Tag Archives: PCA

45th General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In America

The 45th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America convened their plenary sessions last night, 13 June, in Greensboro, North Carolina and will continue through noon on Friday 16 June. In their first action following worship they elected RE Alexander Jun the Moderator of the Assembly. The theme of the Assembly is “Come To The Table.” The meeting will be live streamed and they have their GA app available for several platforms to follow along. There is also a ShareFile! app there for registered commissioners to download reports and other documents.

While the full volume of reports is available only to commissioners, the docket and overtures are available on-line. [Tech note to the GA organizers – it is once again the case this year that you might want to change the title in the GA docket PDF properties so it no longer says “40th General Assembly.”] A more general schedule of events is also available. There is a nice page with links to all the forms and schedules for the meeting. And the Zika Virus Advisory is still on the web site, although I don’t think it is as applicable this year as it was last year in Mobile.

To track the polity of the PCA you can access the Book of Church Order online.

News updates will be posted through the official news website and online publication byFaith.

Turning to social media, you will probably want to keep an eye on the byFaith Magazine Facebook page. There are numerous opportunities to follow the meeting on Twitter including the official feed from byFaith (@PCAbyFaith). The hashtag for the Assembly is #pcaga. For pictures, keep an eye on the PCA Flickr site.

Other related Twitter accounts include Reformed University Fellowship (@RUFnational), PCA Discipleship Ministry (@PCACDM), and the Mission to North America (@pcamna). I would also include in this group the denomination’s schools, Covenant College (@CovenantCollege). and Covenant Seminary (@covseminary).

As for individuals to watch – round-up the usual suspects. Some who will be at the meeting and are, or will probably be tweeting include Fred Greco (@fredgreco), Ligon Duncan (@LigonDuncan), Sean Michael Lucas (@SeanMLucas), Melton L. Duncan (@MeltonDuncan), and Jemar Tisby (@JemarTisby) and his Reformed African American Network (@RAANetwork). Having included one organization there I will also mention Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing (@prpbooks) and Reformed Theological Seminary (@ReformTheoSem). (And as a note, there are other Twitter accounts for the different RTS campuses.) Let me also include Jim Moon Jr. (@jimmoonjr) and Allan Edwards (@edwardsae1) who in past years has given us the Bingo Card and the Selfie Scavenger Hunt. And for a Twitter feed that is posted decently and in order there is the @PCAPresbyter himself.

Regarding business to the Assembly, from the social media chatter the hot topic will be the Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church. This report was authorized by the last GA and attempts to balance a recognition of women’s gifts for service in the church with the PCA’s understanding of the complimentarian nature of ordained office. It comes with a pastoral letter and nine recommendations. Among those recommendations is one that says:

3. That sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly strive to develop, recognize, and utilize the gifts, skills, knowledge, and wisdom of godly women in the local, regional, and national church, and particularly consider overtures that would allow qualified women to serve on appropriate committees and agencies within the church.

There is another recommendation that, after quoting the Book of Church Order adds:

6… Thus, for the well-being of the church, the committee recommends that sessions and presbyteries select and appoint godly women of the congregation to assist the ordained leadership; these godly, unordained women have often historically been referred to as deaconesses.

This one is sure to elicit a discussion about the nature of deaconesses and any parallels it may have to the ordained office of deacon. An opportunity to recognize and incorporate all in a more inclusive ministry or the camel’s nose under the tent? This report is docketed for 2:45 PM EDT on Thursday afternoon.

That report will be preceded at 2 PM by the Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Racial Reconciliation, a continuation of a discussion that began two years ago and as part of last year’s discussion this Ad Interim Committee was formed.

Having the news update from Monday, we know the recommendations of the Overtures Committee (OC) of Commissioners and can anticipate a few other items of business. Overture 2 was advanced on a divided vote and will come with a minority report. It would give the BCO section on Solemnizing of Marriage full constitutional authority and is aimed at “strengthening the PCA’s public witness to a biblical definition of marriage.” Overture 16 was advanced with a near unanimous vote and would add a requirement that congregational meetings for a church to withdraw from the PCA would have a higher quorum requirement of one-half of the members. And Overture 18 has both practical considerations and polity nuances for the polity wonks in the audience. It would require requests for ad-interim or study committees come only by presbytery overture. The rationale for the overture argues that assembly business, particularly those items strongly connected to doctrine, should be bottom-up and not top-down. In other words, business like this should be generated from the presbyteries not committees of the higher judicatories. It also points out that having it come as presbytery overture provides a path that allows assembly debate, amendment and perfection of the requests.

All this and more is on the table for the next three days. It should be an interesting meeting and a barometer, or maybe a Rorschach test, of where the PCA is at the present time. Be ready to read the tea leaves.

Our best wishes to the commissioners and leaders of the PCA General Assembly for this important meeting and prayers for your discernment the next few days. May the Spirit guide you in your work.

The Curious Case Of The Kuyper Prize

So apparently the tent is not that big…

But I am getting ahead of myself here.

First, in case you need the elevator pitch on what is happening, Princeton Theological Seminary announced that the Abraham Kuyper Lecture would be delivered by a Presbyterian pastor of some note, the Rev. Timothy Keller who is about to retire as the senior pastor of a church in New York City. A bit of a ruckus arose because TE Keller is apparently not the right type of Presbyterian pastor – it turns out that he is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America. An initial attempt by the President of PTS, TE Craig Barnes, to explain the situation apparently did not help and so, with the gracious consent of both the Kuyper Committee and TE Keller the prize will not be awarded this year but in the interest of academic freedom and hearing a variety of voices Mr. Keller will still give the lecture.

When I initially heard about the prize I must admit that I was a bit surprised at the choice of Tim Keller. On the one hand, considering the description of the prize is:

The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life is awarded each year to a scholar or community leader whose outstanding contribution to their chosen sphere reflects the ideas and values characteristic of the Neo-Calvinist vision of religious engagement in matters of social, political and cultural significance in one or more of the ‘spheres’ of society. A condition of the Prize is that the recipient deliver a lecture on a topic appropriate to the aims of the Center. This lecture normally opens the annual spring conference, which is usually on a related theme.

Tim Keller – with his pastoral and missiology work – has easily done this. He founded, developed and put a program of expansion in place for church planting in an urban setting. If you want a statistic here, his multi-site congregation is roughly half the size of the combined total of the 101 PC(USA) congregations around him in New York City Presbytery. He has left a mark on Manhattan of “social, political and cultural significance.” On the other hand, my jaw dropped a bit at the chutzpah of a unit of PTS inviting a Presbyterian of another flavor to give the lecture knowing that he did not share some of what are becoming essential tenets of the modern PC(USA). It was no surprise to me that the controversy broke out.

Several strong voices of opposition appeared on the internet regarding the decision and how TE Keller was a part of a religious tradition that, while Presbyterian in governance, did not model the inclusiveness now expected in the PC(USA) and at its seminaries. Exempli gratia: Carol Howard Merritt, Traci Smith, and a faculty, staff and alumni online petition.

On the other hand, I was appreciative of the Kuyper Center reaching out to TE Keller and although I understand the motivation behind the criticism I was saddened to see such a strong reaction. I will not deny his overall theological views and their incompatibility with the modern mainline, but I want to take a few steps back and consider all this in a wider temporal and spacial context. A few points came to mind.

First, the topic of the lecture is not about what we as American Presbyterians disagree on but on something which we share regarding the social impact of the church. I believe that the walls that American Presbyterians have put up in the name of orthodoxy do a disservice to the proclamation of the Gospel and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. (I sometimes wonder if we are a bit too much like an award winning heretic joke.)

Second, Tim Keller seems like a reasonable leader for those in the PC(USA) to reach out to if the point is to develop this dialog. Within each denomination the membership is spread across a range of opinions on any given issue and it is helpful to remember that within the PCA there are some who became a part of it when the Reformed Presbyterian Evangelical Synod merged with the PCA in 1982 and those from the RPES gave up their ordination of women. While TE Keller did not come in through that branch, his church has been the target of criticism for having deaconesses serving along side deacons in the church leadership. As the PC(USA) knows very well, church beliefs evolve and maybe an evolution will be seen in the PCA’s stance with time. And I dare say, we acknowledge there are those within the PC(USA) who do not affirm the latest moves towards inclusiveness and might there actually be a few individuals who are still not fully in favor of the ordination of women?

Finally, what does this controversy say to PC(USA) ecumenical partners, many in Latin America and Africa who still do not ordain women? Is this saying, there are certain non-negotiables in what we say presbyterianism means and you don’t fit it? Or is this broadcasting a double standard for what it means to be an American Presbyterian versus a global Presbyterian?

I should probably finish by saying there has been a lot of criticism of PTS for the flip-flop and to a wider audience I suspect the perception is turning out more negative than positive. Again, Exempli gratia: Owen Strachan, Denny Burk, and Rod Dreher. In the mainstream media there are stories from the Washington Times and the Deseret News picked up the RNS story. And it appears in Abrahan Kuyper’s homeland a Dutch news site has picked it up as well.

And so with that, we will see how this all goes. One commentator has even noted that Abraham Kuyper would not qualify for the prize named for him under these new unwritten expectations.

So how large is the tent? Hang on to your hats as we try to find out.

44th General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In America

01645A81-A5D8-4EB1-9E4C30D14028D307The 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America will convene their plenary sessions tomorrow evening, 21 June, in Mobile, Alabama. Committees of Commissioners begin orientations and meetings today. The Assembly will continue through noon on Friday. The theme of the Assembly is “REFRESHED: In and For the Cross.” The meeting will be live streamed and they have their GA app available for several platforms to follow along. There is also a ShareFile! app there for registered commissioners to download reports and other documents.

While the full volume of reports is available only to commissioners, the docket and overtures are available on-line. [Tech note to the GA organizers – it is again the case this year that you might want to change the title in the GA docket PDF properties so it no longer says “40th General Assembly.”] There is a nice page with links to all the forms and schedules for the meeting. And this may be the first GA for which a Zika Virus Advisory has been issued.

To track the polity of the PCA you can access the Book of Church Order online.

News updates will be posted through the official news website and online publication byFaith.

Turning to social media, you will probably want to keep an eye on the byFaith Magazine Facebook page. There are numerous opportunities to follow the meeting on Twitter including the official feed from byFaith (@PCAbyFaith). There is also a feed for the Reasoning_Together (@PCA_Elders) program however it looks like that has gone dormant. The hashtag for the Assembly (and as I have been told the only one that is decent and in order) is #pcaga.

Other related Twitter accounts include Reformed University Fellowship (@RUFnational) and the Mission to North America (@pcamna). I would also include in this group the denomination’s schools, Covenant College (@CovenantCollege). and Covenant Seminary (@covseminary).

As for individuals to watch – round-up the usual suspects. Some who will be at the meeting and are, or will probably be tweeting include Fred Greco (@fredgreco), Ligon Duncan (@LigonDuncan), Sean Michael Lucas (@SeanMLucas), Melton L. Duncan (@MeltonDuncan), and Jemar Tisby (@JemarTisby) and his Reformed African American Network (@RAANetwork). Having included one organization there I will also mention Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing (@prpbooks) and Reformed Theological Seminary (@ReformTheoSem). (And as a note, there are other Twitter accounts for the different RTS campuses.) Let me also include Allan Edwards (@edwardsae1) who in past years has given us the Bingo Card and the Selfie Scavenger Hunt. This year we are back to the Bingo card, but there are suggestions of a new activity next year. And finally, I have previously been advised by @PCAPresbyter himself that all you really need to do is follow him. He will be sure to keep you decent and in order. 🙂

Regarding business to the Assembly, I will refer you to three articles from byFaith that review some of the important business that caught my eye.

  • Probably the most anticipated topic is the race-related overtures. This is a continuation from last year where a personal resolution got caught in polity jail and did not have a chance at a clear up or down vote. It was referred to this Assembly and 42 of the 63 overtures sent to this assembly deal with some aspect of this. By all means, check out the byFaith article to see the rundown of the proposed actions.
  • The second is a recommendation from the Administrative Committee to form a Study Committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry. As the review article says, ‘Writing in byFaith magazine’s summer issue, [former moderator Michael] Ross quoted a former GA moderator as saying, “Women in Ministry is the atomic bomb for the PCA,’ meaning that if we do not review and recommend changes in the way we treat women, we will probably lose a large segment of millennials.”
  • And in a set of overtures that could be in the shadow of these previous two issues, Pacific Northwest Presbytery has sent six overtures related to how the GA accepts, handles and disposes of business, including review of presbytery records which has often been an issue with Pacific Northwest.

A lot going on there and in the midst of three other GA happening I will try to follow along there.

Our best wishes to the commissioners and leaders of the PCA General Assembly and prayers for your discernment the next few days. May the Spirit guide you in your work.

The Long View Of Presbyterianism

ContinuingChurchSo this book was officially released yesterday. Through the efficiency of a shipper I received my copy a few days early and so far I have only had time to skim through it. It looks good, from what I have seen, and I hope to carve out a bit of time later in the month to more carefully read it.

But what I have found interesting in the lead up to this has been a certain amount of push-back I have gotten from several different quarters as I have unapologetically indicated my interest in, and anticipation of the book before its release. My overall interest in Presbyterianism and Presbyterian history is enough to justify my anticipation of this book. But it was further heightened earlier in the year when the author, Sean Michael Lucas, was featured in a documentary produced by Union Presbyterian Seminary called Division and Reunion.

The push-back I have received, both in general over my years of blogging and specifically regarding this book, usually can be boiled down to the statement of either “But they ordain (fill in the blank)” or “But they do not ordain (fill in the blank).”

So here is a response and why this book matters in either case.

First, it is easy to just view this as an academic exercise. I am interested in global Presbyterianism, history and polity. That alone is enough for me to be interested in this book.

But let me dig in a little deeper. Please note the subtitle of the book, “The roots of the Presbyterian Church in America.” (emphasis added) What are those roots? It is predominantly the PCUS, one of the predecessor denominations of the current PC(USA). Hate to break it to some of the mainline folks but this is a book that is mostly about your roots too. The book has 12 chapters and is about 328 pages of narrative text. Of those, only two chapters and about 48 pages deal specifically with the actual formation and subsequent development of the PCA. Yes, most of the book deals with our shared heritage.

I am aware that a few objections can be raised about considering our shared heritage through this one book, one that it is written from a PCA perspective. Fair enough, and if I find it too heavily biased I will report that back to you when I write my final review. But based on the contributions by Professor Lucas to the documentary mentioned above I expect an academically honest and nuanced, if not neutral approach.

Another objection is that the PCUS was only part of the reunion and the PC(USA) has a lot of history from the northern side as well. (The PCUSA + UPCNA => UPCUSA line.) Again, a valid argument and again, I will find out more when I read it. But some of the more complex characters in the PC(USA) family tree, such as Robert Lewis Dabney and James Henry Thornwell, were part of the southern branch and it can be argued that their influence continues to the present day in both current branches. But to be fair, the book appears to start near the beginning of the twentieth century and neither Dabney’s nor Thornwell’s name appears in the index.

Finally, there is that doctrine and polity question about ordinations and a number of other differences. On this count let me remind you that the PCUSA began ordaining women as teaching elders in 1956, making that not quite six decades out of a history that spans over three centuries. Furthermore, ordination is evolving in other branches as well with women’s ordination becoming much more widely accepted in the EPC and questions being raised about deaconesses in the PCA. In the long view of American Presbyterianism there are a number of issues like this which have changed over the years with varying speed in different branches.

It will also be interesting to see what parallels and differences there might be between the PCA exodus from the PCUS and the current ECO exodus from the PC(USA). The Forward talks about the interest of the founders of the PCA to have a mainline denomination that was “characterized by biblical authority, doctrinal orthodoxy, experiential piety, and missionary zeal.” That sounds a lot like some of the core values of ECO.

I will acknowledge that there is another reason for some of the push-back. There is still concern and skepticism on the part of a few people I have spoken with about the way that the PCA/PCUS split played out that was very hurtful to them. In a few cases this is not just a continuing sore point but is still an open wound. I am curious to see how the book deals with that aspect of the formation of the PCA.

There is a final reason for taking an interest in this book and it gets down to something that is being talked about a lot in the PC(USA) right at the moment – Presbyterian Identity. The Epilogue to this book is titled Presbyterian Identity and the Presbyterian Church in America: 1973-2013. Again, the PCA identity and the PC(USA) identity developed out of some shared roots if not exactly the same roots. In his Forward, Ligon Duncan talks about the vision and legacy of the PCA concluding “Unwittingly, [the founders of the PCA] forged a body that has played a significant role in the resurgence of Calvinism at the end of the twentieth century and in the beginning of the twenty-first.” But his next line is “Yes from the onset of its history, the PCA has struggled with its identity.”

In some regards the PC(USA) and the PCA may be more alike than they want to admit. One of the manifestations of their shared roots is the fact that both are currently struggling to come to terms with their past regarding racial ethnic ministries and social justice work and figure out how to move beyond that to become a more inclusive and diverse churches for the future.

I found it interesting in the Twitter chat on PC(USA) Identity a couple days ago that one person commented “while history is important we need to forget ‘the way things used to be.'” If I correctly understand what he had in mind I might rather say that we need to move beyond the “seven last words of the church” – we’ve never done it that way before – but we need to realize how much of our present identity is shaped by our roots and how much we need to understand those to move beyond them in the future.

That is to say, I think we really do need the long view of American Presbyterianism because if we focus only on the last couple decades we miss a lot of the struggles, the high points and low points that shape our identity as American Presbyterians today. Looking forward to seeing if this book will help inform our knowledge of that history.

Note: Thanks to the reader who pointed out that I was not as precise as I had intended. The PCUSA began ordaining women at teaching elders in 1956 but it was a progressive move with ordination as deacons and ruling elders in the 1930’s. The above text has been modified to be more precise.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of June 2015

Having gotten behind on news headlines I am just going to push the reset button and post a current one. And yes, a bunch of other stuff is sitting as drafts or in research right now.

There was a lot of news the in this time period so here are some headlines on select topics from the second half of June. (Not counting some GA stuff I plan to post on separately.)

In a still developing situation, two Presbyterian pastors from South Sudan have gone on trial in Sudan for preaching there (including some more recent information):

In Sudan: Imprisoned pastors facing possible death penalty barred from seeing families, lawyers – from Pulse Nigeria

Are Christians in Sudan facing persecution? – from BBC News

Sudan: South Sudanese Priests Defend Themselves During Trial Session – from allAfrica

PCUSA Writes to President Obama with Concern Regarding Imprisoned Sudanese Pastors – from Christianity Daily

 

The shootings and grieving at and for Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston had some Presbyterian connections:

‘All Shall Be Well’: Hear the Touching Voicemail from Charleston Massacre Victim Sharonda Coleman-Singleton – from People (and a bit more from the Presbytery of Los Ranchos)

Denmark Vesey and Clementa Pinckney – from Cheraw Chronical; The freed slave Denmark Vesey who founded Emmanuel AME was before that a member of Second Presbyterian Church next door

Salisbury native leads vigil in Charleston after mass shooting – from Salisbury Post; And while Emmanuel AME was closed Second Presbyterian next door provided space for prayer services

Cynthia Hurd funeral delivers a message of hope and mark on history – from The Charlotte Observer; Second Presbyterian also providing overflow seating for funerals

Delaware Pastor Writes Hymn for Charleston Victims ‘They Met to Read the Bible;’ Song Goes Global – from The Christian Post

 

A terrorist attack in Tunisia took 38 lives, most of them tourists from Britain on holiday. It included two from Scotland praised for their faith and work in the Church of Scotland. Their funeral was just held.

Tunisia attack: Prayers at Cumbernauld church for couple – from BBC News

Tributes paid to Scottish Christian couple killed in Tunisia terrorist attack – from Christian Today

Tunisia beach attack: funeral held in Scotland for Jim and Anne McGuire – from The Guardian

 

Digging back a little bit, in the various meetings this spring a number of Reformed branches have voted to become more inclusive, with some reactions from more traditional denominations:

French Protestant church allows gay marriage blessing – from Reuters UK

Largest Protestant denomination in Belgium allows gay and lesbian clergy – from Gay Star News; “The Synod of the United Protestant Church of Belgium has voted to decide that being gay should not be a barrier to being a minister in the church which already performs blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.”

Russian Church severs ties with Scotland & France churches; warns a blessing of LGBT clergy paves the way for the Antichrist – from Christian Examiner

 

And looking at it more broadly:

Free Presbyterians slam supporters of ‘yes’ vote – from Portadown Times; a reaction to the Ireland referendum

Minister faces Presbytery probe over same-sex views – from Portadown Times; the only Presbyterian Church in Ireland minister to openly support the “Yes” vote was examined over her beliefs

How humanists changed Scottish marriage – from BBC News; “The first humanist wedding in Scotland took place exactly 10 years ago. Over the past decade the number of ceremonies conducted by humanist celebrants has grown massively, already overtaking Catholic weddings and threatening to replace Church of Scotland as the most popular belief service.”

 

A publicity campaign by the Church of Scotland to recruit new, and younger, ministers appears to be working:

Church of Scotland hails recruitment drive success – from The Scotsman

 

And in Zimbabwe, the Health Minister thanks the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland for working with the local residents to build a clinic, but more are needed:

Health Minister Says More Clinics Needed in Nkayi – from Voice of America Zimbabwe

 

From the PC(USA)

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) missions chief resigns – from WDRB; Linda Valentine steps down as executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency

 

A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court goes in favor of a small Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and its temporary signage in Gilbert, Arizona:

Supreme Court rules for church in case against Arizona town’s sign law – from The Washington Post

 

In the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) a battle over property between the Livingstonia Synod and a break-away church as well as a dispute involving an out-spoken cleric in Blantyre Synod.

CCAP Controversies Rage On: Livingstonia battle and Blantyre Synod Infighting – from Nyasa Times

 

High-profile PCA pastor, TE Tullian Tchividjian, resigns admitting infidelity

Renowned South Florida pastor steps down amid marital affair – from Local 10

After affair leads to pastor’s exit, Coral Ridge worshippers urged to keep the faith – from The Sun Sentinel

 

A proud adherent, if not member, of the PC(USA) declares his candidacy for President of the United States. Worth noting that his church, First Presbyterian of Jamaica, Queens, is the oldest continually serving Presbyterian church in the U.S.

5 faith facts about Donald Trump: a Presbyterian who collects Bibles – from Religion News Service

Donald Trump Is A Proud Presbyterian – from World Religion News

And finally, it may not be continuously serving, but a neighbor of First Presbyterian, Jamaica, was founded a bit earlier and is celebrating a milestone anniversary.

First Presbyterian Church of Southold to Celebrate 375th Year Anniversary – from Long Island Exchange

43rd General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In America

01645A81-A5D8-4EB1-9E4C30D14028D307The 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America will convene their plenary sessions tomorrow evening, 9 June, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Committees of Commissioners began meeting today. The Assembly will continue through noon on Friday. The theme of the Assembly is “Anchored in Christ. Active in Culture.” The meeting will be live streamed and they have their GA app available for several platforms to follow along. There is also a ShareFile! app there for registered commissioners to download reports and other documents.

While the full volume of reports is available only to commissioners, the docket and overtures are available on line. [Tech note to the GA organizers – you might want to change the title in the GA docket PDF properties so it no longer says 40th General Assembly.] To track the polity of the PCA you can access the Book of Church Order online.

News updates will be posted through the official news website and online publication byFaith.

Turning to social media, you will probably want to keep an eye on the byFaith Magazine Facebook page. There are numerous opportunities to follow the meeting on Twitter including the official feed from byFaith (@PCAbyFaith). There is also a feed for the Reasoning_Together (@PCA_Elders) program. The hashtag for the Assembly is #pcaga.

Other related Twitter accounts include Reformed University Fellowship (@RUFnational) and the Mission to North America (@pcamna) (There is also PCA Christian Ed (@pcacep) but it appears pretty inactive.) I would also include in this group Covenant College (@CovenantCollege) which is hosting an event during the Assembly.

Individuals who will be at the meeting and are, or will probably be tweeting include Fred Greco (@fredgreco), Ligon Duncan (@LigonDuncan), Sean Michael Lucas (@SeanMLucas) and Jemar Tisby (@JemarTisby) and his Reformed African American Network (@RAANetwork). Having included one organization there I will also mention Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing (@prpbooks) and Reformed Theological Seminary (@ReformTheoSem). Let me also include Allan Edwards (@edwardsae1) who, after last year’s success with the Bingo Card, has offered the Selfie Scavenger Hunt this year using the hashtag #PCAGAselfie. And finally, I have previously been advised by @PCAPresbyter himself that all you really need to do is follow him. He will certainly enlighten your tracking of PCA GA in his own inimitable way. 🙂

Concerning the overtures to this GA, byFaith Online has an article that covers the “most substantive” of the ten overtures before the Assembly. In addition, Benjamin Shaw, who blogs as the gptsrabbi, has done good rundowns of these overtures as well:

  • Overture 1 – At the present time the decisions of judicial commissions must be affirmed by the governing body it is a commission of. This overture provides the option for a judicial commission to have the final decision on a case as is the case in some other Presbyterian branches.
  • Overtures 2 and 9 – One of the overtures that caught my attention as they ask for a study committee to consider the meaning and scriptural precedent for the Westminster Standards’ prohibition of “recreations” on the Sabbath.
  • Overture 3 – Proposes changes to the parental promises in the baptismal vows. There is another thoughtful discussion of this overture at Green Baggins.
  • Overtures 4, 5, and 6 – Changes to presbytery boundaries and creating two new presbyteries
  • Overture 7 – Would change the rules of ecclesiastical trials so that the defendant could be forced to testify. That is, they could not “take the fifth.”
  • Overture 8 – Would change the BCO regarding giving up ordained office if an officer does not have a call. Currently, for teaching elders, they may be removed from the office by a 2/3 vote of presbytery if they have been without a call for an extended period. The overture would make it automatic if they have been without a call for three years although the presbytery may continue them in the office for a year by a majority vote. Similar terms would apply to ruling elders and deacons.
  • Overture 10 – Memorial to Teaching Elder John Wayne King

pca_new_2014And we also wait to see the recommendation from the referral of the new logo that was proposed in an overture last year.

So our best wishes to the commissioners and leaders of the PCA General Assembly and prayers for your discernment the next few days. I will be interested to see how several of these business items are decided.

 

In a programming note – This will be the busiest week of the year for Assemblies with six that I know of convening in the next few days. Please bear with me as I try to get summaries of each of them posted.

The Latest US Religion Demographic Data

Ah, the Siren Song of new data…

In case you were not on social media yesterday the Pew Research Center released their new report on American’s Changing Religious Landscape and it is all over the interwebs from national mainstream media, to local news outlets, to the religious news sources to bloggers to the people in the pew. And don’t worry if you have missed it because it probably only quantifies what you already know. I like the way Derek Rishmanwy put it on Twitter:

The cool thing about Pew numbers is how versatile they are; bloggers can wear them with triumph, grief, & multiple shades of schadenfreude!

And a nod to Andrew Wilson and his tweeted observation:

Ironic, a few days after the UK discovered just how inaccurate polls can be, to see so much excitement / distress in the US over … a poll.

All that to say, I initially thought I would just look at it and say “Nothing to see here. Move along folks.”

But remember that my mantra is “I never met a data set I didn’t like,” so casting caution to the wind I jumped into the fray. Now join me as I drill down into a very small piece of the data released with this report.

First, in the event you have not taken a look, let me give you the bullet points everyone else is focusing on. Between the last survey in 2007 and this one in 2014:

  • The proportion of the population identified as part of mainline denominations has dropped 3.4% from 18.1% to 14.7% of the population
  • At the same time those classified as part of evangelical Protestant churches has dropped 0.9% from 26.3% to 25.4%
  • There was a 1.2% gain in non-Christian faiths (now 5.9% of the total population) and a 6.7% gain in what they identify as Unaffiliated which has grown to 22.8% of the population.

Now, Pew favors reporting in percentages since they are most interested in the proportional interplay of groups. But it is instructive in this case to convert this into absolute numbers. So in 2007 the estimated population of the U.S. was about 301.6 million. By 2014 it had grown to 318.9 million. Using the above numbers that means that the mainline decreased from 54.6 million to 46.9 million. However, in an absolute sense the number of evangelical Protestants grew from 79.3 million to 81.0 million.

OK, now my two biggest pet peeves about this data set. (Yes, this data set pushes the limits of meeting data sets I didn’t like).

  • The basic categories for Protestants are mainline, evangelical and historically black. In other words, if you are not the first or the last you must be evangelical – that mushy category that is tough to define. So, for example, you are combining into a single group those that subscribe to the Westminster Standards with those that have “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no name but the name Christian.” I think this classification could be a bit more granular.
  • The category Unaffiliated is similarly a catch-all, at least at least as I look at it. The category includes Atheists (3.1% of the population), Agnostics (4.0%) and Nothing In Particular (15.8%). Furthermore, the Nothing In Particular are further divided into Religion Not Important (8.8%) and Religion Important (6.9%). Jack Jenkins over at Think Progress dissects this corner of the classification a bit more.

Specific to that first bullet point though, Appendix B says:

Protestant respondents who gave a vague answer to denominational questions (e.g., “I am just a Baptist” or “I know I am Methodist but don’t know which specific Methodist denomination I belong to”) were placed into one of the three Protestant traditions based on their race and/or their response to a question that asked if they would describe themselves as a “born-again or evangelical Christian.”

OK, so if I am PC(USA), but don’t know or admit that I am PC(USA) and acknowledge to being born again, I get placed in the Evangelical Presbyterian category. Likewise, someone in another Presbyterian tradition that does not identify which one but does not consider regeneration to be technically the same as being born again, they would be placed in the mainline. To this point the report goes on:

Overall, 38% of Protestants (including 36% of evangelical Protestants, 35% of mainline Protestants and 53% of those in the historically black Protestant tradition) gave a vague denominational identity, necessitating the use of their race or their born-again status (or sometimes both) to categorize them into one of the three major Protestant traditions.

That appendix does list 16 different Evangelical Presbyterian categories that were reported, some of which were specific (exempli gratia: Presbyterian Church in America, Cumberland Presbyterian, Bible Presbyterian), some of which are ambiguous (does Reformed Presbyterian refer to the RPCNA or to the Hanover Presbytery?) and some are general catch-all categories like Ethnic Presbyterian and “Presbyterian, ambiguous affiliation.”

[I will note that the main report does have a two page section (beginning on page 30) on identifying evangelicals and they discuss how it can be by denomination (so Presbyterians are never evangelical), by the born-again test, or by a more detailed analysis of their beliefs. The latter is outside the scope of this report but they expect another report on that later.]

So in the report of data they group Presbyterians into three categories: the mainline PC(USA) and two Evangelical categories: PCA and everyone else. I found it interesting that in the population numbers reported in that appendix the size of the PC(USA) and the size of the Evangelical everyone else was the same with each being 1.1% of the population in 2007 and 0.9% in 2014. The PCA held steady at 0.4% of the population. For comparison purposes, if the PC(USA) had about 1.7 million members in 2014 and the US population was 318.9 million that means that only 0.5% of the population of the US was a member of the PC(USA). So based on the Pew results the adherents, or those who identify with the PC(USA), almost doubles when you consider how people self-identify or the survey classifies ambiguous answers.

Moving on to the detailed data, I will focus only on Presbyterians and refer only to the breakout pages for Presbyterians. There is one for Mainline Presbyterians generally and a subset for the PC(USA). Similarly, there is one for Evangelical Presbyterians and the subset for the PCA. So keep in mind that for the the general evangelical numbers, about half are the PCA. In addition, since I am not sure what a mainline Presbyterian who is not in the PC(USA) is I will simply focus on the PC(USA) data. But there is another 0.5% of the population that they classify as being mainline without being PC(USA).

And as I start this drill-down let me add this warning: I will be looking at small changes in some of the categories but my interest must be tempered with caution, or even skepticism, because the table of Margins of Error shows that for these sample sizes the margin is between +/-7% and +/-5.5%. That means that while many of the differences between the numbers below are interesting, very few of them are statistically significant.

So let’s start with Age.

I find it interesting that differences between all the Presbyterian categories were so similar in the 2007 survey. In general, they all had about 10% in the 18-29 age group, and 30% in each of the other age groups – 30-49, 50-64 and 65+. Yes, there are some slight differences but the pattern looks solid and there are uncertainty ranges (and the ambiguous classifications) to consider so I don’t get too concerned about that range.

Between 2007 and 2014 the PC(USA) and the PCA show very similar patterns of change in the age ranges. The youngest range stays the same, the 30-49 range decreases markedly ( -11% for the PCA and -9% for the PC(USA) ), the 50-64 range also remains the same and the 65+ range increases markedly ( +12% for the PCA and +6% for the PC(USA) ). The general evangelical as a whole shows less change in each category except that there is a marked increase in the 50-64 range ( +6%).

Gender composition

In terms of gender composition the PC(USA) remained steady at 45%/55% men to women. The PCA and the overall general evangelical both had a 5% shift from men to women.

Racial composition

Each of the groups became more diverse over the last five years with the PC(USA) dropping from 91% to 88% white, the PCA from 86% to 80% white and the general group from 88% to 81%.

For the PC(USA) the change was distributed over all the other categories with Black respondents increasing from 4% to 5%, Asian from 2% to 3% and Latino from 2% to 4%.

In the PCA it was a similar pattern for Black adherents with an increase of 5% to 6%. Asian members decreased from 4% to 3%. The biggest increase was in the Other/Mixed category jumping from 1% to 5% and a noticeable increase in the Latino category from 4% to 6%.

For the combined general evangelical category the Black percentage increased from 4% to 6%, the Asian from 3% to 5%, Other/Mixed from 1% to 4% and Latino was constant at 4%.

Income and Education

These two demographic measures appear to have some correlation as you might expect. For the PC(USA) the peak in annual household income shifted from the $50,000-$99,999 group in 2007 (37%) to the $100,000+ group in 2014. Actually, considering the margin of error the two bins are pretty close in 2014 with that lower bin having 29%. For education, the distribution is pretty flat in 2014 with just about 25% in each of the categories – High School or less, Some College, College, Post-graduate.

The interesting thing across all three classifications of Presbyterians for income is that it is bi-modal as they have binned it. In all the cases there is a lower peak in the <$30,000 bin. For 2014 the PC(USA) it is 24%, for the PC it is 27% and for the general evangelical it is 28%.

For the PCA and general evangelical the income distributions have their primary peak in the $50,000-$99,999 range with 31% in the PCA and 21% in the general. Likewise, the education peak for both groups is in the Some College bracket with 37% of the PCA and 35% of the general.

I suggested the income/education correlation, but another one comes to mind. Is the apparent correlation age reflecting the higher incomes in the PC(USA) does an older demographic with higher earning power or with more two-wage earner households account for that result.

Switching and Retention

The last set of data I want to look at is the information on individuals switching denominations and the retention of members. For this we need to turn to the section in the full report beginning on page 32. Overall, 19.0% of the country grew up in the mainline Protestant church. In the survey the measurement is that 10.4% of the population has left, 6.1% have switch into the mainline giving 14.7% now in the mainline. For evangelical Protestants the numbers are 23.9% that grew up in it, 8.4% left, 9.8% joined and now 25.4% are in that category.

Looking at all Presbyterians, 3.0% of the population grew up in a Presbyterian church of some flavor. Those who have left make up 2.0% of the US population and those that have joined make up 1.1% for a current total of 2.2% of the population.

Now, returning back to that margin of error stuff – in compiling all this data is struck me that there are some interesting differences between these three groups, but based on the demographic data in the report these three groups of Presbyterians are not that different after all.

So where do we go from here?

One thing that struck me was the “the sky is falling” response. As I said in the early discussion there is nothing new about these demographic changes. A lot of attention is being paid to the Unaffiliated growth but this group comes in a number of flavors and I am not sure combining them gives much insight. Looking at the data my interpretation is that the Nothing in Particular category has now become the point for loosely or barely affiliated individuals to now identify with. As Ed Stetzer puts it in his helpful analysis

One of the primary reasons it appears as though “American Christianity” is experiencing a sharp decline is because the nominals that once made up (disproportionately) Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism are now checking “none” on religious affiliation surveys.

In the long view what is happening now is more of a pruning or consolidation. A vital core is still there for the church to move forward.

However, this consolidation does not seem to favor the mainline. There are enough theories as to why that is the case that I won’t go there now. But I think the same principle applies — there is pruning and consolidation going on with that branch. The key will be finding a central core and shared vision to organize around in the years ahead.

Can the mainline do that? It will be interesting to see. There is certainly a lot of pruning going on in the PC(USA) although you will get significant discussion as to whether there the mainline is the core that needs to be pruned or the part that is being shed in the consolidation. But with the Split-P’s the divisions come and reunion later comes as well. We will have to see which groups can develop strong cores or whether the declines will overtake them before they can.

I also wanted to add that for purposes of forecasting future trends grouping and reporting the data a bit differently would be useful. The primary example is the age data where the ranges are large enough that having a report with shifted age ranges so that individuals in the 2007 report are in the same group in the 2014 report would be useful. Even better, maybe a report with the age ranges reflecting the customary demographic groups – Builders, Boomers, Gen X and Millennials – could be considered. The purpose of course is to isolate the groups to see if they fit the oft-reported trends. Similarly, when dealing with something like household income it would be helpful to not just see it in the bins but also report the quartiles of the data.

So there are a few of the things I was chasing here. A couple other items jump out at me but this close to the opening of the Church of Scotland General Assembly convening that I want to chase those any further. Lots to think about here so something to return to later if times get slow. And there is always that report on Evangelical Protestants. But for now…

… On to Edinburgh

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of October

Much of the Presbyterian related news in this time period was dominated by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, particularly the decision to include the prohibition against same-sex marriage in their Book of Order, a decision I have already discussed. The press releases about the election of the Moderator and the Moderator-designate, a new Executive Secretary, and another about beginning the process to divest from fossil fuels got some wider distribution:

Presbyterian Church elects new leader – from Community Scoop

Presbyterian Church elects Moderator-designate – from Community Scoop

New national Assembly Executive Secretary for Presbyterians – from Community Scoop

Presbyterian Church to consider divestment of fossil fuels – from Community Scoop

At the same time church buildings face an uncertain future as congregations dwindle:

Historic Auckland church faces ‘imminent’ risk of demolition – from TVNZ

Community rallies to save old church – from The Dominion Post

In the debate over dividing Malawi into north and south countries, the Livingstonia Synod is take to task for taking sides in the matter in their siding with the current president oposing division.

CounterJab: Sorry, no room for Livingstonia Synod, Kyungu in federalism debate – from Nyasa Times

Elsewhere in the CCAP:

Malawi: Nkhoma Synod to Repay Cashgate Money Embezzled By Church Officials – from allAfrica

In Northern Ireland a Presbyterian Church was damaged and an Orange Hall destroyed by arsonists:

Locals condemn arson attack on Donegal Orange Hall – from Irish Times

Presbyterian church arson ‘an attack on all Christians’ – from Belfast News Letter; includes comments from the Moderator of the General Assembly

Convoy Orange Hall: Donegal arson arrests made – from BBC News

 News from a PC(USA) related seminary:

Doris J. García Rivera installed as president of the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico – from Presbyterian News Service

From Columbia, South Carolina, a story about Blythewood Presbyterian Church, a fairly new PCA church that is using the land it one day hopes to build its sanctuary on for a community garden in the mean time:

Blythewood Community Garden: A different approach to outreach – from the Columbia Metropolitan

And finally from Scotland: While members and pastors continue to depart from the Church of Scotland

Kirk ministers and members officially join Free Church – from Aberdeen Press and Journal

There was high-profile news of a major archaeological discovery on Kirk property

In Pictures: Largest Ever Viking Treasure Trove Discovered by Metal Detectorists in Scotland – from International Business Times

Retiree unearths huge Viking treasure trove in Scotland – from Japan Times

Viking treasure trove discovered in Scotland – from The Guardian

Spectacular Viking treasure hoard found on Church land – from Church of Scotland press release

And that is what caught my attention back then. On to the next one…

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of September

As the year winds down I am hoping to get caught up with the news headlines posts – a daunting task considering how far behind I am and while I am also in the midst of a number of other drafts I am working on. So here are a few of the items that caught my attention the second half of September.

Maybe the most interesting is a new partnership between Redeemer Church and Reformed Theological Seminary:

Tim Keller’s Redeemer Church and Reformed Theological Seminary to launch NYC campus – from Religion News Service

I have previously mentioned churches who have offered sanctuary to immigrants, but now there is the announcement of this as a movement:

Inaction Spurs New Immigrant Sanctuary Movement – from Texas Observer

Church network offers sanctuary to illegal immigrants to avoid deportation – from The Washington Times

A church burglary:

Historic church robbed days before last service: Board Member: I believe it was an inside job – from KSAT San Antonio

A delegation from the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan visited the Church of Scotland during the month including the time of the Independence Referendum. They found the visit interesting, to say the least:

Delegation from Taiwan in Forfar – from Kirriemuir Herald

Taiwanese Moderator’s Message to Scotland – from The Church of Scotland

The passing of an influential pastor who served for 50 years:

Malawi: Nkhoma Synod Hero Rev Chalera Laid to Rest – from allAfrica

And finally, a milestone anniversary for a historic church in North Carolina:

Historic African American church to celebrate 150th year – from The Times-News; “During the last full year of the Civil War, a slave founded a new church in the community that, 17 years later, would be incorporated as Mebanesville.”

And now, on to a couple of Canadian developments…