I’m at a Presbyterian Conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina which I thought was going to be quite beneficial. Instead I’m confused and bewildered because of the stories that some pastors and elders are telling. Some pastors have been sent letters from their presbyteries to read to their sessions informing them that any talk of schism or separation will be severely dealt with. Others are worrying about the future of their congregations and, because they are small, they cannot voice protests about what the General Assembly decided at San Jose this year, for fear of being threatened with censure and closure by their Presbytery.
I don’t know whether to be angry or sad. We have both religious freedom and freedom of speech in this country, so voices of dissent should be allowed. I might not agree with what some of these churches have to say, but I will defend their right to voice their views. Any Presbytery that is forcing its congregations to be silenced is reacting badly to the current crisis in the church. We need to speak more about the issues, not muzzle people. We need more time for dialogue, not censorship.
What worries me about the whole issue is this: our church at Erin is growing and we’re getting ready to expand our staff and perhaps extensively renovate and expand our building. If we ever find ourselves out of step with Presbytery and seek to go our own way, will we have to buy back the building that we have just renovated?
My head is spinning and whatever inspiration I came for has just flown out of the window. If the PCUSA is heading for a schism and the authorities clamp down on free speech, then what’s the point of it all? We are Presbyterians by choice which means that all our elders are equal throughout the church. We don’t have a hierarchy; we’re supposed to be connectional and treated with equity.
My hope and prayer is for real leadership to arise in our denomination, where room can be made for all our churches and people. Our new moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow, is trying hard to be a bridge between all the groups. I just hope that the ecclesiastical hawks and church lawyers don’t get in the way. And personally, I want to see the Presbyterian Church resurrected and transformed, not just preserved and reformed.
Perhaps things will get better tomorrow. I was just taken by surprise by the amount of trepidation and anxiety other pastors and elders have at this conference.
Prayer: Father God, please bless the PCUSA with discernment and discipleship, charity and unity, fellowship and faith. In Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen