This Hurts

Another domino has fallen in the chain of churches marching out of the PC(USA) and into ECO, the new denomination formed by disaffected Presbyterians nearly two years ago. And this domino is big (actually, all of these dominoes tend big–and suburban). Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas voted to leave on Sunday. On Monday I spent some time reading the church’s statements about it, reading news stories, and even watching videos on the church’s Facebook page.

The past 12-18 months have been a circus of emotions for me as the most influential evangelical churches in this denomination have pronounced its impending death and saddled their wagons to ECO. Anger. The claims they’re making are often exaggerated (this pastor tells church members that they’ll have to fire staff if they don’t leave). Other times they’re just false and devoid of context (this pastor says that his “Reformed Theology” nearly prevented a presbytery from ordaining him). I’ve spent a lot of the last year and a half angry about what’s happening.

But also hurt, and this is more to the point. I’m second guessing my own commitments, doubting what has felt like growth and discernment. And that’s painful. Necessary, perhaps, but painful. Because what felt like a growing experience of the richness of Scripture, a more adequate understanding of the complexity of human desire and affection, and a more faithful faith in the character of God–those things are now condemned by colleagues as “drift.”

If these men and women are right, then what felt to me like growth in faith and understanding is actually bankrupt accommodation to the spirit of the age. I would have done better to not seek out relationships with people I disagree with but fortified myself against them with like-minded bonds of accountability. I shouldn’t have prayed to understand the truth but for strength to persist in my present understanding. And reading Scripture as the inspired product of particular cultures with particular values was a waste of energy that would have been better spent memorizing verses to buttress theological debates.

The good news of the gospel is that God brings life out of death. That is my profound hope. But the death still hurts.

What Counts in The ECO? In The NEXT Church?

James Miller wrote on the ECO blog today that the new denomination cares about what it measures:

You’ll hear a couple of phrases floating around ECO circles. One is that you care about what you measure. If we are paying attention to something enough to document how it’s going, we probably care pretty deeply about where it ends up.

Jim describes the faith candle and baptismal pool in his church’s worship space for illustration. Every time they hear a story in worship of someone coming to faith, coming “to follow Jesus for the first time,” they light the candle. They baptize people by immersion in the pool. The candle and the pool are “tangible representations” of what matters to Jim’s church.

Jim’s church is counting conversions and initiations. Those things matter a great deal to ECO, a denomination populated by churches who could no longer stomach life in a denomination–the PC (USA)–piling up membership losses year after year. Several people I spoke with when ECO was forming shared that church growth was the thing they cared about most. Conversion and baptism are two indicators of growth, so they’re tracking them enthusiastically.

I wonder what those of us in the NEXT Church conversation are measuring. I don’t hear a lot of talk in NEXT circles about conversion, and I think that’s because NEXT folks talk about church as a community first and as a gathering of converted individuals second. We care less about people deciding to follow Jesus for the first time than we do about people experiencing belonging in Christian community, whether or not they ever profess Christian faith.  Many of us are quite comfortable including people in church who are vocally ambivalent about Christian doctrine, and moving them to convert isn’t high on our list of priorities.

Obviously, deciding to follow Jesus and experiencing belong in Christian community aren’t opposing alternatives. We want one to lead to the other (who cares which comes first?) But if we’re not inclined to count conversions, and if we’re passionate about welcoming people into an inclusive community where they experience God, what are the things we need to be measuring?

The Fellowship Theology Draft

Yesterday I posted my response to the Fellowship of Presbyterians’ Polity Draft. This post will briefly summarize and respond to the companion Theology Draft released at the same time on the groups’ website.

The Theology Draft does three things: it addresses the question of a theological standard (namely, confessional statements) for the New Reformed Body, articulates some Essential Tenets, and then asks some critical questions about the theological practices that will shape the group’s life together. I don’t consider myself a participant in the Fellowship, but I’m taking them at their word that they want public input.

I’m most interested in the Essential Tenets. The current Book of Confessions of the PC (USA) is the proposed answer to the question about standards and statements, which is sure to please many and rankle others. The third section of the Theology Draft sketches out the “theological friendships” that the Fellowship hopes will become a normative part of the life of pastors and elders in their new denomination. But, to me, the Essential Tenets are what deserve the closest attention.

And not really the tenets themselves. I have plenty to say about them, but I think the most significant fact is that they’re offered at all and that they’re given such weight  in the Polity Draft. The Fellowship clearly expects adherence to these tenets to create a kind of theological cohesion that they are disappointed does not presently exist in the PC (USA). I have serious doubts about that expectation, both in its intent and likelihood.

As to their intent, the authors of the Theological Draft write in its foreward:

a collection of confessions lends itself to the wisdom of identifying what is essential within them. our theological ideas and inclinations as a church are far too diffuse to unite us. we reject the proposition that theology divides. instead, we affirm the proposition that truth tends toward unity, yet we are the first generation of presbyterian officers who do not have in the same ordination question the words truth and unity. identifying essentials necessarily and rightly focuses our theological conversation and our life together.

That “a collection of confessions lends itself to the wisdom of identifying what is essential within them” is a questionable assertion. The move to name essentials within the Reformed theological heritage strikes me less as an imperative driven by wisdom as one driven by efficiency. An agreed upon list of essentials is a useful rubric for determining membership in a body and for establishing the boundaries of its teaching. But I don’t think it follows that wisdom dictates such a move.

Wisdom compels people toward what is good, right, true, just, and honorable–not necessarily what is essential. There’s a lot in the Book of Confessions that is good, right, and true, and our life as confessional Christians ought largely to be taken up with mining that gold for Christian formation and mission. But the essentialist project wants instead to select a few confessional gems and convert them into plastic rulers for measuring fidelity to the covenant of church membership and ordination. To do so cheapens them.

Here, then, is my greatest objection to the Theology Draft: it’s inelegant. It’s a rude instrument for assessing (or even coercing) the “rightness” of faith. It’s full of the language of Reformed theological tradition (see the wordle below) and sentences like, “In his essence, God is infinite, eternal, immutable, impassible, and ineffable.” But it reads like an ordination exam. It reads like something written by someone who’s hand shakes as they write because their disapproving teacher is lurking behind them and peering over their shoulder.

This is how Essential Tenets must read, like traffic citations. And that’s why I don’t like them and don’t want them. But to those in the Fellowship who seek in them a ground of covenantal unity and who will press them into the service of concentrating a self-selected group of Christians into a theological corps bound together by its agreement in faith’s fundamentals essentials, may you find what you seek.

The Fellowship Theology Draft as a wordle

The entire Book of Confessions as a wordle

The Fellowship Polity Draft

The Fellowship of Presbyterians (about whom I’ve written here and here) released drafts yesterday of the polity and theology documents that will guide their January gathering in Orlando. This post will lift up the most prominent characteristics of the polity draft.

I tweeted my highlights of the document on my first read-thru, and you can see those quotes here.

Here’s what the document looks like as a wordle:

Clearly the local congregation is the most important entity in the polity that will shape the Fellowship’s New Reformed Body. Fellowship leaders have said as much, and they’ve been accused of being Congregationalist in their polity. They’re rebutted that claim. At the very least, it’s fair to say that this polity draft establishes that its most important function is to serve the mission and ministry of local congregations.

For comparison’s sake, here’s what the PC (USA)’s Form of Government looks like as a wordle:

Congregation is one of the most prominent polity element there too.

Some of the highlights of what congregations do in this polity:

  • receive, hold, encumber, manage, and hold property: 4.0101(a)
  • prepare required annual review and mission narrative documents for the presbytery: 3.0103(m)
  • request transfer or dismissal from their presbytery or from the New Reformed Body at a called congregational meeting: 1.0503(d)

The other big element in this polity is the presbytery. It defines a presbytery not as a “corporate expression of the church” as in the nFOG of the PC (USA), but as a “covenant community” of congregations. That may seem a pedantic distinction, but I think its significance lies in the fact that, as it does with members of congregations, the Fellowship polity makes voluntary participation in a covenant the substance of participation in a church body.

The presbytery also has a much more active role to play for the Fellowship in the coaching and encouraging of its pastors. The mechanism for this is a peer review process (2.0402) that must be completed at least annually by every installed pastor. The substance of the review is pastors’ health and  future ministry goals, as well as the sharing of best practices and insights.

The controversial stuff about church denominational affiliation pops up in the fifth chapter, titled “Ecumenicity And Union.” What’s described there is a process by which congregations or presbyteries may affiliate with the Fellowship’s New Reformed Body through a union arrangement or by joining a new entity called an Affinity Network. The process laid out requires a 2/3 majority vote of either the congregation or the presbytery respectively, as well as the consenting judgment of the PC(USA) body to which it is currently subject. And in the case where PC(USA) and Fellowship rules butt heads, “the less permissive rules shall govern”(5.0202 and 5.0203).

A few other interesting tidbits:

  1. There’s no General Assembly. The Synod is the highest council in the NRB
  2. Pastors “ordinarily” shall hold an MDiv. degree from an accredited seminary
  3. No CPM: presbyteries come up with their own credentialing and calling mechanism for pastors
  4. Members of congregations are called “Covenant Partners” (see note about presbytery membership above)
  5. Honorably Retired pastors can’t vote at presbytery

Finally, a word about the Essential Tenets. I’ll review those next, but they appear in the polity draft often and they clearly play a unifying role. The Fellowship clearly expects members of churches, congregations, elders, deacons, and pastors to adopt the Essential Tenets they’re laying out, and even to do so “without hesitation” (2.0103c). The lack of a uniform theological standard has been a constant critique of this group, and this polity draft clearly intends to establish the Essential Tenets document as the norm to which everyone must subscribe in order to belong.

Desmond Tutu to The PC (USA): Good Work

One of the prominent arguments against ordaining gay men and women to church office is that the “global church” finds the move unconscionable. Conservatives in America have become enamored of the “global church” of late, often claiming that departing from it in this matter is nothing short of  theological arrogance.

Now, a letter addressed to Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) by none other than Desmond Tutu casts serious doubt on this “global church” position. Tutu is a retired Bishop of the Anglican Church in South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his efforts to fight apartheid.  He wrote to Parsons to express his support for the PC (USA)’s recent change to its constitution that will permit gay ordination. Here’s an excerpt:

I realize that among your ecumenical partners, some voices are claiming that you have done the wrong thing, and I know that you rightly value your relationship with Christians in other parts of the world. Sadly, it is not always popular to do justice, but it is always right. People will say that the ones you are now willing to ordain are sinners. I have come to believe, through the reality shared with me by my scientist and medical friends, and confirmed to me by many who are gay, that being gay is not a choice. Like skin color or left-handedness, sexual orientation is just another feature of our diversity as a human family. How wonderful that God has made us with so much diversity, yet all in God’s image! Salvation means being called out of our narrow bonds into a broad place of welcome to all.

That a prominent churchman from another part of the global church community supports the change in ordination standards does not, of course, mean that the issue is settled. Many brothers and sisters across the globe do not support it and find it deeply offensive. But Tutu is an important voice of reason in the conversation. His letter disqualifies blanket appeals to the global church as, in and of themselves, conclusive.

The Fellowship Gathering: Third Thoughts

“It’s a mad mission/Under difficult conditions”

Patty Griffin (for Casey Wait)

My first thought was, “I’m not one of these evangelicals anymore.”

My second thought was, “We see the world’s needs very differently.”

My third thought is, “We see mission very differently.”

Uses of the term “missional” were more prevalent at the Fellowship Gathering in Minneapolis than the little butter discs that came with the bread basket. I suspect definitions of that term were just as abundant.

I’m not a progressive mainline despiser of missional-speak. I’ve read everything the Gospel and Our Culture Network has published. In seminary I chased Darrell Guder around like a puppy dog. I’ve served the church as a volunteer in mission twice. My current call has “mission” right in the title. What I notice, though, is that “missional” has become for evangelicals an orienting idea, the ramifications of which are not being fully grasped.

The big idea behind the missional turn is that North America is itself now a mission field. Indeed it always has been, but decades of a single-minded focus on foreign missions efforts obscured that reality. Today, people like Alan Roxburgh and Alan Hirsch are becoming household names in evangelical circles by forcing that issue, and even by asking, “Can The West be converted?”

All of this is a good thing. A very good thing.

Yet to hear the term “missional” employed in Minneapolis, one would think its application is limited to practices of evangelism and to a congregational polity. I noted that in almost every instance where a speaker urged a more “missional” church, they did so in connection with affirmations about unchurched people in an unchurched culture. And they did so with a clear and repeated application to congregations and not to presbyteries or the PC (USA).

[excursis: the irony of the polity observation is that, while many evangelicals in the PC (USA) express an earnest desire to be more missional than the denomination seemingly allows them to be, many of them have used the withholding of shared support for the denomination’s mission efforts as a means of protest against it.]

This equation of mission with evangelism and congregations troubles me because I owe much of my own sense of call to ordained ministry to an experience with a PC (USA) mission program, one that didn’t involve me in explicit evangelism, and one that can’t be sustained by a single congregation but depends on shared mission support.

Also, I belong to a presbytery that is being profoundly impacted by an experiment in shared mission.

[another excursis: The Presbytery of San Diego has intentionally started to call itself a “relational community” that strives to become a “mission agency.” That would seem to indicate a belief in the presbytery as a locus of Christian mission]

The mission of the church in a North American 21st Century context will probably be driven primarily by congregations, but those congregations will depend upon the support of larger networks of congregations called presbyteries and denominations. In that light, it will be interesting to see the extent to which the Fellowship of Presbyterians proposes sharing mission support with the PC (USA).

That mission will also require witness and action that includes explicit evangelism but is not limited to it. The church will need to speak in its common life and in written statements to the “powers and principalities” of our culture. That is as much mission as preaching the gospel.

In Minneapolis, that didn’t seem to be part of the “missional” emphasis.

The Fellowship Gathering: Second Thoughts

“Weigh the pros/the cons come first/I’ve got a black belt in doubt.”

Cold War Kids

The Rev. Dr. David Swanson of First Presbyterian Church, Orlando, said during his address to the Fellowship gathering something to the effect of: the world badly needs to know what the church believes.

That was the moment of epiphany for me.

I’ve recounted my first thoughts about last week’s Fellowship of Presbyterians gathering in Minneapolis here and here, and I’ve commented on my perception of that movement’s overall aims here. Now it’s probably time to deal with some of the substance of my disagreement with it.

Swanson’s pivotal assertion was made breathlessly and in the context of deploring the lack of theological clarity that evangelicals in the PC (USA) are certain has been introduced by Amendment 10-A and the removal of standards of “fidelity” and “chastity” from the church’s ordained officers. To many, that change represents a departure from a traditional understanding of sexual ethics and Biblical authority. That departure is intolerable for lots of reasons, and prominent among them is a perceived ambiguity about sexual morals that will hurt the church’s witness and evangelism.

“The culture needs to know where the church stands. It doesn’t need the church to bless its sin but to call it what it is, unequivocally and without compromise. The mission of the church requires a clear stand on sex.”

[excursis: ceasing to condemn same-gender romantic orientation as such is clearly a moral move that pronounces the church’s conviction and conscience. I threw that gauntlet down some time ago]

The epiphany for me is that evangelicals have a very different perception of peoples’ needs than I do. As I read the gospels, I don’t detect an overwhelming concern on Jesus’ part to impart conviction to people. I can’t recall a single time when Jesus instructed his disciples to share their conscience with the world by pronouncing on ethical matters. The driving concern of Jesus’ ministry seemed to be accompanying people (“sinners”) who the religious establishment had cast out, feeding them, healing them, and sharing the good news of God’s judgment and mercy with them.

Surely a clear moral stake-in-the-ground is required, and Jesus drove that stake down as far as it would go. The problem for evangelicals is that Jesus repeatedly dodged peoples’ attempts to force an articulation of his moral position out of him. He was much more interested in making friends with the people that religious leaders made their living condemning.

Of course, that reveals a clear moral conviction. And while I’m never going to claim to get that conviction, pursuing it and living it out is, to me, the driving force behind Christian faith, ethics, mission, and ministry. It’s what I understand the church to be driving at.

That seems to be a different orientation from the evangelical pursuit of moral clarity. If Swanson is correct and the world’s most pressing need is to know the content of the church’s convictions about moral and ethical issues like sex, then I’m not sure the church I’m after can meet that need.

The Fellowship Gathering: First Thoughts

“I remember when we shared a vision, you and I”

The Mountain Goats

I’ve just returned from The Fellowship of Presbyterians gathering in Minneapolis. The event was organized by a group of evangelical pastors within the PC (USA) who called like-minded pastors and elders to join with them in creating a New Reformed Body connected to the current denomination and yet separate from it. Though I’m not one of those like-minded pastors (as evidenced by this post), I attended on behalf of my presbytery to listen to The Fellowship’s proposals and to work with local colleagues around them.

Better bloggers than I have summarized the gathering’s accomplishments. Here’s a summary from a sympathetic participant and one from an unsympathetic not-participant. Rather than summarize, I need to process. Thank you.

[update: I contributed to a roundup of reactions over at Two Friars and A Fool that gets more into the mechanics of the event]

I’m troubled by a couple of things. This post will process one.

I’ve been underestimating the distinct theological, methodological, and sociological DNA of evangelicalism and its expression within mainline denominations like the PC (USA). Which surprises me, given my evangelical breeding. I was baptized in a charismatic church and went to college at an evangelical Presbyterian school. I fumbled a job interview at a progressive church with an uncritical recitation of the reasons why gays shouldn’t be ordained, and the first chance I had to vote on the issue, I stood for the status quo (the “fidelity and chastity” standards).

The Fellowship is an expression of the core convictions of American evangelicalism: that the church exists to seek and save lost sinners (read: everyone), that the Bible is the only admissible guide to faith and life, and that Christians stand in a position of loving opposition to the wider culture in which they’re situated. My time in Minneapolis illuminated how differently I relate to those convictions now than I did even five years ago. It’s not that I don’t believe them, it’s that words like “sin,” “save,” and “guide” (not to mention “sex“) have acquired meanings for me that they didn’t have before. The old meanings haven’t been replaced so much as nuanced, complemented, and, pray God, enriched.

I have to believe that God has been in this process, while I still acknowledge that I could be wrong.

This unsettling realization has sent me running to historians of the evangelical movement to help me better understand the ways in which The Fellowship movement is replaying an oppose-and-separate movie the church has seen before (I’m starting here and here). Every Christian denomination has evangelicals in it, even though the vast majority of evangelical Christians belong to church expressions that aren’t affiliated with anything like an organized denomination. For mainline protestants in the U.S., that has always been the case, and it has always been a source of tension, if not all-out conflict (see the First and Second Great Awakenings). Since coming into mainline protestantism in my early 20’s, I’ve understood myself to be an heir of the evangelicals in those conflicts.

I don’t anymore.

My gut reaction to the things happening in Minneapolis showed me that I’m now standing somewhere else. I’m not sure what to make of that.

Is The PC (USA) Like The NCAA?

Last week I wondered if presbyteries are families. Today I’m asking if the PC (USA) is like the NCAA.

The question comes from Clark Cowden, the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of San Diego. He writes on his blog:

We already have 16 synods and 173 presbyteries. Just as each congregation has its own unique identity, each presbytery has its own unique identity. What happens when a congregation realizes its identity does not match up well with the presbytery it is in? What happens if it discovers that its DNA actually matches up a lot better with the DNA of a different presbytery? Can we allow our churches to change conferences within the denomination like they do in college athletics? Can we allow new presbyteries, new synods, new fellowships, and new networks to be created to advance the Kingdom of God? In our church history, we have allowed for different orders within a denomination (Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits). Is it time for the PCUSA to explore something similar?

[[sidenote: I attempted to comment on this post when I first read it weeks ago, but my comment never appeared.]]

In another post, Clark answers his own question:

The PC(USA) is becoming more like the NCAA, which has 32 different conferences for major college athletics. The Pac 10 has different rules than the Mountain West Conference. The Western Athletic Conference is different from the Big 10. What other churches and other presbyteries do around the country, will be more like what other conferences do in college athletics. We are not responsible for what others do. We are only accountable for what we do.

Athletic conferences in the NCAA have always served as the organizing entity for local schools. And as much as the Big 10 and the ACC make of their “tradition,” conferences have always been flexible; which schools play in which conferences has always been negotiable. In that sense, the PC (USA) is like the NCAA. Churches have switched presbyteries since there have been presbyteries, normally for geographic considerations.

But that’s about as far as it goes.

In the era of cable television, which colleges play in which conferences is about one thing: TV revenue (There’s no such thing as “DNA” when it comes to a school or a conference. That image is an abstraction that serves to distance those wishing to realign from the local consequences of their actions).

College sports are good TV (College football is one of the most profitable broadcast products in the country). The South Eastern Conference (SEC), to take only one example, has multi-billion dollar television contracts with both ESPN and CBS. Individual schools in that conference received roughly $17.3 million from those agreements in 2010. Obviously, it pays to be in the SEC. The Big 12 conference recently inked a deal with the Fox Sports Media Group for broadcast rights to its teams’ games. Yet other conferences like the Big 10 have launched their own cable networks, which are usually collaborations with established networks like ESPN and Fox.

Given this landscape, colleges realign with conferences from which they stand to make a bigger share of TV revenue, and conferences lure valuable schools to their conferences that will drive bigger audiences to their networks, allowing them to charge higher rates to advertisers.

When a college leaves one conference for another, the new conference–and its executive–stand to gain significantly.  The impact on the conference that’s left depends largely on the size of the school leaving. Basically, when a large school with a nationally-recognized sports programs leaves its current conference, it devalues the conference.  When Nebraska left the Big 12 last spring, that conference nearly collapsed as the remaining big programs (Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas A&M) feverishly looked for greener pastures in which to play. In the end, the smaller budget schools in the conference had to guarantee some $20 million in revenue to the big schools to keep them, even though that likely would mean cutting their own (smaller) budgets.

I don’t have much sympathy for the complaint that this money-grabbing by conferences, schools, and networks devalues college athletics; sports and advertising-driven television broadcasting exist in symbiotic relationship. I have no naivete about that. Colleges aren’t bound to one another in conferences by “tradition” or anything else beyond financial reality.

But the analogy between the NCAA and a church denomination is fundamentally flawed. Clark Cowden perceives realignment in college athletics to be about DNA. It’s clearly not (unless you measure DNA in dollars). Likewise, realignment of congregations within the PC (USA) into different presbyteries will have more than “genetic” consequences. Some presbyteries will face insolvency as a result. People will lose their jobs. Churches may close.

Those scenarios don’t amount to a reason to maintain the status quo at all costs. Some things may very well have to change, and change is always difficult. But everyone involved with these conversations–presbytery executives, pastors, elders–needs to deal with the facts and to not fly away into metaphors, especially ones as misled as this.

Are Presbyteries Families?

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is entering a period of renegotiation, as congregations and presbyteries absorb the reality that both the New Form of Government and amendment 10-A may pass. A number of efforts are already underway to align congregations and presbyteries on the basis of theological agreement and not geography, a shift that will involve the creation of entirely new presbyteries. Presbyteries and church sessions, as well as a Middle Governing Bodies commission formed by the last General Assembly, are working on these things at the same time.

At the center of this renegotiation is the understanding of the purpose of church structures beyond the congregation, namely presbyteries, but also a denomination per se. And at the center of that conception are metaphors. The Ministers and Presbytery Executives who are urging this realignment are doing so with metaphors to describe presbyteries and the denomination. I want to examine those metaphors.

[[Excursis: the PC (USA) Book of Order doesn’t dally in metaphor when it comes to presbyteries: “Presbytery is a corporate expression of the church consisting of all the churches and Minsters of the Word and Sacrament within a certain district. The Presbytery is responsible for the mission and governance of the church throughout its geographical district.”

The proposed New Form of Government adds language about the imperative for congregations to “share with others both within and beyond the congregation the task of bearing witness to the lordship of Jesus Christ in the world.” Neither of these draw on anything metaphorical.]]

One metaphor being employed for presbyteries in an attempt to re-conceive their nature and purpose is the family. A colleague of mine writes:

The reason for doing something like this is to create circles of shared mission, shared theology, and trust within a diverse and fractured larger body. I’d compare this to the familial unit existing within a diverse nation. I like having a family with shared values. One of the reasons my wife and I got married was because of the values that we shared . . . We had certain shared values, which created trust and intimacy between us, and we teach those values to our children.

That congregations ought to experience trust and intimacy with one another as they share the tasks of ministry is undeniably important. But are family-style trust and intimacy enough to carry the load of that task? And are there aspects of family life that go unnoticed by this adoption of the metaphor? And does choosing to align with a presbytery with whom a congregation shares certain values mean that it believes the churches in its current presbytery don’t share those values? Isn’t choosing to leave one family for another divorce?

I would press my colleague to identify precisely those values that he doesn’t think we share. And I would ask him to consider that perhaps the parental role in the family is not the one that churches should occupy in the metaphor. If, as our denomination affirms, “Christ is the Head of the church,” then aren’t churches related to one another as siblings? Siblings may grow apart. They may have open conflict. One may even kill the other. But they can’t simply adopt different families.

The truism, “You can’t choose your family” ought to be remembered here. You can choose your friends, and that’s more in line with what people do when they choose to get married. In that case, it’s worth stating that the bonds of marriage aren’t negated because the values of one of the spouses changes. Families don’t always share the same values. They don’t stop being families because of that.

If congregations wish to align themselves with presbyteries with whom they imagine they share values not shared by their current presbyteries, then they are not joining a family but a circle of friends. Maybe friendship is a better metaphor for the kinds of connections we ought to seek within a denomination (it certainly bears fruit for these folks). I’m not sure. I feel strongly, though, that The Family is not as helpful as my colleague thinks