Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Challenge to the Presbytery

I’ve had a long night to think about the meeting some of our congregation had with presbytery. The message of the presbytery was that, if we’d simply sat down and talked with them, everything would have been all right. I take that to mean that they would not have followed the PCUSA legal game plan, nor would they have insisted that we buy our property back from them.

The presbytery representatives mentioned, according to attendees, that there had been seven different times when they felt they were justified in removing me from my pastorate, but held back. I’m thankful for that, but not particularly comforted that they were keeping count.

In terms of the Kirk’s fears, it would have gone far for them to say some things in response to what we (I) had clearly articulated as our fears. They could have said they would consider removing the affidavit. We asked for this, but they refused. It would have helped tremendously if they had told us they would not have followed the PCUSA legal game plan, especially when it seems that they have been, at every step so far. It would have been helpful for them to say that they weren’t really interested in our property, just our congregation. Sadly, none of these things happened.

There is still time for others. I won’t name them, but I’m aware of at least three other Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery congregations that are considering, or would like to leave the denomination for the same reasons we did. NOW is the time for the presbytery to put its money where its mouth has been.

Tell these congregations that, if they vote to leave, you will not remove their pastor(s) from office. Tell their pastors that they can speak freely without the threat of disciplinary action. Promise that you will not remove their sessions. Promise that you will not make them pay you for the property they’ve already paid for. You can do this, if you want. That seems to be what you told the Kirk people Monday night. Please, for the sake of these other churches, prove that we at the Kirk were in the wrong.

Keep praying—keep the faith
Tom

19 comments:

Mark Smith said...

You've done a good job articulating how the Presbytery could have kept the process reasonable.

Now how about a few on how YOU could have kept the process reasonable:

1. You and the session could have voted to open a discussion with the presbytery regarding dismissal to the EPC. Instead, you declared your position and defied opposition.

2. You and the session could have requested a congregational vote on leaving before beginning the process of joining EPC. Doing it without congregational involvement makes it appear that the decision was made by those in power against those who are not in power. Yes, you have many supporters and perhaps a large majority would agree, but by skipping the congregation you made it appear that this is the decision of a closed hierarchy.

What most people have missed about the PUP report is that recommendations 1-4 are fundamentally a blueprint for working together rather than fighting. You've concentrated on one recommendation that you don't like, and ignored the advice that is applicable to you and everyone in the first four.

TomGray said...

Mark,
Please read all my blogs. The presbytery was fully aware of our concerns. We had numerous meetings with the GP and conversations among other pastors.
The New Wineskins met at the Kirk and we spoke openly there. Remember--it was the PCUSA legal plan that moved us to do what we did, not the presbytery, and not a desire to avoid speaking.
Tom

Kay Brooks, Irving, TX said...

Only those who have dealt with presbyters in matters that affect presbytery income or assets can fully appreciate your predicament. Many are praying for your congregation, that you may be able to peacefully and swiftly make this move. Whatever happens, though, you must fight the good fight.

I visited St. Andrews, Scotland, last summer, and learned more than I had ever known about the protestant martyrs, and specifically those who established the Church of Scotland. We will never suffer as they did, but we should pray that their blood was not shed in vain. Your people are a part of the "True Kirk", as are all those who strive to remain true to God's word.

Onward, Christian soldiers!

sam sibala said...

Mark Smith,

It is refreshing to have from someone from New Jersey be so concerned about what is happening in Tulsa Oklahoma! To help you understand the process in our church, Pastor Tom and Wayne have had ongoing discussions with members of the Kirk regarding the situation with the denomination. Many of us viewed the proceeding at the General Assembly this summer via webcasts and e-mail. Some in our congregation attended to hear for themselves policy and direction of the GA. We invited over 200 plus churches to attend a meeting at our church to discuss the actions of the GA to have open dialogue with others. To me this was a sanity check to make sure that the Kirk was not off base in our thinking. Many of those churches are from your part of the country and found comfort in fellowshiping with other like minded believers. Many indicated that they met hostile opposition in their respected regions. We have had on-going discussions regarding the actions of the GA and many members, including myself wondered why it took so long to act on our convictions.

Let me give you some documented facts. In 2005 alone the denomination lost a record 48,474 members. Since 1968 the denomination has lost members year after year. Why do you think that is?
Conversely our congregration has steadily grown and our mission giving has increased as well to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is because our church has opened honest dialogue with our members regarding issues concerning our church that former Baptists, Assemblies of God, Catholics, other believers, and also unchurched have joined our congregation. We select and elect elders based on spiritual leadership and hold them accountable to the standard of Christ and to be led by the Holy Spirit. We are family, argue agreeably amongest ourselves just like any imperfect church, but we have a sincere desire to be led by the Holy Spirit, grounded in God's word and live our lifes to glorify Jesus. I invite you to visit our church or perhaps call me at (918)269-8491 to discuss this further.

Sam Sibala

Anonymous said...

Mr. Smith,

The presbytery did in fact know that a vote was probably coming very soon. Did we tell them the exact date, no, but you also dont give someone advanced notice when you file a TRO for example. Had we told them the EOP would have come in and removed our pastors and elders and run the church. Do you honestly think this church would not have been crushed by having our leadership removed?

As a member of the congregation, I voted for this leadership and that is what Dr. Gray, Dr. Hardy, and the session is doing. Leading, down the path of true biblical teachings.

Dr. Gray has already given our position many times about the PUP. I don't understand something. If the denomination truly is still a christian orgainzation, why are they not acting like it. Why when the Kirk and many other churches disagree, they have to attack our pastors, remove them from office and issue TRO against contacting their congregation ( see Iowa church on the Layman). Why not just let us leave. You continue your "ministry" your way and we and others can continue ours. Seems easy enough to me. But for some reason a "christian" organization has to have secret meetings that attacks their brother and sister in Christ. Makes no sense to me.

P.W.

Wayne Ward said...

Good evening

First, allow me to give my heartfelt thank you to everyone of you who have prayed for the leadership at the Kirk, even as we work to do as the Lord shows. He assures that His Will will be done. It is difficult many times among our peers, but clear that His Will must be uppermost in what is done.
Next, please include in your prayers that the Lord will care and protect our membership, as we are busy and consumed many times in these affairs that pull us away from being close to the spiritual needs of the congregation and prayer for them, and us all.
I'm called to depend on Him (Proverbs 3:5-6)
and pay attention to what he says and shows us to do(Proverbs 16:3).

Wayne Ward
Elder and Trustee
Kirk of the Hills

Anonymous said...

Sam,

AMEN, Brother!

Anonymous said...

The Kirk website states the Congregational meeting tomorrow night is open to "MEMBERS ONLY as voted by the Session of the Kirk of the Hills last Saturday". Have they culled the rolls prior to any congregational vote? Sounds a bit odd that the Session voted on the member list just last Saturday.

TomGray said...

Dear suspicious anonymous,
The session has not changed the rolls in any way. We just felt that opening the meeting to non-member attendance would invite the press et. al. into the meeting.
At any rate, congregational meetings are members-only always in terms of votes.
Tom

Mark Smith said...

Tom,

Speaking openly about your concerns at a forum where the folks on the "other side" MIGHT be listening is NOT the same thing as a discussion.

In a discussion, you AND the folks on the other side are expected to at least try to understand the other person's point of view.

Instead, you seem to feel that one-way speech is sufficient.

Sam,

I know why *I* left the denomination. It was because I was faced with a number of instances where a small group of people (session, pastor, Synod council members) tried to control the behavior of a large number of people (congregation, synod). This control was exercised by people at both ends of the liberal/conservative spectrum.

PW - I have written elsewhere about my negative view and emotions about the "takeover" process being used by several presbyteries. That still does not relieve you of the requirement to do things properly.

Personally, I feel that any congregation that wants to leave should be allowed to leave. AFTER following the process (consulting with the presbytery) and AFTER sufficient checks and balances have been used to ensure that the move is not the product of a minority group in leadership over the congregation.

What concerns me is that you seem to feel that a vote by the session is sufficient to ensure that the congregation agrees.

Anonymous said...

Dear Reverend Gray,

I have a question regarding your resignation as it applies to ordination. If you resigned from the PCUSA and disassocated yourself from the ordination doesn't that mean you are no longer an ordained minister. I already know I will have a myriad of responses regarding what the Scriptures says, but my question is more focused on practical matters. For example; if you denounce your association with the body that ordained you, it stands to reason you no longer have any legal grounds by which to marry a couple (I could be wrong - this is just a query). Ordination under Classical Reformed Theology wasn't a life long act. Did you get ordained again by the Session upon being rehired? Has anyone even thought about that while we all focus on who gets what property? Did the EPC just accept your ordination from the PCUSA, a church that you are accusing of being apostate. Again, just from a practical stand point, why would your ordination be acceptable by the EPC is the body that ordained you wasn't working or acting under the same notions of biblical authority. I have a million questions like this. This entire fight has me confused about these types of issues. Perhaps I am just straining at gnats, but if I were to approach you with my fiancee, I would want assurances that indeed if you preside over a wedding it would be legal.

Inquiring Mind.

TomGray said...

Dear Inquiring anonymous,
Ordination is not removed when jurisdiction is renounced. To be thorough, though, when we became a congregational church, our session officially affirmed our ordination and the congregation will ratify this tonight.
Tom

Sam Sibala said...

Mark,

Thanks for your clarification regarding your personal experience.

Sam,

I know why *I* left the denomination. It was because I was faced with a number of instances where a small group of people (session, pastor, Synod council members) tried to control the behavior of a large number of people (congregation, synod). This control was exercised by people at both ends of the liberal/conservative spectrum.

I now understand your concern that this entire process has been orchestrated by our session and our pastors. This certainly has not been the case. For the past 6 months we have discussed these issues within our small groups(we are striving to be a church of small groups for greater accountability). We have discussed this in leadership meetings with lay people and we have distributed public information regarding the General Assembly's actions so people can be informed and decide for themselves. We at the Kirk are very passionate about serving and glorifying Christ and we hold our elders and pastors accountable to their actions. As iron sharpens iron. Pastor Tom and Wayne have always taught us not to take their word for it, but read it for ourselves to check out their comments.(via the bible) Being the "Doubting Thomas" that I am, I approached this issue, logically and unemotionally because I along with the majority of Kirk members are serious in our walk with Christ. We have done the research and come to our own conclusions just like you did about your local church and as you separated yourself from them. Our conflict is with PCUSA and their leadership (a small elitest group),
not with the people that want to stay. Each congregation has to come to their own conclusions. We are praying for everyone involved in this process.

I hope you have found another local church that you can serve Christ with your passion for the truth. I understand your issue about power hunger people. I call these people "Empire Builders".I think you would agree that the only Kingdom that you and I would want build is God's. If we develope in Christ and led by the Holy Spirit it is easy to spot false teachers, versus the true disciples like Tom and Wayne. We at the Kirk are not mindless sheep following men, rather imperfect sinnners sincerely wanting to follow Jesus.

Thank you for your comments.

Sam Sibala

mabou63 said...

Dr. Gray,

This is a rhetorical question as I am assuming the congregation will affirm your session's action to disaffilate. My question though is -What if your congregation voted against the action? Would the session action still be valid? I have never heard of an issue of this importance not being presented first to the membership for a vote and not after the fact.

I am also curious to know why since Kirk was one of the New Wineskin leaders that you did not continue to work in that organization toward your goals?

Mary

Anonymous said...

Personally, I feel that any congregation that wants to leave should be allowed to leave. AFTER following the process (consulting with the presbytery) and AFTER sufficient checks and balances have been used to ensure that the move is not the product of a minority group in leadership over the congregation.

--------------------------------

Mr. Smith -

You assume that there IS a process. PCUSA purposely DOES NOT have a PROCESS for this, because they do not want unhappy congregations to leave, and (in particular) to take their property with them (whether they pay RANSOM for it or not).

I understand that you are an optimist - you like to think the best of people. You like to think that all parties come to the table willing to stick to their purported principles - particularly parties in a so-called "religious organization". But this is not always the case, and this is NOT the case here.

I grew up as a conservative peon in a sea of liberal leadership from elementary school through college. I live in California, so not only are the liberals liberal, they are rabid. They are anti-Christian, anti-Christ, anti-God, anti-conservative, anti-Republican, and anti- pretty much everything I am except for woman . . . other than the fact that I am NOT a feminist, which REALLY infuriated them. When they would find out my views (if they would find them out - sometimes I was "smart", if I needed a good grade in a class, and I shut up or "played the game"), my religion, or my background they would tell me off.

They would tell me how people like me were the cause of all the ills in society. They would tell me that I must be a hateful bigot. They would tell me that I was cold and uncaring. They would say that I had to be stupid. And then they would try to convince me that it was best to think like they did (effective to do so after they'd insulted me, don't you think?).

By the time I got to college I was so beaten down, I started to believe some of it. Only a couple of things. For instance, I started to think that the relationships of homosexuals, other than the sex, were just like other relationships. At the time I knew a lot of them, because of the major I was in, and I didn't see a whole lot of difference. Of course, I hadn't been around them over the course of many years, so I hadn't seen how their relationships went.

Towards the end of college, I woke up. Among other things, I realized that I had been brainwashed about the relationships of my gay friends. They jumped from partner to partner to partner, and it just wasn't healthy. And it seemed that a higher proportion of them than of my straight friends were in abusive relationships. I loved my friends, and I wanted a better life for them than that.

I hate to perpetuate a stereotype, because I didn't know THE ENTIRE gay community or anything, but most of them had been raped or sexually abused at some point in their lives. I won't say that they all weren't born with a proclivity towards being gay, but I think most of them weren't. I think they had sustained some major emotional damage along the way that made it more comfortable for them to seek companionship with the same sex, than with the opposite.

Once I realized this (and once I came to my senses biblically), I stopped hanging around at school as much. It was my senior year, I was busy getting ready to graduate anyway. But what happened to me? I had a gay/liberal PROFESSOR come after me for not hanging around anymore. She thought that it "meant something", and she didn't like it. She wanted me to change what I was doing, and when I didn't, she knocked my grade in her class down. I had taken this class for years, and gotten an A. This time, I got a C. Go figure.

The liberal leaders of the mainline denominations (PCUSA, ECUSA, UMC, ELCA, UCC, and more) are doing the same kind of thing. They're not interested in giving orthodox congregations their freedom. They are only interested in trying to change the opinions of conservatives (because they think we are all mind-numbed robots). And when they realize they cannot do this, their goals become persecution of "dissenters" (so much for "tolerance") and preservation of wealth. They may act "kind hearted", "open to discussion", "innocent", "shocked" and "jaded". But that's because they're trying to spin public opinion.

There's a bumper sticker in reference to the War on Terror that says "don't forget who started it", with a picture referencing the terrorists, and "don't forget who'll finish it", with a picture of the statue of liberty. This is no War on Terror, but I think that message is apropos here as well.

G.A.C.

TomGray said...

Mary,
If you read my earlier blogs, you'll read why we did the disaffiliation through the session. I don't think the congregation will disagree.
I am still involved on the board of New Wineskins and we are working together still toward the goals that we have established.
Tom

Howard Edington said...

Dear Tom: You and I have enjoyed a long and wonderful friendship. In addition, I have a huge admiration for your unwavering faith and your towering intellect. As you face down this present crisis, please know that I am one of a large company holding you in prayer. Church history one day will shine a laudatory light upon you and the Kirk for your great faithfulness, even when the cost is dear. Bless you, my friend. Devotedly, Howard Edington

Anonymous said...

To "anonymous" regarding your experiences with homosexuals during college. You have succesfully described the way most HETEROSEXUALS act in college as well. College (especially in California) is not exactly the place to search for model behavior from anyone.

I have been around dozens of homosexuals in my life time that have not been abused in any way. They have parents that are still happily married and supportive. They have not experienced any of the so-called environmental things that supposedly cause someone to be gay. AND THEY ARE STILL GAY.

A lot of us are simply terrified of gay people and are using INTERPRETATION of the Bible to justify our fear. And now we have an "official" cause to get behind....

CHOOSING to be gay? Sure, there are a few mixed up people who will choose something they are not , including gays who try to CHOOSE to be straight. But this whole choice thing as a cover-all is ridiculous.

ktorrent said...

I wanted to express trust here in Tom Gray and the others who are navigating us away from what I regard is the compromised leadership of the USA based Presbytery. As busy as I have been, to know that there are those in charge who were both willing to take this on and stay true to the congregation, it is a great relief. I don't necessarily see any of this process as easy, but it is necessary, and I must wholeheartedly post my support of Tom Gray and Wayne Hardy and the work of Kirk leadership. We can do this. We can do it.