Jan 5, 2009

A Called GA for the nFoG

I have been serving on the new Form of Government Task Force for the past three years.

Just as we did before the General Assembly in San Jose, the work of the nFoG Task Force is flying under the radar of the denomination once again.

The biggest hurdle of the previous General Assembly was to get people to engage and read our work. And my experience at the San Jose Assembly made it clear that most of the committee assigned to our work, and almost all of the GA commissioners had not read our work.

If we are serious about considering a missional understanding of the church, if we are serious about helping the denomination change to the reality of a changed post-denominational, post-modern, post-Christiandom world, then we've got to at least start taking seriously the proposal of the Task Force.

Don't let political groups tell you what to think. You read the documents and study it for yourself.

I know that people are busy. I know that churches and ministry is busy.

And when it comes to the next GA in Minneapolis, busy people from busy churches will come just as ill-prepared to handle this material. So, once again, people will make their decision about the future of the denomination based on hearsay and what political groups are saying about the work.

So what can be done about this?

Call a special meeting just to deal with the new Form of Government. It is unrealistic to ask commissioners to a regular general assembly to read and comprehend all the other work before a typical GA and have the commissioners prepared for the new Form of Government.

Yes, this is going to be expensive. But so is losing 50,000 plus members every year as we become even more irrelevant.

It will be a terrible waste if the new Form of Government flies under the radar of the denomination once again.


stushie said...

If we live in a post-Christian world, then why bother? Anything you come up with will only become irrelevant within a decade or two.

Raventh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pastor Bob said...

Curious. I serve on my presbytery's committee to study and make recommendations about the nFOG. If allowed on the docket we plan to make our first presentation at the January meeting of presbytery. Our questions for small groups at the beginning of the presentation will be:

1. How many knew before you got here today that there is a proposal to replace the current Form of Government with a new one?

2. If you knew what do you know about it?

And then we will go into a power point presentation.

We plan to tell people to download all the material from your GA site. We will ask for emails commenting on the nFOG. We will tell them that sessions can send in comments and recommendations. We will have a meeting in March to discuss the nFOG and hope a member of the GA Task Force can be there. And we will bring recommendations to the May presbytery meeting.

Still we expect that most presbyters and commissioners won't do the work to find out what has changed and why.

Be of good cheer! Some of us have already read it!

Bob Campbell
Tully Memorial Presbyterian Church
Sharon Hill, PA

Anonymous said...


You are my friend. I have great respect for you and your opinion.

However, this comment was hitting below the belt: "Don't let political groups tell you what to think. You read the documents and study it for yourself."

It is wrong-spirited and misleading in a number of ways:

1) The choice of the term "political groups" is a poor one. I don't think that Democrats, Republicans, or Independents are telling churches what to do about the new FOG. You, of course, are meaning to demean groups of your fellow Presbyterians by writing them off as merely "political," as if they weren't operating with the best of theological and polity interests at heart but were engaging in church politics only in a kind of gamesmanship.

I have known you to be a person above put-downs, but this sure reads like a cheap shot at some of the most active and concerned Presbyterians who happen to hold a different evaluation of the worth of the new FOG than you do.

2) You cast doubt on "political groups" as if you weren't so tainted. Yet, you have been a board member and very valued participant in PFR and in the Presbyterian Coalition. The Presbyterian Coalition has been one of the most outspoken groups seeking to help people know the dangers in the new FOG. Because they now disagree with you on this matter, is that whole enterprise now to be written off as a "political group"? What about the areas in which you and Presbyterian Coalition continue to agree? Are those mere political actions that also ought to be unheeded?

PFR has been tepid and mixed about the new FOG. Are they, too, a "political group" that your fellow Presbyterians should shut off completely, in order to listen only to voices out of the Presbyterian bureaucracy? You act as if you are repudiating your friends, colleagues, and co-workers in renewal ministries, casting them aside as a "political group" that must not be trusted or listened to.

3) You mistakenly make a forced dichotomy: (a) listen to the "political groups" or (b) read the new FOG materials. That is a false dichotomy. There are very few people who have read and greatly studied the new FOG materials as studiously as those who are writing about them from Presbyterian Coalition and other renewal groups. It is through reading the new FOG materials and understanding very well the consequences--intended and otherwise--that the renewal groups have sounded the alarm. The renewal materials on new FOG also URGE people to read and understand the new FOG materials, and through that study to realize, as we have, that there are multiple dangers residing in the new FOG.

If I were to say to you, "You can love your wife or love your kids" or say "Stop loving your wife and start loving your kids," you would rightly reply, "I can do both." So I reply to you that people SHOULD listen to the renewal groups AND read the new FOG materials. Why should they be scared away from hearing both sides of the argument by your prejudicial language? Why not be FULLY informed rather than be indoctrinated by either side of a legitimate dispute?

4) You jump to the conclusion that the PCUSA can either: (a) adopt the new FOG and be missional or (b) retain the present FOG and not be missional. That, too, is a false dichotomy.

Those who are opposed to the new FOG can be and often are every bit as much in favor of being missional as you are--BUT, they don't see the FOG as it presently reads as having much at all to do with being missional or not. They don't equate being missional with a particular vehicle for polity. They equate being missional with a heart and activist mindset for doing the essential mission of God.

I would argue that one of the best ways to DISTRACT the church from being missional would be to adopt the new FOG and thus bog the church down with a whirlwind of policy decisions at every level. We'd be so involved with trying to put order and clarity back into our practice--order and clarity removed by the new FOG--that we'd have to put missional concerns on the back burner while we reinvent the polity wheel. Aargh! That would be awful!

I have no doubt about your sincerity and your good desires, James. But I find this posting rife with misunderstanding and faulty reasoning and logic. It is not up to your normal standards of fairness and bright thinking, if you ask me. You seem to be hung up on defending the work of the new FOG committee, apart from the counsel of many of your friends and colleagues who would caution you to think twice about it. Do you realize that you could help usher in the very problems you have previously fought so well to avoid?


Jim Berkley
Bellevue WA
Presbyterian Coalition board member

Mark Smith said...

How would you pay for the cost of a special called meeting, in a denomination that is laying off personnel?

Viola Larson said...

James, I think your idea important but agree with Jim on this. The wrong words for all who are concerned with FOG. Quite a while back I placed an article on my web site and also sent it to you. It was posted on Presbyweb but I never got any acknowledgement that your committee received it. Maybe you could let me know. The article was:

"Missional Ecclesiology that marginalizes the Reformed, orthodox and Evangelical in the PCUSA
A Review of Paul Hooker's “What is Missional Ecclesiology?” at http://www.naminggrace.org/id68.htm
Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca
Elder, Sacramento, Presbytery

Viola Larson said...

I am still thinking about this. Perhaps I should have added that I am also on the board of Voices of Orthodox Women and Theology Matters. Does that make me political? I don't think so. I think it means that I am very concerned about theology and the Church in all of her aspects, both universal and the particular (PCUSA).

But I do agree all Church members should care about these issues enough to read all that your committee is offering. it is a shame if they don't. And along side that I am think of the beginning of the Theological Declaration of Barmen, "If you find that we are speaking contrary to Scripture than do not listen to us!" And this should apply to both the FOG documents and what others of us are writing and saying.

L. Lee said...

I am a church member. Though I haven't read the entire paper about changing the Book of Order put out by the nFOG, I have followed some of the information
being thrown around on Presbyweb. I watched closely what happened at the GA on this issue.

I keep wondering why we need to change the
Book of Order. I am a Presbyterian because of
the form of government of this church, chose to
stay a Presbyterian as opposed to another denomination, because of the Book of Order and
the form of government. If the proposed changes go through - which entails a whole rewrite of the Book of Order - something I can not possibly obsorbed - I will lose any trust I
have left in this denomination and its leaders.

Changing the Book of Order will erode any trust
people have in this denomination - and a lack of trust is exactaly what is the biggest problem facing this denomination. Now, though some have gone out of bounds of the Book of Order with no negative consequences, there is
the basic structure founded on years and years of work by many people through the ages, many GA's and it will be undone by a reworking to
be more acceptable by our culture??? Is that
the purpose?

A post- denomination, post modern, Christ-less
world needs the GOSPEL, SCRIPTURE, needs GOD
and I don't think a change in the Book of
Order will matter. Infact, it might be a
worse case for this denomination.

Still, I see how important it seems to be to you, Rev. James, and to so many. Yet I can't
understand the WHY of this need for change.
I fear the change is so great that it will be the next reason for many to leave.