Rev. Robin Ross was the minister of St. Paul's Church in Mission BC, until 2008.
One of the unfortunate things that surround the Think Tank process is that we may not be answering one of the fundamental questions that isn't being asked: Why are we in this mess? Recently, all ministers received material indicating that since 1983, givings for congregational purposes have risen by 38% in constant dollars, while Presbyterians Sharing has declined. I have a theory of why this is so.
Our Church used to tolerate a broad theological spectrum. Gradually over the last dozen years or more, liberalism has gained control, and seems to have progressed into the fundamentalism that allows only one view to have official approval. The resulting changes (which I will outline below) have not been lost on the people in the pew. They have complained, but those in leadership have not listened. Discouraged at these denominational trends ("we're just going like the United Church!"), and not feeling heard, they have unconsciously redirected Presbyterians Sharing giving to their own congregation. People in Church Offices have to realize that they can't ride rough-shod over the views of the pew without having them vote with their pocketbook. What have the people in the pew noticed? Three things come to mind.
(1) Mission Capsules, bulletin covers, Live the Vision materials, and various Church publications never make mention of anyone becoming a Christian through our social action work. The message is clear that the Church's mission has been transformed into working for peace, justice and equality, and no longer includes converting non-Christians and making disciples. Those who value evangelization of non-Christians feel that those who lead our denomination, or publicize the direction we're taking, have almost completely lost the traditional sense of mission as making disciples for Christ — reaching the lost. If people don't feel enthusiastic about the mission of their denomination, they give to what they ARE enthusiastic about, their own congregation. This process does not reflect the lack of promotion of Presbyterians Sharing by clergy or Church Offices. The promotion itself sends the message that re-directs the money.
(2) Since 1982, our church has mandated inclusive language, defined as language that offends no-one. Now that it has become obvious that radical feminists resent references to God as male, the Church is making changes that people in the pew see as a direct attack on the doctrine of the Trinity, "Father, Son and Holy Spirit". For example, the Hymn Book Committee has given the impression that they are being cautious and not changing everything or eliminating male references to God. But in the hymn "Joyful, joyful" in the new Hymn Book, the words "Thou our Father, Christ our brother" are replaced by "God Creator, Christ Redeemer". And in "To God be the glory", the changes are inconsistent and grammatically cumbersome. The chorus still reads "O come to the Father through Jesus the Son", but they change the first verse to read:
- To God be the glory, who great things has done!
God so loved the world! — freely sending the Son.
- To God be the glory, great things He has done.
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son.
[Later editor's note: to their credit, the Hymn Book Task Force took note of this criticism and included both versions of the hymn.]
This is a hymn cherished and known off-by-heart by far too many people for the changes to go unnoticed. If this hymn was inserted to give the impression that we embrace evangelicals, to change the words to suit the purposes of the politically correct, tells evangelicals exactly how valuable they are in this church. Language designed not to offend anyone clearly offends many Presbyterians, who, by now, realize that they don't count. You cannot alienate whole sections of a denomination without suffering a drop in their financial support.
(3) Another thing that doesn't go unnoticed is that only certain people are appointed to the task forces and committees; only certain people are entrusted with the leading of worship at General Assembly. These are the politically correct, the ones approved by the leadership. For example, after the Hymn Book Committee was appointed, it was realized that there were no evangelicals on the committee, so they literally asked someone to be the token evangelical! In Church courts, those who aren't politically correct are effectively silenced through verbal attacks and silent shunning. The same thing happens as in public life: religious people are constantly put down in the media, so the faithful become silent. When the polls reveal that so many people are religious, the media are amazed, "because we never hear anything from them" — they were just driven "underground". Those who disagree with our Church's line often feel that their views are not respected, even ridiculed and scorned. So they become quiet, and give to causes they believe in. Then the Church leadership is amazed to discover that people aren't giving to Presbyterians Sharing like they used to. Surprise!
Undoubtedly, the leaders of our Church are sincere and well-meaning in the stand they are taking, believing the Church needs a prophetic voice. But it is sad when the leaders are so far away that many in the flock cease following. It is even sadder when leaders don't realize how far away they are because they have silenced the flock. Our leaders cry loud and clear for justice for the marginalized. The irony is that they fail to recognize that they are unintentionally marginalizing thousands in our own denomination, and then wondering why they don't give!