Calling Out a Rogue Presbytery

May 16, 2012

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) now must deal with the first situation anyone can remember of a presbytery directly refusing to act on the decision and order of a General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC). The question is, what recourse is there for dealing with such a flagrant disregard of their ordination vows and the basic understanding of Presbyterian governance (found, for instance, at F-3.0206, “Review and Control” by a higher council)?  

Understand that the drafters of the motion believed that they were acting consistent with their vows, that they are applying the love ethic of Jesus accurately, and that they have a right to defy a judicial ruling. The questionable biblical hermeneutic and theological error is the first problem, of course. The WHEREASes of the motion represent sloppy doctrine, disconnected “points” that actually do not follow one after the other, and therefore yield an illogical conclusion. Nothing new here; this is what we have been working with, and tolerating it as we have for decades is now yielding bitter fruit.

Illogic notwithstanding, the bottom line is this, “We, the Presbytery of Redwoods, refuse to carry out the PJC’s Order.” Naegeli’s Law No. 137 kicks in: “People are gonna do what they’re gonna do.” When they set their course, nothing will stop them: not a sense of covenant, not biblical obedience, not the knowledge that their actions will crumble the church, nothing. In San Francisco Presbytery a year or two ago, our interim executive presbyter actually said in a presbytery sermon before a controversial vote, “we should do the right thing [in the context, meaning ordaining gays], even if it destroys the church.” So how is that not a violation of a vow to preserve the peace, unity, and purity of the church?

If this were a civil situation and a party refused to perform according to the court’s directive, a law enforcement representative would haul them in to court, they would be ruled in contempt and levied a fine or jailed. Unfortunately, we have no “law enforcement” arm of church governance (I presume God’s judgment at the right time will have to do).  It is a serious question I am sure was calculated in the defiers’ strategy: is there anything anybody can do to stop them? The hubris is breathtaking.

But let us engage in the question for a moment. What could be done? Various ideas are proposed, among them:

1. The Synod installs an Administrative Commission in the Presbytery, and            

            a) orchestrates a reconsideration of the action; OR

            b) presumes renunciation of jurisdiction and remove the staff, replace the council, and issue the rebuke as directed; OR

            c) dismantles the Presbytery and redistribute its members to existing, surrounding presbyteries; OR

            d) enacts other ideas my readers will come up with

2. Ask the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) to issue an advisory opinion on what has happened.

3. File a remedial complaint against Redwoods Presbytery. This puts us on course for an infinite loop, since the presbytery clearly has rejected judicial authority. So what if the GAPJC rules that the presbytery has acted in error? Without any sort of enforcement other than the untried, untested ideas outlined above, this presbytery thinks it can get away with open defiance. This is fodder for anarchy, folks, and a major humiliation to the historic church that was characterized by “decency and order” since its inception.

Our system of governance works only if peace, unity, and purity—all three—are held together without compromise by theological consensus, even agreement, on essential tenets of the Reformed faith (belief); unwavering obedience to Jesus Christ and the will of God as revealed in Scripture (behavior); and true covenant in community with one another. Redwoods Presbytery, with its Tuesday resolution, has broken covenant with the denomination, promoted a false gospel, and promoted disobedience. Who has the standing to call them out and declare them a rogue faction of the PCUSA?






19 Responses to “Calling Out a Rogue Presbytery”

  1. Renee Guth Says:

    Simply, Redwoods Presbytery has renounced jurisdiction.

  2. Jodie Says:

    It’s just the flip side of the same coin the conservative churches have been playing.

    Our denomination depends on voluntary compliance. Voluntary compliance requires respect. And respect was thrown out when the cussing started. When words like ‘apostasy’, ‘sexual perversion’, and ‘bigotry’ were introduced into the discussion.

    What I want to know is, when the clergy of the denomination decided to burn down their own houses, where were they planning to sleep the night?

  3. John Kerr Says:

    Jodie misses one salient point: that when the conservatives leave, they are complying with a long-standing admonition to peaceably depart without causing schism, though they are rarely allowed to go peaceably.
    This is not about peaceable dissent–this is anything but. This is outright defiance. Yet I doubt that the Synod of the Pacific will take any action beyond the odd “tsk-tsk.”

  4. Truth Tolife Says:

    This is not “fodder” for anarchy. It IS anarchy!

    But why be shocked? Truth is the Presbytery of the Redwoods has flaunted the Book of Order, indeed even Scripture, for years, so it’s hardly surprising it would disregard a PJC decision it does not like.

    The reality is our vaunted presbyterian “process” only remains to placate, distract, and oppress the orthodox. Progressives have time and again bluntly declared they don’t care, won’t abide, and won’t comply with the church’s rules. Why should we expect the PJC will be given deference?

    Alas, “… and the people did what was right in their own eyes.”

  5. Steven Niccolls Says:

    My personal recommendation is for the PC(USA)to do a couple things immediately. 1) Stop any assistance (monetary or otherwise) to the Presbytery of the Redwoods. 2)Call in any outstanding loans the Presbytery has to either the Synod or to General Assembly 3) Call on all elders in the Presbytery (both ruling and teaching) to renounce the actions of the Presbytery in writing or be removed from their office. It is clear that the Presbytery of the Redwoods desire to remove themselves from the jurisdiction of the PC(USA). Therefore it is necessary for the Church to remove all assistance to the Presbytery in a swift manner.

  6. David L. Bieschwale Says:

    I wonder about actions at Presbytery levels–at the very least, resolutions by Presbyteries in Synod of the Pacific calling on their sisters and brothers of Redwoods Presbytery to reverse this decision, and to comply with the GAPJC Order. True, such resolutions would carry little, if any weight in having real authority for discipline. Yet, such resolutions would be another call to accountability.

  7. David L. Bierschwale Says:

    And, I am, David L. BieRschwale.


  8. Jim Berkley Says:

    My hope is that the silence from the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly means that he is composing a very excellent rebuke of Redwoods and bringing the weight of his bully pulpit to bear.

    Outright defiance, if allowed to stand unhindered, means that the Book of Order does not govern our life together, and if it does not, then Katie bar the doors! Laws unenforced means laws negated. There is no way that, say, the property clause can be enforced selectively, if there is no force of law behind other parts of the Constitution.

    • Truth Tolife Says:

      Katie has left her post.

      It was “outright defiance” when Lisa Larges declared she would not abide by the constitutional (at the time) and scriptural (at all times) mandate that church officers adhere to fidelity/chastity.

      It was “outright defiance” when the San Francisco Presbytery voted to her ordain her despite the constitutional mandate. (One commissioner declared: “I don’t care what the Constitution says, we must ordain this woman!”)

      It was “outright defiance” when both the Synod of the Pcific and the GAPJC ruled that Larges’ “departure” did not depart from an essential of reformed faith and polity (because the “multitudinous voices” on the issue is the meaning of Scripture and the Confessions on sexual ethics renders the mandates for sexual purity unenforceable.

      It was “outright defiance when Paul Capetz, a gay teaching elder seeking to be restored to ordained ministry after obtaining voluntary release, disingenuously declared he would not take a vow of celibacy.

      It was “outright defiance” when both the Synod PJC and GAPJC ruled Capetz’s restoration was in order.

      Outright defiance is, apparently, a way of “faithful obedience.” And yes, that was the white rabbit that just ran by.

      The Book of Order has only constrained part of the church, the orthodox, for years. Progressives feel defiantly justified in ignoring it; that is, unless it serves to bind, befuddle, or oppress the orthodox. In that case, “law” is a good thing. But if it binds or befuddles the progressives, the law is to be ignored.

      Indeed, there is no law: each does what is right in his own eyes.

  9. What I can’t figure out is what this means: “Be it RESOLVED that the Presbytery of the Redwoods opposes imposition of the rebuke…” A letter from Redwoods Stated Clerk implies that they were just saying “We disagree.” What I don’t know is whether they also read the formal rebuke as required in D-12.0102. It’s quite a different story depending on whether they rebuked her and then voted to voice their opinion that they disagree, or whether they failed to rebuke her at all.

    • revmary Says:

      Jeff, thank you for a very good question. Perhaps you have read GAJunkie’s post today, in which Steve Salyards raises the same question. My eye-witness to the events says that the GAPJC Decision was printed in the presbytery packet and was read to the assembly. After that, the motion to oppose imposition of the rebuke was brought forward without previous notice or publication. No rebuke was read after that. GAJunkie says that it WAS read when it was originally issued two years ago and, by the GAPJC’s rulling, was put in force (whatever that would mean).

  10. Jodie Says:

    So this is much a do about nothin’? Legally speaking, that is?

    • Jim Berkley Says:

      No, Jodie. I’d say it’s no do about something. Redwoods Presbytery had a solemn responsibility placed on them to do something–the rebuke–and they defied the rule of law to do nothing. All had been done properly and painstakingly to come to a final resolution, and the presbytery impermissibly said, “Meh.”

      Would that we had Roman centurians again, who know what it means to be under the authority of another party!

  11. Tom Hobson Says:

    If the interim exec back then in San Francisco is who I think, he is now interim exec in the presbytery where I live but have been kept out of membership for 6 years. He was in charge when I was recently denied an interim at an evangelical church because my 28 years experience was “not enough experience.” If that’s him, we should not be surprised that he would be willing to destroy the church if necessary to see the progressive agenda prevail.

    • revmary Says:

      Can’t be the same man, Tom; the one to whom I refer remains a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area and is honorably retired.

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