Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A clear, refreshing voice

I love clear, straight-forward writing that cuts through the fog and says what it means in a coherent way.

Following the watershed meeting of the Anglican primates in Ireland recently, where they decided what to do about the departure of the Episcopal Church (USA) from Anglican practice, there was a lot of writing that I found rather hard to understand. What really went on? Did they agree or disagree? Did the conservative or liberal viewpoint prevail? Was the Episcopal Church (USA) decisively disciplined or not?

Trying to decipher the “explanation” by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold just gave me a headache. What DOES he intend to communicate? How did he get THAT from what actually transpired with the other primates? One Episcopalian blogger has coined the term “Griswold-talk,” with its “meandering, mystical style” (see comment #10). While Griswold’s meanders lose me, his dizzying spin can make me lose my orientation altogether.

Into this fog steps Gregory Venables, Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone. That man can write a clear account! He recalls: “In a moment of time, at a pause in the conversation, it became obvious that the overwhelming majority of the Primates (who represent the clear majority of Anglicans around the world) were not willing to assimilate the innovations pressed by the United States and Canada into the teaching of the Communion. On the contrary, historic biblical faith was clearly going to emerge from the meeting as the conviction of the vast majority.”

What is going to happen in the Anglican Communion? Venables writes: “ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada will have to repent and conform their teaching and practice to historic and biblical faith, in order to have the broken relationship restored. If they fail to do so, the separation that is gracefully modelled in the communiqué [from the primate meeting] will become stark and formal.”

Some time ago, I advised us all to watch what happens in the Episcopal Church, because it can show us what could happen in the Presbyterian Church (USA). What has happened is this: The ECUSA decision to depart from biblical morality has caused an expected, enormous, and destructive uproar within their own denomination and has isolated them from the worldwide Anglican Communion. Fellow Anglicans from around the world have stood faithfully and will not buy the revisionism of the ECUSA.

We in the PCUSA can learn from Anglican leaders like Gregory Venables. Clarity of thought, consistency in action, and lucid communication make him stand out as a leader with integrity. We can learn from him as we overhear his conversations with his church, marking how his words and actions model congruence and faithfulness to the Bible and our Lord Jesus Christ.

The property of words

Well, it looks like a couple of California courts may need to get their heads together. One court says that a Methodist congregation can revoke the trust agreement with the denomination and retain their property as they become independent of the denomination. Another court has now said that the trust agreement is irrevocable in a case involving a Presbyterian congregation.

So, courts, which is it to be? Is the Methodist trust agreement substantially different from the Presbyterian trust agreement, so that a Methodist congregation may revoke its agreement, but a Presbyterian congregation can’t? Or do we just have courts that don’t agree on a fundamental point of law? That one, it appears, will need to be settled by a higher court.

[Later addition on 3/10: A report in Layman Online clarifies that this second court has NOT yet ruled on the main issue itself. While the OGA report left that impression, it was actually reporting on some preliminary aspects of the case. So maybe it's only a single judge who personally disagrees with the Methodist decision, not the court.]

But no matter how one feels about the merits of the given cases, it is interesting how the case was reported in the release by the Office of General Assembly (OGA). The OGA has a genuine interest in defending the denomination’s ownership of property, as stated in the Book of Order: “All property … is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” (G-8.0201). Their job is to uphold the Constitution.

Yes, but there are ways and there are ways.

It seems that that job could be done by OGA without labeling the departing church members “a break-off fragment of the Serone Church.” “A break-off fragment”—that may be just a little too depersonalizing and dismissive a term to use six times in the short article.

One writer’s “break-off fragment” might be another writer’s “faithful group of committed Christians.” It all depends on one’s perspective, and the impression the writer is attempting to leave in the reader’s mind. It is far easier to be harsh and possessive concerning some “break-off fragment” than it is to act the same way toward “brothers and sisters in Christ” who happen to hold a contrary opinion.

But then, it appears that the congregation may be overreacting more than slightly, with talk of “using armed guards.” Would the church really be willing to shoot someone from the presbytery coming by to look at their books or change locks?

Surely that would be excessive, but so too, to a much lesser degree, might be the way OGA depicted the intent as “using armed guards to bar any person from attending services except those chosen by the faction.” Is that really the fairest explanation of the church’s intent?

I think my vote would go toward the attitude of The Rev. Christopher Pae, stated clerk of the Presbytery of Hanmi, who put it this way: “We are concerned about the spiritual well-being of the Serone Church congregants at this time of turmoil within their church. We will continue to pray and work for reconciliation among them.” Note that they are a congregation worth praying for, a people worth reconciling with—not just “a break-off fragment” to diminish in print and crush in court.

My prayers are with the people of Serone Church, Hanmi Presbytery, the courts of California, and the Office of General Assembly, that all might act with the wisdom, generosity, and grace of Jesus Christ in this matter.