From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 07:34:47


                     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 
Lay Committee. 
     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 
significant reconciliation." 
                  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  
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