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September 25, 2007: Sticking my toe in the pool

Well, I have avoided this as long as I can. Now, time to stick my toe in the pool -- to begin looking into the details of the Form of Government. It is one thing to gripe about changes to the Preliminary Principles and to note how those changes set the stage for some red flags I have seen in the body, but the details are what matter in a Form of Government.

Actually, I need to pause for just a few more moments in order to give some guidance for how I plan to proceed.

1. It is unrealistic to sound-byte this review; that is, to do a short paragraph evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of this substitute constitution. It also is unrealistic to expect anyone to read a full-blown, section-by-section review if written in one shot.

Good heavens, the side-by-side comparison produced by the Task Force is 170 pages long. It must have taken hours and hours for the Task Force to compile it. It is a helpful resource. It also is completely overwhelming. And, if I am overwhelmed by that, I suspect that it would make most people throw up their hands, giving up before even starting.

Here's where I discern my commitment and calling within this connectional church: I believe God calls each one of us to offer the best we have -- the gift we have received -- for the common good (I think I read that somewhere...). I am going to bite the bullet and try to tackle this thing in an effort to help make it accessible to everyone.

The trick is going to be taking it in small portions.

The substitute constitution has six chapters. I plan on spending a week on each chapter; covering specific aspects each day. It is my hope that it will make things more manageable to write and -- perhaps more importantly -- to read.

2. Even taking a week on each section, my review will not be exhaustive. Exhausting? Probably.

You likely will see things I miss. You likely will disagree with some of my reads and analysis. That's ok -- let me know.

3. I will try to keep the big picture in mind while focusing on how the details will play out if the substitute is approved. The substitute proposes a very different approach than the Form of Government we currently have. Those differences would have a significant impact on who we are

A New Understanding

So, with those things said, let me start with something found in the proposed G-1.0102, which may help illustrate the differences:

The organization rests upon the fellowship and is not designed to work without trust and love.

This is not in the current Book of Order. (Update: this is incorrect; there is a parallel in G-7.0103, see here.)

Here, it refers to the fellowship of the congregation. However, it seems to be the predominant ethos throughout the whole: the substitute is not designed to work without trust and love.

It is the basis for the emphasis on "flexibility." The move to a more "flexible" structure was a prime objective of the Task Force. They sought to move away from restrictive, regulatory portions of the Book of Order.

This is a new understanding for Presbyterians.

Thinking to our historical roots, the Presbyterian Form of Government did not arise out of successful fellowship that had been managed with trust and love. It arose out of a protest against an abuse of power and trust. It was designed to check and limit authority given to any particular individual or council (most notably, a much-needed check on the authority wielded by clergy).

In other words, Presbyterian polity has always assumed the untrustworthiness of human nature. It sought to create trustworthiness by checking power through the use of intentional, planned inefficiency. It is less susceptible to corruption and abuse.

If approved the substitute would be a temporary remedy. The flexibility will last only as long as the trust lasts; as soon as there is a disagreement about an action or decision, the Permanent Judicial Commissions will get very busy or the FoG will be amended and grow again.

Tomorrow: more on G-1.0102, G-1.0301.