Sunday, October 16, 2011

My church voted to leave PC (U.S.A.) A reason to hurry away (A correction)

Fremont Presbyterian Church, in Sacramento, voted today to leave the PC (U.S.A.). The vote was 427 to leave and 164 to stay. But a question came up that has been asked before in the forums we attended. Why are the orthodox churches, including Fremont, hurriedly leaving for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church rather than wait for the Fellowship of Presbyterians to form a New Reformed Body connected to the PC (U.S.A.)?

Well, of course, there are technical reasons, such as it will take so long, or it may not even happen if the General Assembly votes it down.
Picture by Ethan McHenry

But in my Presbytery I believe there are other reasons. And I address this because if other Presbyterians and Presbyteries listen in they may begin to understand a little bit some of the discouragements and real concerns among many of the orthodox in the denomination. (But first, as I have explained, ad nauseam, I am not leaving because God has not released me.) Also my explanation focuses on my own presbytery; I just believe it may image other places.

This is the discouragement part and it can only be understood by those who have been a part of Presbytery by being either a Minister of Word and Sacrament or a commissioned Ruling Elder: The utter weariness of fighting battles that contain such a dark side. One can debate or dialogue in good faith still expecting disagreement, and yet to have arguments and decisions mean nothing because of unconstitutional actions destroys all trust.

After the Peace, Unity, and Purity Task Force recommendations were adopted one of the churches in my Presbytery ordained two gay elders. (This was when we still had a fidelity and chastity clause in the Book of Order) The Sacramento Presbytery sent a committee to look into the matter and make recommendations. The committee ended by sending a letter of apology to the church and when a very faithful pastor complained in presbytery the head of that committee made fun of him on the floor of presbytery. He immediately apologized when many of us more or less booed. (Correction-I removed this last sentence because after doing a great deal of research, speaking to the faithful pastor, and finding no records, I am not sure that the person I linked to is the same person who made fun of the pastor in presbytery. I do not want to slander anyone.)

One of the gay elders, before 10-A was adopted, was elected by our Presbytery to be a commissioner at the General Assembly that voted in 10-A to be voted on by all of the presbyteries. All of this came about, not originally because of voting in the presbytery, but because a committee led by someone who wanted ordination for LGBT people, failed to apply biblical and constitutional correction and instead made fun of those who were concerned about that failure.

This is one evolving instance. There are many others. Another: a church deciding to marry same gender couples when it was lawful in California but still unconstitutional in the PC (U.S.A) - and no-I am not writing about that other person but about my presbytery.

Another is the speech made by one of the members of the discernment team today. He stated that contrary to Fremont the Danville Church in the San Francisco Presbytery had taken 16 months for discernment. He failed to state that part of that time was because an "ecclesiastical litigation was filed by three minister members against the presbytery (not the Danville church directly),complaining that the presbytery was letting the church go under terms that were too lenient. That case is now in mediation." They have been waiting for a long time and under great duress. (I have corrected this section with the help of a friend.-the outcome is the same.)

All of this has to do with the reason that many in leadership in orthodox/evangelical/reformed PC (U.S.A.) churches are inclined to hurry to a place where mission, fellowship and honest love can envelop them rather than fighting wearisome battles whose victory can be so easily thwarted simply by ignoring constitutional laws. This is a plea to all- In Christ’s high priestly prayer he not only called his church to unity but also to truth. Unity without truth would be a false unity—perhaps that is because Jesus is truth.


Reyes-Chow said...

Of course I am always sad to hear of churches who decide to leave, but the same time, bear no ill will and trust that great discernment has been had even if i may disagree.

So . . . on more of a curious note. Was the vote count closer, bigger or about what folks expected?

Bruce Reyes-Chow, San Francisco

Viola Larson said...

Bruce I was surprised that there were not more in attendance-the church was full but not all the members were there. The vote percentage was about what had been predicted.

My thought, and it is only mine, is that many who go to our more contemporary service did not come. I am thinking that they are younger, they like Fremont, they hold the same values and know little about PC (U.S.A) polity-and could care less.

Fremont has a fantastic youth music program; they have a basket ball tournament for children that include about 200 kids. They have a Christmas program that the neighborhood comes to. Last year they paid to help keep the neighborhood swimming pool open and they have a wonderful relationship with an elementary school. I think for the young married couples this along with faithfulness to Christ and Christian values means a lot.

I listened to a young man, who was also a YADD at this last GA, say he was willing to lose the property to follow Christ. And he built our prayer garden. Thanks for giving me the chance to say some more things I wanted to say. I truly believe that Jesus is telling me to stay behind but I will miss Fremont.

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

Late in getting here, but I'm struck by the focus on matters of bedroom behavior. Serious as they are, they are not at the same threat level as denying the resurrection...which "orthodox evangelicals" have contentedly made peace with for decades.

dhollifield said...

Fr. Chris, I think it is mis-stating to say that orthodox evangelicals have "made peace" with those who deny the resurrection (or the authority of Scripture, or the need for atonement, and on and on). They have always met opposition. Nevertheless, the people who champion such positions have always been perceived merely as individuals with a following, or a publisher or a classroom - their views have never been promoted as the established policy of the church. And as Viola has written, years of ignoring our church's constitution has emboldened their proponents to an ugly - or patronizing - manner in meetings and conversations in such a way, and to the point, that absorbing such antagonism has become untenable for peaceful co-existence in Christ's church.

Viola Larson said...

I wasn't insisting that same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination was the main reasons for Fremont leaving-they are not. I was showing how on constitutional matters some in the Presbytery have through the years undermined everything without voting. That is the reason for weariness and the hurry to get away.

As for the big issues, in particular Christology, that is another and important problem. We voted in someone over a year ago who could not answer my question was it necessary for Christ to die on the cross. When I left that meeting someone grabbed my arm, another pastor we had just voted in. He wanted to know how I would answer that question. When I told him, he wanted to argue with me. That is a huge problem.

Sherry L. Kirton said...

Whether it is a bedroom matter, a privately held belief, or declared from the pulpit, sin is sin, and God, Himself, is the One who determined it, declared it in Scripture and through His prophets, and finally made a way for us to be reconciled to His Righteousness on the cross. It only matters that God calls something sin; turning away from it and to Him is the test of our love for Him.

Holy Spirit, help us see with Your eyes, hear with Your ears, and love with You, in Jesus' precious name.

John McNeese said...


Twenty eight percent of the congregation voted not to leave. In addition to those there were some from the contemporary service who did not attend the meeting because you think, somewhat contemptuously, " that they are younger, they like Fremont, they hold the same values and know little about PC (U.S.A) polity-and could care less."

If this is to be a "gracious" separation, what are the plans of the Fremont church for these people? "Good bye, so long, it's been good to know you"   

Viola Larson said...

I don't believe anyone in the contemporary service is planning on leaving-thats what I have already said. The rest will be taken care of by what ever is worked out between Fremont and the Presbytery. Nontheless, they have all been encouraged to stay and I believe many will.
I am looking, with my husband, for a new church home. But I believe Fremont is following God's path for them.

John McNeese said...


You are correct. It seems queer to me, a very unorthodox person, that ordination issues would precipitate the withdrawal rather than substantive issues such as atonement, resurrection. And biblical interpretation. Would any of this be happening if not for gay ordination? I don't think so

Linda Lee said...

Let's not forget that the Holy Spirit is at work. From man's point of view it seems "unwise" or "wise" but behind the scenes GOD is at work for His purposes.
Even our mistakes can be the impetus for God's plans to take shape. If we honor each other's conscience to make decision after prayerful consideration then we accept the grand design that God may be orchestrating (though that also means accepting the consequences of wrong actions). But God alone can guarentee the out come for each generation. In our sadness we can only praise God alone.

The Holy Spirit can work when there is a mind set that is submissive to Jesus and the Holy Spirit (unity of vision), and maybe Freemont's split can bring this about to a greater extent separate than together. Maybe where God is leading groups or individuals will be for God's glory alone. John 5 Jesus said "My father is always working, and I am working".....
don't dispare, it is God's work. I respect you Viola for your prayerful consideration, continued stand, speaking forth truth and I pray for the place God sets you and your husband. I pray that you will continue to minister to us with your gifts of discernment and wisdom. Thanks!

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

John & Chris-

If you would read the papers the Session produced on their reasons for leaving you would see that Christology and the authority of Scripture were the two main issues. You neither one addressed the main issue of my post, that the leadership of Fremont and other orthodox churches are discouraged by actions that have nothing to do with voting. Please address what I wrote.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Linda Lee I need that today- I will probably need it tomorrow.
You are so very right about God's plans, they are much bigger than we can imagine. The Holy Spirit will have his way in our world and denomination. And Jesus is still Lord of his Church.

Anonymous said...


You and the other members of Fremont Presbyterian Church are in my prayers. It sounds like you have had a vibrant congregation. It is awful to consider division. I hope there can still be unity in Jesus Christ between those who voted yes and those who voted no ... a sizeable minority.

Bless you,

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

will spotts said...

John & Chris - I am in complete agreement with your comments about the precipitating causes. (I'm not saying this is Freemont's motivation, but I do see in many churches a willingness to ignore the serious doctrinal problems - even when they have a high level of imprimatur in the national organization. Sure - you may say that the book of confessions doesn't endorse them, but you can't evade the fact that ordaining bodies do, the book of common worship tends to, many organizations with relationships to the PC(USA) (semi-official) do.

Nonetheless, I think Viola's issue is more on the widespread corruption she has noticed. Whatever the cause, such corruption in process is always evil. While as a former PC(USA) Presbyterian, I don't have any dog in the hunt, I have to frankly say - I have observed this myself at many levels of the denominational organization. That doesn't, of course, make the PC(USA) unique. It just begs the question of why a church that departs - often jumping through difficult legal and procedural hoops to get away - would *want* to retain a relationship with the PC(USA)

Viola Larson said...

Okay Cris, Will, & John go here and read away.

will spotts said...

Thanks Viola