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Let a thousand flowers bloom

The moderator’s March column

March 16, 2011

Headshot of Cynthia Bolbach

Cynthia Bolbach

Where is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) headed?

I wish I knew.

Serious, engaged, and exciting discussion about what our future will, or should, look like is going on all around the church.

The discussion is taking many forms. Presbyteries are talking about what a “missional polity” really means as they debate the merits of the proposed new Form of Government. The Commission on Middle Governing Bodies is actively seeking input on how presbyteries and synods can best help us proclaim the gospel effectively (check out commission moderator Tod Bolsinger’s engaging blog posts.

A group of pastors and elders calling themselves the Presbyterian Fellowship issued a white paper in February called, “Time for Something New.” The paper prompted responses from across the spectrum, including one from Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Linda Valentine, Executive Director of the General Assembly Mission Council, and me. A number of other responses are out there. And, just a couple of weeks ago, over 300 people attended a conference in Indianapolis on what the “Next” church might look like.

My guess is that if you dip into any, or all, of these (and I urge you to do so), you’ll find things with which to agree and disagree. There is, however, one common denominator: the recognition that the denomination has to change. The question, of course, is how.

We’re not going to answer how overnight. To me, the most important part of all of this is that the dialogue is happening. We are recognizing that persons on all points of the theological spectrum within the PC(USA) have valid viewpoints, even if we don’t agree with those viewpoints. We are struggling — together — to discern what and who God is calling us to be.

Wasn’t it Mao Zedong who said, “Let a thousand flowers bloom?” I may be making Presbyterian history here by quoting Mao. But can we have a thousand discussions bloom over the next few months? Can we open our eyes, and our ears, to all sorts of ideas, proposals, possibilities?

Let the conversations continue!

Elder Cynthia Bolbach is Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 

  1. Quoting Mao Zedong is highly inappropriate and even offensive. Surely there are other sources of inspiration you might have chosen?

    by Rev. Susan Li

    March 28, 2011

  2. The quote from Mao was incorrect and unfortunate. It was a "hundred flowers," and after the flowers of dissent and criticism raised their little heads, they were mowed down by Mao and the Party apparatus. I assume that "Chairman Bolbach" is more sincere in her expressed desire for open discussion than was Chairman Mao, but would feel more secure if she found her inspiration from within our Christian tradition.

    by Buz Hughes

    March 22, 2011

  3. Cindy, Well, to paraphrase someone else, "if you go quoting from Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone, anyhow." -- The Beatles The problem with always cheerleading for "more dialogue" is that most church-goers aren't coming to hear us quarrel with each other about basic Scriptural duties and obligations. Those curious few prospective Presbyterians won't come to our churches because we're constantly chopping away at our formative confessions. Rather than a thriving community of discussion, we appear to them more as a screaming, rattling pre-school run by toddlers while the teacher sits, beaming at the mayhem. I wouldn't send my kid there.

    by Joe Duffus

    March 18, 2011

  4. Change is going to come. And everyone will like some of what is about to happen and recoil at other changes. There is no way to paper over fundamental differences with bland bromides about unity. We are not of one mind. Passage of 10A will cause many to quietly slip away. Some are going to insist on leaving intact. The operative question is how combative will the process become and will the PCUSA leadership take a triumphalist or gracious approach to those departing. My guess, sadly, is more the former. Can't help but observe that quoting Mao confirms all suspicions of traditionalists who watch Louisville and wonder how the left became so disconnected from half the denomination. In 10 years, PCUSA membership will be down another 50%, but politically and theologically homogeneous as a small, liberal denomination.

    by Tome Walters

    March 17, 2011

  5. Madam Moderator Yes, your title is a quote from Mao. You should know, however, that Mao used the title to allow people to criticize the Communist regime. Then he had all those who criticized the regime arrested and in many cases put to death! I am certain this is not what you want to happen to anyone in the PCUSA. We may have our conflicts but no one has proposed killing people yet. So you just might want to change your title or at least explain how your use of the title differs from Mao's

    by Robert Campbell

    March 17, 2011

  6. While discussion is helpful, it is only a means to an end, not the end itself. Sooner or later the Presbyterian Church (USA) will need to come to some conclusion on the matters that are being hotly debated. To live in a constant state of confusion, though we may be reasoning with one another, is not helpful. To what end do all the discussions point? Was it not Mao who also described organized religion as the 'opiate of the masses?' Perhaps that is what our denomination is with it's one thousand conversations? Perhaps the conversations themselves are the opiate that keeps us from moving forward. Perhaps Matthew and Mark's use of the Isaiah's prophecy is coming true - "'You will be ever hearing but never understanding." Just my contribution to endless conversation.

    by Glen Hallead

    March 17, 2011

  7. How can it be that, as my friend Cynthia seems to contend, that all of us in the PC(USA) can recognize that all of us have valid viewpoints even though we don't agree with all of those viewpoints?

    by Karl Landstrom

    March 17, 2011

  8. I love this from your blog: There is, however, one common denominator: the recognition that the denomination has to change. The question, of course, is how. What's interesting to me is a lot of folks have been saying the PCUSA needs to change for quite some time, and now the WHOLE church seems to be at the microphone. How wonderful is that? I can't help but think that sending nFog out to the Presbyteries has been the conversation catalyst we needed. FINALLY we've got a concrete beginning of "how" to work with. (Still makes me giggle when I put "your" and "blog" in the same sentence.) Blessings on your continued ministry in the PCUSA!

    by Leslianne Braunstein

    March 17, 2011

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