My Two Minutes To Speak Before the Vote

Trinity United Presbyterian Church voted to be dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians today.  Just under half of the membership participated in the vote.   The vote count was 597 to 134.

Members were each given two minutes to speak before the vote.  This is what I said.

My name is Eric Christiansen.

I’ve known our denomination my entire life, both as a member and ordained minister, and I’m staying PC(USA) precisely because our denomination includes a range of conservative and progressive voices.

This is a great strength.

Not every one of these voices is like-minded but they are centered on the gospel and rooted in the hallmarks of our Reformed Tradition:

  • the sovereignty of God
  • the authority of the scripture
  • justification by grace through faith
  • and the priesthood of all believers

I admit there’s a shadow side to this strength but there are shadow sides to being like-minded we haven’t explored.

Richard Mouw, a well respected evangelical and former president of Fuller Seminary, says,

“I worry much about what would happen to Presbyterian evangelicals ourselves if we were to leave the PC(USA).

When we evangelical types don’t have more liberal people to argue with, we tend to start arguing with each other.

I would much rather see us continue to focus on the major issues of Reformed thought – in an admittedly pluralistic denomination – than to deal with the tensions that often arise among ourselves when evangelicals get into the debates that seem inevitably to arise when we have established our own ‘pure’ denominations.”

A denomination of like-minded believers would be a more comfortable fit for Trinity, but that’s probably more of an issue for us, than it is for Jesus, who never seemed to make comfort a priority for his church.

Trinity can remain true to its core beliefs and stay in the PC(USA).  In fact two of the three primary writers of ECO’s essential tenets are staying PC(USA).

Please vote to stay PC(USA) with me.

The PC(USA) is better with Trinity, and Trinity is better as part of the PC(USA).

Open Letter to Trinity

Dear Trinity,

We will vote on June 15, 2014 to remain in the Presbyterian Church (USA) or be dismissed to ECO A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.  I will vote to remain in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

From the beginning of the discernment process Trinity’s leadership had determined the PC(USA) was “deathly ill.”

I do not have a concern with our leaders’ consciences leading them to this point of view, but I do have a concern that the “deathly ill” perspective set the tone for, and was allowed to disproportionately influence, the entire discernment process at Trinity.  See my blog entry “Preconceived Notions and Outcomes” dated June 5, 2014.

The information presented to the congregation has certainly reflected this perspective and I have no reason to believe the information reviewed by the Strategic Futures Task Force or the session was any less bias.

When Trinity’s leadership started presenting their case for dismissal last year I could not believe what I was hearing.  In all honesty, as much as I love the PC(USA), what I heard at Trinity caused me believe that maybe the denomination really was “deathly ill.”

I have been a part of our denomination my entire life, either as a member or ordained pastor, and I have been in different congregations and presbyteries from the east coast, to the Midwest, to here in California so I thought I knew our denomination pretty well, but hearing what I heard at Trinity really caught me off guard.  My heart was turned and I began to believe my relationship with the denomination I had known as my mother in the faith was coming to an end.

I would understand if your heart has been turned too.

But I could not let it go.  What I was hearing just did not resonate with any of my experiences or relationships in the denomination.  Now, after months of researching, studying, praying, and communicating with Presbyterians outside of Trinity I have discovered what we have been told about the denomination is not the whole truth, not even close.

Moreover, Trinity’s leadership has said their goal was to be open and allow all voices to be heard, but in practice they have carefully guarded against and filtered any voice but their own.

And I am not the only one who has recognized this limited perspective.  Soon after Trinity’s Strategic Futures Task Force and other leadership began discussing discernment with the congregation last year, a group of members at Trinity, who have become known as the Fairness Group, also recognized the denomination was not fully, or fairly, being represented to the congregation.  Many in this group are ordained elders and deacons, Sunday school teachers, and other leaders in our congregation and Presbytery.

Alternate Perspectives Were Guarded Against


For example…

Trinity’s leadership sent their “Reasons” letter to the presbytery just days before the session was scheduled to meet with the Fairness Group and hear their concerns, leaving no opportunity for the session to receive input from the group before the letter was sent.

No member of the congregation who wished to stay in the PC(USA) was ever given a platform up front as a presenter like the leadership had at every forum, town hall meeting, worship service and congregational meeting.

No informational meetings about the PC(USA) were ever held like the one held with ECO.

The session denied a request to make the congregation aware of the three blogs written by Trinity members with an alternate perspective from their own.

The session denied a request to make the eye-opening analysis of ECO polity written by The Reverend Dan Saperstein, Co-Leader for Mission and Partnership for the Synod of the Sun available to the congregation.

To their credit, as our leadership became aware of the Fairness Group’s concerns they did provide a few openings for a balanced perspective, sometimes with hesitation though, and always with restraint.

Steve Yamaguchi’s presentation about the PC(USA)
Leadership made room for Steve’s presentation during a forum at Trinity, however it was on an evening when four or five other speakers from Trinity all spoke in favor of leaving the denomination.  A four-part video of Steve’s presentation is posted on the presbytery’s website.  No audio or video of Steve’s presentation was made available on Trinity’s website.

The Stay or Go presentation made by Jerry Tankersley and Gary Watkins
The Fairness Group requested a pro-stay PC(USA) speaker, however the session also invited a pro-leave PC(USA) speaker to present at the same time.   A copy of Jerry’s presentation is posted on Jerry’s blog.  No link to Jerry’s blog was provided on Trinity’s website.  No audio or video of the Stay or Go presentation was made available on Trinity’s website.

The Trinity Fairness Group’s letter to the congregation
The session did not agree to mail the letter to congregation as they had done with their own communications, choosing instead to make it available in the narthex and church office during the first two weeks of December, with their own cover letter.  A representative of the Fairness Group, rather than Trinity leadership, should have been invited to make the announcement in worship about the letter being available.  The letter was not made available on Trinity’s website.

Request for Representation on Joint Discernment Team Denied
Based on the straw poll results from last year it is clear there are many members at Trinity who would like Trinity to remain in the PC(USA), more members in fact than the size of the average congregation in the PC(USA), and more members than half of the congregations in Los Ranchos Presbytery.  The Fairness Group asked the session for representation on the Joint Discernment Team as a voice for these members.  They denied this request.

Congregational and Town Hall Meetings Provided Limited Opportunity for Dissension
In the session’s letter to the Fairness Group dated August 22, 2013, when they denied our request for a member of the Fairness Group to be placed on the Joint Discernment Team, they wrote, “Those who have concerns will have their opportunity to speak at a called congregational meeting that is part of the presbytery’s process.”

While I am very grateful for the opportunity the Fairness Group was given to meet once with the Joint Discernment Team there was no opportunity for the Fairness Group, or more importantly, any other dissenting members to speak at the congregational meeting.  Instead the congregation was given note cards to fill out and return with predefined question categories relating only to the joint discernment process.  Only a few selected questions were answered during the meeting and answers to the rest of the questions, which we were told would be posted online, were never provided.

I realize this was not the session’s meeting but there was at least one member on the Joint Discernment Team who is also a member of session and must have known this was going to be the format.  There is no indication any effort was made by the session to ensure the congregation would have an opportunity to speak at this meeting, as we had been told and were expecting.

At the Town Hall meeting held a monthly earlier on February 9, 2014 the moderator’s instructions to the congregation were that the congregation was not to make any comments, only ask questions.

Both of these meetings were held to one hour and structured without comments in order to be efficient, but again, this shows how little willingness our leadership had during this process for allowing any voice other than their own to speak freely.

PC(USA) On Trial Without Fair Representation


Trinity’s leadership essentially put the PC(USA) on trial without fair representation.  With little exception the positions of the PC(USA) have only been presented to the congregation by our leadership, the prosecution, who hold the “deathly ill” perspective.  I cannot imagine any defense attorney allowing the PC(USA) to be represented by the prosecution like this if our denomination was their client.

Derisive, Disparaging and Misleading Comments Being Made About The PC(USA)
Divisive and disparaging comments about members of the PC(USA) have been made by leadership to the congregation as if they were a joke. Comments like, “I didn’t know there were any Executive Presbyters who were Christian” which was said during a forum at Trinity last spring, and “Don’t worry, I’m not one of those kind of Presbyterians,” destroy the peace, unity and purity of the church which is something most, if not all of Trinity’s leaders vowed to uphold when they were ordained.

At times our leadership’s representation of the PC(USA) has not only been one-sided, and disparaging, it has been grossly misleading.  The half-truths they have spoken have unjustly damaged the reputation of our denomination, PC(USA) clergy, and members of our own presbytery.

Their half-truth unjustly damaged the reputation of the PC(USA) when the congregation was told the PC(USA) General Assembly refused to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the “singular saving Lord.”  I explain why in detail in my blog entry “Misused Words and Misleading Thoughts” dated December 20, 2013

Their half-truth unjustly damaged the reputation of PC(USA) clergy when the congregation was told 45% of pastors and 60% of specialized clergy in the PC(USA) do not believe that “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.”  I explain why in detail in my blog entry “X% of PC(USA) Clergy Don’t Believe” dated December 17, 2013.

Their half-truth unjustly damaged the reputation of members of our own presbytery when the congregation was told about “activists” working to influence Los Ranchos Presbytery.  I explain why in detail in my blog entry “Tilting at Windmills” dated January 7, 2014

Our leadership has led us to believe everything is going to be the same at Trinity if we are dismissed to ECO.  I have even heard a member of session emphatically state three times over “we’re all Presbyterian, we’re all Presbyterian, we’re all Presbyterian.”

Contrary to what our leadership is telling the congregation there are significant differences between ECO and PC(USA) polity.  You can read about these differences in my blog entry “Polity Matters…A Lot” dated February 5, 2014.

Truth Is In Order To Goodness
An historic principle of church order in the Presbyterian Church is that truth is in order to goodness (F-3.0104).

An essential tenet of ECO is pursuing the truth, even when such pursuit is costly, and defending truth when it is challenged, recognizing that truth is in order to goodness and that its preservation matters.  

Trinity’s leadership has restricted the whole truth about the PC(USA) from being shared with the congregation.

No Perfect/Purer Church


In the “Reasons” letter submitted to the presbytery our session wrote, “We seek an affiliation which is more biblically consistent in calling us all to faithfulness in our belief and behavior and which will give us freedom from politicized and polarizing conflicts.”

There is nothing preventing Trinity from teaching and preaching in a way consistent with its biblical beliefs, and leaving to affiliate with a more like-minded denomination could actually be more damaging to both Trinity and the PC(USA).  See my blog entry “Birds of a Feather” dated January 14, 2014.

Jerry Tankersely told us, “Billy Graham was right when he said that if you are seeking to join the perfect Christian church, the moment you join it, it will be imperfect.”

Along the same lines Tom Currie of Union Presbyterian Seminary has said over and over again, that the greatest heresy in the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition is that, somewhere out there, there is a purer church. There is not.

When Steve Yamaguchi spoke at Trinity last spring he said, “I’ve never been more excited about the possibilities open to us in the PC(USA) so why would I leave?  When through scripture I hear Jesus calling to us stay, plant, work for my kingdom, make a difference for me.”

What You See And Hear Depends On Where You Are Standing


In The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis wrote, “For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing.”

My contention is that if you are looking at the PC(USA) from the “deathly ill” perspective, it will look “deathly ill.”  But, if you change where you are standing and look at the denomination with a different perspective it is possible to see it with great hope.

Ask yourself, where are you standing?  Have you done the hard work of examining the PC(USA) on your own or have you only been exposed to the deathly ill perspective provided to you at Trinity?  It has taken me months of researching, studying, praying, and communicating with Presbyterians outside of Trinity to get past the concerns we were presented at Trinity and rediscover a greater, deeper, and wider understanding and appreciation for our denomination.

It has been hard to sort the truth out from the misinformation, especially when it has come from people whom we trust and would not think to second guess.

For example, at the Stay or Go forum last September, Gary Watkins, pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Huntington Beach, mentioned severed mission relations with the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPIB) over the issues of ordination of homosexuals and same-sex marriage.  But as Bruce Boyer pointed out on his blog entry “Mission Relations With Brazil” dated September 30, 2013, the relationship was not severed.

The IPIB had concerns when the PC(USA) General Assembly voted in 2010 to remove the constitutional requirement that all ministers, elders and deacons live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” But in the summer of 2013, a couple of months before Gary spoke at Trinity, the IPIB voted to continue their 30-year mission partnership with Presbyterian World Mission (PWM) despite their public stance against ordination of homosexuals and same-sex marriage.

Do Your Own Careful Research
Steve Yamaguchi told us last spring, when it comes to the concerns with the PC(USA), he senses there is more steam than smoke.  And he encouraged all of us to do our own careful research, to think for ourselves, and to be alert to the difference between propaganda and discernment.

Much of the alternative to the “deathly ill” perspective presented at Trinity is available in the three blogs written by members of Trinity. The session denied a request to make the congregation aware of these three blogs.

www.TrinityDisunited.wordpress.com
www.TrinityFairnessGroup.wordpress.com
www.TrinityStayPCUSA.com

Since the lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of scripture are two of the key concerns Trinity’s leadership has with the PC(USA) let me guide you to two of my blog entries on these subjects first.

The first is “The Way, The Truth, and The Life ~ In The PC(USA)” dated December 31, 2013
The second is “Upholding the Authority of Scripture” dated January 2, 2014

A New Spirit of Leadership


I agree the PC(USA) has problems, but leaving the denomination is not the solution.  There is a better way.  The majority of congregations in our denomination are moving forward without hesitation.  Trinity however is stuck.  Any hindrance to our future ministry in the PC(USA) is our current leadership, not the denomination.

The Reverend Dr. Dana Allin, ECO’s Synod Executive, told Los Ranchos Presbytery last spring that he did not believe “leaving the PC(USA) is the only faithful option.”

Following the passage of amendment 10A twenty-four former moderators of the General Assembly wrote a letter pleading our denomination to “move forward as a unified and missional expression of the Body of Christ.”  Only one former moderator declined to sign the letter.

Even two of the three principal writers of ECO’s Essential Tenets are not leaving the PC(USA).

There are plenty of voices outside of Trinity who are speaking up for, and staying in, the denomination.  See my blog entry “Voices Staying PC(USA)” dated February 7, 2014.

It will take time to recover but with the right leadership, and the help of Los Ranchos Presbytery, Trinity can continue to move forward as a strong and vibrant congregation of the PC(USA).  
It is possible for Trinity to remain true to its core beliefs and remain in the PC(USA).  In fact I believe our denomination needs a balance of beliefs, centered on the gospel.  The presbytery and PC(USA) are better with Trinity, and Trinity is better as part of the presbytery and PC(USA).

In February 2004 Sojourners published two companion articles, one by Richard J Mouw, past president of Fuller Theological Seminary titled, “Why The Evangelical Church Needs The Liberal Church,” and a second by Barbara Wheeler, past president of Auburn Theological Seminary titled, “Why The Liberal Church Needs The Evangelical Church.”  I have links to each article on my blog entry “A Vision of Unity” dated January 22, 2014.

These are two leaders in the PC(USA) who come from very different places theologically, but have the grace to make room for each other and who see themselves as better because they stay together.  Trinity needs leadership like this.  The Presbytery and denomination need churches like this.  Trinity has been a church like this.  We can be a church like this again.

Not everyone will stay.  But not everyone will stay if Trinity is dismissed to ECO.  We have to recognize the split has effectively already occurred.  The question is how do we recover and move forward?

I believe we move forward when we have leaders who dare to rise up and lead with a spirit demonstrated by Richard Mouw and Barbara Wheeler.

The Presbyterian Way: Peaceably Withdraw


If in good conscience however you cannot remain in the PC(USA) let me suggest you abide by the corollary to our 18th century Presbyterian Historic Principles of Church Order which is, “That when any matter is determined by a major vote, every member shall either actively concur with or passively submit to such determination; or if his conscience permit him to do neither, he shall, after sufficient liberty modestly to reason and remonstrate, peaceably withdraw from our communion without attempting to make any schism.”

Rather than creating a schism with the denomination over the differences you have with major votes it has taken you should vote on June 15 to allow Trinity to remain in the PC(USA) and peaceably withdraw yourself.  This is how Presbyterians settle irreconcilable differences.

Those of you who are inclined to leave the denomination could stay together and form a new ECO congregation.

I admired the guest from Doug’s previous congregation, First Presbyterian Church Fresno, who stood up in our Town Hall meeting in February and said if we were not willing to leave everything behind to make the move to ECO we needed to reconsider why we were requesting dismissal.

Prayer For Illumination


I have great confidence and hope for the mission of Jesus Christ in and through the PC(USA) but there is another reason I am going to stay PC(USA) I want to share with you as I close this letter.

Doug once prayed a prayer for illumination for God to “surprise us.”  There are areas of surprise which are off limits in ECO.  With whatever problems may exist in the PC(USA), and there are problems, I find it even more unconscionable to stay in a congregation and denomination where the elders (ruling and teaching) cannot pray the prayer of illumination without a wink and nod.  See my blog entry “Essentially an Idol” dated December 6, 2013.

It is up to your own conscience if you can.

Yours truly,
Eric Christiansen
Member, Trinity United Presbyterian Church

Preconceived Notions and Outcomes

“… a practice of discernment is simply more open-ended, more patient, less activist, more oriented toward silence, and I just think out of that comes a really different culture and spiritual discipline, which we just haven’t cultivated, which is why I was saying when the PUP (Peace, Unity and Purity) report came out and said we should call the denomination to discernment I though well obviously we should do that, that’s the most important and significant thing we can do, it’s just that we haven’t nurtured a people that could do that because we don’t have any common practices that regularly do that.  I haven’t yet ever been in a presbytery meeting that was organized as a communion of discerners”
– The Reverend Dr. Mark Labberton, President of Fuller Theological Seminary


Based on the discernment of Trinity’s Strategic Futures Task Force (SFTF) our session requested to be dismissed from the PC(USA) to ECO A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

I often wonder about the “discernment” that took place prior to this request.  Spiritual discernment is not a discipline many of us are very familiar with or comfortable practicing.  Were the members of the SFTF chosen because they have the spiritual gift of discernment?  We were never told.

Church consultant Susan Beaumont published on online article titled Free to Discern in which she writes,

“Where do we begin to identify the difference between group decision making and authentic communal discernment? We begin with the basic stance of freedom, unknowing, or indifference that underlies group discernment processes. Group decision making typically involves a cadre of leaders who are individually invested in particular outcomes, who come together to iron out and resolve their attachments and differences, to represent the good of the whole. By contrast, authentic communal discernment requires sincere and committed prayers who are unencumbered by preconceived notions and outcomes. To move from deciding to discerning, we must free ourselves from inordinate attachments. We must assume an indifference to anything but the will of the divine One as discovered collectively by the group; setting aside matters of ego, politics, personal opinion, and vested interests.”

Several months before Trinity’s SFTF was formed our pastor and a key leader of the SFTF signed the “deathly ill” letter dated February 2, 2011.  It is hard to imagine their work on the SFTF was unencumbered by preconceived notions and outcomes.  Maybe it is not possible for any of us to be completely free of preconceived notions and outcomes but persons with such a strong position probably should not have been chosen to help discern this matter for the congregation, especially in the absence of anyone with such strong opposing views to counter them on the task force as well.

When the session passed a motion on June 15, 2011 to authorize the formation of the SFTF it was charged to pursue its work in light of the Session-affirmed Confessing Church Standards.  They include…

  • Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all and the way of salvation
  • Holy Scripture is the triune God’s revealed Word, the Church’s only infallible rule of faith and life
  • God’s people are called to holiness in all aspects of life.  This includes honoring the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the only relationship within which sexual activity is appropriate.

There is no question the majority of members at Trinity would support all three standards whole heartedly.  And because they have been used as a guide when calling our pastors, hiring staff and nominating church officers it is no surprise the leadership of Trinity would also support these standards.

I know Trinity’s leadership and I see this differently but I firmly believe the PC(USA) would overwhelmingly support the first two standards and even the first part of the third.  It is of course the second part of the third standard that causes such division in the body of Christ, and because it causes such division I believe we all need to approach it with a tremendous amount of humility and openness to the other point of view.  How can you begin with the basic stance of freedom, unknowing, or indifference that underlies group discernment processes if you are encumbered with a charge to pursue your discernment in light of a particular standard?

Thomas H Green, S.J., says,

“Many people today express well-grounded misgivings about community discernment, and even feel uncomfortable with the word, ‘discernment.’ It can easily be a polite and pious name for a ‘tyranny of the majority,’ a way of attaching the Lord’s name and authority to what most of the group want, or believe he [sic] must want. If this happens, then, as we have seen, ‘discernment’ becomes a way of manipulating God to agree with our convictions concerning action and decision making.”

Based on the session’s strong reluctance to allow the congregation to hear dissenting minority voices I am concerned that what Trinity is calling discernment has not been discernment at all.  Nothing about the process seems free of inordinate attachments, personal opinions or vested interests.  It seems like the decision to leave the denomination was made several years ago and everything since then has been an effort to persuade others to decide the same.

I think it is interesting, and a little telling, that the session continually points to what they believe are heresies in the PC(USA) as their reason for requesting dismissal rather than to this being the discerned will of God.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Cloud of Witnesses

Memorial Presbyterian PC(USA)The Trust Clause reflects our understanding of the church as a communion of saints across time, with responsibilities both to those who came before and those who will follow. When a congregation seeks to leave the PC(USA), it is breaking what is often a significant historic relationship; it is also departing from a fellowship in which its officers have participated, by whose polity they have pledged to be governed, and with which many members may feel bonds of affection.
– GAPJC Decision and Order in the Tom Case


As I have said several times before, I still believe the best solution for everyone wanting to be dismissed from the denomination is to peacefully withdraw without creating a schism, it is also clear to me this is not going to happen.

This has left us in the unfortunate position of having to create a Joint Solution to determine the terms of separation for those who want to leave the denomination with property.

First and Calvary ImageOn the one side is the fact that the property is held in trust by the presbytery for the denomination as a whole.  This means the property belongs to the PC(USA) congregation where I grew up in Springfield, Missouri, and the to the PC(USA) congregation where I served as an associate pastor in Napa, California, and to the 10,000 other PC(USA) congregations across the country, just as much as it belongs to the congregation at Trinity.First Presbyterian Napa Image

When we think about a Joint Solution we have to keep all of these congregations in mind.  The PC(USA) is one connected church with multiple locations around the country. This understanding is fundamental to Presbyterian church doctrine of what it means to be the church and is reflected in the PC(USA)’s Trust Clause.

Trinity PropertyOn the other side are members who want to leave the denomination and feel a strong sense of congregational ownership to the property.  It is clear the property is a central issue at Trinity, if not THE central issue. Many, many more questions and concerns about the property have been raised by the congregation in our congregational meetings and Town Hall forums than questions about theology, the PC(USA) or ECO.

And over and over the same concern has been raised, “Why do we have to pay for the property to leave the denomination?  It’s already ours, we paid for it.”

Trinity’s leadership has rarely corrected this thinking, and at least once even encouraged it by telling the congregation it was a good point and said they would mention it to the presbytery representatives on the Joint Discernment Team.

Each side in this Joint Solution process has a very different competing interest.  But our polity, which is shaped by our theology, is very clear, the property is held in trust for the “use and benefit” of the denomination, including all 10,000 PC(USA) congregations and the communion of saints across time, with responsibilities both to those who came before and those who will follow.

This is why the Joint Discernment Team’s guiding mantra of only considering the presbytery and congregation has misguided them in their work, leaving the Joint Solution vulnerable to a challenge in the church courts.  It was exactly this kind of thinking that resulted in the Tom case when the presbytery did not consider its fiduciary responsibility to the denomination as a whole.

But there is also a second problem which leaves the Joint Solution vulnerable to a challenge.  Per the Tom case, to comply with the Trust Clause, payments for per capita or mission obligations are not satisfactory substitutes for valuations of the property held in trust.

And yet, the current Joint Solution is based on per capita and mission obligations ($428,250), with an additional component to be used by the presbytery for new church/struggling church development ($500,000).

It almost seems like the current Joint Solution was written as direct challenge to the Tom case.  

The Joint Discernment Team has left the presbytery in a very difficult and awkward position.  If the presbytery accepts the extraordinarily low terms in Joint Solution as it is written it will have to ignore the theological underpinnings of our polity and risk a challenge in the church courts.  On the other hand, if it rejects the Joint Solution as it is written it will be made to look ungracious and money-grubbing.

There is no easy choice but it boils down to settling the matter locally or risking national attention and ugly exposure if we have to settle it in the church courts.  I hope we choose to settle it locally, but this will mean the presbytery will need to reject the current Joint Solution, with rationale and wording changes needed to make it acceptable.

Here is what I hope they will consider…

In addition to the ideas I suggested in Less Than $0.05 On The Dollar, the presbytery needs to keep in mind that failure to consider the property value and the PC(USA)’s beneficial interest in the property was a fatal omission of the trustee’s duty to the PC(USA) in the Tom case.  Currently I do not see any consideration of the PC(USA)’s beneficial interest in the $14,000,000 value of the property in the current Joint Solution, and yet, the potential future use and benefit of the property to the PC(USA) in accomplishing the ministry of Jesus Christ is phenomenal.

And second, the presbytery needs to keep in mind that payments for per capita or mission obligations are not satisfactory substitutes for valuations of the property held in trust.

The PC(USA) is one church with many congregations, many expressions, making up a cloud of witnesses, including many of us at Trinity, who are ready to continue making the best use and benefit of the property for the denomination in accomplishing the mission of Jesus Christ in the world.

It is up to the presbytery now to make that possible.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

 

 

Less Than $0.05 On The Dollar

In the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) case, Tom v. Presbytery of San Francisco, the GAPJC authoritatively interpreted how the Trust Clause found in the Book of Order at G-4.0203 interacts with Gracious Dismissal Policies. The GAPJC held that while a presbytery has broad discretionary authority under the Book of Order to determine property rights [within the context of determining the mission of Jesus Christ in the world (G-4.0201) and in its district (G-3.0303a) to dismiss a particular congregation within its geographic region (G-3.0301a)], the presbytery must fulfill its fiduciary duty under the Trust Clause (G-4.0203) to consider the interest of the PC(USA) as a beneficiary of the property.

The preliminary terms of the Joint Solution for Trinity to be dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) were announced to the congregation on Sunday, April 27, 2014.  They had been presented to the presbytery for a first reading three days earlier and will be discussed and voted on by the presbytery in late May or early June.

THE CURRENT JOINT SOLUTION


Financial Terms
$257,000 five years of local/global mission giving (designated funds)
$171,250 three years of per capita giving
$500,000 for new church/struggling church development in the presbytery

Required Vote
Requires 60% vote in favor of dismissal

One of the early questions asked by a member of the congregation was if an appraisal had been conducted of the property.  The answer was yes, and the value was placed at $14,000,000!

It did not take the congregation long to realize this was a very good deal for Trinity.

And then it got even better.  Members began standing up and pointing out the $257,000 was a figure already in our mission budget and therefore did not represent anything above and beyond what the congregation was committed to continue giving anyway!  Subtract that from the $928,250 and suddenly the amount of additional expense is reduced to $671,250.  At $14,000,000 that represents less than $0.05 on the dollar.

And then it got even better, again.  Trinity has five years to make this payment to the presbytery.  If Trinity decides to leave ECO for another denomination while there is still a balance due, the property would revert to the presbytery.  However, as soon as the balance is paid, even if it is paid in less than the five years, Trinity is under no obligation to remain in ECO.  In other words, if Trinity were to have a check in hand for the full amount on day one following the dismissal, the presbytery would have no recourse if Trinity wanted to then leave ECO for yet another denomination.

At this point it seemed Trinity’s leadership was getting a little nervous at the congregation’s enthusiasm for these terms and tried to quell the excitement by asking everyone to focus on the whole $928,250.

If I was leadership I’d be trying to keep enthusiasm in check as well.  The terms are not settled until the presbytery has discussed and voted on them.  Any indication of how generous the terms are, and how eager the congregation is to accept them, could cause the presbytery to recognize the terms may not be a win-win for everyone involved.

Keeping the focus on the larger number distracts everyone from the reality of how little this Joint Solution is asking Trinity to pay and how vulnerable the presbytery is to not meeting its fiduciary duty under the Trust Clause (G-4.0203) to consider the interest of the PC(USA) as a beneficiary of the property.

The Joint Discernment Team’s guiding mantra in developing its Joint Solution has been to do no undue harm to either Trinity or the presbytery.  Their guiding mantra is surprising since it was exactly this kind of thinking that resulted in the Tom case when the presbytery did not consider its fiduciary responsibility to the denomination.  The $14,000,000 property belongs to the PC(USA) as a whole, and it is the presbytery’s fiduciary duty to be sure no undue harm is done to the denomination, not just the presbytery.

It would be difficult to argue the current Joint Solution will cause any undue harm to Trinity.  But what about to the denomination?  That is a different story.

The PC(USA) will be hard pressed to use the funds provided in this Joint Solution to ever replace the hole Trinity will leave if it is dismissed with property from the denomination.      

A BETTER WAY


It is clear to me that there are many at Trinity who desperately want out of the PC(USA), and while I still believe the best solution is for everyone wanting to be dismissed to peacefully withdraw without creating a schism, it is also clear to me this is not going to happen.  So we need to find a way to separate, without doing undue harm to each other, but there has to be a better Joint Solution than the one on the table.

First, as it stands now, I do not see any apparent relationship between the Joint Solution and the property belonging to the denomination in this arrangement.  If the $14,000,000 property is held in trust for the “use and benefit” of the denomination as tool for the accomplishment of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world, how does $671,250, or even $928,250 for that matter, begin to provide for this continued mission of the denomination?

Whatever amount is finally decided should meet the reasonable person standard, meaning an average person in the PC(USA) can look at the agreement and say yes, I can see a connection between the “use and benefit” of the denomination and the Joint Solution.  It seems to me it would require at least $5 to $7 million undesignated dollars, paid over a period of five to fifteen years, to meet this standard.

Everyone has to recognize that in order to meet the presbytery’s fiduciary responsibility to the denomination as a whole, the value of the property may end up being either unaffordable, or unattractive, to the congregation at Trinity.

No one at Trinity, including the leadership, is under any obligation to stay in the denomination if their conscious does not permit.  That would constitute undue harm.  Everyone is free to come and go as they choose.  But choosing to leave the denomination may mean having to leave the property as well if it is not affordable, or a price they are willing to pay.  This would be unwelcomed but would not rise to the level of undue harm in my opinion.

People leave congregations and denominations all the time without taking the property with them.  Just because a majority of the current congregation and leaders in power want to leave does not mean they have a right to the property at any price.

In Trinity’s case, affording the property will not be as much of an issue as being willing to pay for it.  It was not that long ago Trinity raised millions of dollars for the new Fellowship Hall.  And already the congregation is talking about starting a capital campaign, following dismissal from the PC(USA), for a new multi-million dollar children’s ministry center.  Like Doug tells us, Trinity has all the money it needs, it is just in the members’ pockets.

Of course, without any debt on the property, Trinity also has the option of mortgaging the property.

If Trinity’s campus is not affordable another consideration could be approaching any of the nearby PC(USA) congregations to see if there is any interest in merging with those of us at Trinity who wish to remain in the PC(USA).  The merged congregation would remain on the Trinity campus and the presbytery would negotiate a Joint Solution to provide the nearby PC(USA) campus to those at Trinity who are seeking dismissal.  Any of the nearby campuses should be of considerable less value, making it easier to reach an agreement that meets both the presbytery’s fiduciary responsibility to the denomination and Trinity’s budget.

Maybe the presbytery would even want to consider moving its office to the campus.

Second, the presbytery should require a congregational vote of at least two-thirds majority in favor of dismissal. Dismissal with property should require a bar higher than 60%.  Even 75% is not an unreasonable threshold, but since two-thirds majority is equal to the vote which would be required for Trinity to be dismissed from ECO, under the terms of ECO’s polity, this threshold, at a minimum, should not be met with any objection.

And finally, the property should revert to the presbytery, at no cost, if Trinity is dismissed from ECO, regardless of whether the financial payments have been made, for a period of at least ten years.  The presbytery has a responsibility and a right to know the property will stay with the denomination it is being dismissed to for a reasonable period of time.  Since Trinity’s leadership says dismissal from ECO is a mute point they should have no problem agreeing to this either.

Along the same lines, the presbytery should also be given a right of first refusal to purchase the property at fair market value, less whatever difference the denomination forfeits in the final Joint Solution.  The PC(USA) should retain the opportunity to reestablish a presence on such a prominent piece of property in central Orange County.  Property like this is rare and getting more rare all the time.

I think any reasonable person in the PC(USA) can see there is still work to do on a Joint Solution that adequately meets the presbytery’s fiduciary duty to consider the PC(USA) as a beneficiary of the property.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

 

 

Voices Staying PC(USA)

“I want to say right off the bat that I do not believe leaving the PC(USA) is the only faithful option”
– The Reverend Dr. Dana Allin, ECO’s Synod Executive, presentation made to Los Ranchos Presbytery, Spring 2013

My entire life has been in our denomination, either as a member or ordained pastor, and I have been a part of different congregations and presbyteries from the east coast, to the Midwest, to here in California.  I have known our denomination long enough, and wide enough, to recognize the perspective of the PC(USA) being shared with the congregation by our leadership has been one sided and does not fully or fairly represent the denomination.  There are others at Trinity who recognize this too.  

For the last several months I have researched, read, listened to and communicated with voices from around our denomination who are staying in the PC(USA).  I have already shared many of these voices with you on this blog but I want to bring several of them back and let them speak together here.  Some of them are considered progressive voices, some of them are considered moderate to conservative evangelical voices.  Some are well known in our denomination, others are not.

 They are all worth listening to.

Steve Yamaguchi, Presbytery Pastor, Los Ranchos Presbytery
Steve spoke at Trinity in May 2013 about why he is staying in the PC(USA).

“Friends, if the PC(USA) was burning down I would leave, after helping everyone exit safely, I would go.  But it’s not, and that is why I’m staying.”

“I’m staying because there are good things happening.  God is at work…I want to challenge this generation at Trinity to take a stand and make a difference, do not flee, but stand and make a difference.  Doug asked me to tell you basically, ‘Steve, why would you stay?’ I want to ask, why would I leave?  When I, and together we, finally have the opportunity to make such an impact for our Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, not only on our denomination but on the whole church.  Friends, I’ve never been more excited about the possibilities open to us in the PC(USA) so why would I leave?  When through scripture I hear Jesus calling to us stay, plant, work for my kingdom, make a difference for me.”

Eric Peterson, Pastor, Colbert Presbyterian Church, Colbert, WA
In a blog post titled “Utopia Eluded…Again,” posted on StayPCUSA.com, Eric wrote,

“I would no sooner leave the Presbyterian Church than I would relinquish my citizenship of the United States of America. It’s not a perfect church any more than ours is a perfect country. But like other denominations it belongs to God, and it is sufficient as a vehicle for the Word of God to transform the world.  It may not be an ideal church, but it is a good place, and an altogether suitable environment for me to honor my vocation. For better and for worse, for the remainder of my baptism, it is my place.”

Twenty-Four Former Moderators of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
Twenty-four former moderators of the PC(USA) General Assembly wrote a letter after 10-A passed, pleading our denomination to “move forward as a unified and missional expression of the Body of Christ.”  Only one former moderator declined to sign the letter.

“As those who have been privileged to serve as elected leaders of our denomination, we represent a spectrum of opinion about the wisdom and faithfulness of this change in our ordination standards. Some of us have worked and prayed for this change to happen, and some of us have worked and prayed that the current wording in the Book of Order would hold firm. But all of us fervently hope that the church will move forward as a unified and missional expression of the Body of Christ.

…We believe that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) needs the voices and gifts of all of us, whether we agree with Amendment 10-A or not.  Our unity is strengthened by our diversity, and vigorous debate as well as mutual forbearance is essential to the body.

Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
Bruce wrote the “Top 10 Reasons Bruce Will Stay Presbyterian” on his blog.  Here is a summary of his reasons.

  1. Because of what I believe
  2. Because there is no “There” there
  3. Because corporate submission and rugged individuality need one another
  4. Because fluid tradition matters
  5. Because others have been there for me
  6. Because like minds do not a growing faith make
  7. Because the universe does not revolve around me
  8. Because this is still a beloved family
  9. Because my Sisters are welcome
  10. Because . . . // Sometimes, you just know . . . ya know?

The Reverend Dr. James Currie, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, TX
Jim understands the church will never be perfect or even, for the most part, agreeable. And yet, at the same time, the church is God’s representative, God’s ambassador of grace in and to the world.  In “Some Theological Thoughts on Why Stay in the PC(USA)” Jim writes,

“We are called to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. We are not called to agree on everything.”

The Reverend Dr. Jack Haberer, Editor of The Presbyterian Outlook

“I’m not so loyal to the PC(USA) that I wouldn’t leave, if the kind of things that are said about us with not having the authority of scripture and said about us about Jesus Christ not being unique, if those were the case I’d be gone already…my loyalty is to Jesus Christ and to God as revealed as the Trinity and as presented to us through scripture.  I’m married to that.”

The Reverend Dr.Ted Wardlaw, President, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, Texas
Presentation made at FOR UNITI meeting at First Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX September 24, 2013.

“I’ve heard it said that Presbyterians are on the verge of voting to decide whether or not Jesus Christ is really Lord.  I want you to know that I have never heard that rumour, and I don’t believe it is true, and if it were ever to happen I would leave the church.  That’s the only reason I will leave our church, that we decide to stop proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord.  If anybody tells you that is an idea stirring in the life of our church you tell them that is wrong.”

“Believe me, across my thirty five years of ordained ministry I have lost a lot of votes, but I have never, ever assumed that therefore I should leave the church.”

The Reverend Dr. Paul Hooker, Director of Ministerial Formation and Advanced Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, Texas
Presentation made at FOR UNITI meeting at First Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX September 24, 2013.

“Unity is about our common belonging to Jesus Christ, not about our agreement with one another, it is undermined never by our disagreement, but only by the loss of our Lordship in Christ.”

Joe Small, one of the three principal writers of ECO’s “Essential Tenets & Confessional Standards” and former Director of Theology, Worship and Education Ministries for the PC(USA)’s General Assembly Mission Council
An Open Letter, December 12, 2011

“For my part, I will surely remain a part of the church that brought me to faith. Long ago I learned from John Calvin that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is my mother in the Faith, and that I must remain under her care and guidance. As a child of the church I do not always agree with my parent; I am embarrassed from time to time, and occasionally angry. But the church remains my nurturing parent and I remain its thankful child. I grieve estrangement from any of my sisters and brothers. I will try to remain as close to all of them as possible, and I will hope for the day of family reunion.”

The Reverend Dr. Jerry Andrews, one of the three principal writers of ECO’s “Essential Tenets & Confessional Standards” and Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, San Diego, CA
“Essential Tenets” presentation made to Los Ranchos Presbytery, February 28, 2013.

While Jerry understands the desire of some to leave the denomination, he is going to stay PC(USA).

“Joe Small and I have never in the length of our ministry given more than five seconds thought to being in a fellowship other than the PC(USA).”

The Reverend Dr. Jerry Tankersley, Pastor, Laguna Presbyterian Church, Laguna Beach, CA
Jerry gave four reasons why he is staying in the PC(USA) in a Paper Presented to Trinity United Presbyterian Church on September 29, 2013

  1. First, why stay in the PCUSA? Because there are important biblical and theological reasons to remain in this part of the Reformed body.
  2. Secondly, why stay in the PCUSA? Because we promised in our ordination vows to remain faithful to the covenant with God and our covenant as the people of God.
  3. Thirdly, why stay in the PCUSA? Because the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ, have never been perfect.
  4. Fourthly, why stay in the PCUSA? We need to stay for the sake of God’s mission in our broken and wounded world.

“When I heard that Trinity was one of the congregations seeking dismissal from LRP,  I  felt the loss and realized that our presbytery life and mission would never again be the same if you left.”

Dr. Barbara Wheeler, retired president of Auburn Seminary
Why the Liberal Church Needs the Evangelical Church,” Sojourners, February 2004

“We could skip the split. We Presbyterians, who share so much—a confession of faith, a rich theological heritage, the advantages and the burdens of wealth and social power—could covenant to stay together in our reformed relations, to labor with each other, in love, for justice and truth. It would be very arduous and painful, much more so than splitting or drifting apart. It would be worth it. The world would take note of what the gospel makes possible for those who confess their dis-ease with each other and their displacement by each other but still keep on going, strangers locked in covenant, toward the better country of diversity and harmony, liberty and love.”

Dr. Richard Mouw, retired president of Fuller Theological Seminary
Why the Evangelical Church Needs the Liberal Church,” Sojourners, February 2004

“I genuinely believe that a Presbyterian split would be a serious setback for the cause that I care deeply about, namely, the cause of Reformed orthodoxy. I spend a lot of time thinking about how people with my kind of theology have acted in the past, and I am convinced that splits inevitably diminish the influence of the kind of orthodoxy that I cherish, for at least two reasons.

First, the denomination from which the dissidents depart is typically left without strong voices who are defending their understanding of orthodoxy…

The second way in which the cause of Reformed orthodoxy was diminished has to do with what happened to the conservatives themselves after they left the mainline denomination. They quickly began to argue among themselves, and it was not long before new splits occurred in their ranks. The result was that conservative Calvinism itself increasingly became a fractured movement.

I worry much about what would happen to Presbyterian evangelicals ourselves if we were to leave the PC(USA). When we evangelical types don’t have more liberal people to argue with, we tend to start arguing with each other. I would much rather see us continue to focus on the major issues of Reformed thought in an admittedly pluralistic denomination than to deal with the tensions that often arise among ourselves when evangelicals get into the debates that seem inevitably to arise when we have established our own “pure” denominations.”

Joshua Bower, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church in Whiteville, NC
In a blog post titled “I’m Staying Because God Called Me Here,” posted on StayPCUSA.com, Josh wrote,

“I’m staying in the  PC(USA) because God put me here and called me to be a pastor here, faithfully serving him and his people…Beyond the denominational question, there is the pastoral one. I serve a church of about 200 in southeastern North Carolina. When I stand in the pulpit on Sunday mornings, I stare back at a group that includes both fundamentalists and folks who question the authenticity of the Bible. Rabid conservatives sit alongside hardline liberals. In the back there’s a couple who refuse to join because they don’t want a dime of their tithe to support the PC(USA) and down front is the man who gets tears in his eyes whenever he talks about what the PC(USA) means to him.

We’re as diverse theologically as it gets, but somehow it works.”

It is possible for Trinity to remain true to its core beliefs and remain in the PC(USA).  In fact I believe our denomination needs a balance of beliefs, centered on the gospel.  The presbytery and PC(USA) are better with Trinity, and Trinity is better as part of the presbytery and PC(USA).

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Polity Matters…A Lot

“Polity, at its best, is really the embodiment of ecclesiology.  The Book of Order is the manifestation of who we are as the Church, as we live it out together.”
– The Reverend Forrest Claassen, Installation Service as State Clerk of The Presbytery of Los Ranchos, Fall 2013

When our polity changes, the manifestation of who we are as the Church changes, which is why I want to share this eye-opening analysis of ECO polity with you. It was written by The Reverend Dr. Daniel M. Saperstein, Co-Leader for Mission and Partnership for the Synod of the Sun, PC(USA) for First Presbyterian Church in Houston, TX.

Dan’s complete, and very thorough analysis, is available for you to read here Notes on ECO Polity.

The following are very pertinent excerpts from his analysis:

“In the PCUSA, the Historic Principles of Presbyterian Government (F-3.02) express how the checks and balances within the polity serve to maintain order and justice. The genius of Presbyterian polity is that as authority in the church expands, so does the scope of accountability, so that issues are ultimately decided by the voice of the whole church.

A comparison of the PCUSA and ECO polities will demonstrate that one key distinction between the two is ECO’s greater location of power in pastors and sessions without adequate accountability either to the presbytery above or to the congregation below. If the oft-cited criticism of the PCUSA by ECO-bound churches is that it is too restrictive in its polity but too lax in its theology, ECO is precisely the opposite – overly restrictive in theology while giving free rein in polity.

 It is not that the PCUSA has elevated polity over theology. Rather, the PCUSA recognizes that polity is the practical expression of our theology. So the question in choosing between polities is which more accurately represents a faithful theology.”

“The ECO constitutional documents are identified as the statement of Essential Tenets, ECO Polity, and the Rules of Discipline. These outline a denomination that is Presbyterian only in the broadest sense of the term. Church councils above the session have virtually no authority to direct the life and ministry of lower councils. There is no provision for administrative review and oversight. There are no structures to promote or ensure inclusion of persons across race or gender. Property and finances are exclusively under the control of sessions. Even the ministry of Word and Sacrament in a congregation could be commissioned without recourse to presbytery. In these regards, the denominational body the polity most resembles is not Presbyterian, but Southern Baptist.”

Some of my primary concerns with ECO polity, which Dan points out, include:

  • The polity of ECO rests on covenants of partnership (membership) and accountability. The use of covenant language suggests that the unity of the church envisioned is contingent on keeping covenant. Unlike the PCUSA Constitution which states that the particular congregations collectively constitute ONE church (F-3.0201), the ECO polity reflects a unity that is a covenantal association of individual churches.
  • ECO restores the office of Assistant Pastor, elected by the session only (not the congregation).  The PCUSA discontinued this because of abuse of pastors in this tenuous role. It is noteworthy that while Assistant Pastors are accorded a vote at presbytery, they do not have a vote on the session they serve.
  • Nowhere does the ECO constitution grant presbytery the authority to set minimum terms of call.  And neither pastors nor congregations have recourse to presbytery in the negotiation of call terms.
  • Presbyteries have the authority only to “settle differences between congregations and pastors” (3.0103). They do not have authority to enter into congregations in conflict or to take original jurisdiction of congregations that are unable to manage their affairs.  While some may welcome this change, it raises the question of whether ECO is in fact a hierarchical denomination with an essential unity, or a mere convention (à la Southern Baptists). It does not protect a congregation from abuse by a rogue session, or unresolved differences within congregations.  Trinity experienced and benefited from this kind of help from Los Ranchos Presbytery ten years ago when the presbytery recognized a problem at Trinity and stepped in to handle it and the subsequent dismissal of our pastor.
  • Whereas the PCUSA Constitution requires that presbyteries consist of at least equal numbers of elders as of minister members, in ECO this is reversed, that is, the number of minister members will at least be equal or greater than the elder commissioners.
  • The Synod executive council is given great power for the whole denomination without the requirement that its decisions be accountable to the representative assembly.  It consists of only 6-9 persons, with a guarantee of only three elder members.  The delegation of such sweeping authority to a small body, with no requirement of representation or inclusion that could conceivably be dominated by a supermajority of pastor members is contradictory to the Presbyterian principles of accountability and parity among ruling elder and teaching elder presbyters.
  • The issue of church property has taken on an increasingly central role in the decisions of churches to move to ECO from the PCUSA. ECO polity contains no property trust clause, leaving property solely in the hands of the local congregation, and prohibits the presbytery from exercising any partnership with congregations in the mortgage financing of building loans (4.0102).  This may provide some sense of satisfaction to those who are concerned that a trust clause may be exercised against their wishes in church disputes, but it also removes an important protection for congregations from abuse by leaders or an influential group. It also removes from smaller congregations an important resource for acquiring funds to expand their ministry, especially when they are in an early phase of development.
  • Pastor CEO?  An odd provision of chapter four also provides that the session or other governing board shall elect an elder, pastor, or staff member to serve as the chief executive officer of the corporation and may elect other corporate officers as it deems appropriate or as required by law. (4.0101).  The idea that the pastor could also serve as the CEO of the church corporation by election of the session reflects a pastor-centric leadership model that is deeply contrary to the historic practice of Presbyterian polity.
  • The Essential Tenets document is part of the constitution, along with the polity and rules of discipline. Every explanatory statement in the Essential Tenets document therefore is written into the constitution and has not only the requirement of a supermajority of presbyteries to amend, but a supermajority within the presbyteries. This is an extremely high bar of amendment, exceeding that of the U.S. Constitution (which only requires a majority vote by three-fourths of the state legislatures).
  • The Confessions of the Church are not part of the ECO constitution. There is no provision in the constitution for adopting or amending confessions. Claims therefore that they share a common confessional perspective with the PCUSA are false; the only functional confession of ECO is the statement of Essential Tenets. Indeed, this has a higher standard of amendment than do the confessions in the PCUSA.
  • ECO has no comparable section to F-3.01 and F-3.02 of the PCUSA Constitution, which outline the Historic Principles of Church Order (“preliminary principles”) and the Historic Principles of Presbyterian Government (“radical principles”). There is no statement affirming the rights or limits of conscience. There is no statement regarding the principles of government. There is no statement regarding the requirement of mutual forbearance when consciences collide. These principles are at the core of the PCUSA polity. They assure that rights are protected. No such assurances are evident in the ECO constitution. The ECO constitution also omits the historic statement of the Great Ends of the Church.
  • The polity of ECO, with its unaccountable leadership (synod executive council), weak structures of hierarchical protection and accountability, and Congregationalist emphases creates an environment in which basic rights and freedoms of members can be trampled.
  • The ECO constitution provides for equal powers of appeal by the accusers in a disciplinary case where a verdict of not guilty is rendered. The PCUSA had briefly offered limited powers of appeal to accusers, but even those limited powers have been rescinded. In ECO the possibility of double and even triple jeopardy exists for a person found not guilty at trial.

There is at least one concern Dan has which I am not certain can be sustained and that is:

  • Presbyteries have the power: (3.0103g) [To] receive, dismiss, examine, install, provide pastoral care for, and discipline pastors.  However, nowhere does the constitution grant presbytery the role of approving calls. The “tripartite” call of the PCUSA apparently becomes a “bipartite” call between a congregation and a pastor.

ECO polity is very abbreviated (low control) and depends on the high level of trust expected within the denomination. However the abbreviation leaves too much room for interpretation, or misinterpretation as the case may be.  Trust is high today because those who are forming ECO have been in relationships with each other for many years.  But can that trust be passed on going forward?  Trust cannot be inherited.

Finally, watch and listen to the Reverend Dr. Ted Wardlaw, President, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, discuss John Calvin’s suspicion of the potential for the abuse of power in the church.

“Calvin was suspicious of too much power being held in one person’s hands, say a bishop’s hands because of the corrosive possibilities of such power.  Calvin did not trust the trappings of imperial status and the potential for tyranny when so much power was held in one person’s hands.  Calvin was also suspicious of power being held finally in the hands of a congregation, period.  Pure congregationalism, he thought, was hampered by two weaknesses. First, congregationalism is an order of church life that is designed for saints and not for nominal Christians.  And secondly, congregationalism runs the risk of devolving to emphasis simply on the local church and thus loses the universal character, or catholicity, of the church.”

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)