Wednesday, October 1, 2008

An Important Exchange

The conversation below was undertaken as commentary to the Declaration but we considered it important enough to give it is own post. Have a nice read!

Anonymous said...
Some questions about the "Open Declaration" have been rolling around in my mind for a while and I woke up with it on my mind, so I decided it was time to ask them. I presume this will be a typical majority rules vote. But this seems to be an all or nothing document, right? If it passes, I guess my question is, how will this "Open Declaration" affect the minority who vote against it? It could be that 49% of pastors disagree and yet lose the vote; do you expect an exodus of pastors who do not want to be a part of BBP anymore? And for sessions that do not want to sign on to this--what is their course of action? Would they align themselves with another presbytery?If it passes and some sort of repercussions are handed down from the General Assembly, they will be handed down on the entire presbytery, right--even those who may have voted against it? How would the presbytery deal with that? I look forward to your response to these questions! Thanks
September 30, 2008 10:57 PM
Toby Brown said...
Anon,That is a great question. You have pointed out one of the flaws (?) of our system--majority rules.As I'm sure you are well aware, we could switch the question you pose onto a variety of other topics other than this Declaration: Local Option, Gay Ordination, Abortion, Per Capita, Property, etc. ANY issue can be foisted upon the minority in a simple majority vote of a GA, Synod, Presbytery or Session. In fact, our own history shows that denominations can split in just this way--as we did in 1861 as just one example.Majority rules is our rule, our blessing and our challenge.The alternative?I have yet to hear of a better one, but I know the flaws of our system, as I've lost many votes in my time!I will enjoy reading the responses of Pat and Rusty.
October 1, 2008 7:16 AM
Pat McElroy said...
Dear Anonymous,
As Toby said, you raise some important issues. Clearly these are concerns that need to be addressed. Rusty and I have discussed them and we have some thoughts to offer.You write: “I presume this will be a typical majority rules vote. But this seems to be an all or nothing document, right? If it passes, I guess my question is, how will this "Open Declaration" affect the minority who vote against it?” Your assumption of this being a “typical majority rules vote” is our assumption as well. Your assumption of this being an “all or nothing document”… we might contest your wording there. Regardless, we understand what you mean by that. It is a demonstrably clear statement where there is little room for compromise. That’s intentional. We understand that we are asking the Presbytery to make that statement and that some will be uncomfortable with its clarity and the potential consequences.

You ask: “How will this affect the minority who vote against it?” That is anyone’s guess as the answer depends upon how the denomination chooses to respond to our call. We have no idea, though we can list some possible outcomes, of what that response might be. As you rightly point out though, since we are asking that this be an action of the Presbytery, any consequences would be levied against the Presbytery as a whole. The Presbytery will have to prayerfully discern if the situation in which we find ourselves as a result of the 218th General Assembly is as grave as we believe it to be and if the benefits of addressing the issues by this means outweigh the potential consequences. We believe it to be so. Whether the Presbytery agrees or not remains to be seen. So, in one sense, the answer to your question is that the consequences will be the same for all of us, whether we voted in the majority or the minority, regardless of how large that minority may be. That is our polity.

You raise the possibility of the minority vote being as large as 49%. That is certainly possible though we hope and believe that the declaration has broader support in Beaver-Butler Presbytery than that. As you rightly point out, a possible significant minority raises some concerns. We would argue that even a small minority vote would raise some concerns. We have no intention of “pushing people out” nor do we expect an exodus. We will certainly not lead one. In fact, an exodus is exactly what we are trying to prevent by making this statement in the first place. It is our hope that through this proclamation the Church will recognize its folly and return to its Shepherd en masse. Our hope is to galvanize and unite the Church, not divide it.

That said, we recognize that with a statement of this magnitude there is potential for division in the body. We believe the potential benefit of unity in our confession outweighs the fear of the possibility of division. We hope for and stand in our ordination vows to promote the peace, unity and purity of the Church. We believe this to be the best means of restoring all three.

Perhaps the best way forward with your question, since we are advocating constitutional adherence, is to ask another question: What options does a minister or Session have in the case of disagreement with a majority vote? There is the constitutional option of registering formal dissent with the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery while still submitting to the will of the majority. If there is formal action from a higher governing body, perhaps that higher governing body would take into account the difference between the majority congregations, Sessions, and Pastors who favored this stand and could choose to embrace the minority who voted against it. We could speculate about what that might entail or how it might develop. Ultimately though, that is in the hands of the upper governing bodies as to whether or not they act and how they choose to do so. Regardless, the possibility remains that those who disagree could formally register themselves as having done so with the Stated Clerk and potentially avoid certain consequences.

Hopes, intentions, and aspirations aside, we do recognize that there is a possibility of division within the Presbytery. In an extreme case, where division is initiated by an upper governing body in a formal disciplinary action, it is our estimation that those who voted in the affirmative would be the group “facing the music” (so to speak), while those opposed would likely be labeled a “remnant” by the upper governing body and be reconstituted as “the Beaver-Butler Presbytery”. We have seen this scenario play out the Episcopal Church with the diocese of San Joaquin and will likely soon see in the diocese of Pittsburgh. The possibility also exists that the minority could be folded into a neighboring Presbytery. We believe the potential for the latter would increase as the size of the minority decreases. Obviously we hope for a better outcome than this but we recognize that this is a political possibility. In fact, we would call this a “worst case scenario”.

Let us be clear on this score though: we will NOT initiate division. We will stand. It has never been our intent to initiate division and we will not do so. If an upper governing body chooses to initiate division, we have little control over their actions. All we can do is stand as we have said we would do.

Just how bad is this potential “worst case scenario”? Certainly it would profoundly sadden us and others on both sides to have to endure this kind of an outcome. In our estimation, it is worth the risk and might actually be better for both sides of this argument if the upper governing bodies prove to be that aggressively divisive. Negotiations would likely commence over property in this scenario. We could speculate as to what form those negotiations might take but that would be fruitless at this point. What we do know is this: our stand is upon Christ Jesus for His Gospel. Anything else that we might count as gain is actually loss compared to this. We believe this worst case scenario to be a small price to pay compared to the rich blessings of standing for the truth of the Gospel in our time and place. We are convinced that this is a matter of eternal health for the body. This is our primary concern. We love people on both sides of this issue and want to see them healthy and secure. At the same time, we hope to avoid divisive scenarios and we will advocate against them. Regardless, God’s will be done and may He strengthen us for whatever may come.

In Christ


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