and either removed or changed it. They're no dummies. Like bomb-sniffing dogs, they found and defused the most faithful language that had been lodged in the document, language that could have actually made the statement acceptable across the board.

Why? The simplest answer is that there is NO family-like arrangement that committee members would find morally unacceptable—well, except for anything tinged with even the lingering scent of patriarchy. Cohabitation? Perfectly understandable. Sexually active homosexual partnerships? Despite our denomination’s policy, again, no problem. Premarital, nonmarital, and extramarital sex? Who are we to object? Threesomes, foursomes, incest, bestiality, pedophilia? Why wouldn't these, too, fit under the umbrella of "ALL kinds of families"? “I don’t think we should impose our ideas on others,” I heard. “We can’t come out with a paper that makes people feel guilty.” “Of course God can work through all kinds of families.” That no one anywhere would ever begin to feel guilty about perhaps doing something identified as wrong was far more important than that the Presbyterian Church speak a clear, biblical, pastoral word into a culture dazed and reeling from moral relativism. This paper had to be at least as morally permissive as any segment of our Sodom-like society. That’s why the rush to make the draft again unacceptable to General Assembly. It’s like an ACSWP death wish.

Look at examples of what was changed in group editing (and I’ll use “little round symbols” to delineate the points, in order not to offend!):
• Numerous references to “all types of family” are left artfully nonspecific, so that for evangelicals the phrase can mean single-parent families, grandparents raising grandchildren, adoptive families, and so on, and for liberals it can be stretched to mean gay families, cohabiting couples, and whatever else our devious little hearts may desire.
• A great and generous sentence “God can and does work in and through persons in all kinds of families, even those established contrary to God’s will” gets hacked into “God works in and through persons in all kinds of families.”
• “Marriage is a good gift of God, for ‘the full expression of the love between a man and a woman,’ ‘for the well-being of human society, for the ordering of family life, and for the birth and nurture of children,’” which is directly from our Book of Common Worship, gets deleted because it sounds vaguely Roman Catholic to someone objecting to kids being one of the reasons for marriage.
• Here’s what happens to “All Christians are called equally to ‘live chaste and disciplined lives, whether in holy wedlock or in single life’ [from the Heidelberg Catechism], in relationships marked by the fruit of the Spirit.” The terms “chaste and disciplined” stuck in the craw of the justice-love advocates. The amended sentence? “All Christians are called to live in relationships marked by the fruit of the Spirit.” Out went chastity and discipline for singles and the married alike!
• “The best context for this cooperative venture [of nurturing children] is a loving, lasting, egalitarian marriage of the mother and father, when such a marriage is possible” becomes “Sociological data indicate that the most successful context for this cooperative venture is a loving, lasting, egalitarian marriage of the mother and father.” Why the change? “‘Best’ sounds so much like how school-yard bullies talk,” and, besides, the committee wouldn’t want to pronounce something “good” or even “best,” as God has done, when they could instead look to “sociological data” as their ultimate authority.

But the editing is not done yet. ACSWP members are still reading the latest draft and funneling their feedback to the editing team. Another penultimate draft will come out for committee reading prior to a 1:00 p.m. EST conference call on February 18. (Anyone can listen in on that call, since it is an open meeting. Contact Belinda Curry or Peter Sulyok at 888-728-7228 to get the phone number.) After that, the final draft goes to the Office of the General Assembly by February 27 as a report to this summer’s General Assembly. Only at THAT point will the “Transforming Families” paper stand still long enough to be thoroughly critiqued. Until then, the draft remains roughly as stable as Britney Spears’s married life.

Having witnessed the action and read the accounts of it, I found the following news articles quite accurate, if you would like to know more about the meeting:
John Adams for The Layman, and a second article by him
John Filiatreau for Presbyterian News Service
Leslie Scanlon for Presbyterian Outlook

One final word: The members and staff of ACSWP were, to a person, gracious, kind, and inviting to this outsider in their midst. Chair Nile Harper was generously hospitable. The entire committee was intelligent, gifted, and extremely diligent, willing to work hard and long to get through their task. They believe their work matters, and they have a heart for it. They opened their table to comments even from those who were observing. All this is good and commendable. I benefited from their generosity and welcome.

Nonetheless, their DECISIONS leave a lot to be desired, in this one observer’s not so humble opinion.

“Breadth” measured in microns 

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy is a group talking to themselves. And they all agree. With each other. In nearly every instance.

ACSWP is a tight little knot of like opinion, about as far removed from true diversity of thought as they are from the true center of the church.

Think of your session, your presbytery, your Bible study group. What if you said, “I have two kids, and I never tried to teach them the meaning of chaste (virginal); I taught them to be responsible.” Would anybody be shocked? Incredulous? Would someone perhaps venture a counter opinion—something that might even remotely resemble Christian morality?

What if someone continually discounted what both the Bible and our Confessions teach, saying that what we need is more sociology and less Bible, and relegating the Confessions to “memos from the 16th and 17th Centuries”? Would anybody in your session, presbytery, or Bible study speak up, defending our Scriptures and Confessions as authoritative and faithful expositions of God’s will?

In every setting in which I have found myself in thirty years of ministry, I have found a diversity of opinion. Someone would rise to offer a counter opinion, at least tentatively. You get ten of us together, and you’ll have at least a dozen opinions.

Not in ACSWP. Put ten of them together, and you’ll have one opinion.

While I observed their meetings last week in Louisville, no one disagreed with even the most outlandish, egregious pronouncements. They approved. They nodded agreement. They sometimes even took things yet another step into the void. Time after time after time. For me, it was an amazing and disturbing sight to behold. For them, it was business as usual within a cozy thought enclave.

Try on a few more of the zingers that garnered general agreement around the table with not so much as a “You’re kidding, aren’t you?” raised by an ACSWP member:

• “This heavy confessional theology is overriding empirical knowledge and sociological information.”
• “Virgins are almost gone. Unless we’re teaching our children to be virgins until they are in their thirties, I don’t see any reason to keep language like ‘chaste and disciplined’ in our paper. Some do teach that, but I don’t think that’s our Presbyterian way.” [And there was a quick “I agree with that” from another member.]
• “How can any family be ‘established contrary to God’s will’?”
• “I don’t read this that all single persons have to be virgins.”
• “We wouldn’t want to give any disapproval to cohabitation.”
• About a quote from a confession that spoke directly to the question at hand: “Proof-texting from the confessions is an even poorer way of doing theology than proof-texting from the Bible.”
• “The Heidelberg Catechism is just not the time and context that we live in. It’s informative and instructive, but not regulatory.”

I do need to commend one member, Dorothy Henderson. She appeared, at times, to be taken aback, just a little, by some of the blanket pronouncements. After hearing something particularly antinomian, she ventured somewhat apologetically, “If you want to be part of the church, don’t you follow the doctrine?” That notion was quickly dismissed. This was Henderson’s final ACSWP meeting, since she will be rotating off the committee.

Okay, there's one more. Chair Nile Harper did try to remind the committee: "We need to be open to a diversity of views that are substantial parts of of our Presbyterian family [that are not here]; we need to keep them in mind." But there was not a soul on the committee to VOICE those views or argue them, so they were not heard, they were not considered, and they were definitely excised wherever the ACSWP found them accidentally lurking in "their" paper.

How does a denomination so proud of its diversity get such an insular committee with such an outsized platform from which to unleash their narrow opinions upon the entire church in its breadth?

Memo to the General Assembly Nominating Committee: HERE is a committee ripe for a little of the diversity and representation we MUST have in our denominational structures!

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Does it all add up? 

It’s always interesting to hear people tell their side of a story. Somehow their own words and actions nearly always seem to get put in the very best light as absolutely justified and perfectly proper.

Thus I read with avid interest the paper by the Committee on Ministry of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina that elaborates on their previously terse pronouncements about their recommendation to remove the presbytery’s validation of Parker Williamson’s ministry with The Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC). They take care to state their case, but there appears to be—what shall I call it?—a little burnishing of the record going on, a little shading of the facts. A careful reading finds a few points that call for some further reflection:

1. In point #3 in the statement, the Committee on Ministry (COM) writes about the Book of Order standards for validating ministry. Then it states: “These standards MAY be supplemented by written criteria the presbytery develops” (emphasis mine). Where did “may” come from? The Book of Order reads: “In making this determination the presbytery SHALL be guided by written criteria developed by the presbytery for validation of ministries within its bounds. These criteria SHALL BE BASED UPON the description of the nature of ordained office found in G-6.0100 and G-6.0200…” (G-11.0403, emphasis mine). The “shall” language makes it clear that a presbytery has the positive obligation to formulate WRITTEN CRITERIA, which it should then use to validate ministries. It is mandated that the presbytery SHALL be guided by WRITTEN CRITERIA the presbytery has DEVELOPED that are BASED UPON the Book of Order but obviously need to be more extensive than ONLY what’s found in the Book of Order. How different this is from “these standards MAY be supplemented by written criteria the presbytery develops”! It seems to me that until the presbytery does its part in developing written criteria by which to validate ministries, it is in a weak position to judge that a pastor in a validated ministry has failed to meet written criteria that haven’t yet been written! That’s more like Kafka’s “The Trial” than decent and orderly Presbyterian polity.

2. In points #6, 7, 8, and 14, one finds the phrase “a valid ministry of the [or this] presbytery.” Since that same wording is used repeatedly, I assume it was chosen carefully. But that wording introduces a subtle but significant confusion to the meaning of “a validated ministry.” “A valid ministry of the presbytery” is not the same as “a ministry validated by the presbytery.” “A valid ministry of the presbytery” would be a ministry the PRESBYTERY itself undertakes, such as a church camp or mission project or new church development. A “validated ministry in SERVICE BEYOND THE JURISDICTION OF THE CHURCH,” as the Book of Order terms it (G-11.0411, emphasis mine), is obviously a ministry that is NOT the presbytery’s ministry, but rather a separate ministry the presbytery deems a valid ministry nonetheless.

Why is this important? Because when Williamson is accused of not doing “a valid ministry of this presbytery,” the COM has missed the boat. Of course Presbyterian Lay Committee is not “a ministry of the presbytery,” valid or not. That’s why the Book of Order expressly allows for ministry in service BEYOND THE JURISDICTION OF THE CHURCH—a valid ministry APART FROM what the presbytery is doing. One would have a different standard to ask of a ministry OF the presbytery than a ministry APART FROM the presbytery. For instance, a legitimate ministry OF the presbytery would be expected to advocate for presbytery policy across the board, while a legitimate ministry APART FROM the presbytery could appropriately advocate for a policy change. Agreeing on every aspect of the ministry would not be expected when the ministry isn’t under the presbytery’s name and jurisdiction. PLC should not be evaluated as if it were a ministry OF the presbytery. In addition, a pastor need not be engaged in a ministry OF the presbytery to be validated. Presbyterians For Renewal, for example, is not a ministry OF the Presbytery of Seattle, yet the presbytery has graciously validated my ministry with PFR.

3. In point #10, the argument breaks down considerably. If it is indeed the MINISTRY (independent of the presbytery) that needs to be validated (deemed to be a satisfactory place for a Presbyterian pastor to minister), then one’s job description within that organization should matter only to the extent that it is a job fitting for a minister to call “ministry.” The two variables are:
(1) Is the organization a worthy place to minister?
(2) Is the job description proper for pastoral ministry?
Both need to be deemed okay for a validated ministry.

The COM argument is that variable #2 is okay for PLC employee Steve Strickler, who raises funds for PLC and bolsters church relations, but not okay for Parker Williamson, who leads all of PLC, writes articles, and has a major hand in editorial policy. Since presbytery validated Strickler’s ministry, that means that variable #1 must also be okay. Thus, since the organization is exactly the same for Strickler and Williamson, variable #1 must also be okay for Parker. But wait? Doesn’t the COM say elsewhere that PLC is NOT “a valid ministry of the presbytery” for Williamson—the exact same PLC that IS a valid ministry of the presbytery for Strickler? (And isn’t it rather extraordinary that the COM considers the publishing of The Layman “a valid ministry OF the presbytery”? I can see it now: "The Layman, a ministry of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina.")

Logically, it must be Williamson’s job description (criterion #2) that invalidates his ministry. But his pure job description can easily match the Book of Order criteria for a validated ministry (G-11.0404)—he serves others, he preaches and teaches, he must be theologically informed, he’s accountable to his board, etc. Their real problem seems to be not the job description, but rather HOW Williamson is performing his work. The problem is with what he writes and says, as indicated strongly in point #14. So, if that’s the case—if his behavior is actually wrong and not just different or bothersome—shouldn’t COM move to discipline Williamson for his offenses, rather than pull his ministry validation?

4. The COM draws to a close by writing: “The Layman’s voice and words and tone, set by its Editor and Chief Executive Officer, are not consistent with Paul’s admonition, ‘with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ (Eph. 4:2)” That may or may not be true. But doesn’t it seem ironic that the COM chose that passage, when those same words could just as appropriately return to haunt their own consciences: Have I exercised humility in my judgment of Williamson and the PLC? Am I being gentle in my treatment of a longtime colleague when I seek to remove validation of his ministry? Does this action reflect patience with him and the PLC? What is it about this proposed action that bears with him in love? Have I, from my end, made every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace with Williamson? Abruptly kicking him out—well, that just doesn’t seem to be “consistent with Paul’s admonition” either, at least to this observer.

I pray for God’s wisdom and grace—and a whole lot of loving truth telling—as the presbytery considers what’s really happening here and what is the godly, constitutional, proportionate, and appropriate response.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Amazingly naive or incredibly deceptive? 

Take a look at a Web site by a group calling themselves Presbyterians Concerned about Jewish-Christian Relations: www.pcjcr.org [The website design was changed on January 24, so that it no longer looks almost exactly like the PCUSA site, due to a PCUSA request that the webmaster desist from the infringement of copyright rights.]

Does the site look familiar? It should, if you've been to the PCUSA Web site: www.pcusa.org The designer for the PCJCR site must have taken great pains to make it look just like the official site for our denomination. Notice also that one cannot find contact information for PCJCR, and the links that look just like the PCUSA site actually work.

This is a group obviously concerned about the possibility that a Christian today might actually DO what Jesus did, and Stephen did, and Paul did -- lovingly share the Good News with a Jewish person. And apparently the group is equally UNconcerned about being (pick one): (a) graphically plagiaristic or (b) crudely deceptive.

(Thanks to alert pastor Leslie Fox of Seattle for bringing this to our attention.)

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Baltimore Presbytery raises the stakes 

The Baltimore Presbytery Council decided not to endure the new Synod of the Mid-Atlantic review of their presbytery's mishandling of the Don Stroud case, and so has fired back at the Synod Council (Item #24, page 14). They want the Synod Council to rescind their plans for an administrative committee--and do it prior to the January 22 meeting of Baltimore Presbytery. If not, Baltimore Presbytery will file a remedial complaint with the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission against the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic for their alleged "irregularities."

It reminds me of poker: The synod "bets" one administrative review of the presbytery. The presbytery peers at the cards it's holding and comes back with, "We'll see your administrative review and raise you one GAPJC case for an irregularity." We don't know yet what the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic is going to do with them apples. Nor do we know what Baltimore Presbytery will do with their Council's actions, although the presbytery has been known to pretty much take its lead from the Council and Stated Clerk Charles Forbes--who, by the way, is one of the persons particularly under review for possible conflict of Interest.

If this weren't so costly and utterly ridiculous, it would be humorous. But the in-your-face defiance Baltimore Presbytery is sheltering makes the case against them so clear-cut.

Our denominational theological policy on homosexuality, the Authoritative Interpretation, says "the practice of homosexuality is sin" (page 58). Our Constitution says that those who are ordained are to live in "chastity in singleness," or they shall not be installed (G-6.0106b). Our Stated Clerk of the General Assembly says "Sexually active homosexual persons may not be ordained" (Advisory Opinion: Note 8). The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission says "When an individual or governing body threatens to move from verbal dissent to active disobedience, it is the obligation of the covenant community to seek to prevent the dissenting party from falling into contumacy" and "It is not within the power of any governing body or judicial commission to declare a properly adopted provision of the Constitution to be invalid" (Londonderry v. Presbytery of Northern New England).

But, in spite of all this, in Baltimore Presbytery we have a homosexual pastor in a partnered relationship--a pastor who says he does not obey the Constitution on this matter and speaks out for the full rights and ability of homosexual persons to pursue homosexual practice. And this pastor not only has the support and approval of the Presbytery of Baltimore (despite the clear provisions of our church law against his sinful sexual behavior), this pastor also has the feisty PROTECTION of the presbytery--a presbytery now standing ready to waste yet more money and time and patience in another obfuscating round of "how long can we keep this tied up in the courts?"!

Silly me. I thought we had a clear Constitution and a detailed judicial system to promote justice, not to confuse and delay it. The Baltimore Council obviously thinks otherwise.

So watch what the Presbytery of Baltimore does at their meeting January 22, and see how the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic responds. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

If you say it often enough … 

Be on the lookout for an amazing assertion making its way around the denomination these days. It falls into the category of “the big lie,” the kind of audacious thing that if it gets said often enough and brashly enough with enough certainty, it takes on a life of its own and is treated as if it were indeed the truth. It isn’t.

The claim? That the Authoritative Interpretation of 1978 (about homosexual practice) was superceded by G-6.0106b (“fidelity and chastity”) and thus is no longer needed. In fact, the assertion goes, the Authoritative Interpretation is no longer even right, so let’s just get rid of it.

Don’t buy that fiction.

The Authoritative Interpretation of 1978 is a wonderfully pastoral and caring statement. It is sensitively written and well thought out. We should all read it (click here to read it)—at least the final six pages, which remain our current policy.

But more than that, the Authoritative Interpretation draws the moral line exactly where it has always been drawn by Christians. It says that church members and officers are not “free to adopt a lifestyle of conscious, continuing, and unresisted sin in any area of their lives. For the church to ordain a self-affirming, practicing homosexual person to ministry would be to act in contradiction to its charter and calling in Scripture, setting in motion both within the church and society serious contradictions to the will of Christ.”

It says lovingly that “the repentant homosexual person who finds the power of Christ redirecting his or her sexual desires toward a married heterosexual commitment, or finds God's power to control his or her desires and to adopt a celibate lifestyle, can certainly be ordained, all other qualifications being met.” The Authoritative Interpretation put into written policy what the church has always believed.

But that wasn’t good enough for those wanting to deviate from the moral boundaries. Finally, we needed to write into the Constitution what Christians had practiced forever and what the Authoritative Interpretation spelled out. Thus we approved G-6.0106b, which, significantly, draws the moral line in exactly the place Christians had drawn it forever and where the Authoritative Interpretation had drawn it. To be fair and evenhanded, however, G-6.0106b equally proscribed all sexual sin, both nonmarital heterosexual practice and homosexual practice.

The Authoritative Interpretation is the long story, written out because our society decided to transgress a boundary Christians had always recognized. And G-6.0106b is the shorthand version, codifying in our Constitution the exact intent that the Authoritative Interpretation explains more fully. It is a continuous strand of interpretation and practice, from the first to the last. The Authoritative Interpretation does not replace the age-old morality concerning homosexual practice, and G-6.0106b does not replace the Authoritative Interpretation. They sing the same continuing song.

This interpretive understanding, by the way, is implicit in the writing of no less an authority than the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. See “Advisory Opinion Note 8: G-6.0106b.”

So don’t buy the lie, no matter how many times you hear it. And you WILL hear it in the next few months, because those who think they don’t have the muscle to remove “fidelity and chastity” from our Constitution think they might be able to sneak the Authoritative Interpretation out of the way at the next General Assembly. After all, it could be done without a vote of presbyteries, and it could be called “a mere housekeeping matter to get rid of something no longer needed.”

Don’t be fooled. Don’t swallow that falsehood. Removing the Authoritative Interpretation is actually a sly step toward the goal of removing our constitutional standard altogether, because they are one and the same.

(By the way, if you didn’t understand the previous blog posting on “A parable about an old, old line,” this is the explanation.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

A parable about an old, old line 

Between three and four thousand years ago, a family settled in the wilderness. They established their property boundaries, put up excellent markers, and dwelt within the boundaries for millennia. For well over three thousand years, no one questioned their property lines, because everyone knew where those lines were and honored them.

Much more recently, some neighbors moved in, neighbors who liked much about the property within the boundaries, so they set up their camp right next to the property line. About forty years ago (after nearly four thousand years of precedent), they started questioning the location of the property line, asserting that they had some claim to the original property.

At first, no one paid much attention, because everyone had always understood where the line was. It had never been in dispute before because it was so clear. But after more than a decade of squabbles, a thin wire was stretched along the traditional line to indicate clearly and fairly what had always been the property line. There was also the desire expressed to love the neighbors, even though they couldn't be given everything they wanted.

That wire worked for a while longer, but the neighbors kept cutting the wire or ignoring it or disputing its legitimacy. Finally, a court said that the line needed to be set out quite legally, or the property would remain in dispute. Thus, records were consulted, a surveyor was brought in, and the property line was established in perfect legal fashion—right where it had always been drawn.

In the succeeding decade, however, the neighbors have mounted two legal attacks against that property line, but both cases failed miserably in court. The neighbors have threatened to file other cases, but mainly, they have gone on using the disputed property as if it were theirs. Inexplicably, they often have gotten away with it.

Lately, since their legal efforts have obviously been in vain, the neighbors have begun telling a strange, fanciful story about the origin of the property line, its legitimacy, and the results of the property survey that firmly sunk the markers into the ground. For instance, they claim the survey replaced the wire line, rather than substantiated it. They are now trying to get rid of the wire altogether, because it hinders their incursions on the territory that is not theirs. They even try to claim that the property line is a new invention in the last few years, and not an enduring, universally known boundary for thousands of years. They hope, before long, to erase the property line altogether.

Can you believe the audacity of these neighbors?

Friday, January 09, 2004

A refresher on what's happening 

Shaking off both the cookie crumbs and the snow to face a new year, I find that many items continue to roil within the PCUSA. So let's catch up on some happenings:

Mt. Auburn's continuing defiance This Cincinnati church was stripped of Stephen Van Kuiken, its pastor, and has lost some members, money, and momentum, but it hasn't lost its edge. A presbytery administrative committee, charged with resolving the church's delinquencies, seems to have done a better job rationalizing them in a report to be considered by the presbytery January 10. Commentaries by Gordon Fish and Jack Harrison differ wildly in tone but both offer interesting reading. The "solution"? A new "provisional status" that General Assembly would have to create. Hmmm.

Baltimore Presbytery's defiance The story from the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic continues. A previous whitewash turns out not to be the final answer. The synod council is sending another administrative committee back to consider more substantive problems with how Baltimore Presbytery is operating. Terry Schlossberg writes an informative story on that stretched-out case. This time, they may actually do something about G-9.0409(5), determining if "the lawful injunctions of a higher governing body have been obeyed." They should report back to the whole synod when it meets next summer. Patience is a virtue, I suppose.

Parker Williamson's ministry The Committee on Ministry of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina has voted that the ministry of Parker Williamson with the Presbyterian Lay Committee be no longer validated. That would make Williamson an inactive pastor in the presbytery, unless he could be designated a minister-at-large. The presbytery now needs to vote on it on January 31, unless the COM, meeting January 13, decides to reverse their recommendation from their December meeting. I have written on this previously (scroll to December 6 below), and many others have commented, including Presbyterian Coalition, One By One, Voices of Orthodox Women, Presbyterian Forum, and Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International. The Presbyterian Lay Committee makes an excellent case of their own. Everybody is now praying that the COM and, if necessary, the presbytery make a reasonable decision.

Stated Clerk election Pastor Bob Davis, executive director of the Presbyterian Forum and associate pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Escondido, CA, has thrown his hat in the ring to run against Clifton Kirkpatrick for Stated Clerk of the General Assembly next June. Bob, formerly an attorney, is well known and highly respected for his insight and judgment on matters of polity and should make the race interesting.

That's enough for now. You get the picture. Stay tuned for a lively winter and spring.

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