In the scheme of the world's problems, the goings on of the Presbyterian Church (USA) - no matter how much we would like it not to be true - create few ripples in the cultural seas and religious landscape of the United States or the world. This is not to say that we aren't doing good work in some places, that communities have stopped being faithful or that we should no longer bother trying, only that the energy that we put towards our own internal struggles must be kept in perspective. No doubt, these are important times in our life as a denomination, but if we get too fixated on our own navels, we will further slide into the abyss of irrelevance with little hope for a healthy future.
So on that cheery note, let me muse a bit on the recent developments concerning The Fellowship of Presbyterians and the newly announced Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO).
As some have noted, I have been hesitant to comment on The Fellowship or other organized movements of change within our denomination. I did offer some ideas about the future in The Big Sort of the Presbyterian Church and I Want My Presbyterian Church Back, so other than these posts, I have tried to stay out of the fray. But after seeing some of the conversations during and after the recent Florida gathering where the The ECO was launched, I have decided to break my blogging hiatus and jump into the conversation.
I know this is going to sound a little silly coming from a former General Assembly Moderator, but I see myself as an outsider to much of what is currently taking place in the denomination. After serving as moderator, other than attending General Assembly Mission Council meetings and Peacemaking Program Gatherings, I have had very little in-depth interaction with the movers and shakers of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I am not looking to be more involved, but I simply have not been part of any discussions concerning The Fellowship, NEXT Churchor any other denominationally affiliated organizations. I have spoken at a few Presbytery gatherings, but since I am no longer serving a congregation and find myself speaking with more and more non-Presbyterian groups, the dog that I have in this hunt is blissfully picking daisies at the back of the pack. Again, please do not hear that I yearn to be more engaged in these recent developments, only that the realities of my current perspective are a little different that some might think.
I share all of this in the hopes that my thoughts and questions will be received as coming from the perspective of someone who was NOT at the Florida gathering, one who is not interested in a long, drawn-out adversarial denominational future and one who hopes that all who are genuinely seeking to follow God's call on his or her life - even if it is out of the Presbyterian Church (USA) - will be given the freedom and encouragement to do so.
Like most folks in the church, most of my information about all of this comes from reporting and reflections by The Presbyterian News Service, The Presbyterian Layman, The Presbyterian Outlook and the #fellowshippres twitter trend. I suspect that this is a little more than the average Presbyterian will explore, so it with this base knowledge, that I offer some thoughts.
My affirmations . . . since the beginning of The Fellowship I have affirmed the questions that they have raised about the future of denominations in general and the Presbyterian Church (USA) specifically. Aside from the obvious disagreement about the ordination of called LGBTQ folks, the questions raised about structure, vision, relationally, etc. are not much different from the ones that I have posed myself from time to time. In fact, aside from a few words and phrases, at face value I can totally buy into both the Fellowship Covenant that folks are being asked to sign as well as the nine values of the ECO as presented by John Crosby and reported by Presbyterian News Service.
- Jesus-shaped Identity - "the key is making disciples rather than orthodox believers."
- Biblical Integrity - "A faith that is not just taught but shapes the life of your community."
- Thoughtful Theology - "not papers for intellectuals but rearing followers who are able to reflect and apply their faith to their lives."
- Accountable Community - "caring environments that allows integral faith to emerge."
- Egalitarian Ministry - women and minorities in leadership.
- Missional Centrality - "the whole of the gospel to the whole of the world; what would you lose if your church went away?"
- Center-focused Spirituality - "calling people to the core of Christianity, not fixating on the boundaries - we are NOT truth cops."
- Leadership Velocity - "growing and developing leaders who are culture-changing, risk-taking innovators."
- Kingdom Vitality - "congregational life is not about size, but trajectory."
Now I still have at least 10 reasons to stay in the PC(USA) so, at this point, I do not plan on hitching my wagon to another group be it an association, denomination or order. That said, I truly appreciate the questions being asked by those driving The Fellowship movement, their commitment to take some concrete actions and, from what I have experienced, who are responding to a genuine yearning to follow God's calling on their lives.
My questions . . . I do not have any need to see a group fail or go through some painful gauntlet in order to follow where God may be leading. That said, I do have some questions, that if addressed, would help me better understand what the ECO is thinking. I suspect this would also be helpful for those who are exploring a connection with the new reformed body as well as those who are simply interested in knowing some of what lies behind the initial offering. There are many questions rolling around my head, but I'll just offer three:
- What will prevent ECO from becoming just another Presbyterian denomination burdened by structure and organization? The answer to this is probably coming later as structures are fleshed out, but what will prevent this body from becoming just another denomination mired in structure, organization and legalism?
- Where does relationality end and regulation begin when it comes to polity and standards? This is the rubber/road question for me. There seems to be a good deal of rhetoric around not being "truth cops" and a yearning to move from being regulatory to being relational. I applaud this, but as many of us have been talking about this shift in other parts of the church, from across the theological spectrum, the question always arises, "But what if someone decides to do [insert something the other does not want to happen]?" For instance, if a congregation finds itself in alignment with much of what is being preached in this new body AND it believes that the ordination of LGBTQ folks is what they are called to do, is there room for them? I suspect the answer is no, but some clarity about the bounds of affiliation would be helpful
- Why the use of the word "minority" to describe what I assume are people of color in the US and Globally? For some this is a term that has very much gone out of usage as the reality of who are "minorities" in the US and globally has changed. On one hand, this can be an acknowledgement of the racially homogenous nature of the Presbyterian family or it could a lack of awareness of current sociological realities . . . or it might also be something entirely different.
My hopes . . .
- As churches decide to move away from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and towards a new denominational reality, my hope is that all involved will be gracious during conversation around pension, property and other logistics. For those leaving, I hope you will acknowledge that your community's relationship goes beyond your current manifestation and that relationship needs to be honored in some way. And for those staying, may we allow our brothers and sisters in Christ to follow God's calling into whatever new life they feel called to be part of and rejoice in the hope they see.
- As we interact with one another, it's my hope that we will move away from a punitive and adversarial relationship and move towards one built on the belief that we are each faithfully discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that we lose passion or perseverance, but the in the fight to be "right" or even in response to others unhealthiness, we must not lower our view of the other to enemy, villain or manifestation of evil.
- As we each move through the next few years, I hope that we not lose sight of the realities of our church life in the world, namely, that if we direct too much of our energy toward internal strife, organizational rebuilding and self-preservation, we will all lose our ability to impact and influence in the world and each person who is part of it.
I think that is it for now. Not sure if I will comment much more, but feel free to comment and interact with one another. Also, be sure to connect with The Fellowship of Presbyterians online: website, twitter and facebook and yep . . . the ECO is already on Wikipedia..
In addition to the normal Presbyterian news outlets, if you want to read a little more, here are a few more articles and posts that I found as I wandered the web a bit.
- Christianity Today - [New Presbyterian Body Aims for Orthodoxy with Less Bureaucracy](http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2012/01/newpresbyteria.html)_
- Religion News Service - [Conservative Presbyterians Launch New Denomination](http://www.religionnews.com/faith/clergy-and-congregations/conservativepresbyterianslaunchnewdenomination)
- Rueters - Presbyterian Group Breaks Away Over Gay Clergy
- John Shore - New Anti-Gay Presbyterian Denomination: Cowardly Lions
- Viola Larson - ECO is a sign of Christ's love for the PC (U.S.A.)
- Don Sweeting - Wishing the ECO Well: Another Turning Point in Presbyterian Church History
- Laura Ziesel - Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians
- Denis Maher - Irony Abounds with the Formation of the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians
- Ruth Hicks - I was there
And lastly to poke a little fun . . . While I get the meaning of the individual words: Evangelical, Covenant, Order and Presbyterians, when run together, as well as the acronyms that have been used, have yielded some creativity. Not sure this can changed at this point, so my best advice would be to find ways to laugh a little at yourself. Without naming names, I have seen people use the "E-COPS," "Evangelical COPS" and "The Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, the latest church plant at Hogwarts." Oh . . . and if you have not yet seen the, Stuff Presbyterian Seminarians Say video that Jack Jenkins just did, it will surely give you a chuckle.