As hundreds of congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) continue to evaluate their denominational affiliation and as presbyteries continue to deal with requests for dismissal in a myriad of ways, people continue to ask questions.
Recently a church sent a list of what have become frequently asked questions. My answers are my own and should not be construed to constitute legal nor financial advice of any kind. I have sought to supply relevant links to source material were applicable. The first 16 questions are also answered in a 50 minute video.
1.Supply statistics concerning the growth/decline of the denomination in the recent past (20 years). What is the current trend?
The trend is revealed in this simple membership chart:
And further revealed in the 2014 Comparative Statistics posted on the PCUSA website.
2. Why are churches leaving? What are the issues that result in churches entering the process called “Gracious Discernment”?
The primary issue can be described as two sides of the same coin: Authority and Submission.
If God is God (perfect, holy, infallible, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, truthful, gracious, etc) and God has spoken (in the Word of the Bible and in the Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ), then what God says is authoritative. Humanity either chooses to submit or not submit. Submission is called obedience or doing the will of the Father. Non-submission is called sin, it is contrary to God’s revealed will and it has consequences both here and in eternity.
So, are you in a denomination that receives the Bible as the authoritative Word of God and actively submits to that Word in belief and practice? I Thessalonians 2:13.
Are you in a denomination that receives Jesus as the once-for-all Savior and actively submits to His Lordship in belief and practice?
Are you in a denomination that receives the Holy Spirit as the active presence of God, working within the believer to bring them into ever greater conformity with God’s will and actively submits its common life to the sanctifying power of the Spirit in bringing all things under God’s sovereign rule?
The implications of the answers to those questions are significant for the individual believer, the local congregation and the denomination as a whole. And there is a vast difference or distance between the espoused theology (what’s on paper) and theology in practice (what’s actually happening) in the PCUSA.
As some have examined these questions they have discovered that all three legs of the Presbyterian stool are now broken: theology, ethics/accountability, polity. In order for their local church to faithfully achieve the mission to which God has called them locally, they feel compelled to realign with a denomination that will not hinder their witness, compete for their affection, misrepresent the Word of God in the world, and bear false witness to the Spirit’s transforming power over sin.
3. Are there signs that there will be resolution to these issues in the future?
It depends on what you mean by resolution. There are efforts to not allow for but to normalize the acceptance of LGBTQQ lifestyles throughout the PCUSA. If you are asking if I foresee an internal denominational discernment process that would reverse the trend by restoring the Word of God to its rightful place in the life of the PCUSA, followed by a repentance of recent decisions about leadership and moral behavior, the answer is no, I do not see that kind of resolution on the horizon. (Certainly all will be resolved when the Lord returns but a conversation about the reading the signs of the times related to that is a different conversation. Read Matthew 24)
4. How many churches in the United States have left PCUSA in the last 15 to 20 years?
This a moving target. In 2003 there were 11,064 churches in the PCUSA. At the end of 2014 there were 9,829. Not all of those 1235 congregations “left,” most were dissolved which means they died. Of the 9,829 churches in the PCUSA 5,358 ended 2014 with fewer than 100 members which puts their long-term viability into question.
We know of 600+ churches that have been dismissed or disaffiliated from the PCUSA since we started tracking it in 2007. We do our best to maintain a list here: http://www.layman.org/discern/ The chart is the second resource listed on the page.
5. What churches in our presbytery have left and to what denomination did they go?
This is information that you should be able to get from your presbytery office. If not, you can sort our Excel file (its the second link on the page) by presbytery and find the churches that we are aware that have transitioned from the PCUSA to other Presbyterian and Reformed denominations.
6. According to PCUSA, who owns the property of our church?
Watch Lloyd Lunceford’s videos on Church property questions and read The Guide to Church Property Law, Second Edition. To check the status of the law in your state, we’ve put together a chart.
7. If we vote to become a part of a different Presbyterian denomination, what happens to the property?
To answer this question, you need to know:
- What is the status of the law your state?
- What does your presbytery dismissal process say? (Some of these may have been edited since adoption. Check your presbytery website for the latest version.)
- What has been the experience of other churches dismissed from your presbytery?
- What are the facts of your particular church property? What do your founding documents say? What do your articles of incorporation and by-laws say? Has your church ever received material support from the presbytery? What statements, resolutions or declarations has your session made over the years related to the concerns over which you now want to depart?
8. How many churches in in our state are currently in the “Gracious Discernment” process? How many in our presbytery?
With 50 states and 171 presbyteries, and the dynamic reality of this process, I cannot give you an accurate answer to his question. Your presbytery minutes should include information about churches in the dismissal process and the other presbyteries in your state should be posting similar information.
9. How are per capita funds are being used at the administrative level of the denomination?
The Office of the General Assembly has a per capita page on its website and the Per Capita Budget for the General Assembly is posted as a part of the meeting papers of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly.
10. Are per capita funds mandatory?
No. They are voluntary for churches although your presbytery is required to forward all per capita (collected and uncollected) for the member churches in its bounds. A growing number of presbyteries do not comply and forward only the per capita that churches voluntarily submit for support of the national church. This results in the OGA having to write off about $1 million each year in uncollectable per capita.
11. Summarize the financial status of PCUSA.
You can read their internal financial reports in the meeting papers of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.
The denomination receives income from a variety of streams: Interest off of investments in restricted funds, interest off of investments in unrestricted funds, per capita, special offerings, bequests and contributions to mission support.
Expenses have outpaced income for many years. Periodically a large unrestricted bequest will provide for a year in the black, but reliance on reserves and a shrinking base of support (declining membership) is pushing the PMA and the OGA to reconsider how they do business. The 222nd General Assembly has several proposals for agency consolidation and reorganization before it for consideration.
12. List the locations of administrative offices, the primary purpose they serve and their political involvement.
- The headquarters building in Louisville, KY houses the Office of the General Assembly headed by the Stated Clerk, currently Gradye Parsons, and the Presbyterian Mission Agency, currently by headed interim exec director Tony de la Rosa.
- The Stated Clerk is engaged politically and so are the advisory committees for social witness policy, women and racial ethnic concerns and the Justice committees, task forces and staff.
- Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC. Primary purpose is lobbying, influencing Congress, on behalf of the social witness priorities of the PCUSA.
- Presbyterian UN office at the UN in New York City. Primary purpose is lobbying, influencing the UN on behalf of social witness priorities of the PCUSA.
- The Presbyterian Board of Pensions has offices in Philadelphia, PA and regional offices across the country. Their political efforts are confined to collaborative lobbying efforts around the affordable care act and non-profit taxation issues.
- The Presbyterian Foundation has offices in Jeffersonville, IN just across the river from Louisville. They engage in what may seem like political work by their involvement in the positive investment the denomination is making Palestinian controlled parts of Israel.
- Presbytery and Synod offices are spread out across the country and most are not expressly political.
The denomination also have affiliated camps and conference centers, colleges and universities and seminaries. I do not know if the denomination asserts a trust over all these properties and their political involvement varies widely.
13. Describe the controversy during the unification of the northern and southern Presbyterian churches. What was the reason for uniting?
Presbyterian history is a history of division and reunion (see the Presbyterian Historical Society presentation on this). The 1983 Reunion was about reconciliation of the Northern and Southern branches of Presbyterian that separated in the days of the Civil War.
14. Why did the PCUSA change its government by having each congregation create its own Manual of Operations?
The point of reference here is the development of the new Form of Government or nFOG.
15. What are the requirements for the ordination of pastors?
This question is addressed in a video on the PCUSA website.
16. What discipline, if any, is administered to pastors who do not profess Jesus Christ as the one and only son of God and means to salvation?
None. For example: John Shuck.
17. What discipline, if any, is administered to pastors who do not profess belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
None. For example: Jim Rigby
18. What discipline, if any, is administered to pastors who do not profess belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God?
None. For example: Layton Williams
19. What discipline, if any, is administered to pastors who profess that there are other methods to salvation than Jesus Christ?
None. For example: Rick Ufford-Chase – now the Associate for Interfaith Relations in the Office of Theology, Worship and Education in the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
See Charles Wiley recent post about the 2011 Presbyterian Panel survey.
20. What matters does the PCUSA have lobbyists involved? Do these matters involve Congressional members and/or the White House?
21. Describe the PCUSA’s political views on abortion, illegal immigration and gun control.
Abortion – Presbyterians Pro Life has been doing amazing work but the PCUSA continues to fund abortions on demand through its benefits plan and advocate for abortion availability and accessibility for all.
Immigration – the sanctuary city movement is led by Presbyterians and the Stated Clerk has clearly articulated the PCUSA position in his denouncement of candidate Donald Trump.
Gun control – the action of the 2014 GA is illustrative on this point.
22. An ordained minister member of the PRT during an informational Q&A meeting told the congregation that if we interpreted Scripture like the Pharisees we would still be bound by the dietary laws of the O T. How could I have responded?
The issue is interpretation and hermeneutics. I would argue that until the Word of God is received by the Church for what it really is (I Thessalonians 2:13) and restored to its rightful place in the life of the church, the church cannot be the kind of light she is called to be in the culture.
So, you might have pointed out that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law – and his meat was to do the will of the Father who sent him. So he fulfills the dietary laws of the OT. Then you might have directed the teaching elder’s attention to Acts 10 and the revelation to Peter. Remember the vision of the sheet and the food? In that text, God Himself declares all food clean. There is NO equivalent nor even similar New Testament evidence that God’s will related to sexual practice has changed. And when we look at Jesus what we’re talking about is not reducing behavior to the bare minimum requirement of the Law but a call to Higher Righteousness, even Holiness, to live in full accord with the very will of the Father.
23. Because I feel that women should be given equal opportunity to serve as pastors I’d like to ask about the percent of female pastors who are in the PCUSA vs. other Presbyterian denominations.
First, please hear what I’m about to say remembering that I am a woman who spent 17 years in ordained pastoral ministry in the PCUSA and preached this past summer at the EPC General Assembly meeting. How you feel is irrelevant to the conversation about ordination. Ordination is not a right. It doesn’t much matter what we feel, what we want or what we think we deserve. What matters is what God has said, what God requires, what God wants, and what God is doing. God ordains, we do not.
If your local church wants to be in a Presbyterian denomination that ordains women you have three choices: PCUSA, ECO and EPC.
According to the 2014 Comparative Statistics, the PCUSA membership is dominated by women (971K women to 696K men) and the PCUSA has more women serving as deacons and ruling elders than men. The PCUSA has more than 20,000 ordained ministers, 12,114 are in active ministry roles and 4, 474 of the active clergy are women and 1,695 of those women are pastors or associate pastors of churches. So, less than 15% of PCUSA churches have a called and installed woman in a position of pastoral leadership.
24. Please discuss in detail the position and actions taken at the PCUSA General Assembly Meeting concernin same-sex marriage.
- G6-0106b the “Fidelity and Chastity” requirement was added in the 1990’s, defended in 2001-2002 and then removed in 2010 by a vote of the General Assembly which was ratified by a majority of presbyteries in 2011
- In the meantime, benefits were extended to same-sex partners of those in the Presbyterian Board of Pensions medical plan.
- The 2012 GA upheld one man/one woman marriage but it was a heated battle
- The 2014 GA issued an Authoritative Interpretation of the constitution (AI) stripping the Book of Order of its meaning and then a majority of presbyteries voted to affirm same sex marriage in PCUSA churches by PCUSA ministers, ratifying the amendment 14F sent by the GA.
- Since then a gay marriage has been performed in the chapel of the denomination’s headquarters building in Louisville and a married gay man how heads the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
- This GA will address overtures ranging from reversing 14F to apologizing to the LGBTQQ community for having ever barred them from full inclusion, leadership and marriage equality (Overture 50).
25. Why were the phrases “chastity in singleness” and “fidelity in marriage” removed from the Book of Church Order? Sexual immorality is mentioned many times in the Bible. What is the PCUSA’s definition of that term, and what is an example ?
The question of what the PCUSA would currently define as sexual immorality is open. The best I can do here is share with a few examples of people in ordained leadership in the PCUSA who would not have qualified under the “fidelity and chastity” clause:
- Alex McNeill, transgendered man and head of More Light Presbyterians
- Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, self described “trans*gressive gendeerqueer,” and utilizes third person plural pronouns to talk about themself” They is a visiting professor of Ethics at the Pacific School of Religion.
26. If we want to stay together as a church but some want to stay in the PCUSA and others do not, how do we emerge from this as a unified body, one church?
No matter what happens, some people are going to leave and your pastor may be one of them. If you vote to seek dismissal, some will leave to continue as members of a PCUSA church elsewhere. If you vote not to seek dismissal, some will leave because, in good conscience, they can no longer remain members of the PCUSA.
27. Is there any way to stay in the PCUSA without contributing money to the General Assembly and without following them in their non biblical beliefs?
You can withhold or re-direct your per capita and you can simply not send any mission dollars upstream but as long as you’re in the PCUSA you’re subject to their authority and you are a collective part of their witness. Ordination is an act of the whole church so every time that an LGBTQ person is ordained in the PCUSA, you are implicitly participating. Which for me is like knowing living out Romans 1. Which is why I asked my presbytery to remove me from the ordered ministry and set aside my ordination in 2011.
28. When the members of the presbytery PRT or GDC or AC respond to the questions of our church’s discernment team, session and congregation, will the answers be truthful or will they be slanted more toward what the denomination’s preferred outcome, telling us what they want us to hear and believe?
Expect spin – from everyone. Check the facts. Read the links. This is all very public and nationally they’re quite proud of themselves so they post stuff on the PCUSA sites all the time. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, they’ve forgotten how to blush.