Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Sober Reflection on the New Wineskins

(Conversations with Bob! Tackling the tough issues. My turn.)

Hi Bob,

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.


  1. I appreciate your taking the time to work through and provide a sober reflection on what has been going on on this blog. I love this blog and the people who come to it but the past few days have been very disconcerting on deep personal level.

    One thing I will say is sometimes my more conservative colleagues surprise me (I sit as a Presbyter and Elder in the Presbyterian Church in Canada). For example, everyone of my colleagues (including ex-pat Americans) are unanimous in opposing the war in Iraq.

    Having said that relations around issues of sexual identity and morality are very frustrating to me. A vocal minority is able to dictate to the majority around provision of proper pastoral care to all(specfically but not restricted to marriage) by threatening to leave. It's almost as if their vows say if you do what I ask I won't follow a divisive path but if you don't all bets are off.

    Add to this the fact that there are well financed voices spreading discord in mainline churches in a coordinated campaign to silence their prophetic voices and I can certainly understand your anger. The only thing I can say is God's time is not ours and despite the sin and brokeness of the world God will come through eventually. I really believe that.

    Vaya con Dios


  2. John,

    I understand your ire and have substantial agreements with you. As it concerns the vows of many in our denomination actively promoting schism, I am extremely disappointed.

    However, I don't think property is a good battle line to draw. The church is not a business. Money and property too easily become matters we obsess over, which consume any possibility of us actually being THE CHURCH. I say, if a congregation has paid for their own property (which in 90% of the cases they have) and a substantial majority (say 80%) of the congregation wants to leave the denomination that we send them off with blessings and work hard to find good PCUSA homes for those who wish to stay.

    This is not because I am in favor of schism. Far from it. But we cannot coerce membership and using property as a tool to enforce the denomination's will only implicates us in their game.

    It is not a question of "rights". Rights only obscure the fact that we owe much more to one another than merely what is fair. We must be gracious.

  3. Thanks Gord and Aric.

    Yes, God will work all this out in one way or another. This, too shall pass.

    Actually, Aric, I don't really care that much about property. When it comes down to it, on a case by case basis, your suggestion is the way to go, of course.

    Presbyteries and congregations will need to make agreements and to compromise. I have served on COMs and have done this type of thing before.

    What I find reprehensible about the Whiners is that they somehow feel it is their right because they are the only true Jesus people and that the denomination is oppressive and on and on.

    The PCUSA witness is unique and it is valuable. It is not simply a matter of how much the current voting membership has put into the building or how many want to leave.
    It is a witness that has been there long before the current membership or minister has been there.

    Think of what goes into to making a minister, for instance. We have received training by the way by thousands of faithful people all across the PCUSA who built the seminaries, who constructed the infrastructure and so forth.

    No, I am not advocating revenge on these folks. In the cases you mention, your solution is an adequate one.

    Yet, the schismatics should realize that it is the PCUSA who is the generous one if it grants the property. In so doing, it is using the gifts of many others across the denomination, living and dead, to finance their schism.

    We are all interconnected in more ways than we can see.

  4. You have a good point about what goes into training a minister and the history of the witness. I agree that the whining about "rights" and "oppression" is obnoxious. I wish people on both sides would be a bit more gracious to one another.

  5. Thanks, Aric.

    I will be gracious---eventually...

  6. To gordbrown:

    As I am named for my Grandfather ...who lived a good life on both sides of our shared border ...and is buried in his hometown of London, Ontario is nice to read wise words from the land of my Mom's Dad's birth.

    I feel blessed to have found Rev. John Shuck ....and have already met two families of Brown's at FPC-E.

    May God continue to Bless 'The Great White North!'

    -Cameron (Brown) Bothwell

    aka 'Twain' :-)