The Vision Driving the High Cost of Dismissal from the PCUSA

How is it that teaching and ruling elders, who in some cases have known and worked with Crestwood elders for decades, can remain silent and participate in foisting such a crippling financial burden on those they call “brothers and sisters in Christ?”

POJ representatives have a vision of God and humanity that is fundamentally different from the vision embraced by Crestwood’s session.  The struggle between these two visions drove Crestwood’s dismissal process, and likewise is driving the ultimate demise of the PCUSA.  Sessions contemplating dismissal or already in the dismissal process can benefit by understanding the nature of the competing visions and their ensuing spiritual and practical consequences.

 

Churches paying big bucks to get out of the PCUSA” was The Layman’s October 28, 2015 headline story.  Crestwood Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia wasn’t mentioned in the article, because the dismissal terms of $1.5 million were not yet agreed to by Crestwood’s session and representatives of the Presbytery of the James (POJ) at the time of publication.  Today the terms are finalized, having received approval by Crestwood’s congregation and the POJ.  This million-plus settlement amount makes Crestwood, a congregation of about 800, one of the highest per capita settlements in the nation.

Crestwood’s dismissal from the POJ stretched over three years, and involved 19 months of contentious negotiation with two presbytery bodies; first an Administrative Commission (AC) and when those negotiations failed, the Board of Trustees.  Crestwood detailed for these 18 POJ representatives the crushing impact a million dollar plus settlement would have on evangelism, missions, and ministry.  Yet throughout the lengthy dismissal process not one of these POJ representatives stood up for Crestwood or advocated for the people served by our outreach and mission programs.  How is it that teaching and ruling elders, who in some cases have known and worked with Crestwood elders for decades, can remain silent and participate in foisting such a crippling financial burden on those they call “brothers and sisters in Christ?”  The answer is that the POJ representatives have a vision of God and humanity that is fundamentally different from the vision embraced by Crestwood’s session.  The struggle between these two visions drove Crestwood’s dismissal process, and likewise is driving the ultimate demise of the PCUSA.  Sessions contemplating dismissal or already in the dismissal process can benefit by understanding the nature of the competing visions and their ensuing spiritual and practical consequences.

 Unconstrained vs. Constrained

Thomas Sowell in his book, A Conflict of Visions, observed that people are guided by one of two visions, and regardless of the issue, people are going to line up on sides based upon their vision.  He termed the two visions “unconstrained” and “constrained.”  People subscribing to an unconstrained vision of life generally believe that a goodness exists in human nature, and with the right policies, doctrine, and systems in place goodness can flourish.  The unconstrained vision relies upon an ever increasing understanding of nature based on science, and therefore, developments in environmental science, genetics, and medicine (particularly neuroscience) that result in a deeper understanding of nature and the human make-up are in turn used to shape, influence, and design more informed policies, doctrines, and systems.  These improved policies, doctrines, and systems, according to an unconstrained vision, bring enlightenment and can unlock the inherent goodness in humans.  Thus, redefining marriage from the definition that is as old as civilization itself to a new definition is a great advancement to unconstrained individuals.  They are simply relying upon the latest thinking to unlock human potential and happiness.  Those who oppose them are simply unwilling to incorporate new knowledge and understanding, and therefore, they cling to outdated ideas of faith, piety, and order.

Individuals fitting Sowell’s constrained vision hold that human nature is inherently self-interested and motived by base intentions that seek advantage over others.  People in the constrained camp believe that no amount of scientific information or understanding is going to alter human character.  In fact, the constrained look at scientific findings cited by the unconstrained, but interpret those findings as having no new revelations about the inherent character, i.e., soul, of humans.  The constrained subscribe to an understanding that the base motives of human nature must be controlled and guided by timeless policies, doctrines, and systems that do not change, i.e., scripture, because human nature does not change.

The true divide that separated the POJ representatives and the Crestwood session was therefore not single issues such revised ordination standards, redefining marriage, or the role and authority of scripture.  These were merely symptoms of the deeper divide between the constrained and unconstrained visions, which goes right to the heart of our understanding of Creation that in turn defines who we are, what we are, and who God is.  Therefore, the starting point for how unconstrained and constrained individuals view the world is fundamentally different and, not surprisingly, different starting points lead individuals down dramatically different paths.  These differences produce colliding worldviews.  These are not just different ways of looking at issues, but fundamentally different ways of viewing life and the world in which we live.

Enlightenment vs. Judgment

The first question posed to anyone wishing to join a PCUSA congregation is – stating it roughly – are we hopeless sinners or not?  Those in the constrained camp of the PCUSA immediately say yes, while those counted among the PCUSA’s unconstrained cannot fully in their hearts voice affirmation.  This divide is huge, and it very much separates the two sides of the negotiating table in the way presbytery representatives view the departing congregation.  The unconstrained individual believes those in the departing congregation are simply unenlightened.  If they would just open their eyes, they would see that enlightenment happens all around them.  And, God doesn’t have to be absent from this view, because God can provide enlightenment through a new, better interpretation of scripture based on the latest scientific findings.

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