Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Boys Just Want More Votes!

I sent a letter to the LayMAN. As the LayMAN has a tendency to "edit" I thought I would post it here too.

My letter is about an article that I found rather amusing by Winfield Casey Jones. Mr. Jones seems to think that the big steeple boys are upset and wrote their manifesto to the denomination because they are under-represented at presbytery. Who would have thought? According to Mr. Jones, the boys are mad because their churches don't get enough votes at presbytery meetings! Mr. Jones writes:

"Is there any wonder the pastors wrote a letter?"

So that is why we are "deathly ill". Go figure.

Dear Editor,

Is Winfield Casey Jones serious? The reason that the big steeple pastors wrote their "deathly ill" letter that accuses the denomination of "creeping universalism" and "biblical drift" is because they are under-represented at presbytery meetings? Is that all you boys want? More votes for your churches at presbytery? Mr. Jones writes: "Is it any wonder the pastors wrote a letter?" Surprisingly, there is a solution to such a conundrum. If the boys don't feel that they have enough votes, they can send a resolution to their presbyteries who in turn can send a resolution to the next General Assembly where it can be considered. If that is really all the boys are worried about, they could make their case. It would be heard. This is how we make change in a constitutional form of government. Although, it isn't as dramatic as calling us all deathly ill and inviting the like-minded to schism. So is that really the issue, fellas? Or is Mr. Jones just blowing smoke?

John Shuck
Elizabethton, Tennessee
I think Mr. Jones may have a point in regards to representation. I am sure there is a way to talk about and possibly even make some changes. But I have a hunch that the boys wouldn't be satisfied with another vote at presbytery. What do you think?


  1. This reminds me of something that made the rounds a couple years ago by Beau Weston, called "Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment." In it, Weston argues that Tall-Steeple pastors are the "natural leaders of the church."

    'Member that? 'Member that time when someone said that? Yeah, well there's no reason to remember it, because it was just another one of these "proposals" for "renewal" that went nowhere.

    Of course, no one bothered to ask why, if they are the natural leaders, endowed by their Creator with such magnificent gifts that the rest of us poor shlubs can only marvel at, why didn't they get out of their $1000 leather wingback chairs, drive their BMWs to a Presbytery meeting, and actually do something.

    (It isn't like there's a surfeit of volunteers for Presbytery, synod and GA committees. Heck, if even I can get elected as a member of the PJC, what are they waiting for?)

    As far as I can tell, that pamphlet got filed in the circular file with all the other such proposals because these magnificent pillars of the church, the tall-steeple pastors, were unwilling to actually do anything then either.

    So no, I don't believe they're underrepresented. I think that these boys just don't want to actually do anything useful beyond writing a letter that is ridiculous on its face. If the PCUSA is so deathly ill, if the situation is so terribly terrible, then why is the only thing they can think to s to write a letter? Their action (such as it is) does not match their rhetoric.

  2. Excellent letter from the Session of the Central Presbyterian Church of Atlanta in the letter section of the Outlook followed by a response from Jeff "we are all heterosexual" Winter of Martha's Vineyard who has gone to " look for a knife." Where do these guys come from?

  3. Perhaps they should check their levels of representation based upon their membership and make sure they actually send ALL their pastors AND the full complement of COMMISSIONERS to Presbytery meetings. I would argue that they do have sufficient representation. And, if not, as you said John, there are ways to change it.

    This isn't about representation, IMHO.

  4. I don't think the boys wrote their letter because of under-representation either. Nor are the boys going anywhere, nor, as Alan says, are they going to "do" anything.

    This letter is conveniently written at a time when Amendment A is about to pass. Its purpose is to distract the church. Its use of hyperbole "deathly ill" and so on is designed to raise the level of anxiety.

    The Boys truly believe that everyone must care what they think as they are so special.

    You can't pass amendment A because then the boys might well they might, they might oh my they might leave the denomination!

    Yeah right.

    They will be here doing nothing and writing scare letters for decades to come.

  5. Interesting observation John,

    I agree that Presbytery does not properly represent either congregations in general or membership proper.

    Larger churches should have larger representation, members that do not represent congregations should not have full votes, and elders should be elders, not kids, or people that have only recently become members. There is a need for wisdom, and wisdom comes with age and experience.

    Not too much age, because then you get dementia.

    (Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference)

    Also, there should be more accountability between the delegates and the congregations that send them. Voting one's own conscience needs to be tempered by the conscience of the sending body.


  6. One of the most amusing things about this representation argument is that ministers are vastly *overrepresented* at Presbytery and GA vs. ruling elders.

    So... um ... no, these tall steeple boys are not underrepresented, not my a long shot.

  7. But the rank and file members of the churches are misrepresented. And you have voting members that do not represent any congregations at all.

    I agree, as a class, ministers are over-represented.

    What I would like to see is congregations represented, in proportion to the size of the congregations. And I would like to see their representatives voting according to the wishes of their congregations.

    Say for example that a congregation is divided 40/60 on some issue. Say that congregation has 1000 members. They should have 10 times the number of delegates as a congregation of 100 members, and 40% of these delegates should cast their votes one way, and 60% should cast their vote the other. Roughly, give or take some normalizing to account for age and maturity in the faith. Maybe "members" should have to have a number of years of membership and a minimum financial stake hold before being allowed to "vote" on an issue.

    It's about ownership.

    As it now stands, the only ownership people feel is for their own congregations, especially in the larger ones. So it is really easy for the leadership and pastors of a large self sufficient congregation to convince the congregation they should ignore or leave the denomination. They have no ties to the denomination in the first place. The rank and file members are completely disenfranchised and feel no ownership - and therefore no loyalty - for this entity called the denomination.

    And the denomination gives no reason for why it should even exist. What does it give back to the larger congregations?

    Three times in my life I have even been on the receiving side of a Presbytery wrecking ball, where an otherwise healthy congregation gets decimated by some committee on ministry that had its head up its own agenda, and people just quit going to church altogether.

    So in financially difficult times it is even easier to portray the denomination as nothing more than a boat anchor that does nothing but weigh them down, perhaps below the water line.

    You can't blame folks for disowning that which they do not own.


  8. Jodie

    However, the government of our church is a monopoly of the ordained, minister or elder. Letty Russell described ordination as one's union card to participate in change within the our church. If we pass amendment 10A, we should turn our attention to abolishing  ordination and bring about Russell's church in the round.

  9. Jodie,

    That isn't how our system works. Folks are not "representatives" they are "commissioners" who are elected to vote their conscience.

    I don't know if rank and file feel disenfranchised. I suppose some do, others don't.

    It is what it is.

  10. John,

    "That isn't how our system works."

    True. But it is a system that >could< work. Cause the one we have, the is that is what it is,.. isn't. working.

    Dare I say it? It is time to... evolve. :-)


  11. I don't know, I think that part of our system is just fine.

    Evolving is good too!

  12. I think that moving from commissioners to representatives isn't just a simple shift in polity, but a significant shift in theology.

    I'm not sure what the theological basis for that change would be, or what problem it would solve. It wouldn't solve the "problem" we're talking about since that problem doesn't really exist.

    Instead, our current system encourages congregants to get involved at the level they're most likely to see real effect of their involvement: the congregational level.

    The problem is that the Church focuses too much on the national level, which is not (and has never been) representative, and focuses too little on the congregational level, where everyone gets a vote.

  13. One of the boys responded to my letter in the LayMAN:

    "I enjoyed John Shuck’s letter of 2/23 explaining how “big steeple” churches (I belong to one) can get more representation at their respective presbyteries. If it is as simple as sending a resolution for presentation at General Assembly then renewal of the PCUSA is truly at hand!

    Mike Montgomery
    Peachtree Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, Ga."

    I gather from this a couple of things:

    1) They really think they don't have enough control in their presbyteries (and apparently the church).

    2) If they did (as in were able to boss others more) then there would be "renewal".

    3) "Renewal" is based on the boys being in control. We little ones are the reason for the opposite of "renewal".

    4) Our Presbyterian process is not an effective way to give the boys control.

    5) They need to call for schism to get control.

    That pretty well confirms my first hunches. The obvious blatant arrogance is simply jaw-dropping.

  14. Alan,

    OK, now you are talking about the same coin I am talking about. The other side of it.

    Congregations have little say, little vested, and little ownership of anything above their local congregations. Which causes this ironic flip. You would think that since there is such a disconnect, congregations could care less what the denomination does as a whole, and therfore not even feel the need to fight or leave.

    (Some people complain about where their money goes, but they are complaining about pocket change.)

    The flip comes because they care so little that, when their pastor or session says the congregation needs to leave, they don't bother to ask if it's necessary and are easily convinced. Having had no prior vested interest, it's the path of least resistance.

    And this is more true the bigger the congregation. (I've moved around a lot in my life, and I have been a member of large churches and small, so I've seen and experienced the ebb and flow of attachment and detachment)


    Now surely the pastors of the big churches feel that they themselves should have bigger say, because, of course, they have bigger churches. If theirs is bigger than yours, then they must be more virile, more manly, more bossy.

    That's just simian nature.

    (there are of course exceptions, and there are higher and lower functioning narcissists)

    But it's not just their fault. We in the pews are fascinated by what we call rock-star preachers. They are more expensive, more entertaining, and more narcissistic. It is almost unavoidable. We by instinct know that Church is theater and the leading role is the preacher's and we want a good act. Good actors can become celebrities and voila, you get the rock-star syndrome.

    Of course they are arrogant. It's a package deal.

    The root of that disease is our obsession with celebrities. We reward narcissism. It keeps the tabloids in business. Just watch the Oscar's this Sunday. It's a deeply cultural thing.

    Funny thing is, when Jesus railed against the religious leaders of his time, he called them by a word that comes out of Greek theater. Actors in Greek theater wore masks. To be a hypocrite is to be a masked actor.

    And so, in His honor, we created an profoundly theatrical institution that weaves masked actors into the core of its fabric in order to function.

    Human nature will not be denied.


  15. Now Jim Berkley responded to my letter in the LayMAN with his own. I quote in part:

    John Shuck [letter to the editor, posted Feb. 23] derisively suggests that if tall-steeple churches consider being grossly underrepresented a problem (as he probably would, if the advantage weren’t his), they ought to overture presbytery in order to get it considered at General Assembly. But what an exercise in futility that would be! Exactly because presbyteries and especially the General Assembly so poorly represent the convictions of the person in the pew, such efforts would be nonstarters. If not having a proportional number of votes is the problem, then a disproportional number of opposition votes would doom any overture addressing the problem. The majority of an unfair, imbalanced General Assembly would not want to confer representative balance, because that would mean losing political advantage that is much valued by those with disproportional influence.

    So it is futile to even attempt to change something in the Book of Order. I have never even heard of a resolution to make this kind of change. Maybe there have been, I don't know of any.

    In fact, before Mr. Jones article, I never even knew the big boys saw this as a problem. Suddenly, it is THE problem? A problem for which schism is the only solution?

    I love it.

    These spoiled baby boys and their hacks are losing. Amendment A is going to pass. They can suck it up and stay or leave. But no way are we rearranging the furniture to enable their prejudice.

    If they want to submit an overture as we have done for the past 35 years, it will be heard. No promises besides that. Welcome to the Presbyterian process.

  16. Oh, and Berkley writes that if I were a big steeple boy I would agree with him. He is wrong.

    In my last call I was pastor of the largest church in my presbytery. 5-10 times as large as some of the congregations in the presbytery. It isn't so large now, but it was then.

    It never crossed my mind that we were under-represented because we had just one extra vote or because a pastor of a very small church had a vote equal to mine. It was a privilege to serve as a colleague. It was important to support small congregations in rural settings and to give them voice and vote.

    If churches in that presbytery had the votes corresponding to their membership, that presbytery would have passed amendment A (or its equivalent) long ago.

    And we never viewed per capita as a "tax" either. We supported mission together because together we could do things we couldn't do alone. That is what I thought being "connectional" is all about.

  17. At first blush it would appear that I agree with Jim Berkley, but I don't.

    And here is why:

    He states that the delegates don't represent the conviction of the person in the pew because of their numbers. But the delegates are not ever required to represent the convictions of anyone else besides their own convictions.

    So even if the numbers were adjusted, there would still be no representation or accountability to the person in the pew.

    And I do think that is a problem.

    Even in the tall steeple churches, even in places like Bel Air Pres, Hollywood Pres, or Menlo Park, the pew sitters are much more pluralistic in their views, much more open and relaxed in their acceptance of their neighbors, regardless of age, race, gender, or sexual orientation, than their monolithic leadership would have us believe.

    In the mean time, anytime you rattle the cage of the Laymanites, you get my gratitude.