“Regulation cannot do what the loss of trust has undone.” Cynthia Bolbach, Moderator of the 219th General Assembly
Perhaps the single greatest gift that this Commission can raise up for the church is to say as loudly and as clearly as we possibly can that there is a crisis of trust in our denomination and that it, more than anything else, is the single greatest threat to the vitality and future existence of the church.
Congregational leaders don’t trust presbyteries. Presbyteries don’t trust synods. Synod leaders see themselves as the “breakwater” protecting the church from the General Assembly (which might be the least trusted system of all.) From the Mid Council Report,
It’s been interesting to listen to the responses to our Mid Council Report. We have attempted to say as clearly as possible that our purpose has been, from beginning to end, to explore the structures that serve the church in a changing world. We listened deeply to the church and we believe we have recommended to the church exactly what many asked for.
But then the discussion started. On more than one occasion, people have tried as tactfully as possible to ask, “So what’s your real agenda?”
Ok. Here it is. I do have an agenda. I haven’t hidden it. I have said it every time in every place that I have been asked to speak about the report. But in case anybody wonders, let me just leave it on the table as clearly as I can say it. It’s the biggest issue in the church today. I believe it is literally killing us.
We don’t trust each other.
Not at all. Not hardly at all. We have even codified our lack of trust with our theology (“Presbyterians believe in ‘total depravity’ don’t you know?”). And it shows up in like a full force wind every time anyone suggests a change in the way we relate to each other (even if the change is not quite as radical as what we suggest.)
Did you hear it even in the question about the report?
There are even good reasons why we don’t. Many, many have stories about suffering the effects of abuse, neglect, disrespect and, well, sin, that has brought us to this place. Those stories need to be heard and we need to humbly keep reflecting on how very often we hurt each other and harm the witness of the body of Christ. But we also need to learn to trust each other again.
And how do we do that? One of my mentors taught me that when what you are doing is NOT working, and you don’t know what to do, there are two things you must NOT do:
- Doing whatever you have been doing.
- Doing nothing.
In other words, doing anything new (especially if you will reflect on the new actions, learn from them and keep implementing the lessons learned) is a step in the right direction.
Our Mid Council Commission Report attempts to create the conditions for re-building trust by taking a pretty radical step: Trusting.
We give power back to presbyteries and call them to rebuild trust with the pews. Not top-down, but connectional. Not blind trust, but transparent and accountable. Not a radical reactionary change but provisional baby-steps of experimentation in the full light of day.
If we really trusted each other, what kind of connectional system would we create?
The Mid Council Commission is trusting that if presbyteries are giving all the power and authority to serve their congregations with any structure that falls within our broad theological tradition, they will discover the future.
We will not rebuild trust without trusting.