Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Strange Kind of Hope

It is accepted wisdom that people with certain kinds of problems must hit bottom before any real change can occur.

The PCUSA has been desperately in need of change for decades. Membership decline is alarming. Theological dysfunction has spawned a spate of special interest groups—on the left and on the right—who strive to move the denomination in their direction. Repeated crises drive congregations out in numbers that, at any one point in time, seem negligible but taken altogether should be alarming. After all, they represent thousands of members seeking another denominational fold. Re-imagining, Justice/Love, PUP and their ilk have inflicted a cumulative credibility crisis.

But there is hope for change. News items today (9/27/06) show cracks in the fa├žade of normalcy. Some of the information is old news—falling income, inter-judicatory confusion, and the ubiquitous penchant for restructuring. In all of this is a new theme, though. The crisis seems to have hit a tipping point.

The first sign is in the middle judicatories.
“As middle governing bodies, it has now become perfectly clear to us that presbyteries and synods across the church are also facing significant instability and destabilization arising from a number of concerns. All of our missional, financial and institutional forms are seriously challenged. Yet, our present denominational structures provide no place where these concerns may be fundamentally addressed.” Presbyteries, synod ask GAC to hold consultation on their ‘viability and stability’
The second comes from the national office.
A five-year, $40 million campaign to raise funds for new churches and more overseas missionaries is in danger of having to shut down early because not enough operating funds are available, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly Council Executive Committee was told today.
“We only have enough operating funds to last through February of 2007,” Mission Initiative: Joining Hearts and Hands (MIJHH) campaign director Jan Opdyke told the group today. “Pledges are being kept, but donors are choosing to designate their money rather than give it unrestricted, which is where our operating funds come from,” Opdyke said. PC(USA) - News Service - Mission Initiative campaign financially squeezed

The third sign is an old one but, considering the first two, with greater significance.
“But in some ways, this gathering in Louisville is sort of a hybrid meeting: the old structure still barely in place but the new one not quite born yet. The three division directors are scheduled to end their jobs Oct. 1, but are still presenting reports at this meeting and Valentine publicly thanked them for their dedication. One item was presented with the explanation: 'This is something that would have been reported to the SLT (staff leadership team) if we still had one.’” Viability of presbyteries and synods may be studied

The saddest part of this, for me, is that the perceived crisis is about money. It will probably be addressed only as such and that will be a serious mistake. It will be a mistake because the financial crisis comes from deeper problems. PCUSA theology is so pluralistic (not just diverse) that there is no spiritual center in the denomination. The PCUSA has turned a deaf ear to its constituent congregations—particularly those like the Kirk who were on the brink of leaving, then did. There are perhaps hundreds of other congregations at the point where the Kirk was a few months ago. Despite theological confusion and a lack of trust from the pews, the leaders of the PCUSA see all the above problems strictly as a financial crisis, as evidenced in the cited articles above.

I don’t recall any previous crisis of such severity in the PCUSA or its predecessor denominations. The denomination is on new and shaky ground, and any number of things could result from the current crisis.
  • The PCUSA could continue its belt-tightening for the next couple of years, just postponing inevitable bankruptcy.
  • There’s a high likelihood that the PCUSA will become even more aggressive regarding money. Departing churches will pay premium rates for their property. Churches that leave their property will see each “true church” dissolved and the property sold. This is dependent upon the PCUSA having enough money in reserve to litigate.
  • Per capita payment will become an absolute requirement at the congregational level, rather than a voluntary offering.
  • Special interest groups, like the newly-founded Presbyterian Global Fellowship, will be lobbied to provide financial support for missions dear to their hearts, freeing PCUSA funds for administrative costs.
  • Someone will suggest that the PCUSA unite with several other failing denominations. This will guarantee a steeper decline for all involved.
  • The denomination is most likely to appoint a 2-year task force which will debate just what should be done. That task force will ask for an extension after the first two years.
  • The Washington lobbying office will remain open and funded.
The one good thing about this PCUSA situation is that crisis gives opportunity for bold, positive change. The question is whether or not the PCUSA leadership is up to the task of really renewing itself. So far, they've not demonstrated enough credible action to give hope.

I do hope that the PCUSA is renewed--first spiritually, then financially and structurally. The fact that the Kirk left the PCUSA doesn't mean that we hope it gets worse. The best thing that can happen for the Kingdom is faithfulness on anyone's part.

Keep praying--keep the faith.


liberty4u said...

Tom wrote:

The saddest part of this, for me, is that the perceived crisis is about money.

As the owner of a small business, I have gotten the great experience of seeing how profits are made and what it takes to run a business. There are people that I see that are attempting to run their own business, and I can see that they are going to have a problem. But many times, they cannot see the problem because of lack of experience, or a pride and stubborness.

Money, though, in a business is a result of how you do things. A business that loses money (which is very easy to do) is not doing everything right. One can do most things right, but if you are off in a critical area, your business can lose money.

Money problems are a symptom -- and the causes have to be found to fix the problem.

Liberals, in general, have little or no business experience. If they were in business, they would lose money quickly because they hold beliefs that are contrary to reality. Your beliefs are challenged by reality, and, in the business world, money is the reality.

Gravity is a reality and no matter what you believe, if you jump off a building you will fall to the ground.

Looking at money as the problem is natural. Knowing that it is a symptom, not the problem, is wise. If your business is having money problems, raising prices may not solve the problems (unless your problem was underpricing, which is not uncommon). It is obvious that, for the PCUSA, a low apportionment is NOT the problem.

Thank God for the hard lessons of the marketplace, where reason is tested and false beliefs are tested.

Anonymous said...

I approve your right to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA). It is the right of every member, ordained officer and minister.
However, I do not approve of the way in which you did it. You and your ordained officers broke their ordination vows to "abide by our polity." Anyone who breaks such a vow is not to be trusted in anything else that they say.
You are gone, you pension was not cut in half, as you said, it was simply frozen where is was at the time you denounced the demonination.
Now, you are acting like Chavez, who denounce President Bush. While not an amirer of Bush, i join those who said he had no right to come to our country and bash the president. Likewise, you have left the Presbyterian Chruch (USA) and you have no right to keep bashing it.
Please do the Christian thing and cease and desist. I would sure think a lot more of you if you did.
Also. to paraphrase former Presidnet Clint, who told Tim Russert, who asked him what was the biggest problem facing our world today, "the illusion that our differences matter more than our commmon humanity."
The biggest problem in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and many other denominations is :the illusion that our differences matter more than our common faith and oneness in Jesus Christ."

Chuck Kriner

CovJack said...

I find it hard to understand how Chuck Kriner can read this blog and call it "bashing" the PCUSA. Chuck...what part of "I do hope that the PCUSA is renewed--first spiritually, then financially and structurally" didn't you understand? I see nothing but love for the denomination in these pages, love that is coupled with profound disappointment in where the PCUSA is headed. Are we at a place in our society where any sort of critical analysis is perceived as "bashing?"

What Chuck fails to realize is that the "common faith and oneness in Jesus Christ" which he refers to no longer exists in the PCUSA. The common faith has been run through a food processor, sifted, and sprinkled onto our lives like a light seasoning rather than the sustenance of the "very words of life." The "oneness" has been defeated by a polity decision that rivals Pac-10 football officiating for blindness to reality and the importance of rules. You may want to gather in a big circle and sing "Kum Bay Yah," Chuck, but the bottom line is that there would be no common understanding in that circle of who it is we'd be inviting to "come by here."

I left the PCUSA six years ago, and not a day goes by that I don't wonder what it would be like for me had I stayed. I grew up in the PCUSA, attended a Presbyterian seminary, and served in wonderful PCUSA congregations. But there are times when the "ties that bind us" become more chains than bonds of love.

If those of us who have moved on resort to nonstop talk about how the PCUSA is on a non-stop express shuttle to Hades, then I say go right ahead and call us "bashers." But to compare Tom to Chavez seems far closer to it than anything I've read here to date.

TomGray said...

It only took a day. The following is from the Presbyterian Outlook on September 29:

On Sept. 28, the council voted to create a task force to “explore the possibility of holding a consultation with presbyteries and synods to consider the issue of their future viability.”
But some contended that the PC(USA) can’t move that slowly – that it’s not enough to set up a task force to consider whether a consultation might some day be a good idea.

The task force is formed. Suggestions for solutions to the problems should only be a few years away.

Anonymous said...


How about a little news/commentary from your new denomination? Reading this blog, it would be hard to tell that you've left the PCUSA and are now EPC. I think you're having trouble letting go.

TomGray said...

To anonymous,
I'm not having trouble letting go. We are in-process with the EPC. They are scheduled to examine our session (yes, they actually do that) in early October.
Wayne Hardy and I are going to attend the midwest presbytery meeting at the end of October. We will have to be interviewed and examined, as well. They expect that we should be able to become a part of the new denomination in January, 2007, at the earliest
So---I'm still here and I'm still writing. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Chuck Kriner compared our pastor to "Chavez". I take it he means Hugo and not Caesar Chavez. I fail to see how taking a stand for Christ and leading this congregation away from a New Age relativist mentality compares with Hugo Chavez' personal criticism of our president. The difference is in the motive, Mr. Kriner. If you are going to argue by analogy then please put some thought into the matter first instead of just writing from an emotional stream of consciousness.