From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Byword at moderators' conference: Moderation

Date 3 Dec 2001 16:53:46 -0500

Note #6962 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


Byword at moderators' conference: Moderation

Rogers proposes a cease-fire in "our Presbyterian Civil War"

by John Filiatreau

LOUISVILLE - More than 120 moderators of middle governing bodies of the
Presbyterian Church (USA) who gathered here for a conference last weekend
heard some of the most embattled characters in the denomination call for -
what else? - moderation.

The Rev. Jack Rogers, moderator of the 213th General Assembly, called on his
listeners to "stop our Presbyterian civil war" and help the combatants
"rediscover the love that brought them together in the first place."

The Rev. Jack Haberer, an evangelical minister from Texas, urged the
moderators to "pursue a policy of ecclesiastical ditente" to help the church
"get past this seeming cleavage."

Barbara Wheeler, the liberal president of Austin Presbyterian Theological
Seminary, said Presbyterians involved in what she called "our tug-of-war
over sexuality" must give up their stubborn insistence that "our party is
correct, and the other party is wrong."

The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the PC(USA)'s stated clerk, warned that, "when
Christians disagree among themselves" and begin "questioning one another's
motives," "the devil can have a field day."

The Rev. Joe Small, who directs the denomination's Office of Theology and
Worship, urged the moderators to resist Presbyterians' tendencies to
"demonize each other, place blame, and categorize our opponents as 'the bad

"The center of our life is Jesus Christ, and He is our peace," Rogers said.
"Let us go forward, knowing that the future is in God's hands and that all
will be well."

In a brief "state of the church" address, Kirkpatrick and John Detterick,
executive director of the General Assembly Council (GAC), said they have
seen, in their travels around the church, numerous "signs of the grace of
God in the life of the church." Detterick said Presbyterians, "together and
individually ... are living the Great Ends of the Church."

Kirkpatrick said the church's current squabbles about sexuality pale in
comparison to many other challenges facing the church, including "the
25-to-30-year trend of loss in membership and vitality of this church" and
"a decline in the number of ministers and the quality of pastoral

Rogers pointed out that a prominent 19th-century Presbyterian pastor in the
South argued that "the hope of civilization itself hangs on the defeat of
Negro suffrage," and that a leading Presbyterian theologian in the Northern
church once warned that "all virtue in civilization would be lost if women
were emancipated from the rule of men."

Those matters eventually sorted themselves out, Rogers said, and the current
disputes also will be resolved one day. "Whatever happens with Amendment A,"
he said, "the church will go on. People will commit their lives to God. 
Education will prevail over excitement (and) the hostility between us will
be broken down."

Much of that hostility, he said, is caused by "artificial controversies"
fomented by people who "want the church to be a homogenous group - want us
all to look alike, think alike and act alike." Rogers asserted that "we
benefit from interaction with people unlike ourselves."

Pointing out that the PC(USA) is "a denomination primarily of small
churches," he said Presbyterians "really need to think creatively and act
decisively to deal with the needs of small churches."

He pointed out that "Jesus prayed that all may be one," and that Christians
have a responsibility to "maintain the unity that Christ has already
attained for us."

One thing that would help greatly, he said, is a willingness "to be honest
with each other and fight fair."

Wheeler said Presbyterians don't really disagree to a very great extent.  

"We're not in conflict," she said. "I'm totally convinced that 92 percent to
94 percent of what we think is the same; (only) the other six to eight
percent are things you need to choose between us. ... For every breakdown in
communication, there are dozens of meetings of minds." She said liberals are
"intent on reaching their goals in ways that don't wreck the church."

"Being together, and staying together, is not just one option," she said.
"It is the will of God."
Wheeler celebrated what she called "the bond between me and opponents,"
saying: "The evangelicals have sharpened me ... and reminded me that God is
all-loving, but not all-accepting. ... They have sent me back to the basics,
back to Scripture."

"We need probing questions and tough challenges from the other side," she
said. "What I did not expect is that I would have so much in common with so
many of them. ... We can't do without each other. ... Christ has made it
possible for us to cherish and even to nourish each other."

Haberer was similarly gracious, saying that, while some conservatives and
liberals have engaged in "mutual marginalization," his own interaction with
liberal opponents "has enriched me." He characterized the PC(USA) as "the
think-tank for the (global) church," pointing out that in earlier
controversies over slavery, women's rights and divorce, "It was
Presbyterians who came up with the right answers."

He called for Presbyterians who "have gravitated into enclaves of agreement"
to "discover the virtue of patience"; get back to "the manners your mama
taught you"; and "speak the truth in love." He expressed hope that "we will
somehow become a better church because of being together."

To Wheeler's charge that evangelicals sometimes speak as though they "know
the truth" (while she sees the truth only "through a glass darkly"), Haberer
responded: "Guilty as charged. I would say our greatest error is the
presumption that we have it all figured out."
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