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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Wake-Up Call to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church, USA, has just published A Wake-Up Call to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). For all you Presbyterians out there (or even if not PCUSA) what do you think? Has he nailed it?

23 Comments:

At June 22, 2005 6:13 PM, Anonymous will spotts said...

"The percentage of racial-ethnic Presbyterians is growing, and we may well reach our goal of having ten-percent racial ethnic membership by 2005."

This seems to be putting an optimistic face on things. 10% is a much easier goal to reach as your overall membership declines.

I'm also very hesitant to have numerical goals for specific, arbitrary groups. To me Christianity is not something suited to targeted marketing.

 
At June 22, 2005 6:26 PM, Anonymous will spotts said...

Sorry. I think he ignores some very relevant things. Most of his observations are good as far as they go -- paticularly the major emphasis on prayer and repentence that he encourages. What he fails to mention or address is reasons we have the membership losses. He assumes they are to no church, and in cases, I'm sure that is true. However many will change churches without requesting transfer of membership.

It does not seem to occur to him that there may be actual policies of our denomination that contribute to this loss. In some cases policies that our denominational leaders are proud of. (I intend no insult in this -- I'm just mentioning the possibility.)

I realize, of course, that the Layman may read more into this than is necessarily warrented, but the possibility does need to be at least considered. Ultimately, if this is the case and our policies are legitimately Christian, then the loss is unfortunate, but necessary. If, however, such policies are simply personal preferrences calling themselves Christian, then something ought to change.)

 
At June 22, 2005 7:45 PM, Anonymous lorrell said...

"It does not seem to occur to him that there may be actual policies of our denomination that contribute to this loss"

Hey, that's a major reason why we left!

 
At June 22, 2005 9:31 PM, Blogger Rodger Sellers said...

I'd be interested in knowing what Will and Lorrell mean specifically. "Actual policies" is a pretty vague, and general statment. What specific policies they are talking about themselves might be helpful to know.

RPS

 
At June 22, 2005 11:49 PM, Anonymous will spotts said...

Fair enough. I had originally been non-specific because I know that issues that concern me do not necessarily concern others.

Anecdotally -- the people I know who have left our denomination (which may or may not be significant in the trend) have left for one of 2 reasons. Either there has been some unpleasant incident in their local church and / or presbytery, or they have objected to national political activism on the part of the PC(USA).

By activism I mean filing briefs, communicating to governments, and similar actions. Now I recognize that in some cases this might be a needful thing, but if the Presbyterian Panel is to be believed, our membership tends to be much more moderate or conservative than our political stances would lead one to believe.

In many cases there is legitimate disagreement about the best way to politically address situations. It can be quite galling for one who politically disagrees to hear their church take a position and then label it "prophetic".

 
At June 23, 2005 10:36 PM, Blogger Rodger Sellers said...

OK: I think Will's making at least one valid point. (Maybe more than that.)

On his acecdotal point: Yea, *sigh* how many sessions or presbyteries have shot themselves in the foot through their inability to lead loving, servantly, and apostically, in some of those "prickly" situations we all could probably share with one another?

As to the "activism" -- also another "qualified" yes: I've found myself often thinking "Why do we even have a "Washington Office"? Yet that's a fuzzy line. It is sometimes a needful thing - I wonder how well the Theological Declaration of Barmen went over with the "majority" when it first hit print? (This line is fuzzy because, IMO, we often "err" on the side of "crying wolf" in this arena.)

But our membership being more moderate or conserative? Not so sure on that -- think that one of our strengths is both our commitment to, and our actual, diversity -- unless I'm way off the mark here, that means we've got a wider spectrum "wall to wall" than many denoms. in the U.S. That (again, IMO, calls us to a wider working definition of community than many denoms. ever have to trouble with.) Don't think it's quite as easy as saying, "They don't represent "US" -- leaves me asking: "Exacly who is "us"?

I do agree with Will on the "galling" part of hearing "My Church" saying something I disagree with. Maybe we've got to divest of this whole, polital idea of "majority rules?" Maybe we're looking at the idea of building consensus with the help of the Holy Spirit? (Something that will cause heart issues with some who may read this?)

Still think we really haven't hit "the bottom line" with some of this thread yet -- or is this just me?

RPS

 
At June 24, 2005 1:27 AM, Anonymous will spotts said...

This thread seems to have acquired a life of its own.

"Majority rules" is certainly not the best guide to what is right or wrong; and of course there are Barmen type issues. However, and I emphasize this is only my opinion, I find taking action against the views of the majority would only be justified if the issue were clearly Christian. (i.e. either directly biblical or inseparable from Christianity.)

Personally I believe that issues where there is not significant agreement in the church (that are not covered by the previous exception) should not be addressed by the church.

I did not mean to imply that there was anything monolithic about our membership -- just that the majority fall into more conservative patterns. I was by no means suggesting switching to taking ubiquitous conservative political stands either.

Either way, (with the exceptions noted) political preferrences would become an occassion to obscure the Gospel for those who disagreed. It is almost as if, when we take such a stand, we're saying "if you don't like it, leave, our politics are more important than either God or you."

 
At June 24, 2005 10:01 AM, Blogger Michael W. Kruse said...

"What he fails to mention or address is reasons we have the membership losses. He assumes they are to no church, and in cases, I'm sure that is true."

Will, I think Kirkpatrick is drawing heavily on the "Presbyterian Presence" series and the summary book "Vital Signs." (Just finished reading and highly recommend it.) It suggests among the those Presbyterians born 1946-1964 only 29% are still Presbyterian, 10% joined other mainlines and about 13% joined other denoms (6% "Fundamentalist" and the rest mostly Baptist and Roman Cath). About 10% are what attending a church without joining, 9% inactive members, 21% uninvolved but religious, and 8% unreligious. This doesn't get at why but I think it does say that those that have left are not primarily leaving for more conservative homes.

 
At June 24, 2005 10:33 AM, Blogger Michael W. Kruse said...

"But our membership being more moderate or conserative? Not so sure on that -- think that one of our strengths is both our commitment to, and our actual, diversity -- unless I'm way off the mark here, that means we've got a wider spectrum "wall to wall" than many denoms."

Rodger, Presbyterian Panel measures attitudes by members, elders, pastors, specialized clergy. Members/elders are almost 40% conservative and 18% liberal. Pastors 33% vs 28% and Spec Clerg 18% vs 46%.

For party affiliation: members/elders 56% Republican vs 25% Democrat, pastors 30% vs 47%, Spec Clerg 17% vs 64%.

I agree that we are a more diverse denomination than many but we are still conservative leaning.

I did a study about five years examining Washington Office Alerts and statements for a one year and not one of the deviated from the positions of the Democrats. When I see this happen in a church that leans toward more conservative responses I see only two possiblities.

One, rank and file Presbyterians are such ungodly people that their "prophetic" leaders most operate as corrective for their depraved thinking. (Also says we are horrible at making disciples.)

Two, a determined minority with a political agenda has hijacked the denominational machinery for their own politcal purposes.

I don't think these issues cause a great many to leave their congregations. I think it is possible that it causes many to "leave" their denomination, if you get my drift.

 
At June 24, 2005 12:09 PM, Blogger Rodger Sellers said...

OK: Who can argue with numbers? Does this mean I now have to do the "Holy Crapola Batman! We're surrounded!" thing? (LOL!)

Do the numbers "just" list the two categories? Where does that leave us Whigs, DI's, Bull-Moose (where's Teddy when you need him?) Party types?

I sometimes wonder if part of our problem is this tendency to almost automatically differentiate into "us" versus "them" on a myriad of various "issues" "positions" etc. (May be a personal prob. and why I refuse to wear anyone's label.)

At any rate, re: will's comment: "Either way... political preferrences would become an occassion to obscure the Gospel..." Couldn't agree more here. Think we see way too much of that (from all points of the compass) already.

 
At June 24, 2005 12:15 PM, Anonymous will spotts said...

Michael -- thank you for the statistics. It obviously paints a more complex picture. I do suspect this is a factor in some of our losses, however. Among those situations I'm aware of, of the two types I mentioned, the first is slightly more likely -- i.e. some precipitating event either in a local church or presbytery.

As for the trend you mention, I can offer a third possibility. The offices of the church tend to be insular -- meaning that often people who are very much alike in their thinking gravitate toward working there. Also, there is a bent toward the more liberal among those who choose to get involved in the GA and on presbytery committees. Those who are more conservative often tend to focus more on their local churches. It may honestly be that those taking these stands simply cannot conceive are large numbers of Presbyterians disagreeing with them.

 
At June 24, 2005 12:34 PM, Anonymous will spotts said...

That is an excellent point Roger.

We do seem to easily be shepherded into an either / or, Republican / Democrat mindset -- to the point of forming 2 groups on every issue.

Now for a rather stupid question to Michael -- is our leadership aware of this perceived disconnect? Forgive me, but I thought you might have some insight into this given your position.

 
At June 24, 2005 2:10 PM, Blogger Michael W. Kruse said...

"OK: Who can argue with numbers? Does this mean I now have to do the "Holy Crapola Batman! We're surrounded!" thing? (LOL!)"

I prefer Custer's last words, "Good news men! We can attack in any direction!" (LOL)

"Do the numbers "just" list the two categories? Where does that leave us Whigs, DI's, Bull-Moose (where's Teddy when you need him?) Party types?"

Actually there is more detail but I was trying to keep my post from being a data dump. Not my intention to paint boxes. Just to give evidence "hues" in political decisions.

www.pcusa.org/research/panel/snapshot2002.htm

"At any rate, re: will's comment: "Either way... political preferences would become an occasion to obscure the Gospel..." Couldn't agree more here. Think we see way too much of that (from all points of the compass) already."

I agree. Building on Will's earlier observations, it seems to me we would be better served by our denominational structures educating us about political issues from multiple perspectives and encouraging us to engage in our own contexts, rather than making official pronouncements that have virtually no relevance. Not that there isn't ever a time for denominational pronouncement but I think it should be an infrequent, and certainly not our primary means of social action.

And Rodger. We gotta get the website up so we do a lot more of this conversation.

 
At June 24, 2005 4:58 PM, Anonymous will spotts said...

"it seems to me we would be better served by our denominational structures educating us about political issues from multiple perspectives and encouraging us to engage in our own contexts, rather than making official pronouncements that have virtually no relevance."


Great idea -- that would provide a very helpful service to the whole church.

 
At June 24, 2005 6:54 PM, Blogger Michael W. Kruse said...

"Now for a rather stupid question to Michael -- is our leadership aware of this perceived disconnect? Forgive me, but I thought you might have some insight into this given your position."

Hmmm... This is a very complex question. I think the short answer is yes. Whether it is good, bad, or indiffernt, and the belief about why it exists are all over the map. I think staff is more aware than are many of the elected.

I will try to do some posts about this topic in a week or two.

 
At June 24, 2005 7:19 PM, Blogger Michael W. Kruse said...

"Also, there is a bent toward the more liberal among those who choose to get involved in the GA and on presbytery committees. Those who are more conservative often tend to focus more on their local churches."

I believe this to be true. Also, looking at the Presbyterian Panel data you learn that pastors on the whole are more liberal than members on a variety of issues. Since governing bodies above sessions are half pastors that is going to skew the outcomes toward their perspective.

Personally, when it comes to civics, I do not want a denomination co-opted by right-wing politics any more than I do one co-opted by the left as I believe it is now. I want an environment that appreciates nuance and has room for a variety of people pursuing differing avenues of Christian witness.

Authentic community has the expecation of disagreement. I think one of the ways we beat ourselves down is with a utopian idea that church means we will all agree and there will be no arguement. Then we set up all sorts of mechanisms to show just how "unified" (read uniform) we are and how the dissenters are evil destoryers of community. If you loose the expectation uniformity, diagreement becomes less monumental, and the vitriol abates a little.

Just a few thoughts.

 
At June 25, 2005 1:44 PM, Anonymous will spotts said...

Uniformity versus unity is a good disctinction in theory. It is hard to make sometimes. To my mind, the lion's share of issues would fall into that category -- where variety of opinion is a good thing.

Where it gets tricky for me is on theological opinion. Again, on many theological issues there's room for great variety -- we tend to focus on those insights we have, that are relevant to our lives, that are points of connection personally to the Bible. However, there are also in this category a number of things that are definitional to Christianity. Here, I'm not sure disagreement can always be supported -- i.e. at what point do these opinions or teachings signify totally different religions. (For example -- Questions like: is Jesus God? Is the God of Christianity the God of the Hebrew Bible? What role does the Bible play in our theology and in our lives? Do people sin (i.e. is there a bent toward sin)?)

My point is, I suspect some things require agreement while many others don't

 
At June 25, 2005 7:19 PM, Blogger Michael W. Kruse said...

"Uniformity versus unity is a good disctinction in theory."

There is a motto that goes something like unity in the essentials, liberty in the non-essentials, and in all things charity. My experience is that we very quickly ignore the third clause and move a lot a stuff from the second clause into the first one.

While I like the above, it is inadequate. In discerning kindred-spirits in ministry, I find myself relying less on doctrinal formulations and leaning more on determining if we see ourselves living in the same narrative moving toward the same end. I believe doctrinal language is good and needed but I think it is incomplete. IMO, key to unity is shared vision, not just doctrinal agreement.

Don't know if said this well but it is where I am at.

 
At June 25, 2005 11:26 PM, Anonymous will spotts said...

"My experience is that we very quickly ignore the third clause and move a lot a stuff from the second clause into the first one."

That is very true (and why I find the issue somewhat difficult -- there is a tendency to want to enshrine my experience and my "twist" -- as if these were universal).

Unity of vision/narrative is important, though I still find unity of essentials necessary for that to occur. What I mean is that you have to be in the same story to have an agreement about where you're going.

One of the things that troubles me in Christian circles today is that we often use the same words but mean very different things by them. At this point, communication -- and subsequently, unity of vision strike me as impossible. It's almost as if we have to define our terms and agree that communication is possible.

 
At June 26, 2005 7:18 PM, Anonymous lorrell said...

It's been a long, long while since I was in the PCUSA and I am not embroiled in the politics of the denomination so I can't speak as eloquently as the dialogue that has already been posted. "Fidelity and chastity" looks like a rough spot for one, not to mention the whole reimagining thing. I realize these references are a quick brushstroke and y'all are far more involved in the everyday things going on in the PCUSA. But those would be a start...albeit a very basic one. I hesitate to even post them compared to the discussion that has already happened on this topic.

But maybe it's interesting or useful to note what stands out right now to someone who departed years ago.

 
At June 26, 2005 7:21 PM, Anonymous lorrell said...

I haven't seen the mechanics of the survey involved in stating to where the different ex-members have departed, but I'd be interested in seeing that information. I'm not saying it isn't accurate, just wondering.

 
At June 26, 2005 8:19 PM, Blogger Michael W. Kruse said...

"I haven't seen the mechanics of the survey involved in stating to where the different ex-members have departed, but I'd be interested in seeing that information. I'm not saying it isn't accurate, just wondering."

Hi Lorrell. I got the stats from a book called "Vital Signs." Right now I have a link to it under my "Recently Read" list. They are citing a study I believe was done in the 1990s. I gave basically as much as they gave.

I don't know what the story was in your case. I suspect someone who moves from one city to another may chose not to look at a denomination's congregations in a new town because of political issues they experienced but that technically wouldn't be why the left their old church.

 
At June 26, 2005 9:27 PM, Anonymous lorrell said...

No, I agree. But it is a reason I didn't look for a PCUSA church when I moved to a different city...or more accurately, why I deliberately chose against looking for one when I moved here.

 

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