"It is the conclusion of the Task Force on the Way Forward that the Presbytery of San Diego is divided and therefore polarized over some key theological issues. As a result we are unable to experience ecclesiastical unity. The advisory survey taken by commissioners at the Special Meeting of Presbytery on October 24, 2006 and the complexion of our recent presbytery meetings confirms our conclusion. As a result of this polarization, our ability to do mission and ministry together is greatly hampered. Often we spend more time arguing our respective positions than proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Much like Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41, we seem to have reached an insurmountable impasse.
It is time to tell ourselves the truth and bring an end to this entrenched dispute. In our opinion, it is futile to keep arguing our respective cases, hoping to persuade our brothers and sisters in Christ to change their deeply held beliefs and values, while vehemently defending our own. We simply cannot continue in this state of sharp disagreement. We will either continue to fight among ourselves or we will move forward, but we cannot do both. We must find a way to break this destructive cycle and come to a place where mission and ministry take precedence over unproductive debate. We may need to find a way to commend one another to the grace of God so that we can pursue faithful and fruitful ministry options. We must find a common ground where we can work together to further God’s kingdom here on earth, or we must part company. Anything less will not bring glory to God or increase His kingdom here on earth.
Therefore, the Task Force on the Way Forward presents the following recommendations to the Presbytery of San Diego for immediate adoption and implementation. ..."
I have to say that when I first read this I had a deep feeling of disappointment -- but then I started to think about it. San Diego is one of the more conservative presbyteries, and, if memory serves, one of the first to clearly outline what it thought were the Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives of our our faith. Even though I am in accord with the general goals and many of the specific stands taken, I recognize that this presbytery (as well as nearly every other in the PC(USA)) is deeply divided on many issues. In far too many of these cases, denomination-wide, the majority prevails and fails to recognize the minority's deep feelings.
San Diego seems to be taking a path that few have chosen and that is to recognize the divisions and a way forward that allows all sides to function more as a church and less as bickering children. This report makes specific recommendation as to how to accomplish this, and it may be difficult to implement, but at least they are trying to avoid the trap of fighting to win every argument by majority vote, but doing nothing to heal the divisions.
Included in this report is the questionaire that was answered by 70 respondents. The answers show clearly the depth of division.
The Paul and Barnabas analogy is one that resonates with me. By finding a way to move forward separately, the work God calls us to perform can be done more effectively. The alternative is to remain paralyzed by our inability to agree. Our disputes seem petty compared with the needs around us, and as much as I abhor the idea of separation, it may lead to greater things for the Presbyterian Church. We need to all remember that the subject of Paul's and Barnabas' disagreement was Timothy. Paul was wrong to dismiss Timothy on the basis of a single failing, but see how the early Church was strengthened -- and see how Paul's and Timothy's relationship developed several years later to the point where they were mutually supportive colleagues in ministry. If our denomination is truly presented with a "Paul and Barnabas" moment, let's not be too stubborn to recognize it.