July 2

Reflections on the 2024 PCA General Assembly OR Two Women Walk into a Male Enclave

Two women

June 10-14 was a gorgeous week in Richmond, Virginia.  Blue skies, generous white clouds, and abundant bright sunshine.  Warm, but not hot enough to make walking to the array of lunch spots uncomfortable.  My daughter and I were taking advantage of the proximity of the PCA General Assembly to our homes to attend every meeting and observe how the business was done.  We have a special interest in the subject of abuse in the church, and some of the business had a direct bearing on that issue.

On this critical issue, we were disappointed and frustrated that the assembly failed to grasp the scope or horror of the situation or to concentrate on providing safety for those vulnerable to abuse.

Call me naïve, but I really think most of the commissioners to the PCA GA love the Lord and want to honor him and serve the church.  I also believe most of them would come to my aid if they saw me in distress.  I would trust them in business deals.  They are probably generous to those in need.

Walk into a male enclave

But something happens to them when they get together in a group to do church business.  They seem to check common sense and the left side of their brains at the door—the side which processes emotions.  This is in keeping with their belief that God has especially equipped men to lead by steeling themselves against emotions (to which they believe women are by nature susceptible), and make dispassionate decisions, based on what is right and what is wrong.

Their vision becomes myopic, focused solely on the Book of Church Order.  I really think they believe that by protecting the Presbyterian form of government, they are protecting the reputation of Jesus and his Bride.  Ironically, in their passion to do so, they leave the real Bride—the individual church members—in danger.  Not hypothetical or potential danger.  Real danger.

This condition could not be better illustrated than by the debate over allowing atheists to testify in church courts.  In their misguided zeal, the commissioners kept atheists from sullying the church courts by their presence and speech, but in so doing, deprived abuse victims of significant, even deterministic, resources to support their claims.

Two years ago, General Assembly accepted the report of the committee on Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault, representing three years of work by experts in those subjects as well as theologians.  They did so with great enthusiasm and appreciation.  But apparently, words are all that the General Assembly can muster on the subject of abuse, because precious few of the recommendations were acted on.  Most that were proposed were voted down, watered down, or deferred.  The ruah seems to have gone out of their sails.

Some questions

How can we account for this sea change, from thunderous applause to the doldrums?  I call the men of the PCA to reflect honestly and thoroughly on the following questions, without quickly dismissing them as being political, heretical, or attacks on the church:

Do you believe there is abuse within the PCA, whether by clergy, other leadership, volunteers, or within families?  If so, how bad does it have to get before it warrants responsive action?  What are you allowing to supersede the protection of the weakest of the image-bearers of Christ? 

If not, is that because you do not believe abuse is a real phenomenon in the culture at large, or in other denominations?  What objective evidence are you using to make your determination?  Is it hard to believe that a person could be sinful enough to cultivate a convincing persona of spiritual and doctrinal purity that fools even the elect, while perpetrating evils that destroy the souls of vulnerable people?

If you believe that abuse is out there in other environments, what do you believe protects the PCA from being infiltrated?  Is it correct doctrine and polity?  Do you not realize that by idolizing them you could be creating a false sense of security?  Does it not seem plausible that someone committed to abusing the weak would know how to talk the talk and manipulate the system?

Are you resistant to corporate self-examination?  Is it too easy to attribute all sources of sin to the “others” on the “outside” of the church?  Are you able to confront the possibility of rot within the church, rather than blaming all problems on attacks upon the church? 

Are you trusting too much to your own understanding?  Are you willing to consider the limitations of your abilities and to ask for help?

Are you willing to deploy weak arguments clothed in pious words to defend your position?  I can answer that one for you: based on the debate I heard, the answer is absolutely yes.

And finally, will you examine the affections of your heart as to your highest loyalty?  Is it to the PCA version of the church, or is it to the actual, individual members of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Just do the right thing

As two women walking through throngs of men, we were greeted with smiles and respect.  There was no evidence of threat to us.  As two women, representing those without power or voice in this institution, we found some men who understood their responsibility to that population and who ably and powerfully brought that responsibility to the attention of the assembly.  But on the whole, listening to men speaking to each other and expressing their corporate will, we found ourselves functionally unseen, unheard, unconsidered, and profoundly unprotected.  We experienced stark cognitive dissonance between our individual relationships with men in the PCA and what happens when they gather as a fraternity.  They are pitting Mother Church against her daughters.

Please notice, I am not herein advocating for greater power for women in the church.  I am just asking men to do what they profess to do.  Protect the weak, oppose the oppressors.  

Rise up, oh men of God!


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