Voices Staying PCUSA

“I want to say right off the bat that I do not believe leaving the PC(USA) is the only faithful option”
– The Reverend Dr. Dana Allin, ECO’s Synod Executive, presentation made to Los Ranchos Presbytery, Spring 2013

I have known our denomination long enough, and wide enough, to recognize the perspective of the PC(USA) being shared by those who advocate leaving is often one sided and does not fully or fairly represent the denomination.  

There are many voices in our denomination however who are staying in the PC(USA) and are able to share a different perspective with you.  I’ve gathered a few of them together here, in one place, to tell you why they are staying in the PC(USA).  Some of them are considered progressive voices, some of them are considered moderate to conservative evangelical voices.  Some are well known in our denomination, others are not.

 They are all worth listening to.

The Reverend Dr. Steve Yamaguchi, Dean of Students, Fuller Theological Seminary
Steve spoke at Trinity United Presbyterian Church, Santa Ana, CA in May 2013 when he was the Presbytery Pastor in Los Ranchos Presbytery about why he is staying in the PC(USA).

“Friends, if the PC(USA) was burning down I would leave, after helping everyone exit safely, I would go.  But it’s not, and that is why I’m staying.”

“I’m staying because there are good things happening.  God is at work…I want to challenge this generation at Trinity to take a stand and make a difference, do not flee, but stand and make a difference.  Doug asked me to tell you basically, ‘Steve, why would you stay?’ I want to ask, why would I leave?  When I, and together we, finally have the opportunity to make such an impact for our Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, not only on our denomination but on the whole church.  Friends, I’ve never been more excited about the possibilities open to us in the PC(USA) so why would I leave?  When through scripture I hear Jesus calling to us stay, plant, work for my kingdom, make a difference for me.”

The Reverend Eric Peterson, Pastor, Colbert Presbyterian Church, Colbert, WA
In a blog post titled “Utopia Eluded…Again,” posted on StayPCUSA.com, Eric wrote,

“I would no sooner leave the Presbyterian Church than I would relinquish my citizenship of the United States of America. It’s not a perfect church any more than ours is a perfect country. But like other denominations it belongs to God, and it is sufficient as a vehicle for the Word of God to transform the world.  It may not be an ideal church, but it is a good place, and an altogether suitable environment for me to honor my vocation. For better and for worse, for the remainder of my baptism, it is my place.”

Twenty-Four Former Moderators of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
Twenty-four former moderators of the PC(USA) General Assembly wrote a letter after 10-A passed, pleading our denomination to “move forward as a unified and missional expression of the Body of Christ.”  Only one former moderator declined to sign the letter.

“As those who have been privileged to serve as elected leaders of our denomination, we represent a spectrum of opinion about the wisdom and faithfulness of this change in our ordination standards. Some of us have worked and prayed for this change to happen, and some of us have worked and prayed that the current wording in the Book of Order would hold firm. But all of us fervently hope that the church will move forward as a unified and missional expression of the Body of Christ.

…We believe that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) needs the voices and gifts of all of us, whether we agree with Amendment 10-A or not.  Our unity is strengthened by our diversity, and vigorous debate as well as mutual forbearance is essential to the body.

The Reverend Dr. Mark Labberton, President, Fuller Theological Seminary
Fuller Seminary president calls Presbyterians to live faithfully as exiles” published online by The Layman, June 18, 2014

Labberton said, “I’m not going to ECO because I don’t see any seam that separates us in any way.” Continuing he said, “We are part of the same social reality.” The question Labberton would have Presbyterians and all Christians ask is how can I live as a peculiar person in Christ “whatever house I happen to dwell in?” All of the things that separate us “are real,” Labberton acknowledged, but then added, “but what’s more real is living unhooked from the mesmerizing rhythms of our” preferred partisan idolatry.

“The greater danger is the idolatry, not the fire,” he repeated.

The Reverend Dr. Tom Erickson, Honorably Retired, Interim Pastor Tustin Presbyterian Church 
Tom wrote “Why I’m Staying in the PCUSA.”  Here is how he concludes his reasons.

“I choose to remain in the PC(USA) in answer to our Lord’s prayer in John 17: 20-21: I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…so that the world may believe that you have sent me. How many have turned away from Christ because of our manifold divisions? I choose not to perpetuate those divisions in order not to damage further our witness to the world. Rather, as a faithful member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), I will reach out in love and cooperation to all who believe in the one whom God sent, Jesus Christ our Lord, including those who are leaving our denomination. I will miss them when they leave, but I will not join them. In obedience to our Lord’s prayer for unity, I choose to stay in the Presbyterian Church (USA).”

Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
Bruce wrote the “Top 10 Reasons Bruce Will Stay Presbyterian” on his blog.  Here is a summary of his reasons.

  1. Because of what I believe
  2. Because there is no “There” there
  3. Because corporate submission and rugged individuality need one another
  4. Because fluid tradition matters
  5. Because others have been there for me
  6. Because like minds do not a growing faith make
  7. Because the universe does not revolve around me
  8. Because this is still a beloved family
  9. Because my Sisters are welcome
  10. Because . . . // Sometimes, you just know . . . ya know?

The Reverend Dr. Paul Detterman, National Director, The Fellowship Community
The journey ahead of us: Some thoughts from an evangelical remaining in the PCUSA”  published online by The Presbyterian Outlook, June 28, 2014

As the people of God—apprentices of Christ, traditionalists and progressives alike are equally out of practice when it comes to the rigors of a resilient spiritual life.  We have defaulted to a self-sustained, Americanized discipleship which can quickly fade under the slightest challenge.  We need to identify the common core of faith and practice and build a community of accountability and nurture that will challenge us to live differently.  We need to remain unflinchingly clear about the beliefs and practices that define theological and biblical integrity—something evangelicals are free to do in the PC(USA).  We need to learn how to not compromise that integrity.  Then, we who claim to understand the transforming power of the good news, need to reach as far as we can into the culture around us with the grace and love of Jesus Christ that we not only believe but embody.

Evangelicals remaining in the PC(USA)?  Oh yeah!  We’re natives of this denomination!  Look beyond the landmarks to the people we can impact by being resilient, and hope-filled apprentices of Jesus—theological entrepreneurs.  Perhaps this one person’s perspective might begin to change yours?

The Reverend Dr. James Currie, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, TX
Jim understands the church will never be perfect or even, for the most part, agreeable. And yet, at the same time, the church is God’s representative, God’s ambassador of grace in and to the world.  In “Some Theological Thoughts on Why Stay in the PC(USA)” Jim writes,

“We are called to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. We are not called to agree on everything.”

The Reverend Dr. Jack Haberer, Previous Editor of The Presbyterian Outlook

“I’m not so loyal to the PC(USA) that I wouldn’t leave, if the kind of things that are said about us with not having the authority of scripture and said about us about Jesus Christ not being unique, if those were the case I’d be gone already…my loyalty is to Jesus Christ and to God as revealed as the Trinity and as presented to us through scripture.  I’m married to that.”

The Reverend Dr.Ted Wardlaw, President, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, Texas
Presentation made at FOR UNITI meeting at First Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX September 24, 2013.

“I’ve heard it said that Presbyterians are on the verge of voting to decide whether or not Jesus Christ is really Lord.  I want you to know that I have never heard that rumour, and I don’t believe it is true, and if it were ever to happen I would leave the church.  That’s the only reason I will leave our church, that we decide to stop proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord.  If anybody tells you that is an idea stirring in the life of our church you tell them that is wrong.”

“Believe me, across my thirty five years of ordained ministry I have lost a lot of votes, but I have never, ever assumed that therefore I should leave the church.”

The Reverend Dr. Paul Hooker, Director of Ministerial Formation and Advanced Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, Texas
Presentation made at FOR UNITI meeting at First Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX September 24, 2013.

“Unity is about our common belonging to Jesus Christ, not about our agreement with one another, it is undermined never by our disagreement, but only by the loss of our Lordship in Christ.”

Joe Small, one of the three principal writers of ECO’s “Essential Tenets & Confessional Standards” and former Director of Theology, Worship and Education Ministries for the PC(USA)’s General Assembly Mission Council
An Open Letter, December 12, 2011

“For my part, I will surely remain a part of the church that brought me to faith. Long ago I learned from John Calvin that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is my mother in the Faith, and that I must remain under her care and guidance. As a child of the church I do not always agree with my parent; I am embarrassed from time to time, and occasionally angry. But the church remains my nurturing parent and I remain its thankful child. I grieve estrangement from any of my sisters and brothers. I will try to remain as close to all of them as possible, and I will hope for the day of family reunion.”

The Reverend Dr. Jerry Andrews, one of the three principal writers of ECO’s “Essential Tenets & Confessional Standards” and Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, San Diego, CA
“Essential Tenets” presentation made to Los Ranchos Presbytery, February 28, 2013.

While Jerry understands the desire of some to leave the denomination, he is going to stay PC(USA).

“Joe Small and I have never in the length of our ministry given more than five seconds thought to being in a fellowship other than the PC(USA).”

The Reverend Dr. Jerry Tankersley, Pastor, Laguna Presbyterian Church, Laguna Beach, CA
Jerry gave four reasons why he is staying in the PC(USA) in a Paper Presented to Trinity United Presbyterian Church on September 29, 2013

  1. First, why stay in the PCUSA? Because there are important biblical and theological reasons to remain in this part of the Reformed body.
  2. Secondly, why stay in the PCUSA? Because we promised in our ordination vows to remain faithful to the covenant with God and our covenant as the people of God.
  3. Thirdly, why stay in the PCUSA? Because the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ, have never been perfect.
  4. Fourthly, why stay in the PCUSA? We need to stay for the sake of God’s mission in our broken and wounded world.

“When I heard that Trinity was one of the congregations seeking dismissal from LRP,  I  felt the loss and realized that our presbytery life and mission would never again be the same if you left.”

Dr. Barbara Wheeler, retired president of Auburn Seminary
Why the Liberal Church Needs the Evangelical Church,” Sojourners, February 2004

“We could skip the split. We Presbyterians, who share so much—a confession of faith, a rich theological heritage, the advantages and the burdens of wealth and social power—could covenant to stay together in our reformed relations, to labor with each other, in love, for justice and truth. It would be very arduous and painful, much more so than splitting or drifting apart. It would be worth it. The world would take note of what the gospel makes possible for those who confess their dis-ease with each other and their displacement by each other but still keep on going, strangers locked in covenant, toward the better country of diversity and harmony, liberty and love.”

Dr. Richard Mouw, retired president of Fuller Theological Seminary
Why the Evangelical Church Needs the Liberal Church,” Sojourners, February 2004

“I genuinely believe that a Presbyterian split would be a serious setback for the cause that I care deeply about, namely, the cause of Reformed orthodoxy. I spend a lot of time thinking about how people with my kind of theology have acted in the past, and I am convinced that splits inevitably diminish the influence of the kind of orthodoxy that I cherish, for at least two reasons.

First, the denomination from which the dissidents depart is typically left without strong voices who are defending their understanding of orthodoxy…

The second way in which the cause of Reformed orthodoxy was diminished has to do with what happened to the conservatives themselves after they left the mainline denomination. They quickly began to argue among themselves, and it was not long before new splits occurred in their ranks. The result was that conservative Calvinism itself increasingly became a fractured movement.

I worry much about what would happen to Presbyterian evangelicals ourselves if we were to leave the PC(USA). When we evangelical types don’t have more liberal people to argue with, we tend to start arguing with each other. I would much rather see us continue to focus on the major issues of Reformed thought in an admittedly pluralistic denomination than to deal with the tensions that often arise among ourselves when evangelicals get into the debates that seem inevitably to arise when we have established our own “pure” denominations.”

The Reverend Joshua Bower, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church in Whiteville, NC
In a blog post titled “I’m Staying Because God Called Me Here,” posted on StayPCUSA.com, Josh wrote,

“I’m staying in the  PC(USA) because God put me here and called me to be a pastor here, faithfully serving him and his people…Beyond the denominational question, there is the pastoral one. I serve a church of about 200 in southeastern North Carolina. When I stand in the pulpit on Sunday mornings, I stare back at a group that includes both fundamentalists and folks who question the authenticity of the Bible. Rabid conservatives sit alongside hardline liberals. In the back there’s a couple who refuse to join because they don’t want a dime of their tithe to support the PC(USA) and down front is the man who gets tears in his eyes whenever he talks about what the PC(USA) means to him.

We’re as diverse theologically as it gets, but somehow it works.”

Let’s #StayPCUSA together.