Sunday, December 4, 2011

Threats of loss towards those who want to leave: seduction for all others

Some might say that since I’m not leaving the PCUSA, I don’t have a dog in this fight— but I do, I’m tied forever to the Hound of Heaven.[1] And He keeps putting me in the strangest places. But I do not believe he will be putting me back in a church (Fremont) if its only members turn out to be those who care little for biblical Christology, the authority of Scripture and the confessions of the church. I will not be a part of those who offer no help to those caught in sinful sexual lifestyles but instead want to ordain them. That would not be standing with Jesus; it would not be caring for hurting sheep.

But there are some at Fremont Presbyterian Church who obviously think I would come back if they were the ones who got to keep the church property. Four Sundays ago coming home from a different Presbyterian church, we stopped for breakfast at a restaurant. It was new to us since it was in a different neighborhood. As we left, one of the ladies from Fremont, who had voted not to leave the PCUSA, was sitting with her husband waiting to be seated. I went over to say hello and was surprised by our conversation.

When I told her we were visiting different churches to find a home when Fremont leaves, she said that we should stay at Fremont because the Presbytery was going to give the church to those who voted not to leave the PCUSA. When I asked her how she knew this (The negotiating teams had not met yet) she told me that the Executive Presbyter had told her.

When I returned home I sent an e-mail off to the Executive Presbyter asking if this was true. I asked him if he had told the lady that those who voted "No" would be given the property. He replied, "I have said that the property is an issue for the negotiating teams and the Presbytery to determine. The Presbytery could determine that the faithful remnant can maintain a healthy mission with the property. Could, not would, is the key word. This is the negotiation teams ' responsibility, and I am simply interpreting polity."

This is all to say that Saturday night, returning home from out of town, there was a letter in our mail box from the Presbytery of Sacramento. It was divided; the first part was from all who signed the letter, 22 people altogether.

The next was from the Presbytery’s negotiation team giving “facts” about how dire the voting had been [it was actually 427 to leave and 164 to stay] including the fact that they had been “contacted by a group of Fremonters who wish to remain in the PCUSA. As allowed for by our Constitution (Section G-4.0207 of the Book of Order), They have requested that we consider dismissing those who want to go to the EPC, but leaving the property in the PCUSA.”

Next are words from the Faithful Fremont Fellowship. (That is what a small group of those who voted ‘No’ are calling themselves.) They are attempting to pull in more people so they can convince the Presbytery that they would make “up a strong and viable PCUSA church.” They suggest that many members who voted to leave will change their mind, that many who did not vote will stay.

Their invitation, like the lady in the restaurant, whose name, is also on the letter, was “come and join us.” They think that I and many other members will join them.

And finally there was the part from the Executive Presbyter, which included:
I have been in the position of transitional Presbyter since May 2011. One of my roles is to be a pastor to the Presbytery. In that role, I have talked with the Fremont pastors and offered my support. I also made myself available to any members of Fremont who may need pastoral or spiritual support in this time of transition.
The biggest problem with all of this is that it all came in the same letter with the Presbytery's letterhead. And as a friend in another Presbytery wrote, “the horrific part is that they are all in cahoots: discernment team, Presbyter, and the FFF?”

This is my suggestion for members of Fremont:

If you don’t feel led to leave the PCUSA at this time, find another PCUSA Church, but for the sake of Christ do not aid the people who joined up with the Presbytery to make sure they get to keep church property. Instead listen to my story:

At least twenty years ago my husband Brad and I found Fremont. We walked in on a lovely Sunday Jazz morning; the music was great and best of all Darrell Johnson was preaching. He was preaching the pure word of God and we loved it. And then we went to a Sunday school class where the lady, a professor, was supposedly teaching about various Churches and Church history. She taught that doctrine, the Trinity and the deity of Christ were not important.

Another teacher, a former pastor and missionary, taught on the Nicene Creed without once mentioning Arianism or the deity of Christ. Our pastor, Darrell Johnson, was constantly harassed by members—they would send him letters saying he was preaching about Jesus too much.

Even later, after we joined, as I began teaching on new religions, in a class on the occultic Anthroposophical Society of Rudolf Steiner a lady stood up and spoke nearly ten minutes defending Steiner’s religion and schools. Later, privately, I asked her, "Didn’t she want the Steiner people to know the true Christ?" She stated that what they believed was truth for them. Her name is also on the letter.

So why am I writing this story?

Darrell Johnson, when he took a new position, left behind a growing group of reformed Christians who held to biblical Christology and the authority of God’s word. Many people who grew up in Fremont, who had not really experienced a relationship with Jesus Christ began loving Jesus and owning him as Lord. Many others, who were orthodox, found at Fremont, a wonderful place to grow in Christ. And many more, new to the church, found Jesus Christ.

If the people on the letter’s list are given the church property, Fremont will probably return to its yesteryears. Its theology will revert to a diversity of theologies that are tolerant of all except those who uphold Jesus as the only unique Savior, the one who is both fully human and fully God. And as I stated above, its "members will turn out to be those who care little for biblical Christology, the authority of Scripture and the confessions of the church." They will certainly care little for biblical sexual morality.

There is a famous poem by Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” It was written to his father as his father lay dying. It was not a Christian poem. The line “Rage, Rage against the dying of the light,” is repeated three times in the poem. But the Christian knows true light that will never die, so do not rage but do not be unwise either. Do not agree to the seduction. Do not put yourself in that place where you help to snuff out the light of a vibrant church.

[1] See The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson


Jodie said...

Bitterness, rancor, division, these are the fruits of this harvest.

Are the people that are leaving those that paid for the church property? Did they not relinquish all ownership when they got their tax deductions for their donations? If so, how can they now claim ownership again? And if they did not pay for the property, how can they now claim ownership?

As for those who are staying, the same argument applies.

(Why don't you just build a wall down the middle of the sanctuary?)

But here is the bigger lie: That in order to serve Jesus one needs to leave at all. If that were true, then how do you explain Darrell even coming? It's the trick of the Enemy, to use our Faith against us, to cause us to devour each other in self-absorbed mutual recrimination. A house divided cannot stand: So divide and conquer.

My suggestion is to abandon all notions of being right or righteous, to discard our swords and shields and turn them into plowshares and sunshades, and serve Jesus in love, by loving. Wherever he plants us, whomever he surrounds us with.

Isn’t that what Darrell did?

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Peter Larson said...

Enjoyed your blog, Viola. I hope Freemont does not fall victim to the plotting and subterfuge of those who claim to be Christian but are hostile to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. My father, who was a Presbyterian pastor in Seattle, had a revelation many years ago after attending a Presbytery meeting. He said, "Peter, I used to believe that the liberals in the church were un-evangelical but I have come to see that they are anti-evangelical." Those who demand tolerance for every theological viewpoint are really hostile to the One who proclaimed, "I am THE way and THE truth and THE life; no one comes to the Father except through me." Truth is not an abstact concept to be discovered through dialectical debate. Truth is a person. Jesus is the truth and there is no other.

Viola Larson said...

You know absolutely nothing about Darrell. He always stood for truth and he never backed doan. But he did wear out. But he was willing to be worn out for Jesus. Do not post here again.

Viola Larson said...

Peter thanks for your comment. After our last Presbytery meeting I think your father was right.

Anonymous said...

"Bitterness and rancor". Sad.

Jodie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John McNeese said...


Twenty-eight percent of the congregation (164) is not an insignificant number. Whether they, as the faithful remnant, are of sufficient number to continue this church within the PCUSA is will be determined by the Presbytery. The Presbytery primary obligation is to see to the welfare these faithful members, not to the schismatics

Viola Larson said...

John, while I am not part of the 164, I have to have a new church home also. I have found a wonderful Church home. But those 164 who want ordination of gays and lesbians have many more choices than I have had. In fact some of the people that signed the letter are already going to a different Church.

And you as a member of a presbytery that pushed a pastor out just a few weeks before he was to retire and asked the whole session of a church to resign as far as I am concerened have little to offer as far as ethical decisions are concerned. You could not even wait for his retirement!

Pastor Dennis said...

I know it is difficult. As I have said, my own experience with the PCUSA has been complicated(being a candidate for the ministry long ago, who was considered too conservative for the donomination - in Sacramento Presbytery) an other troubles (and my "home church" (Gridley, in your presbytery) is leaving. And I was called by God, so long ago, to stay where his grace found me. I knew, at forty years ago, at the age of 20, that this could happen, and know one at that time should have been surprised. I am staying and I do not expect it to be easy, and I do not expect to always be wise. God be with us all.

Viola Larson said...

Dennis, I don't think Gridley is in our Presbytery?

Yes, things are getting very hard, but in some ways that brings those who choose the Lordship of Christ closer.

Viola Larson said...

Sorry, Dennis, I guess Gridely was in our Presbytery.

C. M. Riley said...

Viola, thank you for this blog. I am saddened to hear of the split, but I support the decision of the majority who left. I was in a Methodist church that split over the same issue many years ago, and it broke my heart. I must admit that I never felt at home until I found a non-denominational church whose only book of doctrine was the Bible. I know those can go wrong too, but this is where God put me.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you C.M. Riley,

I am glad you are where God wants you to be that is important. I don't think I would ever be happy accept in a reformed and confessional Church.

Reformed Catholic said...

I notice that the people who refused to respect the will of the majority for over 20 years when it came to having denominational ordination standards, still do not respect the will when a church decides to leave.

At least they're consistent.

Of those who signed the letter, how many are actually participating members of the church. Not just on the roles, but attending Worship, giving their tithe, and so on ??

Or was that even verified by any negotiation team or Presbytery official ??

Viola Larson said...

Reformed Catholic,
I think they are all participating members except I found out yesterday that several of them are going to a different church-just waiting until they can take over the church. Also I can't read all of the names. They are handwritten and copied and attached to the official names. The official names are the Executive Presbyter, the chair of the negotiating team and four of the FFF leaders, a Barbara & Tim Farley and Joe Cavness & Dona Cavness. The Farleys are the ones who are attending a different Church.

I also know that some of those who voted to stay in the PCUSA are upset at the FFF group. I think the one of the problems is that some who voted to stay wanted to wait for the Fellowship of Presbyterians to provide an alternative new body, and they are not interested in the ordination of gays and lesbians. The ones who signed the paper are. most have been pushing it for some time.

Barbara Long Red-Horse said...

My young family came to Fremont 18 years ago on the day Darrell Johnson announced to the congregation he was leaving. We came seeking a community for whom Jesus Christ was an integral part of daily life, people who prayed & studied & taught the Bible. We found that within the congregation even though when I first asked an elder about adult sunday school I was told, 'we're not a... Baptist church.'

It has long concerned me that the work of the Presbyterian church is structured to be done by committees which seek God's will yet it seems many look for the most practical or strategic way to approach their tasks. I am pleased that Fremont's session and staff have consistently provided information and asked members to be informed & pray about their choices. I thought polity was supposed to be a tool used to provide order not to threaten.