Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Why Not Just Leave the PC(USA)? Part 2

Part 2 of series: Why Not Just Leave the PC(USA)?
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Yesterday I began to answer the question: Why don’t you just leave the PC(USA)? My first reason was:

I’m not leaving the PC(USA) because my church is part of the PC(USA).

Today I’ll add a couple more reasons.
2. I’m not leaving the PC(USA) because I have dear friends and partners in ministry in this denomination.
My second reason for staying put, at least for now, is like the first. It’s a matter of relationship and partnership in ministry. This answer points to a network of relationships that is broader than my local church. I’ve been a member of the PC(USA) for about 40 years, and an ordained pastor in this denomination for about half that time. Over the years I’ve built close friendships with many outstanding Christians in the PC(USA). Many are fellow pastors with whom I have shared in fellowship and mission. Most of these folk are in Los Ranchos Presbytery (Orange County and part of Los Angeles County, California), where I was a member for sixteen years. Since I moved to Texas, I joined Mission Presbytery, where I’m getting to know some fine folk.
Now I should mention that many of my brothers and sisters in the PC(USA) share my deep concerns about what’s happening in the denomination. We are not just sitting around enjoying each other’s company, that’s for sure. It’s possible that the day will come when many of us will feel compelled to leave the PC(USA). Or it’s possible that we will be involved in some sort of major restructuring of the denomination. Or it’s possible that we will feel called to remain in the PC(USA), standing for biblical truth and authority even though we might be in the minority. Or . . . well, God only knows. But, as I said with respect to my church, I hope that whatever happens between me and the PC(USA), it happens not just with me, but with those who share my commitments and vision for the church.
3. I’m not leaving the PC(USA) because, as of this moment, I have not been required by the denomination to do something that is contrary to my conscience.
Let’s take the most obvious example. As a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA), I have always been free to act according to my conscience in all matters, and with regard to gay and lesbian ordination, in particular. Even though the General Assembly of the PC(USA) (our bi-annual national meeting) has voted three times to change our Book of Order to allow for the ordination of actively gay people, so far the church as a whole has not supported this change. We’ll see what happens in 2009, as the presbyteries vote on the latest recommendations from the 2008 General Assembly. But, as of September 5, 2008, I am not required to support the ordination of gays or to condone their lifestyle choices.
If, in 2009, the presbyteries vote to change the Book of Order so as to allow the ordination of active gays and lesbians, then my situation will be different. I have promised to uphold the polity of the PC(USA). If that polity allows for gay ordination, I will be expected to support this practice. I’ve heard people say that perhaps an allowance will be made for people to remain faithful to their convictions if they believe gay ordination is wrong. But, given our history when it comes to ordination, and given the very nature of our connectional polity, it’s hard for me to imagine that the PC(USA) would allow for gays to be ordained, but somehow also allow those of us who think this is wrong not to recognize their ordination.
If the presbyteries vote in 2009 to allow for the ordination of active gays and lesbians, I may feel led to leave the PC(USA). But, before I do this, I would need to pray long and hard about whether God wanted me to remain in the denomination as an advocate of biblical truth. I know quite a few Episcopal pastors who disagree with their denomination’s current position on homosexuality, yet who feel called to remain in the Episcopal Church and to bear witness to biblical teaching. This may be my calling as well in the PC(USA). Then again, it may not be. Time will tell. (Photo: No, not a gathering of Presbyterians, but penguins in Antarctica.)
I have friends who left the PC(USA) because they believed that they had been required to do that which was contrary to their conscience. The most obvious example has to do with money. A small portion of the offerings we give to PC(USA) churches ends up in the coffers of the denomination as a whole. (Some churches withhold all support for the denomination, but this is unusual, at least right now.) This means that whenever the denomination does something I find offensive, whether it has to do with changing the exegesis exam or making outlandish statements about Palestine and Israel or any number of other things, I am in a tiny way providing financial support for such actions. Yet I this has not led me to leave the PC(USA) because I still believe that much of what we do as a network of churches is consistent with the mission of Christ, and because the actual amount of my contribution to things I don’t support is miniscule. I don’t always like what my government does either, but I haven’t felt the need to leave the U.S. in search of a country that would never offend me. I just can’t imagine living in Antarctica.

  • Neil

    Good list of reasons. Those are similar to my reasons for staying in the Methodist church for now.

  • David Lenz

    “I’m not leaving the PC(USA) because, as of this moment, I have not been required by the denomination to do something that is contrary to my conscience.”
    Mark, with regard to this point, I would appreciate your response to my comment on your August 25, 2008 post.

  • will spotts

    “I’ve heard people say that perhaps an allowance will be made for people to remain faithful to their convictions if they believe gay ordination is wrong.”
    There is an argument often advanced that ordination policies relegate lgbt persons to 2nd class status in the denomination.
    I do not believe that to be the case. However, would not such a singular ‘faithful to convictions’ clause make it so? What I mean is this: if the ordination standards are effectively changed, yet an exception exists for those who disagree around this one issue, would not that create a class of ordained persons who had a lower status?
    How might that work? They could be ordained in one presbytery and have their ordination not recognized in another? Or perhaps ministers could be exempted from participating in those particular ordinations?
    I disagree with the proposed change rather strongly, but I don’t see how it is possible for a denomination to have it both ways – without creating a worse situation.

  • Paul

    The issue of whether I’m being required to do something against my conscience is where I’m struggling. Those who are trying to hold churches hostage with their property often say that it is our connectional nature that requires the concept of all property being held in trust for the denomination. But it’s that very connectional nature that makes the decisions of the most recent GA so challenging. When any church ordains an elder, they do so for the whole church. When any presbtery ordains a pastor, they do so for the whole church. All of us, in effect, participate in every ordination.
    But now, with the decisions of GA, many churches and presbyteries will be ordaining unrepentant, serial sinners to ministry as elders and deacons. Because we are connectional, by staying connected I am participating in that act.
    I am reminded of the Word of God in where Jude writes: Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 1:3-4 (NLT)
    By sanctioning the ordination of self-avowed, unrepentant sinners, and removing the Authoritative Interpretations that call homosexual sexual activity sinful, it could easily be argued that the General Assembly (and thus the PCUSA) has effectively denied Jesus Christ. And that would be a very good reason to leave, indeed.
    I continue to pray earnestly for God’s guidance.

  • Dave Moody

    Thank you for this series, and the previous one. Much appreciation.
    Talking with a fellow pastor yesterday, the idea of everyone trying to muddle through as best we can- given congregational context, presbytery, personal, etc… seemed the best way to describe our current unpleasantness. All of your reasons resonates with reality. But at the end of the day, Paul (comment #4) has a point that, even given all the reasons articulated, is hard to deny.
    May the Lord give us all wisdom and courage.

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