Twenty years ago I attended a conference with pastors from many denominations. One pastor was from a denomination that believed only they were true Christians. Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and any others were unlikely to go to heaven. This pastor made each of us assure him that we would tell no one that he attended. If his denomination found out, he said, he would be immediately fired and defrocked. I could hardly believe the atmosphere of fear his denomination inspired.
Tonight I sensed the same kind of atmosphere, and it was my denomination inspiring the fear. New Wineskins’ board (of which I am a member) proposed forming a group of nine people to, among other things, prepare strategies for any church considering separation from the PCUSA. As we debated the proposition, many came forward to say that, if we made such an overt statement, their home presbyteries would punish them—just for attending our conference.
I am in a presbytery that, while not sympathetic to our struggle with the PCUSA, has not been hostile to us. But these folk are truly in a scary place. How sad it is that some Presbyterians are afraid even to speak out for fear of retribution. Their primary fears are two: that pastors’ ordination will be removed and that church property will be confiscated. For some, sadly, these are rational fears.
Contrast this with a discussion I had with the leaders of another Presbyterian denomination who told me that pastors and congregations may freely move in or out of their organization without prejudice. It seems clear that people in this denomination are united by belief, not fear of what they might lose. In contrast, the PCUSA, while completely tolerant of theological deviation, is rigid about finances, property, and polity.
We passed the motion for this group to form. They will be appointed by our board and do their research over the next couple of months, reporting back at another convocation to be held in February, in Orlando, Florida (I suggested that, since they spent the hottest time of summer in Tulsa, we should at least schedule our winter meeting in Minneapolis). I expect that many, but not all, New Wineskin churches will make a decision to withdraw from the PCUSA at that time. Some will leave before that time, and others we don’t know now will join in years to come.
How sad it is that ANYONE should have to make such a decision in an atmosphere of fear instead of Christian love.
Keep praying—keep the faith.