No doubt the declaration will encourage further withholding from those already converted to the Lay Committee’s message. That’s regrettable, but also hardly news.
This editorial is for those who might be swayed into believing that somehow the Lay Committee has divined a key moment in the church’s history; that here and now things are so much worse than ever before; that God has told the Lay Committee to lead the rest of us to the future.
Consider some selections from the “Declaration of Conscience.”
It says a “spiritual schism exists within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) because of a deep and irreconcilable disunion among its members …. We are two faiths within one denomination.” There are probably more than two faiths within this one denomination. In fact, maybe there are 2.6 million faiths, one for each member. What would be unique in the Presbyterian church is a period when we are all of one mind, and peace and unity truly reign.
“We believe the same dynamics that precipitated [the] crisis in the Anglican Communion exist within the PC(USA).” The election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as the bishop of New Hampshire, and the Episcopal Church’s confirmation of that election, may be the Lay Committee’s biggest fund-raising tool since the gay rights parade at the 1997 Syracuse General Assembly. But the Episcopal Church and the PC(USA) are not one and he same. Remember all those debates about the role of bishops and how we are different?
“The Presbyterian Lay Committee believes that it is unconscionable to remain passive while some groups train their followers to subvert the Constitution and denominational officials undermine it by their refusal to require compliance.” Advocating through legal means a change in the Constitution is not a crime or a sin. And the General Assemblies — more than 500 elected representatives, different each year — so far have not agreed with the Lay Committee regarding the compliance issue.
“We no longer believe that either the General Assembly per-capita budget or the unrestricted mission budget of the PC(USA) is worthy of support.” This way, when the General Assembly Council has to cut more jobs — including mission workers worldwide — they can say, “See, the GAC is not doing mission work!”
“We reluctantly conclude that because of our spiritual division, without systemic change the PC(USA) will collapse.” And if you don’t send in your dollars, it will collapse a little bit faster. That’s interesting logic.
And here perhaps is the most ironic part. The declaration concludes, “We urge all who share continued commitment to Holy Scripture as the infallible rule of faith and practice to work together for the glory of God and the strengthening of his witness in the world.” The Lay Committee wants church members to “work together,” but only if they agree with the Lay Committee to tear the church apart. The declaration says “support,” but it implies a desire to overthrow the existing structure. And perhaps that is what the declaration really is, an ill-advised attempt by the Lay Committee leaders to bring down the PC(USA) leadership. It’s not renewal but a coup d’etat that they want.
The Lay Committee has a purpose in the church: it is the self-appointed watchdog that barks when the so-called liberal establishment does something out of line. And the establishment needs this. But if the watchdog is biting family members, tearing up the furniture or barking all the time, it needs to be told, “No.”
Posted Dec. 2, 2003
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