Some of you may have already seen the story about the UT professor basically kicked out of membership of a local Presbyterian church (kicked out by the Presbytery, not the church) because he is a self-pronounced atheist. I’ve been of two minds about the whole thing. If he’s an atheist, why does he want to join a church that celebrates the life and works of Jesus? But then I thought, surely his session discussed his membership before they accepted him. And isn’t it up to that church to decide who deserves to join their congregation? At this time in the Presbyterian Church, surely we could welcome any members that are willing to join!
Today my church newsletter came out and I thought I’d post what my pastor has to say about the whole thing.
(sorry for the funky formatting – it was originally in PDF form. With my emphasis.)
Mission Presbytery Misses the Mark
by Greg McDonell
1 John 4:16 So we know and believe the love
God has for us. God is love, and those who
abide in love abide in God and God abides in
On June 9 & 10 Mission Presbytery met to
conduct its business on the Campus of Trinity
University in San Antonio, Texas. I mar k June 9
as one of the saddest days in my 25 years as a
pastor. Let me tell you why.
One of our churches and sessions faced a very
difficult decision back in Dec of ’05. An avowed
atheist began worshipping at this church. He
began to do so as he was drawn there because
of the church’s obvious effor ts for social justice.
Eventually this visitor decided he wanted to join
the church. This individual was not able to give
full assent to the question: “Do you believe that
Jesus is Lord and Savior?” What he was able to
to say is that he planned to follow the teachings
of Jesus and to support the work and worship of
the church. The Session feeling a real
movement of God’s Spir it in his life received him
as a member.
An individual in Mission Presbytery cried foul, so
a “Listening Team” was sent to the church to try
to understand how this church could act in such
a manner. After listening the team
recommended that Presbyter y rule the
membership out of order and this particular
man’s name be removed from the active role.
After two hours of debate on the floor of
Presbyter y it was decided by a vote of 156 to 114
to insist that the session remove this individual
from the role.
So here are the reasons I am sad: What’s the big
hurry? 4 hours of conversation on such an
important theological issue is not enough. We
have to find a better way to deal with our
differences rather than a simple up or down vote.
How will the church ever reach out to the
unbeliever with such a closed-minded fearful
approach? The Book of Order has no “set” nor
“required” questions to ask of one wanting to join
the church. This gentleman had previously been
baptized as an infant…could that same Spirit now
be wor king in his life…I think so! Crazy, isn’t it:
Because of his baptism he would be welcomed
at the Lord’s Table but not as a member in the
My sadness turned to anger to resolve….a
resolve to uphold the all-inclusive love of Jesus
Chr ist and to resist humbly and firmly what I
perceive to be an unloving desire to control and
maintain an orthodoxy that, in my opinion, is
detr imental to the ver y church I love.