“Integrity Matters!” — When It’s Convenient

First off, I have an apology to any who have read my last blog.  Yesterday, the Spirit convicted me that it was not my place to judge the motivations of our former PCUSA Vice-moderator as he led the communion portion of GA’s opening worship time.  Since he has not shared what was going on in his heart and mind, I was wrong to assign ill intent and to paint him in a negative light.  Christ calls us to think the best of others unless and until they give us objective evidence to the contrary.  I failed to do this, and I apologize.  Fortunately, not too many read my blogs, so perhaps I have not done much damage.  Now on to some related thoughts concerning yesterday’s happenings at GA.

Back at the 1993 GA, the leadership came up with the defensive mantra, “Theology matters!”, in response to the heretical “Reimagining God” conference in which some denominational staff had participated.  Many of us were heartened to see this emphasis, led well by our Office of Theology and Worship even up to today.  However, as the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  You can lead others to good theology, but you can’t make them embrace it.  Theology matters, but only if it is woven into our lives.  Our denomination seems to show increasingly that we don’t actually believe what we mouth.  If “theology matters”, then “Integrity matters!” as well.  We should live in accord with what we declare to be our shared convictions.  Two things occurred during yesterday’s business which bring this into question.

First was the election of the Vice-moderatorial candidate who had been selected in advance as part of the “ticket” of the new GA Moderator.  Her name is Tara Spuhler McCabe, a minister serving in the Washington, D.C. area.  Her nomination had been problematic for many because it “came out” a few weeks ago that she had conducted a same-sex wedding in the District of Columbia, something permitted by secular law in the District, but forbidden for PCUSA ministers to participate in by our church law.  When asked directly if she had performed this ceremony, she refused to answer affirmatively, instead saying only that she stood with the lesbian couple, and that her name is affixed to the wedding license as officiant.  When people use words to avoid the truth without denying it, we all know what that means.  As a minister of the church, Tara took the same vows we all do, including “Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline? Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?” Nevertheless, she knowingly violated our present Constitution and spurned this vow.  That would be bad enough as is.  But having done this, she is still willing to stand as the Vice-moderator of the General Assembly of the PCUSA, serving to represent our “order” and faith in the second highest elected office of the denomination.  To the credit of some of this year’s commissioners, this lack of integrity was troubling, and so what would normally be a perfunctory confirmation vote by acclamation turned into a tepid show of support as she was elected by a 60% majority.  Still, the majority elected her, and demonstrated by their vote that “Integrity doesn’t matter,” even at the highest levels.

The second sign has to do with another minister recently in the news.  Brian Ellison appeared last night before the Middle East Peacemaking Committee to inform them of the general work of the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment, which he presently chairs.  Their work is to oversee how denominational monies are invested so as to help shape ethical behavior in companies which otherwise might place profits before justice.  The activities of the MRTI Committee have generated some controversy over the years, and this year is no exception, but the integrity issue I’m concerned with lies not with them but with Brian Ellison.  He has been pastor of a congregation in MO for 13 years, and last month submitted his resignation in order to pursue a new call to serve as the Executive Director of Covenant Network, a liberal advocacy organization committed to normalizing the gay agenda within the PCUSA.  Brian also serves as a board member of the Board of Pensions of the PCUSA, which recently passed a controversial decision to extend full benefits to same-sex partners and dependents of church employees.  In his announcement letter to his congregation, Brian not only told them of his new call but “revealed” to them that he has been in a committed homosexual relationship since 2003.  Apparently, the fact that this lifestyle has been a violation of his ordination vows for all of his ministry (up until the striking of any standards from ordination vows last July) never concerned him enough to give up this behavior or to demit his ordination.  Instead, he wanted to continue in a vocation which prohibited his lifestyle, so he just flew under the radar.  Now that it is “safe” to admit, he has written this “Oh, by the way…” letter to his congregation.  On top of that, as a board member of the Board of Pensions, he apparently participated in the discussions and vote on extending benefits to same-sex partners of church employees.  We’ll never know for sure, unless he discloses this, for all their deliberations are privileged and private, but I sure hope he recused himself from the decision-making process.  What makes me doubt it is the fact that he hid his lifestyle from his own congregation until last month – why would he disclose it to a group he only meets with periodically?

Now here he is, addressing a GA committee on making ethical decisions….Integrity matters, it seems, only when it is convenient to our purposes.  Sadly, we are an unconverted denomination, perhaps like the alcoholic at the inner city mission who comes for his nightly meal but has to sit through the sermon first in order to eat.  When you talk to him, he can share with you all the essentials of the gospel, and he’ll affirm whatever you want him to as long as he can get his hot meal and then go back to his bottle.  We mouth the Reformed confessions that others risked their lives to pen, but then live in defiance of them.  I’m reminded of Jesus’ assessment of the religious hypocrites of his own day: Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said, “This people honors me with their lips, but not their heart; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Mt 15:7-9 RSV).

Theology matters, but only when we say it does; integrity matters, but only when it’s convenient; words matter, but only according to our private definitions.  These seem to be the slogans of our denomination today.  Our ancestors would be ashamed.  May our Lord have mercy.

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15 Responses to “Integrity Matters!” — When It’s Convenient

  1. Bill Teague, Langhorne, PA says:


    There are at least some who read your blog and appreciate your candor and your faithfulness. As to whether yesterday’s was over the top or a bit too snarky, I will leave for you to judge. But like today’s, it was, on balance, very helpful for those of us who are not in Pittsburgh, but interested in knowing not just vote outcomes, but the tone of the assembly, which seems to be that theology matters, passion matters, even action matters, but that tolerance matters more and in the end will trump all other conviction. Barth calls toleration “the most terrible weapon of intolerance,” (Dogmatics iv.2.67). The new moderator states his conviction about the biblical understanding of marriage, but his conviction is diluted to nothing more than vacuous words by the need to tolerate, indeed celebrate, his running mate who despises his conviction.

    Keep posting.


  2. silver price says:

    “When I began looking for a vice moderator candidate, I looked for someone with a proven record of biblical teaching, leadership, vision, and compassion,” Austell said in a press release. “Searching widely for these qualities, I was pleased to meet Hope last fall and find a gifted woman with a love for Jesus Christ, her family, her congregation, and her wider community.


  3. Cay Wright says:

    May God forgive us for “going along” with this decline for so long.


  4. Marc Allen Johnson says:

    Mateen – thank you for your words. Be bold!!!!


  5. Veta Roberts says:

    So thankful we have a man of integrity leading our flock. Thank you for your blogs.


  6. David Grachek says:

    Our ordination vows are losing their meaning to some. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your blog.


  7. Mateen, bless you for your convictions! I am sorry to say I am not surprised at what you are reporting. The seeds of their viewpoint go back far. I grew up with a bad feeling, just above my stomach, when I said wrong, lied, did wrong, or just was wrong. I have come to know that the Holy Spirit was prodding me towards something better. My conscious would bother me if I ignored the wrong. Why did this happen to me? I had time to think through the situation. Didn’t all of our moms say, “You had better think that through.” I had time for positive reinforcement to to occur.
    For some time know our churches, country, and just about everything else you can think of, has become smaller and communicates faster. Now information is instantaneous, and what every the message is, it can be reinforced instantaneously many times over. I am bombarded every second with the “current” popular opinion. Truth is distorted so much that falsehoods become truths to those who follow the “popular” issues and truths. My opinions just do not matter that much to others as “they” can always find hundreds and thousands of others who share “their” opinions. And that goes for my value system also. And that goes for my fundamental beliefs also. I have become greatly marginalized. My faith is being marginalized, But I am not discouraged! God made sure there would be a “remnant” remaining in the old testament. The direction the church is going is reflective and supporting of the essential need to remain In that “remnant”, We need to continue to be members of small church groups and continue to willingly be held accountable by our peers. We need to take time to “listen” for the whispers from GOD. Being a “luke-warm” church member is no longer acceptable. A “luke-warm” church member is only a “fan”. As long as I remain a “follower” I will continue to be the “right” example that others see. There are to many “wrong” examples out that that out-number, out-shout and out marginalize us. We need to change that! Are you a “fan” or “follower”?


  8. Lawrence wood says:

    Mateen again right on target!!!


  9. Debbie Morrison says:

    As a former 25-year member of the PCUSA, I am saddened to read what is happening, but not at all surprised. I could no longer stay in a church that has in so many ways proved that they would rather follow man and what they term as “diversity” – “tolerance” – “acceptance” , so I left the denomination 6 years ago. I am a follower of Jesus Christ … not of man. To read the way the two “pastors” you described have come to the positions they are in is problematic and sad. To read that 60% of those voting elected Tara Spuhler McCabe after reading her refusal to answer a question regarding the performing of a “same sex” ceremony … says more about those voting than about her. Then Brian Ellison and his deception while serving as a pastor … all I can say is I will pray for the PCUSA that God may have mercy on them and open their eyes … and thankful that I was led to leave such a troubled church and move to one that preaches the Word of God and Jesus Christ.


  10. Jeff Winter says:

    For too long I have witnessed those in ordained leadership cross their fingers and say they’ll uphold the Book of Order….. and then they live in a gay or lesbian relationship. I spend a lot of time repenting of my ill-will toward these individuals. Thank you Mateen for continuing to show us the wolves in sheep clothing that prowl amongst us.


  11. Pingback: At the PCUSA GA: Extraordinary Town Hall Meeting called

  12. Wesley Fryer says:

    Mateen: Thanks SO much for your posts from this year’s General Assembly. I particularly want to thank you for your willingness to preserve / keep online posts and comments which are contentious. I know firsthand as a blogger this can be challenging, and I applaud your transparency and willingness to share/post openly as well as preserve past posts/comments.

    I did see a “pingback” on this post to Carmen Fowler LaBerge’s post from July 6, “At the PCUSA GA: Extraordinary Town Hall Meeting called.”

    That lengthy post revealed that Tara Spuhler McCabe resigned as GA’s vice moderator on July 5th amidst “rumors, hear-say, innuendo, accusations and cyber-bullying.” Your post (this one) is the only digital link provided in the post that was critical of McCabe. I found the following paragraph from the post insightful and on target in this situation:

    “Jim Berkley, serving this week as a writer for The Layman, TE from the Seattle area, spoke. “What I have heard and felt a lot is the casting of vague blame on those that talked about your” actions. “You did something that was ecclesiastically not permitted and yet those who talk about it or question whether or not that was right are being called bullies. There’s a difference between speaking in opposition to something and being a bully.” Berkeley surfaced the concern that “two tweets and an open letter where the person apologized prior to your resignation” does not descend to the level of bullying.”

    I won’t quote more from that post but there were also some quotations later which were troubling, and implied that anyone using a digital communications platform (like a blog) to criticize someone or an action taken at GA should be subject to church disciplinary charges. Good grief. Apparently freedom of speech is not universally valued by all of this year’s GA participants. There is apparently lots of confusion over the proper context and use of ‘church discipline’ procedures as well.

    Mateen, I applaud your courage and willingness to not only share posts from GA this year, but also engage in discussions with your commenters. This is definitely one form of “risk taking” which we hopefully will see more of from our Christian teaching elders in the years to come. I knew before reading your “Signs of the Times” post that your motivation for this comes not out of a desire to simply ‘take risks’ to save the church, but rather your heartfelt conviction and commitment to share Jesus and his Truth with our world.

    May God continue to bless you in your ministry, and guide each one of us as we strive to follow Him and keep our eyes on Him in our distraction-filled world.


  13. Chas Jay says:

    Mateen – so glad to see you posting again! I’ve missed the wisdom God has given you and kept checking your blog for new posts. I was thrilled to see your recent posts in your blog.
    You and the people where you serve are in my daily prayers as you make the transition to leave the PCUSA. I’m thankful for the faithful such as yourself and His followers where you serve as well as other such congregations as they are the faithful that bring the fire of His truth to have corrected me when I was so far astray.
    God bless you and thank you again!


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