From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
RECONCILIATION COMMITTEE AGREES
05 May 1996 08:11:02
95065 RECONCILIATION COMMITTEE AGREES
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
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
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
* 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
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?"
# # #
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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