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The Politics of a General Assembly, Postscript; Where Things Stand

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Postscript

I think that this General Assembly clarified things a great deal about the trajectory of the PCUSA. There was a lot of talk among progressives before the Assembly about vigilance, how that there might be some evangelical backlash that would undo the church’s position on LGBT ordination. But it never happened. Nor did it even come close. With a more efficiently organized focus on the agenda of the plenary sessions, the progressives would have gotten almost a clean sweep at this GA.  I went to different progressive briefings coming out of the committee meetings Sun-Tues and every one was bright and cheery because, when given the chance for a thorough presentation of their case to commissioners, the results were favorable on basically every progressive issue.  The committees voted in our favor on every point except the request for an AI by committee 13 and apartheid by committee 15. Much of that agenda got blocked in the plenary through tactical maneuverings, however,as I explained earlier in my series of posts.

But this is not going to last. Between the aging and death of many now-active elders and pastors, who demographically lean heavily conservative on same-sex issues, and the schismatics departing to ECOP or the EPC, the strength of conservatives has dropped dramatically in just the last two years.  This is only going to continue, so my conclusion is that, in the PCUSA, the progressives have all but  won the culture war.

But the church is still moderately evangelical and could very easily continue to be for some time. You could hear that coming through quite strongly at the GA in the worship, particularly in the music from the sampler of songs used by the Assembly  which was drawn from the PCUSA’s latest hymnal, Glory to God, due out next year. But the evangelical strand of our tradition was also clearly heard in the preaching on the week’s theme of bringing people to Jesus, as well as in the voices of the commissioners themselves, about 40-45% of whom, based on my reading of the votes we took, seemed to be evangelical, but also in the speeches of a lot of progressives, who may side with the left in the culture wars but whose roots, like my own, are from the opposite side of the ideological spectrum.

It remains to be seen whether this will be enough for evangelicals to stay. I lost track of how many times I heard someone say, “If X happens then Y will leave,” with Y sometimes being the speakers themselves. Well, for the most part, X got staved off, but does that mean that Y will stay until X DOES happen in 2014, or will they see things like I see them, and leave before the inevitable occurs?

Progressives also have to decide how we will react. This was a very upsetting Assembly for many of us, not simply on account of results, but on account of fairness. We are used to losing–we lost for 33 years on gay ordination, so we know how to deal with that. What we have less experience with is trying to process life together with a minority who seems all too willing to play unfairly. Do we fight fire with fire, and come prepared in 2014 to struggle from the minute the Assembly starts to get the church’s business done, even if it means contending for every minute of the Assembly’s time? Or should we let what happened at this GA slide, and let it take care of itself by the death and departure of many on the other side?  The church has a lot to think about before we do this again.

My hope is that we can stay together. I don’t think we have to agree on gay ordination or marriage or divestment to be one church. I think my position on the issues is correct, but I don’t think my neighbor is so incorrect that she or he is no longer a vector of the Holy Spirit’s work in the world. Unfortunately, conservatives are struggling with the new reality of their diminished standing as the minority, which is something many of them clearly cannot yet accept.  My prayer is that they can see past their defeat to find the larger purpose we have in mission in the world. I have said it many times. I’m a liberal, but I don’t want to be in a liberal church, because liberals unchecked are prone to do stupid things. And I think the same holds true for conservatives that want to make a ghetto for themselves on the right. These would be terrible developments for the church to split ourselves the way some on the right are advocating. In the kingdom of God, the church will have every ideological stripe. And the church isn’t supposed to wait around until then to get its act together either.

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  • http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/theologyandworship/ Charles Wiley

    Tim, you’ve posted a lot of interesting thoughts. I’d like to add a small bit of complexity to your analysis. Beau Weston has done a lot of work on Presbyterianism, and I think he has a point worth considering. The landscape is changing since he made this argument, but it is still largely true, I think. Your analysis speaks of two parties: evangelicals and progressives. He speaks of a third: the loyalists. While the first two parties vote largely out of ideology (or conscience), the loyalists are largely interested in what will keep the church together. This can lead to votes that would seem to be contradictory, but make a certain sense. Try it out and see what you think.

    Charles

    • Timothy F. Simpson

      My concern with Weston’s language is that it gives the impression that the people on either side are just in it for the fight and that these are to be distinguished from a more virtuous middle who really love the church but who don’t want to take sides. We progressives understood ourselves to be the loyalists for decades, who didn’t quit, even after we had Fidelity and Chastity shoved down our throats in the 90s. And today, I consider evangelicals loyalists precisely because I know what a bitter pill it is to swallow a loss like they have endured, and I admire every last one of them for staying through their grief. I’m also glad people in the middle stay, but it’s a bit of an insult to suggest that the folks who may be unaffiliated, undecided, uninformed, or, as I suggested today, are most of a more complex view of the relationship between policy and theology, are the loyal ones.

      My sense, as I laid it out today, is that there is large middle made up of people who are theologically evangelical and yet socially progressive. Like Rockefeller Republicans, in political terms. Our denomination, which has an average age of sixty and which is predominately Republican, can remember a time when this kind of complex thinking was a force in American political life and in my opinion, they are emulating their experience of that kind of synthesis within the church today. A similar thing is happening among young evangelicals, among whom 18-29 year olds support gay marriage. They have no idea who the Rockefellers were, but they are unhappy with the polarization. If this is what Weston means by his description of the middle, I would agree with it. I think this kind of church could thrive because of the size of a mixed middle like the one we have. If the evangelicals pull out, however, the church will skew left, which is not a development that I welcome.

      • http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/theologyandworship/ Charles Wiley

        Tim: two things. 1) I’ve been through this long enough to know that the two parties do not capture everyone (or even close to everyone) involved. 2) I’ve always thought that, of the three, the “loyalist” description was the one easiest to criticize. Many dismiss such folks as just wanting to hold things together irrespective of any particular principles.

        As with all big generalizations, it can’t capture the complexity. And, as I said, it doesn’t capture us as well as it did a decade ago. But I still contend it captures things a lot better than a binary progressive/evangelical analysis.

        • Timothy F. Simpson

          Charles, what I’m talking about is voting behavior, where you don’t get twenty shades of nuance. So don’t hear me saying that everybody is one or the other– if you give them time to unpack why they vote the way they do they will undoubtedly have all manner of subtleties. And these are interesting if you’re going to write a book, as Weston has, on the subject. When the commissioners voted, it was basically 1 or 2 with a rare person sometimes voting 3, to abstain. I’m trying explain how, when people have to choose a side, how they are doing it. Everyone is not becoming a progressive theologically. I sat in a lot of meetings last week, official and unofficial, and heard people of evangelically-oriented faith voting for progressive policy issues. My concern is that people who were not there will simply see the strong swell of numerical support for progressive policies and misread that, as if all those votes are from people who are advocates of liberation theology or universalism or whatever is currently the bugaboo in evangelical circles that identifies someone as a theological liberal. I don’t think that is what’s going on.

          • http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/theologyandworship/ Charles Wiley

            I see your point. My point was that the “loyalist” angle helps to explain a GA that voted against the two minority reports AND the committee recommendation, leaving nothing on the floor. Loyalists can often be counted on to vote against actions on controversial issues, whether those actions be progressive or conservative, I’ve found that this analysis can be helpful in understanding all kinds of votes.

            I appreciate your thoughtful analysis.

  • http://someamusingblogpun.wordpress.com/ Alan

    Among the many problems with Weston’s perspective is not only that he attempts to create a false equality between the “extremes” (which is clearly not true as evidenced by the pick-up-your-toys-and-leave behavior of the fundamentalists), but also that his wishful thinking completely ignores demographics.

    It doesn’t matter if the majority of the members of the PCUSA are loyalists if they’re all 90 years old. Planck’s statements about the progress of science apply to any demographic shift like this, denominations included.

    It is inconceivable to me that we got as close to getting a marriage overture through GA (and it really was very close) in just one GA since deleting B. I conservatively figured 10 years after ordination just to pass marriage at GA. We’re well on track to proving me way too conservative with that figure. Likely next time it’ll pass GA, and then a time or two before it passes the presbyteries. 6 years? Probably not more than 8.

    And, interestingly, even the fundamentalists admit that’s true …

  • http://robertaustell.com robert austell

    Hi Tim – thanks for your series of reflections. It was helpful for me to get a peek inside someone with such a different perspective.

    I attended the evangelical briefings that corresponded to the progressive ones you describe and not once did I hear the advice or strategy to stall, delay, or maneuver in the way you describe.

    Related, but different, whether planned out or not, I did not see proportionally more or less amending, moving, questioning, etc.. from progressives or conservatives. My observation was that the whole group of us spun our wheels together (which, admittedly, was very frustrating).

    Robert Austell

    • Timothy F. Simpson

      Rob, I may be mistaken, and I hope you will correct me if i am wrong, but I do not recall a single progressive minority report, whereas there were numerous from the conservatives. Nor do I recall any piece of business that was blocked from coming to the floor by progressives using parliamentary procedure, while conservatives tried to stop lots of items from being voted on directly–for hours at a time. If you say there was no strategizing going on, then maybe it was all a coincidence. But it felt as if some unseen hand was directing the same tactics again and again Wed-Sat, the effect of which was to hold up business, shorten discussion, wear people out and generally throw enough sand in the gears such that people would grasp at whatever solution seemed easiest given the looming train wreck that was Friday.

      I appreciated all the things you said in your pitch to be our moderator. I think you would have done a fine job, even though we are far apart on many issues. I wish that the rest of our denomination’s evangelicals had the same approach that you do. You are clear and firm in your convictions yet are able to be nice to people even when you think they are crazy. I sincerely admire that quality in you and pray that it will spread in our church.

      • Chris Enoch

        Tim, there wasn’t a single progressive minority report because…progressive won the day in every committee. Just guessing. No, not guessing. That was my observation as a commissioner.

        • Timothy F. Simpson

          Chris, by my recollection, progressives only lost in committee on apartheid and the AI recommendation. So it was very evident that when commissioners got to hear all the evidence, as they did in the committees, they voted on the progressive side.

      • Glen Hallead

        I continue to be concerned about the angry undertone toward these perceived evangelical nitwits (my words) that have this twisted and wrong notion about what it right. There is a very obvious arrogance to your writings, Timothy, that does little to invited me into a conversation. Just a thought: maybe the “unseen hand” was the Lord himself wishing those who call themselves his people who are no people would just be still…

        • Timothy F. Simpson

          Glen, like I said earlier in the week, people wouldn’t treat others at a session or presbytery meeting like they do at a GA. people work for months out there in the presbyteries on their overtures, then committees work non-stop like fiends to get through the business and bring recommendations to the floor, and then, somebody who is on the other side of the debate says after hours of parliamentary moves, “Hey let’s just bundle every resolution of this monnitteeinto a single motion calling for a study, and say that the study answers everything that committee had worked to bring before us.” This is perfectly in order as far as the rules go, but it’s not very gracious to the labors of your brothers and sisters, and opportunistically plays on people’s hunger and exhaustion. It’s just as legitimate in session or presbytery meetings, but you hardly ever see it because it would be considered rude. At least it would have been considered such in the seven churches and four presbyteries in which I have served. The delays became so egregious that we started at speeches of three minutes on Wednesday, were down to two minutes on Thursday, and were down to one minute on Friday. At one minute, you aren’t even expressing complete thoughts. There is only a semblance of reasoned decision-making. I don’t think the evangelicals were nit-wits at all. They out-smarted progressives at every turn. I give them their due. It’s just a crappy way to win, in my opinion.

  • http://gravatar.com/sandalow Al

    There is a pretty good model of what will happen to the PCUSA as it becomes more theologically progressive:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/opinion/sunday/douthat-can-liberal-christianity-be-saved.html?_r=4

    “But if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. …Both religious and secular liberals have been loath to recognize this crisis. Leaders of liberal churches have alternated between a Monty Python-esque “it’s just a flesh wound!” bravado and a weird self-righteousness about their looming extinction”.

  • Al

    Bass’ article is long on hope and short on numbers. She makes the mistake of not factoring in non-denominational churches, that tend to be theologically conservative (in fact, more conservative that the average evangelical Presbyterian). There are now more non-denominational Christians in the USA than those in denominations, so leaving them out of any analysis renders your facts on church trends less than credible.

    “Unexpectedly, liberal Christianity is–in some congregations at least–undergoing renewal. A grass-roots affair to be sure, sputtering along in local churches, prompted by good pastors doing hard work and theologians mostly unknown to the larger culture. Some local congregations are growing, having seriously re-engaged practices of theological reflection, hospitality, prayer, worship, doing justice, and Christian formation.”

    This is the kind of analysis Douthat is talking about. It’s like saying “some states have budget surpluses”, without mentioning that it’s one out of fifty and that the others are in trouble.

    And yes, theologically conservative churches are and will have tough times too. But I’m willing to bet that in 20 years most will still be vital and effective (and mostly non-denominational). In 20 years the PCUSA ‘pig in the python’ will be gone and she will be in near collapse (see that material presented at GA). The USA Episcopalians will have been tossed aside by world-wide Anglicanism and be in worse shape than the Presbyterians. Show me any numbers that indicate this is wrong and I’ll be the first to eat my words.

    • Glen Hallead

      One of the mistakes often made is to see the “mainline” now “sideline” denominations as somehow the authority. The hilarious things is that the WCC itself barely encompasses 25% of the world Christian poplulation. Bass writes neither for a significant minority nor anything that would approximate a majority.

    • Timothy F Simpson

      Al, if you read the book, American Grace: How Religion Divides Us and Unites Us, by Putnam and Chappell you will see all the numbers you need, and then some. It’s the mist comprehensive study of American religion ever done, and it exposes Douthat’s ignorance in glaring detail. The churches that are hemorrhaging right now are conservative churches. That’s the great shift going on in American religious life. It isn’t that mainline churches haven’t lost members. But that shift took place starting forth years ago. And what we heard all the years since is the same thing Douthat, a lawyer, with no training in the field, is peddling, namely the obituary of liberalism. What Douthat doesn’t ever write about is that the evangelicals have been losing market share since 1991. They kept growing in absolute numbers based on birth rate but their market share relative to population growth was shrinking, and now, they are even declining in absolute numbers as well. And, when researchers ask people why they are leaving evangelical churches, the biggest reason is the affiliation with right wing politics, and more specifically, the evangelical position on gays and lesbians. So Douthat is completely off in his assessment. Rather than focusing on liberal churches, he ought to be focusing on conservative churches. And if the goal is to stop the bleeding in churches, the people themselves are telling evangelicals that they need to do exactly what the Episvopal church is doing, which is to accept gays. Read the book. It’s devastating.

  • http://robertaustell.com robert austell

    Tim, I am not aware of any minority report that was offered to slow or sabatoge a discussion, but to offer a position for consideration held by a minority in committee. In the case of the marriage vote, for example, a strong minority of evangelicals wanted to give the body the opportunity to reaffirm traditional language. That wasn’t a stall tactic; it was a (parliamentary and theologically) legitimate desire. That was minority report 2. Minority report 1 was a guy who was largely on his own, looking for peace between friends (which, of course, frustrated his friends on all sides). Did he intend to bog things down or intentionally sabatoge the works? No way. I know him well; he was acting on his own, feeling led by the Spirit, and hoping that he had a way forward for the church. Did all this slow things way down and have a negative impact on patience, quality of discourse, etc.. – for sure. But it was hardly an evangelically engineered plot. If you want to argue there was one, that’s your right.

    On a more personal note, I offered what may have been the first substitute/minority motion of the Assembly – on limiting per capita paid by presbyteries (13-02sub). It took quite a while to work through. I won’t re-visit that rationale here only to say that my intent was not to bog down the Assembly, but to take an action in the best interest of the health of presbyteries. In any case I can think of, the maker of minority or substitute motions (or even amendments) were likewise TRYING to help the body. In at least one case (that I think was mentioned in another of your threads), I know an evangelical commissioner tried to pull the AI overture out of a grouped answer because he knew his progressive friends wanted to discuss it. Strategically, not in his favor, but a gesture I applauded and one he described indeed as being “moved by an invisible hand” (i.e., the Holy Spirit).

    I’ll challenge you the same way I challenge my evangelical friends: to give the other the benefit of the doubt that they are trying to listen to the Holy Spirit, follow Jesus, and do their very best to be faithful. There are certainly individual exceptions to this on all sides, but it helps none of us to accuse “the evangelicals” or “the progressives” of nefarious motives or tactics.

    Since you saw no other alternative to the pace/flow, I’ll offer one: moderators are responsible for pace, B&O is responsible for order of reports and should have started us at 2 min debate, and we are at a particularly stuck place in our family and it’s often easier for all of us to delay, refer, or amend than grapple directly with what divides us.

    In God’s grace,

    Robert

  • Timothy F Simpson

    Robert, I’m glad you raised the issue of your substitute motion because I was very disturbed by it. I completely empathize with budget problems churches and presbyteries face right now in this economy, as well as the trouble cause by churches who won’t pay their fair share. But your proposal struck many of us as suicidal. My presbytery has more than 20,000 members with a budget of about $1 million. Thus, our per capita is roughly $160,000. With your proposal, however,if our presbytery was angry enough, we could simply direct congregations to stop using the presbytery for any unified giving or as a pass through, and instead of everything going to presbytery, churches would direct pay. We could cut our presbytery budget in half, and thus reduce our per capita to $90,000 (18% of $500,000), a savings of $70,000. This would have the additional attraction of drawing in churches who are paying for those who aren’t, who would no longer have to bear that burden. It would mean a lowering of local tension between payees and non-payees, since it would effectively drop the stated per capita from $6.63 to $4.25. (The REAL per capita for those who pay is about $8, since the presbytery has to foot the bill for those who withhold in protest.)

    So, for progressives, this looked like a plan to bankrupt the GA! And we assumed everyone could see this, and would vote no. But since it seemed so obviously designed to defund the GA, the question is, what was the point? Per capita is per capita. It is what it is. It’s a routine matter, because t’s just the cost of our decisions divided up equally. If you don’t like it, make different decisions and spend less money. We should’ve approved the per capita on a voice vote in ten seconds. Instead, a valuable hour got eaten up by something that seemed to many of us potentially to have been devastating to the life of the church, and plainly so.

    You say you did not see intent to slow things down. Fair enough. But to those on the progressive side, this seemed like one of those times. It didn’t have any chance whatsoever of passing, so why would you bring something up like this in the first place, a flat tax for the presbytery?

    You may have a reasonable answer for this and if you do, I hope you will share it. Or maybe I have missed something in my analysis. If so, point that out too. If there was something in your substitute motion that would have prevented my “doomsday scenario” outlined above I would rather admit mu error than say something about your presentation that is untrue. I appreciate your willingness to dialogue about this. I think it’s helpful. At least for me it is. As I said, you struck me as a good guy. You won’t remember me (you were famous because of the moderator race and I was just your average, generic commissioner) but we actually ate dinner together at the same table one evening, and I enjoyed your company then. I wish I had the chance to know you better because then I might not think such thoughts as went through my mind at the Assembly about your motion. But it’s beaver too late for me to think differently,

    • http://robertaustell.com robert austell

      Tim, my motivation was the health and future of my presbytery. A number of years ago I sat at the council table with the General Presbyter and council and we were making budget cuts across the budget of 5% or so to match anticipated numbers. We got to the area of what was sent to Synod and General Assembly – divided into per capita and mission, and we cut 5% from mission and moved on. I realized that per capita was fixed on our presbytery membership, but I asked at what point we would ever look at reducing that amount. The GP responded by saying that there was allowance for not remitting in some extreme event, but that a presbytery the size of Charlotte and with the reserve savings we had would never qualify as one that couldn’t pay. Fair enough.

      The next year, we cut another 5% across the board and again when we got to what we sent to Synod and GA I asked about the apparent unfairness of cutting the GAMC/mission line and maintaining the OGA/per capita line. This time my question was theoretical. I understood the nature and requirement of per capita. But I said, “You realize per capita is taking up a larger and larger piece of our overall budget. Is there some theoretical point where the per capita slice could be twice as big and the mission piece be gone?” The response was, “Yes, in theory, but that could never happen to us.”

      Five years and one major recession later, we are still giving to Synod/GA. Our per capita slice is twice as big (from 12-13% in 2005 to 27-28% in 2012) and our mission giving to Synod/GA has gone from $125,000 to zero. We have reduced staff from 10.5 to 2.5. We’ve drastically cut local support of camps, seminaries, hospitals, mission, evangelism, and anything else we can find to make budget. We’ve exhausted our savings. And we’re still paying per capita faithfully.

      Can you blame conservative churches for not giving? That accounts for a portion of the budget drop from 2005 to now… probably one-fourth to one-fifth. A significant part of the drop is from the large churches hit hard by the economy. Another part of the drop is from churches that have passed from a level of health that allowed them to give to a state of decline where they can not afford pastoral leadership and are not able to give much of anything.

      The problem is not local withholding of per capita; it is lack of overall funding to the presbytery across the board. And there are a myriad of reasons for that (which we are working on; but there’s no quick fix). Meanwhile, per capita marches on.

      You suggest that conservative presbyteries will game the system with such a limitation. Maybe so; but if there are any, they’d be shooting themselves in the foot by eliminating salaries, building rent, etc… – and they probably are already not paying full per capita as a presbytery.

      I didn’t make up my motion from scratch. I was in the committee that heard a similar (and more drastic) overture from Detroit. I listened to the critique of that overture in committee and tried to over something that focused on the health of presbyteries, limited the nature of relief to presbyteries in dire straits, and most of all spoke to the mid-council health crisis we are facing across the denomination. The story in Charlotte is not unique; we are, in fact, one of the largest and wealthiest presbyteries, and we are struggling.

      If I were truly conspiratorial, I would have let this be. The requirements of our system are not accounting for the reality of the present and it is a burden that is crippling my presbytery. I was offering a limited, specific motion in good faith to try to help presbyteries like mine move forward. At the least, I could have wished for COGA and the OGA to hear what I was asking and work with me to craft something helpful. (And I plan to continue the conversation with them.)

      What you are describing is exactly what I lament over at my blog (http://www.robertaustell.com/2012/07/ga220-reflection-4-stuck-per-capita-is.html) – that concern over some gaming the system or opponents gaining ground kept us, in more than one instance, from taking steps for the good of the whole.

      Peace, brother.

      • Timothy F. Simpson

        Robert, I appreciate you walking me through your thinking on this. I recall some of this from your presentation at GA and it was good to hear it again. What I don’t understand is how your presbytery is in such straits having just let nine congregations go with presumably millions upon millions in assets. Was there nit some provision made for them to compensate the presbytery for the losses, past and future, that have and will result from their actions? It would seem to me that Charlotte ought to be sitting on a substantial sum right now which would allow it to pay per capita for many years to come. If that was not done and the churches were not forced to take responsibility for the costs incurred by them forsaking their vOWS to the presbytery and the whole church, why wasn’t it? If the presbytery wants to let schismatic churches go without taking care of their obligations, it doesn’t seem fair to me then that they should come asking the GA for relief. The assets are there. They are the presbytery’s assets. We all have known thus for decades and have affirmed them, some of us multiple times, in our ordination vows. So while I can understand how the presbytery struggled in the past, I can’t grasp why this should be a problem going forward, given how much of a windfall that by all rights should’ve befallen the presbytery each time a congregation left. Personally, I don’t think any congregation should be allowed to leave without paying 10% of all assets as well as any unpaid per capita that the presbytery paid for them in the past. This is only fair. We have missionaries, seminaries, colleges and schools, as well as other projects here and all around the world that they covenanted with us to sustain, so they have to live up to their part of that covenant, rather than leaving the rest of us holding the bag. And each presbytery has the duty, acting for the whole of the PCUSA, to hold their body accountable for all of us. I hope you all did this in Charlotte.

  • http://someamusingblogpun.wordpress.com/ Alan

    Since the argument being made is that orthodoxy is the cause of church growth, then the Mormons and JWs (which are growing) must be orthodox.

  • http://robertaustell.com robert austell

    Tim, my presbytery is dismissing brothers and sisters in Christ to other Reformed denominations after significant conversation, accountability, and with every effort to bless them and maintain bonds of peace. Just as it was poor stewardship to eat through our presbytery savings and not address our underlying unhealthy systems, it would be equally poor stewardship and witness to now lay claim to those churches assets, give them the boot, and spend those assets on our unhealthy (presbytery) system. We’re focusing now on regaining the health and trust that needs to come before more financial demands or appeals.

    Are you in the FL presbytery that had a number of churches leave? No doubt that impacts your perspective as ours does mine.

    It’s a much more complex topic how to relate to churches seeking dismissal, and one I won’t venture into with you further in this thread – we clearly disagree significantly. I hope to do some writing on it in the coming months.

    I’ll invite you to draw this thread to a conclusion however you want to.

    In God’s grace,

    Robert

    • Timothy F. Simpson

      You’re right, Robert. We don’t agree. It feels very passive-aggressive for Charlotte not to have taken care to secure our common mission going forward when given the opportunity, but then asking for relief from the the rest of us because it is broke. The Reformed tradition holds very strongly to there being consequences for one’s actions, but what Charlotte is doing isplacing the burden of those consequences on those of us who are staying and fulfilling our vows. That just doesn’t sit well with me, and I expect it won’t for a lot of other people as well. My presbytery has not had any churches leave, and I expect it is in part due to the fact that those who would like to leave recognize that they will not be released without owning responsibility for their covenants. I don’t have all the data, but my own assessment to this point is that those presbyteries who release congregations without consequences are dismissing more than those who are holding out for accountability. Economists call this “moral hazard”–if you don’t have any skin in the game you will tend to behave with less responsibility than if you know there will be a cost to your actions. Conservatives usually love this principle in secular government, but not so much in the church. Presbyteries who have no moral hazard invite a consumer mentality to our polity, I.e. I can get a new presbytery just like I can a new dry cleaners if the service isn’t to my liking, which is, in my judgment, the very last thing we need. I wonder how much support is coming from evangelical pastors who want to leave but whose congregations aren’t ready, but who want the precedent of “leaving for free” well-established so that, when it’s their turn to depart, they won’t be required to act responsibly by assuring that their covenant obligations are fulfilled, either.

  • Hope Italiano Lee

    Tim, thanks for being willing to put your thoughts out there. I admire anyone who is willing to expose what they are thinking in such a public manor. I have been watching this post for a couple of days and I feel that it’s time for me to respond. I signed one of the minority reports (re: special offerings) and I am probably now most famously known as the female pastor who asked commissioners to vote “no” on the study of women — which ultimately was not approved. Neither of these cases was about liberal/conservative politics or agenda. One (the special offerings) was about admitting that what we’re doing (which is not oriented left or right) is not working and we need to try something different. The other (again not oriented left or right) was about not spending money on something that had no valuable outcome or even plan for overall impact on the ministry of the PC(USA). As it happens, I am an evangelical. Coincidentally, the woman who who spoke right after me (also against the idea of the study) on the study of women was a liberal. I guess what I would appreciate from you is at least an acknowledgement that not every minority report or request to disapprove was about partisan politics. It is unfair to paint with such a large brush.

    • Timothy F. Simpson

      Hope, you may not remember me but I am from your former presbytery, St. Augustine. I’m glad you raised the special offerings and women’s study issues because, to me, they represent why what happened at the GA should be of concern to the whole church, and not just progressives. This two items both came up in the mad dash that had the Assembly trying get through the business of fully 1/3 of the Assembly’s business AFTER 730 pm on the last night. The moderator was doing almost everything by voice vote. If someone didn’t get to the mic in anticipation of what was about to pop up next on PC-Biz (but how could one know since they were all presented out of order?) Commissioners had been making one minute statements (ridiculous to call them speeches) because of all the parliamentary maneuvers made by conservatives to block the work of the Marriage and Civil Unions committee. So even when there was “debate” it was, because of the time constraint truncated and uneven. Hundreds of people had been working on these issues, like the special offerings, for months, yet the treatment they got on the floor was a fraction of the time that conservatives had used just to block the Assembly from having a debate about sexuality. As far as the women’s study goes, you heard the sane thing that I did: the Assembly was so off schedule that the person who had been prepared and waiting to speak forever finally had to catch her plane to the WCC in Switzerland (where, I later learned the final meeting for a project that had been running for more than five years was taking place). So yeah, liberals and conservatives united in our collective ignorance voting down something we did not understand based on its $137k price tag. This was not our denomination’s finest hour, however kum-bay-yah-esque the moment of unity might have felt. If the commissioners had gotten to hear the facts and would have had an intelligent debate about them, then folks would have had to learn from their losses, realizing that the people had spoken. But I don’t know what you are supposed to learn from people who didn’t get to hear the facts, who are trading sound bites rather than debating, fifty of whom are at any given time wandering around getting coffee trying to stay awake or who are in the restroom. We didn’t get to that point by random happenstance. We got there because of the stall tactics of people in the evangelical camp who were trying o run out the denominational clock. Whether this was orchestrated or not, that’s plainly what happened, as anyone who cares to sit through 30 hrs of You Tube videos can see for themselves. So perhaps while not every minority report had partisan intent, as you suggest,the circumstances in which the Assembly had to do its business were rooted in partisanship, and that tainted the whole Assembly for many progressives like myself.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jodicraiglow Jodi Craiglow

        Tim, I’m a little confused, and I hope you can help me out. As I remember it — and please correct me if I’m wrong — with the exception of this women’s study, didn’t every floor debate have an equal number of “pro” and “con” speeches? In fact, I remember thinking quite highly of Neal for making sure that both sides got equal time at the mics.

        • Timothy F. Simpson

          Jodi, for the most part that was true, except that at the end, the material was coming so fast and the hour so late that people could not process what was happening. There were people who went to the mic asking why we weren’t doing item whatever, who had not realized it had already been done. I lost track numerous times myself, and I even had an assistant because of sight problems. And remember the runners? They were putting things up on the screen that no one had ever seen before, for which people had no time to prepare, but we were supposed, at midnight, to be able, in an instant, to jump to a mic and give a one minute impromptu speech that would block it. Thats just no way to do business, in my opinion. So it isn’t that I think the progressive side was treated in a biased fashion by the moderator. It’s that the conservatives lost in all the committees on 98% of their issues (with the exception of apartheid and AI) so then gummed up the works Wed-Sat so that those items would not pass like they normally would have in orderly debate. It’s all perfectly proper within the rules. I know that. But as I have said repeatedly, you just wouldn’t treat somebody’s work like this whom you were going to see Sunday at church or at the next presbytery meeting. The relative anonymity of the meeting led people to grasp at strategies they otherwise would not have to do the church’s business.

          • http://someamusingblogpun.wordpress.com/ Alan

            It isn’t like this behavior is new. Those of us that have been at this for a while know to stay right to the end of a Presbytery meeting, for example. Because, as the evening drags on, fundamentalists will wait to the last 5 minutes to make a motion to reconsideer some business, and because everyone has left by then, it’ll pass. I have seen this tactic many times.

            I don’t blame them for that sort of behavior. We have agreed on a method of ordering our meetings, according to Robert’s Rules.. If they’re more clever about how they use those rules, shame on us. They’re simply being as shrewd as serpants and innocent as doves.

            Blaming the fundamentalists for taknig advantage of a system based on Robert’s Rules that we freely participate in, is a little like blamiing fish for being wet.

            You’re making the mistake, Timothy, of thinkinig ths is anything other than politiics.

          • Timothy F. Simpson

            Perhaps I am, Alan. And I guess I have been blessed to have ministered in seven churches in four presbyteries where people have not done this to one another. The only motions to reconsider that I have ever personally witnessed at session or presbytery have been those for which new information has suddenly been presented which paints the already-dealt-with issue in a new light. My hope is that there will an end to this immediately. It’s not helpful in any respect. I think that motions to reconsider even at this GA were not that outrageous, because they were made, in a number of instances, after late night votes. In any case, we need to have a conversation about tactics, it seems to me.