(Over two years ago, on Jan. 22, 2012, I published the following post about my relationship with the PC(USA). I reprint it now because it remains true to me.)
This past week a new reformed body was launched in Orlando, Florida called the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO). It’s comprised of Presbyterians whose relationship to the PC(USA) has been strained by theological shifts within the denomination, most prominently the relaxing of ordination standards about sexuality.
It’s understandable that PC(USA) leadership isn’t thrilled about the ECO, and is concerned about its supporters. At first Moderator Cynthia Bolbach wasn’t going to attend the ECO’s Covenanting Conference in Orlando. According to the current Presbyterian Outlook:
“In an interview this week, Bolbach said she had changed her mind, in part because ‘they’re expecting lots of folks who want to stay in the PC(USA) and want to figure out how to do that’ while not violating their sense of conscience. ‘If there are people there who are still engaged in the PC(USA), I want to be in dialogue with them,’ Bolbach said. ‘I want to have conversation with them to say, “We want you to stay. We don’t want you to go.” ‘ “
Although I haven’t heard whether Cynthia Bolbach actually went to the conference or not, I’m glad she affirms the presence of evangelicals in the denomination. Theologically I’m in general agreement with the ECO, and I’ve tended to apply the category “evangelical” to myself over the years. My family and I want to stay in the PC(USA), and we want to continue to work as mission co-workers. Hopefully evangelical believers always will be valued and respected not only in local congregations, but at every level and area of the PC(USA), including mission assignments overseas.
Some Presbyterians seem to feel stuck in the PC(USA). They’re faced with the challenge of extricating their churches from the PC(USA), which has become an unpleasant place for them. I seem to be stuck too, but instead of stuck in, I’m stuck on the PC(USA). To be stuck in something, such as a rut, means you’re struggling to get yourself out from an undesirable place. To be stuck on somebody means you have an uncontrollable attachment, an affection that won’t let go.
Yes, I’m stuck on this denomination. I’ve discovered that my attachment to it is beyond my control. Sure, there are other denominations where my theological positions are more widely held, but God didn’t put me in such a denomination. In God’s infinite wisdom, God put me in this one. I was baptized in it, received my first Bible in it, had my first mission experience in it, and people prayed for me in it when I wouldn’t pray for myself. For a number of years I moved in a different direction, and I struggled spiritually and vocationally. Then God called me back into the PC(USA). Doors opened for me to use my talents and to participate with my family in the fulfillment of God’s divine plans. I’m stuck on the PC(USA) because God’s stuck on it. How gracious God is! He doesn’t let go, even when conflict rages in our churches and many of us worry about losing our way.
The Guatemalan Presbyterian Church (IENPG), to which my wife and I are assigned, has an impressive record of stick-together-ness. The church functions within an environment of stark poverty, devastating natural disasters, and bloody social turmoil, including the lingering effects of a 36-year civil war with a death toll of 250,000. Over the years and with few resources, the IENPG has contended with unsavory personality conflicts and a few corrupt leaders, as well as divisive religious currents like Pentecostalism and liberation theology. Guatemala’s divergent social classes are reflected in the Presbyterian churches here, along with the full range of political and ideological persuasions. Half of the members are westernized Ladinos, while the rest belong to socially-marginalized indigenous groups that speak different languages. With these challenges and so much diversity, the IENPG has for the most part held together. Indeed, while the PC(USA) seems to be at risk of falling apart, the IENPG has expanded into more areas of Guatemala. In recent years they’ve achieved reconciliation with four schismatic presbyteries, reintegrating them back into their denomination. They’ve opened up two new high schools, and are forming a Presbyterian university. The IENPG has stuck to this pattern, praise God, ever since a predecessor of the PC(USA) started it over 130 years ago.
At their last Synod meeting, Guatemalan Presbyterians expressed their disagreement with the PC(USA) over changes in ordination standards. At the same time, they expressed their desire to remain in covenant partnership with the PC(USA). Here’s the reason one Guatemalan gave for wanting the partnership to continue: “When we’ve struggled and didn’t get along, they never left us. Now the PC(USA) is struggling. How can we leave them?”
It’s a blessing to work at building partnerships between Christian bodies like the PC(USA) and the IENPG, partnerships that figure out how to face differences and accept some significant disagreements. It’s also a blessing to be a part of building partnership within Christian bodies like the PC(USA), where we also face differences and even accept some significant disagreements.