PC(USA) Minute For Mission ~ Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary

The Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study dates back to 1892 and has the longest history of any denominational mission and prayer book in the United States.

Today’s PC(USA) Minute for Mission from the Mission Yearbook…

The Lord gives you relief from your suffering and turmoil and from the harsh labor forced on you. (Isa. 14:3 NIV)

Johnson C Smith SeminaryWhen Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary (JCSTS) was founded in 1867, in the wake of the Civil War, its mission was to educate black men who had been enslaved. Over time, the institution, like many historically black colleges and universities, developed curricula that would empower African American men and women while benefiting the country as a whole.

Leadership, social engagement, and empowerment remain at the heart of the seminary’s culture and mission. In the fall of 2012, JCSTS, with the help of the Community Foundation of Atlanta, launched a Community Engagement Fellows Program designed to foster a culture of Christian service and activism among seminarians. The first class of student fellows mentored neighborhood children, created a community food bank, designed a quilting ministry for elderly women, and studied demographic shifts in underserved sections of the city.

In November 2012 students helped lead JCSTS’s inaugural HIV/AIDS Conference, which provided information and fostered the leadership necessary to conduct effective ministry among individuals and families affected by AIDS. It took its theme, “Creating HIV/AIDS Competent Churches and Leaders,” from a report of the same name adopted by the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the PC(USA). Students also planned the follow-up conference held December 2013.

JCSTS prides itself in providing students a one-of-a-kind laboratory for learning to address contemporary issues as they mature in Christian faith, biblical literacy, caregiving ability, and leadership.

—Paul T. Roberts, president-dean, Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary

PC(USA) 1001 Worshiping Communities ~ New Hope

1001 Worshiping Communities is movement happening in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Across the PC(USA), God is raising up leaders in churches and presbyteries who are creating new worshiping communities. They are taking on new and varied forms of church for our changing culture. Primarily they are seeking to make and form new disciples of Jesus Christ, to change and transform the world.

Today’s Spotlight Community – New Hope
A worshiping community built on the premise that all people matter is reaching people of diverse background in cities across Southern California, who are investing in people’s and the lives of their children.

Learn about this and many, many, many more exciting new worshiping communities of the PC(USA) at www.onethousandone.org

“The Holy Spirit is on the move. It’s an exciting time to be Presbyterian.” ~ Bill Golderer, 2013 PC(USA) Moderators Conference

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Location, Location, Location

Trinity Property

There are memories and deep emotions connected with our church property.  

Many of us were married here, baptized our children here, and have said goodbye to loved ones here.  We have grown up going to Sunday school, children’s programs and youth groups here.  We maintain friendships here.  We have sung in choirs and musicals here.  Prayed here, worshiped here, come to faith here, grown in faith here, served here.  It would be very hard to leave here.

Which is exactly why the church property never should have been used as leverage, the way it has been, in the process of discernment.  Tying the church property to the decision to leave the denomination has severely clouded and compromised the discernment process.

Trinity’s straw poll taken this spring asked, “Should the Session engage the Presbytery in a joint process which could lead to the transfer of Trinity (with property) to another Reformed Presbyterian Denomination?

The results were roughly 80% Yes, 15% No, and 5% Undecided.

But how much different would the outcome of the straw poll have been if the property had not been included?  

If Trinity’s leadership had been willing to set the issue of property on the side, and designed the straw poll differently, they could have eliminated property as an undue influence and received a much truer indication of the congregation’s interest for staying or leaving the denomination.

The straw poll could have asked something like this:

Trinity’s session may engage the presbytery in a joint process which could lead to the transfer of Trinity to another Reformed Presbyterian denomination.  If Trinity transfers to another Reformed Presbyterian denomination would you most likely…

  • transfer your membership to another PC(USA) congregation, even if it means leaving the property?
  • transfer your membership with Trinity and leave the PC(USA), even if it means leaving the property?
  • stay with the property, regardless of Reformed Presbyterian denominational affiliation?

Aside from the memories and emotions there are financial interests tied to the property compromising the discernment process.

I was in King’s Class the weekend before the straw poll when a representative in the class, a local real estate professional, made an announcement about the upcoming straw poll, telling everyone Trinity would have a chance to own the property if it left the PC(USA).  He went on to say the property could be worth as much as $15 to $18 million dollars and the congregation would probably be able to negotiate a purchase price with the presbytery of between $2 to $3 million.  He told everyone to vote how they wanted, but he let us all know that if he had a chance to buy a $15 million dollar piece of property for $2 to $3 million dollars he would do it.  

Another conversation I was a part of included a member of Trinity’s Strategic Futures Task Force saying the opportunity for the congregation to own the property was a large factor in their personal decision to recommend seeking dismissal from the PC(USA).

I am even aware of a conversation that took place six to eight years ago at a Los Ranchos Presbytery meeting when a pastor from another congregation, already scheming how to gain control of church property, recommended a strategy of starting a building project and financing it with debt, specifically to prevent the presbytery from being able to afford the property if/when the congregation decided to seek dismissal from the denomination in the future.

Memories, emotions, and financial interests regarding the church property are unquestionably compromising the discernment process, both for the congregation and those in leadership.   

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Tilting at Windmills

“Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, ‘Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.'”
― Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

Don_Quixote

Clearly the flashpoint for Trinity’s leadership in deciding to seek dismissal from the PC(USA) was removal of the “Fidelity and Chastity” clause (G-6.0106b) from the Book of Order, with the passage of amendment 10A at General Assembly in 2010, and its ratification by a majority of presbyteries in May 2011.

It is often overlooked however that G-6.0106b had only been added to the Book of Order in 1996, and that prior to 1996 the PC(USA) did not specifically name any standards in the Book of Order which would preclude someone from ordination.  Nor were any additional standards added following the passage of G-6.0106b.  Prohibitions against slander, greed, pride, gluttony…none of these ever made the list.

10A simply reaffirmed the long-held right and responsibility of ordaining bodies (local church sessions for deacons and elders or presbyteries for ministers) to specifically examine each individual candidate for ordination on a case by case basis, and for members to vote their conscience.

Here is where it starts to get interesting.

By September 2011 a group within Los Ranchos Presbytery made an effort to circumvent 10A and push back against this long-held constitutional right with a resolution affirming, 

“…Los Ranchos Presbytery believes the manner of life of ordained Ministers should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world, including living either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness and will so notify candidates for ordination/installation and or membership in the presbytery…”

The resolution passed in the presbytery but not without controversy.

Opponents in the presbytery did not think the resolution was constitutional.  As a result they filed a complaint and a request for a stay of enforcement with the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii.

I am writing about this case because at Trinity’s congregational meeting in November, our pastor, The Reverend Dr. Doug Rumford, referred to it during his impassioned defense of seeking dismissal from the PC(USA).  

He labeled the opponents as “activists” and stirred the congregation’s emotions with his side of the story of how our presbytery was attacked by outsiders who prevented us from doing what we want to do locally.  But there are two sides to every story and I see this story very differently than how it was presented to the congregation.

To begin with, before the resolution was even presented, opponents inside the presbytery made an effort to talk the sponsors of the resolution out of acting.  The sponsors were told in advance that if the resolution passed it would be challenged.  The efforts fell on deaf ears, and the constitutionally questionable resolution was presented to the presbytery.

After the resolution passed, the action to initiate the case was made by twenty-one members of Los Ranchos Presbytery.

The complaint was drafted by Susan Currie, a local attorney and member of Los Ranchos Presbytery.  The Complainants were later referred to an attorney from outside the presbytery, Doug Nave, who agreed to represent the claim, pro bono, along with Susan.  

The proponents won a favorable judgment regarding the constitutionality of the resolution at the Synod hearing.  However, the Synod Permanent Judicial Committee’s (PJC) ordered that

“the Presbytery of Los Ranchos be admonished that while this PJC considers the resolution constitutional, the use of specific language known to be divisive and inflammatory flies in the face of the responsibility to seek the peace, unity, and purity of the church.”  

Furthermore there were dissenting votes on the Synod PJC, and a dissenting opinion was provided.

The Synod judgement was appealed to the General Assembly PJC where the Commission declared that the resolution as written was unconstitutional and, therefore, void.  No dissenting opinion was provided.  Case closed.

The constitutional error hinged on the resolution’s practical effect of discouraging those seeking ordination or membership prior to the required case by case evaluation or examination.    

So what has Los Ranchos Presbytery lost?  Nothing.

Following the final decision of the General Assembly PJC, The Reverend Dr. Keith Geckler, then Stated Clerk of Los Ranchos Presbytery, wrote in a letter to the presbytery,

“Your Stated Clerk has, from the beginning of this conversation several years ago, stated that passing such a Resolution would not permit the presbytery to do anything it was not already permitted to do—and would not prevent it from doing anything it was not already prevented from doing…However, because nothing is changed by the Decision—and nothing would be changed by adopting a new Resolution—the presbytery would do well to consider whether energy would be better spent crafting a new statement—or directed toward creating healthy congregations within this presbytery.”

Los Ranchos Presbytery remains free, and constitutionally protected, to prevent any individual from joining the presbytery for theological and/or moral reasons, following the long-held right and responsibility to specifically examine each individual and for members to vote their conscience.  

If proponents knew the resolution was constitutionally questionable and would be challenged if passed, if they were told by the Stated Clerk from the beginning that the resolution would not permit any new practice or prohibit any current practice, if it was the order of the Synod PJC to admonish the presbytery for using inflammatory language that flies in the face of responsibility to seek the peace, unity, and purity of the church – you have to ask yourself who are the real activists?  And was the whole exercise nothing more than an opportunity to go on record as opposing the recent changes to the Book of Order?

Much of the rhetoric I hear at Trinity, and in the larger church by those seeking dismissal from the denomination, is based on fear and attacks.  But when I look at bigger picture, what I see looks much more like we are just tilting at windmills.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

PC(USA) Minute For Mission ~ Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico

The Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study dates back to 1892 and has the longest history of any denominational mission and prayer book in the United States.

Today’s PC(USA) Minute for Mission from the Mission Yearbook…

Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico

A theological school in covenant with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

How do people keep the faith in hard times and continue to believe despite widespread hopelessness? The people of Israel exiled in Babylon faced that question. Those were the days of unique spiritual leaders—the prophets, who foresaw the exile but also prophesized that God would restore a remnant of his people to their homeland.

According to Zechariah 8:1–13, God’s promises were the main source of the exiles’ hope for restoration. The prophet represented the spirit of a suffering people who still trusted in God’s goodness. It is not easy to live from promises, especially when they come from changing and fallible human beings. But the promise of restoration came from God and was clear. God would renew the ancient covenant: “They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and righteousness” (Zech. 8:8).

To believe, to trust, and to wait is not easy. Practicing the presence of God is not an easy task in our ever-changing world. What we need in this modern time are leaders according to God’s heart, as the ancient prophets were.

The key to leadership lies in God’s calling and the response of those chosen by God. God’s mission for leaders is threefold and clear: to call people to repentance, to lead with a vision of the future, and to minister to people in need.

In times of constant change, preparing men and women to serve God and the church is no easy task. For the past 95 years, the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico has been dedicated to the development of pastoral leaders for the mission of the church in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Hispanic communities of the United States.

—staff of the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico

PC(USA) 1001 Worshiping Communities ~ New Creation Church

1001 Worshiping Communities is movement happening in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Across the PC(USA), God is raising up leaders in churches and presbyteries who are creating new worshiping communities. They are taking on new and varied forms of church for our changing culture. Primarily they are seeking to make and form new disciples of Jesus Christ, to change and transform the world.

Today’s Spotlight Community – New Creation Church
Presbyterian Church supports a 1001 leader on the mission field of Hendersonville, TN, breathing life into a worshiping community.

Learn about this and many, many, many more exciting new worshiping communities of the PC(USA) at www.onethousandone.org

“The Holy Spirit is on the move. It’s an exciting time to be Presbyterian.” ~ Bill Golderer, 2013 PC(USA) Moderators Conference

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Upholding the Authority of Scripture

The following is a slightly edited version of a blog post I originally wrote for the Trinity Fairness Group, published on December 22, 2013.

Bible

Trinity is being led to believe the PC(USA) does not unequivocally uphold the authority of scripture.  But is this really true?  No.  So before we let this concerning accusation take us to the point of division we should attempt to understand what is actually going on with the PC(USA) related to authority of scripture.

Earlier this year Los Ranchos Presbytery hosted a discernment event and invited three panelists, representing progressive, moderate and conservative views, to address concerns being raised in the PC(USA), including the authority and interpretation of scripture.  The panelist were Laird Stuart, retired PC(USA) pastor and interim president of San Francisco Theological Seminary, Jack Haberer, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, and Dana Allin, ECO Presbyterian synod executive.  In the video below each panelist unequivocally upholds the authority of scripture.

The entire video is only 18 minutes long.  It is thoughtful, enlightening and well worth watching in its entirety.

One of the statements made by Laird Stuart starts to bring the real issue into focus.  Laird said,

“We have, as Presbyterians, decided, often through long periods of struggle like what we’re going through now, that certain passages are no longer binding and authoritative, but that has never meant that scripture as a whole loses its authority or is cast out.”

It’s because through long struggle we have learned to read the scriptures according to faith and grace in Christ.  We read them Christologically, realizing that often passages, particularly those that we naively read as normative instruction, commands, laws, are historically and culturally conditioned, and so cannot be so easily read to apply as law to us. We read the scripture as instructing us in faith in Christ, and a life of faith, faithfulness, which does not mean legal obedience to all that might have been taken as law.

Paul Rack, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Elizabeth, has published a response to the claim being made about the denomination rejecting the authority of scripture,

“. . . everything they complain is a ‘rejection of Biblical authority’ has actually been the church responding self-critically to the broader witness of Scripture.  We feel this holds the Bible in higher regard than to force it into a doctrinal straitjacket based on a few verses, arbitrarily chosen to prop up the values, doctrines, principalities, and powers of another age.”

The footnote in the Comparative Matrix, provided to the congregation at Trinity, points to different interpretations of scripture in the denomination as the basis for claiming the PC(USA) does not allow any particular interpretation to be authoritative for the Church.

But, the PC(USA) is not dismissing the authority of scripture when it refuses to allow a particular interpretation to be authoritative.  The difference is subtle but significant.

The second point referenced in the Comparative Matrix footnote claims there has been a tendency in the PC(USA) “to replace the phrase ‘in obedience to’ Scripture with the phrase ‘guided by’ Scripture.”  This is also misleading.

Jack Haberer addresses “guidance” versus “obedience to” in the panel discussion video above.  Jack was working with The Presbyterian Coalition to bring fidelity and chastity language to the Church in 1996 when the “Fidelity and Chastity” amendment was approved by the General Assembly.  But he and others who had worked to bring this language to the Church were surprised that “obedience to” scripture had been included with the amendment when it came out of the subcommittee of the committee at General Assembly who was working on it.

Jack and others knew that language of “obedience to” scripture was going to be a problem because it was not in the Book of Order at the time, or at any other time that he knew of.  Previously the Book of Order had said we were to be “guided” by scripture.  “Obedience to” scripture has also not been our confessional language, either.

One of the reasons Jack believes we have traditionally used language of being “guided” by scripture is because,

“the Bible has too often been used as a hammer, taking one text out of context, to say you have to obey that, and you have to obey that, and most especially by men toward women.”

He goes on to say we have a long history of being a little bit more cautious than this when speaking about the role of scripture. Our obedience is to God, who has inspired the scriptures, and we are to totally obey God, understanding God’s will as the scriptures guide.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

The Way, The Truth, and The Life ~ In The PC(USA)


Way Truth Life Image III

Many things are being said about the PC(USA) that are simply not true.

Jack Haberer, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, has said, “If the kinds of things that are said about us, with not having the authority of scripture, and said about Jesus Christ not being unique, if those were the case I’d be gone already.”

I would be gone too.

But these things that are being said are not true for me, and they are not true for the PC(USA).  Even those whom Trinity’s leadership would point to as having “drifted,” hold firm to the authority of scripture and Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The Reverend Amy Loving is a PC(USA) pastor in New York who has responded to such accusations made by The Layman and The Presbyterian Lay Committee in a blog post titled, “A Response To Those Who Think They Know Me.”  Contrary to the caricature described in The Layman, and being presented to us at Trinity, Amy writes,

“This is not the first time that lines have been drawn or judgments made about the suspected non-Christianity of those Presbyterians who disagree with the Presbyterian Lay Committee, and I’m sadly convinced that it will not be the last.  But I do not appreciate people accusing me and others of not being faithful Christians simply because we do not talk about God in the same way or take stands on the same theological issues in the same ways.”

Amy then goes on to clearly articulate her firm commitment to the authority of scripture and Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Still, the misunderstanding persists that there are large ranks in the denomination denying the Lordship of Christ, a misunderstanding that is perpetuated by careless and misleading statements.  The fallacy of two such statements is demonstrated below.

Misleading Statement –  The call for the Church to “present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance and acceptance of him as Lord and Savior” was removed from the PC(USA) Book of Order

In a panel discussion held earlier this year at Trinity for members of Los Ranchos Presbytery, Dana Allin, ECO Presbyterian synod executive, made a comment that two years ago the PC(USA) General Assembly removed the call from the Book of Order for the Church to “present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance and acceptance of him as Lord and Savior.”

Jack Haberer, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, responded to Dana’s comment saying he could not speak to that specific reference but lots of things were removed when we went to the shorter form of the the Book of Order simply because they are redundancies.

And then Laird Stuart, retired PC(USA) pastor and interim president at San Francisco Theological Seminary, made a very helpful comment saying, “it is so helpful, instead of simply sighting what happened, to be willing to ask, why did it happen?”

You can watch this dialogue below

It could be that redundancies were removed from the previous Book of Order as Jack suggests, but our current Book of Order 2013-2015 still clearly states in F-1.0302d,

“The Church seeks to present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of Christ alone as Savior and Lord, and new life as his disciples.”

The exact call to the Church Dana said was removed from the Book of Order a couple of years ago is actually still there.

Misleading Statement –  The PC(USA) Book of Order no longer states Jesus is the only Lord and Savior

Comments about the erosion of the centrality of Jesus in the PC(USA) are being made at Trinity too.  Trinity members were told during our annual congregational meeting this November that the PC(USA) Book of Order no longer claims Jesus Christ is the only Savior.  My own quick check of the Book of Order suggests this may be true, but, in the very same reference cited above, the Book of Order does say the Church is called to lead persons to the acceptance of Christ alone as Savior and Lord.

Clearly our Book of Order still affirms Jesus Christ alone (only) as Savior and Lord.

I am deeply concerned misleading statements like these are what led Trinity’s Strategic Futures Task Force to recommend dismissal from the PC(USA) to the session.  

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

PC(USA) Minute For Mission ~ Christmas Joy Offering

The Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study dates back to 1892 and has the longest history of any denominational mission and prayer book in the United States.

Today’s PC(USA) Minute for Mission from the Mission Yearbook…

Christmas Joy OfferingIn Isaiah 7:14, we find the familiar words, “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” In Matthew 1:23, we learn that this name means “God is with us.”

The recipients of the Christmas Joy Offering know that God is with them: those who served the church so faithfully in the past receive needed assistance, and new racial ethnic leaders are, with God’s help, formed to serve Christ in the world. Received throughout Advent and Christmas, this churchwide special offering is designed to prepare and care for church leaders in every generation. It provides assistance to active and retired church workers and their families through the Board of Pensions, and it also supports education at Presbyterian-related racial ethnic schools and colleges.

Historically, these racial ethnic schools and colleges have played an important role in preparing leaders for their vocational service in the church and society. And they still do. One of these leaders is Lemuel Garcia-Arroyo, a fourth-generation Presbyterian. When he was growing up in Mexico, his family had limited resources. He received a scholarship through funds from the Christmas Joy Offering to attend Presbyterian Pan American School in Kingsville, Texas, a secondary school related to the PC(USA). He later attended Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and was ordained as a teaching elder. I met Rev. Garcia when he served as associate presbyter in the Synod of the Sun, and he quickly became a family friend and colleague. Leaders like Lemuel Garcia-Arroyo and countless others embody in their leadership and service the mission of the Christmas Joy Offering. Through Christmas Joy, we recognize that God is indeed with us.

—Rhashell Hunter, director, Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women

PC(USA) 1001 Worshiping Communities ~ Team Sweaty Sheep

1001 Worshiping Communities is movement happening in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Across the PC(USA), God is raising up leaders in churches and presbyteries who are creating new worshiping communities. They are taking on new and varied forms of church for our changing culture. Primarily they are seeking to make and form new disciples of Jesus Christ, to change and transform the world.

Today’s Spotlight Community – Team Sweaty Sheep
A passion to reach endurance athletes leads to the creation of new worshiping community in Louisville, Kentucky. Now it is helping other churches find re-creation through recreation, meeting God and others in new ways.

Learn about this and many, many, many more exciting new worshiping communities of the PC(USA) at www.onethousandone.org

“The Holy Spirit is on the move. It’s an exciting time to be Presbyterian.” ~ Bill Golderer, 2013 PC(USA) Moderators Conference

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)