Tuesday, November 06, 2007
A Sober Reflection on the New Wineskins
(Conversations with Bob! Tackling the tough issues. My turn.)
Bob sent me a private e-mail concerned with my mocking tone toward the New Wineskins. I value my conversation with Bob, so I thought I would offer this installment of my conversation with Bob to try an approach that is more peaceful.
I have been a PCUSA pastor for over fifteen years. I am proud to be a member of the PCUSA. I am proud of what this denomination has done and does in the present. It has been a denomination in which I have been able to follow and to serve Christ.
It is not my denomination. I am honored to join in a conversation started long before I came on board. It will continue long after I am gone. The PCUSA was formed in 1983 at the reunion of the "Northern" and "Southern" branches of the church. Yet this tradition has a long heritage that goes before the split that was the result of the war between the states.
I am a latecomer. As we all are. No one serving the PCUSA was here in 1861. Few are now serving who were ordained as pastors even in 1967 when the Confession of 1967 was completed and the other confessions were added to the Book of Confessions, save the Brief Statement of Faith that was added in 1989.
I write this simply to say that we all signed on after all of these things were approved, or if before, we participated in their approval. This goes for the 1997 adoption of G-6.0106b as well. It is in our constitution, like it or not. I don't like it. I spoke and voted against it. But it is in there.
I didn't much like the Theological Task Force Report either. I wanted the General Assembly to remove the Authoritative Interpretation and to send to the presbyteries the removal of G-6.0106b. Oddly enough, the GA didn't do what I wanted. But I am still here.
I learned theology, biblical criticism, church history, and practical theology from a PCUSA seminary. I am pleased that our seminaries teach the historical-critical method as well as other forms of biblical criticism and that they teach theology from a wide variety of points of view and challenge us to engage our minds. I learned in seminary about the historical Jesus, about feminist and liberation theologies, about classical reformed theology and its development.
I am proud that our denomination takes on issues of social justice, peacemaking, and mission at all levels. I may not always agree with a particular action by a General Assembly or by my presbytery or by some other presbytery, but I do not have to agree. I do not agree with some of the views (theological, political, social, etc.) of some of my colleagues, but I do not have to agree.
I speak my mind on issues. I give that freedom to others to speak their mind. I get involved in working for change and I give that freedom to others to work for change. I don't mind scrapping now and then. I don't object that the IRD exists, or or the Layman, or the New Wineskins. They certainly have the right to do what they think they need to do. But that doesn't mean I am going to be silent about it.
To modify a line from a Merle Haggard song:
When you start running down my denomination,
You're walking on the fightin' side of me.
Our denominational officials generally do not defend themselves against attacks. I don't have that restriction. I fight by using words. These words may be seen as mocking. So be it. In my view, those who attack our denomination and its officials and who attempt to steal congregations from the PCUSA deserve mocking. They deserve to have someone point out the actions of those who would hurt the PCUSA.
Here is where I come down on the New Wineskins.
1) If a minister wants to leave the denomination for whatever reason, that is his or her choice.
2) If members of a congregation do not want to be in the PCUSA or in a PCUSA congregation, they can form their own congregation or attend another. That is their choice.
3) To claim that ministers or congregational members have some kind of right to the property and assets of a PCUSA congregation is mistaken.
4) To justify this right by pointing out the so-called sins of the denomination is baloney. We all live under the same process. Just because some folks do not like the legislative or judicial decisions of a governing or judicial body, their discomfort does not give them the right to take what does not belong to them.
5) The PCUSA is larger than any individual member, minister, or congregation. The congregation in which you serve or worship is not yours, no matter what you have contributed to it.
6) Sometimes presbyteries determine that a congregation can be dismissed to another denomination. They make that call on a case by case basis. They are not required to do so. I would suggest that if a presbytery does make that decision, they have the responsibility to establish some kind of PCUSA presence in that location.
7) Thus a congregation if it votes to leave the PCUSA should pay the presbytery for the property.
I look forward, Bob, to your response.