The PCA’s Version of Executive Orders

Formed just 9 years ago, an emboldened CMC has rapidly started to resemble the old PCUSA’s General Assembly Council.

In any event, let it be known that the CMC is on record pace to replicate other mainline wrecking balls. Are we so sure that we are really morally superior to those past Presbyterians who now pathetically limp along? Short of such conceit, we should disprove the usurpation by acting promptly to correct or defeat it.

 

If you’ve disliked recent presidential Executive Orders or if you’re starting to think that this year’s Commissioner’s Handbook resembles the paper stack now euphemistically called ‘The Affordable Care Act’—“don’t read it, just vote with our leaders”—you may be on to something. Try turning to a particular page in the GA Handbook and see if you can still convince yourself that the PCA is immune from power grabs or top-down legislation.

Tucked neatly between a routine renewal of the Stated Clerk’s contract and recommendation of a Presbytery-requested study committee—right there at Page 306, line 34, item 3, the supposedly non-legislative Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC), made up of administrators and well-intentioned former heads of states, has slipped in a recommendation for another non-Presbytery requested and agenda-driven study committee of its own design to push the denomination in a direction the Assembly has time and again said it does not want to go.

Formed just 9 years ago, an emboldened CMC has rapidly started to resemble the old PCUSA’s General Assembly Council. Last year, they unsuccessfully but energetically proposed that the AC further degrade the grassroots; now they’re seeking to sidestep prior Assembly actions by urging the creation of a politicized study of women and the diaconate, even presumptively anticipating BCO revisions. If awarding a handcrafted study committee with direct powers to circumvent previous Assemblies with BCO changes is not top-down legislative activity by the CMC, it’s hard to imagine what is.

Year after year, prior efforts at making similar changes, despite the heavy star-power, were rejected. Those earlier proposals went to the Overtures Committee (OC), which supposedly is designed to be a sifter of ideas but, of late, must have spun outside the control of upper management. Having failed to get its way regularly, this proposal seeks to gerrymander the process to achieve women’s ordination, at least, to the diaconate.

Perhaps both the CMC and the AC should review the Assembly Minutes from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, etc., and be counseled to withdraw their proposal.[1] Instead of allowing Executive Orders from on high or paying our executives to waste the church’s time and money again, when such efforts have been validly turned down repeatedly, maybe a “no thanks” vote could save years of anguish.

Analogously, most pastors who acted with such obstinacy—continually nagging a Session that has repeatedly said ‘no thanks’—could hear this: “Pastor, might you be more comfortable serving elsewhere?” Most ruling elders, in fact, may clearly see this for what it is: willfulness or arrogance dressed as an ecclesiastical version of Executive Orders. Maybe some of the CMC originators or AC approvers would like to take to the microphones and explain publicly in Mobile what has changed since 2008-2012, and why there is now superior wisdom or why they don’t have other more constructive programs to suggest. Alas, this is not leadership; it’s badgership, and it reveals a politicized agenda.

These CMC Executive Orders will lead more elders to ask: “Isn’t it time to retire this group altogether? What, other than unwanted Executive Orders, would be lost?”

Some who respect precedent may move to rule this recommendation out of order (or answer it by the prior actions), not wasting a minute more of the church’s time on this badgership from the Higher-ups. Others might humbly petition the AC simply to do its job, facilitate the Assembly’s actual actions, and in the future not to grovel to our All-Stars, no matter how impressive, if those recommendations are contrary to recent Assembly actions. A wise strategist might even advise that the CMC apologize for seeking to usurp its role.

In any event, let it be known that the CMC is on record pace to replicate other mainline wrecking balls. Are we so sure that we are really morally superior to those past Presbyterians who now pathetically limp along? Short of such conceit, we should disprove the usurpation by acting promptly to correct or defeat it.

Maybe Thursday, when you and your fellow commissioners are pining for a break before the Main Event, during the tedium of the Administrative Committee undercard, you can help bring this very bureaucratic hubris to an abrupt halt. With one click of your voting device, you can tell the Higher-ups you’d prefer they’d do what the church has asked them to do, rather than commandeer the church into going along with what they think (or hear from friends) is best.

Seriously, who needs another study document that will change few minds, nor unearth new exegetical evidence, but will prove frustrating (or numbingly bland) and be a large waste of time or needlessly divisive? Or maybe the CMC, if it lacks the servanthood to withdraw its top-down request ASAP, will shoulder the responsibility for a very public failure to muster 2/3 of presbyteries to approve its longed-for changes. Then, also, we may be able to watch how many presbyteries (outside of a seminary city or not named “Metro”) will agree, at best, to some kind of local option to allow “commissioning.”

The Higher-ups’ risky strategy is now in daylight—likely to be followed by an energetic swarm of high profile servant leaders, lobbying (mostly, at taxpayer expense) for progressive changes in the coming years. I’d hate to expend so much effort, for such little gain, at such a high price, complete with the attendant publicity. But, for now, this Executive Order Genie is out of the bottle—and the administrators are certainly not defending precedent wisdom or the constitution.

David W. Hall is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church in Powder Springs, Ga.

[1] In other helpful posts, The Aquila Report has set forth the summary of answers to very recent requests either to allow women to serve as ‘commissioned’ deacons or to open up that office altogether. See their series: “Didn’t We Just Do that? Part 1” (cf. Min36GA, pp. 204-208), followed by “Didn’t We Just Do that? Part 2” (cf. Min37GA, p. 278), followed by “Didn’t We Just Do that? Part 3” (cf. Min38 GA, p. 379), etc.