A Meeting of Understanding: Secrecy, Non-hierarchical Leadership, and Blogs

Yesterday, byFaith published a report on an invitation-only meeting held by “denomination leadership” this week to “discuss charitably and forthrightly the cause for conflicts in the PCA that hamper our ministry and unity.” There has been a good deal of discussion over this meeting, and I thought I might share a few of my own thoughts on the subject.

The meeting was held under something called the “Chatham House Rule.” I had never heard of this myself, but a quick Google search turned up the following description:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

The world-famous Chatham House Rule may be invoked at meetings to encourage openness and the sharing of information.

What this means is that the byFaith report, and any other report about the meeting, can discuss what was said, but not who said it. The list of participants is also not to be shared. Because of this, those of us who were not present at the meeting have a limited amount of information available to us.

The meeting was called in order to address the various causes for conflicts within the PCA. While I certainly agree that this is an admirable goal, I wonder about the way they went about it. When there is a climate of distrust and suspicion, is the best answer to hold a semi-secret meeting and then publish a report with anonymous comments?

The comments reported in the article are grouped together under headings that summarize the concerns addressed. The headings: Civility and Theological Precision, Blogs and Protecting Reputations, Can We Still Champion One Another’s Ministry?, and Loving One Another and Matthew 18 cover various concerns that seem somewhat one-sided in the present debate. Interestingly, Federal Vision, theistic evolution, feminism, and inerrancy were not topics of discussion.

Those who are overly concerned with theological precision were encouraged to set aside the idolatry of precision and instead focus on love. Blogs were mentioned only as places that encourage name calling and destroy reputations. It was lamented that the various “camps” aren’t encouraged to support each other in their ministry. This last one reminds me of comments I’ve read in the past that we should not be so concerned about another pastor’s orthodoxy, but rather, how much good his ministry is doing or how quickly his ministry is growing. Lastly, a consistent application of Matthew 18 and a blogging code of ethics were recommended as the answers for what ails the PCA.

All of these comments seem overly representative of one side of the concerns within the PCA. This presents an interesting challenge to those of us not present at the meeting. There are two possible interpretations of the report. One, it’s possible that all sides were well represented at this meeting and that the report doesn’t reflect the full diversity of opinion. In which case, it would be ideal if someone who was present at the meeting would write a more comprehensive summary of the discussion. I would happily publish it here. Anonymously if need be. The other interpretation is that the report accurately represents the tenor of the discussion and that there was not a good representation of the diversity of opinions at this meeting, which leads me to my next point.

The report mentions that the Stated Clerk, Roy Taylor, called the meeting “in collaboration with other denominational leaders.” Twice in the article “denominational leaders” are mentioned. Who are the denominational leaders? The PCA does not have a hierarchy of leadership. There is a stated clerk of the General Assembly and various coordinators and presidents of the PCA’s permanent committees and agencies. These men were at the meeting according to the report. But there were an additional 50 pastors in attendance. Considering that the discussion was about issues that affect the whole denomination, who decided which pastors were the ones most representative of the whole? Are certain pastors from certain presbyteries “denominational leaders?” (Of course, it might be easier to answer that question if the list of invitees was available.) Don’t we already have a forum for discussion of denomination level issues? Why not discuss this at GA?

What are your thoughts on this “meeting of understanding”?

2 thoughts on “A Meeting of Understanding: Secrecy, Non-hierarchical Leadership, and Blogs

  1. sedgegrass says:

    I just read the report yesterday. I was completely baffled. I couldn’t post what I would like to have in the comment section. (It would have gone something like this: “Mommy, Mommy, those mean boys are being mean to me!”) Not productive, I know. But there were a couple of good posts left, so I knew I wasn’t the only one scratching my head over this.

    I loved the post about the importance of theological precision, written by a recent, ex-member of the PCUSA. I read nothing that indicated a dispassionate effort to identify the theological concerns that may be causing angst among the brethren. Along with the lack of objective identification, the solution was to encourage an ecclesiastical frown on blogs, as if they were the source of division, and not any kind of theological disparity. Strange report.

  2. Kassandra says:

    If the report is accurate, I think “denominational leaders” are a bit like the Supreme Court’s citation of international law. I believe it was former Chief Justice Rhenquist who said that citation of international law is like giving a party and only inviting your friends. Looks like that’s exactly what happened here.

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