11 June 2008


As many have recently reported in the blogosphere, the PC(USA) continues its slide into an episcopal dictatorship. The latest institutional departure from historic presbyterianism arises out of the vote in Woodland Presbyterian Church in New Orleans to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (USA). The vote by secret written ballot was 150-6 in favor of disaffiliation, with six abstentions.

What made Woodland's vote unique was the attempt by the Presbytery of South Louisiana to obtain from the civil courts a temporary restraining order prevent Woodland from holding a congregational meeting to vote on disaffiliation.

In this case, the civil court got it absolutely right: recognizing that the congregation has a constitutionally protected freedom of assembly--free from the interference of the civil government-- the request fro the TRO was denied.

Woodland voted three days later to disaffiliate, thus severing its voluntary association with the PC(USA). Sadly, the presbyteryis still seeking a preliminary injunction to stop Woodland from conducting the meeting that has already occurred. (That last sentence was as hard to write as it is to read, but that is what PSL is doing.) In effect, PSL asks the court to enforce PSL's incorrect interpretation of the Book of Order and to bar Woodland from ever meeting to vote on disaffiliation.

The bureaucratic attempt to remedy a defect in the PC(USA) constitution by means of civil suit and administrative fiat results from a nearly thirty year old defect in the Books of Order of the UPCUSA and the PC(USA). Since at least 1984, the PC(USA) has been aware that the absence of an express provision in its constitution forbidding disaffiliation, churches are free to do so. Coupled with the ambiguous grant to congregations of certain undefined "permissive powers," another ambiguity, the absence of such a ban fully supports the right of unilateral disaffiliation.

As more and more congregations learn just how far the bureaucracy in Louisville has strayed from the grassroots in matters of theology, Christology, and Scripture, the bureaucrats have panicked and attempted a putsch to stamp down on the restiver membership. The tools employed have been the unilateral amendment of the Book of Order by presbyteries in the form of "procedures" that change constitutional provisions on quora and required voting majorities. Louisville started the the assault on the Book of Order with the promulgation of the infamous "Louisville Papers."

The court's ruling in Woodland would appear to render PSL's request moot, but PSL has announced that it intends to pursue a preliminary or permanent injunction against Woodland. This can only be read as a warning signal to other congregations, meant to delay any more disaffiliation votes until the upcoming PC(USA) General Assembly. At that GA, the PC(USA) will attempt to ram through a new "Form of Government" which may clear up some of the ambiguities in the present Book of Order, and to transfer most power to the halls of Louisville.

Considering the recent actions by the Synods of the Sun and of the Pacific to usurp the powers of presbyteries, it becomes clear that Louisville hopes to shove through amendments to the Book of Order that will convert the PC(USA) from a presbyterian body to an episcopacy. As the clock runs down, it will be interesting to see just how many congregations make a break for freedom.


Strode said...

Mac - If GA approves the nFoG, doesn't it have to go to all of the presbyteries for a vote before it becomes operative?
If so, congregations should have time (albeit short) to disaffiliate under the current constitution.


(Sorry if this is a duplicate - I wasn't sure if the first comment posted.)

Reyes-Chow said...

Strode - That is true, but most think that at the mostly likely scenario will be some kind of provisional time for more study and input. Still, I think the best hope for everyone is is to engage in as grace-filled disengagement for PC(USA) churches. As i have been talking with folks it is clear to me that all sides (and there are more than two) have some ownership of some of the more unhealthy situations. Ahh . . . but such is life when people of faith believe with such passion and faith.

Bill Crawford said...

One must wonder if the presbytery folks are really at work in this action. Maybe a few are "on board" but I suspect many are as appalled as the rest of us.

And the Exec could well be stuck in the middle. After all he must carry out the will of the governing body and at this point he is under the direction of the Synod's Adm Commission on all matters pertaining to property.

Prayer, prayer, prayer!


Only an openhanded negotiated split will get this thing out of the courts. Time for this GA to overthrow the "powers that be".

Dave Moody said...

This is just crazy sad.

I think Bill has seen things clearly here. I suspect many are appalled, and find themselves massively conflicted, hands tied.

And BRC has the right posture. What's wrong with walking apart together? - perhaps not forever, but for now- entrusting our paths to the one who promises to direct our feet?

thanks MAC,

Mac said...

Rich-From a purely constitutional point of view, you are right. The nFOG will not become effective until the amendment is ratified by the presbyteries. However, if the GA adopts it and sends it to the presbyteries for ratification, I anticipate that presbyteries will halt all consideration of dismissal requests pending the outcome of the ratification process.

If as Bruce suggests, the nFOG is received and referred to the presbyteries for study and content, expect immense pressure from Louisville on the presbyteries to take no action until the ratification process is completed sometime in 2011 or 2012.

In either event, it will be a tool for delay.

Mac said...

Oooops. "Study and comment..."

Adel Thalos said...

Hi Mac,

My experience is that once people learn how far the leaders of their denomination have strayed from Biblical, orthodox, reformed Christianity, they don't care. Once they find out how this affects them in their local congregations, they begin to care, but only a little. Once they really understand their own faith, then understand liberalism, neoliberalism, and Barthian Neoorthodoxy alongside it, they wonder why we continue to remain in the denomination. But until real leadership steps up in a local congregation, nothing ever truly happens. Those who do understand and care, tend to simply leave out the back door, with little or no fanfare. I tend to believe that it is the pastors that have dropped the ball, and have sacrificed their true inheritance for a bowl of gruel. I therefore tend to lay the blame for the condition of this and other mainline denominations on Pastors and Elders who are true believers, but have chosen to look the other way and ignore the heresy going on under their noses. They have chosen not to discipline heretical views. They have chosen not to call for the removal of those who deny essentials of the faith. They have chosen not to work for the purity, peace and unity of this denomination and in so doing left the wolves in charge of the flock.

I am very grateful to you and your continued stand for the inerrant Word of the Living God, who does not change.

I have commented further on the lost foundation of Orthodoxy in the PCUSA on my blog.


In the Grace and Peace of Jesus the one and only way, truth and life and the only way to the Father,
Adel Thalos