On the Other Hand: Reasons for Leaving the PCUSA

September 23, 2011

Considering the missional implications of Staying or Leaving the PCUSA, outlined this week have been some reasons why Staying can be seen as missional. More will be said on that topic in the days to come. But today, to keep some balance in the discussion, let us consider the merits of Leaving. The following ideas have been mentioned or implied in some of the social network traffic this week:

1.  The PCUSA itself has left the true church.  If the church through its councils and judicial commissions has departed from the beliefs that originally defined it, then the church has left its orthodox members, not the other way around.

2.  Shake the dust off your feet and move on. Jesus instructed the disciples he sent out two by two into Kingdom work:

“Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay
there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is
worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace
return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words,
shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I
tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on

the day of judgment than for that town.” (Matthew 10:11-14)

If the Presbyterian house proves itself to be unworthy of the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ, one moves on to another neighborhood that is more welcoming of the Savior and his representatives. The fields are white unto harvest somewhere else! (Matthew 9:37f).

3.  To stay violates one’s conscience. If a person cannot affirm the teaching of his church, he should not have to bad-mouth it. But supporting that which a person believes to be error violates his conscience. As a matter of integrity before the Lord and neighbor, it is better to worship and serve in a place where that message and one’s own message can be in sync.

4. The world around us deserves a consistent witness. If a “brand” makes promises, its members should deliver on that promise. If one cannot in good conscience stand for what the church represents or deliver what a denomination promotes as its identity and purpose, then one is confusing the public with an inconsistent representation. Better it is to align with a like-minded group where one’s representation can be genuine and heartfelt. This is not an argument for “doctrinal purity” to some objective standard of perfection, but to “doctrinal alignment.”

5.  Let’s be fair about resources. If a congregation cannot in conscience support the broader work of the denomination, what is fair about either expecting or accepting the support of the broader church for the congregation’s local mission and purpose?

6.  The sheep in the flock must be protected. If one is susceptible to theological deception or tempted by now-acceptable behaviors that person is trying to overcome, one runs the risk of the “Did God really say . . . ?” conversation. The church becomes the stumbling block for the recovering sinner. Shepherds must take care of their flocks and help them find safe pasture.

Whether one believes these reasons to be persuasive or not, they are legitimate and worthy of consideration depending on a congregation’s and individual’s context and circumstances. Leaving may indeed be a worthy missional choice. But staying can be, too. More on that later . . .


12 Responses to “On the Other Hand: Reasons for Leaving the PCUSA”

  1. Mary Fields Says:

    Bravo! Mary

  2. William L. Goff Says:

    Dear Mary,
    You have often referenced the garden and the question put to Eve about what God really said. From what I have read in your blog, you seem to suggest that this question is one that causes folks to doubt God’s word and depart from his standards. I agree with you that the biblical narrative regarding the first garden is instructive for the ongoing discussion regarding homosexuals (LGBT folks) in the Presbyterian Church (UPUSA), but I would like to offer an alternative interpretation of Genesis 3:1-7. These verses introduce a talking snake who approaches the woman, Eve, with a provocative theological question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The snake’s question was diabolically clever. It was intended to cause Eve to doubt God’s word by suggesting that the Creator was unreasonably restrictive.
    Eve quickly responded to the snake’s challenge by first affirming God’s generosity. “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden” she asserted. Far from being stingy or restrictive, God had said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden” (Gen. 2:16). So far, so good. But Eve wanted to be more complete in her answer, so she added, “But God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” In her effort to defend God’s word, Eve made a strategic mistake. She added a restriction that God had not given. She misquoted God by making him say, “You must not touch it.” She went beyond what God had said by adding an additional restriction. Perhaps this was the original sin meaning the first sin – to misquote God and characterize him as more severe and restrictive than he is.
    Soon Eve and Adam were munching on the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in full disobedience to God’s command. All of us have been living with the disastrous results of this disobedience ever since. And every generation has had to answer the persistent hermeneutical question: “Did God really say…?”
    There are two primary responses to this question – responses of doubters and defenders. Doubters are inclined to say, “God hasn’t said anything or whatever he is reported to have said is questionable. We will not base our behavior on what God allegedly said.” Defenders are inclined to say, “Not only did God speak, but we will build a fenced around God’s word so we will be less inclined to disobey it. So if God said that his people should not boil a kid in its mother’s milk, we will not eat milk and meat products at the same time. We will have separate dishes and utensils for milk and meat.”
    Doubters and defenders are active in the current debate about homosexuals. Doubters are inclined to say that concerns about chastity and fidelity do not belong in our Presbyterian ordination standards. Defenders are inclined to say that not only are chastity and fidelity are important, but this excludes homosexuals because marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
    Must we be trapped between the Doubters and Defenders? No. I see a third way to approach God’s word on this issue – that of Disciples. Disciples appreciate the great freedom God has given us, but also realize his restrictions. Disciples are inclined to assert that chastity and fidelity are important considerations for all believers, but that homosexual believers who practice chastity and fidelity should qualify for ordination.
    My hope is that the one who called himself the Son of Adam will fill his church with disciples.
    Bill Goff

  3. William L. Goff Says:

    As a retired Presbyterian minister I have more to say about Genesis 3:1-7 and time to say it. I want to speculate on the question, “Why did the talking snake approach Eve rather than Adam with his hermeneutical question?” Was it because she was the more susceptible of the two? Was it because she was not even present when God’s statement was made as recorded Genesis 2:16? Was it because Eve was somehow inferior to Adam since she was created after him and taken from his rib? As someone who believes in the equal status of women with men, I have a different answer to this question. I believe the snake approached Eve during her quiet time while Adam was watching a football game on TV in the other room. I can’t prove this from Scripture, but I think it as good an interpretation as other speculations I have heard.
    Bill Goff, HR

  4. Bill,

    That’s quite a lot of theology to hang on a very small difference between a direct quote from God and one filtered through a human being of inevitably imperfect memory – and filtered again through generations of oral tradition and the pen of its author. Further, Scripture often quotes Jesus slightly differently when descibing the same incidents in different Gospels. We don’t view this as evidence of a misquote but of different accounts of the same incident. And of course, while it may be true that we should not require of people more than God requires, you ignore the Biblical texts where God does require abstaining from homoerotic acts – and the lack of any texts approving of such acts.

    Genesis does not comment upon the alleged misquote as being a sin. Rather it is eating that results in the curse. And there is no reason to believe that the result would have been any different for Adam and Eve had eve not mentioned touching.

    As Jesus taught, we pray not to be led into temptation. Perhaps Eve knew she was tempted by the fruit, and that the temptation would be greater than she could resist if she touched the fruit. We all know the consequences of her breaking through that fence.

    • William L. Goff Says:

      Dear Whitman,
      In your response to my remarks regarding Genesis 3 you accuse me of ignoring the “Biblical texts where God does require abstaining from homoerotic acts – and the lack of any texts approving of such acts.” While it is true that I did not comment on any such texts or absence of texts, I have not ignored them in making my decision that it is God’s will to include homosexuals in the full life of the Church. I can and do read biblical Hebrew and Greek and have read much of the Bible in the languages in which it was written including texts that relate to homoerotic acts. A full discussion of these texts is worth a book and it would not be appropriate to take up extended space on Mary’s blog to explore them in depth. I have benefited from reading the in-depth discussions of the relevant biblical texts in a number of books that have helped me interpret these texts. Two of these books I’d like to I recommend to readers of this blog. They are Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? by Letha Dawson Scansoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott (1994 edition) and Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality (revised and expanded edition) by Jack Rogers, former Moderator of the General Assembly. I am not suggesting that you have ignored these books. I give you the benefit of the doubt that you are informed regarding the varied and conflicting interpretations of relevant biblical texts. I only ask you to refrain from attributing ignorance to me without knowing the facts. – Bill Goff

      • Bill,

        I didn’t accuse you of anything, and particularly not of being unaware of the texts to which I refer. I simply observed that you had ignored them in your post. It seems to me that if your point is that God only prohibited violations of fidelity and chastity, not homoerotic conduct, and that we should not ask more than God does, then you can’t make that point from Gen. 3 alone without addressing the whole cannon including these texts, particularly Romans 1.

        Sadly I am not as educated as yourself in the original Biblical languages, but I rely on scholars who are. I am not familiar with the books to which you refer, though I am familiar with Rogers and his change in position, but Bob Gagnon has written (very) extensively and convincingly on this subject, and I commend his commentary. I have also argued this issue before the courts of the Church, on the floor of presbytery and in many other fora and find, when those on the other side cite Scripture at all, those citations all seem to be wishful thinking.

        I will heed your advice, however, and not debate the texts here, though I may do so on my own blog.

        As to why the snake approached Eve rather than Adam, the text does not say. We can speculate, but the text does not say. At the end of the day, what we have is the text as our authority on matters of faith and practice. We must accept what it says, and the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from it. But we cannot go beyond it.

    • William L. Goff Says:

      Dear Ms. Koepke,
      As radio personality Michael Jackson was fond of saying regarding what happened in the Garden, “It was not the apple in the tree that caused the problem, but the pair on the ground.”
      Bill Goff

  5. Renee Guth Says:

    Two additional reasons to leave:

    1) God has called you to another field and is sending you to a new place to minister.

    2) When a congregation is prevented from calling a pastor that is their theological match, this is a critical need to leave. This has happened on a number of occasions. For evangelical congregations that are in unfriendly/hostile presbyteries, they must leave when there is going to be a change in pastoral leadership or if they are currently without a pastor. Pastors who know that they will be seeking another call or retiring in the next few years should lead their congregation out of the denomination, if their congregation is at risk.

    • revmary Says:

      Yes, Ruth, your additions are good ones. There is always the possibility that God is leading one TO a new calling, rather than primarily OUT of an old one. And your second reason is, sadly, a reality of which I am aware, too; and I’m sorry I missed it the first time around. It is a corollary to my “doctrinal alignment” reason, but more specific.

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