With nFOG vote close, advocates renew call to pass it

GA moderator calls governance proposal ‘start of a new mindset’

May 26, 2011


With the recent ratification of one amendment proposed by the 219th General Assembly (2010), leaders of the task force responsible for suggesting another major change are  encouraging the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be bold in envisioning the future of the church.

Amendment 10-A, which was approved earlier this month, changed ordination standards to make sexually active, unmarried Presbyterians eligible to be ordained as church officers.

People across the church were deeply invested in the debate surrounding 10-A and have had less energy to spend on the proposed New Form of Government (nFOG), said Elder Cynthia Bolbach, co-moderator of the nFOG Task Force.

Bolbach is also moderator of the 219th GA, a position she was elected to after having served on the task force since 2006.

It’s possible that the approval of 10-A has hindered presbyteries in voting for nFOG, another big change to the church’s constitution, Bolbach said.

“People say, ‘We can’t do a new Form of Government and an ordination change in the same year,’” she said.

As of May 23, 77 presbyteries have voted in favor of nFOG and 72 have voted against it. Those numbers are according to the Office of the General Assembly’s official tally, which must wait for official word from presbyteries before posting.

For the nFOG to pass, 87 of 173 presbyteries must vote in favor of it.

From the Middle Governing Bodies Commission to The Fellowship to the Assembly’s Special Committee on the Nature of the Church in the 21st Century, there is much conversation across the church about inevitable changes in the denomination, Bolbach said.

“If we’re so afraid of change that we don’t want to adopt a new Form of Government, what does that say about more substantive change in the years ahead?” she asked.

One huge obstacle to the passage of nFOG is a lack of understanding about what it is and would mean, said the Rev. Dan Williams, co-moderator of the task force.

The major difference between the proposed nFOG and the current Form of Government is not in what governing bodies are expected to do, but in how and who does it, he said.

The current FOG is very specific and has a “one-size-fits-all” approach to structure and governance. The nFOG has the same essential polity but doesn’t mandate who does the work, Williams said.

“It recognizes that the way you do ministry in New York City is probably going to be different than the way you do it in Anchorage, Alaska,” Bolbach said.

The current FOG has a sort of East Coast bias, Williams said. It’s comfortable for presbyteries that are geographically smaller and have a larger population and can do their work without being encumbered by distance. But for presbyteries in the western part of the country — which are often spread across long distances — the current FOG is more of a burden, he said.

Since 1983, the Book of Order has been amended more than 300 times, turning it into more of a manual of operations rather than a constitution, Bolbach said.

Through the process of amendments, bodies are very concerned with doing things “decently and in order,” Williams said.

“We spend so much time doing things the right way that we may not be focusing on doing the right things,” he said, comparing the nFOG to clearing the barnacles from the bottom of a ship.

Some opponents fear that adopting the nFOG will mean too much busy work and a total rewriting of current manuals and resources, but that work doesn’t have to be done right away, Williams said.

“There is no provision in the proposed Form of Government that would void existing manuals. If the manuals of governing bodies or councils include citations to nonexistent provisions or to provisions in a defunct Constitution, those citations merely indicate that the governing body or council adopted the rule to accord with a constitutional provision formerly in effect,” reads a statement from the Advisory Committee on the Constitution.

The nFOG is focused on flexibility and coaching rather than giving direct answers, Williams said. If governing bodies need guidance or advice, both forms of government encourage them to turn to other sessions, presbyteries and synods. The Office of the General Assembly is another resource.

There seem to be two competing views on any Form Of Government, Williams said. One is that in order for a body to do something, it must be expressly listed in the Book of Order. The other is that as long as it doesn’t violate the Book of Order, it’s OK.

That first point of view has been dominant, but if the church doesn’t break that mindset — even if the nFOG is passed — the system won’t change, he said.

“We’re attempting to relate to the 21st century world using a model of the 1970s,” he said, adding that the church makes a lot of rules, perhaps because it is afraid to make decisions.

“The New Form of Government is not an end-all solution,” Bolbach said. “But it’s the start of a new mindset.”

  1. I Don't see any reference to Biblical Interpretation of the Book of Romans (for instance) & other passages . Instead mostly interpreting Scripture to fit what we want to do. We love our brethren but not always what they want to do.

    by Stanley Hartung

    May 30, 2011

  2. I like the name nFOG since it so aptly describes the FOG which now clouds our understanding of how our denomination might operate in the future. As a believer in what is called 'open theism' I am not sure that even God knows what we in the PC(USA) will do.

    by Herbert Johnstok

    May 30, 2011

  3. Thank you, Lisa, for 'calling' Ms. Furkin on her disturbing, perhaps even inflamatory, interpretation of 10A. I'm surpirsed that an editor did not catch this before it went to print. NFOG and 10A should not be compared/contrasted ... they deal with quite separate issues.

    by Elizabeth Raitt

    May 29, 2011

  4. I'm not an expert on the FOG elements, but I want the church to be open to appropriate change and I strongly support the Moderator in asking people to vote YES. I believe in allowing for diversity in form while endorsing substance. I'm also delighted that 10A passed.

    by Dave Eaton

    May 29, 2011

  5. This new FOG is unbiblical and further sign that "political correcrtness" is not through ruining the PCUSA. I am disgusted. Why can't we be People of the Bible instead of underminers of our Sourcebook? We've been payinga heavy price half a century now, and the lesson is not learned yet.

    by Paul Dobbins

    May 28, 2011

  6. I have been warning for at least 2 yea rs now that the 40-year experiment of giving in, in case af ter case, issue after issue, to "modern" demands regardless of the merit or lack of merit Biblically, has not only failed as measured by dropping out rates within the PCUSA, in i ts various stages of mergers, but the Biblicdal-awarenesss level also has gone down, and where people could generally count on Presaby terians in generations past to be real leaders in Christian circles, with real respect accorded tothem in matters ranging from moral to scholastic to spiritual, the same cannot be said anymore. Some group or ot her whimpers about "discrimination or looks down their nose at supposedly less sophisticated outlooks on the world and the Bible, and what do Presbyt erians do? Cave in. I'm for reversing this with real repent ance, a real seeking of God, with a real stand-up-for-what's-right which remembers how to say, "So??" when crit cs shoot their sound bit es in pseudo-rebuttal but really have nothing to say. It's time to STOP PLAYING CHURCH AND START HETTING REAL WITH GOD AND THE WORLD ABOUT THE REAL GOSPEL OF THE REAL JESUS CHRIST.

    by Paul Dobbins

    May 28, 2011

  7. "It’s possible that the approval of 10-A has hindered presbyteries in voting for nFOG, another big change to the church’s constitution."... “If we’re so afraid of change that we don’t want to adopt a new Form of Government, what does that say about more substantive change in the years ahead?” Taken together, these quotes point out an important point. Major changes are being made currently, and more are evidently planned for the future for PCUSA. There is strong opposition to these changes for a variety of reasons. Some center on Biblical interpretation and others are rooted in a lack of trust in, and support of, the direction our denomination has chosen to pursue. Have you given careful consideration to the cost these changes will exact? Broken relationships between ministers and congregations. Mass exodus from the denomination on an individual and congregational basis. Will justice/love be shown to those who can no longer support the ministry of PCUSA? Too much change in too short a time has a name in biology- cancer.

    by Chuck

    May 28, 2011

  8. The characterization of amendment 10-A as allowing for the ordination of "sexually active unmarried Presbyterians," is a distortion of the amendment and biased language. The amendment does indeed remove discriminatory language designed to bar same-gender loving individuals from ordained office; but the new standard simply returns the church to more closely adhere to historic principles of church governance, whereby the ordaining body considers the call and qualifications of each person. The term "sexually active" once again defines persons by sexuality and not by identity. Furthermore, in a country that does not grant equal access to marriage, your phraseology equates persons who choose not to marry, with those who can not legally marry who would otherwise do so. "Sexually active" is demeaning terminology and not in line with journalistic practice. Finally, 10-a could just as easily be characterized as allowing for the ordination of those who desire to "submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ," language absent under the previous standard. Thanks for working toward unbiased language in future stories!

    by Lisa Larges

    May 27, 2011

  9. Why was no one who is opposed to the nFOG interviewed for and/or quoted in this article?

    by Jackie Clement

    May 26, 2011