0

Smells Like Party Spirit

Smells Like Party Spirit

What did eight years of organizational communication reveal? Well, thankfully, nothing terribly personal or scandalous — what has become public is mostly political. The messages show a highly-organized group comprised almost exclusively of pastors (teaching elders in PCA parlance). There are members, though how one becomes a member or who decides is never revealed. What the members received was lots of advice about how to get on committees deemed strategically important, how to vote on issues essential to the Partnership’s agenda, and who to vote for. This may sound banal, even benign, but the courts of the church are meant to be open, deliberative assemblies…,

Have you ever ended up at a party and felt as if you didn’t really belong? It may be that you had a right to attend that party. You had an invitation of sorts, but you didn’t really feel welcome and you didn’t really fit in. Things happened that seem to be guided by some unseen hand. Maybe people were dancing, but you knew none of the steps. You were at the party, but somehow not of the party. It’s almost as if there was a party behind the party.

To be honest, this is a bit how it feels for the ruling elder or small church pastor who finds himself at the big party-event known as the annual Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly. He comes ready to deliberate and vote, but something seems off, predetermined, stage-managed. The moderator (a powerful position) seems to have been preselected, for instance, often without opposition. An elite group appears to control things.

Maybe the elder tries to write off the sensation, chalking it up to his own inexperience, but the nagging feeling persists. He’s heard of shadowy groups who communicate by Facebook Messenger and marshal votes and voters. Commissioners stream in right before important votes as if by magic. How, he wonders, can they have an opinion on how to vote if they have not heard the debate? Is the General Assembly really a deliberative assembly as it’s supposed to be… like the local session and presbytery with which he’s familiar?

Now imagine that lowly elder’s reaction when he learns that rumors of a powerful party behind the party are true. The National Partnership is now out in the open, though not by its own design or on its own terms.

However one feels about the way the email cache (dubbed #PresbyLeaks) of the “confidential” group was revealed and distributed, it must be admitted that these emails (now surely viewed by thousands) contain troubling information.

What did eight years of organizational communication reveal? Well, thankfully, nothing terribly personal or scandalous — what has become public is mostly political. The messages show a highly-organized group comprised almost exclusively of pastors (teaching elders in PCA parlance). There are members, though how one becomes a member or who decides is never revealed. What the members received was lots of advice about how to get on committees deemed strategically important, how to vote on issues essential to the Partnership’s agenda, and who to vote for. This may sound banal, even benign, but the courts of the church are meant to be open, deliberative assemblies where issues and members are judged on their merits, not the advice of an unofficial council. Inordinate control of any court by a secretive group with no public face and no accountability runs counter to presbyterian principles.

One test of behavior and tactics in a church court is to ask the question: Is it scalable? In his magisterial commentary on the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) Book of Church Order, the late Dr. Morton Smith wrote that though the courts of the church are graded, “all of these ‘courts’ are really presbyteries, each being composed exclusively of elders. One of the important implications of this fact is that all of the courts are of the same nature. The gradation is not based upon any hierarchy or office, but rather only on the portion of the Church that is represented.” If this is true, then what is appropriate for one court is appropriate for another. Do we really believe that a secret, well-organized faction, communicating and scheming privately and independently of other members of a local session or presbytery is conducive to harmony, unity, and understanding? Most elders would be horrified to think that members of a local church session would behave that way, so why would it be appropriate in the church’s highest court?

And what if a local church session or a presbytery witnessed members loitering in the hallway for large portions of a meeting, only to be summoned in by e-mail or text message in time to vote on something “really” important, their presence not be required for minor issues or maybe even for the debate on “important” issues?

Most would agree that such behavior is unseemly. The members of presbytery or the local session would likely lose respect for the lobby-lingerers and those who electronically summon them. Mistrust would ensue. And elders would lose faith in the system and each other. Sadly, the National Partnership’s emails reveal just such a scenario.

Read More

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top
Refcast

FREE
VIEW