Nary An Unpublished Thought







February 19, 2008: Mandatory Training

After a nice break, with pitchers and catchers having reported to spring training, and a quiet day at home, I am feeling refreshed and encouraged. Though you will not know that from the remainder of this note.

The Layman (article: Kirkpatrick is to present 'Top 10 list' of items for 218th General Assembly) is reporting that the "anti-racism" training listed on the docket for Friday, June 20 (the day before the Assembly convenes) is mandatory.

Mandatory? Really?

This kind of thing drives me crazy for a couple of reasons.

First, what does "mandatory" mean? If I miss it because I am planning to travel that day and will arrive after the time it is scheduled, should I not bother to come at all because I will not be allowed to serve as a commissioner?

No, that's not it. There is no constitutional provision or standing rule that allows the OGA to remove credentials from a commissioner who does not attend a pre-Assembly conference. Specifically, Standing Rule B.1.c. says, "Ministers and elders considered for election as commissioners must be able to be in attendance for the duration of the General Assembly." This "mandatory" training is not "during" the Assembly; the Assembly will not have convened on June 20.

Then what does "mandatory" mean? There is a great gag in The Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya keeps reporting to Vizzini how the Man in Black is gaining on them. Vizzini's continued response is, "Inconceiveable!" Finally, when Vizzini cries out "inconceiveable!" in exasperation as the Man in Black is catching them on the Cliffs of Despair, Inigo says to him, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Likewise, mandatory.

Second, and more important, is "anti-racism" the best use of "mandatory" training time? The highest and most pressing issue for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is our ability to not be racist? That is what we stand for?

Look, I am not a fan of racism. I do not support it, nor do I want to seem insensitive to the impact that racism has had within the church. That said, there has to be more to the church than, "we are against racism." Why not, "Proclaiming the Gospel in a Pluralist Context?" Or, "Multicultural Ministry?" Or, "Transforming Culture By Pursuing Justice For Christ" or anything else that would help train in what can be done, rather than what we cannot do.

Here is why this gripes me: our time together starts with the presumption that we -- commissioners and advisory delegates -- are doing something wrong. Something about which we should feel guilty. Something that needs correction before we begin. Something that denominational officials have overcome and are, therefore, in a position to be able to teach and train the rest. It feels like a punishment for having been elected as a commissioner.

Further, a primary reason why the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is suffering record losses is because there is no expectation that we are standing for anything. We are against injustice, we are against violence, we are against racism, we are against guns, we are against ...

What are we for? The gospel? How would anyone know?

Our documents? We are in the midst of a battle because we will not agree to abide by what our documents say. Therefore, how can anyone else know if we really mean what we have written?

The business that we think is important? Look at the overtures listed thus far on the business. Seven deal with ordination and sexuality issues. One deals with "reaffirming our common faith in Jesus Christ." Where is the energy and expense going to go for this Assembly? Yes, the nFoG (new Form of Government) and the new Stated Clerk -- but far more will go towards another run through the ordination and sexuality battles.

How we will spend our time? Consider how the work of the Assembly will progress. The commissioner committee assigned to handle the business for "evangelism" will probably conclude their work by Monday's lunch. Their recommendations will be handled mostly on a consent agenda or by voice votes. You will have to search to find out what has been done. Ordination and sexuality? The commissioner committee will likely appear on local (if not national) news, will work late until Tuesday night, will have a majority and minority report, and will take up the entire Friday afternoon plenary session.

That's what we are known for -- being divided about ordination and sexuality.

I can already see the e-mail coming back this way about how we are for missions and ministry. I point you to the Outlook. I can already see the e-mail coming back about how we are for growth. Read that same article. I can see the e-mail coming back about how we are for education. Consider this from Presbynews, "The sale of PC(USA) curriculum and other resources produced a surplus of income over expenses of $139,000 in 2007. It was the first time in nine years that the GAC has been financially successful with curriculum sales." (Yet, because of the checkered history with the curriculum, I have to wonder if the reason why this surplus of income over expense is due to the sale of inventory for which the production costs were incurred in a previous year.)

I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert's, Eat, Love, Pray. In a conversation in Rome, her friend says that every city and every person has a word that describes their essence. The example given for Rome is "sex." The example given for Los Angeles is "success." She spends a lot of time looking for her own word. It seems as if the word that sums up the most important thing about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is "homosexuality." For it or against it, it takes up most of our time.

So, back to my original gripe: is anti-racism the word for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)? Is it the best topic for a mandatory training to address the body congregated from across the breadth of the denomination?