Saturday, September 2, 2017

Conservative Elder: Liberal Church Leaders Don’t Speak For Me

Membership in mainline churches, including the PC(USA), is declining. A key reason conservatives are fleeing the PC(USA) is the church’s regular public statements and positions that are at odds with their views and values. This is one of the challenges of being a member of a mainline denomination — any of them, not just Presbyterian. I doubt that my experience in the PC(USA) is unusual. There is value in local congregations being part of a larger connected body, but not when that body fails to recognize the uniqueness of the individual members.


My church does not speak for me.

I’m a conservative who happens to be a member and ordained elder in the increasingly liberal Presbyterian Church (USA). For years, the denomination’s leaders have been issuing statements with which I disagree — and I’m not alone. Not every PC(USA) member shares the opinions of those who claim to be the voice of our denomination.

In my small PC(USA) congregation, our members’ views span the gamut from far-left liberal progressive to far-right conservative. In the parking lot, you’ll see cars with pro-life and pro-choice bumper stickers parked next to each other — along with cars sporting bumper stickers expressing a broad range of social and political positions (and a few good jokes). But we are united in our faith in Jesus Christ and our commitment to one another as friends and a church family.

PC(USA) members do not vote as a bloc. We don’t all shop at the same stores, buy the same products, make the same choices when it comes to health care or even laugh at the same jokes.

Yet in a recent public letter to the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, our stated clerk, J. Herbert Nelson II, implied that 1.4 million Presbyterians agreed with his position on an issue related to how the ice-cream company operates. We do not.

In the letter, Nelson urged the company to “enter into a legally binding agreement to join the Milk with Dignity Program developed by Migrant Justice.” Ben & Jerry’s is known for its commitment to social justice. A statement on the company’s website says it’s still negotiating that agreement and is committed to being the first dairy company to implement the program.

Ben & Jerry’s can do the right thing in terms of assuring safe, dignified working conditions for all those in its supply chain without signing an agreement with an external entity. This is just one example of why I think Nelson is out of step with tens of thousands of PC(USA) members.

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