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Witherspoon affirms our unity in the Church

Witherspoon Society Board Statement, September 15, 2006

"Oh how good and pleasant it is when kindred dwell in unity."

Psalm 133:1, NRSV


The members of Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church (TTF), who met together for four years, have provided the PCUSA a model of mutual discussion and discernment, appreciation and trust. The 217th General Assembly, meeting in June of 2006 in Birmingham, Alabama, affirmed the value of both the process and the substance of what the TTF had done by overwhelmingly adopting recommendations 1 through 4, which called for harmony and covenanted partnership in dealing with potentially divisive issues.

While Recommendation 5 passed by a more narrow margin, a clear majority of commissioners adopted the Authoritative Interpretation (AI) of the Book of Order. Briefly, the Assembly’s approval reaffirmed G-6.0108 of the Book of Order in three ways: the Constitution is authoritative; candidates for ordination may state their "departures" regarding particular points in the Constitution; and governing bodies have the responsibility to determine whether a "departure" is contrary to the essentials of Reformed faith, polity or practice.

Though there were differing assessments of the TTF’s recommendations, from a variety of perspectives, the mood following the vote of the Assembly was one of mutual affirmation and reconciliation consistent with the actions just taken, (particularly in adopting Recommendations 1 – 4) in the spirit of living together in harmony and covenanted partnership.

This unique moment of reconciliation at the Assembly makes the attitude and the subsequent statements and actions of some Presbyterians and presbyteries especially disheartening. It may be that many Presbyterians have not taken the time to read or interpret the TTF’s report or the AI in the wider context. It is our hope that misinterpretations can be corrected by study and discussion. Pastors have a special responsibility to give an accurate interpretation of both the Task Force report and the Book of Order.

We are also dismayed and appalled that some congregations, under the leadership of their sessions and pastors, have chosen to act in ways that defy and destroy the trust relationship that has been so painstakingly developed since the TTF’s inception in 2001, and that a majority in some presbyteries have affirmed these destructive and unconstitutional actions. We regret that some have decided to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) and hope that any such action will not be permanent. We caution against giving in to a spirit of anarchy and misinterpretation by ignoring the procedures clearly spelled out in the Book of Order for pastors and congregations to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA).

We pledge to join with all Presbyterians in carrying out the letter and the spirit of both the AI and our broader Presbyterian tradition: to defend our Constitution against anarchy and misinterpretation, to seek more thorough discernment, and to assist candidates and committees as we all try to live our way into the new opportunities brought to us by the Theological Task Force, the actions of the 217th General Assembly, and the Reformed heritage upon which the Presbyterian Church (USA) stands.

Got comments?
We'd like to hear from you about this statement,
how it does or does not reflect your own convictions,
and how we might implement the pledge we have made.

Just send a note,
to be shared here.


Dwelling together

Two comments on the Witherspoon statement    [9-19-06]

We posted on Sept. 15 a statement by Witherspoon’s board, expressing dismay at the words and actions of some Presbyterian looking toward some kind of separation, and affirming the call to discernment and unity from the 217th General Assembly.

We invited comments on the statement, and have received three responses so far. One affirms the Witherspoon statement, while another points to the distrust among Presbyterians as a reason for the talk of separation. The writer of the third note asked that it not be posted here.


A word of gratitude

We are grateful for your continued discernment and willingness to speak. We are disheartened by the actions of some in Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery who have acted in a spirit of confrontation. We are encouraged by the restraint and courage of the Presbytery in the face of actions.

We keep the church, the Presbytery and the Witherspoon Society in our prayers.

Bob and Pat Lucy


The issue of distrust

I think that the trust issue is a very important one. It seems to me that it is much easier for some to trust our denomination than for others. In my perspective, the average people in the pews of the PCUSA are not well represented at the "higher levels" of the denomination or at General Assembly. In our presbytery, my husband as a white male minister is much less likely to be a representative to G.A. than a non-white female minister. The ministers or specialized clergy who are more likely to represent our presbytery are those, according to the Presbyterian Panel, who are less likely to share my views. So, it is hard for me to trust our system when I have experienced again and again that the beliefs of the majority in the PCUSA (ie. those in the pews) are frequently not well represented. We seem to be very big on diversity when it has to do with the color of one's skin or one's gender, but much less committed to theological diversity. That, to me, is a shame.

Celia Stone
Farmville Presbyterian Church
Farmville, NC

We invite your comments, too!
Just send a note, to be shared here.


Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


John Shuck’s new "Religion for Life" website

Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck, a Presbyterian minister currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

Click here for his blog posts.

Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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