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Did You Hear What’s in the nFOG?

I have become increasingly alarmed at the tactics used by those who oppose the proposed new form of government for the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Last week I received an email from the Presbyterian Coalition, a group of Presbyterians from various conservative affinity groups. The email cited a paper from the GAPJC, saying that they opposed the proposed nFOG for a variety of reasons.

Its too bad this same paper came up at the General Assembly in Minneapolis, and its so-called concerns were refuted then. Why in the world would a new form of government require re-litigation of issues when we regularly cite cases from our antecedent denominations (as in the Bush case, a case oft-cited by conservatives)? The paper also cites a long list of reasons why the proposed nFOG is bad for the denomination. I was a commissioner to the 219th GA, but I was not present when this document was presented to the committee taking up nFOG. I do know that they soundly answered the points to the satisfaction of most of those present. Otherwise, we would not be debating the revision in our presbyteries.

What is most alarming to me is that this seems like a mudslinging tactic devoid of integrity. Continuing to return to a defeated argument runs the risk of marginalizing the conservatives in the denomination. I am conservative, but I am hesitant to cast my lot with the group because of tactics like this. Repeating arguments that have already been heard and defeated is deceitful, and smacks of modern American politics, where something is perceived as true if one hears it enough. When we conservatives speak of reclaiming biblical truth but use secular tactics in our dialogue, then we have done nothing more than make truth relative – one of the very things we stand against.

Any group that behaves in such a manner usually finds itself on the outside of the debate looking in. Why would we want to show ourselves to the door, when we’ve been invited to the table? I suspect two reasons for this behavior.

For decades, the conservative arm of the church has been extremely distrustful of Louisville. Sometimes this is justified, other times it is not. It’s an age old script that sounds like, “Nazareth? What good can come out of Nazareth?” And while I applaud a discerning mind and spirit, simply going against something because certain other people and groups endorse it is mindless at worst, and unhelpful at best.

I think the major reason the conservatives do not like nFOG is fear. Are we so afraid of what the future might bring that we are willing to sacrifice our integrity to keep the status quo? I certainly hope not. Some have called the PC(USA) dysfunctional, and if that charge sticks, then the conservatives are behaving like the abused spouse who would rather stay with the abuser than risk an uncertain (and hopefully better) future alone.

Sisters and brothers please read the proposed revision for yourselves! Do not take someone else’s word or trust someone else’s interpretation of this important moment for the Church. Too many in leadership (on all parts of the spectrum) have an axe to grind for so many of us to simply trust “guidance” from affinity groups. To put it in academic vernacular, it’s a good thing to read the source material.

We will never move forward on these issues if we do not put aside our rhetoric and our worn-out maneuverings and meet our sisters and brothers at the table. I am not speaking of giving up what we believe in. But none of that will matter if we try to win at all costs and lose ourselves along the way. We are better than that.

John Bethard is pastor of the Charlestown Church in Charlestown, W.Va.