Of Presbyterians and Politics
I was a seminary student in the days when there was a conservative caucus within a conservative PCUS presbytery. This was a pre-presbytery meeting at which conservatives decided what would happen at the upcoming meeting without having to deal with those troublesome liberals.
One of my professors was also the stated clerk of the presbytery and a participant in the caucus. He got a fair amount of pleasure from gathering some of “his boys” in his office and telling stories about the personalities and powers in the old denomination.
One day after the caucus meeting, he was sharing a little gossip with some of us about the proceedings. He looked at us with the characteristic twinkle in the eye and wry smile and said of the caucus, “It’s wicked, you know. It’s wicked.” Little did we realize how right he was.
In early years of ministry I was a minister of the new Presbyterian Church in America in the PCA presbytery that succeeded the old PCUS one and encompassed the majority of Presbyterians in area where I had attended seminary. It did not take long before I began to perceive that, though we had separated from the liberals, we had not separated from the politics played by conservatives. Nearly forty years later my observation is that as it was in the beginning, so it is now.
More than twenty years after seminary, when I was about to move from “up north” a Yankee took me aside and said, “You’ll do well up there. You’re a straight shooter, and they like straight shooters.”
What I found when I moved was that there was little intrigue, little arranging behind the scenes. The system worked. Clerks were clerks. Committees were committees. There seemed to be no good ole boy networks. Deliberations occurred on the floor. I, though a unreconstructed Confederate, could actually be heard when I spoke. Arguments mattered. There was less indirection. I never sensed there was "a plan", that people had been "talked to", that the fix was in. Fewer times was I among the losing minority. I still lost, but it was not so hard to take, because all was done above board. I seemed able to make a difference. I found the openness refreshing.
Now I have a question for the ecclesiastical psychologists and sociologists. Why? Why the so obvious differences? Is it something about the cultural differences between Southerners and Northerners? Or the historical experiences of the Northern and Southern Presbyterians? Hodge and Thornwell? Or what?