Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hooray for Sticking It Out

Most Presbyterians support the new policy of ordaining persons who are in long-term, faithful same-sex relationships.  That's why the proposal got passed in General Assembly in 2010 and then ratified by 178 presbyteries.

Some have little patience with the conservatives who are now jumping ship, who feel that they are "forced out" of the PC(USA).

After all, these liberals stayed in the denomination for over thirty years while gay ordination was being debated, from 1979 to 2010.  They put up with all the stressful exchange of diatribes.

But the other side, as soon as things don't go their way, are gone?

Living in disagreement with your denomination is something liberals have done.  

Hooray for those conservatives who have chosen to stay and tough it out for a while in a denomination where theirs is a minority point of view.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Meeting BRC

Bruce Reyes-Chow, former moderator of the PC(USA) spoke at the spiritual retreat of Brentwood Presbyterian Church last weekend.  
Bruce Reyes-Chow with Carolyn Thacker, planner of the retreat

Mostly he focused on how members of churches, families, and workplaces can get along better by learning about various personality types, using tools such as the Enneagram or Myers-Briggs personality testing.  

Very cool--but when you have with you the man who led the whole PC(USA) with 2 million members from 2008 to 2010, you might want to discuss church politics at a national level.  

I found the right moment and started asking questions, mainly around the split over gay ordination.

In 2010 the General Assembly voted to allow LGBT pastors, and the vote was ratified by a majority of the 173 presbyteries in the denomination.  This issue had been hotly debated in the church since 1979. 

I'd heard rumors of some conservative churches leaving the PC(USA).  My question: how's that going?  Is it having a big impact?

Bruce explained that some of these more conservative churches are forming ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. 

In 2011 these churches formed the Fellowship of Presbyterians, and many want to stay in the PC(USA) while also participating in this support group of like-minded churches.  Having one foot in each camp would preserve affiliation to the denomination but also allow conservatives to get together and support each other.

Most importantly, they could declare their loyalty to a more conservative view of Scripture and social issues.

Churches that decide to leave and join ECO, however, face problems over deciding who owns the church buildings and whether pastors can get their PC(USA) retirement. 

First Presbyterian Church of Bakersfield was given permission to keep all of its two-square block property in downtown Bakersfield when it left the denomination about eight years ago.  It joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).  

Menlo Park Presbyterian in the San Francisco Bay area might vote to leave the PC(USA) next year.  If this church decides to leave, who will own the actual church buildings?

"If a large group from MPC decides to stay in the PC(USA) and continue as a congregation," he answered.  "the Presbytery will have to decide what happens with the buildings.  Who will get what--where does everyone meet?  Who gets to keep the name? It's all very complex."

BRC with Carolyn Thacker and Jodie Hah
Those who want to stay in the PC(USA) came up with the idea of  "non-geographic presbyteries."  

As it is, any one church is a member of a presbytery, and several presbyteries form a synod.  There are 16 synods in the PC(USA).  

The conservative churches are currently scattered around the country in various synods and presbyteries.  They wanted to have their own non-geographic presbyteries and maybe even a synod.  That way they could do their own thing in good conscience within the PC(USA).  They could still own their church buildings, and their pastors could still be part of the larger PC(USA) retirement system.  They could stay completely away from the whole gay pastor thing.  

But the General Assembly voted no on these non-geographic presbyteries.  If you're in southern California, you can't conduct business with 20 churches from the western US and side-step the governmental structure to which the churches in your state or metropolitan area belong.  

You're either in or out.  You can't have your cake and eat it too--or in this case, your church buildings and retirement while still maintaining your separation from those who are ordaining gays and who may even take a vote in favor of same-sex marriage. 

From a conservative point of view, these churches were "forced to leave."   In some cases a pastor remains in the PC(USA) after the members who pay his salary leave; he needs his retirement.  

Bruce Reyes-Chow said he never took a position on the issue of non-geographic presbyteries.  If he had, he probably would have voted against it.

More interesting to him is the issue of whether a group of people meeting together online can be a church within the PC(USA).   There are even people who want to share communion (partaking of bread and wine in memory of Jesus) online.  Bruce hasn't decided where he comes down on that one.

Bruce traced the roots of the current division in the PC(USA) to mistakes in the past: "The reunion was not done very well in 1983."  

That was the year the northern Presbyterians and southern Presbyterians finally got together as one denomination.  For a history of everything that went down prior to 1983, follow this link:

He also said he understands the difficulties of more liberal and more conservative churches all being governed by one presbytery.  

"Much as we need our presbyteries," he observed, "overall, they just function poorly."  

Presbyteries assist individual churches having financial trouble or trouble with decisions about hiring and firing of pastors and personnel, sexual misconduct, and other issues.  Some things that could be handled in committees end up being brought to the floor at meetings of the presbytery.

I'm a member of Brentwood Presbyterian Church on the border between Santa Monica and Los Angeles.  BPC is an open, welcoming, inclusive church; we affirm our gay members.

A few years ago BPC held a blessing service for two of our women members who have built a family of four over the years.  Spies from neighboring Bel Air Presbyterian Church attended that service in order to gather evidence against BPC.  It's still against PC(USA) law to perform a same-sex wedding, so details of the service such as the flower girls were of interest to Bel Air. 

Aside from politics, I made a new friend last weekend.  It was a pleasure to spend time with Bruce Reyes-Chow.  

We both have three daughters and both refer to our kids in non-gender terms when possible: "middle child," "the kids," etc.  He added his wife's surname to his name.  I kept my own name after marriage and my kids' surnames are all Arthur Eggebroten, in that order, no hyphen.  I lived in the San Francisco area for twenty years, and he has lived there a long time.

Differences: he's 44 and Filipino-American.  I'm 65 and Euro-American.  

Furthermore, as I learned in the last few days, I'm an Enneagram type 5, and he's a 3.

Alice McHugh, Mike Beck, Linda Matthies, Carolyn Thacker, Alice Baklayan in front row; Bruce Reyes-Chow, Jodie Hahn, and Patricia Hughes in back row.
For more information on issues in the Presbyterian Church (USA), see: 

Presbyterian Politics

Divorces can be messy, and there are a lot of divorces currently underway in the Presbyterian Church, aka the PC(USA).  

Some of the bigger and more conservative churches are leaving the denomination.

The issues? 

  • Whether persons in same-sex relationships can be ordained as pastors (approved in 2012).
  • Whether same-sex marriages can be allowed (still up for debate).
  • Whether the PC(USA) holds to Scripture 
  • Whether the PC(USA) even holds to the "core theological beliefs" of Christianity.

According to those who are leaving, the answer to all the issues above is NO.

Therefore, they founded a new denomination last year: ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

This past Sunday the Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas voted to leave the PC(USA) and join ECO.  

Many hearts are grieving as a result, including that of Joseph Clifford, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, which in 1924 sent a group of 84 Christians to organize a new church for the Highland Park area of Dallas.

Here's a link to Clifford's statement posted today on the First Pres Dallas website:

Clifford points out that pastors in the PC(USA) take a vow to serve "in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions."

In response to the Highland folks' disagreement with the PC(USA) "over the authority of Scripture and salvation through Jesus Christ alone," Clifford quotes from a 2002 General Assembly document titled "Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ."  It's worth reading--look at the link above.  

That document says, "No one is saved apart from God's gracious redemption in Jesus Christ. Yet we do not presume to limit the sovereign freedom of God..." by saying that everyone else on the planet is going to hell. It cites I Timothy 2:4: "God... desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth."

That's "salvation through Jesus Christ alone" but admitting that God holds a wild card.

Then Clifford offers a rebuttal to the departing group's claim that the PC(USA) doesn't hold to the authority of Scripture, citing the Confession of 1967:

The Scriptures are "not a witness among others, but the witness without parallel."  Nevertheless, the church "has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding."

For the PC(USA) that study of the Scriptures and their historical setting has led to a modification in our view of long-term, faithful same-sex relationships.  For the ECO folks, that amounts to not accepting the authority of Scripture.

That is, not accepting the authority of their view of Scripture.  

There has been a lot of scholarship on the Bible and homosexuality--books and books discussing the 4-5 mentions of the topic and setting them in context, biblically and historically.  

My favorite: What God Has Joined Together? A Christian Case for Gay Marriage by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and David G. Myers (NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).  

One of the groups rooting for churches to leave the PC(USA) is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which left in 1981 over another controversial issue: whether women can be pastors.  There are many books written on that subject too, and fortunately it's no longer an issue for most people.  Except the EPC folks--and the Roman Catholics and the Southern Baptists and the Missouri Synod Lutherans, etc.

Menlo Park Presbyterian Church is one of those considering leaving the PC(USA).  Members were going to take a vote on November 3 over whether to leave the PC(USA), but that vote has now been postponed to January.  

Pastors are sometimes caught in a tough place; their employment and retirement can be affected.  That's hard for some who are close to retirement.

Divorces, grieving, and the holidays approaching... sigh.

Some of us have divisions over these issues within our own families and will not be sitting around the same table on Thanksgiving Day.  It's sad.