Minneapolis Roundup

There was a White Paper and then a letter which invited “like-minded” persons to join them in Minneapolis in August for a meeting. The letter famously called the PC(USA) “deathly-ill” and was signed by only male pastors of tall-steeple churches, which caused a bit of furor and merited a clarification. The Fellowship of Presbyterians, as they call themselves, continued to release videos and prompt debate in lead up to the conference which just concluded this last week in Minneapolis.

The Fellowship, despite being young, is well supported. Over 1,900 people attended the gathering in Minneapolis, none of your hosts here at Two Friars and a Fool were present, but we followed the twitter conversation (#mn2011) and have taken the time to roundup reactions from a variety of participants:


#mn2011 is overwhelmingly about how to be the church and stay connected with one another as we move forward, not about right & wrong #mn2011


David Berge, who gave some of the best Twitter commentary on the event:

Almost 2000 evangelical Presbyterians showed up in Minneapolis for the Gathering because we are hungry for something new. Endless conflict is exhausting, debates in which both sides restate their positions ad nauseum are futile, and wars of attrition have no winners. The passage of 10-A was just a further signal for evangelicals in the PC(USA) that the Presbyterian experiment as it is currently being conducted in our denomination is failing. The Gathering was the catalyst of a new experiment in Presbyterianism that goes by the name of The Fellowship.
The Gathering wasn’t about forming a new denomination, but fomenting a movement. A movement that aims to be more relational and less regulatory. One that sees orthodoxy as a standard to which we joyfully aspire, rather than the lowest common denominator on which we can agree. One that seeks to nurture the next generation of ecclesial entrepreneurs, not train chaplains to comfort dying congregations. A movement that believes we work best together when we share core convictions and a common purpose. One that sees structural unity as a necessary but insufficient expression of what it means to have union in Christ. The Gathering wasn’t the beginning of an angry schism, but a first step in the process of life-giving cell-division.
Rev. Jim Singleton of First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs was quoted alot on Twitter:

Landon Whitsittlandonw
“We are different enough from PCUSA norm. We are more like church of 1950s than of 2000. And we’re okay with that.” #mn2011

Rocky Supinger, who also made comments on his own blog, thinks big changes are ahead:

Two things are clear to me: 1) in a year, our denominational landscape will look very different than it does today at all levels. A new denomination will exist that doesn’t exist today, one that is connected to the PC (USA) in ways still to be determined and yet separate and distinct from it, with it’s own theological platform and standards, judicatories, etc. At the same time, new presbyteries and orders within presbyteries may exist that don’t today. Life as we’ve known it since 1983 is about to end.

2) the leadership of the PC (USA) recognizes this and is determined to walk with The Fellowship folks in bringing it about. I can’t recall how many times Gradye Parsons was singled out for praise from the platform in Minneapolis (he and Moderator Cynthia Bolbach both were given time to address the gathering). Gradye and the rest of the staff in Louisville were depicted throughout the gathering as partners and not as opponents, which, honestly, surprised me. That will trouble many, but I think it’s a sign of acumen and awareness on the denomination’s part that something new really does need to happen for the PC (USA) to continue as a viable culture-shaping force in the 21st century.

Ok, riddle me this: Is my PCUSA-ordained mom in her same-sex relationship allowed to be “missional” too? If not, you can keep it. #mn2011


Carolyn Poteet live-tweeted almost everything every speaker at the gathering said. Her reflection on the experience:

My first experience with the twitter world was as a commissioner to GA last summer. I realized how many people who weren’t in the room still wanted to be in the conversation. With GA, they had the luxury of a live web feed. I had heard that the Fellowship had tried hard to do a live feed for #mn2011, but they weren’t able. I knew what a huge audience that would leave hanging, so I thought I could help, esp judging by the popularity of my seminary notes #ifIhadchargedperpageIwouldhavenostudentloans.

I made a conscious decision to aim for quantity & readability of information over offering a running commentary.  There are more than enough people on Twitter offering commentaries. At this conference especially, the need was to get the speeches out so people could process the info on their own. I wanted all sides to have more than soundbites with which to make decisions.  I am an evangelical, so my first audience was for my friends at home who weren’t able to come and needed this information to make wise decisions for their own congregations.  But my second and equally important audience was to everyone else interested in this conversation – would people listen to headlines or listen to the heart of what people said?  Time will tell on all counts.  Soli Deo Gloria.


Landon Whitsitt

Today at #mn2011 I am struggling. I sense myself beginning to grieve the loss of this thing I’ve given my life to.

A number of us who didn’t attend the event were still trying to process what seemed to be occurring there. Adam Walker-Cleaveland brought up the elephant in the room on his blog:

While the media is of course one to polarize an issue, it seems like the Huffington Post is able to say what I haven’t heard many from The Fellowship of Presbyterians fessing up to: it’s about 10A and LGBT folks. Yesterday the Huffington Post ran an article titled “Presbyterians Meet to Consider Leaving Church Over Gay Clergy, Other Issues.” It’s hard to imagine if this Gathering would have received the almost 2,000 folks present if 10A hadn’t passed. Maybe it would have, obviously we’ll never know, but clearly this is the primary issue that is causing the rift in our denomination, and it seems a bit dishonest to make it about other things (we just want to be more missional, we just want to get back to the Essential Tenets & Reformed Distinctives).

But while some of us outsiders remain skeptical of the Fellowship, it must be acknowledged they proposed some creative ideas. Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw suggested that we need to look Roman Catholic Religious Orders like the Jesuits for inspiration for how we can structure our polity, and Vice-Moderator Landon Whitsitt seemed won-over by the end of the gathering:

Landon Whitsitt
Okay…I’m putting my cards on the table. Except for including GLBT persons, I want a church that looks like what I’m hearing at #mn2011


Want to know what Aric, Doug and Nick think? Check out our reax below.

More Reading:

  • Anonymous

    Feel free to put your links into the comments thread if you’ve got something to say about the Fellowship Gathering in Minneapolis.

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  • Shannan

    So, when they say “connected” to PC(USA), I get that sense that only means keeping buildings, and pension. Because the congregations in my Presbytery who went to this do nothing with the Presbytery, give no money to mission, refuse all invites to serve on committees, etc. of Presbytery, and only show up at meetings when it’s time to vote against our GLBT sisters and brothers. And it was like this in the first Presbytery I served too. So I don’t get it. It seems to be about pensions and buildings, and not wanting to be part of much else. For that I have little time.

    • Matthew Frost

      Having seen what happened in the ELCA, when the Lutherans went all “restoring our church” over ordaining LGBT clergy, I’d say it’s a savvy move. One of our 3 predecessor bodies retains its rights to buildings and other property, which means that LCA schismatics need new facilities etc. if they want out. #canttakeitwithyouwhenyougo

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Douglas-Hagler/848645164 Douglas Hagler

      As I said, I’m happy to discuss the FPCUSA, and I’d love to be proven wrong about them, but I basically have the sense that it is about avoiding The Gay and keeping pensions intact. Supporters of LGBTQ equality are apparently able to remain in the denomination and committed to their brothers and sisters for 30+ years during which votes did not go their way. As it turns out, opponents of LGBTQ equality are not able to do so for even a few months before they are talking “new denominational structures”. It fills me with a feeling, and that feeling is not admiration.

  • Viola Larson

    Aric, I am listening to you as I type. You took Jim’s comments conpletely out of context and spent your whole talk on it.

    • Anonymous

      You are correct that I did not provide the context in my remarks, nor was I present at the gathering to hear it first hand. I encourage you to attempt to provide a context for us here that would change my analysis. After having heard quite a bit of detail about what was said (including that particular speech of Rev. Singleton) I’m pretty sure my point is valid.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Douglas-Hagler/848645164 Douglas Hagler

      Yeah, I would love to hear a context, any context, in which the church of the 1950s is preferable to the church now. For anyone.

      • Taycap

        The Presbyterian church (and most others as well) of the 50’s reflected the social norms of the 50’s: I believe it was less dogmatic than now because the strict, repressed societal mores took care of a lot of behaviors by simply making them “bad”. Having grown up then (and as a Presbyterian) I believe in some ways life in the church was far freer than it is now because one simply didn’t have to deal with gays, or female clerics, or transsexuals…it was all tidily swept under the cultural rug. The church could therefore be free to do happy missionary work and sing happy songs and sponsor happy scout troops. The biggest issues of the day were raising funds to fix the leaky roof and cranky elders.

  • Viola Larson

    And I don’t at the moment belong to the Fellowship.

    • Anonymous

      Do you know what the context of the 1950s comment was? I ask because I don’t.

  • Anonymous

    I really like Nick’s comment about seeing how the rhetoric and actions of an actor (individual or church) link up to one another. Beyond that, I don’t know enough to talk intelligently, but I have very similar concerns to Doug & Aric, though I know even less about the context than Aric.

  • Viola Larson

    Sorry Aric,
    I didn’t provide my on context. I’m too busy running back and forth getting ready for my 50th wedding anniversary on Friday. I shouldn’t be writing on blogs: ) However at almost five in the morning I guess that is okay.
    Jim’s context I believe was a church concerned with mission which the 50’s denominations were very much concerned with. It also had to do with the authority of scripture and morality-but it had nothing to do with women in ministry. Perhaps its biggest issue that was a push back was today’s pluralism in the church. That is the idea that Jesus Christ is not the only way to God. (The question is ‘why are we each year losing so many people rather than gaining new converts.’)
    And I want to back track a bit here because I woke up thinking this. There has been so much complaint about the seven ‘men’ who started the fellowship all being ‘men.’ I consider that stupid, and a stupidity that belongs to our contemporary world. Because of political correctness we always seem to turn our noses up at all male or all female friendships and this is how the seven started their new ministry, friendship. It is like you three ‘two friars and a fool’; I take it you are friends. And it would be stupid of me to suggest that you should add a woman to your group.
    Because the fellowship has grown into a movement it has added women and I am sure will add more. But back to the original thoughts, this is about proclaiming the gospel and against the pluralism of today.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Douglas-Hagler/848645164 Douglas Hagler

      First, “scriptural authority” is the core argument brought to bear by Christians against gender/racial/etc. equality, and has been for two thousand years. It is *impossible* to recapture some kind of past focus on “missions” and on “authority of scripture” and avoid the racism and sexism that the “authority of scripture” was used to support. I think that separating a regressive view of “authority of scripture” from the racism and sexism that came out of that view requires a profound amnesia – not to mention ignoring how “authority of scripture” is used in the exact same way to destroy lives now in some places.

      Second, on the “stupidity” of calling for gender equality in leadership – I think it is, frankly, stupid not to call for that kind of equality. It is stupid for no one to point out that maybe we should consider adding more of our friends to our project here – maybe friends who are not white, male and straight. We’re free to decline, as we have so far, because we like the thing we have going, but it is a valid observation and question. (If somehow this becomes some kind of Big Deal, more diversity would be much more necessary in my view) Most of the time, it isn’t that leadership groups just happen to be men who were friends – does patriarchy arise from men not having any female friends? Of course not. It arises from men not allowing female friends into leadership positions.

      Just like they did in the 1950s, and in many places (like splinter Presbyterian denominations for example), still do.

      The idea that the 1950s was some kind of heyday for Christianity is what is ‘stupid’, in my view. There may be some things we can salvage, very carefully and with effort, but we have moved on from the 1950s, and we are all better for it.

      As for the pluralism thing – paragraph deleted. I’m happy to read that more and more self-identified evangelical Christians are taking a pluralistic view, and I think it is a wonderful thing and a sign of hope for the future, that interactions between religions might amount to more than shouting and warfare.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you Viola for offering your take on the context of that remark – and congratulations on your 50th wedding anniversary! I hope Stacia and I make it there.

      I am speaking at a disadvantage because I wasn’t around in the 1950’s but I’m pretty well read and also serve a congregation of people who remember what the church was like in the 1950’s so I’ll hazard a reply.

      #1 – the church in the 1950’s wasn’t more concerned with Mission. It had a different approach to mission which has since been demolished by missiologists for being a remnant of colonialism. We have moved away from conversionism toward mission partnerships with great success – in fact, even at #mn2011 the overall effectiveness of our international missions is something that people agreed on.

      #2 – as for local mission, we had more churches and more people so in some sense we did have a bigger impact on our communities, but it takes some serious rose-colored glasses to look back and think that the churches we were planting were because we were more missional. No, the church in the 1950’s was benefiting from the joiner mentality of the Greatest Generation and an upswing in religious influence in American culture. Church planting in the 1950’s meant putting a plaque on the corner and dusting your hands in the certain knowledge that your pews would be full on Sunday. The 1950’s church was lazy and that attitude that butts-in-pews equals success in ministry is directly responsible for much of the ills of the next 60 years. We are well rid of that Constantinian accomodated privileged brand of Christianity.

      #3 – Jim Singleton didn’t mean his remark to apply to women in ministry, I agree. However, that is why I said I thought it was surprisingly oblivious of him to say it. He seemed unaware that suggesting we should go back to the 1950’s would strike most women in ministry as a terrible idea. The same reason is why the all male steering committee is problematic – I don’t think they intentionally set out to exclude women. I think it didn’t even cross their mind that a woman’s perspective was important – which is more or less what they said in their clarification letter. Women in ministry is a major (maybe the most important) unique aspect of the witness of the PC(USA) to our brothers and sisters in other denominations. Part of the problem the Fellowship faces is that while they theologically have more in common with the EPC or PCA so long as they want to hold on to the equality of women as a distinctive of our theology there is nowhere for them to go. Hence the reason they are trying to start a New Reformed Body.

      #4 – Yes, we are more pluralistic today. This isn’t only an theological stance, it is a practical one. Our culture is more pluralistic. You can’t escape the diversity of religious belief in every neighborhood. Recognizing the value of traditions beyond our own has come about through interaction, not by dogmatic decree, and it is a good thing.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Douglas-Hagler/848645164 Douglas Hagler
  • Viola Larson

    I don’t have time to address everything you and Aric said-I will later-but I think it is important for you to understand that I wasn’t calling women in ministry stupid. I was calling the idea that seven ‘male’ friends got together and started a movement without realizing where it was going, a good thing. Because that kind of both male and female friendship is a good thing. It is stupid to jump on people because of those friendships. Now if the movement goes on down the road and never elects females into leadership that would be bad.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Douglas-Hagler/848645164 Douglas Hagler

      Fair enough – I agree with that. I think the half-quotes around male is kind of funny, but otherwise, I agree. Friendship is good, and women not being in positions of authority is bad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Douglas-Hagler/848645164 Douglas Hagler

    We had a long conversation about the Fellowship in my clergy cohort group today, and it was interesting. Some of us were much bigger fans than others. Two interesting points about the meeting that I hadn’t heard before, really:

    Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, gave an impassioned talk on the importance of women’s ordination in the evangelical movement, and how that is an area that he feels evangelicals need to continue to work on and to hold up as a priority. This is of course very interesting in light of the fact that the Presbyterian splinter denominations both, I believe, hold women’s ordination to be a local option.

    More than one observer, from my Presbytery at least, detected the Fellowship offering four tiers of solutions, interesting in and of itself to see conservative evangelicals go all postmodern and offer multiple solutions. The four tiers were:

    1. “Differentiated” with regard to ordination, otherwise stay within the PCUSA
    2. Follow something like the Catholic model of multiple religious orders under one umbrella (I am swallowing snark here)
    3. ‘Dual citizenship’ in the PCUSA and another overlapping organization
    4. Full withdrawal to one of the other Presbyterian denominations

    Another interesting thing I heard about, though utterly unsurprising, is a lot of backlash being experienced by women Elders who are part of churches who move to the OPC or EPC. They are finding that it is a constant battle not to be forgotten, that their denominational bodies have nothing to support them and provide them with resources, and that they constantly have to deal with people questioning their ordination.

    As a result, they are turning to the PCUSA for this support.

  • Jesus Christ


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