Thursday, March 08, 2007

Tom the Intimidator

One of the many problems with the EOP’s Administrative Commission report is how it deals with supposed intimidation by the pastors and officers of the Kirk. The underlying thesis is that, if we had not been so intimidating, the Kirk wouldn’t have disaffiliated. This simply is not true. I can imagine that members who disagreed with our action felt outnumbered, but neither I nor any one else intimidated anyone. The fact that they spoke out at both the congregational meeting where we changed our bylaws, and at the disaffiliation vote clearly shows that every person was free to have a voice and express opinions. Everyone was respectful and polite to each other.

The few people who opposed disaffiliation, a few of whom left for other churches, are good people now missed by us. We respect their decisions and, in my conversations with some of them, they respect ours, although they still disagree.

The AC report gives an “example” of how I supposedly intimidate people:
“At a required clergy self-care worship of June 2, 2006, Rev. Gray told several people present of a situation he had confronted early in his call as pastor in which the resolution he reached was speaking to one of the elders of the Kirk after the meeting and saying essentially, ‘Tell me where you want me to send you letter of transfer.’ When the elder indicated things weren’t that bad, Rev. Gray reported repeated, ‘No, I’m serious. Tell me where you want me to send your letter of transfer, because we’re not leaving tonight until I’ve written that letter for you.’ While this incident reportedly happened many years ago, Rev. Gray’s recent reporting of it was done in such a way that expressed no regret at this occurrence. This appeared to the AC to be Rev. Gray’s expression of his present approval of such tactics when approached by members of his congregation who expressed concern about him or the church.”

I hardly know where to start:
  • This quasi-legal report bases its conclusions on hearsay.
  • This quasi-legal report doesn’t have the facts behind the story.
  • This quasi-legal report jumps to erroneous conclusions thereby.
Some Kirk members did approach me with concerns over our decision. They received respectful treatment, and most of them remain as active members of the Kirk. The representation of me in the AC’s report is certainly not how I behave, nor was their representation accurate about what I actually did and said.

Let me tell you the story as it actually happened. It was in 1987 (not 2006 some might think with a casual reading of the report) and the Kirk was in crisis thanks to a couple of very serious problems. Tulsa’s economic crisis at the time meant that hundreds of our members had lost their jobs or were in danger of losing their jobs. On top of that, the Kirk was still reeling from the shock of the pastor previous to me leaving the Kirk over a serious moral failure.

In the midst of these crises, one elder began to be quite divisive in the Kirk. This person was (prepare for a big irony here) trying to talk people into having the Kirk leave the PCUSA. Additionally, he was advocating issues that, while possibly in line with the Kirk’s ethos, were presented in a divisive manner, setting member against member and members against the session.

The incident cited in the AC was not after a meeting, as they say. This elder walked into my office on a weekday and said, “This church isn’t big enough for the two of us—one of us has to go.” Obviously, he meant that I should be the one to go.

I’m surprised to this day by my own response, but am equally sure that it was the right one. I asked him what church he would rather be in. He didn’t, as the AC report asserts, say that things weren’t that bad. What he did say was that he was going to make sure that I would be the one to go. That’s when I reiterated my statement. He suddenly seemed deflated, and then gave me the name of another large church in Tulsa. That’s when I wrote the letter of transfer.

I agree that this situation was not typical. I’ve never experienced something like this before or since. I did not come out of that encounter feeling good. I was shaky, upset, and even fearful for my future. Thanks be to God, it was the right decision for me, the Kirk, and that elder.

There are further inaccuracies that I’ll deal with in future blogs.

Keep praying—keep the faith.
Tom

"The Intimidator"--I'll be back.

26 comments:

Bill said...

Tom,

You really did not respond to the main point of this anecdote, namely that you recounted this story from early in your ministry in a fairly recent meeting in such a way that expressed no regret. Did you recently recount the story? And, more importantly, why?

Bill

Red_Cleric said...

It's really annoying when you confuse the story with exegetical context. It sounded so mean and nasty the way the EOP documents had it reported. Now you're just a typical pastor who was trying to serve Jesus...Bummer...

You and the Kirk are in my prayers, keep on keeping on brother.

Dave Moody said...

You've got a set Tom. Good on ya!

keeping the faith,
dm

Stuart Turner said...

Tom,
Another comment I find particularly interesting is at the bottom of page 5 where it says that "there is currently no validly called and ordained leadership at the Kirk." While that is technically true according to the Book of Order, since we are no longer a PC(USA) church, the Book of Order is no longer a valid means by which to determine valid leadership.
I also find it interesting that they say that their attempts to take control of the church was "thwarted" by the current staff and leadership. Word choice is an interesting game these days.

Stuart

Mark said...

Dear Tom,

Most pastors I know have encountered a "bull elder" or blustering member who threatened them openly or privately. You are not the exception. How you handled the situation is telling. YOU wrote the letter of transfer. YOU took upon yourself the authority of the governing body--the session--and acted on your own. That is not the Presbyterian way, whether conservative or liberal, PCUSA, EPC, OPC, or MOUSE. To be Presbyterian is to recognize shared authority under the Lordship of Christ and the direction of Scripture. Your action in the case you have just described, the approach you took and encouraged at the Kirk last summer, and your general attitude on this blog all indicate a disregard for the biblical theology behind Presbyterian polity (which is conciliar, not episcopal, cf. Acts 15). Justify it all you want, but your actions were still out of order, out of line, out of keeping with the high standards required of Presbyterian officers.

Yours in Christ,
Mark

Jon said...

I like your new picture. Pastor Tom joins the Church Militant. ;-)

TomGray said...

Bill,
I don't even remember telling the story, but I know that I must have. The report that got back to the presbytery must have been quite garbled.

The context, according to the EOP, was a required pastors meeting. I don't remember it well. I remember that there was some confusion, since we were told that it was to be an education session on sexual harassment and then it turned out to be something on pastoral stress.

In that context, I can believe that I shared the story, since it was a point of great stress for me. I do know that I would not have told it differently than it actually happened.
Tom

TomGray said...

Mark,
If every Presbyterian pastor were to be evaluated on doing everything according to the book, there would be none left.
Tom

Mark said...

Tom,

You said,

"Mark,
If every Presbyterian pastor were to be evaluated on doing everything according to the book, there would be none left.
Tom"

Yes, grace abounds. And as Paul reminds us in Romans, does that mean that we continue sinning in order that grace may abound all the more? Certainly not!

The point is not that you broke the rules once under stress. The point is that you recounted the event at the beginning of the same summer in which you roundly disregarded your ordination vows and broke many rules. You are exhibiting a PATTERN of behavior that is clearly out of order, not just with the Book of Order, but more importantly with the Holy Book.

It is an easy thing to behave well when you enjoy the people around you. It is a much truer reflection of character to see how you behave under stress. We all do things we regret. The question is, what is the PATTERN of your behavior?

For the record, I have also experienced the stress of pushy elders and members. While I responded in some ways that I regretted at the time, and still regret (mostly snippy tone of voice), I never crossed the bounds of abusing power or taking authority that wasn't mine. I say that not in a self-congratulatory way, but as a statement of fact. Part of what put me in the hotseat was my commitment to the process (Book of Order rules) as a means of providing a fair process for all parties involved--even those with whom I disagreed, even those who worked to sabotage the process for their own profit. And I was, and still am, committed to that process because I value the biblical theology behind it: mutual sharing of authority under the supreme Lordship of Jesus Christ and the guidance of Scripture.

I have many colleagues, conservative and liberal alike, who believe the same way and have behaved with similar commitment. I wish I could count you among them, but the evidence is lacking. Instead, I see in you someone who uses the end to justify his means.

If there are behind-the-scenes nuances concerning the August 23rd meeting that you are withholding as part of your legal strategy, so be it. But do not cry foul or act surprised if EOP also plays its cards close to the vest.

Jesus admonished us to be reconciled with our accusers before reaching the court, lest the whole community of faith be scandalized. BOTH you and EOP have made accusations, so you BOTH need to work at reconciliation before you reach the court, or you will be in violation of Christ's teaching and will. Neither you nor any of us are so pure as to escape Christ's command in this regard.

Yours in Christ,
Mark

Mark said...

Dear Tom,

I have further reflection on your comment, "If every Presbyterian pastor were to be evaluated on doing everything according to the book, there would be none left."

You speak out of both sides of your mouth. You press other Presbyterians to follow the rules as you understand them, then justify your own lapses when it suits your purposes.

In the Church, we call that sin 'hypocrisy'.

Besides, we're not talking about occassional lapses over the years. We're talking about you willfully, flagrantly violationing polity, in general, and your ordination vows, in particular.

You are the poster child for the "Do as I say, not as I do" campaign. In the pulpit, you call people to moral uprightness; then in your office and meeting rooms you violate the rules for the sake of personal expediency. I have a highway patrolman who is a member of my congregation. He hears your attitude all the time, "But officer, I was only driving 10 miles an hour over the speed limit." Whether or not you are a minister, he'd still give you a ticket.

Whether or not the denomination is straying from the Bible, you still broke the rules to which you willingly bound yourself. And you broke them in a big way.

Yours in Christ,
Mark

red said...

hypocrisy?

pastor tom is doing as he says, it's just not what you want to be saying...

following process and doing the right thing are often far different...

TomGray said...

Mark (not Tammen?),
None of what I'm talking about lately in my blog has anything to do with rules, except for my earlier response to you.

We have left the PCUSA. If they have a rule that one cannot leave, that rule is immoral. The only decision left is about property.

The fact that there is a BOO assertion of ownership is not moral ownership. In most states, a revocable trust is just that--revocable.

The complaints about the AC report have nothing to do with the rules and everything to do with tone and accuracy. The AC report reads more ad hominem than anything else. You might think of toning things down a bit yourself, since you've drifted almost completely into attack mode.

Tom

Mark said...

Tom,

You're playing fast and loose with your vocabulary.

First, stop the "not Tammen?" ploy. You posted an entire article against liberal conspiracy theories (3-12-07), and now you try to breathe life into the corpse of your own conspiracy theory: the GA leadership are out to get you. To quote you, "[Tom] read[s] things in my blog [response] that are not even there." For the last time, I am not Mark Tammen, nor am I a GA, synod, or presbytery staff member or consultant. I am "just" the pastor of a 100 member PCUSA church in another presbytery.

Second, calling my observations an attack does not make them an attack. I disagree with you and believe that you are in moral error, but I have yet to attack you. If I apply your logic back on you, you have been attacking the PCUSA, many of its leaders and members, some individuals posting on this blog, and a few members (former or current) of your own congregation simply by disagreeing with them and expressing your belief that they are in moral error. You would laugh at me if I made that assertion about you, and rightly so, but you have no problem asserting that about me.

Third, it does not matter that you and your session elders renounced the jurisdiction of the PCUSA, or that the congregation voted in mid August '06 to disaffiliate; by joining the PCUSA (UPCUSA) at the founding of the Kirk, the congregation was--and still is--bound to a specific process that requires presbytery approval before being dismissed from the PCUSA. If I applied your logic to paying my taxes, I could simply tell the US government and my home state that I renounce my citizenship and I don't have to pay any more taxes (whether on personal income, or on goods and services), but that I will continue living in the same place. The IRS and the state would be on my doorstep in a heart beat, and they would be well within their rights.

Your logic falls apart.

May God bless you and EOP in your separate ministries, may God bless the poor judge who has to hear this case, and may God grant a swift, just, and merciful end to this sad affair.

Yours in Christ,
Mark

Bill Underwood said...

Mark,

You say that Tom (and, by implication, the congregation) "roundly disregarded your ordination vows and broke many rules." We only broke 1 rule. PC(USA) says a congregation cannot leave of its own fee will; we did. Once we left, the rules of PC(USA) are no longer binding on us.

I am a member of several organizations, both professional and personal. When I joined I agreed to be bound by their rules (including signing at least 1 code of ethics). If I leave, these rules are no longer binding on me. I no longer owe (or pay) dues, etc. If the organization came back to me and said they were going to hold me to the rules after I left, and continue to charge me dues, I'd laugh at them. As, I'm sure, would you.

Fact 1: The Kirk has left PC(USA). The Session voted for it and the congregation ratified it.

Fact 2: EOP and PC(USA) have not accepted our resignation.

If you believe that Presbyterian churches are voluntarily associated with the denomination, you believe that fact 1 is binding, and EOP and PC(USA) have no business with an administrative commission and all the other actions they are taking. If, on the other hand, you believe that a church may not leave the denomination, you agree with fact 2, and you think the Kirk is wrong and EOP is right.

I believe in the voluntary association, fact 1 is correct, and EOP is out of line. You believe that a church may not leave, fact 2 is correct, and the Kirk is wrong. Because of our views of the denomination, we will NEVER agree. But DO NOT call Tom a hypocrite for believing fact 1 and acting on it--he is acting on HIS beliefs, NOT yours.

You say that we should follow the BOO because it is based on scripture. I would have no problem with that if the denomination as a whole followed it. However, when sinners who advocate the rightness of their sin are ordained a leaders, and not rebuked, when Clifton Kirkpatrick says that there are no essential tenets in the Presbyterian Church that he can enforce, then I must follow the Bible and leave. "Flee from sin and it will flee from you." We fled from the sin that has been growing in PC(USA). We prefer to follow the Bible rather than the BOO. Again, if you cannot see this, then we will never agree.

The AC is looking for the "true church." I can tell you who they are--they voted by more than 95% to leave PC(USA). PC(USA) is the only organization I know of where a chapter, section, congregation, (or whatever the name for a separately organized sub-group is) is told that the majority vote is meaningless and the dissenters are the "winners" of the vote.

Finally, I have known Tom for over 20 years, have never known him to intimidate anyone, have known him to be an honest, caring, sincere pastor, and agree with him, the session, and the congregation (yes, I am a member).

Bill Underwood

Cameron Mott said...

So some break the rules while trying to ensure others don't keep the rules. How is that Christian again?

Ted D Rossier said...

Mark,

I challenge you to preach sermons over the next few weeks on Isaiah 5:18-23 and Romans 1:18-32.

When you can figure out what sin is, then come back here and talk. Until then, get the log out of your own eye.

Ted

Arthur said...

Ted,

You must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed or something on Saturday. The wording of your responses to both Mark and me are particularly ungracious and, let's face it, not very Christian in motivation.

You seem to think that Mark would be challenged to "preach sermons over the next few weeks on Isaiah 5:18-23 and Romans 1:18-32." For someone who seems to believe the Bible is so clear in it’s message and meaning, you, for some reason, seem to think Mark (a trained Theologian) would be challenged to preach on it. Then, you stated: "When you --can-- figure out what sin is, then come back here and talk." (Emphasis mine)

Looks like you've put yourself way up above him, doesn't it? What does the Bible have to say to you about that? Have you no logs in your eyes?

As for confusing me with the facts (as you said to P.W.): It is P.W. who doesn't seem to be looking at the issue the court was asked to judge. He's not referring to the court memorandum, but instead is only quoting a very slanted article on the case.

Arthur

Ted D Rossier said...

Arthur,

My responses yesterday were no more or less ungracious than yours and Mark's personal attacks on myself and others. Let's face it, there are fairly intense emotions surrounding these matters. If there weren't, it would mean people didn't care, and that would be a worse situation. Even though I disagree vehemently with you and Mark, I am very happy that you care enough to make your position known.

As for "challenge", I didn't mean it would be a challenge for him to preach on those passages, as if he wouldn't be able to. I meant "challenge" in the sense of "I challenge you to a debate" which is the sense of "I invite you to do this and see what happens." However, trying to shoehorn those passages into his liberal mindset might give him pause to think about what they mean.

Ted

Mark said...

Dear All,

Cameron Mott has summed things up very well. Two wrongs do not make a right. The Kirk leadership cannot berate the PCUSA for supposedly breaking God's laws, when they have broken rules they both mutually agreed upon and promised to uphold.

As for Bill Underwood's claim that membership in the church is voluntary, I would disagree on the grounds of biblical and Reformed theology. There is nothinig about the call of God that is voluntary. God elects and we respond. Either you believe God calls you to join a church, or else you choose to join a social club that happens to have a cross on its roof. I would hope that the former, not the latter, is the prevalent view for us all.

And Ted, what can I say to your challenge? While I have not preached Isaiah 5:18-23, I have taught Romans (and not just 1:18-32). Just this morning I preached Isaiah 55. Does that count for anything? "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and propser in the thing for which I sent it" (vss. 10-11).

Ted, even Paul calls us to admonish each other in the faith. When you admonish, you claim you have a corner on the truth. When I admonish, you claim that I am a liar and a sinner. Sinner, yes, as are you, as are we all. Liar, no, I hope to God not. Ted, as you pull the log from your eye, please don't swing it against our heads, and I promise I'll keep mine from bumping against yours.

Yours in Christ,
Mark

Mark said...

Dear Bill,

You said, "You say that Tom (and, by implication, the congregation) 'roundly disregarded your ordination vows and broke many rules.'"

I implied nothing about the congregation in that remark. It was a statement exclusively about Tom.

Yours in Christ,
Mark

Arthur said...

Ted,

You're really squirming this time.

You said:

'I meant "challenge" in the sense of "I challenge you to a debate" which is the sense of "I invite you to do this and see what happens." '

Since when do "challenge" and "invite" have the same connotation? You don't challenge someone to a debate if you think they will prevail.

If you meant to invite him to preach on certain passages then why not just say so? If your intention was to find out what his take on those passages are, then why didn't you just ask?

Just admit you went a little overboard and be done with it.

Arthur

TomGray said...

I believe that what I am reading in these posts demonstrates the increasing decline of mainline denominations in general, and PCUSA in particular.

There is little or no common ground. The Layman was right a couple of years ago when it said that there are two distinct churches here. Schism is not something that I and others have created. It has existed for many years in a de facto sense.
Tom

Anonymous said...

I haven't been keeping up with this blog as faithfully as I used to and feel I've missed some lively discussions. I did, however, catch the comments that Jim Miller made concerning the Kirk (and yes...I do download the First Pres sermons on my ipod and listen to them). My question to Dr. Miller is this (and I am quite sure that he or others who can forward this to him read this blog very consistantly): Although I hear about the fight that he is making on behalf of what might be called the "conservative" believers; I don't see any action. There doesn't seem to be any "walk to the talk". If the membership or session of First Pres is deep in discussion concerning the straying of the PCUSA, I think we would have heard about it. Since we haven't, I have to assume that either they don't feel it is an important topic or that they are satisfactorily aligned with the leadership of the PCUSA. Just as baptism is a public display of our faith, I feel that speaking publicly what you believe is important.

Paul Welch

Mark said...

Ted,

You say that, "trying to shoehorn those passages into [my] liberal mindset might give [me] pause to think about what they mean"? As if I've never given a thought to truth and falsehood? As if I've never studied, prayed, discussed with others, yielded myself to the examination of the Church, and spent the better part of my childhood and my entire adult life submitting myself to God? What arrogance! I have never suggested that you have not "given pause to think" about truth and falsehood. I have simply said I disagree with some (not all, SOME) of your conclusions. Yet you paint with broad brushstrokes as if you possess the mind of God!

"Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight" indeed (Isaiah 5:21)! "Gossips, slanderers...haughty, boastful" indeed (Romans 1:29, 30)! Preach your own superiority, if you wish. I choose to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yours in Christ,
Mark

Jason said...

chal·lenge
1. a call or summons to engage in any contest, as of skill, strength, etc.

Arthur,
You may not like what Ted said, but you cannot just ignore common word meaning and say he said something different.
Any dictionary will tell you that Ted's use of the "Challenge" is both consistent with the English language and and common use.
People challenge others everyday to some sort of task where the event outcome is uncertain.
In fact, this morning I am engaging in one of my favorite yearly challenges: filling out my NCAA Basketball brackets.
Wooo Pig Sooie!

Arthur said...

Jason,

Yes, I know the definition of the word challenge. Thank you for supplying it for all to see. It is clearer now what Ted was doing. The contest was to see if Mark could (have the skill or strength) preach on those Bible passages in the next few weeks (to his own congregation).

Why is it, do you think, that Ted would put forth such a challenge?

Ted followed up his challenge by telling Mark to come back when he "can" figure out what sin is. Such arrogance! Am I to take from this that Ted's challenge was a friendly contest of skill? It certainly doesn't look like it to me.

Ted is a lawyer, someone who has presumably been taught to use words precisely. I read him that way.

Arthur