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April 7, 2008: GAC Mission Work Plan 2009-2012

I sat on this update for a couple of days. When I first wrote it, I wondered if it was too nit-picky. I am still not sure, but here goes:

Recommendation #31 is a big-picture framework of what the GAC proposes to do in the name of the General Assembly. It reads like the summary of a weekend retreat where large butcher-paper has been taped to the wall.

What it says is fine. The statements are broad and sweeping. If a group could do what it proposes, life would be wonderful. Ultimately, I am not going to lose any sleep if the Assembly approves it.

However...since I am going to be asked to approve it....

There is throughout this statement a blurring of lines that is at the very root of what has paralyzed the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In short, the GAC perceives itself to be the church at the same time it is an institution designed to serve the church. It is trying to do everything for everyone while also relying on the obedience of everyone else to do what it says.

This is a hobby-horse of mine, I know. That does not make it any less valid or relevant. (It's the, "even if you are paranoid, someone may still be out to get you...")

The denomination is an institution, it is not the church. It is an institution devised in support of the church. Thus, when the GAC mixes in and takes on tasks that are the responsibility of the people of the church, it ends up confusing things and actually inhibits the work of the church.

For example, the first line of the strategic goal in evangelism is, "The General Assembly Council will proclaim in word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ by:..."

I do not want to discourage anyone from proclaiming the gospel. Yet, when the GAC takes on the role of being the proclaiming body, it is a distraction and usurps the responsibility of the people of the church. Think that's not true? When I was traveling the country a few years ago, I would hear at every meeting, "You know, we would say and do more but the denomination is saying just the opposite." Or, "we are waiting to see what the denomination says." Or, "The only time people know about us is when the denomination does something that makes the headlines and we have to apologize. If they would get it right, we could focus our attention on doing the work of the church." Every. Time. Without. Exception.

It works both ways. The GAC does not trust the congregations to do the work they are supposed to do, so the GAC takes on the job. The people in the congregations do not trust the GAC to do the work it has taken on, but have failed (or been unwilling) to recognize that it is the people's responsibility in the first place.

The confusion caused is understandable. Take another example from the Justice Goal Area. "The General Assembly Council will join God in transforming societies to reflect God's intention for a just, peaceful, and compassionate world by bearing prophetic witness to justice and compassion and speaking truth the power on behalf of the General Assembly." I could be wrong, but I am not sure that there is anywhere in scripture where a valid prophetic voice is uttered on the authority of a majority vote. Do we need to pursue justice? Yes. Do we need work as peacemakers? Yes. Is that something we can effectively delegate to a small cadre of people? No.

Our history shows that we do one of two things. Either we agree with the "prophetic" witness and that's the end of it ( we do not feel any compulsion to pursue it any farther because someone else has said it for us) or we disagree and dismiss it as another nuisance we hope goes away before anyone gets worked up.

I do not expect full clarity to be realized at this General Assembly; nor do I even expect to be in the majority on this one. Further, I do not want to take on the task of re-writing the GAC's mission work plan -- not that anyone is asking.

Although, if I were to be asked...(insert dream sequence imagery here):

I would begin by clarifying and delineating the roles and responsibilities that the GAC can do. They could and would resist the temptation to act to "save" the church. They would push back those responsibilities that must be retained by the people. To borrow from my own sermon this morning, I do not get physically fit watching someone else exercise. The people of the church need to do the work of the church. The structures of the church need to equip the people of the church to do the work of the church. Ah, well...perhaps there is a windmill out there with my name on it.

A couple of housekeeping notes:

  1. The Archives section should be updated and up-to-date within the next day or so. This took more time than I originally anticipated. I have not had large numbers of requests for missing posts -- I do not know if anyone has noticed all was not complete.

  2. The rest of this week and part of next week is going to be devoted to the ACSWP papers. There are a bunch of 'em.

  3. I will be writing about Gradye Parson's nomination for Stated Clerk at some point in the near future. For now, I will just point out that his nomination is not a surprise.

  4. I am ignoring -- for the time being -- the appeal of the Rev. Jane Spahr/same-sex wedding case. I have written about it previously. I still have to do some looking to see whether the GA PJC has the option of modifying the Synod's decision in the extent of censure. Maybe someone else will take it up; that is, if the GA PJC were to find the Synod's decision insufficient, could they decide to upgrade the censure from a rebuke to removal from office?