The Presbyterian Mission Agency Brouhaha: Keeping Perspective

by | Jan 22, 2015 | Reflections Blog | 0 comments

“You must understand this, my beloved: Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20).

“If one gives answer before hearing, it is folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13)

Last June in Detroit, your Stated Clerk (that’s me!) provided parliamentary service to Committee #14 (Congregational Vitality) of the 221st General Assembly.

One of our committee’s recommendations encouraged presbyteries to support the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s “1001 New Worshiping Communities” campaign, hereafter called “1001.” By the time General Assembly ended, most of the members of Committee #14 described “1001” and other missional efforts of the PMA as vital to the Church’s future health.

Then, in November, the Presbyterian Outlook reported that four employees of PMA had been charged with violating the Agency’s ethics policy. If I understand correctly, at least one of the employees had established a non-profit[1] to support “1001.” He/they then transferred $100,000 from PMA into the non-profit, with the approval of supervisors but apparently without Agency authorization.

Subsequent public reaction has revolved around two issues: (1) whether PCNCI was a “shell” corporation to route money out of the PC(USA) and (2) whether the transfer amounts to an act of embezzlement. In response to the outcry, the PMA Executive Committee appointed an independent counsel to investigate.[2] Findings are to be reported by early 2015.

So what does this have to do with Los Ranchos Presbytery?

One of the PMA employees cited with an ethics violation is a minister member of Los Ranchos. In December, therefore, the Committee on Ministry discussed the issue, and COM’s Response Coordinating Team met with the minister.

COM voted not to take any further action on the matter until we receive the results of the independent investigation. Rest assured: the Presbytery leadership is not ignoring the matter. We are merely choosing not to act precipitously.

As we await the results of the investigation, I have three hopes.

First, I hope that we will all give careful heed to the warnings of James and Proverbs, and avoid jumping to conclusions. When the results come out, I pray that we will give a careful hearing to the facts the investigation reveals, that we may “not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).

Second, I hope that the current crisis can be resolved without indulging the common demand for a “fall guy.” Appropriate discipline is in order if the investigation reveals serious offenses. But forcing one or more people to resign primarily to quell public indignation is contrary to the way of Christ. We already have Someone who bore the full measure of the world’s outrage on our behalf.

And finally, I hope that any outcome does not unravel the PMA’s work. I heartily agree with the opinion of the members of Committee #14: “1001” is too important for the future of the Church.

Why? Well, that’s a conversation for next month’s column.

[1] “Presbyterian Centers for New Church Innovation, Inc.” (PCNCI).

[2] From a letter from the PMA Board’s Executive Committee to mid-council leaders dated December 11, 2014: the Executive Board has retained Mark T. Calloway from the law firm of Alston and Bird, LLP, in Charlotte, North Carolina, to investigate and advise the PMA Board “in matters related to…the incorporation of PCNCI, Inc. and the transfer of $100,000 to PCNCI, Inc…”