Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A False Unity

There are different kinds of unity. There is organic unity, which is based upon truth and mutual agreement. There is tyrannical unity—a pernicious, false kind—that holds an entity together by force. North Korea has that kind of unity today. There is also a coercive unity, where threats and political moves preserve the image of unity. Parts of the PCUSA seem to be enforcing this style of unity.

A current example is from the Presbytery of North Carolina. They are proposing restrictive processes designed to go far beyond the Book of Order in terms of limiting a congregation’s ability to be dismissed. The extraordinary limitations include
  • Requiring a 75% vote of presbytery commissioners.
  • Requiring at least half of the congregational members voting.
  • Limiting transfer to a particular denomination approved by the PCUSA Stated Clerk.
  • Altering the way in which congregational meetings are called and run.
  • Referring the results to a judicial commission on the request of any member.
None of the above are in the PCUSA constitution. Some of the details include a waiting period (until at least February, 2007) before a congregation can call a meeting, and presbytery representatives having the privilege of the floor at those meetings. Subsequent congregational meetings would have to be put off for 3 to 6 months. This limits a constitutional right for congregations to conduct their own meetings.

All the above doesn’t even address the issue of property. Once the dismissal is approved, then a new, similar process is proposed to make a decision regarding the congregation’s property. The Layman Online says,
“If the vote is yes, the presbytery would consider whether to dismiss the congregation with “all or some of its property.” A presbytery task force appointed by the chairs of the Coordinating Council, the Committee on Ministry and the general presbyter would make a recommendation about the property.”
My sense is that this proposal is designed to slow down the dismissal process to a glacial pace, giving the presbytery time (and “official” standing) to redirect the process as they see fit. In such a context a congregation would not just find it extremely difficult to discuss dismissal, but most congregations would rapidly dwindle under such manipulative force.

The truth is that “dismissal” doesn’t really exist in the PCUSA. The denomination will put a strangle-hold on the “true church,” however small, however unhealthy, while the rest of the members dismiss themselves as they go out the door for the last time.

Churches considering leaving the PCUSA are going to have to work fast, in light of the ever-tightening control the denomination is seeking to impose. The PCUSA completely controls every element in a deeply one-sided process.

The New Wineskins strategy team yesterday published their interim report for congregations considering leaving. They obviously sense the urgency and suggest the following:
  • “… immediately retain legal counsel to evaluate the property issues that are specific to your individual church and to protect your trustees, elders, pastors and other church officers from potential litigation.”
  • “… discuss with your attorney preparation for suit against governing bodies that attempt to implement the Louisville Papers … Your preparations should include petitions for temporary restraining orders that may be necessary in the event Presbytery attempts to take your church by force. While it is incomprehensible to us that a presbytery would employ such tactics, some have already done so. Ironically, during the same time the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA has called for a period of discernment.”
  • “… local church officers (elders and trustees) may well have a fiduciary duty to the congregation/corporation” to protect the church’s property. “You should also protect your church officers through the purchase of insurance and/or making indemnification as Louisville may well sue the individuals personally (e.g., the ‘Louisville papers’). Consult your counsel and your insurance agent for the ‘hows and whys.’“
An absolute essential that they recommend is that all leaders read what they call the “Louisville Papers,” (what I’ve called the PCUSA gameplan) to know what is going on behind the scenes. Link:

I am constantly surprised by the number of pastors and elders who have never read this, ignorant of what may be happening next in their neighborhood.

The NWAC strategy team is recommending preparation, but postponing action until the New Wineskins Convocation in February. It’s not a moment too soon to begin.

Keep praying—keep the faith,


Arthur Woodling said...


You said:

"The truth is that “dismissal” doesn’t really exist in the PCUSA."

I'm not sure how you choose to define the word "dismissal", but by any reasonable definition, quite a few congregations have been agreeably dismissed from the Denomination. The conditions associated with dismissal have varied from congregation to congregation depending on the circumstances.

You also said:

"The denomination will put a strangle-hold on the “true church,” however small, however unhealthy, while the rest of the members dismiss themselves as they go out the door for the last time."

That's quite an image you create there. The people who wish to stay are being grabbed by their throats and strangled.

You seem to have it in your head that the EOP fully intends to keep you from the property you built. You may be expected to compensate them in some way for it, but that should be about all.

Did you ever even discuss with them what dismissal would entail in your particular case?

It's interesting to note that the NWAC's interim report says that they want us to "pray that the leadership of all concerned will come to reason together to peacefully resolve our many differences in accordance with Matthew 5:25, thus avoiding potentially devastating and costly waves of litigation."

As soon as you guys got it into your heads that the affidavits filed by the EOP were a first strike against you, you figured there was no longer a responsibility to try to reason with them. It doesn't look like you ever tried. I don't think that is what Matthew 5:25 had in mind.

If that's not bad enough, you've even said on a radio interview on Aug 29:

“The National Denomination, they issued a paper, a legal plan paper that basically said that we’re going to play hardball. We’re going to take these guys to court. We’re going to lie about our nature so that we can win in court, and do all these kinds of things to make sure they don’t get their property.”

You then said about the National Denomination:

“I don’t think those guys are Christians.”


The so-called “Louisville Papers” say nothing of the sort, and how dare you call the National Denomination not Christians!

How can we take you seriously as a pastor when you say things like this?

TomGray said...

I never said anything like what you put into quotes.

Jason said...

Wow...I have never seen a more blatant abuse of quotation marks in my life. If you are attempting to paraphrase what you think Rev. Tom is saying, then be upfront about it.

Cameron Mott said...

I have problems with this New Wineskins Interim Report, my first impression is it is more of what I personally feel is wrong.

It is long on accusations stated as facts and innuendo as reasons. The very first sentence claims "denominational leadership in Louisville has been planning and preparing for a pre-emptive punitive action against any PCUSA congregation that seeks to leave the denomination" supposedly backed up with 2 footnotes. How could it be pre-emptive if the congregation is already seeking to leave and the titles of the 2 footnoted supposedly inflammatory papers which are the instruments of pre-emptive punitiveness show in their titles that they are about existing disputes and responses to withdrawals. Not pre-emptive but responsive.

I have not been able to find any instance back to the late 90s were any Presbytery has taken pre-emptive action against a church or its ministers over property or disaffiliation. All the actions I’ve seen have come after a congregation has taken action. I know the brethren of the Kirk disagree in their case. The Report claims multiple instances of pre-emptive punitive actions by Presbyteries, could someone help me identify those [besides the disputed Kirk instance]? The hiding of the report’s authors’ identities with no demonstrated danger would seem sort of…..un-necessary? Premature? Prejudical?

I guess it’s alright to criticize hardballing according to the “Louisville Papers” whilst you hardball it according to the “Lunceford Papers” or “New Wineskins Strategy Interim Report”.

What in our denominational Constitution is getting away from Scripture? Again, AN interpretation of the AI in Recommendation 5 is just assumed as THE interpretation. What does the Trinity paper have to do with any of our denominational polity or Confessions? Or the Daughters of Sophia or the Re-Imagining [not in this report I realize]? As I try to inform myself about these accusations/issues/events they often seem more and more like cotton candy, presented as big and puffy but disappear to almost nothing when you bite into them. Maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, I’m probably over-reacting or reacting too early to this report or am just plain wrong. May God grant us wisdom.

Arthur Woodling said...


OK, I didn't quite quote you exactly. It seems that I added a "that" in the first sentence that didn't belong there.

The fact is I never interpreted your statement as meaning that you were going to take them to court and that you were going to lie about the nature of the church. I always interpreted it as you saying that they were going to take you to court and that they were going to lie. Both interpretations are a blatant misreading of the so-called "Louisville Papers".

That being said, I still want to know why you would say, “I don’t think those guys are Christians.” This is particularly important considering you are about to be examined by the EPC. Just what do you believe it takes to be Christian, and why do you think they aren’t? Is this a Freudian slip, and do you make them often?


liberty4u said...


I do not understand why you accepted arthur woodling's previous post. The quote he claims that you have said I can't find in your writings. I suspect it is misinformation and causes confusion.

Here are some suggestions:

Arthur: if you have the link to the article that contains the quote that begins: "I don’t think those guys..." please post it or, alternatively, remove the post.

Tom: as the editor, it would be proper to restrict the letters on your blog to accurate statements. Totally misleading and incorrect statements may, if read out of context, confuse people.

These are my opinions and I always welcome objective evidence in cases where my opinion is wrong.

Andrew Strong said...

mr. woodling,

how kind of you to provide links to all the claims and assertations you have made.

To the best of my knowledge, Tom did say such things in an interview with Delgiorno on the 29th:

I'm surprised that a person as adamant as you about defending a progressive church would purport the direct meaning of statements, whether said in jest, in response, or in context.

In context, the national denomination has allowed and will continue to allow innumerable direct affronts to it's constitution (never mind the BIBLE) in the ordination of openly gay ministers, and further in allowing scriptural essentials to be moved aside in light of an individual presbytery's interpretation.

That being said, I suppose that your interpretation of Tom's remarks could be construed as inflammatory and inappropriate; I have a different interpretation. It's not progressive, so I may be schismatic, but then I'm not in the PCUSA anymore :).

Am I championing my pastor? No, simply supporting a man with a calling and a sense of humor, who in context responded in kind, and further throughout the rest of the interview lauded many aspects of EOP, alluding to their silent disagreement with Louisville.


Andrew Strong

Anonymous said...

Why bother to post Arthur Woodling's comments? He obviously enjoys distorting truth and is confrontational to the point of being distrusted in anything he writes. Who is he anyway and what credence does he have to be believed in anything he writes?
Mr. Woodling certainly needs our prayers.
May our faith in Christ Jesus as our Savior be strengthened through our belief in the Bible as the true Word of God. His unfailing love will direct our lives and the future of the Kirk.

geoffrobinson said...

I know the following is far easier to advise than to do.

When you decide to leave the PC(USA) don't be like Lot's wife when leaving Soddom and Gemorrah. Don't look back.

If you can keep your property, that's great. If not, leave it. Just flee and get out of there.

John West said...

The discourse on this blog appears to be getting very confrontational. I certainly suspect we are witnessing the work once again of satanic powers which work against winning the lost. There is far more wrong with PCUSA than the PUP thing. Look at the printing of the libelous book alleging Bush orchestrated 9-11. There is a whole study supporting slave reparations. Overland Park Presbyterian makes the news by ordaining an openly active lesbian elder. The list goes on and on. Meanwhile bible centered churches like First Family also in Overland Park Ks. grow astoundingly fast. Olathe Bible and its affiliates is exploding. It seems obvious people are searching for biblical truth. Not to be found in failing to call sin for what it is. The answer--we are truely becomming a more diverse culture, morally, spiritually and virtually every other way. So we individually must find a church home that fits where we are. We are losing track of what Christianity is all about. First love for God, second love for our neighbor. We simply must love those who sin, and try to help them repent and change. But we cannot condone the sin by ordination. I would like to give an example of true Christianity. I manage a low income elderly and disabled apartment complex. I just became aware that two of my tenants, both destitute and handicapped, are receiving financial support form a Church (unnamed of course) in Olathe Ks. Otherwise these two would probably be living on the street unless they could find a friend to take them in. This is true religion. We are allowing as a denomination the gorilla in the living room called sin to tear us apart. To me the PCUSA must either rescind the offensive part of the PUP or the rest of us which seems to be a rather vast majority should just go elsewhere unless our Church is willing to recognize sin for what it is. John West, Hillsdale Ks.

cindy said...

Yesterday, Friday, October 20, The Western North Carolina Presbytery voted by a large majority to pass the Guidelines for Congregations Considering A Request to Presbytery to be Dismissed.

Tensions ran high and the vote was taken twice because the first vote had been taken after lengthy discussions on amendments and amendments on amendments. When the actual vote for the final document came many weren't even sure what they had voted on. No actual discussion re: the document had been held. (Many commissioners complained they had only seen the document for the first time a few days earlier or that morning as it was a part of the addendum.)

A vote was taken to resubmit the document for another vote allowing for full discussion. The document passed by voice vote nearly intact.

A related item voted on earlier in the day (before I was in attendance) was a recommendation in the omnibus motion in the addendum stating that churches not following the guidelines for dismissal would find themselves facing an Administrative Commission.

Also voted on were guidelines for examination of pastoral candidates which follow wishes of the PUP committee. Only creeds to which they will need to agree with are the Nicene, The Apostles' Creed and A Brief Statement of Faith. Scruples will be provided for, kept "confidential" and all must "allow for the discerning work by the Holy Spirit."

Also, just in case a church wants to discuss in private their difficulties with the denomination or the WNC-Presbytery, clerks of sessions will now be required to meet annually to review each others' session records under the watchful eye of Presbytery staff.

And, no distribution of any materials at Presbytery without prior approval from Coordinating Council.

Fortunately, before and during the grueling four-hour marathon on basically two items, we were able to pray: "That we would be open to new truth..." and that we would "breathe in the spirit and breathe out the spirit." A little New Age never hurt anyone, I guess (sarcasm off).

Very difficult days ahead for some churches here and individuals who are members of churches satisfied with status quo.

Pastor Gray, keep speaking out. You give encouragement and information so badly needed in these days. We will be praying for The Kirk as well.
In His Merciful Hands,