From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 08:11:02


                   TO CONTINUE SEARCH FOR PEACE 
                      by Jerry L. Van Marter 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--With the deadline for its report to the 1995 General 
Assembly rapidly approaching, the Committee on Reconciliation struck an 
uneasy truce at its fourth meeting here March 1-2. 
     Having reached very little agreement so far on the causes and cures of 
PC(USA) disharmony,  the 17-member panel agreed to seek authorization to 
continue meeting at least annually for three more years. 
     The committee, authorized by last year's Assembly, comprises  nine 
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders appointed by General Assembly 
moderator the Rev. Robert W. Bohl and eight members of the Presbyterian Lay 
Committee (PLC), the denomination's most caustic and persistent critic. 
             Report to General Assembly will be short 
     The committee's report to the Assembly in July in Cincinnati is 
expected to be short.  In addition to the request to keep reconciliation 
talks going, it will include a summary of the four meetings held to date 
and one action the committee will report as progress: the decision by the 
PLC to seek membership in the Evangelical Press Association for its 
publication "The Presbyterian Layman." 
     That decision was announced in a paper offered by the PLC appointees. 
The committee agreed to include this paper, "The Presbyterian Lay 
Committee's Determination of Boundaries for Its Work Within the PCUSA," in 
its report. 
     The paper also includes the PLC's reaffirmation of its five longtime 
objectives; a restatement of its editorial policies, which are designed "to 
attain the highest standards of advocacy journalism"; and a declaration 
that its entire staff is committed to the "confessional standards of the 
denomination," either by ordination or public affirmation. 
             Proposed publication guidelines rejected 
     The moderator's appointees proposed a list of six specific guidelines 
"for responsible criticism of church programs and policies by groups within 
the PC(USA)."   
     But PLC appointees rejected the guidelines, claiming they would 
infringe on their paper's editorial freedom.  "These guidelines smack of 
micromanaging our newspaper," said Robert L. Howard, a Wichita lawyer and 
vice-chair of the PLC. 
     The proposed guidelines called for:  
     * focus on policies and programs, not persons  
     * fair treatment of persons who are criticized in print  
     * separation and identification of editorials, commentaries, advocacy 
and news reporting  
     * positive statements of purpose devoid of innuendo 
     * cooperation between the General Assembly's Office of Communication 
and organizations that sponsor print publications to establish an 
agreed-upon press policy for the church 
     * accountability of the staffs of all print publications to their 
organizations regarding the press policy. 
     Demands for changes in Assembly operations also rejected 
     A second paper submitted to the committee by the PLC appointees, 
called for a host of changes in the way the General Assembly offices 
function.  It was quickly rejected by the moderator's appointees and won't 
be part of the committee's report to the Assembly. 
     The committee agreed, however, to refer without endorsement the 
concerns raised in the nine-page paper, entitled "Honoring the Boundaries 
of Reformed Faith and Practice," to appropriate agencies of the General 
     The cornerstone of the paper would require "all General Assembly 
Council professional employees to affirm that they accept the standards of 
ordination for deacons, elders and ministers of the denomination, whether 
or not they have been actually ordained" and that "public statements or 
conduct that  deny the tenets of our faith' ... shall constitute grounds 
for discipline, including dismissal from the staff. ..." 
     That proposal was immediately labeled a "loyalty oath" by moderator 
appointees and vehemently protested.   
     "I am utterly opposed to any loyalty oath for staff members," said Al 
Warren, a retired automobile executive from Detroit.  "National staff has 
not always been as disciplined as I would have liked," he continued, "but 
this is a personnel problem, not a theological one." 
     "All we're asking is that staff take an oath so that our programs 
follow our theology and our polity," replied the Rev. Parker Williamson, 
editor of the "Layman." 
     Staff accountability is already in the church's personnel policies, 
maintained the Rev. James D.  Brown, General Assembly Council (GAC) 
executive director.  "I think part of your problem, Parker, is that you 
don't agree with some [General Assembly] policies." 
     Langdon Flowers, a businessperson from Thomasville, Ga., and PLC 
member, declared, "My company has a philosophy and anyone who doesn't 
subscribe to it doesn't work for me." 
     "But no one owns Jesus," replied the Rev. Joanna Adams of Atlanta. 
"This atmosphere of suspicion and accusation is antithetical to the gospel 
and will destroy the church." 
   PLC paper seeks changes in staffing, budgets, representation 
     Other items in the rejected PLC paper call for: 
     * termination of any GAC program "that does not clearly proclaim that 
Jesus is Lord ..." 
     * notification to all " parachurch' organizations, including but not 
limited to the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches 
and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches," that the PC(USA) "will limit 
its funding and participation to projects that affirm the Lordship of Jesus 
Christ ..." 
     * a requirement that all persons who join the national staff "forfeit" 
the right to participate in groups that "seek to effect change in General 
Assembly policies ..." 
     * examination of the activities of "quasi-official organizations" such 
as the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association, the 
Presbyterian United Nations Office, and the Presbyterian Washington Office 
"to ascertain if each project supported by these organizations is conducted 
in a manner that honors the boundaries of the Reformed faith and complies 
with General Assembly policy." 
     * public "re-examination of all designated gifts ... to ascertain that 
the programs funded by these gifts scrupulously follow the declared intent 
of the donor" 
     * removal from the per capita budget of all line items except "the 
cost of General Assembly meetings, building and utilities costs, and 
administrative expenses in the Stated Clerk's office" 
     * increased representation by evangelicals on General Assembly level 
boards and committees 
     * elimination of inclusivity requirements in the "Book of Order" (The 
paper states, "One is truly representative only when one exhibits the 
presence of Jesus Christ in her/his life, for it is Jesus Christ, not some 
political constituency, that an elected leader is called to represent. 
Thus, from the standpoint of the Reformed tradition, secular categories are 
irrelevant to the issue of representation"). 
      Demands rejected as "attempt to re-create the church" 
     "Your paper calls for a re-creation of the Presbyterian Church," the 
Rev. John Buchanan of Chicago told the PLC appointees, "and that's not why 
we're here." 
      The paper calls for "restoration, not re-creation," Williamson 
responded.  He argued the paper merely "honors the church's constitution 
and insists that all staff do the same.  How else do you explain the 
dysfunction in the national staff?" 
     "I wouldn't call it dysfunction," Buchanan replied. 
     "Well, a gulf exists," Howard said.  "Do we just acknowledge the gulf 
and walk away or continue to try and build a bridge?" 
                                  # # # 

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