Keep Calm and Carry On

March 10, 2012

 It sounds very English, doesn’t it? “Keep calm and carry on.” In fact, this was the message of propaganda posters printed for distribution throughout England as World War II was befalling Europe. You can hear more of the story from a YouTube video.

To the person of faith, this poster is a succinct summary of God’s message during tribulation, “Do not fear; do not fret. Trust in the Lord and do good” (from Psalm 37). Sometimes we need the reminder when things go topsy turvy around us, which is how many evangelicals in the PCUSA feel the present moment. The Lord is trustworthy to carry us through the present difficulty. Worry accomplishes nothing. So, while we keep calm and carry on, let me share with you one way to process the options I presented in yesterday’s blog.

Idea number 3: “My conscience is bothered to such a degree that no economic recourse could possibly calm it. Therefore, while holding to my belief and witness to the truth from a biblical/theological perspective, I shall make no claim for ‘relief of conscience’ and thus belie the notion that mathematical manipulations could actually assuage my conscience.” This idea is not mine; it was articulated by the Rev. John Huffman (HR), who served on the Board of Pensions sub-committee assigned to research the expansion of Benefits to same-sex partners of Plan members.

His reasoning followed the presentation of facts to the Board. He has every confidence that the Pension Board members are top-notch number crunchers, analysts, and investment experts. He has seen little evidence that they are swayed by mere politics and they are largely untouched by PCUSA theological debates. They take the questions posed to them where they need to go, they do extensive research, and they make decisions. In this case, strong views are presented respectfully on all sides of the issue, and then they voted. This was not a consensus-building process, but it was cordial, collegial, and honest grappling of the facts put before the group.

Based on what John told me, the only two dots I think were not quite connected were these: while the BOP is responsive to the recommendations sent to them by GA (the first dot), they must and they do make their own decisions and do not have to do what GA “urges” them to do. Generally, if and when they do not, it is because of some legal or fiduciary responsibility they must uphold. They are, however, always mindful that they are making their decisions according to PCUSA values, and this is where the second dot strayed, I think. The definition of marriage in the Book of Order remains between a man and a woman. While the BOP wisely did not refer to same-sex partners as spouses in their policy because of this, nevertheless, by extending benefits to them, they gave institutional approval to what is not yet “official,” namely, that Presbyterians consider it okay for gay clergy to live in same-sex relationships. [I know, I know, some of you think Amendment 10A accomplished this, but that is still being tested in court. By May 1 we should have a definitive answer to 10A’s implications.] Rather, they attached their decision to another dot, what can generally be described as the “fairness” dot as defined by state laws governing the recognition of registered domestic partners.

Not so much in the case of medical benefits, which would commence immediately, but certainly in the case of pension payments to surviving partners, the “when” and “how much” calculations cannot be made. The financial impact in one year, for lack of history, is unknown and probably negligible, but the payout would certainly go up over time as Plan members die. Even so, if you take some basic numbers provided by the Board of Pensions upon request (www.pensions.org), some weight is given to the “It’s only money, and not that much” argument posited here a few days ago. To demonstrate: If you look at the sum of total payouts and the total income from Plan dues, you realize that only 25% of the benefits are actually paid by member contributions to the Plan each year. The rest comes from the proceeds of investments! So, let’s say—it’s just a guess within a range given by the BOP in its report—.6% of your effective salary would be paid out to same-sex partners, the reality is that this contribution is dwarfed by the investment support to the plan, so that in the end your .6% contributes only .0015% of the total payout for pension benefits. That is not very much money.

John’s point is this: “Do you think such a miniscule ‘relief of conscience’ figure can possibly answer such a profound conscientious objection to the whole idea?” In a word, John says a relief of conscience clause would have trivialized the objection he has to the extension of benefits, and artificially calmed consciences with a mathematical manipulation that can only occur on paper. [The abortion relief of conscience arrangement, a case in point.] He is saying, none of this truly addresses the heartache, theological dissonance, soul-searching, and crisis of conscience that points to a much larger issue: the church’s departure from orthodox, Reformed interpretation of Scripture, “the only rule of faith and practice.” If one positive thing can be said, it is that the newly enacted policy forces the bigger question of biblical faithfulness.

So what are the alternatives, in this line of thinking? Can one go to another plan? As an aside, I looked at the pension benefit policy coming from my husband’s workplace, and of course it is extended to registered domestic partners. That is pretty much de rigueur in today’s world. Short of having no pension plan at all (which the purist must consider), what is a person to do? That is where yesterday’s decision-tree comes in: you can seek ‘relief of conscience,’ you can work to change the policy through a new GA instruction to the Board of Pensions, or you can take the steps necessary to withdraw from the Plan.

At the very least, whatever you decide to do, stay calm and carry on. Stand. Remain faithful. Preach the Word in and out of season. And trust that God will sort out the wheat and tares at the end. It’s a messy world, and no matter where we turn, we are compromised to one degree or another. We can only commend ourselves to God’s mercy when the time comes. In the meantime, let us not falter in showing Christ’s truth and grace to this generation and modeling what it looks like to remain faithful to the gospel and God’s Kingdom.[1]

 


[1] Eph 6:1-10; Acts 11:23 and Rev 3:1-6; 2 Tim 4:2; Matt 13:24-29.

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3 Responses to “Keep Calm and Carry On”


  1. Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position.
    As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda. Propaganda can be used as a form of political warfare.
    While the term propaganda has acquired a strongly negative connotation by association with its most manipulative and jingoistic examples, propaganda in its original sense was neutral, and could refer to uses that were generally benign or innocuous, such as public health recommendations, signs encouraging citizens to participate in a census or election, or messages encouraging persons to report crimes to the police, among others.

  2. Cindy Ely Says:

    Revmary,
    I am not a pastor, nor a Presbyterian for long. . But I have been comforted by your blog through much of the turmoil in my heart brought on by the PCUSA nonsense. I’ve been at my local first Pres. for 10 years, raised my children there for the most part. Our local Church first explained the change in the Presby laws by putting out a paper on the change in the ordination laws of the PCUSA and how it would impact us. They said it doesn’t really impact us, that we will keep on with the old ordination standards, no harm, no foul, everything is hunky-dory.
    And so on, we don’t talk about it at Church, we’ve been muzzled, it is so odd, but the prevailing wind at the Church is “don’t ask, don’t tell” how you think or feel about the change at the PCUSA level.
    My co-Sunday School teacher says that we should stand and fight the changes. I say “where is the fight?” We are silent lambs. Your blog today about standing sounded like “do nothing, say nothing” You really don’t mean that?
    Anyway, my concsience and my husband’s sees no alternative but leave our Church who is my opinion have abandoned the faith. Oh our Church is exploring the EOC, have a committee about consequnces of any change. (yeah, the committee itself is confused about their purpose) We are still attending as my 14 year old is in confirmation (which curriculum has been vastly improved by our assistant pastor and youth pastor, and is seriously good Kingdom of God information) and my committment to teach HS Sunday School. (where, Yes, I am muzzled about the gay thing) My daughter will not be “confirmed” formally by our session whom I have lost all faith in, and absolutely won’t become a member, God forbid it! We will finish out the spring and see what the poor committee comes up with. They can only recommend to the session. Yeah, like that will go anywhere.
    I want to be a member ot one of those Churches that has left, joind the EPC or is committed to leaving the PCUSA with the EOC. I’m not. But thanks be to God there are more Churches in Christendom! We are going with them. Some have left our Church already, probably more than I know. It breaks my heart, I love so many at our Church, so do my kids. On the lowest level, this is what the PCUSA has wrought.

  3. Truth Tolife Says:

    As Cindy Ely’s lament demonstrates, there are two ways a church leaves the PCUSA: one is what Cindy hopes (without enthusiasm) her church will do; namely, reaffiliate with the EPC or ECO; the second is what Cindy states is her plan; to wit, find herself a new church home. Sessions of all stripes should take note: churches are leaving the PCUSA, if but one member at a time.

    RevMary’s call to stand, is not to remain silent, but to be actively, courageously stalwart. Her suggestion, taken from Ephesians 6, is to keep doing all we can do, and then, when all is done, to not give in, nor give up, but to remain stalwart. Victory is the Lord’s. Ours is to stand for Truth, come what may.

    I suggest now is the time for orthodox churches in the PCUSA to lock arms, coordinate efforts, back each other up with pressure and money. One at a time, we all lose. Together, much is possible–if not actual reform, then certainly vibrant ministry together as we proclaim the Gospel to a dying world.

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