Monday, November 26, 2007

Perhaps a Little Too Smug?

I was taken aback today in reading a Presbyterian Outlook account of the Covenant Network conference, in particular, the comments by the plenary speaker Damayanthi Niles. Niles had been recently examined for ordination, and the Outlook reporter quotes her as complaining that “some people saw a candidate ‘who’s a little too dark, a little too female, a little too single, a little too smart.’”

Just how many pity cards can one person play at a time?

A little too dark. What? The Presbyterians I know would be absolutely thrilled to embrace a dark-skinned, very ethnic Sri Lankan--with a solid Christian faith and a genuine call by God to ministry. Rather than an impediment to her being ordained, her ethnicity would be seen as a boon. “At last we’re actually moving toward the kind of church we hope to be!” would be on people’s minds. “Here’s someone who can do things and go places I never could! We’re in for a treat!”

A little too female. No way! Has Niles looked around? The percentage of women in seminary and being ordained is large and growing. Being female is no bar to ordination in this denomination. What she means by “too female,” I’m not sure, but if her idea of “female” means “heterodox,” then, yes, she would be correct. But hers would be a very narrow and faulty definition of “female,” excluding the brilliant minds, excellent ministries, and consecrated lives of many of my esteemed colleagues with two X chromosomes.

A little too single. What does that have to do with anything? In more than three decades in presbyteries, I have never seen marriage considered an ordination requirement. If by saying “too single,” Niles meant “too single and sexually active,” then, again, she’d have a point. But then that’s not a case of being single; it’s a sad case of simply being immoral. Being married and immoral would be just as great a hindrance to ordination.

A little too smart. Okay, this might actually be the rub--not in actuality, but in her self-perception. I have yet to find a presbytery that says, “Give us candidates who aren’t very bright. We like the dumb ones, the slow learners, the imperceptive louts. No more Phi Beta Kappas and summa cum laude candidates. We want underachievers, dimwits, and drudges!” Instead, I have seen presbyteries captivated by some truly brilliant candidates for ministry. But I have also seen presbyters rightfully provoked by smug and egoistic candidates who consider themselves superior to the naïve, simple folks presuming to judge them. Any candidate who considers him- or herself “a little too smart” for the presbytery has much more to learn prior to ordination. I’d highly suggest a serious read of Helmut Thielicke’s slim A Little Exercise for Young Theologians prior to a second, more reality-based consideration of ordination.

If Niles's lame excuses weren’t sufficient to raise some red flags about readiness for ordination, her sweeping dismissal of those in her denomination with convictions different than her own was absolutely stunning. Rather than ascribing any hint of deep theological conviction to her ideological opponents, any semblance of either caring love or intellectual capacity, Niles just swats them away with a breezy, “Our friends want to deal with rules so they don’t have to deal with people.” Well, if this is any indication of the quality of Niles’s theological discernment, collegial esteem, breadth of understanding, and pastoral style, again, I would think that voices in her presbytery that questioned her readiness for ordination were on to something.

Any candidate who puts on airs, seems to consider ordination some kind of birthright, is swift to give pitiful excuses, deems her- or himself just too brilliant for the morons in presbytery to understand, and perhaps shows up weak on orthodox theology--well, that person is understandably going to have a difficult time being ordained.

I would think the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) could well do without any more smug, self-satisfied, and possibly heterodox pastors. But apparently the Covenant Network showcased one such as a conference speaker.


Blogger PCUSA Turkey Trip 2007 said...

You sould read her statement of faith:

11:38 AM, November 27, 2007  
Blogger Meghan said...

You may be right, the vast majority of presbyters across the country may come to their presbytery meetings with open minds and no preconceived notions about the candidates that are going to be standing before them; but might experience, limited though it may be, is that is not always the case.

While I can offer nothing but anecdotal evidence, my observation has been that those candidates who are white, male and married (or at least explicitly heterosexual) do seem to face less rigorous and less confrontational examinations than do those who are not white, male or married.

Most of my experience is in a presbytery in the deep south, so I can't speak to what happens in other parts of the country. But in that presbytery it seemed to be more the norm than the exception.

11:43 AM, November 27, 2007  
Blogger Meghan said... experience...

I don't know where that typo came from.

11:47 AM, November 27, 2007  
Blogger Al Sandalow said...

OOPS...signed in with the wrong account. Of course, "sould" should be "should" in the above post.

11:48 AM, November 27, 2007  
Blogger Former member said...

The main problem I saw on her ordination day was that she would not confirm several essentials of the Christian Faith. At least they were considered essential by about 10% of those in attendance. The large majority there didn't care. That was my last day as a member of the pcusa. What a relief!

1:10 PM, November 27, 2007  
Blogger Jim said...

Please, everyone, sign your name and give your town and state when you post.

I need to be consistent on this, so most of those who have posted comments already need to identify yourselves. Meghan Foote and Al Sandalow have their info in their profiles, which is okay.

Others may want to copy their own post onto their clipboard, fix their spelling errors, sign their name and city, and then repost. Then, I think they can remove their earlier post(s). If not, I'll be happy to do so.

I'll have to remove anonymous postings soon that aren't signed. I don't want to, especially when they provide helpful information. But I'm going to be a stickler on people signing their comments on this blog. We all gain by not keeping our identity a secret.


Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

4:22 PM, November 27, 2007  
Blogger Jeff Francis said...

Jim, here's my post for reposting. Please remove the previous ones...sorry for the errors and thanks for the note:

Are you kidding me? Thanks, Jim, for calling our attention to her ridiculous comments at the Covenant Network gathering. Was she subsequently approved?!? My goodness I hope not. Her statement of faith is absolutely atrocious - a wonderful example of the Reformed theological bankruptcy exhibited by so many of our candidates for ministry today. Her statement of faith is not even close to being in the Reformed Tradition. And her Trinitarian theology.. isn't. She thinks of herself as too bright?!? I don't think so. Too smug...without a doubt. Non-Reformed, non- Presbyterian...absolutely.

Dr. Jeff Francis
Minister member
Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery
Tulsa, Oklahoma

7:14 AM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger regressivepresby said...

I'm curious how her colleagues in ministry at Giddings-Lovejoy will take her comments. A bit off putting, to say the least...

Rev. Dave Moody
Trinity Pres.
Sparta, IL

7:23 AM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger James said...

Thanks Jim for once again shining light into some of the dark corners of our processes.

I would bet a dollar against a donut hole that this woman was subsequently endorsed -- in spite of a statement of faith which was not only NOT Reformed in its theology but in fact was universalist nonsense.

All of that -- before we even consider the stunning arrogance of her comments -- illustrates the bankruptcy of the newly PUP reinforced "local option."

Jim Yearsley
Tampa, Fl

8:18 AM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger clyde said...

I have the same issue's that a lot of others have with PCUSA on the whole. When the organization gets away from solid bible, then try to "water down" the scriptures to suit their own short comings or evil lust, I like so many others wil seek out a Church that does teach the solid word of God.
I really wish the PCUSA would just go ahead and quit dragging there proverbial feet, and admit all the Gay's as pastors, Muslim beleiving women as leaders, then the rest of the congreations will see what a lot of have already witness. It is a denomination that once was great but now is sinking fast. The people have no longer a voice in the matters of the Church. I too am a former member, but now I see the PCUSA for what it really is.
C. Keene
Cuba, Mo

11:02 AM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger Former member said...

Yes Jim you are correct. The woman was endorsed. The few that questioned her positions faced the wrath of the "loving left" that controls that presbytery.
Whitey Bird
St. Louis

11:58 AM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger Doug Hagler said...

This is really interesting. I didn't think her statement of faith was amazing, and would definitely want to ask more about parts of it, but I saw it reflecting theological statements I find in Daniel Migliore, Karl Barth and Jurgen Moltmann, to name a few. It isn't like she is making her statements up whole-cloth, or that I couldn't find parallel statements in what I think of as "Reformed" theologians.

Here's a question: could someone point me in the direction of a statement of faith that they think is satisfactorily Reformed that a Candidate has written recently? I would like to see an example of what it is you're looking for and not seeing.

Doug Hagler
San Anselmo, CA
(Info also available on my profile, but I wasn't sure if that was sufficient)

2:07 PM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger Aric Clark said...

I second Doug's motion here. Aside from the offense given by her remarks, what about this statement of faith is bankrupt universalist nonsense? Would you care to analyze her phrasing, explain what you interpret it to mean and justify why that falls outside the bounds of the Reformed tradition?

As to the contentions in the post here that being a dark-skinned intelligent female is no bar to ordination, it seems like we might want to speak to some dark-skinned intelligent women before making hasty judgments, or at the very least consider some statistical evidence. Are there minority women in ministry in the PCUSA? Yes. Do we have anything like a diverse clergy? No. Women graduating from seminary can expect to wait twice as long to get a call on average, earn lower salaries, are less likely to become head's of staff, and are disproportionately represented in youth and hospice ministries. While pity cards do get played, and I have no knowledge about this candidate whatsoever, so I'm in no position to judge her particular case, we ought not absolve ourselves of sexism and racism so quickly, especially in their subtler forms.

As for intelligence causing a problem - intelligence does create an issue when what is being expected of a candidate receiving graduate level education designed to create independent thinkers, is that they spout pre-approved slogans. It's ironic, to say the least, that our denomination values education so highly, but rewards intellectual passivity.

Aric Clark
San Anselmo, CA

7:56 PM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger will said...

I have to admit, I have encountered surprisingly few 'graduate level', 'independent thinkers'. I know a fairly large number of independent thinkers; and I know quite a few people with graduate level educations. But to have both qualities at once is indeed a rare commodity.

In most cases, education is designed to produce non-independent thinkers - and in fact people who perpetuate a rigid kind of orthodoxy. It is every bit the peer of fundamentalism in terms of spouting pre-approved slogans.

Will Spotts
North East, MD

10:36 PM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger Jim said...


I assume you are asking those who posted comments about Niles's statement of faith to reply to your first questions?

In regard to latent racism: You need to be accurate in what you impute. I did not say that women or ethnic candidates may not experience difficulty in securing calls. I know there is still sexism and racism damaging our system, along with far more benign social tendencies for people to just choose association with people more like themselves. All kinds of inequities exist. Ask a pastor over 55 how easy it is to get a decent call, for instance.

I was talking about bars to ordination. In the exams, candidates either do well or they don't. You could put people behind a screen with a voice scrambler to eliminate race and gender, and if the theology is heterodox, the pastoral ability is lacking, the knowledge is fuzzy, good sense is missing, and/or the behavior is immoral, a candidate is going to experience difficulty passing the examination--as well they should!

How easy it is to ascribe to racism, sexism, or the small minds of colleagues what is really the shortcomings of a weak, ill-prepared, or heretical candidate!

So, Aric, you who are going through candidacy: Do you really want to say that presbyters expect candidates only to "spout pre-approved slogans" and to be "intellectually passive"? Is that the contempt you really feel toward those who will participate in your examination on the floor of presbytery?

If so, be sure to tell Sacramento Presbytery your insights about their intellectual and theological capacity right before you are examined for ordination. I'm sure they would want to know and could benefit greatly from your vast wisdom on the matter. It would be the honest, straightforward thing to do, and I think you're into that.

Oh, and then like totally free-lance your theology. Don't be confined to stale old dogmas that quaint people in the olden times, childish as they must have been, believed. Be theologically robust. Burst the bounds. Make it up as you go. Wow them with your mental capacity. Show them how much more brilliant you are than any of them, with their small minds and lack of creativity. Turn the Trinity into a pretzel and twist your doctrine of God like a putty nose. You'll be grand. You'll be flashy. You'll be a legend.

You'll be ... uh, well, invited to investigate becoming a Unitarian Universalist or something. Actually, you'll be dead meat.

On second thought, don't try this at home. I think you've gone and put your foot in your mouth again, Aric. Every time you open your mouth, it seems, contempt for presbytery pops out right before your foot goes in.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

11:38 PM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger Aric Clark said...


I certainly am rightly accused of lacking wisdom in my discourse, but mostly for thinking it will be productive talking to you. You love to put words in my mouth and mock me, but I did not bring Presbytery into this or make any sort of inference about Presbyters as you've attempted to make it look like I have.

My comment was an observation of the nature of our system and what it tends to reward. It is not difficult to see how a system of examination designed to determine orthodoxy will encourage the participants to find safe slogans and repeat them, regardless of who is doing the examining and what their motives and intentions. I have a high regard for most of the presbyters I personally know and I know their intentions to be the best kind. This in no way changes the fact that when a candidate is up in front of 200 people, very nervous, with their career on the line the pressure to play it safe and say things you are certain will be pre-approved is immense.

Why must you attempt and turn my words into some kind of controversy? Please attempt to keep the foot-in-mouth disease to yourself.

Aric Clark
San Anselmo, CA

11:54 PM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger Jim said...


You dodge my points. No, you ignore them.

You can't get off the hook that easily for your careless talk. You wrote, "what is being expected of a candidate receiving graduate level education designed to create independent thinkers, is that they spout pre-approved slogans."

Okay, who expects it? Is it Mr. Nobody expecting a candidate to spout pre-approved slogans? Or must it be the presbyters, who in their own consciences are attempting to responsibly conduct the examination on the floor of presbytery? You definitely have somebody expecting you to spout pre-approved slogans. That somebody can only be your presbyters.

Or maybe your presbyters in Sacramento are special? Maybe it's only the dim-witted presbyters elsewhere who have such expectations?

Aric, what I am trying to say is to moderate your irresponsible assertions. Don't be such a shoot-from-the-hip cowboy. Perhaps THINK before you blaze away with crazy accusations that betray your arrogant disgust for the system.

You do not commend yourself as ready for pastoral responsibilities when you insist on showing contempt for how presbyteries function and supposed superiority over those charged with your care.

And now I can picture you being upset because you think I'm being condescending. And if that's all you get from this, you've missed the nugget among the tailings of thought.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

12:18 AM, November 29, 2007  
Blogger Doug Hagler said...

@ Jim

I've got a response to your most recent comment, but I'd rather have any discussion you might want to have over email, rather than on the comments section of your blog. If you are interested, let me know what your email address is and I'll send it that way. Mine is available on my profile.

Doug Hagler
San Anselmo, CA

1:00 AM, November 29, 2007  
Blogger Aric Clark said...


Does it amuse you to attack me? In your previous comment you called me careless, irresponsible, a cowboy, crazy, arrogant, not ready for pastoral responsibilities, full of contempt, having a superiority complex and implied that I'm rude to people I never mentioned or even alluded to in my own comments. I do hope you're proud of the way you've elevated the level of the conversation.

In spite of your massively presumptuous insinuations about my character given that you have never met me, you did not in fact make any points. There was no nugget there Jim.

Expectations are clearly conveyed by the system regardless of whether they are held by any individuals in it or not. Surely you can distinguish between how the system functions based on the expectations it sets up for the participants and the means it uses to reward those that are successful on the one hand, and the actions of specific individuals on the other. Systemic racism and sexism don't require that individuals in the system are actually racist, but only that they are blind to how they participate in a racist system. Similarly, an examination which tests for orthodoxy engenders expectations in the subjects that they deliver "safe" answers whether or not any of the people delivering the test actually harbor such expectations.

As opposed to the image of me you've constructed in your head, my main sin here has not been disdain for people who disagree with me, but an over-abundance of optimism that I would be treated with respect and have an interesting conversation with people who have different views than me. Apparently, you prefer ad hominem remarks to conversations of substance. Perhaps I trespassed on your blog and discovered that you have more in common with Carol Hylkema than you supposed. My apologies.

I will happily withdraw myself as a dartboard for your pleasure.

Aric Clark
San Anselmo, CA

1:21 AM, November 29, 2007  
Blogger Presbyman said...

Dear Jim,

Although I agree with you more often than with Aric Clark, I have to say that in this case I think you're being too hard on him. I don't think his comments should be read as attacking his Presbytery. God knows I've said worse things about Presbytery actions than he is doing here.

As someone who felt bullied and intimidated on occasion as an Inquirer or Candidate (by some of my ideological opponents), I think MOWs should avoid even the appearance of bullying or intimidating individuals on the ordination track.


John Erthein
Erie, PA

5:57 AM, November 29, 2007  
Blogger Rubber Nathan said...

Personally, I think some candidates need to develop thicker skin. I was examined for almost 20minutes on the floor of Presbytery (Prospect Hill) before they voted to accept me. There was not hint of malice on anyone's part. On the contrary, my CPM liason told me that they were just having fun listening to my answers. The hardest question (and it was hard!) came from my home church pastor!

As a minster member of two presbyteries, Tampa Bay and Des Moines, I have yet to see ANY candidate face more than a perfunctory examination. Tampa Bay Presbytery doesn't even allow examinations on the floor! I was questioned vigorously about everything from my candidate sermon to my statement of faith. I was even asked to clarify an answer I had given to a previous question. This kind of examination used to be the norm. Now it is the exception.

As a white heterosexual male, I don't know if I got a free pass. I was and am still single. Personally, I would like to think that my 'free pass' came because I understood Reformed theology and was able to articulate my faith. I was probably more liberal than most of those examining me, but if you are within the Reformed tradition liberal or conservative shouldn't matter. I felt that I was examined fairly and actually took the bit of correction that was offered by my 'elders' in my answers. Unfortunately, there are too many young know-it-alls who are more intent on rocking the boat than honestly evaluating their own convictions.

Rev. Nathan Lamb
Hartford, IA

7:53 AM, November 29, 2007  
Blogger Twyla said...

I, too, read the article on Presbyterian Outlook. I responded to it there, so my thoughts on the subject are already public. However, I was interested in what all of you had to say, so I read through. Having been ordained only a couple of years ago myself (and as a divorced middle aged conservative woman in a presbytery known for being hard on such candidates), I have a particular interest in what potentially up and coming Presbyterian pastors think. I am left with a few observations that I would like to share and I pray you do not take offense. They are not meant as attacks, but as the observations that I hope might be of some use. They are simply my opinion and not meant as proclamations from some official source.

First, while I applaud the insistence on no anonymous postings, I noticed several hurtful comments on the part of multiple bloggers. Names were signed, but the comments seem hurtful anyway. We are already a wounded denomination in need of healing. It does not make sense to me that we are attacking others needlessly. If posters will stick to issues instead of character attacks, then I believe we will all be much better informed and less defensive. Perhaps if we focus on issues instead of personalities, we can work together to build up the denomination along with the faithful remnant who have not departed in sorrow.

Second, to those of you still 'under care,' please exercise caution in your posts here or anywhere else. Presbyters read the web, too, as do search committees. What you write may come up in examinations or in interviews. While my own experience was in regard to a newspaper article about an old house I'd fixed up, you'd be surprised at what committees will dig up. (It worked out well for me as they knew then I could do mission work!)

Finally, whether Ms. Niles actually experienced discrimination on any grounds or not is really not the issue. I do believe prejudice does exist and against all kinds of categories of people. The type of prejudice depends on who has the majority. If you are a liberal in a conservative presbytery or a conservative in a liberal one, you will face prejudice. If you are a fat person in a place that is full of athletes or a city kid who moves to the country you will face prejudice. If you are a northerner or southerner and move to the opposite, you will face prejudice. And if you are a woman or an ethnic minority or a white male over 50 or physically challenged or any number of other recognized classes of people, you will face prejudice. The prejudice is not the issue. How you respond to it is what's important. As pastors we are called to respond with patience and in love, gently educating those who would exhibit prejudice rather than berating them. We are to speak the Truth (as in Biblical Truth) but to do so in love. We are to love even our enemies. It is up to all of us to break the cycle of attack and counter attack, not to perpetuate it.

May God bless us all with patience and peace not only as we wrestle with this particular set of postings and all the challenges the denomination faces, but especially throughout the upcoming holy season.

Rev. Twyla Boyer, Newport News, VA

8:37 AM, November 29, 2007  
Blogger Viola said...

Aric and Doug too,
But Aric and I have had this same conversation on the floor of the Sacramento Presbytery. Doug writes that Niles is simply using Daniel Migliore, Karl Barth and Jurgen Moltmann in her faith statement, but that is saying a lot. Aric, I asked you at Presbytery if you weren’t using Moltmann and believed in an evolving God because of one of your comments on a blog. (I think it was your blog, I don’t remember for sure.) I asked how you could reconcile that with Reformed theology.

Well, Karl Barth aside, Moltmann is a Panentheist believing that humanity originates out of God not out of nothing. He also sees the Trinity evolving within creation. If that is true God is not perfect without growth, as I believe you put it Aric, and God does not know all there is to know. (Seemingly we have predicated onto God are human ideals and needs. No perfection with out growth.) Two things happen with this idea. Grace moves out of the way and we must, alongside God, evolve toward our own perfection.
Notice in Niles’ statement, Jesus is an example not the one who redeems us.

The other “thing” is a separation happens in the two natures of Jesus Christ. Jesus becomes confined to a time and place, while Christ “indicates his divine nature and presence with us in every time and place.” But the resurrected Jesus Christ is in the presence of the Father and we are nourished by him as believers through faith by the Holy Spirit. We must through the Holy Spirit be in union with the resurrected Christ or we have no part in him.

It is important to know that Jesus existed at a certain time and place and that in history God became flesh. But it is also important that we not tear the natures of Jesus Christ apart.
I could keep going but this is after all a blog. What I want to say is Niles’ faith statement is terribly flawed.

Viola Larson
Sacramento California

1:10 PM, November 29, 2007  
Blogger Rob said...

I have to say, from my own experience in Denver, the only candidate I saw have trouble was a guy we were examining to be ordained into the church he'd already been pastoring (quite effectively) unofficially for two years, solely based on two things: suspicion of him because he'd once been a fundamentalist Baptist (suspicion answered, as some of us pointed out, by the fact he'd chosen to become a Presbyterian in the first place), and the fact that he wouldn't toe the line of liberal orthodoxy. They grilled him for half an hour—with some of the questions they asked, I think he'd be well prepared for graduate-level orals—and then once they'd dismissed him, a couple of our liberal stalwarts ripped into him. This is a guy who's a humble man, a caring man, and a gifted pastor; he'd had a hard, hard life up to that point, about which he was completely open, which he was determined to put to use in ministering to Christ's church. But they announced that they couldn't vote for him because he wasn't liberal enough. To its credit, CPM stood its ground, and he was ultimately approved; but there were a number of us there (not all evangelical by any means) who were ashamed of our presbytery that night.

Expectations are clearly conveyed by the system regardless of whether they are held by any individuals in it or not. Surely you can distinguish between how the system functions based on the expectations it sets up for the participants and the means it uses to reward those that are successful on the one hand, and the actions of specific individuals on the other. Systemic racism and sexism don't require that individuals in the system are actually racist, but only that they are blind to how they participate in a racist system.

Not exactly true. Granted the importance of understanding systems as systems, systems are still composed of people; one cannot, by blaming everything on the system, absolve those who are part of it. Personally, from my experience, I think the assertion that "the system" expects "pre-approved slogans" and "intellectual passivity"; to argue otherwise is to do nothing less than indict people, and in your case, specifically the people of Sacramento Presbytery. (Who, from those few I know there, don't seem to me to deserve it.) Given that, you probably shouldn't be surprised if your comments are taken that way.

Rob Harrison
Grand Lake, CO ———>
Winona Lake, IN

1:53 PM, November 29, 2007  
Blogger Al Sandalow said...

Like many good discussions, we’re starting to stray from the point in question.

Damayanthi Niles claims that those who questioned her ordination did so because some believed that she was a candidate “who’s a little too dark, a little too female, a little too single, a little too smart”.

Let’s be honest here, how many people who voted against her came up to her after the vote and said “Sorry, you’re too dark” or “I couldn’t support you because you are single”. I’ll bet my next paycheck no one did.

While I was not there, I can only suspect that those who had problems with voting yes, did so because she declared a scruple, presented a statement of faith that is filled with statements and omissions that may question her adherence to traditional Reformed orthodoxy, or that she couldn’t pass most of the ordination exams. Nothing unreasonable about that.

By re-imagining the objections of those who opposed her ordination in the above terms, I believe she slanders those who very likely had reasonable objections and elevates herself to the role of the oppressed martyr that the Covenant Network seems to relish. I think that’s Jim’s point and I think he’s dead on.

2:27 PM, November 29, 2007  
Blogger Jim said...

Wow! What an outpouring of comments. I really appreciate the thought and care going into what is being wrottem.

Twyla: Thanks. That's a good word for all of us.

Rob, Al, Viola, Nathan, John: You all add to our understanding. John, thanks for bending allegiances a little to pursue your sense of fairness.

Aric: I give you a bad time because I like you, I respect your abilities, and I think you can do better. You may be musing about how I treat people I don't like, but really I do think you have some great potential (and I don't mean to Hylkema you on this blog!). But first you need to get outside your philosophical bubble and by all means drop the vibes of intellectual superiority.

I've been thinking about how the only option you could see when faced with an examination at presbytery is to stifle what you really believed and resort to canned cliches that you think the presbytery wants to hear. It was like your internal thinking was going like this:

"Hoo-boy! They're never going to buy my true viewpoints, so I've got to very carefully walk around all the potential landmines, craft what I say with utmost caution, and play back to them the tapes they want to hear from me. I can't be myself and give them the intelligent, insightful, and creative theology I've embraced, because they'd shoot me down in a moment. So I'll give them what they want to hear, pap as it is." (Okay, I've jazzed it up a little.)

How sad, if that's the case!

Do you really want to sail through an examination by craftiness and deceit? Do you really want to hide what you believe because that's not what your presbytery has discerned it can approve? Do you want to pass your examination because you held back, toned down, and whitewashed your true theology? Is that what getting ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament is all about--prevarication?

Wouldn't it be liberating to actually believe-believe (not pretend-believe) the faith and dictrine that Presbyterians have always embraced and which is found in our confessions of faith? Not with the words shaded and the meanings slyly altered, but with the ancient and enduring faith boldly and fully embraced? Wouldn't that be great?

Quite frankly, at this point, I don't think you're there, not from what you write and what you love in others' writings. So it looks like you think that this oppressive system is forcing you to fake it, to mouth empty slogans because it won't allow you to say what you really think.

I'd suggest something else. To use the old Four Spiritual Laws diagram: Take SELF off the throne and put CHRIST there. Let go of Aric being brilliant; Aric being innovative; Aric being so "authentic" and cutting-edge. Grab hold of Aric being obedient; Aric being submissive to the Word; Aric being broken and contrite.

What you will find, I would wager, would be Aric who is content, Aric who is empowered, Aric who is powerfully used by God, Aric who becomes wise indeed.

But please don't fake it. Go become a UCC pastor or a Unitarian before you just fake it with empty slogans to cheat your way into Presbyterian ministry. But better, simply believe this Reformed doctrine, so you can with abandon and excitement lead the presbytery into whole-hearted affirmation of your call to Presbyterian ministry. That's what I'd like to see.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

3:20 PM, November 29, 2007  
Blogger Chris said...

If I may be so bold, you can find a recent candidate's statement of faith that is consistent with Reformed theology here. The CPM said "keep it to a page" and the candidate said "no can do...I don't want to hide anything."

Chris Larimer
Louisville, KY

9:49 PM, December 02, 2007  
Blogger Rick Johnson said...

Kudos to Nathan Lamb and Chris Larimer! Nathan, I was among those who questioned you that day at presbytery; your take on what happened that day not only reflects reality but is very wise, good, kind, loving, yea, Presbyterian at its best (smiles). Thank you.
And Chris, I very much appreciate the depth of your statement of faith and associated statements. I commend them to all, and have printed them for myself (for some odd reason I keep a file of the best statements of faith I've come across in my years of ministry). So take heart. My only critique -- not intended to be mean-spirited but, rather, to be edifying -- is twofold. One, please let your personal statement of faith shine forth with more of you yourself in it. And two, please say something about the Church's role in missions in this in-between era before our Lord's return. Otherwise, excellent, brother!

Rick Johnson
George, Iowa

8:39 AM, December 04, 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home