Three conservative pastors have stepped forward to “rededicate” the Presbyterian Church (USA) to its reformed roots, by declaring their candidacy for a top post in the denomination. They will be running against the current stated clerk, Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, who has been heavily criticized for his failure to enforce church laws banning homosexual ordinations and marriage ceremonies.
"Each time a clergyperson, an elder, a congregation, a presbytery, an officer, or any other governing body in the PCUSA is allowed to defy our constitution without discipline, the PCUSA inches closer to total anarchy," said Rev. Rus Howard, pastor of Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church and one of the reformed candidates.
Howard, who announced his candidacy on March 26, has been actively involved in the battle to maintain the purity of the PCUSA since 2002. Early this year, Howard sponsored a proposal in the Washington Presbytery that would have allowed the conservative congregations to form a new denomination while keeping their property and clergy pensions. The proposal was defeated 76-28.
Howard is best known for his 2002 involvement in taping “A Call to Confession and Repentance" to the door of denominational headquarters in Louisville, Ky. Following the steps of Martin Luther who nailed the 99 thesis at Wittenberg Cathedral, Howard and four companions taped the statement to express their dissatisfaction the church leadership.
Howard’s chief complaint was against Kirkpatrick, who, according to Howard, "has effectively declared that no one is empowered to enforce the decisions" of the denomination's highest court.
“We have to get him out of leadership if the church is going to return to its Reformed roots," Howard said while announcing his candidacy.
Kirkpatrick said that, while the Presbyterian Church (USA) says marriage is only between a man and a woman, it has voted to support "equal civil liberties in a contractual relationship with all the civil rights of married couples."
Howard believes Kirkpatrick should have stressed the church's commitment to marriage between a man and a woman. The statement that he taped to church headquarters called for Kirkpatrick "to make certain that all clergy, elders, deacons and governing bodies who defy our constitution are removed from office"
While Howard himself admits that he does not expect to win, he says the race will allow him to express his concerns about the state of the church.
"Since I've been speaking up for a couple of years, I think I need to stand up and put myself on the front line," he said.
Another candidate – the Rev. Bob Davis of Escondido - however, may have a good chance of winning. Reverend Davis the Executive Director of the reformed group Presbyterian Forum, announced his candidacy on January 6th 2004.
Since his announcement, several renewal ministries, including the Presbyterian Coalition, pledged their support to his candidacy.
“The Presbyterian Coalition endorses the Reverend Robert Davis as candidate for the office of Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. We do so gladly and without reservation,” the Coalition wrote on March 26.
“Bob has demonstrated his knowledge and love of the Church, his expertise in polity, his theological acumen, his fair and considered judgments. His ability to agree with an opponent and disagree with a friend demonstrates his grace in difficulties and his trustworthiness in troubled circumstances,” it continued. “Bob’s training and experience as an attorney will serve him well with the intricate and ever present polity matters before the Church. Bob’s involvement in ecumenical ministries locally will serve him well as our chief ecumenical officer. Bob’s passion that the Church’s officers become well trained in constitutional matters for the sake of peace, unity and purity of the Church will serve the Church.”
“We recommend Bob to the commissioners of the General Assembly as a candidate for the Office of the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly because we believe Bob will serve the Church well – the whole Church,” it wrote.
During his announcement, Davis emphasized that he would bring a new direction to the PCUSA, which has been losing its members annually.
“It is time for a new direction in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We need to be intentional about our responsibility as a faithful part of the Church historic in a dynamic world,” Davis said.
The last evangelical candidate is Alex Metherell, an elder at 4,000-member St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.
“My sense of call to this position grows stronger every day,” he said in a press release announcing his candidacy, “as I look at the state of the church and the problems the new stated clerk will be facing.”
In the release about his candidacy, Metherell charged that Kirkpatrick and Associate Stated Clerk Mark Tammen “succeeded in sabotaging the meeting by getting our moderator to act unconstitutionally.”
“I long to have an open and thorough debate on the issues that are critical to the life of our denomination,” he wrote, “particularly in matters that concern the leadership from the office of the stated clerk.”
Before the Assembly convenes, Metherell said, he will be sharing with the church his “observations that reflect my concerns for a denomination that has had an extended constitutional crisis and a painful loss of membership.”
The presidential election will be held during the 216th General Assembly, which is scheduled for June 26 to July 3 in Richmond VA. The three evangelical candidates will be running against the incumbent Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, who is seeking a third term.