Sunday, July 23, 2006

General Assembly Fallout

I guess that I’ve been pretty quiet about the direction of the Presbyterian Church USA. I was in Birmingham for part of the 217th General Assembly, and I’ve been carefully watching events unfold. My silence on-line has not been matched by silence in my congregation. I have made presentations to the session and to interested parties before and after the assembly.

The General Assembly brought a number of interesting results. We declared that terrorism and suicide bombing are crimes against humanity. (Osama Bin Laden is quaking in his boots now that the Presbyterians have weighed in.) We declared that babies in the womb which are viable should be allowed to live. We backed away from divestment in Israel. We "received" a deeply flawed report on the Trinity as if we received a UPS package for the next door neighbor. (In other words, it carries no weight.) We cut forty missionaries. We even directed the Stated Clerk to lobby the president on the benefits of medical marijuana.

However, all these actions seem to pale in comparison to the issue of sexuality. In 2001, the General Assembly created a task force to lead the denomination in spiritual discernment. Instead, the group met together, discussed, wrote papers, and made policy recommendations. One policy change is the infamous Recommendation 5. Some claim that this recommendation merely affirms traditional Presbyterian polity. The denomination sets national standards, and they are applied at the local levels. Others see this recommendation as allowing local authorities the option to ordain openly unrepentant adulterers. The confusion is great, and every word that comes out of the Stated Clerk’s office creates more of it. The national standards have not changed, we are told again and again, yet no one knows what that means any more. "John Calvin, I’d like you to meet Jacques Derrida."

Now what? There are several groups which are meeting this summer to wrestle with the new situation. Some are talking schism and splits. Others are talking about living faithfully within the new structure. I am willing to be patient.

I used to think that the denomination would split within my lifetime. I don’t think so anymore. Unless the denomination changes dramatically, it will go out with a whimper. Local churches will join together in various associations and partnerships. Some will be sponsored by denominational structures. Others will not. Para-church organizations will continue to multiply. Healthier ministries will prosper. Others will wither on the vine. The 1950s denominational structure built on the models of General Motors or IBM will disappear. Granted the new world looks much messier, but personally, I would shed few tears. I care more about the loss of reformed theology and tradition, but the denomination has already done little to prevent that from happening. Ultimately, I am concerned about our faithfulness to God. By God’s grace, I pledge to be faithful in the PCUSA and whatever may come after.

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