I am neither a minister nor an elder. I don’t have a Ph.D or the title of YAR. I am a Canadian who came to accept Christ as an adult; I became a Presbyterian intentionally. God literally led me to the Presbyterian Church, of which I am still a member. I was not researching Presbyterian churches. Holding many orthodox views, small “o”, I land solidly on the Traditionalist “side” of the “debate” that has rocked The Presbyterian Church in Canada to its foundations.
Two of many repeated themes of the PCC’s General Assembly 2021 were:
1) Revisionists want Traditionalists in the PCC; they want the diversity and debate.
2) The Traditionalists feel like they are actively being ignored and so ultimately silenced.
How can these two sentiments both be true? At the end of the final sederunt of the GA 2021, two students of different theological colleges spoke of their experience at GA 2021 and their experiences related to their theological positions in general. They might as well have been describing parallel universes. The disparate lived experiences of these two students not only summarize GA 2021 so succinctly but also bring to mind the PCC’s newly changed definition of marriage for the church, formerly known as Remit ‘B’: “The Presbyterian Church in Canada holds two parallel definitions of marriage and recognizes that faithful, Holy Spirit filled, Christ centred, God honouring people can understand marriage as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman or as a covenant relationship between two adult persons.”
How can these parallel definitions be true at the same time? Note the word “parallel.” The creators of this definition were well aware that these two positions do not intersect. However, in concentrating exclusively on the new definition itself we lose sight of the absolutely brutal conditions under which the remits were created. These Remits were crafted during GA 2019, “after hours” so to speak — a desperate response to keep the PCC from schism. The Traditionalists felt forced out of their denomination. The historical position of the church had just been voted directly into the opposite posture. If people feel they are being forced out, their actions will be desperate and the responses to such actions will be equally reactive. Read: exit logic and grace.
A shattering of the PCC as we know it is what the “Breakfast club/Remit creators” were trying to avoid as that reality was already in process. Let’s give credit where credit is due — they succeeded in stopping The End in 2019. Yes, I hear you, there is the underlying recent history of GA 2017 (and the decades that led up to it) that culminated in GA 2019 and the events of that same year. All of that led to where we all are today; emotions have been raw for a long time . . .
Yet there are those in the PCC who hold Revisionist theological views who really do want the Traditionalists to remain part of the PCC. I know because the minister of the church of which I am still a member is one such person. As a result of my (never ending) questions and the issues with which the PCC was grappling in 2017 we found out that our theological positions largely do not overlap. This same minister taught me the terms Revisionist and Traditionalist (and the actual meaning of Traditional and Contemporary in regards to Worship). After discovering that our personal theological positions differ, she did not make me feel as though she was merely tolerating my presence in “her” church. At an individual level there are people, Revisionists, who accept Traditionalists in the PCC. However . . . at the national level I am not sure the sentiment rises to an even begrudging tolerance.
At the national level in the PCC that this random Presbyterian nobody has been able to witness through watching the GAs online (GA 2017, GA 2019, GA 2021) the overriding feeling of being actively ignored and silenced is what dominates. These feelings are why it is so critical to have all of the sederunts of the GAs openly available, unedited, on the PCC’s YouTube channel or on the official PCC website. If such conclusions have been formulated — as a result of “bad optics,” an inaccurate understanding of a speaker’s intent, or just unrelated actions that have followed one another in a sequence that unfortunately seem to create an unintended “narrative” of “would you just SIT DOWN and SHUT UP” isn’t what is actually meant — then history can be reviewed as dispassionately as possible through the objective lens of an unedited camera that has been running for the last eight hours.
There is no “emergency after hours breakfast club” team meeting post GA 2021.
The idea that the Holy Spirit will convert all of the Traditionalists to the Revisionist perspective in the coming year is not realistic. Did the Holy Spirit convert the Revisionists to the Traditionalist perspective in all the years that have led up to this moment?
Saying the words “Gracious Dismissal” seems like defeat to many. I completely understand that. Back in 2019, Option ‘C’ (three separate theological “streams” or bodies within the PCC) was not something that sounded appealing to me either. But I will state the unstated obvious point: the PCC already is now operating under different theological “streams.” Holding “two parallel definitions” for one definition means that The Presbyterian Church in Canada is now, in practice, a church that has different theological streams. Sure, that hasn’t been formally acknowledged but it is the practical reality as the Remits have been passed. Option ‘B’ was not enacted. None of the proposed official options were put into effect. We are now a church body operating in practice with, at least, two different theological positions.
The remits were the unstoppable tidal wave that forced the PCC to look squarely at what its beliefs actually are and declare it publicly. As a result, many other beliefs that Traditionalists thought were “basic Christianity” were revealed to be entirely rejected by large numbers in the church . . . and the Traditionalists were like, “Wait . . . when did you stop believing this?” . . .
The PCC has spoken at a national level. Doctrine has officially changed and practice will change as well. Does The Presbyterian Church in Canada want to put those who hold orthodox views on various issues into a position where their only option, if they want to stay in the PCC, is to lie when accepting their ordination vows? That they would have to lie to the PCC and before God when performing actions with which they are not in agreement in their heart and soul?
Do you want ministers to be blessing marriages with their tongues and secretly praying to God to forgive them for performing these same marriages? We are not the secular world- what people are professing before God matters!
Post GA 2021, the questions before the PCC are:
Do you want a church full of lip service? A place where people flatter each other with their lips but their hearts are far from each other?
Can we look each other in the eye and be honest and say, “Okay, we have theological views that largely do not overlap. But we are all still part of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Let’s form the structures that support our fundamentally divergent beliefs and still work together in what we have in common”?
Seeing that those who hold traditional views in the PCC are the minority . . .
Does the PCC only want a silent “partner”?
Allison Chung is a member of a PCC congregation. She resides in the GTA.