From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
RECONCILIATION COMMITTEE REPORTS LITTLE PROGRESS,
05 May 1996 07:34:47
95034 RECONCILIATION COMMITTEE REPORTS LITTLE PROGRESS,
BUT AGREES TO MEET AGAIN IN MARCH
by Jerry L. Van Marter
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--After seeming to issue enough paper to deforest
1,000 acres, the General Assembly's Committee on Reconciliation
disappeared behind closed doors Jan. 25-26 and held virtually all
of its third meeting in executive session.
In a five-minute open session at the end of the two days,
General Assembly moderator the Rev. Robert W. Bohl announced that
the committee will convene again -- March 1-2 in Louisville.
The January meeting began in separate rooms. The nine-member
delegation appointed by Bohl and the eight-member contingent
selected by the Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC) caucused
separately all day Jan. 25 to review a five-page summary of
criticisms of the PLC's periodical, "The Presbyterian Layman,"
prepared by Bohl's appointees, and a 24-page rebuttal issued by the
In a brief open session at the end of the day, the reconcilers
conceded that little progress had been made since the group held
its first meeting Nov. 1 of last year. They also agreed on the
futility of continuing to exchange written lists of charges and
"I think we all set our sights very high when we began this,"
said Al Warren of Grosse Point, Mich., one of Bohl's appointees.
"But as I have reflected, we really haven't made the degree of
progress I had hoped for, so I have lowered my sights."
Speaking in favor of going into executive session for the
second day of the meeting, Warren added, "Somewhere along the line,
we have to talk about personnel and personalities. We don't need
more papers -- now we need to talk face-to-face about collaborative
commitment and move beyond haranguing to frank and earnest
More paper was still to come, however. Robert L. Howard, PLC
vice-chair and an attorney from Wichita, responded, "I had hoped
we could come up with a statement of principles on the boundaries
of our faith, because it seems to me the Book of Order and Book of
Confessions are pretty clear. We are critical because we believe
those boundaries are often exceeded."
Howard then brought to the Jan. 26 executive session a four-
page "statement of principles" entitled "Reformed Theology: The
Roadway to Reconciliation."
After caucusing briefly to review the document, Bohl's
delegation rejected the paper. Later, Bohl told the Presbyterian
News Service, "We dismissed the paper because it was an editorial
about what's wrong with the Presbyterian Church, not a theological
Bohl said the PLC "is attempting to micro-manage the
Presbyterian Church." He added, "My hope had always been that
there would be room for kindness and grace as long as we believe
in the same Lord Jesus Christ, but I don't see much kindness and
As an example, Bohl pointed to a statement in Howard's paper:
"...This committee believes that neither our church nor the world
needs any more `cutting edge theology' if it neglects or ignores
the revealed word of God. Rather, we believe we need the sharp
scalpel of the gospel to cut out the cancerous tumors of paganism
and secularism that are consuming the body of Christ, rendering our
witness weak and ineffective, while destroying civilization."
"Where is the grace, where is the forgiveness, where is the
renewal in a statement like that?" the moderator queried.
Yet, the moderator stressed that he is not ready to give up
on the peace process. "I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic
about this reconciliation effort," Bohl continued. "Rather, I am
hopeful, because hope is the ground of our faith."
In a Jan. 31 interview with the Presbyterian News Service, PLC
chair Warren Reding agreed. "I am hopeful the Reconciliation
Committee will move in a direction where we will start to make some
progress," he said. "One thing I can promise is that the
Presbyterian Lay Committee will not abandon this process."
Moderator's Appointees Level Criticism at "Layman"
In their paper, dated Jan. 13, the moderator's appointees to
the Reconciliation Committee affirmed freedom of speech, but said
"The Presbyterian Layman too often falls into that category" of
publications in which "freedom can easily give way to license."
Saying the publication is "replete with loaded words,
innuendo, and other carefully crafted phrasing" that "seeks to sow
suspicion about our denomination and its leaders," the paper
concludes, "We wonder if the Presbyterian Lay Commitee deliberately
plans to bring the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to its knees in
order to win the ideological battle in which it believes it is
The paper asserts that "the Layman's main concern appears to
be the conduct of national staff" and accuses the paper of
"singling out individuals for repeated personal attacks, which ...
exceed the bounds of Christian conduct, ... go beyond an expression
of theological concern, ... and fail to validate any expressions
of faith that differ from the Layman's. ..."
The moderator's appointees conclude, "If members of the PLC
really believe that the current leadership of the national church,
staff and elected, are apostate, then there cannot be any
Lay Committee Rebuts Charges
The PLC's 24-page response to the Jan. 13 paper accuses the
moderator's appointees of ad hominem attacks, unsubstantiated
charges, attacks on the motives of the PLC, "undocumented
allegations" that The Layman creates rather than reports
controversy and "targets" women leaders in the denomination, and
implying that the PLC representatives are avoiding the real issues.
On the question of freedom and license, the PLC response
states, "It appears that `freedom' is anything with which the
officials in power agree, while `license' describes anything with
which they disagree."
The response accuses denominational leaders of "blaming the
messenger for bad news." Arguing that The Layman has not caused
division within the church, the response states that such
accusations "beg the question of whether The Layman would be
necessary if the division had not already been created."
Reacting to the charge that The Layman engages in "repeated
personal attacks" on national staff members, the PLC response
argues, "When it is thus deemed illegitimate to criticize national
staffers for anything they say or do, or any programs with which
they are involved, the only remaining conclusion is that national
staff and programs are completely beyond criticism."
Previous Documents Made Same Arguments
The three documents introduced at this meeting -- the five-
page Jan. 13 paper from the moderator's appointees, the PLC's 24-
page response to it, and Howard's five-page "Roadway to
Reconciliation" paper followed an already lengthy paper trail
generated by the Reconciliation Committee. As outlined in previous
news accounts (Nov. 11 News Briefs, #94441 and Dec. 9 News Briefs,
#94476), those documents include:
* a six-page PLC "list of issues to be addressed"
* a 50-page packet "documenting" the PLC's issues statement
* a 40-page critique of the previous six issues of The
Presbyterian Layman, commissioned by the moderator's appointees and
written by John Bolt, a Presbyterian elder and wire service
reporter in Dallas
* a 21-page response to Bolt's critique by the editorial staff
of The Layman.
# # #
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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