Shuck and Jive

Saturday, March 07, 2009

My Day At Presbytery

My presbytery, Holston, voted on the amendments this morning. We have a great process. All amendments were on the ballot. We debated and voted on them first before other business. Amendment A, I am happy to report, was defeated. This was the amendment that would have required new members to stand up in front of the congregation and make statements of belief.

I spoke against it from the pragmatic standpoint that introverts don't like standing up in front of people. I said I am speaking for those who don't like to speak. Allow congregations to exercise creativity and sensitivity in introducing new members to the church.

The person who spoke after me, also against, brought it home. He said homebound people would not be able to fulfill the requirement. Should they not be members? Amendment A lost 31-62.

I was thinking it is wise not to put rules in the Book of Order that exclude people, like the homebound or the introverts for no good reason.


On to amendment B. I had a prepared speech.

Some have suggested that this amendment will lower the standards for ordination. If I believed that were true, I would vote against it. I believe in high standards for ordained office as our Book of Order provides. Some of these standards include faithfulness and character, as well as the nurture of gifts needed for the particular office.

But there is a difference between standards and barriers. Barriers are arbitrary rules that keep people out regardless of their standards of behavior.

The current language is a barrier. It is a stumbling block. It keeps people with high standards from serving in an ordained capacity.

To illustrate, we have a couple in our congregation who celebrated their 22nd anniversary this past month. They gave me permission to use them as an illustration. If the state of Tennessee or the Presbyterian Church had a way to formalize their relationship I am sure they would have done that.

Despite that barrier, they have managed to make a life for themselves. They serve the community. They serve the church. They are Christians, saved by grace through faith.

As far as I can tell, they meet the standards for ordained Christian service as much as any other ordained officer I know now or have ever known.

But they run into this barrier. They are not married, according to the language of one man and one woman. Nor are they single. It is as if they don’t exist. Yet they do exist.

The church is not well served when we confuse standards with barriers. We need to have high standards for Christian service. These standards apply to everyone. With prayerful discernment ordaining and installing bodies evaluate individuals as to whether or not they meet these standards.

Barriers are artificial and discriminatory. They do not apply to everyone. Barriers say certain types of people are not qualified regardless of their standards of behavior. Barriers are stumbling blocks that keep qualified people from serving the church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said it forcefully: ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.’

I believe that is a judgment on the church. G-6.0106b has been a stumbling block for our denomination. It is time to remove it.

Please vote yes on amendment B.

It convinced me. But it didn't convince 68 of my fellow presbyters who voted no. 24 voted in favor. Holston remains in the "yellow" category.

It was a good meeting with a good process. Few spoke for it, but those who did were awesome. They took great risks. They spoke from the heart and they said what I thought needed to be said. One speaker quoted from the Brief Statement of Faith: "The Holy Spirit gives us hear the voices of peoples long silenced." He spoke of friends for whom G-6.0106b has kept silent.

Those who spoke against the amendment were concerned about people leaving the denomination, that somehow this "standard" is required to keep the planets spinning and. the. Bible. says. so.

OK. I am glad I am here. One colleague said to me: "I disagree with you about almost everything but I like you." I like him, too. I think that matters.

Change is coming. We all know it. Some want to hold off as long as possible, but it will happen and is happening--even in Northeast Tennessee.


  1. Thank you for the update. I've been hopeful, but also realistic so there are no surprises, just disappointment.

  2. How does 68-24 compare to last time?

  3. The last time was 22-74, so we had a 3% positive vote shift.

  4. The vote tally doesn't say everything. I think a real positive witness was there. I have no evidence but I tend to think that more people likely agree with the change but for a variety of reasons aren't ready to vote for it yet. That sounds kind of weird but I think that the time will come when people feel they have the "permission" to vote yes. Permission being the permission to follow their own consciences rather than what they are supposed to think.

  5. Hey Deven!

    That's about right. But we have a good start and are always hopeful!

  6. Thanks, John. I liked your little speech, by the way. The standards vs barriers bit was spot-on.

    I think it may have planted a few seeds, even if it didn't change one vote, yesterday (how can you tell, anyway?). I talked with a couple folks who went to the meeting yesterday and they felt it was a positive move, all the way around.

    I'm so thankful for people like our friends who celebrated their 22nd anniversary. And if I were the "powers that be" in the PC/USA (or any other church for that matter), I would be absolutely ashamed to say to them that they were good enough to give their 10% to support the church, but not good enough to be officers. Like I said at our little meeting Thursday night, it just isn't good business. I hope the church will at least figure that much out.

  7. Me, I've been against G-6.0106b ever since I first read it because it excludes from ordination everyone, but is applied only to exclude one minority group of people. It is poorly written and poorly executed. It makes a mockery of the Book of Order, and makes hypocrites and bigots out of those who use it only to exclude gays.

    Amendment B would still be difficult to enforce with fairness and justice, but it would be much better.

    I'm not gay, and it's not about gay rights for me. It's about honesty and fairness verses hypocrisy and bigotry. Choosing to pass or reject the new amendment purely on the basis of whether it allows GLBTs to be ordained are opposite sides of the same coin.

    Maybe we should simply not allow anybody to be ordained. As John found in Revelation, only the Slain Lamb is found worthy. We, certainly, have proven ourselves not worthy.

  8. Very nice words - good words. I've heard some of those battles when I worked for Nat'l Capital Presb and our Ch. of the Brethren still has its head in the sand. But God is doing a new thing and it will become clear. I may share your blog with several couples in our church. They've been couples longer than I've been married (28 yrs) but as you say, as if they were invisible. They are the heart of the church.

  9. Thanks Snad:

    Prejudice and discrimination is not good business. It has been (for a while) good business for the right wing. But they will eventually look no better than the preachers of old who defended one stupid thing after another in the name of God.

  10. Jodie,

    I've been against G-6.0106b ever since I first read it because it excludes from ordination everyone, but is applied only to exclude one minority group of people.


  11. Welcome Nancy, and thanks! Please do share with others. I appreciate what you do!

  12. A disappointing vote outcome, but as you well know, John, the real effects of your efforts can't be quantified by vote tallies. You may never see the seeds you folks planted grow, or the seedlings that may be spared and even nurtured because of your work.

    As you said in a previous post: Tell the Truth because He saves lives.

  13. Thank you, Alan, for the perspective.

  14. Well, FWIW, John, Greater Atlanta voted No on A with a mere show of hands, even with someone making the exact same argument you did (though he framed it as a Question, not a Pro or Con argument).

    Forgive me if you said so already, but was Holston's vote on B a secret ballot? As I mentioned, my pastor said that made all the difference in Greater Atlanta. It was a lot easier for Elders from conservative churches to vote their conscience if their pastor wasn't staring them down.

  15. Correction: Greater Atlanta voted "yes" on A. All these amendments are getting mushed together.

  16. Hey Fly,

    As far as process is concerned, our presbytery is the best I have seen. All the amendments are one ballot. After debate on each one the moderator asks people to make their mark then we move on to the next. You can share your answers with your neighbor if you like, or you can keep it to yourself. At the end we pass the ballots in to the counters.

    As far as amendment A is concerned, I hope commissioners will take seriously introverts and homebound who would be excluded from joining a church.

    Many times people have said to me that they want to join but "I don't want to go up front." It isn't because they aren't faithful or good Christians or will make good members. Some people are not comfortable or are truly unable to do that.

  17. I won't dust off my old Machen rant, which is the basis of my opposition to A, but the introversion/fear of public speaking (which are two separate phenomena) issue is just as compelling, if not more so.

    However, one of the people from my church who observed the meeting with me disagreed and said "Scripture says that whoever will not proclaim my name in the public square cannot be called my follower". I didn't want to get into an argument at that point, and I admit I haven't had time to go back and find the reference.

  18. BTW, I like the way Holston does the vote casting (certainly a lot less chaotic than Greater Atlanta). We need a better system, but it would take an investment in technology we frankly can't afford. It would be impossible to hand-count over 400 ballots with around 40 constitutional questions each in the course of a couple of hours.

  19. The interesting thing is that the person who gave the persuasive argument about the homebound is from a conservative church who would likely agree with the quote you provided (and probably with Machen generally!)

  20. Jodie notes that our current B: "is applied only to exclude one minority group of people.... Maybe we should simply not allow anybody to be ordained."

    In fact, current "B places our whole denomination out of conformity with the Westminster Confession, which mandates: “All synods or councils since the apostles’ times...may err, and many have erred; therefore they are NOT to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.” [emphasis added] Since current "B" mandates conformity to our confessions, looks like we should have no ordinations or installations until we stop using synods and councils as rule.

    I hope we as PC(USA) will intentionally struggle with the scriptures to discern the mind of Christ. I believe that is the healing way toward coming to one mind, which I am confident will honor faithful and chaste heterosexual and glbt relationships.

    Thanks so much for the account, John!!

  21. Your exchange with your colleague with whom you disagreed is (in my opinion) closest to truth. You were, i believe correct in your assesment that change is coming. however, new issues are also coming that promise to divide and galvanize us further.

    if we don't learn to dialogue, if we don't listen (and i mean listen with openness of heart), if we can't figure out how to stop mischaracterising each other (plenty of shared guilt on this one), if we don't learn to live in love one for another, then how will they know we are christians?