Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of conversation happening in Presbyterian circles about the “Deathly Ill” letter that was signed by a group of 45 Presbyterian pastors (most coming from large churches) – all of whom happened to be men – who refer to themselves as The Fellowship of Presbyterians. I am not going to go into the details of the letter here or offer a specific response to the letter, because others have done a much better job than I could and I will simply point you to Katie Mulligan’s post here and Margaret Aymer Oget’s post here.
What I do want to respond to is a video that was posted by one of the primary signatories, Rev. Jim Singleton, who is on the Steering Committee for The Fellowship of Presbyterians and is currently Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs. Jim was the pastor of Whitworth Community Presbyterian Church when I started at Whitworth, and so I got the chance to hear him preach for most of my first year at Whitworth. I know full well that I’m at a very different place now than I was at 18 years old, but I enjoyed his sermons and the little that I got to know of Jim at that time. I’d encourage you to take just a few minutes and watch the above video so you can get a sense of what they are hoping this “Fellowship” is going to look like.
So if you watched the video – or if you didn’t – let me break it down for you:
- Jim and his buddies want to create a “differentiated sub-set within the whole” – sounds pretty connectional right? The circle (that is the sub-set) that he draws isn’t a solid line – but a dotted line – to try and show that they’re separate but equal – still connected….
- The churches in this sub-set (The Fellowship of Presbyterians) would have certain “theological accents” – and in case you don’t know what those are, they’re going to define the Essential Tenets of the Reformed Faith for you.
- He says that unlike other renewal groups, they’re going to live in gentleness and humility, but being very clear about what their “ideals” are
- They also want to create new Presbyteries that exist within the sub-set (and potentially a new Synod)
- They’ll also have their own COMs and CPMs in these new Presbyteries
- Eventually they may create a “New Reformed Body” and people could go back and forth between it and the PC(USA)
One of my favorite sections was when Jim was describing the New Reformed Body:
“It could well be, that along this process, some congregations feel like ‘We just don’t know if we can be WITHIN the PC(USA) but we want to be in relationship to this Fellowship…’ and so the dotted line may actually go beyond the boundary of the PC(USA) to form a New Reformed Body – but this New Reformed Body would be different from, for instance, the EPC and the PCA, in that it would still try to relate to the PC(USA), in the way that we would share ordination expectations back and forth, and people could move in and out of the PC(USA) and into this New Reformed Body because we would be in correspondance with the PC(USA) – not running far from, but staying near to.”
Seriously? I haven’t seen or read any other responses to this video, so I apologize if someone has already said this, but can’t they just be honest? Can’t we just call this what it is? From this 5 minute video clip, it seems that the primary purpose of The Fellowship of Presbyterians is to let some of the largest PC(USA) congregations “break away” from a denomination they think is “deathly ill” but let them keep their property and their millions of dollars in assets. I apologize if I’m missing something or not seeing all of the potential polity issues, but that’s what it seems like to me.
If you think the PC(USA) is deathly ill…leave. But don’t try and concoct an anti-connectional scheme that will let you break away and create a “differentiated sub-set within the whole” yet still remain within the denomination and keep your vast properties and millions. If your beliefs and convictions lead you to surmise that breaking away from the PC(USA) is what your community needs to do – then so be it. Each presbytery is working through how it’s going to deal with the property and financial issues of such decisions; work with your presbytery, accept your fate and move forward.
If you feel as strongly as your “Deathly Ill” letter leads us to believe you feel, and if these issues are really important/theological/eternal issues, then you should accept the fact that you may have to shell out some benjamins (okay, a LOT of benjamins) to keep your property and your beautiful sanctuaries. Or you might lose your property. But come on now – you know you can raise the money again.
If you want to leave, then leave. But at least respect yourselves and all of those faithful brothers and sisters of Christ who are part of your congregations enough to leave with integrity. Don’t try and convince them that The Fellowship of Presbyterians is anything other than what it really is: a way for you to try and have your cake, and eat it too.