Category Archives: Culture

Decision In Scotland

In just a few hours the citizens of Scotland will go to the polls to answer the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” According to the most recent polls “No” still leads, but by a statistically insignificant 4 percentage points while “Yes” has been rising rapidly in the last couple of weeks. So in a decision that is too close to call we will have to wait until 6 AM Friday in Scotland to know the results.

While at first glance this may seem like a political decision, the results carry consequences and uncertainty for the churches. The referendum is essentially asking whether to repeal the Treaty of Union of 1707 as adopted by the Acts of Union by Scotland and England. The Acts have 25 articles, some of which have been repealed individually. But Article 25, by far the longest, is the one that guarantees that Scotland will have their own religious identity and adopts the Presbyterian form of church government. The Article says in part:

And Her Majesty with advice and consent foresaid expressly Provides and Declares That the foresaid True Protestant Religion contained in the above-mentioned Confession of Faith with the form and purity of Worship presently in use within this Church and its Presbyterian Church Government and Discipline that is to say the Government of the Church by Kirk Sessions, Presbytries, Provincial Synods and Generall Assemblies all established by the forsaid Acts of Parliament pursuant to the Claim of Right shall Remain and Continue unalterable and that the said Presbyterian Government shall be the only Government of the Church within the Kingdom of Scotland.

It was the place of the Kirk in the national legislation that initially seemed to hold the attention of the Church of Scotland and at their 2013 General Assembly three committees reported on various aspects of independence and possible implications for the Kirk. Maybe the recommendation, or interpretation, that got the most traction was the idea that future monarchs should have a second coronation in Scotland. But also coming out of that Assembly was the idea that the Kirk would be involved in fostering respectful debate on the topic without taking a position on independence itself.

It was in this spirit that the Church of Scotland General Assembly this year set aside an afternoon for a public discussion in the Assembly Chamber. In the debate the Rev. Dr. Doug Gay of the University of Glasgow spoke for the yes position, Douglas Alexander MP spoke for the no side, and former Moderator of the General Assembly Alison Elliot OBE represented undecided voters and asked some probing questions on their behalf. A fourth speaker, John Sturrock QC, had the unenviable task of summarizing at the end.

The afternoon was lauded as a model of civil and respectful discussion on the topic and the video of the event has been preserved on the Kirk web site.

From watching the event I was struck by how it dealt with topics and issues of concern to the whole of Scotland in both the civil and secular realms. Yes, issues of social justice and themes of church and society were certainly present, but this was a discussion about the national implications.

[As an aside, it is clear from the polling numbers that the vast majority of those in Scotland do not view this decision as one of nationalism but of finding the better system.]

That evening there was a similar debate held at the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. Former Moderator of the General Assembly the Rev. Dr. John Ross presented the unionist side (no) while solicitor Mr. Neil D.M. MacLeod presented the nationalist (yes) side.

This debate formed a nice counter-point to the afternoon event as it focused on the religious implications of the vote. Among the points of discussion was Article 25 which I mentioned above and what would happen to churches and religious protections if a newly independent Scotland were writing a constitution from scratch. Here are a few of the arguments are presented in the article (here edited for length):

Setting out his position, Rev Dr John Ross said that in September “we run the risk of altering Scotland’s Christian landscape beyond recognition”.

The Glenurquhart and Fort Augustus minister explained: “Since the Reformation of 1560, Presbyterian Christianity’s place has been close to the centre of political and public life.

“For 450 years, through a formal compact between Church and state, Presbyterianism has helped shape our national destiny.

“Now in the name of inclusion and equality this ancient prerogative is to be repudiated.

“The fact of the matter is, that despite a majority of Scottish people considering themselves to be Christian, in a future independent Scotland, as a matter of public policy, and for the first time since the Reformation, Christianity is likely to be officially marginalised, deprived of its status as the national religion.”

On the other side…

Mr Neil DM Macleod responded: “Britain has promoted secularism, moral relativism and the cheapening of life.

“Abortion, Sunday Trading, the destruction of family life have led to a broken Britain.

“You have the choice of change for an uncertain future where a ‘no’ vote means the Church has no voice, where a growing pace of change will push the church to the fringe, and our influence is no better that a bowling club.

“Or you have the choice to vote ‘yes’ for positive change, where the church articulates a clear vision of the place it should have in the nation state; what other rights would we want to see, for example whether the church should advocate for protections for freedom of religion or freedom of worship.”

He concluded by saying change is coming to Scotland, and “the question is whether Church is willing to play its part in that process of change”.

As a follow-up the next morning the Assembly of the Free Church heard from Communities Minister Roseanna Cunningham who spoke positively of the place of religion  in a post-referendum Scotland. She expressed her assurance that the government wanted to work with Christian groups and that “the Scottish Government recognised the important role of the Church and the wider Christian community, even if they took a different position on legislative matters.”

In the time since the General Assemblies there have been a couple of notable developments. The first was in late August when a group of Church of Scotland ministers signed an open letter endorsing independence. While completely within their right to do as individuals the Moderator of the General Assembly did issue a statement to clarify that they were taking a personal position and the official position of the Kirk was neutrality on the issue.

The second development was another evening of respectful dialogue sponsored by the Church of Scotland. This time it was in Glasgow and carried live on stv. Again, the video is available through the Kirk web site.

From here the Church of Scotland is focusing on reconciliation following the referendum. This includes the Moderator giving a prayer for unity and message of reconciliation last Sunday that was broadcast on BBC radio, An appeal today to use a “ONE” logo as a sign of unity (although its resemblance to the yes logo is hard to overlook). And a message from the Moderator discussing his vision for reconciliation and how others can help, including his plans for a major service of reconciliation at St. Giles this coming Sunday with the anticipation that many of the major figures in the debate would participate. With the vote likely to be close and 97% of the electorate – which has been modified to include those down to age 16 – registered to participate, there are likely to be strong emotions afterwards. [UPDATE: As the day gets under way there are also many signs of understanding whatever the position of the neighbour or the outcome of the vote.]

The Free Church is also officially neutral but they have issued a piece on “How should Christians vote in the independence referendum?” that does not take sides but presents some Biblical principles to keep in mind. They also issued a second piece today on “Praying for Scotland.”

Finally, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland has taken the stand, laid out in a position paper, that both alternatives are flawed and their recommendation is to abstain from the vote.

So truly our prayers are with Scotland for the referendum vote tomorrow (actually it is already the 18th in Scotland as I publish this). May God guide the citizenry to discern wisely in what will be a historic and unique moment in their history.

But to close with something a bit lighter, the Herald ran a political cartoon today that probably sums up the feelings of much of the population, one way or another, on this day before the vote.

Review Of The BBC Documentary “An Independent People”

I had heard about the BBC – Northern Ireland producing a documentary on Ulster Presbyterians titled “An Independent People.” Well, it is now released and was broadcast on the BBC this past week with the final part airing last night.

Since it was on the BBC it is available on their iPlayer, but that did not help those of us outside the UK. Well, this past weekend I found it on YouTube and spent some time watching it. In short – I was not disappointed!

This is a documentary that presbynerds and those interested in Presbyterian church history will enjoy and I suspect that others with a more passing history of Presbyterianism will as well.  As I will explain in a moment, the first episode is a good general background for any Presbyterian and the second episode has some interesting background for Americans – Presbyterian or not.

This is a three-part documentary, each part one hour long, hosted by BBC NI religion correspondent William Crawley. The program presents the history of the Ulster Presbyterians with a wonderful balance of Mr. Crawley’s narrative, expert quotes, historical and current imagery, and plenty of location shots at historical sites. I don’t think there is a studio shot in the whole three hours.

But beyond the visual richness of the series it does a great job of explaining the history and the individuals behind it without taking sides in the many conflicts and controversies throughout the history. While it seemed to me that it presented a fairly complete history – and helped fill in several holes in my understanding of the Ulster Presbyterians – I do not have a deep enough knowledge of the history to know if there were any glaring errors or omissions.

It is also worthwhile to note that it sticks very close to the Ulster Presbyterians so when it talks about Scottish or American Presbyterians it is only to the extent that the Irish were involved. The primary exception is the very beginning when the origins of Presbyterianism in Geneva and Scotland are discussed.

The first episode titled “Taking Root” begins by recounting that early history and then the first wave of Scots to Ulster in the Plantation movement and resistance they found there. The next episode is “Seeds of Liberty” and talks about the Ulster Presbyterians in American and the ideas of the Enlightenment they brought with them that found expression in the American Revolution. It also discusses how that revolution, the French Revolution and the Enlightenment influenced Ireland. The final episode is “Union and Division” and traces the history in the Union of the UK and the divisions within Ireland as well as touching on the early Presbyterian missionary efforts.

The program was produced by Below the Radar for the BBC. You can find @williamcrawley and the show’s producer Fiona Keane (@fikeane) on Twitter. There are notices from both the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland promoting the show. In addition to the BBC the show was funded in part by the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.

A trailer/ad is also available but I’m not sure it does the series justice — but what can you do in 30 seconds?

As you can probably figure out, the title reference to an independent people works on many levels. For those that think Presbyterian realignments are a new phenomenon this series makes it clear that it is not.  Mr. Crawley begins the third episode with this lede:

[P]resbyterianism has always been a fractious faith. The democracy that defines it also creates division and dissent.

While the Ulster Presbyterians have components of their history that are unique in the Presbyterian universe, much of their history has interesting influences and parallels throughout global, and especially western, Presbyterianism. This documentary does a good job of helping us see where those puzzle pieces fit in the larger picture.

UPDATE: After posting this I found that Gladys Ganiel had written about the series. Some interesting insights from her background living in both The States as well as currently in Belfast. She did alert me to one error in the program – the statement that Francis Makemie founded the first Presbyterian Church in America. The program could have meant the oldest active congregation but a Long Island congregation founded by English Presbyterians in the 1640’s is generally regarded as the first. Makemie did however organize the first presbytery. But Gladys has a good point that I remember no mention of Amy Carmichael in the third episode and generally little coverage of the role of women in the history. She has also written some thoughts on the first episode.

UPDATE: Another insightful review and discussion of the program by Steve Stockman on his blog Soul Surmise. (And thanks to @alaninbelfast for bringing it to my attention.)

Haven’t I Seen That Somewhere Before?


Last month when the Fellowship of Presbyterians was rolling out the new Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians they debuted and explained the new logo and the preferred acronym (that would be ECO not ECOPs).

At the time someone tweeted or blogged that the logo reminded him or her of X – and I have been looking back and trying to figure out who I saw say that both to give them credit as well as to be sure what X is. My failing memory tells me that they suggested the logo for Presbyterians for Earth Care shown above.

Well, after they mentioned that I started seeing similarities to other logos.  I have included two examples above, one from the Friends of Calvin Crest and the other for a non-denominational church in our area.

Now to be clear, the Calvin Crest logo is not a deciduous leaf but a pine needle cluster or maybe a pine cone. But the look and feel is sure similar.

The presbygeeks out there know that this variation on a plant theme is nothing new for Presbyterians…



Yes, each of these global Presbyterian seals rocks the burning bush theme adopted by Presbyterians long ago.  (Clockwise from upper left – old Church of Scotland seal, current Church of Scotland logo, Free Church of Scotland, United Free Church of Scotland, old Presbyterian Church in Ireland, current Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, Malaysian Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in Canada, and Presbyterian Church of Taiwan)

[Note: Please see the comment by Alec below with a correction and some fascinating history of the symbols.]

So what got American Presbyterians sidetracked?  There are a couple of exceptions

other logos




… and that BPC logo does have the burning bush. But for the most part American Presbyterians, and a couple more I threw in, tend to use the cross as their dominant theme.

cross logos
(Tempting to leave this as an identification challenge but here are the logos: Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, old United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Church of Australia, and the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa.) You can spot the burning bush or flame symbolism there in some of these, but the central motif has become the cross.

Where logo design goes from here will be interesting to see.  If early American Presbyterians had a logo they did not use it much. I don’t know if it was simply because they did not feel a need to have a brand identity or maybe it was not worth the extra cost to print it on their documents, or maybe they though it came too close to violating the Second Commandment. Maybe some research on that sometime.

But these days it seems necessary to have a logo for brand identity, and if it is simple and can be reduced to a small size for your online avatar all the better. ECO clearly thought that having a unique (sort-of) logo was a worth while endeavor to put early effort into.

We will see where it takes them.

How Do You Get Your Message Out? New Development In Standing For Moderator

Well, as much as I have spent time discussing the Moderator election for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, today’s brief note on new approaches brings us back to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

A couple of days ago I got an interesting Tweet from one of the candidates standing for Moderator of the General Assembly of the PC(USA).  It reads:

@nealpresa: Receive alerts of mod candidacy by texting word, “PRESA” to 56512. For email alerts text “PRESA (your email)” to 56512 #fb #pcusa #ga220

So now we can get mod candidacy alerts by text message. I believe this is a first.

This is actually a very smart move if you are aiming for a particular demographic.  Consider a meeting of a youth group (youth ages 14-20) that I was at last Sunday afternoon. They were discussing an upcoming activity and the youth chair needed a piece of information from the adviser.  The adviser asked “Can I email you that.”

“No” replied the youth, “text it to me.”

I can’t speak for this as a national trend, although I suspect it is, but for most of the youth and young adults that I work with on various things (and this includes my own kids) by far the number one means of communicating is by text message on their phones. If you haven’t noticed, phones are not to talk on any more but devices to send and receive text messages.  (And I sometimes suspect that one appeal of contacting your parents by text is that your friends don’t know its your parents you are texting to as opposed to having them overhear you on the phone.)

Email? Too complicated for the easy stuff. Twitter? Interesting, but not the way to hold a conversation. Text messaging is the simple method of communicating one-on-one for youth and young adults.

This does of course beg the question of whether there are enough commissioners who would want to get updates by text message to make this approach worth while.  It will be interesting to find out. And yes, I have texted in to be added to the distribution list but no alerts yet.

So how do you go about doing this? Well, the “text to” address of 56512 belongs to a direct marketing firm called Guide by Cell that offers various audio, mobi and text packages.  It must be pretty affordable because the budget for a Moderator campaign is capped at $1500.

As I said, it will be interesting to see how this new media works out for Rev. Presa. Stay tuned…

(And yes, there is other Moderator news this week, but I’m going to let that run a bit further before I do more with it.)

The Presbyterian Rebellion

American Presbyterians frequently circulate the claim that King George III of England referred to the American Revolution as a “Presbyterian War.” Several years ago I set out to find the original source from which the quote is taken since I was curious about the context in which the king made this statement — if indeed he even did. The first time I discussed this quest with my dissertation director (who happens to be an elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)), he suspected I may discover it is a fiction manufactured by proud Presbyterian myth-makers, for indeed many such writers have spun their yarn.

So begins a doctoral dissertation I found this week in researching an idea for my blog post for today. In his dissertation, titled The Presbyterian Rebellion: An Analysis of the Perception that the American Revolution was a Presbyterian War, Robert Gardiner pursues this quote and investigates the cultural context in which it might have been made.

Did King George say this? Here is how Dr. Gardiner summarizes his research on whether King George III would have said this –

The answer to the overarching question, then, is a nuanced affirmative. Did King George III call the American Revolution a Presbyterian Rebellion? Maybe, or even probably, but primary source documentation is lacking. Did King George III consider the American Revolution a Presbyterian Rebellion? Definitely. …[H]e gave every impression that it was a sentiment he held. Nothing suggests that George III disagreed with the opinion of his advisor, William Jones, who said that the American Revolution was a Presbyterian war from the beginning.

[Gardiner, p. 275-276]

He puts together a good line of evidence to support this and traces the quote itself, in a couple of different variations, back to the late 19th century and suggests the quote may have been manufactured, or misattributed, between 1876 and 1919.

But the rebellion, or on our side the War of Independence, was a Presbyterian cause. American Presbyterians are today well aware that the only active minister to sign the Declaration of Independence was John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey, a Presbyterian school. And people also point to the Mecklenburg Declaration from May of 1775 where a group of local citizens of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, who were all Scots-Irish Presbyterians (one account) passed a resolution declaring independence.  While the exact timing and existence of that first document are sometimes questioned for their historical accuracy, it is good enough that North Carolina carries the date on its flag today.

So yes, Presbyterians played a part, but Gardiner does point out that it was not just the Presbyterians who were involved, or maybe even dominant.

Anyone attempting to allege a Presbyterian vs. Episcopalian controversy at the bottom of the revolt must explain the contradictory evidence. In particular, some of the most important leaders of the revolution were, in fact, Episcopalians — members of the Church of England. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence 34 were Episcopalians while only 6 were Presbyterians. In that light, it seems that the king would have had more warrant to call the revolution an “Episcopal Rebellion” than a “Presbyterian Rebellion.” All one has to do is cite the examples of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Patrick Henry, and George Wythe; and the Anglican vs. Presbyterian interpretation of the war quickly breaks down. These men were all bona fide Episcopalians, but at the same time, promoters of American independence.

[Gardiner, p. 279]

He goes on to say

The loyalists were quite aware of these facts, but they did not concede the point. According to loyalists, although many of the rebels wore Anglican masks, their hearts were not in harmony with their facade. Such was the observation of a loyalist named Tingly who tried to explain in 1782 the contradictory behavior of these revolutionary Episcopalians.

Tho they always professed themselves Churchmen [i.e., Episcopalians], they have proved that their principles & professions were not unisons; or, in other words, that they are Churchmen by profession, but Presbyterians by trade, i.e., no friends to Church and state … And those of this stamp joined with the hot brained Zealots among the Presbyterians who have almost all, without exception, proved fiery advocates for independency.

[Gardiner, p. 279-280]

Embedded in all of this is a distinction that is very important to make, and that is the cultural meaning of the term “presbyterian” at that time in England.  It carried a lot of baggage, to say the least, after the restoration and was a catch-all term for trouble-makers and those that opposed the crown. (Remember, Jesus Christ is the “ head over all things to the church“) As Dr. Gardiner put it in the abstract of his dissertation

The label “Presbyterian” was a much more ambiguous designation than it is at present. Employed broadly as a synonym for a Calvinist, a dissenter, or a republican, the term was used with considerable imprecision in the eighteenth century. Furthermore, it was used as a demagogic tool to inflame popular passions. The term Presbyterian carried with it the connotation of a fanatical, anti-monarchical rebel.

Well, maybe those Mallard Fillmore cartoons are just a bit anachronistic.

Dr. Gardiner describes his motivation for this dissertation in the abstract by observing that “there indeed was a profound religious factor at the heart of the conflict, both perceived and real” and the Revolution can not be attributed solely to “socio-economic factors.” So in that respect it was a Presbyterian Rebellion where he describes the situation saying “Calvinists and Calvinism permeated the American colonial milieu, and the king’s friends did not wish for this fact to go unnoticed.”

While the Declaration signed on this day in 1776 may make heavy reference to political and socio-economic factors, it opens and closes (concluding words below) with passages heavy with divine imagery.  So, a happy Independence Day to my American friends as we remember this Presbyterian Rebellion.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority
of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

A Couple Of Changes In The PC(USA)

In the last few hours in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) there have been indications of a couple of interesting changes which I think are telling of the direction of the denomination.

Yes, the first one is the unofficial passage of Amendment 10-A — as of this evening the gahelp web site lists the vote as 88-68.  The official vote tally will require a bit of additional time for the current voting to be reported and recorded. From the buzz on the internet, especially Twitter, we know that today the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area became the 87th presbytery to approve the Amendment giving it the majority for approval, followed by Pacific Presbytery. The vote is not over, because this is about the discussion as much as the outcome, but unofficially it appears that its passage is assured.  It will be effective on July 10, 2011.

While that is a change, we must remind ourselves exactly what the change is.  What amendment 10-A does is remove a specific categorical restriction to the ordination standards by replacing the “fidelity and chastity” standards section with new language that calls on officers to “to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life” and for ordaining bodies to examine them on the Scriptural and confessional requirements.  But we must also remember that 10-A does not require a new inclusive standard when it comes to self-affirming practicing homosexuals.  The patch-work of interpretation I have heard over the last few days does regularly affirm the renewed importance of the ordaining body in the examination and the expected issues that will arise as different ordaining bodies reach differing conclusions from their examinations.  In short, the PC(USA) has allowed, but not mandated, the ordination of same-sex partnered individuals and passed the control to the lower governing bodies.

The second happening this evening I think is equally telling and that happening is the power of social media and the open source church.  Consider this – the Office of the General Assembly issued a news item, letter and Advisory Opinion, and some video messages within minutes of the announcement of the results of the vote in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area.  In my experience, for the denomination to act this quickly or before official confirmation is unheard of.  Got to give them credit for 1) being prepared and 2) taking the social media crowd seriously.

Speaking of social media, at the height of the presbytery meetings this evening I was getting tweets with the #pcusa hashtag at the rate of about one per second.  While we were not trending, several people reported the “fail whale” (The Twitter screen for heavy system use) and so we may have been contributing to the server overload.

It was also interesting to note that the OGA was not the only ones ready.  Within an hour or two several groups had statements up including the Covenant Network, Presbyterian Outlook, Presbyterians for Renewal and More Light Presbyterians.

The point here is that the rapid response to this news shows how the denomination’s landscape has changed regarding social media and instantaneous communication.  Organizations were on-line watching and responded very quickly to the news with either new material or were ready with prepared remarks.

Finally, several mainstream news organizations were ready with stories but I think the first one out was from the Associated Press and writer Rachel Zoll is to be commended for a good article that gets our Presbyterian polity correct.  I’m sure we will see some good examples of the opposite tomorrow.

Well, I have lots more to say but it is late so no more tonight.  Over the next few days I’ll try to find time to crunch numbers and consider some more of how we got here.  But the heavy use and response on social media was to me just as interesting as the voting result itself and just as telling about what is happening in certain corners of the PC(USA).

New PC(USA) GAPJC Decision — The Southard Decision

Yesterday the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) released their decision in disciplinary case 220-102:

Southard v. PC(USA) through Presbytery of Boston

If you are looking for a sound-bite length summary of the whole case you will not find one.  The Commission has given us a multi-layered decision, but has done us the favor of helping to define the layers.

The facts of the case are agreed by both sides: That on March 1, 2008, the Rev. Jean Southard officiated at a marriage ceremony between two women in Waltham, Massachusetts.  The ceremony was characterized by the participants as a “Christian Marriage.”  Further details are enumerated in the history section of the opinion to show that this same-sex ceremony was represented as a marriage ceremony.

Two additional legal details are important to keep in mind here:

  1. At the time of this ceremony same-sex civil marriage was legal in the state of Massachusetts.
  2. The decision in disciplinary case 218-12, Spahr v. PC(USA) through Presbytery of Redwoods, was decided on April 28, 2008, about two months after this ceremony was preformed.

In the Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission trial the Commission acquitted the Rev. Southard saying in part:

The Prosecuting Committee has not proven beyond reasonable doubt that W-4.9000 contains mandatory language that would prohibit a Minister of Word and Sacrament from performing a same-gender marriage.
Since the Preface to the Directory of Worship (clause b) states that the Directory uses language that is “simply descriptive”, this Commission takes this to mean that the definition of Christian marriage in W-4.9001 is merely descriptive; there is no mandatory language in this article.

This was overturned on appeal by the Presbytery to the PJC of the Synod of the Northeast.  The Rev. Southard appealed that decision to the GAPJC.

First layer: The specific actions of Rev. Southard
The GAPJC wrote this regarding the charges related to the ceremony preformed by Rev. Southard:

This Commission concluded in Spahr that prior authoritative interpretations lacked mandatory language. Southard conducted this ceremony two months prior to Spahr. Sensitive to the authoritative interpretation in Spahr, this Commission agrees with the SPJC that Spahr cannot be applied retroactively to the facts of this case. Therefore, Southard did not violate the Book of Order or her ordination vows by erring in her constitutional interpretation. She did not commit an offense because the applicable authoritative interpretation (Spahr) had not yet been promulgated.

So, a definite line has been drawn in PC(USA) polity at April 28, 2008, when the GAPJC decision in the Spahr case provided an authoritative interpretation that the language in the Directory for Worship is mandatory.

Based on this conclusion the charges against the Rev. Southard are not valid and she is acquitted of violating the constitutional requirements of the PC(USA).  The first two specifications of error in the appeal, the ones dealing with the specific charges, are sustained.

Second layer: Constitutional Interpretation
Here is the “but” that the GAPJC seems to be putting in the decision.  The third specification of error deals not with the specifics of the ceremony preformed by with more general constitutional interpretation:

The SPJC erred in constitutional interpretation by determining that a minister of the Word and Sacrament who performs (participating in and directing) a same-gender marriage as a Christian marriage commits an offense prohibited by the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Authoritative Interpretations and violates his or her ordination vows.

This specification of error was not sustained.  The decision essentially says that the status quo, the current prohibition made mandatory in the Spahr decision, is in effect.  The new polity twist in this case was the fact that same-sex marriage is legal in some states, but the GAPJC says that when it comes to Christian Marriage in the PC(USA) that does not matter:

The question before this Commission, then, is whether the Massachusetts law defining this relationship as a legal marriage changes the impact of the definitions in W-4.9001. This Commission holds that it does not. While the PCUSA is free to amend its definition of marriage, a change in state law does not amend the Book of Order. It is the responsibility of the church, following the processes provided in the Constitution for amendment, to define what the PCUSA recognizes as a “Christian marriage.” Consequently, Spahr’s holding, “By the definition in W-4.9001, a same sex ceremony can never be a marriage,” remains in effect.

This Commission further held in Spahr, for prospective application, “that the liturgy should be kept distinct for the two types of services.” In light of the change in the laws of some states, this Commission reiterates that officers of the PCUSA who are authorized to perform marriages, when performing a ceremony for a same-gender couple, shall not state, imply, or represent that the same-gender ceremony is an ecclesiastical marriage ceremony as defined by PCUSA polity, whether or not the civil jurisdiction allows same-gender civil marriages.

So, it was not an offense back in March of 2008, and it might not be prohibited at some future point, but the Commission reasserts that it is prohibited now in the church, even if civil same-sex marriage is permitted by the state.  This also seems to imply that while the officiating pastor may not be guilty of an offense, if the Spahr decision is extended to this one, no marriage ceremony was actually preformed since “a same sex ceremony can never be a marriage.”

Technical details
There are four more specifications of error which were decided on procedural grounds.  In the case of specifications 4 and 5 they were not sustained because they “do not accurately reflect the holding of the SPJC as to the matters involved.”  In the case of specifications 6 and 7, the errors were sustained.  These dealt with the decision of the SPJC which reversed the PPJC’s decision when it should have remanded the case back to the PPJC for a new trial and in doing so did not provide specificity on one of the charges.  With the dismissal of the charges these are rendered moot.

Concurring Opinions
There are three concurring opinions attached to this decision.

1) This opinion, signed by five commissioners, expresses the sentiment that this is at its core a human rights issue and in light of that urges the PC(USA) to “amend the constitution to allow for the marriage of same sex couples in the PCUSA, and otherwise welcome gay, lesbian, and bisexual people into the full fellowship of the church.”

2) This is the longest concurring opinion, running a full page in narrative, signed by six commissioners.  Four of these six also signed the first concurring opinion. As the authors say, “[Our] concern is whether W-4.9001 provides an effective and unambiguous definition of Christian marriage.”  To the point they write later on:

To claim that this paragraph is primarily and intentionally legal in nature places a strain upon its obvious narrative purpose. As a fourfold theological outline of Christian marriage in narrative form, it is arguable that it propose
s either regulatory imperative or legal intention. Certainly, it does not have the kind of language or format that the church has come to expect in definitional statements, for the language in this paragraph is not obviously legislative, in the sense of providing regulatory lines that define boundaries or proscribe behavior.


Thus, W-4.9001 has become contested regarding whether it can bear the interpretive weight that judicial process and decision has put upon it. The church needs a sharper degree of clarification and guidance that precisely defines how it understands marriage, especially in light of the high financial and personal burden involved.

For all the polity wonks out there, I recommend having a look at this concurring opinion — you may or may not agree with it, but they have done a good job of clearly stating where there might be problems when theological narrative is applied as polity for judicial process.  (And now I am going to have a look at nFOG and see how it would stand up to this test.)

3) I will let the opening paragraph of the third concurring opinion, signed by three commissioners, speak for itself:

We concur with the Decision of the Commission, and with the holding that Spahr is not applicable as precedent because the actions taken by Southard took place before the Spahr Decision was rendered. However, it is disingenuous of Southard to claim that no guidance was available from the larger church on the advisability of performing a same-gender marriage.

Their point is that the Spahr Decision is not the first one and enough guidance is present in the 1991 Authoritative Interpretation and the 2000 Benton Decision to have discouraged this ceremony from happening.  The opinion concludes “While Southard may be commended for her desire to provide compassionate pastoral care, a failure to seek out the guidance of the larger Church would raise a concern about Southard’s willingness to ‘be governed by our church’s polity, and to abide its discipline.'”

Personal Comments
Having served on the PC(USA) Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage I want to add just a brief comment about the polity situation the PC(USA) now finds itself in.

As the second concurring opinion points out so clearly, section W-4.9001 of the Book of Order provides a theological definition of marriage where even the civil dimension is part of God’s order.  Our committee was painfully aware that there are on-going changes in the civil realm that those of us of faith can speak to, but the church as an institution can not control.  This means that the second point of the four-fold definition of marriage is something we as a church can not specify and yet we have it in our constitution.  While some of us would have liked to have seen something done, with the theological diversity on the committee the exact nature of the adjustment was not immediately clear.  The discussion was however moot since our charge from the General Assembly was to make our report a social witness document and the charge excluded from our purview constitutional changes.  As you are probably aware, the 219th General Assembly accepted our report for study and took no further action on constitutional changes.

Looking Forward
If you are following these issues in the PC(USA) then you are no doubt aware that another, similar case is working its way through the judicial process.  Back in August there was a new trial for the Rev. Jane Adams Spahr where she was charged with, and found guilty of, conducting same-sex marriages.  The circumstances are similar because such marriages were permitted under California law at the time they were preformed.  She has filed an appeal to the Synod PJC and there is every expectation that whatever the decision is there an appeal to the GA PJC will be heard at some point in the next year or so.

As you might expect this case comes with an additional twist of its own.  The presbytery sustained the charge that Rev. Spahr had “persisted in a pattern or practice of
disobedience concerning the aforementioned authoritative interpretation
of the Book of Order

At first glance, it appears that the GAPJC has now clearly set the legal tests for hearing this case.  The PPJC seems to have thought so in finding her guilty but expressing their personal disagreement with the outcome.  But as we know, there is still the appeal to be heard by the Synod PJC and there may be other procedural issues that arise.  We will see how the process plays out.

Well, I think you see why I described this decision as defying simple sound bites.  On the one hand, this case is over and the defendant has been found not guilty.  On the other hand, the PC(USA) constitutional standard – as currently understood by judicial commission interpretation – has been reiterated, including the understanding that earlier same-sex marriage ceremonies could not, by definition, actually be marriage ceremonies in the PC(USA).  Stay tuned to see where this legal standard takes us in the future…

Web 2.0 And The Internet Are Changing The World — An Example From The Scientific Community

Here is an interesting case study that might be of interest to the Church Virtual/Open Source Church/Wiki Church types out there.  In watching this unfold in my professional life I found some interesting parallels in what happened with the reaction to this scientific discovery and what I think about regarding how the church does theology and polity in a Web 2.0 world.

While I want to focus here on the interaction that took place in the on-line world, let me briefly describe the announced scientific discovery behind this so that you have some context.

Back on December 2 a team of researchers associated with the NASA Astrobiology Institute published an interesting paper in Science magazine and held a press conference hosted by NASA to announce and discuss their results from bacteria they found in Mono Lake, California.  This bacteria appears to, at least partially, substitute arsenic for phosphorus in the chemical building blocks of the cell.  These building blocks could include enzymes and proteins.  There is a good discussion of the science related to this in articles from Wired, Science Daily, and a NASA article.  The abstract, but not the full article, is publicly available from Science. (Those readers in academic or research settings may have institutional access to the full article.) Interestingly, while researching this story I found an article from last Spring in The Times (of London) that has much of the scientific story at that time.  If you are not familiar with the biology and chemistry behind this you might not realize that, if the results hold up, this is a very significant scientific discovery.  At a minimum, they have discovered a life form that can live in an extreme, and normally very toxic, environment.

Well, this story went “viral,” if you will pardon the expression.  The press conference was streamed and, having been tipped off by a colleague that it was “going to be interesting,” I followed along and heard the news and the discussion.  There was plenty of coverage of the event across the news spectrum ( for example PC Mag, The Boston Globe, The Telegraph, just to name a few in addition to those above)  as well as the blogosphere (e.g. WeirdWarp, The Curious Wavefunction ).

Now, previous controversial discoveries raised a bit of professional chatter as well as some brief media attention and then usually disappeared from the radar to all except those who really cared.  (an example in a moment)  This announcement took a different path — five days later a widely publicized critique also went viral.  The original critique by Rosie Redfield appeared on her blog as a way, as she puts it, to clarify her thinking.  This was picked up by Slate and then spread to other blogs and developed a life of its own with one asking if this was a NASA publicity stunt and another wondering if this is “flim-flam.”  In short, the new Web 2.0 allowed for scientists to “wonder out loud” to both their colleagues and the public and media at large as well as providing a platform for the general public to discuss and weigh in on a discovery which was not necessarily in their realm of expertise.

Speaking of “not in your realm of expertise” let me comment briefly on my professional view.  As I suggest above the results are interesting.  A number of years ago I was a bit player in some research on the tufa towers in Mono Lake so the environment is not completely unknown to me.  It is a weird and wonderful place but the habitat harsh.  Anything that survives there will be interesting.  To me these bacteria are clearly a good subject to understand better.  On the other hand… I am strongly persuaded by the arguments of the critics and find the most radical conclusions about the arsenic substituting for phosphorus lacking the strong support I would look for regarding such a revolutionary conclusion.  To invoke Carl Sagan’s second best known quote: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

In short, what has happened here is that a tantalizing and potentially extraordinary discovery has been extracted from the “traditional” scientific process and is now “owned” by the greater on-line community through the ability to distribute the information to the whole world in real time and for the on-line community to be able to interact with it.

Whether you think that is a good thing or not we must accept that it is the new reality of our society.  If you want to make an announcement of an extraordinary discovery to the world, be prepared to have anyone out there weigh in, not just your colleagues in the small academic fishbowl of your discipline.

Consider two previous extraordinary announcements.  Back in 1989 there was a claim that nuclear fusion could be accomplished on a lab bench at low temperatures – the so-called “cold fusion.”  Because the experiment was simple and the researchers published their experimental setup, physicists everywhere were trying to reproduce it, all without success.  But what happened is that the theory did not go away but a few people continued looking at the possibility even if the original experiment was not verified. (article in Wired, Wall Street Journal

Another similar, and NASA connected, discovery was the announcement in 1996 of possible life preserved in a meteorite that originated from Mars.  The publication of this finding was also accompanied by a NASA news conference and picked up by the press.  But with a unique sample and without the web it left the skeptics in the general public without a forum for discussion or criticism.  Now, with time, the scientific community sees better explanations for what was seen in the original meteorite study, but like cold fusion a much lower profile search still continues. (Good backgr
ound info

Returning to the arsenic life debate, the topic was hot enough that there was a panel discussion at the American Geophysical Union meeting regarding, not the science, but the course the reaction had taken.  This was live streamed and I enjoyed watching and tweeting my thoughts as the discussion progressed.  However, if you are looking for other Twitter messages check out the hashtag #arseniclife and the tweets by Alexandra Witze, @alexwitze, a contributing editor to Science News.  Her coverage was very good.  Some of her more thought provoking tweets about the process (names in front are the speakers on the panel – listing available from the panel moderator’s blog):

Steele: Everyone has a voice now. Is this how science will be self
correcting on a much quicker timescale?

Petit: Information is good, and messy. The more we have, the more it
flows and more robust society is

Steele: Scientists shd have more responsibility to understand effect of
what they say to public.

Harris: Does refusing to engage in conversation ever help one’s case?
(Not that this happened here.)

Oremland: I think not engaging hurt us. Gave us appearance of being

Petit: Peer review worked fine. It put out a hypothesis that’s being
chewed on pretty hard.

Steele: If you stick to peer review process are you being elitist?

Sperling: there is a time needed to get things right. Blogosphere will
claim it’s about conversation, but they want scoop #arseniclife

Oremland: Point is about human response to things without time for

One final detail on this – while the researchers would have preferred to have responded in the traditional “comment and reply” format, the nature of the response in the blogosphere did persuade them to publish a non-traditional reply to the criticism that had been distributed.

Going forward it will be interesting to see how quickly these claims are verified or contradicted.  It will also be interesting to see how quickly the viral nature of this news dissipates.

Regarding what this means for any organization and it’s interaction with modern society and culture I encourage you ponder this case study and come to your own conclusions and lessons.  Having reflected on this for almost a month now, let me share a few things that come to mind.

1) The easier access to information and the ability to discuss it has changed society.  Just as Luther’s German Bible and the Authorized Version of the English Bible put God’s word in the language of the people, the Internet now puts all manner of information at our finger tips.

2) But maybe this information is too easily available.  As the final tweets suggest “there is a time needed to get things right” and time is needed for reflection.  Do we get information too fast to be able to put it in context and reflect on the meaning?  Do we get too much information to be able to process it properly?
3) What is the responsibility of those of us with formal training in these areas to others who are trying to figure out what is means?  How do we communicate if what we view as being responsible is viewed by the general population as being elitist?

4) What have 8-second sound bites, a 24/7 news cycle, and 140 character messages done to our ability to communicate and discuss complex or deep concepts?  Are we looking too quickly for the bullet point or the executive summary with out looking for what is behind it or how it fits into a bigger picture?

Anyway, those are questions that come to mind for me.  Your mileage may vary.  But have fun with it.

What Changed In The Sixties? The Implications For The Mainline

OK, this is one of those “critical mass” posts I do — I’ve got a bunch of stuff in my notes and suddenly something brings it all together.

This time the “something” is a great Religious News Service article “40 Years Later, Woodstock’s Spiritual Vibes Still Resonate” by Steve Rabey. (H/T GetReligion)  In the article, the symbolism of Woodstock can be best presented with these paragraphs:

[Rock historian Pete] Fornatale sees the festival as a massive communion ceremony featuring drugs as sacramental substances, hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” performed by Arlo Guthrie and Joan Baez, sermons by musical prophets like Sylvester Stewart of Sly and the Family Stone, and a modern-day re-enactment of Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes exhibited in the communal ethos of festival-goers who shared food with “brothers and sisters” who were hungry.

And the conclusion of the article, that Woodstock marked a shift from “religion to spirituality,” would be summed up in this quote:

“There was a pervasive shift from the theological to the therapeutic,” said [Don] Lattin, author of “Following Our Bliss: How the Spiritual Ideals of the Sixties Shape Our Lives Today.” “It was all about feeling good rather than being good. It was about stress reduction, not salvation.”

Today, the legacy of Esalen can be found at “seeker-sensitive” churches that market to congregants based on their felt needs and Catholic retreat centers that offer sessions on yoga, meditation and the Enneagram.

And don’t miss the interesting twist that Woodstock was held near the town of Bethel, N.Y., a Hebrew word meaning “House of God.”

It has struck me, and the article mentions, how certain religious songs have been incorporated by the culture and in the process losing their strong religious meaning.  Amazing Grace may be the hymn most integrated into American culture. Over 20 years ago at an international meeting in Europe I got into a group discussion about the song (no relation to the meeting subject of European and Mediterranean earthquakes) and one of my European colleagues called Amazing Grace “America’s unofficial national anthem.”  So even though it was written by an English minister, it has come to be associated with American culture.

While I have not read the book Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song by Steve Turner, a review of the book does talk about the song’s dissemination into American culture first in the Second Great Awakening, then with the early 20th Century revivals by preachers such as Dwight Moody, and finally it pin-points the transition to pop-folk popularity a bit before Woodstock.

Note the characteristics that make the song so accessible, even by the non-religious:  It has a great “back story” about John Newton’s conversion from slave trader to minister.  I have heard that story many times, not just in sermons but at folk concerts and social justice meetings and rallies.  But in secular settings they do seem to leave off the fact that it was a religious conversion experience and he became a minister.  Note also the lack of references to God in the song.  You can sing four verses without referencing one of the members of the Trinity.  As people of faith we inherently read God into the Grace that the song is about.  Consider how differently a non-religious person would still sing about grace, but with a completely different perception of the grace it talks about.  (I once saw a promotional item put out by a major soap company — It was a waterproof songbook for use in the shower that included Amazing Grace, but did not include verses that mentioned God.)  And the simplicity and sing-ability of the common tune certainly help as well.

However, I would comment that Amazing Grace is not the first religious song to find a mostly secular following or application.  A century earlier the Battle Hymn of the Republic became a Civil War rallying song and it continues today to appear in non-religious settings.  While packed with sacred imagery, imagery regularly used by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his sermons, in the song the references to God are mostly minimized by the use of the pronouns “He” or “His.”  And there is no question that the tune is catchy — Julia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics after hearing the popular tune.  (Although it can be legitimately argued that Howe never intended it’s primary use to be in religious services despite the imagery.)

Regarding music in the sixties it is also interesting to note the rise of CCM (contemporary Christian music) at about this time as well.  As much as revivals had previously made use of popular and catchy words and music, there was now the shift in instrumentation to guitars and drums.  In fact, in the spirit of the “religion to spirituality” shift, CCM artist Scott Wesley Brown even has a 1976 song “I’m not religious, I just love the Lord.”

I find it hard to separate societal events like Woodstock from religious “Sixties Things” like the writing and adoption of the Confession of 1967 by the UPCUSA.  By itself, this confession was viewed by many as a step towards liberalism.  As Hart and Muether say in one of their Presbyterian history articles:

…Cornelius Van Til, took the Confession of 1967 as proof of his charge (made in a 1946 book) that the theology of Karl Barth had infiltrated the PCUSA as the “new modernism.” Indeed, neo-orthodoxy had proved to be more triumphant in the Presbyterian Church than liberalism. Liberalism undermined the church’s confidence in the Westminster standards, but never to the point of crafting a new confession. However, the largely Barthian Confession of 1967 entailed the rejection of the Westminster standards-and indeed of all that the historic Christian creeds affirmed.

Evangelical Barthians disagreed with this assessment. They charged that Van Til exaggerated the new confession’s Barthian roots. Geoffrey Bromiley of Fuller Seminary conceded that there were parallels to Barth’s theology. But upon closer inspection, he claimed, Barth’s teaching on Scripture and the Trinity was far more orthodox. Bromiley went on to argue that the Confession of 1967 accommodated itself to liberalism and Romanism in ways that Barth never did.

On the other side, Arnold B. Come writes this about the state of confessional standards in the Journal of Presbyterian History:

James H. Nichols has said that C-67 is necessary because “the Westminster Standards are obsolescent.” Hardly anyone could subscribe to them as “containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture” (Christianity and Crisis, 17 May 1965, p. 108). For this reason, Brian Gerrish has noted, “retention of the Westminster Confession has encouraged—not hindered—doctrinal laxity. If the Presbyterian Church should persist in retaining the Confession…as the sole confessional norm, it will cease altogether to be a confessional church” (Christian Century, 4 May 1966, pp. 583f.). The adoption of the Book of Confessions reminds us that in contrast to the Lutherans, “the Reformed have never had a single pre-eminent statement of belief…nor a
closed symbolic collection…[but] has always been ‘open’—subject…to a policy of continuous revision and addition” (Gerrish, op. cit., p. 582). The Book also helps us to “break out of the provincialism of British Reformed tradition to the wider Reformed church…[and to] define common ground with Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches” (Nichols, op. cit., p. 109).

As the last quote points out, along with this one contemporary statement was the adoption of a Book of Confessions with multiple statements from across church history that now provided “guidance” and not “standards.”  While there is discussion over the value and effect of this move (some previous comments) it strikes me that parallels could be drawn to the RNS article’s comments concerning the shift from “religion to spirituality” and “the theological to the therapeutic.”  If nothing else, the UPCUSA traded a theological exactness for an historical perspective and diversity.

Let me finish with another transition — that of the “message to the medium.”  To put it bluntly there was the recognition that we wanted to be entertained.

Consider this comment in a New York Times op-ed piece by Paul Krugman:

In 1994 [technology guru] Esther Dyson, made a striking prediction: that the ease with which digital content can be copied and disseminated would eventually force businesses to sell the results of creative activity cheaply, or even give it away. Whatever the product — software, books, music, movies — the cost of creation would have to be recouped indirectly: businesses would have to “distribute intellectual property free in order to sell services and relationships.”

For example, she described how some software companies gave their product away but earned fees for installation and servicing. But her most compelling illustration of how you can make money by giving stuff away was that of the Grateful Dead, who encouraged people to tape live performances because “enough of the people who copy and listen to Grateful Dead tapes end up paying for hats, T-shirts and performance tickets. In the new era, the ancillary market is the market.” (emphasis added)

In other words, what the Grateful Dead knew back in the 60’s was that if given the content people would still pay to be entertained — the experience was more profitable than the material.  Whatever you might think of the Grateful Dead as a band, their business model was far ahead of its time.  Fast forward to today and the current situation.  On the secular side, you can purchase a song for download for 99 cents or look for it for free on a (probably illegal) peer-to-peer file sharing site.  On the sacred side churches provide their sermons as free podcasts and worship services at megachurches look like rock concerts with well-practiced musical groups and preachers as celebrities.  In fact, one of the characteristics of some seeker-sensitive worship services is that there is no audience participation.  It is expected that attendees will just show up and watch, not be participants in worship.  Throughout American history there have been revival meetings with great numbers of people.  But I’m not aware that the present trend of 10,000+ member individual churches has any parallel.

My discussion here is clearly not exhaustive, but in this year of looking back at the events of 1969, it is interesting to see how the secular culture and the religious culture moved in parallel ways with the change in American mind set.  The question of whether the culture is driving the church, or the church is changing so that it can faithfully minister in a new age is important, but a topic for another time.  But it is the Church’s job to be faithful to Jesus Christ while still speaking to the changing world around us.

Young Evangelicals And The Presbyterian Church

I suspect that many of you, like me, are regular readers of the blog Tribal Church by Carol Howard Merritt.  (If you are not, I highly recommend it if you want an honest look at where the church is among young adults today.)  And if you have not carefully read today’s entry I encourage you to have a look.

Carol uses the change in the presidential administration as a vehicle to touch on two important themes — one in the general religious landscape and one in the PC(USA).

The first point Carol mentions is that your typical young “evangelical” probably does not fit the stereotype from a few years ago.  While “social evangelicals” have been around for a while, with organizations such as Evangelicals for Social Action, Carol says that today:

Well, there is a new passion for social justice, for living out the
words of Jesus. And I cannot help but notice the Joshua Generation—the
young Evangelicals who cannot swear allegiance to Christian Right, who
are finding their own way.


There are a swarm of young Evangelicals who are wandering right now.
Twenty-six percent of young Evangelicals support same-sex marriage.
They no longer have a spiritual home in the congregations of their

There is a group that is between the traditional descriptions of the evangelicals and the progressives.  She asks “Can these young evangelicals call the PC(USA) their home?” That is my paraphrase of her question.  What Carol says is:

Often, when I’m around denominational types, things are said that
make our denominations inhospitable for people who grew up Evangelical.
I guess I should just spell it out. Because I love my church, I need
to let you know that if we want to reach out to a new generation, we
will need to learn to accept Evangelicals or ex-Evangelicals. You may
not agree with me, you may not have had the same experience, but still,
personally people communicate to me regularly, “You’re not one of us,
and you never will be.”

Carol points out three places where the younger generation is challenged

  • “Well, they obviously don’t know what it means to be Presbyterian.”
  • “Christianity has not been a force in our society since the sixties.”
  • “Evangelicals are dumb.”

Check out the article for her discussion of each of these.

On the one hand, questions and comments like these are nothing new — American Presbyterians have been debating, and dividing, over what it means to be Presbyterian from pretty much the beginning.  On the other hand, times have changed.  Mainline denominations are now sidelined and American Christians are losing denominational identity and loyalty.  What does that mean for the institution of the PC(USA)?  Clearly these young evangelicals are having trouble seeing themselves in it.  For established conservative churches withholding per capita they are having trouble seeing themselves in it as well.  How big a tent can we be, or to put it another way, can we be all things to all people?  How we, not as an institution but as a community, answer these questions will decide what the PC(USA) will look like in the future.