A Vision of Unity

The statesman’s duty is to bridge the gap between his nation’s experience and his vision”
― Henry A. Kissinger

As Christians we are called to participate in God’s ongoing work of reconciliation, but it is important to realize in a fallen world unity may not always be a healthy option.  Because we are fallen there are times when unity can break us down. But because we are redeemed there are times when unity can build us up in Christ and further God’s kingdom on earth.

The question facing Trinity is whether unity with the PC(USA) will build us up or break us down.

The consensus view of session (no one has ever said unanimous view) is that it will break Trinity down.  But I am certain staying with the PC(USA) will build me up, and I trust it will build the denomination up in return.

I strongly believe it is possible to benefit from a relationship with theological differences.  Two of our denomination’s prominent leaders, Dr. Richard Mouw, retired president of Fuller Theological Seminary, and Dr. Barbara Wheeler, retired president of Auburn Seminary, model this possibility in their relationship with each other.

An article titled “Purple Church,” published online in The Presbyterian Outlook, said that even though Richard and Barbara come from very different theological places and “have serious differences about serious matters, they count themselves blessed by the collegiality and mutual respect through which the Holy Spirit moves, enabling them to become better people and better Christians because of what each has learned from the other.”

Richard and Barbara wrote companion articles for Sojourners magazine, each writing from their own theological position and bridging the gap between our experience of discord and their vision of unity.  

I encourage you to read each article.

Trinity, and our denomination, needs to hear reconciling voices from statesmen and women like these.  

It is possible for Trinity to remain true to its core beliefs and remain in the PC(USA).  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 his article above Richard said,

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.”  

Trinity, I see a vision of unity shared by Richard and Barbara that will build us up in Christ.  It is a unity I feel called to live into.  I pray you can see it too.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Tapestry

LastSupper

Nine congregations in our presbytery took a straw poll last spring to get an indication of their membership’s interest in engaging the presbytery in a process that could lead to the dismissal from the PC(USA) to another Reformed Presbyterian denomination.

Here at Trinity 20% of the congregation indicated they were either uncertain (5%) or did not want (15%) the session to engage the presbytery in a process that could lead to the dismissal of the congregation (with property) to another Reformed Presbyterian denomination.  This is a larger percentage than other churches in our presbytery whose results I could find posted online.

Straw poll results indicating interest in possible dismissal from the PC(USA)

  • 94% in favor at Christ, Huntington Beach
  • 91% in favor at Good Shepherd, Los Alamitos
  • 88% in favor at St. Andrews, Newport Beach
  • 80% in favor at Trinity United, Santa Ana

One of Trinity’s distinctives that has been overlooked throughout this season of discernment is that we are a theologically diverse congregation.  We are a wonderfully mixed tapestry of disciples, centered on Christ, yes, but always making room for our differences on the periphery.

Being dismissed from the PC(USA) to join ECO will shift the periphery inward and crowd out a part of our tapestry, which is a primary reason I indicated not wanting the session to engage such a process.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

PC(USA) Minute for Mission ~ Race Relations

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 hands that poured water over baby Robin’s alabastar head while the alto voice declared, “I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” had long, tapering fingers, with nails painted tastefully in seashell pink. The water beaded into tiny droplets on the coffee-colored hands of the one performing the sacrament that typical Sunday morning.

Over the years, Robin saw those same hands break bread and pour the cup; heard the same voice declare, “These are the gifts of God for the people of God.” When Robin became a youth elder, she heard the same voice call her session to order, charging the ruling elders to serve God’s people with, as the Book of Common Worship says, “imagination and love.”

It is with imagination and love—as well as insight, intelligence, faithfulness, creativity, and joy—that women of color serve (or pursue calls to serve) in all areas of ministry and mission. The beauty of Robin’s upbringing, especially as a white person, is that she never knew of a time when she could not experience a woman of color as her pastor.

How wonderful it would be for all God’s children to receive and accept the presence and leadership of women of color so readily! Together, let us build bridges and break down barriers, so that we may joyously echo the words of Psalm 40: “God put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”

—Nancy Benson-Nicol, associate for gender and racial justice, Presbyterian Mission Agency

PC(USA) 1001 Worshiping Communities ~ 4 Pointes 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 – 4 Pointes Church
See how new worshiping community in metro Atlanta is reaching out to 2nd generation Asian-Americans, inviting them to experience faith, as together they become disciples of Jesus Christ.

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)

A Truly Gracious Dismissal

Since the 18th century, a corollary to our Presbyterian Historic Principles of Church Order has been, “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. Provided always that this shall be understood to extend only to such determination as the body shall judge indispensable in doctrine or Presbyterian government.”

“ … peaceably withdraw … without attempting to make any schism” is deeply etched in our Presbyterian history.

Actively promoting secession from the denomination runs counter to this historic principle.

Instead of actively promoting secession, members in the PC(USA) who are unable to actively concur with or passively submit to the polity of the denomination should “peaceably withdraw from our communion without attempting to make any schism.”  

That would be a truly gracious dismissal.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Birds Of A Feather

Bird Migration

I recently read two articles about the polarization of America and was struck by the irony of how easily each could have been written about congregations like Trinity who are seeking dismissal from the PC(USA).

Both articles describe the increasing trend in America to separate from each other based on our differences and migrate into like minded groups.

Read the first paragraph of the BusinessWeek article with just a touch of editing.  I struck a couple of words and (substituted) my own in parenthesis.

“Something strange is happening to state government (the PC(USA)). Fed up with what they see as liberal overreaching, small groups of rural, largely conservative activists have decided they’re done trying to effect political change through the usual channels of votes and bills and the seemingly endless churn of election cycles. They’re plotting something drastic: They’re going to shutdow—wait, sorry. Wrong legislative impasse. What I meant to say is: They’re going to form their own states (denominations).”

Every quote I read in the article sounded nearly word-for-word like what I hear being said by advocates for leaving the PC(USA).

Here is another example,

“‘Here at the state level, we’re controlled by a single party—Democrats—and we feel we have no other recourse,’ he says. ‘We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. We want to be our own state.’”

So it is interesting to me that Trinity’s “Reasons” letter addresses the “theological, ideological, political, social and moral shifts in American society that have been reflected in the PC(USA)” as a reason for requesting dismissal from the denomination.

In a letter to the congregation dated May 17, 2013 the session wrote, “We are frustrated that issues in the PC(USA) have consistently become more politicized.  Members of our denomination are polarized to the point where time and effort are expended on internal disagreements at the expense of focusing on mission in our community and the world.  We believe that this will become a greater problem as more congregations that hold similar convictions to Trinity continue to be dismissed to other denominations (which is happening in increasing numbers).  We want to be part of a denomination where we are actively welcomed and feel safe to wrestle with issues that arise from ministering in an increasingly non-Christian culture.”

Again, in the “Reasons” letter, the session wrote, “According to our understanding of the Scriptures as interpreted through our Reformed confessions, these cultural shifts should not have an impact on what we believe and how we would seek to behave as God’s people.”

Whether Trinity’s session recognizes it or not, by requesting dismissal from the denomination, their behavior is a direct reflection of this larger, growing, cultural shift toward homogenous polarization and away from God’s work of reconciliation.  

The PacificStandard article writes, “Does your next-door neighbor vote the same way you do? How about the couple who live across the street, or your friends on the next block?  The odds you answered “yes” or “probably” to those questions have increased dramatically in recent decades. Forget red states and blue states: We’re increasingly living in red or blue counties, cities, even neighborhoods.  This phenomenon has been widely cited as one reason behind our current political polarization: It allows strident voices on the right and left to fairly insist they’re fairly representing their constituents.”

Individuals choose to live in communities with ideologies similar to their own to satisfy their need to belong.  But this comes at a high cost.

The article continues, “Unfortunately, this appears to be a clear case where individual contentment and the national interest are at odds. While ‘This homogenization of communities may promote greater personal well-being,’ the researchers write, ‘it may also foster increased partisan hostility’ by minimizing our contact with people on the other side of the ideological divide.”

Another article, published on Bloomberg.com titled, Won’t You Be My (Hyper-Partisan) Neighbor?, by Peter Orszag, also addresses the negative consequences of segregating into like-minded communities.

“The consequences are far-reaching. The social psychology literature clearly shows that when like-minded people are put together, they move to extremes — both because they rarely hear opposing viewpoints and because each person is at least somewhat inclined to prove he is the true believer in the group.  The behavior is observed even among people who otherwise strive to be quite objective, such as judges. Cass Sunstein, the legal scholar who is now administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, documents in his 2006 book “Are Judges Political? An Empirical Analysis of the Federal Judiciary,” that judges appointed by Republican presidents are more likely to vote in extreme ways if they are grouped with other Republican-appointed judges than if they are grouped with Democratic-appointed judges, and vice versa.”

Aside from the unhealthy dangers of polarizing our congregation in a like minded denomination we also need to recognize that as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to resist this kind of separation.

This past fall The Reverend Dr. Jerry Tankersley, pastor of Laguna Presbyterian Church, spoke at Trinity about why he believes we should stay in the PC(USA).  You can find a copy of everything he said here on his blog.  Jerry reminded Trinity there are important biblical and theological reasons to remain in this part of the Reformed body.  He recounted the biblical story of the fall and God’s neverending efforts to restore unity and went on to say,

“The reason that I recapitulate this biblical theology of the unity of God, the unity of the people of God, and the unity of the mission of God is that we may be reminded of what is at the very heart of the movement of the reign of God in human history.  Paradise was lost, walls of the City of God breached,  but God acted to restore paradise in and through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus.  He purchased us with his own blood.  Now we belong to him and to his body. His passion and mission must become the passion and mission of God’s people.  God’s promise is of a New Creation in which the original righteousness of the unity of all creation will be perfectly restored and all will be made right to the glory of God and the joy of heaven and earth in the New Jerusalem…To act to sever this unity within any fellowship will have profound implications for the congregation, presbytery, and surrounding community.  The unity of the church is central to our witness to the gospel in a fragmented, chaotic, and lost world.   The world will know we are Christians by the integrity of our love for one another.”

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

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