Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Silence is Deafening

Occasionally a reader will ask why I continue to write about the PCUSA. After all, I’m no longer a part of that denomination. Some of my church members ask the same question and I’ve had some not-so-subtle “requests” for the same from denominational people (second hand).

The reason I continue to write is because there are so few who are speaking out about the denomination’s treatment of dissenting congregations and pastors. There could be many reasons for this, uppermost the fear of reprisal. As I’ve said before, I don’t have to fear that because I am no longer under the authority of the PCUSA. I am disappointed, though, in the lack of response by remaining pastors in the PCUSA.

I hear talk about renewed missions and a missional focus for the church. There is talk about simplifying governance with a more compact Book of Order. Such good things are overdue for the denomination, yet the current situation cries out for clarity and leadership and, dare I say it, reform. How can a denomination move in a positive direction when it is at war with its own members who feel so vulnerable?

Don’t any of you out there believe that what is happening is unfair, unpresbyterian, and unchristian? Do you think that it is right to selectively live to the utter letter of the law, suspending grace while, at the same time flouting other parts of the law?

I’m going to make a comparison that is odious, but pertinent. Most Americans have a shared opinion that moderate Muslims are not speaking out sufficiently against Muslim terrorists. But few speak. It seems obvious, even necessary, to us that they should speak out. Their silence on this one thing undoes anything else they might say.

While what is happening in the PCUSA falls far short of terrorism, it shows the same fundamentalist, monofocal dedication to a cause that does nothing but create fear and destruction.

All the PCUSA has to do—and this is well within its power, constitutionally, ethically, and morally—is say “stop” to the presbyteries and officials who are aggressively going after churches they think might disassociate or ask for dismissal. It can actually allow congregations to be dismissed—without a ransom payment for property they have sacrificially acquired, built, and maintained. It could even assure pastors and sessions that they could speak freely without fear of punishment.

One would think that, in a time when there is such theological division within mainline denominations, dissent and disaffiliation would be expected. Those responsible for it should approach others apologetically. Instead, it seems that those who have led the PCUSA toward a completely different theological foundation are hell-bent on punishing anyone who might disagree.

I know that many in my former presbytery believe that, if the Kirk had just entered into dialog with them, we would have reached a mutually satisfactory conclusion. I'd like to believe that, but the atmosphere set up by leaders in Louisville established and continues an attitude of reasonable suspicion. If every sign points to a potentially deadly encounter, it is wise to seek another route. Even the route we have taken is fraught with pain and danger--it just seems to be less so than the constitutionally-established route, given the present climate in the PCUSA.

Although I’m a “tall steeple” pastor, I am an unknown, except for what has been published through my blog and the Layman or the contacts that I have personally made in the PCUSA over the last decades. What I say is obviously supported or undermined (according to your point of view) by my own church’s disaffiliation. Others need to speak.

Leaders like Clifton Kirkpatrick, certain well-known pastors, or a group of such nationally-known leaders could make a tremendous difference. Even the gathering of tall-steeple pastors (to which I once belonged) would carry a lot of influential weight should they speak out unequivocally against the PCUSA’s attitude and actions toward dissenting congregations and pastors.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tom:
Thanks for keeping the world outside Tulsa up-to-date on what is happening to you and to the Kirk.

Yes; the silence is deafening. I worship regularly at San Clemente Presbyterian Church in Orange County, California. After years of acting on my belief in Stay, Fight, Pray, I personally came to understand that the PCUSA was inexorably sliding into apostasy. Because I could not "shut up" as was my duty as an elder once decisions were made that I could not abide, I demitted. Then, when GA 217 adopted the PUP and included Recommendation 5, I renounced jurisdiction. As an individual there were no other meaningful avenues of public action. I tell you this for no other reason than to bolster the "atta boy" from this stranger yet Brother in Christ.

Here in our own Presbytery we have a "Tall Steeple Pastor" who stepped off the reservation a few years back over the issue of withholding per capita. He was quickly and publically lassoed by Louiville and hasn't been heard much of since on matters of polity or PCUSA apostasy.

The glue that fastens too many congregations to the PCUSA is an amalgam of the congregation's fear of losing its property and the pastor's fear of losing pensions and benefits. A sticky worldly brew indeed. Praise God that your Session and the Kirk's leadership was willing to risk "stuff" for much more important matters. It's tough to let goods and kindred go.

May God continue His Blessing of the Kirk and of the decision you all made to go where God leads.

Your Brother in Christ,
Derek Simmons

Larry said...

Tom,
As an elder in the PCUSA, I surmise the silence is from the unspoken fear held by pastors that their members will increasingly leave the denomination and that will impact the pastor's economic livelihood.

So instead of speaking up, most ministers are avoiding any discussion of the issues facing this denomination.

As an elder and a member of a PCUSA church, I can easily leave to attend a church in which I have trust and confidence.

Pastors have gotten to the point they are afraid of their own shadow. While there are some very radical pastors in the PCUSA, there are still many pastors with enough commonsense to realize that being silent is not the solution.

The members and elders will follow a strong pastor who speaks the truth in love. On the other hand, the members and elders will leave behind those pastors who show their fear through their silence.

Pastors need to make some gut-wrenching decisions. Otherwise, their legacy will be that they were the pastor of a church that closed.

JC said...

Tom,

If that previous post I sent does not meet your new standards for posting, I don't know what would. There was no vitriol. This was the first response to the thread. It was on topic. I merely tried to state why I thought the silence was there on both sides. Your new-found censorship insures the increasing irrelevance and sure death of this blog.

JC

Deutero Q said...

Well said, Tom. I believe more than ever that many of our denominational leaders and bureaucrats are wolves in sheep's clothing. In that regard, you may want to check out my article on "Savage Wolves" over at DeuteroQ.blogspot.com

Blessings.

Jim said...

Tom,
While I don't think that a dialogue between you and EOP would have ended with "happily ever after", I do believe that the course of action your church has taken has hurt your process of disaffiliation. What you did and are doing is unfair and unpresbyterian. Once again I would urge you to reform your own approach to this process and take a more humble approach. This would not require you to soften or loosen your stance on biblical authority. Your comparison to Muslim terrorists is an interesting one considering that it was you who took preemptive, rash measures. It is you who is using this blog and the Tulsa press as your own Al-Jazeera. I do not think you or your congregation have malicious intentions, but in this case the way in which you have waged this battle is undoubtedly escalated the situation far beyond one of dissent, disaffiliation, and dismissal. Tom, PLEASE STOP THIS! The more and more you spout off the way you have been, the more and more isolated you will become. The deafening silence you speak of is as much your doing as any denominational body.

BH said...

Why are they so quiet? Because you have spoken for them, you are taking the flak, they can thank God in their prayers that the Kirk is taking the stand they are afraid to take. They want Kirk to fight the battle so the spotlight does not turn on them.

When people of principle stand up and speak, the silence does become deafening. These bystanders hope Kirk will emerge and survive, though bloodied and bandaged, as the PCUSA backs down and returns to their founding principles. Kirk stands alone on the rock. We shouldn't be surprised.

On the other hand, someone once said "One, with God, is a majority." David wasn't destroyed by Goliath. We all need to be more verbally supportive of our pastors, session, and congregation.

Alan Trafford said...

Tom,
Although it's true that the New Wineskins Association, as a body, is being quiet at the moment, I don't think this will continue. As you can see from the Interim Report of NWAC, on Presbyweb today and the Layman a few days ago, there are serious matters being considered.
For many, this is a period of preparation. Some are waiting for the Constitution to be challenged and then not upheld by the PJC. Others are just quietly making plans.Many of us are keeping our congregations informed of what is going on, and are trying to discern when to speak out. The New Wineskins meeting in February should be very interesting.
Blessings on your ministry,
Alan Trafford

TomGray said...

Alan,
I am thankful for the NWAC and its strategy team. My big frustration is with the tall steeple pastors. I believe that, if they spoke out about the treatment of dissenting churches, and kept the pressure on Louisville, there would be a change.
Tom

James Stansell said...

"By making it easy to leave they made it compelling to stay."

I've seen comments similar to the above applied to Google Mail. The idea is that Google, by being open to the needs and wishes of its GMail members, instead of trying to "lock them in", has actually prospered beyond what it otherwise could have.

How is that idea similar to what is going on in the church? How is it different?

-james.

P.S. Here's a link to an essay that doesn't mention GMail directly but refers to other technologies to explore the idea:

http://blogs.sun.com/webmink/entry/freedom_to_leave

liberty4u said...

Tom,

I don't want to be one to place blame, but you have to analyze what has happened, identify what went wrong, so that it can be fixed in the future.

When looking at where the PCUSA is now, in the local Presbytery, there is a minister who has publically stated that he has "officiate at holy unions for gay and lesbian couples." Although this is a "conservative" presbytery, I know of no action being taken against him.

First, the ordained ministers should be the first to look to for leadership. They would be the best to investigate and, if necessary, take the proper steps of discipline.

But where are they?

Having left the PCUSA, I think of what would have happened if I had stayed. I would have felt duty bound as an elder, to pick up the responsibilities that I feel the ordained ministers dropped in the Presbytery. I would not go looking for trouble, but, if I had knowledge about such actions, would have to take the proper steps according to the BOO.

What would have happened if the Kirk has stayed in the denomination? I think that those that are indignant about you not staying would be wishing you had left.

I am trying to imagine what would things could have been done within the process.

First, no secrets. No secret meetings. Nothing done that would not be open to the public. Tapes and transcripts could be made and distributed on the internet. Your blog would have ten times the information and interest.

To work through the system, the best order of recourse would have to go through the judicial process of the denomination. There would be lots of cases. The Kirk could use the system the way the critics propose. And they would regret they did.

But does this really promote the true Church? I don't think so. And to better serve Christ, leaving is probably the best course.

Go out and spread the Good News!