The PCUSA Office of the General Assembly has been quite busy the last few days, issuing public statements calling on all sorts of people and institutions to act with regard to the atrocities in Mosul, Iraq, and the lethal conflict between Israel and Hamas. These are matters about which I know something, and so may comment in days to come about the content of these statements.
My motivation for blogging today, however, stems from the increasing reports of harsh and unloving actions taken by numerous presbyteries of the PCUSA against congregations seeking to follow the Spirit’s leading by peaceful departure into denominations where they seem to be a better fit for effective ministry in the Kingdom of God.
While the General Assembly leadership seems to feel well-qualified to tell others how they should clean up their acts to accord with “progressive” notions of justice and dignity, they are decidedly silent concerning matters within their own metaphorical house. Since the Scriptures tell us that “Judgment begins with the household of God” (1 Pet 4:17), it would behoove the Louisville leadership to address its own denominational nastiness, so as not to be guilty of hypocrisy and worse.
Let me illustrate with words taken from the OGA statement decrying the recent attacks against Christians in Mosul by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, words with which I agree:
“We denounce the fear and hate-based tactics of Islamic extremists being used to force Christians to convert to a particular expression of Islam, pay an unspecified tax (jizya) for their safety, leave with only the clothes on their backs, or stay and be killed.”
Now let me make necessary changes to put the same ideas in the context of what is happening in the PCUSA as churches are seeking to leave over the liberal direction that the national church has unmistakably and officially embraced:
We denounce the fear and hate-based tactics of liberal presbyteries being used to force evangelical Presbyterian churches to convert to a particular expression of progressive post-Protestantism, pay an unspecified ransom for their uncontested departure (i.e., dismissal), leave with only the clothes on their backs (i.e., disaffiliation), or stay and be excluded.
In the interests of full disclosure, my congregation was dismissed from the PCUSA to ECO 18 months ago through a “process” that was anything but gracious. Though the presbytery had had four and a half years to follow through on a 2008 GA resolution urging all presbyteries to create consistent and gracious dismissal processes, Indian Nations Presbytery simply sat on its hands, as did most of the other 172 presbyteries then in existence. Instead, we were subjected to the vagaries of an administrative commission whose decisions and demands changed almost as often as Lady Gaga at one of her concerts. Nevertheless, after nine months we were ignominiously dismissed, after paying the presbytery $510,000.
At the time, we felt rather abused, but grateful to no longer remain in relationship with the abuser. Now, however, a year and a half down the line, reading what other congregations have to put up with in ever-hardening and and voracious presbyteries (there are a few exceptions, but unfortunately precious few) seeking to drain as much blood from departing churches as they can, I confess that our process was almost gentle by comparison.
Why has not the Office of the General Assembly directed some of its wide-ranging attention toward the cruelty, greed, oppression and mean-spiritedness being consistently demonstrated by the institutional powers within its ranks? In these matters, presbyteries seem to hold all the power in the “negotiation process.” Where are the progressive leaders who so readily mouth the mantra that God and the church stand with the powerless and oppressed, demanding justice and dignity for those with no standing to defend themselves? Apparently, like most radicals, they are fairly adept at shining the spotlight on the sins of others, and even more adept at dodging the spotlight when it swings their way.
Many who know the recent track record of the PCUSA in dealing with evangelical churches might be more inclined to listen to the seemingly endless drone of political posturings of the OGA if that office showed the same moral indignation toward the evils being perpetrated by its official governing bodies against its own members. We might call it “practicing what you preach.” What a novel idea!