After spending a few days pondering the precarious position of the denomination to which I belong, my mixed feelings about the passage of the PUP report have reached some resolution, though not necessarily a clear-cut one or one that you might expect. Let me explain.
First, I do not think PUP is as good as people want to spin it to be. Having read Edward Koster’s article from the Outlook on PUP’s passage, I’m not convinced that the action of the GA in any way strengthens the authority of the Book of Order. Koster seems to think that because the amended version of recommendation five allows for juridical review, everything’s ok: “Whether the examination and ordination and installation decision comply with the constitution of the PCUSA, and whether the ordaining/installing body has conducted its examination reasonably, responsibly, prayerfully, and deliberately in deciding to ordain a candidate for church office is subject to review by higher governing bodies.” Koster might be right, if every PJC in the denomination was committed to upholding the Book of Order as it stands including G-6.0106b. The simple fact is that they aren’t. Look at the recent acquittals of William Parr and Jane Spar, who both performed wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples, but were declared by committees in their presbyteries not to have contradicted the denomination’s constitution. Simply making decisions “subject to review by higher governing authorities” does nothing to win the trust of people who have watched the governing authorities contradict their own constitution.
But (secondly), I do not think PUP is as bad as people want to spin it to be. Given that we live in a post-denominational society, where very very few people actually choose a church solely because of its denominational affiliation, the approval of recommendation five does seem to allow an appropriate decrease in institutional power. Yes, it gives leeway to practices contradicting Scripture, but in so doing, it lays groundwork for the deconstruction of the national institution of the PC(USA). As Kruse Kronicle has diligently noted from the inside of the GAC, they are downsizing in recognition of the PC(USA)’s no-longer-privileged status in America. I would say that the institution of the denomination as we have known it is honestly in hospice, and rightfully should be if Presbyterians want to effectively work for Christ within American society. Presbyterian history, tradition, polity, and theology are all worth preserving, but can be done so without the bureaucracy that the national institution has become. People throughout the denomination realize this, but few are putting it into practice. The up-side of PUP, and the only positive spin I will put on its passage right now, is that it sets in motion significant changes in what we think a denomination is, and that very concept is in need of rethinking.
Though my obsession with Presbyterian politics for the past two weeks may not indicate this, I would like to identify myself more with the emergent church movement in terms of missiology and ecclesiology. Though it may sound strange, I think that PUP’s passage is forcing us to redefine our denomination in ways that favor a shift toward emergent styles of church leadership. Fellow Presbyterians and emergent church friends – do you think there is any truth in this?