Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Are You an Evangelical or a Fundamentalist?

The LayMAN reports that two more congregations voted to leave the PC(USA) over the weekend. I wonder why? I don't suppose it could be because of homophobia could it? Here is the story.
The overwhelming votes of the churches represents a growing trend among some PCUSA churches disenchanted with the denomination’s theological shift, especially following the passage of Amendment 10A in April.
The leaders of these churches know that it is unbecoming to express their uneasiness with LGBT ministers quite so blatantly. They say they are leaving not because of the gays but because of the authority of scripture and Jesus. They cannot be in a denomination that would allow someone (like me) to have theological views that do not match theirs. That is the definition of a fundamentalist, in case anyone is wondering, Al Mohler.

There are many evangelicals who disagree with my views about the Bible and Jesus. Some of them even comment on this blog. They may have similar views about the Bible and Jesus as do the leaders of these disaffected churches. They are not fundamentalists. Evangelicals can live with disagreement. Fundamentalists cannot.

Here is a for instance. The session of the church in Kansas that voted to leave wrote this in their statement:

“Many in the progressive wing of the PCUSA believe that God speaks to us in many ways and that revelation can come from a variety of sources and most significantly through the subjective means of personal experience as well as Scripture,” the session stated. “This reduces the authority of Scripture to a level equal to, and at times less than, the subjective authority of personal experience.” According to Eastminster’s website, the church believes that: “The Scriptures inspired by the Holy Spirit are the Word of God and therefore the only infallible rule of faith and life, the final authority by which to judge all controversies in the church and to which all appeals are to be made."
So what? So what if there are progressives in the denomination who have those views? What does that have to do with you? That is what normal, mature, evangelicals would say. Fundamentalists cannot handle that. In their world, coexistence is not possible. Someone has to leave. If they can't drive out the progressives, they will go, or they will do nothing but whine and claim they are victims.

Remember, it wasn't progressives who passed 10-A. Enough evangelicals and orthodox saw that 10-A was consistent with their theology to make the change. I think it is important to recognize the distinction between evangelicals and orthodox on one hand and fundamentalists on the other. The orthodox and the evangelicals can live with progressives; fundamentalists cannot. It will be the fundamentalists who leave the denomination, or more than likely, stay, whine, and pretend to be victims.

In the meantime, the rest of us will continue to do our work.


  1. I am currently a member of one of those congregations. The vote was not overwhelming it was 72% in favor. The argument for yes was mainly the nFOG. It makes churches subservient to GA or something like that. In other words not accurate arguments. The organist said he would not play for a gay wedding. Other than that teh gay was not mentioned as a reason for leaving. It feels odd to be leaving that church after 50 years.

  2. Not accurate arguments. Indeed. Sorry about your church. That is what happens when people draw lines, I suppose.

  3. So it was a preemptive departure? Do unto others before you get done unto?

    In any case, a 72% vote to leave is considered a church in schism. Typically in a situation like that, the 72% are allowed to leave if they want, and the 28 get to stay and keep the property.

    Or you can sell the property and split the proceeds.

    Sounds like things are going to get much more difficult before they get better. In the end, everybody looses.

    I wonder if there is an upside.

  4. Well said John. We have a church in our presbytery that voted, in a non-binding vote,  69 to stay and 131 to leave. Prior to the vote during the Sunday morning worship, the pastor who claimed to be neutral in this conflict  preached a sermon on Sodom and Gomorrah.

  5. In a sense, I get it because I know it takes a little intestinal fortitude to put up with the BFTSs in the PCUSA and their lies. But honestly, while I'm not particularly thrilled they're here, I don't think it really takes a huge amount of forbearance to not run screaming for the exits because the PCUSA contains "those people." Because, really ... who cares?

    I guess it just seems sad that some folks in the church are just so shockingly fragile!

    But it's been what, 5 churches, give or take? Certainly not the mass exodus that the other side was hoping and praying for. Not even close. That they make these feeble attempts to cover up their disappointment at the tiny numbers by trumpetting each individual departure like it's the Second Coming is pretty telling.

    But in any event, every few decades we slough off the fundies from the denomination. That any Presbyterian makes a big deal about another little Presbyterian split must mean that person knows absolutely nothing about American Presbyterianism. :)

  6. Alan,
    There were 5 in the month of October alone. There have been 20 officially since January, and many more who have begun the process. In fact, in a meeting that took place earlier this month, 3 of the 10 largest PC(USA) churches expressed their intent to leave beginning in 2012. Another 5 have entered the research phase of the process, getting their ducks in a row before discussing property issues with the Presbyteries they are part of.
    I know 8 of the 10 largest churches don't make that big of a difference in the grand numerical scheme of the PC(USA), but their total membership loss alone to the denomination will be extraordinary. Especially since over 52% of our churches have less than 100 members, these larger churches departing will make a larger splash than just their congregations leaving - their money which has kept many churches open, will disappear, and that means more churches will be closing in 2012. What a wonderful place to be as a denomination!

    The three pastors in my accountability group all are considering leaving, and none of it is due to 10-A. They are convinced that the nFog makes us less Presbyterian than ever before. I can understand that concern.

  7. "and therefore the only infallible rule of faith and life..." I still can't quite get a handle on why this persists in PCUSA. Were they sleeping through the class on historical critical analysis?

  8. Time and time again, I have seen the process go like this. Pastor X gets upset with - insert policy here. Pastor X makes discontent known to Congregation Y through preaching, emails, newsletter, etc. Congregation Y becomes upset with - insert policy here. Pastor X gets enough people from Congregation Y upset enough to pursue leaving the denomination. Congregation Y votes to leave and Pastor X gets to stick it to 'The Man' AND keep swanky church job.

    Yep...that is totally professional and ethic behavior.

  9. What I find amusing is that the fundies seem to think that the PCUSA can't possibly live without them. The sky will fall when they finally leave. If you want to go, go. If you need an excuse such as 10a, or nFOG, or that some minister somewhere might not believe in Jesus the way you do, go ahead, there are plenty more excuses where those came from. But don't pretend that we give a rat's ass. The world will not end when you leave. We'll manage somehow.

  10. Rob,


    Are those supposed to be big numbers? *yawn* Forgive me, but I'll believe it when I see it (and even if it does, which I doubt, who cares?) Many churches have been threatening to leave for 30 years and they're still here. No one needs permission. Anyone can decide today to simply leave the denomination for other pastures.

    BTW, I disagree with nFOG too: I think it is a spectacularly bad idea and I think it isn't Presbyterian. But I'm staying anyway because ... well, I guess I'm just not that fragile. The fights on ordination went on forever, and until recently never went the way I wished, but I stayed anyway because ... well, I guess I'm just not that fragile. The fight about marriage is going to go on for another 5-10 years (max) but in the meantime I'm staying because ... well, I guess I'm just not that fragile.

    If others disagree and think these are reasons to leave, that's fine, but it isn't anything I'm going to lose sleep over.

    But to paraphrase John's comment, Bon Voyage. The PCUSA isn't the only Christian Denomination. One doesn't have to be Presbyterian to be Christian. Why everyone is making a big deal about leaving is beyond me. It seems like they're so desperately fishing for the rest of us to beg them to stay. That they want us to rend our clothing and wear sackcloth and ashes over their departure doesn't mean we actually have to do so. It is as if someone at a party decided they had to argue with everyone attending before they walk out the door.

    I believe it is generally considered good manners to simply say one's goodbyes, thank the host graciously, and make a quiet exit.

  11. Alan,
    I agree with you. If churches want to leave, they should just leave. But you make it seem like they can just walk out in a cordial way. Maybe you live in a different denomination than I do, but it has been made very clear - the only thing holding the current PC(USA) together is the essential tenet of church property. That is why GA in 2010 tried to get commissioners to vote to put away millions of dollars in a legal fund to fight for property.


    Because they know what you seem to be unwilling to see...that the large church per capita continues to keep the doors of many small churches open. So if they hold tight to the essential when a church says, "goodbye", then at least they can sell it and have a few more years of life for other churches, which should probably have closed anyway.

    5700 churches with less than 100 members being supported by denominational monies. And none of them growing. In fact, when i looked at the 10 year trends for the pastors on this blog, or the churches represented, they are all in decline as well. The only real change that has happened over the last 15 years is that we have increased the speed at which we are declining.

    So, keep standing strong, and working to change the church to a place you are extremely comfortable. Because all of us in ministry know that church is really about making those who are sitting in the pew feel good, to challenge them to think about something poignant from the pulpit, and to send them home never to act on what scripture says, unless it is aimed at justice within the denomination.

  12. when i looked at the 10 year trends for the pastors on this blog, or the churches represented, they are all in decline as well.

    Really, Rob? You come over to my house, my living room, and proceed to go through my financial records and publicly air them?


    You are anonymous, in fact deceptive, as you are apparently the same person as "relevant preacher" who I already deleted because for bringing my EP into this conversation.

    Then you send me an email crying how unjust I am for deleting you. I write back asking for identity. Who are you and where are you from? No response.

    Do you think you can come here and talk about my church and my presbytery, knowing full well who I am, yet hide behind anonymity? Sorry, you are finished here.

    As far as statistics are concerned, anyone can find them for any PCUSA congregation here.

    Here they are for my church.

    Statistics tell a complex story as different people fill them out in different ways. What are contributions? Who counts as a member? How is attendance measured?

    Of course they say nothing about what happens with a congregation over a period of time. In 2003 a well-loved minister retired after being here 33 years.

    I started in 2005. Since then, we have held our own, with some slow but steady increases. We have lost a few folks and gained some others. The financial crisis has been tough. We are scrappy and hanging in there.

    I say all of this because statistical trends don't tell a whole story. They cannot capture a congregation's vitality or sense of mission. They say nothing about personal lives that have been touched or the impact on the larger community.

    They can be used like "Rob" did to simply say how "deathly ill" we all are since that is the story he wants to tell.

    It isn't difficult to find all kinds of things that are wrong with a church or a denomination or a person. That is easy. The LayMAN and its tribe (like Rob) has been doing that for years. Any piece of bad news is good news for them. They want the church to be destroyed because it isn't going the way they want it to go.

    Rob is right about one thing. The people who will be hurt by the tall steeple churches who want to gather up every thing for themselves will be the smaller congregations who do benefit from the collective and connectional ministry of our denomination.

    The big right wing churches with their self-righteous and selfish behavior have plenty of money to hire lawyers and sue the presbyteries and suck ministry dollars from the denomination.

    But even so, even after all of this constant attack, we will still do our work. We won't roll over for Rob and his ilk.

    Rob, if you want to comment here again, I need full identity from you, including the name of the church you serve.

  13. "You are anonymous, in fact deceptive, as you are apparently the same person as "relevant preacher" who I already deleted because for bringing my EP into this conversation. "

    Ah, woops. I didn't see that when I replied to him, or I would have not fed the lying troll, John. Sorry 'bout that. You do get some real winners around here, don't you?

    Just saw this:

    Enjoy! :)

  14. I just saw that someone was so enamored with the idea they ran with it:

    Just direct any future trolls there. :)

  15. John,
    I think that you are confused. My name is Rob McClelland and I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Arlington Texas. And as I mentioned in the post all the pastors on this blog and churches represented have churches in decline...mine included. I have been there since 2006, and we are holding our own as well, but that does not mean that we are not in decline.

    I served Grace Presbytery for three years on the Church Development Committee and watched as the churches that closed and died gave their money for church development, and then the Presbytery spent it willy nilly and complained that they did not have enough money. I am speaking about this from a personal leadership position.

    I have never been involved with the Layman, but have written some letters to the editor for the Outlook. So, again, I am not sure what you are referencing. I do know "relevant preach" who you booted off the site. He and I have studied together. In fact, he took the name from my newsletter articles for my church and my former blog. He and I do not see eye to eye on all of these things. In fact, my church is not planning to leave. We are working to continue doing good ministry here and trying to move away from the denominational distraction.

    To assume things and to attack me is becoming old hat for you John. I have now given everyone here my address and you can come by my house anytime. If you do not want visitors, or contradicting opinions, make your blog private and just invite your cronies.

    The point of what I was writing to Alan was simply that people are leaving, whether people like Alan want to believe it or not. And from first hand, Presbytery knowledge, the monetary short fall will be bigger than he thinks. And many of those leaving are people I have relationships with. To constantly hear people write them off because they don't agree with Alan's theology and to treat them like he is, with name calling and flippant remarks shows that he is just as much an ass as those you boot off this site for saying things about you.

    So you can delete my messages if you would like. Or you can come check out my church if you would like. That is fine.

    What's funny is more often than not, when i read your comments, it is you who come across condescending and attacking more so than those making comments on your site. But obviously I am wrong, because you are sure that I am someone else, and like Alan said "a lying troll"

  16. John,
    This is laughable! "The big right wing churches with their self-righteous and selfish behavior have plenty of money to hire lawyers and sue the presbyteries and suck ministry dollars from the denomination." So I guess that you agree that the only essential tenet is the property clause. This can all be avoided if Presbyteries let people leave as both Alan and I agree.

    What makes it laughable is watching you you call those pastors "self-righteous." Maybe you should look back at how you respond to people who are asking questions of you - like Madpriest - or who comment with a thought different than yours and see who is coming across as self-righteous. Maybe clear the plank before pointing out the speck!
    Oh, but that's right, this is your house, and this will be interpreted as puking on your sofa, or something graphic like that rather than seen as a possibility for thought.

  17. Rob,

    Thank you for identifying yourself and for clearing up the confusion between you and the relevant preach character. Sorry for mistaking you for him.

    It was easy to identify you with him. He had made a nasty comment that I had deleted about my church statistics while bragging how his church was growing. When you also brought up the statistics and had a blog with the same name, (relevant preach) it was easy to think you were the same person, especially since neither you nor he identified yourselves. And he called himself Rob! Now you have come clean, good.

    This is my blog, Rob. I can dish it. I can take it. When people get personal, when they threaten my career, bring my EP into it, bring my church into it, I delete them.

    Madpriest and I are fine. We have honest conversations. If you had actually read the comments you would see that I did answer his questions and if not I am sure he will write back and ask again.

    I have been writing this blog for five years and I have seen all kinds come and go.

    I can be a great conversation partner and have had many very good conversations with those who disagree with me.

    If you want to have a conversation, then let's have one. Now that I know who you are it will be much easier.

    Church Property. It belongs to the presbytery. If I want to take my congregation to another denomination, I can do so. I just need to leave the property. That's how it works.

    Those who think the church property belongs to them are selfish. There is no justification that preachers or church sessions think they have a right to the church property.

    That said, I am for gracious separations. I think reasonable people can and have worked it out. We should follow the model of those who have done it as well as can be.

    These tall steeple churches who are just too holy and pure for the rest of us are self-righteous and well as selfish.

    Of all the pain in this world. Of all the things we could be doing collectively, to drag the denomination through the courts to take the property that belongs to the denomination, because of gay ministers because someone somewhere doesn't believe in Jesus the right way is what? What words would you use?

    I would be happy if all those who didn't like the PCUSA and wanted to leave would just do so and take the property. Just go.

    The problem is that it isn't that clean. Congregations are divided. These votes are not unanimous. We are far more connected to the denomination and as a denomination than we think. We share history and we know each other. Our ancestors funded the seminaries that trained the ministers. That is why these ministers are being selfish. They don't know what sacrifices were made for their education and their pensions long before they were even born.

    But whatever.

    The point is that they can do whatever they feel they need to do. The rest of us will continue to do ministry and pick up the pieces that they decide to scatter.

  18. John,
    Thank you for the apology. now that I go back and look at the similarities, I can see how that would seem as you have shared.
    Unlike my friend, I am remaining committed to this denomination until the point where something changes and I just can't anymore. We will see if that day comes...only God knows.
    I will approach the posts as more of a conversation instead of an argument. I will probably come across as sarcastic at times. That is who I am. My wife hates it, but has helped me squelch it some. Just giving a heads up. If I am coming across to aggressively, please just tell me, and if I can, I will pull back.
    Again, thank you for the apology, and I look forward to our conversations.

  19. Thanks, Rob. I appreciate that. This is another tense season for the church and I often get into battle mode when something softer is called for. I trust we can make this conversation work.

  20. Rob,

    First of all, your assertion that John only allows like-minded opinions is incorrect. Perhaps you haven't been visiting here long and therefore don't realize that many people post here who have widely divergent opinions. I have found those opinions are welcomed as long as people do so reasonably. John and I probably disagree about more things theologically speaking than we agree about and we've had numerous conversations here about that. If you've missed that and have therefore gotten the mistaken impression that John only allows people to comment if they agree with him, then stick around and you'll see differently.

    Second of all, I assumed you understood that any person can leave the PCUSA at any time for any reason and thus your assertion that people (or churches) cannot just leave was a lie. So, since you appear to instead be misinformed, then you're simply mistaken. Any church or person can leave the PCUSA at any time for any reason. Anyone who states otherwise is either mistaken or intentionally misrepresenting the truth.

    Whether they can take their property with them is a whole separate issue. If you want to argue about that, I think you'll have to find someone else to argue with. For my part, I think those transitions should be done as expeditiously and fairly as possible, while being fair to people that don't want to leave as well. I don't want their money, I don't want their property. I believe in minding my own business, not sticking my nose into how other churches operate. (Too bad that doesn't go both ways, eh?)

    You think a few churches leaving is a big deal. You're welcome to your opinion. The fact that I do not think it is a big deal (in fact I don't think it is any deal ... I don't think it matters at all) does not mean that I am lying about whether churches are leaving or that I am misinformed or that I am trying to pretend that it isn't happening. My opinion is simple: 1) it is a few churches and not the schism that some groups in the church would like to believe, and 2) I don't really care if they leave as the PCUSA isn't the only game in town.

    I think this bean counting is silly. So what if a few churches leave? So what if they're big churches with lots of money? We who are left will figure out a way to be good stewards of the bounty God has given us. And I pray that those who leave will also find good ways to further their own ministry.

    So what exactly are you getting all ticked off about?

    I am not writing them off, I'm not dismissing them. THEY are the ones who are leaving. I simply don't care if they're in the PCUSA or not as it isn't the only game in town. Honestly, I believe that the denomination is stronger with a variety of theological viewpoints. I'm fine with having them in the denomination. I'm not the fusspot bringing charges against anyone who doesn't believe exactly like I do, Rob! But if some people are so fragile that they can't be in a denomination that welcomes LGBT, that's their decision. Arguing with me about a decision I didn't make and cannot control is a little silly.

    Hope that clears things up.