Sunday, June 18, 2006

When Process Is More Important Than Truth

I have deep reservations about the committee process at General Assembly. When commissioners first arrive they are instructed as to how to work in the committee. This is done, in my experience, through a process where the commissioners are repeatedly enjoined to suspend their previous opinions. The upshot of this, particularly for vulnerable commissioners, is the sense that opposition to what someone else says is in bad taste.

The Ecclesiology Committee had an even more pernicious introduction. They went through “discernment” periods where they were guided by a leader as to how to discern God’s will. I was able to sit through one such session, and what follows is an accurate, mostly verbatim record of what transpired.

Committee member Meg Scott led this discernment period. She opened with prayer (not prayed in Jesus’ or God’s name), then led the commissioners in a process strongly similar to New Age guided imagery.

“Feel yourself present in your body, aware of your breath. Aware of the tense places of your body. Ready to go into neutral gear. Ready to be more guided by the Spirit. This is willingness, openness to ‘Thy will be done.’ Treasure now moments of silence, knowing that this is space and time to sit at the feet of Christ, to be silent before God.”
[“neutral gear” is emptying the mind. This is unpresbyterian, since Reformed faith is cognitive, not intuitive—Tom]

This was followed by a long period of silence. Then Meg spoke again.
“Pay attention to where you feel blockages, resistances, stuckness [sic], anxiousness. It may be the tension of unnamed or named fears. And give those to the living God. And notice where you feel open to God. And notice what is in this space for you.”

“If there are words, take notice, sensations, take notice, images, take notice, and lift them to God. And in this space, notice…Feel your breath. Form a prayer. Pray it to God. And be aware of the prayer the Holy Spirit is praying for you. In the name of Jesus, the Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

The commissioners were then told to “write out feelings of what you are against and present them before God and listen for the response.”
[What seems most important in this process are feelings, not facts, emotions, not reason. –Tom]

The leader then described how one could tell that a thought or idea is God’s will:

“One of the ways to know the opening of God is when there is energy; when there is freedom, openness and freshness. Another is in that neutral place, letting go of agenda or outcome. Imagine one of the options open to you and imagine going down that pathway.”
[Letting go of agenda is what the “standard” commissioner preparation tries to accomplish. Is it a bad thing to have a strong opinion? Why?—Tom]

“Is there openness or blockedness [sic] there? Is there fruit of the Spirit there? Then go back in your imagination and go down another, different option and see what comes in your imagination. What kind of energy is there. Is there freedom, constriction?”
[How do you make important decisions? By energy? Freedom? Constriction? Again, reason is supplanted by emotion. Emotions are a part of every decision, but if they’re the only part, most decisions will be poor ones.—Tom]

Think of this—you cannot debate emotions. When someone feels something it is real to them, even if it is empirically proven wrong. For our denomination to encourage the above process is tantamount to guaranteeing poor decisions. The life of our denomination is at stake. We deserve better than this. In fact, I believe that the Lord demands better.

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37)

Or am I like people of the world who say yes when they really mean no? As surely as God is true, I am not that sort of person. My yes means yes because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, never wavers between yes and no. (2 Corinthians 1:17-19 )


John Haley said...

I sat in on the afternoon session of the committee debating the PUP report. Tom gave a good overview of it. My guess is the committee will send it to the whole GA to vote on as presented by the Task Force. Often the whole GA does not go along with committee recomendations on divisive issues.

Two other important committee decisions were made by other committees. (1) to disapprove making Per Capita payments to GA mandatory, and (2) to disapprove changes to the ordination standards.

Two useful sources of information are and



Anonymous said...

Voices of Sophia live on! This is truly scary to me. In our committee, we just had an overbearing moderator who took the approach of intimidating commissioners whom she thought had "talked too much". It was a very repressive atmosphere and led to "group think" in many instances. When will we engage brains as well as hearts and come out with well-informed, intelligent and balanced decisions? This year we had such skilled input from ACSWP that if he'd told the committee to "drink the KoolAid", I feel they would have done so. I pray for plenary.

Kevin Ford said...

I've always found it frustrating that Mormons are taught to validate truth by whether they "feel a burning in the heart." Reason is absolutely useless against that measure... and every teenager in love must be a prophet.
So if this is the best discernment process, why don't we let the YAD votes count and make commissioners' votes advisory?

Quotidian Grace said...

I know who Meg Scott is. She is very interested in "spiritual formation". This has the ring of truth. It's my impression from reading a lot of the PUP background information that there the Bible studies they engaged in were structured to produce a particular result, just as you observe here.

Rev Dave said...

I know we're not Methodists, but whatever happened to the good old quadrilateral of Scripture Traditon Reason Experience, in that order? This sort of stuff turns that around entirely, with experience trumping all the others. As a friend says, this is like everyone being able to print their own money and claim what it's worth. In the end, though, it turns out to be worthless.

Gruntled said...

I observed the same session. I thought the discernment exercise was a little too New Age for my taste, too. I was especially interested in her idea that "Holy Indifference" was the desired starting point. Still, the whole group did seem calmer and more civil afterwards. Several people from high-tension presbyteries have commented that the discernment processses that the Task Force brought did help them disagree more civilly. This seems like a good outcome to me. For that I would take a little New Age discomfort.