Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How divided are we?

At last summer's General Assembly, amendments to the PCA's Book of Church Order were passed through the first round of approval (by a required -majority vote), which means that those amendments are before the individual presbyteries for vote of approval in order to continue to pass. (They must be approved similarly by ⅔ of all presbyteries, and with a ⅔-majority vote, in order to come before the Assembly again in 2011 for another vote of that court.)

As the individual presbyteries have voted, the tallies and results have been reported by various sources, and one thing stands out as a surprising aspect: the number of presbyteries that are fairly absolute in their decisions.

Here's what I mean: it seems like about a third of the presbyteries in the PCA are divided somewhat evenly about the issues at hand. It may be that the body is almost exactly split-- in which case there is not a sufficient majority to pass the amendments. Or it may be that the minority view (on whichever side it falls, for or against) is still a relatively substantial number. But approximately one third of our presbyteries have some adequate representation of each side.

But the remainder of the presbyteries show decided uniformity. In these cases, there may be only two or three votes that differ from the majority, regardless of whether the majority is for or against the amendments.

The issue of these amendments is not the point; there are strong and loud voices that declaim them as ill-advised, unconstitutional, or even the first step toward liberalism, but there is hardly uniform agreement across the PCA that any of these are accurate assessments. Indeed, when the votes are tallied (both at the assembly and presbytery levels) it is clear that the majority and the minority are not far from one another, percentage-wise.

And yet, somehow, half or more of our presbyteries don't demonstrate this diversity at all. How can it be that so few members of presbytery disagree with the majority on an issue like this, in so many cases?

By way of analogy (somewhat weak), imagine this: how surprised would you be to find that, in the next Presidential election, not only did a candidate carry a state strongly, but that out of 4 million voters in a particular state, only 3% did NOT vote for that candidate? Now imagine this: what if the results were similar in 34 of the 50 states? Now imagine that, in spite of that, the results were still "too close to call" to declare a simple majority?

I think if that were to happen, we might note two things: first, that we are a very divided nation. Without a doubt, such a split vote is indicative of severe lack of agreement on political issues.

But second, we should also note how surprising it is that the states (in the case of my analogy) are so uniform in their opinions. In fact, if it were as stark as I suggest above, we might wonder whether, in any given state, people who "aren't like us" are welcome. And we might conclude that the answer may well be, "no."

I think we might rightly wonder the same thing about the PCA. How can it be that so many presbyteries are so uniform in their voting trends, and yet every indication is that the denomination is generally split over whether these amendments are good or bad?

The only reason I can think of is that elders who don't think "like us" are simply not welcomed into presbyteries. And that's troubling to me, because frankly I know my own sin enough to know that I don't want a presbytery full of guys who think like me. I need those who differ, because the differences are what keep us in check and accountable to one another. In fact, I would argue that this is the real beauty of the presbyterian form of church government: unity amongst diversity. (Remember, there is a big difference between unity and uniformity.)

Which begs the question: are we losing something vital in the PCA by allowing this kind of uniformity to pervade?

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