The pastors of two large and prominent Presbyterian (PCUSA) churches are reacting negatively to the decision of the recent General Assembly to attempt a change in the denomination's constitution that would remove the clause requiring sexual faithfulness within marriage as the only biblical sexual expression. Story in the Layman Online.

Pastor Vic Pentz, of the Peachtree Presbyterian church in Atlanta, the denomination's largest congregation with 8700 members stated that the PCUSA is

a slow motion train wreck for the past thirty years. . . . the smoke seems at last to have cleared, and the steaming debris of the PCUSA has settled into place. It's not a pretty sight. One thing (is) for sure: this Humpty won't be getting back together again for a long time, if ever.
. . .
The battle is lost for evangelical renewal groups within the system. The old 'stay-fight-and win' strategy is history."

Pastor Ron Scates of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas said

The PCUSA is clearly on a path of self-destruction in cutting herself off from the larger, global church, . . . [the denomination is taking a] different path than the path God has revealed to the Church in His Word.

Highland Park Presbyterian will be considering withholding funds from the denomination.

If these two major and influential churches leave the PCUSA, expect an exodus. On the plus side, with these two responses, the proposed changes to the Constitution may be dead in the water with the presbyteries, where similar proposals have been rejected twice in the last ten years.

Previous post on the General Assembly actions this summer.

Hard to believe that the major source of theology for the fundamentalist movement in America came from the nineteenth-century faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary, the flagship Presbyterian seminary. After chapel on weekday mornings I drank coffee with friends under the portrait of B. B. Warfield.
The Episcopal Church, the American branch of Anglicanism, is in disarray. While most of the press goes to the issue of Episcopal support for same-sex marriage and practice, there are other symptoms of sickness. Like confused priests and bishops.

Take the Episcopal priest who converted to Islam. The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, when converting to Islam, might have been expected to renounce her Christianity, and cease to be an Episcopal priest. Do not expect such clear thinking by Episcopal priests. She decided she wished to be both Christian and Muslim, and continue in her office. Her bishop, Geralyn Wolf, might have been expected to remove Redding's credentials. Again, do not expect such clear thought from an Episcopal bishop either. Instead, Wolf placed her under pastoral direction, which was recently extended. On the plus side, this "pastoral direction" is described as being a time of reflection during which Redding is not to exercise priestly functions.

Bishop Wolf described the priest as a woman of utmost integrity and said her interactions with her remains open and mutually gratifying.

You can't make this stuff up.

That flushing sound you hear is the mainline American churches heading down the crapper.


Statement from Bishop Wolf.
A few days ago at their General Assembly (the big annual meeting of delegates that makes policy for the denomination), the Presbyterian Church, USA, voted to amend the constitution of the denomination. Here are the changes:

"b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament. Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate's sincere efforts to adhere to these standards."

The underlined text is to be deleted, and replaced with the remaining text.

In the Presbyterian system, changing the constitution requires that proposed changes such as this one, be sent to the prebyteries (associations of local congregations) for vote. This is the fourth time that changes in sexual ethics have been proposed and sent to the presbyteries in the last 12 years. So far, the presbyteries have proven more conservative than the General Assembly, rejecting similar proposed changes in 1997 and 2000. But, more turmoil will ensue, and more people will leave the denomination, an already dwindling body.

In addition, the Assembly also voted that

"Interpretive statements concerning ordained service of homosexual church members by the 190th General Assembly (1978) of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and the 119th General Assembly (1979) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States and all subsequent affirmations thereof, have no further force or effect."

For those who wish to know the motivation for declaring the statements of 78 and 79 on homosexuality void, here is the explanation from the denomination's own official website.

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution has repeatedly said that clearing the way for ordination of sexually active gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Presbyterians requires the deletion of G-6.0106b and the removal of the authoritative interpretations that undergirded Assembly policy statements of 1978 and 1979 prohibiting the ordination of practicing homosexuals.

For more see The Layman Online and the Presbyterian Church, USA official website.

John Calvin and John Knox, call your offices.
Biblical Witness Fellowship, a conservative renewal movement within the extremely liberal United Church of Christ (UCC) has this post that does a good job demonstrating that Jeremiah Wright is not a maverick in the context of Mainline Protestantism. Rather, his positions reflect those taken by the leadership of several liberal and declining denominations.

Small wonder the mainlines have become the sidelined.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, long has been a stronghold of the Presbyterian Church, as has western Pennsylvania in general.

The troubles of the national denomination over issues such as recognition of same-sex practice are affecting congregations withing the Presbyterian heartland.
This article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review online:

The congregation of the largest church in the Pittsburgh Presbytery voted overwhelmingly Sunday to split with the national church and join a smaller, more conservative Presbyterian denomination.

The Mainline Denominations continue their move to the sideline.
The Episcopal Church is rocking the world-wide Anglican communion by its endorsement of same-sex practice and marriage. Third-world Anglicans have demanded the U.S. branch (the Episcopalians) repent. The Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the communion (with far less powers than the pope) is trying to hold things together.

The Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire is now giving the Anglican communion the bird, announcing that in June he will wed his same-sex partner. Story here.

Previous posts.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote that the great difficulty for many in converting to Roman Catholicism is accepting the idea that someone else may know more than you do. The Episcopal Church is having real trouble accepting that the world-wide communion, and especially the third-world primates, may know more than the church of one nation.

Chesterton also wrote that many people perceived a conversion to Roman Catholicism as a narrowing of perspective. On the contrary, he asserted, one becomes broadened by entering into an international Church spanning the eras. Conversion liberated one from the shackles of the culture of one nation. Methinks the Episcopal Church is too captive to modern Western culture and thought.
Not every Episcopal member, congregation, or diocese, is going quietly into the bad night of liberalism. Story here.

This week the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin decides whether to remain within the Episcopal Denomination, or leave. This is the second vote. The first vote to leave passed overwhelmingly, but a second vote is needed. The immediate issue: the Episcopal Church's affirmation of same-sex sex, and opening of church leadership positions to those so practicing.

At this point the main tactic of the Episcopal denomination is to threaten dissident congregations with loss of their property if they leave, and threats of action against opposition leaders. My conclusion, if a church is reduced to legal threats it has lost spiritual authority.
Apologies to James McPherson.

This story illustrates the unresolvable nature of the dispute in Mainline Christianity over same-sex marriage, and the role in the Church of those practicing same-sex sex.

Janie Spahr, a lesbian or perhaps bi-sexual, is a Presbyterian minister who for the last several years has dedicated herself to changing the Presbyterian Church, and others, into an institution that welcomes same-sex practice and same-sex marriage. She has been supported by two Presbyterian congregations. In her mind, she is an advocate for the LGBT community and an advocate for God's truth and love. She has violated Presbyterian rules, openly and repeatedly, in pursuit of her goal.

For Spahr, marrying lesbians and gay men is a matter of conscience. "We don't do marriages to defy the church," she said recently, sipping red wine while entertaining in her living room a couple she married. "We do marriages because it's the right thing to do.

"I feel we have a responsibility in the church to be welcoming because the founder of this church was," Spahr says. The gray-haired minister wears a purple pants suit and dangling abalone earrings and speaks in a hushed voice that invites listeners to feel as though they are her intimate friends. She sits in her modest living room in the Bret Harte neighborhood of San Rafael surrounded by photographs of her sons, her granddaughter and couples she has married. When the conversation ebbs, her blue eyes dart around the room and land on an image that evokes a story. It is the stories of folks in what she calls her LGBT—or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender—community that she wants to tell.

"Come and hear the Annies and Cheryls, the Jeffs and the Davids. Listen to their love. Listen to their dreams and come be transformed. I feel like I'm inviting the church to be the church. Who do we think founded the church? He was blasphemous. So our job is to be blasphemous, to challenge the church to be welcome for all," she says.

"And the church must do this. The church must do this because if they don't, they are betraying the one who founded it. And I must be in that church that says 'yes' to people no matter what their color, no matter what their sexual orientation. Now that's what I know, and that's the God I know. So maybe we're talking about a different God."

Spahr, and others like her, seem to define the word liberty or freedom to mean the uninhibited self-expression of the individual's inner identity. When she was 12 and captain of her softball team, the Rev. Janie Spahr intentionally picked the players usually chosen last. Even as a child, she reached out to the disenfranchised and preached that everyone deserves a chance. "When you're not picked, you know how you feel," the 65-year-old Presbyterian minister says with trademark tenderness. "Everybody has within them greatness. My greatest wish is that people will see their own greatness and believe it." Spahr's belief in the girls on her childhood softball team not only boosted her players' self-esteem. It led them to a surprise victory. Her belief in the rights of all people to be free to be themselves—regardless of their sexual orientation—led the lesbian pastor from San Rafael to become a traveling evangelist relentlessly advocating for the church to open its doors to everyone. Her belief in the rights of homosexuals to marry prompted her to perform wedding ceremonies all over the country. . . . "This really isn't about me," she says. "It's about people being free. It's about these couples, and it's about their story. It's about them, honey. It's about all the couples I've been honored to be asked to be with. And there have been so many. Being in the LGBT community has been such a great honor for me.

Conservatives and Orthodox Christians define "liberty" or "freedom" differently. "Liberty" is ordered Liberty, the freedom found in Christ that only can be experienced in obedience to the commands of God. To disobey God is to participate in the world of sin, which is equated with "slavery," the opposite of freedom. See Romans 6:5-23, for example.

Spahr, et al, and Conservatives also seem to be working with different definitions of "justice." Spahr seems to define justice as allowing individuals to give expression to their inner identities, in other words, to allow people "freedom" in the sense explained above. "I want the church to come along. When you see how oppressive systems work, you're not only challenging the system. This isn't about gay people. This is about how people treat people of less power. It's about justice." She also appears to work with a Liberation Theology definition of justice in which those lower on the power ladder are presumed to have a just cause, and those above them on the power ladder who frustrate those desires are presumed to be acting unjustly.

Conservatives, on the other hand, define "justice" in terms of God's expressed will in Scripture, especially as codified in Law and expressed by prophets. "Justice" means personal and social conformity to God's expressed intent.

Given such fundamental disagreements over basic concepts, I have little hope that the Mainline Denominations will survive the current sexuality controversies.

As posted here before, the Episcopal church has alienated much of the Anglican Church by actions supporting same-sex practice. The Episcopal Church (the U.S. branch of Anglicanism) essentially gave the rasberry to the call for repentance issued by the Primates of the Global South. These Third-World national Anglican leaders had demanded The Episcopal Church repent by September 30.

Now, at a recent meeting, the Global South Primates have issued another communique, dated October 30. Here are some interesting excerpts:

3. Since the colonial past, no consolidation of the essence of communion has been made on the part of the Mother Church and of the churches in the West. What is at stake is the very nature of Anglicanism – not just about sexuality but also about the nature of Christ, the truth of the Gospel and the authority of the Bible. We reject the religion of accommodation and cultural conformity that offers neither transforming power nor eternal hope.

6. It is clear to us that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church (TEC) has not given an unequivocal response to the requests of the Primates at Dar es Salaam. Therefore we affirm the conclusion that the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) has reached in the communiqué of their meeting in Mauritius in October 2007 that “a change in direction from our current trajectory is urgently needed” because “we want unity but not unity at any expense”.

Can these Anglican Primates save the U.S. Episcopal Church from itself. I am not optimistic.
Supporters of Mainline Denominations often say that the official positions of most of these groups are not as liberal as the conservatives make them out to be. In most cases this is true. But, there is a difference between official positions and the actions of the denominational establishment.

Case in point. I just received the catalog for the upcoming (Februrary) national meeting of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators, which also includes the ed folks from my denomination, the RCA.

Included in the workshops are:

Sharing the Bible and the Qur'an with Children: "How well are our children prepared to converse with their Muslim friends? How well are they prepared to understand their own faith in view of Islam?" ---most Christian children I know still need lots of work on understanding the Bible, from the Christian point of view.

Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: "Explode the Myths, heal the Church--This workship will make a biblical case for equal rights for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender." ---there is no comparable workship on the traditional understandings of homosexuality as it affects holding church office