Saturday, July 3, 2010
The most important issue at General Assembly Changing the Form of Government
The most important issue for the 2010 General Assembly is the Form of Government report. I find our current Form of Government (the first of three parts of the Book of Order) to be cumbersome, regulatory, and much too large. It operates as a Manual of Operations instead of a guiding sense of constitutional principles. Any policy that moves our Form of Government from a Manual of Operations into a guiding sense of constitutional principles will serve our denomination well.
My friend and colleague, Neal Lloyd has done a marvelous job of sharing the rationale for changing the Form of Government. His blog can be found here: http://lloydspolityplow.blogspot.com/
Our current Form of Government is too easily changed and too frequently debated. We have made a great mistake of turning the idea of being Presbyterian into a regulatory system called the Form of Government.
I am Presbyterian because we are a denomination where pastors and elders work together to lead our governing bodies; I am Presbyterian because we believe that God alone is Lord of the conscience—we don’t tell people to think a particular way in order to be a Presbyterian; I am Presbyterian because we support women pastors and elders; I am Presbyterian because of our history of opposing racial discrimination, war, and our advocacy for the poor; I am Presbyterian because when operating well we have a fluid form of government where power moves both up and down; I am Presbyterian because we have a wonderful record of starting schools and hospitals and are committed to public education; I am Presbyterian because of our commitment to overseas missions and missionaries. I am Presbyterian because we can combine the best of our conservative traditions (prayer, Bible Study, worship) with the best of our liberal traditions (involvement in the community, social justice, advocacy for the poor and the earth).
I am not a Presbyterian because of the Form of Government. I would go as far to say that I am a Presbyterian despite our Form of Government. I follow it, but am not energized to be Presbyterian because of it.
I would like to say that I am a Presbyterian because of our Form of Government and our Book of Order.
During my 17 year tenure as a pastor I have had many people ask me what it means to be a Presbyterian. Before I grew wiser, I used to give people a copy of the Book of Order and asked them to read it. I never had a person come back to me and say they were clearer about being a Presbyterian because of the Book of Order.
As a New Church Development pastor I would love to give people a copy of the Book of Order that contains a Form of Government which is short, concise, and shares certain constitutional principles that are essential to who we are as Presbyterians.
One reason the United States has survived and thrived as a country for over two hundred years is the strength of our constitution. The constitution sets forth a set of principles that governs our nation. The constitution can be changed, but it rarely is. Any change must go through a very rigorous process. Recently deceased Senator, Robert Byrd reportedly carried a copy of the constitution in his shirt pocket.
If our country can have a constitution that is carried in a person’s shirt pocket, why can’t the Presbyterian Church do the same?
I encourage this General Assembly to change our Form of Government so that it becomes a set of constitutional principles, one that could be carried in my back pocket, if not my shirt pocket.
I would like to be able to say that I am a Presbyterian because of our Form of Government and our Book of Order. The General Assembly can make a very important step in that direction, a step that could have an impact on future Presbyterians for generations to come.