Friday, January 23, 2009

Spiritual manipulation when voting on 08-b

Witherspoon Society has a letter on their site from Rev. Mitch Trigger, Witherspoon’s Secretary/Communicator, about how Newton Presbytery dealt with voting on Amendment 08-b. The letter or small article can be found at How the discernment process worked in Newton Presbytery .

After “a ‘centering’ prayer” and a quiet reading of “both the current language in G-6.0106a-b and the proposed changes to ‘b,’” the presbytery members were asked to, “Ponder these three questions, and then using mutual invitation invite one another to reflect on these questions. “

The three questions are:

“1. What is your initial response to 1) the current wording and 2) the proposed wording?

2. Where and how do you see God in each? - (Or to ask this question in another way) – How do you see faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ expressed in each?

3. What frightens you if the proposed language fails – and if the proposed language passes?”

This is spiritual manipulation under the guise of ‘we need to be in harmony in our presbyteries.’

Some thoughts on the wording of the questions as manipulation:

1. Using the term “initial response,” to the wording suggests that some do not have long held biblical reasons for holding on to their view of fidelity and chastity.

2.“Where and how do you see God in each?” implies that God is in both the current wording and the proposed wording. But if one of these is biblically unworkable then God is not in it.

3.“What frightens you?” Those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are not frightened by policy changes rather they are concerned with faithfulness; their only fear is fear of the Lord and that has to do with reverence.

'Frightened' is a buzz word that has been used in my Presbytery on other issues. It puts the person defending their position in a very awkward place making it seem as though they are feeling endangered rather than standing up for what they believe is right.

Some thoughts on the process as manipulation:

1.In a free debate by those who were chosen by their Church to be Pastors and Elders people are allowed to speak as they feel led by the Holy Spirit. This process undermines that freedom. Someone else is controlling how each individual will form and speak their thoughts.

2.The reason given for the process is to make sure each person’s thoughts were “honored.” But we are not called to honor everyone’s position or thoughts but instead to be respectful to them as a person. We are to be polite and in fact to love that other person. We all fail at this but that doesn’t mean that we need to be controlled or manipulated. It means instead that we need to seek forgiveness and give forgiveness. It also means we need a Moderator that holds us to the rules of debate.

3.Another reason suggested is so that the other person might feel safe. But God has not called us to safety; he has instead called us to do the work of His kingdom. We, as Pastors and Elders, are instead to be concerned for the safety of our Churches. That concern is that sinful practices might not take hold and be lifted up among our congregations

51 comments:

Presbyman said...

I don't know what they have planned in Lake Erie Presbytery, but if it's something like this, several of us will be taking surprisingly long bathroom breaks. I may take up smoking just for the day so I can go outside for a half hour or so.

John Erthein
Erie, PA

Viola Larson said...

I think if they were to try something like this in my Presbytery I would just go ahead and say what I felt I should say and ignore the questions.

Viola Larson said...

I wish that someone from that Presbytery who did not agree with the process would write about it and how they felt.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, CA

Pastor Bob said...

FEEL SAFE?

Does Newton Presbytery have a problem with people hitting each other at presbytery meetings?

Or does safe mean no one said anything that hurt my feelings? If that's the case we should probably give up presbytery meetings entirely.

The silly thing about the whole method is that we all already know how Newton Presbytery is going to vote!

Of course maybe the presbytery is trying to let the presbytery know that it is ok to believe that G-6.0106b is a proper interpretation of Scripture and the Confessions and that it should remain in the Constitution. ROFL!

Bob Campbell
Sharon Hill, PA

timeforthetruth said...

Honestly, I get a chuckly out of the whole pathetic thing. This sounds more like new age psychobabble than a group of Reformed Christians meeting. But why should that be surprising in our day and age?

Well, my chuckle is over. Back to weeping.

Debbie said...

I wonder if anyone has pointed out yet that this kind of "discernment" process is completely controlled by whoever wrote the questions. That makes it into a kind of tyranny. It is no longer democratic; it is authoritarianism in the guise of democracy. Who chose the person or people who wrote the questions?

In traditional parliamentary debate there is no predetermination of the topics of debate other than the agenda; people may freely speak their minds. But in this "discernment" process a few people have completely controlled what may be talked about and how it may be talked about. That is actually really scary--what if this comes to be the way our civil laws are made?

Viola Larson said...

Bob,
Newton has already voted it was for-63, against 16. Maybe thats why there doesn't seem to have been any protest about using the discernment process.

Adel,
I wouldn't do anything but weep. You do need to leave your full name and state and city.

Debbie,
"authoritarianism in the guise of democracy" I should have said that!

Viola Larson said...

Sigh,
I told Adel to leave his ID and then didn't leave mine.
Sacramento, CA

Glen Hallead said...

I'm with Viola. Let those trying to manipulate the process do their best. I'll speak the truth, in love and let the conviction fall on whom it may...

Debbie said...

Oops, up above I didn't leave my ID either. It should have said:

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

timeforthetruth said...

I'm sorry. I always forget.

Adel Thalos
Snellville, GA

By the way, I don't think as the owner and author of the blog that you need to continually put your name and city.

Anonymous said...

In my Presbytery there are those who are trying to get the vote taken by secret ballot, because ministers might might vote their way (ie, to change the standards) if their elders do not know how they are voting (a direct quote). These folks--good sincere Christians in many ways--do not seem to realize what this means: that it is a good thing for ministers to essentially lie to their elders and members No wonder our denomination is dying.

Viola Larson said...

Anonymous, your statement leaves me a little confused, perhaps it is just me. Could you please explain. We often use a written ballot in our presbytery and since we don't sign our names wouldn't that be a secret ballot?

Also please leave your full name, state and city.
Sacramento, Ca

Cameron Mott said...

So there is no confusion, I consider myself a Christian and I am in favor of keeping our current standards and I'm frankly surprised that anyone is concerned that this would manipulate anyone voting in a presbytery. Maybe it's my rose colored glasses.

Cameron Mott said...

Whoops.

Paola, KS

Reformed Catholic said...

Viola,

I think what Anonymous was saying is that since the pastor is not standing or raising their hands in a open vote, the pastor may be able to vote their conscience, rather than be intimidated by allowing their elder's to know how they voted.

IE: A Session that is more conservative than its pastor, would expect the pastor to vote against the amendment. Likewise, a more liberal Session would expect him to vote for it.

In a secret ballot, the pastor could vote the way they want, without repercussion.

Viola Larson said...

Anonymous I am not sure which way you think this should be done but the process described by Reformed Catholic:
"In a secret ballot, the pastor could vote the way they want, without repercussion," by not raising their hand or standing I would guess is what you are writing about.

I wouldn't be pushing parliamentary procedures if I did not think that that was the right way to vote on such important issues. Plus it is the only way to obtain an absolutely accurate count.

Cameron Mott, you write:
"I'm frankly surprised that anyone is concerned that this would manipulate anyone voting in a presbytery."

I believe it does manipulate, but even beyond that it is not the proper way for a ruling body to come to decisions. We do not or must not come to decisions by how we feel about something but because of what is Biblically faithful. Only one of these questions comes near addressing that and then it supposes that both opinions might have something to do with God and thereby be correct. As leaders in our part of Christendom we need to get past the idea that the issues are less important than relationships.

Viola Larson said...

Just so I'm a little more clear about that last sentence. The real issue is about being faithful to Jesus Christ. that comes above any other relationship.

Viola Larson
Sacramento,
Ca

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cameron Mott said...

"The real issue is about being faithful to Jesus Christ. that comes above any other relationship."

Viola, I don't disagree with that but I'm very sceptical that this amounts to manipulation even if it was intended as manipulation [which I'm not saying it is]. It is a sad comment, as Alan says, if it does.

I'm in favor of keeping our current standards but I'm not clear how this manipulation would work to the supposed advantage because I don't see how anything politywise will change whether this is passes or not, ie. our polity and standards will remain the same.

This reminds of the much hand-wringing and premature umbrage and action there was over what the PUP amendment supposedly meant and that turned out to be flat wrong. Maybe I'm seeing this wrong.

Respectfully, getting upset and accusing and acting over something that isn't seems to me to be the biggest problem in the denomination.

Paola, KS

Viola Larson said...

Cameron are you suggesting that if 08-b passes it won't change anything because you don't think that PUP changed anything?

There are several cases heading to our top court because of PUP. Also right after PUP a Church in my Presbytery ordained two practicing gay elders just on the strength of PUP.

I can't believe you really think that 08-b won't change anything if it passes. If that were true why are so many groups like MLP pushing for its passage?

Viola Larson said...

oops,
Sacramento, Ca

Bill Crawford said...

Viola,

You are correct this is manipulative. The language is carefully chosen. Let me translate into daily english:

"You conservatives are scared not rational"

"You conservatives stay in the majority by intimidation"

"Thoughtful people see God in everything"

lastly my opinion is now split on secret ballots vs. rising votes.

Many clergy hide their true beliefs from their congregations under the cover of secret ballots.

However,

I've seen evangelical christians with liberal pastors vote with their pastor in contradiction to the beliefs I personally know they have. In other words they get confused and just vote with their clergy.

so its a toss up.

Bill Crawford
Thibodaux, La

Bill Crawford said...

Oh yeah. I haven't had to debate homosexuality at a presbytery meeting for 6 months. Very refreshing.

Viola Larson said...

Bill,
For not having to debate homosexual issues for six months you have to pray twice as hard for those of us who do!!! : )

Sacramento, CA

timeforthetruth said...

Bill,

Excellent clarification! Thank you!

Adel Thalos
Snellville, GA

Toby Brown said...

These loaded questions remind me of seminary. It's the old, old scheme of the Revisionist Agenda: make those who hold to biblical faith feel guilt for the convictions that they hold. I saw it over and over again.

I don't think anyone is fooled into thinking it's fair though. It's just yet another case of a leftist presbytery siding with the agenda of a leftist group.

No big surprise to me!

Toby from Butler, PA

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cameron Mott said...

“Cameron are you suggesting that if 08-b passes it won't change anything because you don't think that PUP changed anything?”
No, because I’m not sure it creates the loopholes some are suggesting, just as the PUP amendment didn’t create the loopholes so many were confident it would.

“There are several cases heading to our top court because of PUP. Also right after PUP a Church in my Presbytery ordained two practicing gay elders just on the strength of PUP.”
Those are happening in spite of PUP, not because of PUP. “They” tear at our denomination by ignoring our polity on one side while “we” on the other side ignore our vows and our polity and split congregations and file pre-emptive secular suits against presbyteries justifying it all by what it might be. Meanwhile everybody mistrusts and misrepresents and ridicules and parses and picks and complains about things real and imagined and manufactured which are what is really killing the denomination [in my opinion].

“I can't believe you really think that 08-b won't change anything if it passes. If that were true why are so many groups like MLP pushing for its passage?”
People said the same things and asked the same questions about PUP and they were wrong. I could be wrong about this amendment; I don’t expect it to pass.

Thanks.

Paola, KS

Viola Larson said...

No big surprise to me either Toby, I am just concerned that other Presbyteries will use it. I think commissioners need to be aware of the problems with this kind of method. Which as Debbie noted is authoritarian since someone other than the individual commissioner is forming the conversation.

Sacramento, CA

Viola Larson said...

Cameron,
If Bush holds you might be right up to a certain point about PUP. But PUP also gave courage to some Churches and individuals to reject the constitution and some leaders looked the other way--as in my Presbytery. And I am sure it happened in a lot of places.

On your view of what is killing our denomination, the Churches in my Presbytery who filed suit were leaving because of what was already happening and because they felt they could not trust much of the leadership. I saw the face of one of those pastors in a meeting right after he asked our last Moderator if she had read the Louisville Papers. When she said she didn't think it was important he turned away and I saw his face, which she did not. I will never forget it. He is a college professor, an extremely gifted pastor of a Church that was helping many young people in our Presbytery go through seminary. It was a great loss but it was because top leadership did not care and he did. He cared very much.
While I also do not expect 08-b to pass I simply am left with my mouth hanging open if you think that its passage won't change the PCUSA.

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cameron Mott said...

“ But PUP also gave courage to some Churches and individuals to reject the constitution and some leaders looked the other way--as in my Presbytery. And I am sure it happened in a lot of places.”

Whether we are ignoring our ordination polity or our disaffiliation polity we do it wrongly in spite of and outside of PUP and our other polity.


“On your view of what is killing our denomination, the Churches in my Presbytery who filed suit were leaving because of what was already happening and because they felt they could not trust much of the leadership. I saw the face of one of those pastors in a meeting right after he asked our last Moderator if she had read the Louisville Papers. When she said she didn't think it was important he turned away and I saw his face, which she did not. I will never forget it. He is a college professor, an extremely gifted pastor of a Church that was helping many young people in our Presbytery go through seminary. It was a great loss but it was because top leadership did not care and he did. He cared very much.”

I don’t understand here: she didn’t think the document was important enough to read or she didn’t think whether she read it was important?

I don’t know the situation or the people but I hope this wasn’t one of those “gotcha” moments that harden both side’s hearts. Had she read the NWAC Strategy Report?

“While I also do not expect 08-b to pass I simply am left with my mouth hanging open if you think that its passage won't change the PCUSA.”

Well, as I said, I could be wrong but so far it seems we have only discussed what might happen extra-amendment rather than about what the amendment itself.

I understand, you’ve left my mouth hanging open too but we can still get along.

Debbie said...

Alan said, way up earlier: "I guess if folks are worried that these questions are going to manipulate people, they must not feel very confident in the strength of their position. Or they don't feel very confident regarding the intelligence and independence of the commissioners they send to Presbytery meetings."

This is exactly what I've been saying about the people who are upset about the supposed manipulation of the California voters by out-of-state publicity over Proposition 8! If the anti-8 people think that the voters were manipulated to vote for 8, then they must not feel very confident in the strength of the anti-8 arguments, and/or they must not have much confidence in the intelligence of California voters.

This is a tangent, I know, but reading through the comments, I was struck by the congruence with my argument for why California voters may not have been manipulated.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola Larson said...

Alan,
I can only say, I must be lacking some perception--did you ever post your last name after my rules/ You must have. Please continue to do so. I do have a bad memory.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, CA

Debbie said...

One difference between this Newton Presbytery situation and the Prop. 8 situation, however, is that in Newton Presbytery, the discussion was apparently framed in terms of the three questions. If the discussion was limited to these three questions (this is what we need to establish), then it was indeed manipulative, because other points were not allowed to be made.

If, however, open debate was allowed in addition to these three questions, as was the case in California, then it is another matter.

Debbie said...

Oops, Debbie Berkley, Bellevue, WA.

Viola Larson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola Larson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola Larson said...

I seem to be having trouble saying what I want to say, but I will try again.

Debbie,

All I can say is to go to the link I provided and read what supposedly was done. It doesn't sound like other conversation was used. That is why I wrote in one of my comments that It would be nice to hear from someone who voted no in the process. But of course in a presbytery like that it would be very hard I think to speak one's mind if you were a conservative.

Viola Larson
Saramento, Ca

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cameron Mott said...

Thank you, Alan.

Viola invited anyone from the Presbytery to comment and I e-mail invited the Stated Clerk of Newton to view the blog entry and comment. We are unknown to each other and my e-mail invite is probably languishing in a spam filter purgatory but I tried.

Opining critically about things and people without an attempt to get or present perspective from the criticized horse's mouth is another destructive aspect of some denominational blogging, "reportage", strategy reporting, session discernment, congregational meeting moderating, etc.. [again, my opinion].

Viola Larson said...

Cameron,
I also contacted some one who shall remain anonymous. I tried picking out someone I felt would be conservative to ask. They did e-mail me back very nicely. They did not go to the Presbytery meeting but do not care for the descerment process at all. I don't think I will try again.

And although I would welcome the Stated Clerk's thoughts I don't think that person could actually speak to how the more conservative commissioners might feel about the process.
Sacramento, CA

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola Larson said...

Yes Alan,
In case you missed it here is my letter written afterwards with my grousing.


"February 4, 2009

Dear Editor,
Marcia Casais, in her letter to the Editor, concerning my blog posting, Spiritual manipulation when voting on 08-b, has given me new information. "How the discernment process worked in Newton Presbytery," written by Mitch Trigger, Witherspoon's Secretary/Communicator and a Pastor in Newton Presbytery, did not explain that there was debate following a time of answering the three questions. That does change, somewhat, what I perceived to be manipulation.

However, the questions were themselves manipulative as I have pointed out. And I must say that for those commissioners reading Trigger's small article on how Newton voted, who saw it as a model, there was what I would call unintentional deception since he did not tell the whole story. Beyond that it would still be informative to know how conservatives in the Presbytery felt about the process.

Viola Larson
Elder, Fremont Presbyterian Church
Commissioner, Sacramento Presbytery

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola Larson said...

Alan,
I have worked for many years with people who have been involved with groups that manipulated them There is nothing I despise more than spiritual manipulation because I have seen the damage it can do to peoples lives. (And most of those abusive groups were conservative.)
I am very sensitive to manipulative language. But the question about being frightened particularly irks me. Going back to what I wrote:

“What frightens you?” Those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are not frightened by policy changes rather they are concerned with faithfulness; their only fear is fear of the Lord and that has to do with reverence. 'Frightened' is a buzz word that has been used in my Presbytery on other issues. It puts the person defending their position in a very awkward place making it seem as though they are feeling endangered rather than standing up for what they believe is right."

I actually had someone confront me after a Presbytery meeting with just those words. That is ridiculous, and shall I repeat manipulative.

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola Larson said...

A couple of points Alan, you write, "you do not have any idea whether or not anyone actually felt manipulated." I wasn't writing about whether somebody "felt" manipulated, I was writing that they were manipulated. There is a difference. I still stand by my statement.

You write,
“If people are so fragile that they can't speak their minds when given a chance, I'd suggest that their Sessions not send them as elder commissioners in the future, perhaps they have other gifts that can be used in other ways."

I wasn't writing about people not speaking their mind when given a chance I was writing about how using parliamentary procedures is a much better way of speaking your mind. That way you are addressing the motion not somebody else’s question.

You write,
“However, I'd suggest plenty of people are indeed frightened about what will happen if this passes (Will we have to ordain "those people"? Will we have to leave the denomination? Will we be fired/kicked out if we don't?” I just copied what you evidently are attributing to the conservative side. The progressives will have to answer your thoughts themselves : )

I was writing that putting the question in that form puts those who answer it in a bad position. It is a way of reformulating a motion that is about morality and faithfulness and instead making it grounds for personal or corporate safety. That is not what the “no” on that motion is about. Christian believers generally bring their fears to the Lord and let him give them his joy instead. They don’t use their fears as a way of defeating motions in Presbytery.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.