Making Sausage with the National Partnership

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2)

It’s been said that politics is like sausage. You don’t want to see it made. Unfortunately, church politics can often be like that as well. This is particularly true when church officers demand secrecy.

On the evening of October 26 I (along with others) was sent a cache of emails exchanged among the leadership of the National Partnership. If you are not familiar with the National Partnership (NP), they are a rather secretive organization operating within the PCA which seeks to shape the denomination according to their vision. For instance, the NP has been enthusiastic in their support of Revoice and other efforts to broaden the doctrinal “tent” of the PCA. You can read a little about the NP Here and Here.

Now, back to the subject at hand. The emails in question run from 2013 to July of this year. They are emails exchanged through a password protected website between the leadership of the National Partnership. They are a window into the political activity of the secretive organization. Why one member of the group decided to make those emails known I do not know. But I was grieved to the heart as I read them. They reveal a level of political maneuvering that can fairly be described as cynical.

Interspersed among the emails is a rather triumphal claim that they, the National Partnership, represent the majority of the PCA. Apart from the party spirit betrayed by such chest beating one must wonder why it is, then, that they must operate under cover of secrecy. I would like to ask any member of the National Partnership if they are troubled by the revelations of non-disclosure agreements that have been employed by churches like Mars Hill? Do they believe it is appropriate to saddle the members of their group with secrecy?

The emails reveal why the NP has had such success in recent years in advancing their agenda. These men are highly organized. Some of them spend hours each week working to influence votes on the presbytery and GA levels. Among their efforts is identifying the men who their members should not vote for if they are nominated for committees or agencies. For instance, one well known Ruling Elder with a well-earned reputation for faithful service to the Lord and the PCA was recently nominated to serve on the Standing Judicial Commission. In one email the leader of the NP wrote that this brother, “is the primary GRN organizer and agitator, the prime organizing voice against CTS and mover of the Nashville statement. He would be, I cannot stress enough, a disaster for the court.”

Not surprisingly, the NP stands in strong opposition to the passage of Overtures 23 and 37 which were approved overwhelmingly at this year’s General Assembly. These clear and necessary overtures are meant to help sessions and presbyteries by providing guidelines for examining the character of candidates for ordination. It goes without saying that the NP’s opposition to these overtures gives insight into their vision for the PCA.

Another troubling feature of these many emails are the number of times the NP’s political leader refers to having “NP representatives” on the various committees and agencies. Please understand the significance of such statements. There is a secretive organization operating within the PCA which has labored to get their “representatives” (those working for NP ends) on PCA committees and agencies. How is this anything other than a party spirit? How is this not divisive? What do the many faithful lay men and women in the PCA think of such strategies? What are we to think of an unaccountable and secretive organization referring to its members as “representatives” of – not the PCA – but of the secretive organization?

Also troubling is the ubiquitous use of terms like “NP churches,” and “NP Presbyteries.” You read that correctly. There are pastors in the PCA who refer to PCA Presbyteries with NP members as “NP Presbyteries.” I wonder what our TE’s and RE’s who do not align with the National Partnership think of the presbytery they faithfully serve as being thought of as belonging to this unaccountable organization? If you understand Presbyterianism this sort of terminology is brazen to say the least. It’s certainly not Presbyterian.

I have been told repeatedly by men that I now know are members of the NP that there is no NP “leadership”; that there is no political maneuvering; that the NP is merely a yearly fellowship meal at General Assembly and a monthly email of encouragement. Obviously, those assurances were lies.

This ought to grieve every pastor and member of a PCA church. I hope the release of these emails will cause at least some of the membership of the National Partnership to rethink their participation in the group. I hope also that the Ruling Elders and laity of the PCA will thoughtfully and with proper gentleness engage their pastors on this subject. The PCA deserves better than these sorts of cynical political machinations. I would encourage you to respectfully ask your TE’s and RE’s what they think of the National Partnership and whether they support its goals.

To those confessionalists in the PCA I say do not lose heart. Continue to pray for our beloved denomination and labor for its peace and purity. Pray that those who find themselves out of step with the doctrines, ecclesiology, and worship of our Reformed heritage would either repent and honor their sacred ordination vows or find a denomination which fits their present convictions.

In light of these grievous realities it would be inappropriate for me to not include a reminder of our need for God’s grace. Those of us who are understandably scandalized by the revelations found in the National Partnership emails must avoid the sin of the Pharisee praying in the temple who looked upon the publican and thanked God he was not like that sinner. My shock over the behavior of other sinners ought to never replace or overshadow my grief over my own sin. We must each take the posture of that pitiful publican who could only beat his breast and plead for God’s mercy. In stating this I am not offering any excuses for sin. Certainly God’s grace is not a license to sin. But I would invite all of us, including my brothers in the National Partnership, to examine our hearts and repent of our sin. Where there has been wrong let us seek to right it.

* A Note on the claim that the emails were “stolen.”

The leader of the National Partnership marked his emails as confidential. Does this mean that the member of their group who released them is guilty of theft? Does it mean that those who have read them or commented on them are guilty of receiving stolen property? In a word: No. Please note that the leader of the National Partnership is threating to file charges against the men who posted links to the emails.

In the case of the emails exchanged by members of the National Partnership one must ask whether any of the members of that group are bound either by church law or conscience to keep the emails confidential simply because one member of the group marks his emails as confidential. It would be difficult in the extreme to argue that a recipient of those emails has stolen them since, as a member of the group he now, in a sense, owns those emails. Did every member of the group agree to confidentiality? If so was that a proper agreement to make by an officer of the church? Is a secretive group operating in the PCA for the purpose to “win every vote” (their words) worthy of being granted strict confidentiality by the other officers of the church?

Of the National Partnership members who are claiming that the emails have been stolen and that everyone to whom the emails were sent have received stolen goods I would like to ask whether you received, commented on, or passed along any information, quotes, or screen shots from the Genevan Commons confidential Facebook group? If so, are you guilty of theft? It is my understanding that the group was private and the members pledged confidentiality. I’m sure how you recall how Aimee Byrd, Carl Trueman, and I were routinely trashed on that site. I also recall many officers in the PCA passing along screenshots from that confidential group. Were you sinning by violating confidentiality? Or did you rightly conclude that, as an officer in the church, you were not bound by such non-binding confidentiality agreements?

I conclude with these sober reflections from an elder in the PCA:

“The resort to secrecy is the most insidious form of factionalism. It means that the living Spiritual endeavor of the court has been reduced to a mechanism for results-- a machinery handled to achieve the ends of me and mine and more likely a minority of many…

“In place of secrecy, one would need to exercise the common virtues of Christlikeness. One would need to consider fidelity to the church's unity as a right and wholesome limit on all sorts of success. Success that counterfeits unity is not more useful than schism. This is why the National Partnership™ is worthy of our tears…

“There is a profound and disturbing conundrum humming in the background of these eight years and many emails: the secrecy of the majority. By repeated assertion and articulated reasoning, these emails show a small group of officers claiming to stand for the majority in our communion. Their discussion manifests a concern to ensure that the majority view in the denomination is not slighted by the vigorous efforts of minority positions-- views purportedly unrepresentative of the majority among us. With even more frequent explicit statements and with just as conspicuous a role throughout, confidentiality and an exclusive membership pervade the emails. Why would secrecy be employed by the majority?”