There is a profound and disturbing conundrum humming in the background of these eight years and many emails: the secrecy of the majority. By repeated assertion and articulated reasoning, these emails show a small group of officers claiming to stand for the majority in our communion. Their discussion manifests a concern to ensure that the majority view in the denomination is not slighted by the vigorous efforts of minority positions– views purportedly unrepresentative of the majority among us.
The Other Side?
I did not know much beyond the name National Partnership, though I have heard frequent references over these last several years. I had one very disturbing exchange with one of the big-name-round-there brothers. It didn’t tell me anything about the NP, but it resonated with the dark characterizations I saw tagged on to NP. This brother quickly deduced from my criticism of an article on progressivism in the PCA that I preached another gospel. Yep, the Godwin’s law of industry presbyterianism from reading my piece in literally three pairs of DM’s.
I have an extended family member who is given to strong, hard, out of the blue statements. I taught high school with some wonderful students with the wild angles that can show up “on the spectrum”. I didn’t conclude that the fellow was a wingnut. When he said he would pray for me, he clearly put it on his calendar for the next two weeks; he DM’ed me to say he was praying for me. I had to decide to set aside the dark characterizations, but it wasn’t hard. This brother had nothing to do with anything connected to me, and he conducted himself with a balance of admirable and first-blush-odd. I am not a standard to score people on odd.
Then along came Presbyleaks, or NatPartnergate or the We Got Owned Scandal. The National Partnership emails (or some portion?) from 2013-2021 were . . . forwarded, leaked, stolen, made available? Yes, I read them. I was told and discovered them to be entirely concerned with the business of my church’s General Assembly. Barring a few out of order characterizations of individuals, they contained little that could not be stated on the floor of presbytery; nevertheless, it is obvious that much of the diction and most of the substance would never be voiced aloud in that setting. It was a bit like a transcript of a football team watching the films of the upcoming opponents and preparing for the big game week after week. Who would they keep out of that room? The only people who shouldn’t be in on the discussion are the other side. The other side.
I overheard a lot of things about the National Partnership. As they say, I didn’t have the receipts. I didn’t even have a reason to go looking for receipts. I’m a nobody Ass. Pastor, more than occupied with life in arm’s reach. I heard all sorts of stuff about the NP. I didn’t disagree because I was too ignorant. I couldn’t agree with the references to names and events, but I followed the grammar and the logic. If X, Y, Z, then the characterizations were not clearly intemperate or hyperbolic. What is the National Partnership?
I guess the National Partnership™ didn’t want to tell me. I never was invited, which is their vestibule. It looks like someone who knew and had eight years of receipts wanted to tell me. When they did tell me (whoever they may be), they did it with nothing but receipts: the National Partnership is the Other Side. They don’t want me and mine and maybe similar to know what they are doing to win this game. They want to defeat whatever will stop them from winning this game. They don’t want to break the rules. They place a premium on good sportsmanship on the field. Of course, they don’t consider this just a game. This is about the kingdom of God, the gospel in the world, the future of the church. It is far more serious than any sports metaphor, and that’s why they aren’t letting the Other Side in on their activity and resources and goals.
There are men in the mix whom I have known for some time. There are men with whom I have long differed yet still cherish. There are men whom I admire, though they confuse me. The whole mix of men weighs on me. The whole mundane careful counting of National Partnership members, and National Partnership Presbyteries and National Partnership commissioners on Overtures, Review of Presbytery Records, Administration– the banal listing month after month nauseates me. I didn’t know this was going on, I’m not utterly shocked, but I just want to weep.
Men dear to me have been nodding along with all this: repeated mention of this small group speaking for the majority, an annual urgency of ensuring that the denomination’s true identity is represented faithfully by as much NP representation as possible on denominational committees, the obliviously counterpointing leitmotifs sounding so cacophonous when paired– unity in open-mindedness and exclusivity in secrecy.
The Voice of the Spirit without Continuing Revelation?
I have an elevated view of Christ’s reign in his church, one which exalts each officer to be unimpressed with himself and unconcerned with accomplishing his own will. Hubris about our goals is just as ugly as hubris about our persons. That is why several power exists only within the parameters of joint power. Joint power in church courts rests on the belief that these officers are each full of the Spirit, well instructed from the Scriptures and appointed by the Lord Jesus to wield his authority. The lowest, least and even lacking presbyter is unquestionably so invested– unless some members start determining who is actually legitimate, pretending that as individuals or as a faction we wield something of greater import than the Spiritual power culminating in the joint power of the court.
Just such an elevation– ugly presumption and hubris pregnant with harm– is what happens when a faction of officers conclude that they speak for the majority or the purity of the court. Only the living God– the Spirit within and the Father who searches hearts– can report on the majority without resorting to some kind of vote. One can contend for the purity of the church; however, one cannot do this by under the radar implementation– even incrementally. You must contend to inform and invigorate consciences. If you win enough votes else wise, even purported purity cannot be foisted on the church without doing her violence.