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A Very unPresbyterian Scandal

November 25, 2008

pmslogoOther local bloggers have weighed in on this scandal, sometimes very creatively, like Cheryl, sometimes prophetically, like Alan, and some just expressing dismay I guess, like Mark. But whichever way you look at it, it’s a scandal which is set to get worse.

In summary, the Presbyterian MUTUAL Society is technically insolvent due to the self-interested actions of the informed few. So despite the bulk of assets tied up in property and loans, when some realised the Society was not covered by the government guarantee scheme they withdrew their savings to the relative ‘safety’ of the banks (ha! ha!). And not just individuals, but whole congregations which had money set aside. This left the Society unable to cover its cash needs and thus technically insolvent.

The steady flow of news reporting then has ensured the story hasn’t gone away and today a Presbyterian Charitable organisation with interests in Africa cannot access it’s £600k of reserves. Tonight’s Spotlight programme on BBC1 promises more scandal.

Today a Presbyterian insider told me that this disgrace is the biggest challenge faced by the denomination in more than a generation, with the capacity to split the church down the middle. His analysis was that the split is urban/rural, with country Presbytery Clerks and local congregations pressing the church authorities to take responsibility. Meanwhile the perception is that the suburban elites are sitting smugly on their hundreds of thousands in govt guarantee banks. Mutuality be damned!

It’s a very unPresbyterian mess. Mutual commitment under a common denominational identity and heritage has been sold for a mess of pottage. Fellowship tossed away for imagined security.

Another Presbyterian friend today described it thusly that each year it appears that the Moderator is forced into one lie. Last year, this friend said, the Moderator claimed he couldn’t remember which way he voted on the issue of ordaining women. I think my friend doubted the veracity of this claim. This year the Moderator says the Presbyterian Church and the the Presbyterian Mutual Society were two entirely separate legal entities, and is backed by the Clerk. This may be technically true, but is it in the spirit of the law? It appears that for many years Presbyterians have been encouraged to save and borrow with the Society. At least part of the hurt that exists is due to the fact that some congregants and congregations followed the encouragments of the Assembly and now feel let down by the denomination’s promise of a hardship fund and pastoral care. The websites were embedded, they shared an email server. Come on!

The appointed administrator for the Society is allegedly warning church officials off making any apology or admitting any responsibility. This would not serve the needs of either institution at this stage. Apparently.

But surely the right thing to do is to at least admit some responsibility and issue an apology. Yes it may cost the church some money, maybe even lots of it, but is there a price on the integrity of the denomination? Will real human beings continue to be sacrificed on the altar of institutional survival? Is there no place for a prophetic pronouncement from the church to those who abandoned a principle of fellowship and mutuality and their fellow church members?

As a member of the Presbyterian Church I’m deeply disappointed and saddened.

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