What's done in Atlanta stays in Atlanta....

Two years ago at the PCA's General Assembly our denominational stated clerk, Roy Taylor, spoke in support of an Administrative Committee funding initiative. In defending the proposal, Roy criticized unnamed PCA bloggers for lacking the courage to speak personally to the authors of the initiative before opposing it on the internet.

Because I had opposed the initiative on this blog and because I don't see myself as a shoot-from-the-shadows critic of PCA leadership, I made my way forward to introduce myself at the end of the session.

I told Roy I was one of the bloggers he had just accused of cowardice, but added that I hoped he would accept on the basis of my presence before him that I was willing to say in person what I said on my blog. Nevertheless, I added, despite speaking to him in person I held myself in no way bound by Matthew 18 to approach members of the committee personally before publicly criticizing their plan.

Roy responded that he hadn't been aiming his criticism at me individually, adding that he neither knew of me nor was familiar with my blog--though he corrected himself later by saying, "Oh, I think I did see that blog once."

The conversation was cordial and direct. I ended by telling Roy that I'm willing to be held accountable for the things I write while he reassured me he had not intended to malign me personally.

I tell this story in light of a ByFaith Online article about a conclave of "PCA leaders" held at Roy Taylor's behest last Tuesday in Atlanta under what ByFaith calls "Chatham House Rules" to discuss "causes for conflict in the PCA that hamper our ministry and unity."

Now you've probably never heard of Chatham House Rules. Neither had I. But a little Google digging and Wikipedia fills in the blanks.

Sure enough, what one might suspect from the high-falutin' name all by itself is indeed the case: Chatham House Rules are the kind of high-minded principles adopted by British gentlemen on those occasions when they wish to act ungentlemanly without harm to their reputations.

According to Wikipedia the rule originated at the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.... The rule allows people to speak as individuals and to express views that may not be those of their organisations, and therefore, encourages free discussion. Speakers are free to voice their own opinions, without concern for their personal reputation or their official duties and affiliations. 

Give them a royal imprimatur joined with a British accent and the PCA's leaders are off to the races. Never mind that it's lipstick on a pig, the ecclesiastical equivalent of "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." They're the "Chatham House Rules" after all and, if they're good enough for royalty, they're more-than-sufficient to assuage the guilty consciences of bounderish Presbyterians.

Personally I find it a more sanctifying--if more challenging--rule to assume that all I say and write will one day be revealed as my own. It's not for nothing that Scripture says, "Evil men love darkness." In fact, I'm constantly at war with my own desire to whisper from the shadows.

But I'm sure the lights were on in Atlanta, weren't they?

Sunlight cleanses. Darkness and secrecy promote corruption. For this reason, I stand publicly behind what is written here on BaylyBlog. If Tim and I sin by writing uncharitably or err by writing inaccurately, our goal is to admit it and to apologize even more publicly than the error apologized for. We have done this in the past. We will continue to do this in the future. This is the path of sanctification. And I challenge PCA leaders who find the courage to speak what they believe only under the cover of secrecy to act with forthrightness by making public accountability the hallmark of all they say and do. 

Let me add that reading ByFaith's account of the Atlanta gathering is deeply depressing. Can there be any hope for a denomination so lacking in manly directness and courage? (DB)


Had to chuckle at the 5th comment down at the ByFaith link:

"I don't get it. Isn't this an anonymous article quoting anonymous people making anonymous attacks on other people in the PCA in a (now) public forum - a blog?"

On a serious note, I really appreciate the candour and clarity of this blog. Thank you.

I'm amazed By Faith let that comment through...

Did you read the guys in Atlanta lamented the loss of men leaving the PCA? I wonder who?


A woman (who must remain nameless under Chatham House rules though she is pretty and gluten-free) and [the missionary formerly known as Prince, whom some refer to as an eastern European truck-driver] crashed a party tonight at the home of a middle-aged pastor (with full beard and at least one hole in his left sock) and his lovely [partner]. Not many were at the party, just another middle-aged pastor (who, again, must remain nameless under Chatham House rules, but he does have a beard [though not quite as full as the beard of the other pastor], and has been a member of other Reformed denominations in the past) and his lovely [housemate]. We stared at a warm fire in a wood-burning stove and told stories and made jokes and mentioned how each of us liked this new [though actually old] Chatham House rules thing and how we intended to use it on our secretive blogs where we lob hand grenades [its a figure of speech; the hand grenades aren't real] at leaders in order to escape accountability and the need for [civil] discourse.

Wegener, your sunglasses, cowboy hat, and CB radio can't disguise you.

I should say Pastor Wegener. I should be careful how I speak of the Lord's anointed.

On the Chatham House Rules, one of the problems is that the title sounds so noble and exalted which is completely out of sync with the skulking nature of what they're doing. I would suggest that if they must do it, that they advertise that this civil conversation was made using "Dumpster Diver Rules".

What I really, really, really don't understand is why these people are getting together to talk about and then publish all these remarks about other people without going and speaking to them individually first. Aren't they doing the very thing they condemn, only anonymously? How is what they are doing different than how Erasmus dealt dishonestly with Luther, concerned about Luther trashing people's reputations while working to trash Luther's reputation? Aren't these people being deceitful?

And if I wanted to talk with them personally first before posting these questions, how can I since they're anonymous? Aren't they preventing what they're asking for?

I posted #7 above as a comment to the byfaithonline article.

EETD has overstepped the bounds of propriety. He obviously didn't have the courage to speak personally to "bearded stocking failure" and rather chose to expose the toes on the internet.

This has set the authors of the darn initiative back on their heels.

The toes were not exposed and so Matthew 18 did not apply. But there was a hole and it was visible.

I did not feel a confrontation was necessary but some mention seemed imperative since I'm passive-aggressive and CDO. If I have offended you in any way, I do regret it.

dont know why, but the word "incorrigible" keeps coming to mind.

I feel sorry for the cover-up, but hey, as a pastor myself I understand the desire to say things without being held accountable. Especially if my words might be held against me.

Hey wait. That's what Jesus taught: "Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops (Luke 12:3).

So at the root this really isn't a political faux pas, is it? Nor would changing the meeting procedures to reflect greater transparency reflect the Lord's honor since that won't work repentance (Loreal on pig lips). Any politician would do that. Those men worried about being held accountable for their words would just stay quiet.

Instead, it's a moral problem since it falls short of honoring the Lord's teaching. And if it's a moral problem, it must be traceable to a theology that all 50 participant share.

I'd like to suggest that the theological problem lies in the church polity of the PCA. After all, we are talking about 50 connected pastors being together.

Luke 11:35: "be careful lest the light in you be darkness."

I think the church polity is a huge issue. 50 secret people were selected... how? By a vote? No, they were appointed. How do we know they are "leaders?" Well, because someone (Roy Taylor I believe) declared them to be leaders. According to what standard are they leaders? Well, who knows?

This sort of thing would be fine in an Anglican church - you expect it. But not in a PCA you don't.

"Conclave" is about right. But following the "Cui bono" (who benefits?) rule, and having read the ByFaith article, I was not left with the impression that the people at that meeting, especially wanted it to be under Chatham House rules. Those deeper into the PCA than I can probably work out who said what anyway.

No, I think it's the people who called the meeting who benefit from this sort of arrangement - because it means that *they* don't have to answer in public for what they *really* think about the PCA ship of state.

But then, as a politician in a British TV series called "Yes Minister" put it, "a government is a very unusual ship; it leaks from the top". Watch this space.

Also - The reason why the Church of England remains the shambles it is, when it could be split in at least three different ways, is because no Archbishop of Canterbury wants to be the one on whose watch the whole thing collapses. So he expends maximum effort to keep the show together when huge parts of it are effectively in schism.

Applying that logic on a smaller scale, what we have is a PCA which could split, over a number of issues, into two or even more organisations. But the national leadership (= denominational bureaucracy) don't want that, for all sorts of reasons. So they work hard to paper over the cracks, often by criticising those who would be so difficult as to point them out. Now, I'm not in the PCA, but I've seen this sort of denominational politicking elsewhere.

As usual, comments and criticism welcome.

"... what we have is a PCA which could split, over a number of issues, into two or even more organisations. But the national leadership (= denominational bureaucracy) don't want that, for all sorts of reasons."

Ninety-nine percent of those reasons are variations on a single reason: money.

"So they work hard to paper over the cracks, ..."

... 'cause that's how you keep the money flowing with minimal interruption.

"... I've seen this sort of denominational politicking elsewhere."

Ich auch. Yo tambien. Moi aussi. And so forth in whatever tongue thou listeth, all the way back to proto-Indo-European and beyond. A wise man said "A feast is for laughter, And wine makes merry, and money is the answer for everything."

As well as money, there must be some pretty big denominational egos coming into play as well!

But not always: I remember at one point in my Anglican years, the Bishop meeting with our vestry (=church session) over a particular matter, and his quipping that every time he felt like referring to it as "his" diocese, God would very firmly remind him, "It's My diocese, thank you!" :-)

Add new comment