For you non-Presbyterians out there, the Fellowship of Presbyterians is a community created in 2011 of Presbyterians who have ongoing concerns about the theology and vision of our denomination – the Presbyterian Church USA. Some FOP churches have left the PCUSA to form a new reformed denomination called the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians. Some will perhaps leave in the future. And others plan to stay in the PCUSA but self-identify as part of this special community.
I attended the first gathering of the Fellowship of Presbyterians last August, and I continue to meet with friends who are active in the FOP. Some are discerning the future of their congregations in light of the recent actions of the 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh earlier this month. For example, the issue of changing the constitutional definition of marriage from being between “one man and one woman” to between “two people” was introduced for the first time. The overture failed, but it was so close ( 58% against, 42% for) that it seems to be just a matter of time until such a change comes. The youngest delegates, who were merely “advising” the commissioners overwhelmingly passed the changed definition. 82% of the Theological Student Delegates approved the change and 75% of the Young Adult Delegates approved.
Many Fellowship of Presbyterian congregations will take action accordingly.
I once asked a friend who is an FOP member if I could sign the covenant and join because, honestly, the Stated Values move and inspire me. They are:
- A Jesus-Shaped Identify (love that),
- Biblical Integrity (absolutely),
- Thoughtful Theology (yes, yes, yes),
- Accountable Community (totally on board with this),
- Egalitarian Ministry (God calls women, men, and all ethnic groups),
- Missional Centrality (a must-have),
- Center-focused Spirituality (definitely – our core beliefs must be clear and articulated)
- Leadership Velocity (excellent term; I crave leadership that’s risk-taking, innovative, and organic)
- Kingdom Vitality (yes, the Reign of God starts here and now.)
These values capture everything I long for in the institutional church. Well, almost everything.
My friend told me that I could not sign up to join the FOP because I also believe that:
- An identity shaped by Jesus involves doing what Jesus did: include people on the boundaries.
- Biblical integrity includes admitting that none of us actually takes the Bible literally. We pick and choose which passages we like (Leviticus 18:22) and which we write off as culturally dated (Leviticus 18:19.) The Bible is infallible in that it always and eternally points to the truth. But we haven’t learned everything about the culture in which the scripture was written and we are working with ancient languages, scrolls, and codices. And God is still speaking as we interpret Holy Scripture.
- Thoughtful theology involves grappling with difficult matters recognizing that none of us has cornered the market on Truth.
- Accountability is key, but we won’t take this accountability seriously unless we trust each other. I expect my colleagues to call me on things. I am also committed to call them on their behavior as well. And I am really tired of sexual misconduct.
- Egalitarian ministry is about unleashing the gifts God has given to all people, not just the ones who make us comfortable. A sovereign God gets to call whomever God wishes to call. And I believe that sometimes God calls GLBTQ people to high levels of service.
- To be a missional church, we need to address what’s breaking God’s heart in our neighborhoods and beyond. I believe it breaks God’s heart that we live in a world where GLBTQ kids – or any kids – want to hurt themselves, often because people have told them they are not loved by their Creator.
- The most central core of our faith involves the grace of God through Jesus Christ and grace abounds for all of us, in spite of our mutual depravity.
- Again, I love this term “leadership velocity” and God deserves our best in leadership. Not to repeat myself, but some of the most excellent and Spirit-filled leaders I know in the church happen to be gay.
- We glimpse the Kingdom when we can be the church even with those with whom we disagree.
Thirteen congregations left the PCUSA for the ECO on a single weekend in June and others will also leave. These churches need to do what they need to do. But they are still my sisters and brothers in Christ, and we agree that the church really, really needs Leadership Velocity, and more. We just disagree on who those leaders might be. (And more.)