The Silence Is Deafening

June 20, 2012

[It shouldn’t be fascinating at all that I have not been blogging. Still burning the candle at both ends. Just two more days of grading papers and finalizing the academic quarter, and I’m back with you on a daily basis, for the duration!]

 It is so fascinating to observe how quiet some people are in the face of recent events in the PCUSA.  A few cases on point:

The silence in response to rogue Redwoods Presbytery has been deafening. Whom might we expect to react to its refusal to censure one of its minister members, the Rev. Janie Spahr (honorably retired), who conducted several same-sex weddings? The Synod of the Pacific overseers? The Stated Clerk of the denomination? Does this silence mean that Redwoods’ inaction and attitude have no consequences? Does this silence mean nobody knows what to do, because this sort of defiance has never occurred before?

Is anybody going to “have a problem” with the Rev. Neal Presa’s vice-moderator candidate the Rev. Tara Spuhler McCabe conducting a same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia? Neal publically does not have a problem, though he says he disagrees with her action. Is he trying to be some sort of hero by saying, “I’m going to model unity in diversity here”? Whom might we expect to react to McCabe’s violation of her ordination vows?  Any presbyter can file a disciplinary case, so what is the delay? The commissioners to General Assembly can log in by refusing to vote for the Presa/McCabe team as Moderator of the Assembly. Surely the highest elected officials of the church would be expected “to be governed by our church’s polity, and to abide by its discipline.”

The subliminal message whispered through the halls of the church is “let’s wait and see what happens at General Assembly.” In other words, orderly discipline is suspended until the church enters into its formal process of discernment? Like a direct GAPJC decision prohibiting same-sex marriages does not count as part of that discernment? Like the many previous decisions of the Assembly to ban the practice do not represent the Holy Spirit’s will? The undercurrent beneath the silence suggests falsely that the Holy Spirit hasn’t really completed the job until the rule is changed.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. (Galatians 6:7-10).

Who among us has the voice to break the silence and call the PCUSA to radical obedience, mutual accountability, and church discipline? If the officials won’t do it, then presbyters must. Do what you can do where you are, and do not be intimidated by trends, declared victories, or other political posturing. Do not grow weary in well-doing. This is our family whose benefit we are seeking.

Let’s wait and see, indeed. When the Assembly defeats all attempts to change the definition of marriage, disciplinary charges should be filed immediately with National Capital’s PJC to correct one particular error we know about. A good portion of the church will not “wait and see” for two more years and will simply demand that we get this train-wreck of a disciplinary system back on track doing what it is supposed to do. If the current trend is allowed to continue, the resultant breakdown of the administration of discipline so embedded in our Presbyterian DNA will flatten the denomination. At that point, we will have lost—at the very least—an important historic distinction and connection with our foundational identity.

It is worth saying again: blessing comes to the church when all its members submit to its discipline according to the Word of God. We are reminded that this concept is an historic principle of church order:

“If [our] scriptural and rational principles be steadfastly adhered to, the vigor and strictness of its discipline will contribute to the glory and happiness of any church.” (F-3.0108).

First things first, let us get our scriptural house in order, reaffirm our constitutional obligations, and follow through with right action to enjoy the glory and happiness of following Jesus faithfully.



24 Responses to “The Silence Is Deafening”

  1. Tom Paine Says:

    Note: I write this only having a general knowledge of the case in the Synod of the Pacific and am not commenting on that case beyond a general principle that you raise. If it is time to get serious about using the Book of Discipline in our Book of Order, surely this applies to our ruling elders as well, wouldn’t it? And since sin stretches far and wide, we surely wouldn’t want to limit having disciplinary action taken only on a few topics and only to Teaching Elders. For example, an offense is defined in the Book of Discipline as any act or omission by a member or person in ordered ministry of the church that is contrary to Scripture or the Constitution of the PC(USA). We therefore could go to G-1.0304 (the Ministry of Members) and anytime we see ruling elders not abiding by expectations of all members (not just elders) and particularly when they have been reminded to do so, that the Book of Discipline should be invoked. I am just wondering if we are ready to “feel the vigor and strictness of our discipline” across the board and believe it really would “bring glory and happiness” to the whole church. In case after case where I read of calls to invoke the Book of Discipline, it involves a Teaching Elder who has acted on some matter of conscience (that are outside the rules) and in response someone else in the church feels they were morally wrong in doing so and they need to be disciplined. I don’t, however, remember any cases where someone would come and discipline themselves when they were outside of Scripture or the Book of Order. And perhaps we should use our Book of Discipline more frequently. But, if we choose this route, we should be consistent, use it equally on Teaching and Ruling Elders, and not limit it to our favorite topics that we like to fight about.

  2. Tom Paine Says:

    A sentence above should read, “I don’t, however, remember any case where someone hoped or asked for someone else to come in and discipline them when they acted outside of Scripture or the Book of Order.”

  3. Tom .. I’m fairly sure that Mary and other evangelical Presbyterians agree with you. She’s just point out the most egregious and public violations that are out there.

  4. Raymond M. Tear Says:

    One of my seminary colleagues had served as a line officer in the US Navy. One of his shipboard assignments was as a damage control officer. He acquainted me with the principle of a “cascading disaster” in which, no matter what damage control is attempted, something else “implodes”.Trying to deal with each new situation simply wastes resources of manpower and material. In that case, the thing to do is to stand clear and wait until everything that is going to collapse has collapsed. Then move in and deal with things on a priority basis.
    The PCUSA has most certainly made itself into something strongly resembling a cascading disaster. Perhaps the thing to do is to simply stand clear of falling debris, then step up to set things right once the collapse is complete.

    R.M. Tear, Teaching Elder
    Ingram, Texas
    Mission Presbytery

  5. Jim Berkley Says:

    Ruling elders DO receive discipline as well. I am helping prosecute just such a case.

    Jim Berkley
    Roslyn, WA

    • Tom Paine Says:

      @ Jim, of course they do. I never said that ruling elders weren’t disciplined on occasion. But when is the last blog essay you saw written calling for a ruling elder to be disciplined? When is the last blog entry you saw for the book of discipline to be invoked that doesn’t in some manner or form involve homosexuality? The number of ruling elders is vastly higher than teaching elders if you include those not currently serving. Yet, how often is that ever the focus in our larger discussion?

      • Jim Berkley Says:

        Tom, teaching and ruling elders are being disciplined all the time for sad but routine matters: stealing the offering, shacking up with the choir director, abusing authority. That’s usually not news, because usually they hang their head in shame and agree that it is wrong and they got caught.

        The reason for the blog entries you decry is because those commiting the “crimes” are bragging about their exploits, and they are being aided and abetted by people in power. THOSE are the cases that must be brought forward for public scorn, because they are corrupting and shaming the whole church.

      • Tom Paine Says:

        @ Jim. I have not seen ruling elders brought up before sessions or PJCs very often. In the cases you site, they may be fired (if an employee) or they may be in trouble with the law. But after serving in more than a few presbyteries, I don’t see this very often from a church disciplinary standpoint toward ruling elders. I am not saying it doesn’t happen but it is not the norm for disciplinary cases (despite the higher ratio of ruling v. teaching elders). Beyond that, if it is not a matter of impropriety with a staff member or absconding with funds of the church, it indeed would truly be extremely rare. In other words, of all the things the confessions call sin, there is a very narrow scope of what we would use the Book of Discipline on in regard to a ruling elder and even less people pressing for them to be used in this way. Add to this that in none of the cases you site would anyone be doing those activities as a matter of conscience. It would be against their conscience to do so. I simply maintain that we should be consistent in our calls for the Book of Discipline to be enforced, if that is indeed what we want.

  6. […] me explain.  No, let me sum up.  This is a plea to drum up business from a serial litigator in the Presbyterian Church (USA) who enjoys […]

  7. John McNeese Says:

    All disciplinary actions other than remedial cases that I am aware of are about sexual issues. If ““If [our] scriptural and rational principles be steadfastly adhered to, the vigor and strictness of its discipline will contribute to the glory and happiness'” – What about greed,  covetousness, malice,  envy, deceit, craftiness,  gossips, slander,  insolent, haughty, boastful, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Bringing actions against all violating elders on any of these sins would clog the judicial system and make for interesting reading. Then I might take our rules of disciplines seriously.    

    • Jake Horner Says:

      Perhaps it is because the greedy, covetous, malicious, envious, deceitful, crafty, gossips, slanderers, insolent, haughty, boastful, faithless, heartless, and ruthless are not flaunting their sin in the face of the church. Maybe they even repented and allowed their lives to be transformed by Jesus Christ, who knows…

      • Tom Paine Says:

        If this was true, no one would ever accuse the church of having hypocrites in it.

  8. Linda Lee, mukilteo Says:

    A child who accidentally breaks a cherished vase hopes the consequences and discipline will be small and there will be grace. The child who intentionally smashes the cherished vase to make a point out of rebellion and with lack of respect for his parents is a different matter and should be disciplined in the most effective way immediately. Misbehavior,unchecked will escalate in to out of control chaos in a family.

    The escalation of misbehavior in our denomination, unchecked, and undiciplined has led to a confused and ineffective church family at every level. No one knows what the rules are or what behavior is acceptable/unacceptable. Even the courts say anything goes because there are different interpretations of scripture.
    Mary is right to call out for church discipline. If the church fails to do this, then God will find another way to make His ways clear and it may not be pleasant.
    Do you notice that in the list of what is happening at the next GA there is no seeking God for direction rather it is like they are telling GOD THE WAY THEY WANT TO GO.
    GOd will not be silent.

  9. Gene Says:

    Post 6 ( credit to you for leaving it up!) pretty much nails it.

  10. […] The Silence is Deafening – Rev. Mary Naegeli is a pastor and the Executive Director of The Presbyterian Coalition.  She writes a powerful article about the growing disregard for Church policy, and the lack of discipline within denominational leadership. […]

  11. Gene Says:

    I truly WANT to believe you Rev. Naegeli. I cannot imagine it was fun, though yes, I suspect you enjoy the fight. You sometimes come across as angry, even strident, in this blog, and when others have mentioned it, you have been very self aware and admitted this occassional fault. I admire that. You let opposing opinions post, and, again, my respect.
    You say you do not enjoy it. As a woman of faith says it, I will take you on your word on that. As the leader of the Coalition, and as the listed lead litigant, you do get something out of it though…we are posting about it on your page afterall, but I am not saying that is the only reason you do it. You are human..all humans like to be noticed, especially if we see ourselves as fighting for the right thing.

    All that said, for a long time, it has APPEARED (caps for emphasis, not for online “yelling”) that you enjoy this. A shocking number of voters in presbytery don’t follow these cases/developments in the Church, but a lot do. And, without intending it I am sure, what you see as dogged pursuit of the right thing, many others see as attacks.
    I have heard this over and over, from middle of the rode voters in Presbytery who have ended up feeling sympathy for persons like Lisa Largess and Rev. Spahr, and this sympahty colors how they see the whole debate. And how they vote.
    They are winsome.
    No matter how well intentioned, those who file suits are not often seen that way.

    I find myself surprised to say it, but, I do not think you are a bully, not intentionally at least. But you sure do come across as one. That is not a criticism, just an honest observation. The arguement you are just following your legal rights, thought correct, does not change that.

    Why have so many cases not been filled that could have been? Well, a lot of conservatives just don’t want to get involved in a presbytery that is not their own. Is that congregational thinking vs connectional? Maybe, but it is what it is.
    Nobody likes lawsuits, and, I am sure you will agree, many people do not like those who bring them. Maybe not fair, but, again, human nature.
    I suspect most folks just don’t want to stir up the hornets nest. They are doing other things in their ministry, and do not want to break or stress relationships with friends who disagree with them.
    But mainly, I think people are just tired of the suits, tired of the fights. As long as their congregation is not hosting same gender weddings, they just dont care, and kind of resent not only those Performing them…but those who make a case out of it.
    Lastly, they see which way the wind now blows. Hard to expect a presbytery to censur Rev. Spahr when the court that ruled against her all but apologized for doing so and all but sent her the ruling with a box of chocolates, isn’t it?

    Filing a case on this will just rile things up. Yes, the person who performed the wedding can be said to have started it, of course, but, a suit just adds to it. If not at this GA, then in two years or four, by AI or Presbytery vote, the church will support same gender marriage. Enough conservatives have left to all by ensure that. So, why bother, waste the money and time, make enemies and just make the one being litigated aginst look the victim?
    I think that this thinking is why no one has filed a case yet. And why, if they do, it will lose, even if only defacto.

    • Jim Berkley Says:

      Gene, I’m not sure you understand the Presbyterian judicial system. If ANYONE lodges a complaint, then the presbytery must put together an investigating committee. From that point on, the case is in the hands of the PRESBYTERY and not the one who complained. The INVESTIGATING COMMITTEE (IC) decides if there is enough evidence to charge the accused, and the IC becomes a prosecuting committee, once charges are filed. Then the IC prosecutes the accused in court.

      Note that this prosecution is the work of the presbytery, not of individuals with a burr under their saddle. The case is the presbytery v. the accused, not the accuser v. the accused. In the case of Jane Spahr, her PRESBYTERY had already found her guilty. That makes it doubly strange when they found her guilty but then refused to carry out the rebuke. They were rather two-faced.

      When any council is accused of error, then it does become the role of the accusers to make their case. But someone like Mary Naegeli in such a case is actually just the one doing the heavy lifting for a whole group of accusers. It’s a heck of a lot of thankless, difficult, emotionally taxing work, and for someone to then turn around and accuse Mary of doing it professionally for gain–well, it’s about as unfounded and careless as an accusation can be.

  12. Gene Says:

    Actually, I know perfectly well how it works Rev. Berkley.
    And I know how many appeals, etc. happened in the Largess case. And I know how expensive it was.
    And I know, as almost everyone else did, how it would end. I alsi know conservatives and moderates who have said they would not want to be put through that. That this is alone enough to stop them filing a suit no doubt is seen as a poor reason by you. Others would disagree.
    Also, I know that more and more people, over the YEARS grew to feel sympathy for Rev. Largess.
    And I know that most of us, as I pointed out, see the writing on the wall. You mention in your post the rulings…so did I, I just pointed out that they all but apologized to her and all but sent her candy with the ruling…how you think the next ruling is going to go? The whole Church for that matter? Yes, they found her guilty, of charges they OBVIOUSLY wished they did not have to deal with, that those she ministered to obviously did not have a problem with, and after following the pattern our constitution requires, but which their words made very, very clear they would rather have not had to reach, or even deal with. After that, no wonder the Presbytery felt they could all but ignore this ruling.
    Somebody put that burr under the saddle…it did not just appear.

    It is not an unfounded or careless accusation. If you honestly, honestly don’t realize that the conservatives, including Rev. Naegeli, filing all these complaints are not seen as a service, but as a distraction, mean spirited (perception is reality, even if she does not mean it as such, so it was seen. She wished Rev. Largess well, and I believe her when she said that), and, by people of all stripes; as ultimately uesless and expensive, you are not looking. There are also the conservatives who have considered filing them, but held back thinking “I do not want to rock the boat….it will hurt my career, my relationships in and beyond the Presbytery, and I can see where our Church is heading anyway” and their inaction shows that they have noticed that the church is exhausted, and where we are heading, if not at this GA, then soon.

    No doubt, someone, probably not in the congragations she serves, will file a complaint against this minister. That is their legal right. It will go through the judicial system, and like Rev. Spahr, she will earn sympathy, and this will influence more PIPs. It will cost a great deal of money, interrupt the careers of someone whose congregation/group wanted them to serve, and, in the end, come to naught.

    And most of the church, even those who agree that the marriage that occured was wrong, will go “Oh no…not another lawsuit. Don’t these people have their own congregations and lives to deal with? Makes me feel sorry for the lady who thought she could marry two women”

    And so it will go.

    • Jim Berkley Says:

      Gene, your post is an apologia for lawlessness. However, a lot of the rest of us aren’t antinomian. We believe that truth matters, morality matters, God’s Word DOES apply to our personal and ministerial actions. Utilitarianism is not our value; faithfulness is. Popularity is not our cause; discipleship is.

      Go ahead and shoot the people who try to uphold our legal system, people who go way out of their way to be faithful. Blame them and lionize the lawbreakers, the lax, the lenient, the drifting. You sow the seeds for a denomination that believes nothing and follows no Lord. But it ruffles no feathers.

  13. Gene Says:

    People know a busybody bully when they see one Rev. Berkley.

    I first heard about this wedding not from the article on the Layman, but from a friend.

    Another friend present gave a rueful little chuckle, and someone else at the dinner we were all at asked why she was chuckleing. “Oh, just wondering who will be the one to file the charges over this one.”

    Guess whose name came up first? 🙂
    And guess who just happened to write a “why is no one up in arms about this?” article about it.
    That is not an insult of your friend Mrs. Larson, it is just a statement about an event that occured.

    I want to mention here and now that I REALLY respect Mary Naegeli for being honest, and not thin skinned or afraid of someone saying something that she does not like. Mrs. Larson, when reading that many people think a friend of hers is bad at his job, sees any honest assessment of this as a personal attack, cannot take the heat, and closes the kitchen. Rev. Naegeli has never dont that, not that I have seen, and does not mistake a critical assessment as a personal insult. So, in truth Mrs. Larson, the link to her post about insults does not carry much weight.

    Most of this Church wants to go on about its business of being Church, and yes, are more than willing to say “I disagree with X about Y, but I respect her as a pastor, and will leave that to her and God. Making a case about it just stirs up my own members in any case, and we have all seen the pain and hardship to a lot of these cases have caused people we may not agree with, but whom we know to be good people and pastors to their flocks”. Yes, I know you see it as disordered. That, to anyone who has ever read your writings, is obvious.

    I was just pointing out that the “I will bring charges!” approach has been done so much that it is even turning the moderates and a few conservatives, who just wish you would let sleeping dogs (you think this wedding would be as big a story as it will be if charges are filed?) lie, into a mode of sympathy for and willingness to reconsider the positions of the progressives.
    We are tired Rev. Berkley. And while you will, not wrongly, say that these events, not the suits, are the core of the problem, these actions are done locally, often by much loved people, and very, very few people love those who file suits, especially from afar.

    I have said nothing insulting…I have just pointed out human nature, and the state of the church as it is.

    • Chas Jay Says:

      We were tired of the disobedience and the call for a denomination wide voting to remove the ordination standards but that never stopped your side. Now, most of us are leaving and the PCUSA is nothing but a leftist political group that just happens to put crosses in front yet few of those within its membership are actually followers of Christ (perception of many and you’ve stated that perception is reality).

  14. Brad Says:

    There is a Lion who roars. He roared at Creation, he roared in Noah’s day, He roared at Calvary. He will roar once more and we who know his roar will understand that the Lion is calling us to our eternal home. In the meantime we wait “under the altar” as it were, crying out “How long or Lord!”

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