From “The Way Forward” to a Way Ahead: The Missing Prophetic Compromise

Unbound Staff address the missing text from ACSWP’s Advice & Counsel

Ironically, on possibly the hottest issue of the PCUSA General Assembly, where the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) has ventured a prophetic compromise, originally left out four key paragraphs.

Because the Assembly is fast approaching, and the missing piece may be missed by many who have read what is posted and will not go back, we draw attention to those four paragraphs here.

If you go to the Way Forward Commission (WFC) report, Item [04-03] on, you will see that ACSWP has the first comment (officially called an Advice & Counsel (A&C) memorandum). That comment immediately proposes a 26 member board for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, colloquially known as “A Corp.” But originally, only 20 members were noted; the paragraphs detailing the next six (from the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, the Investment and Loan Program, and the Publishing House) were missing from the website. Also omitted was the Committee’s recommendation that the Executive Director of the Mission Agency NOT be called a “President,” like the heads of the primarily business or financial boards.


The tension between the church as institution and as movement could not be clearer. The church’s understanding of mission must bridge the gap between the two.

The key argument—reinforced by a note from the Theology and Worship office, included as “Appendix A” in the ACSWP comment—is that administration is part of mission, which should be guided by theological vision and leadership. The Way Forward Commission have some accurate criticisms of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and its Board, but they propose a complicated, bureaucratic, and theologically wrong solution to what is a leadership and management problem.

In its own comment, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board responds to the Way Forward proposal by proposing that it retain its own board—like the other four boards—even if the Way Forward sets up its seventh trustee-like administrative body for financial management and administration of “shared services.” Again, while this is a coherent proposal, it also seems unnecessary, if a “joint fiduciary coordinating committee” should be able to manage the shared services for all of 400 people in one building quite adequately.

So here are the missing paragraphs: proposed language replacing recommendation 1, parts b. through h. of the WFC recommendation.  (The 20 persons mentioned are outlined in part a. as members of the PMAB).

b. Approve the addition to those twenty (20) persons of four (4) persons from the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and one (1) each from the Boards of the Presbyterian Publishing Company (Westminster/John Knox Press, or WJK) and the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (PILP), for a total of six (6) persons whose agencies share in administrative services with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, currently located in Louisville, KY. This addition shall be done with the assistance of the General Assembly Nominating Committee and in consultation with the GA Committee on Representation within 30 days after the adjournment of the 223rd General Assembly (2018), and these added members shall be immediately invited and incorporated into the scheduled meetings and all other functions of the existing A Corp.

c. Direct the resulting 26 member board to adopt a streamlined governance structure that corresponds to the mission emphases of the Mission Agency and contains no more than one committee devoted to matters of property, finance, audit, law, and risk management.

d. Direct the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board to designate one member each (possibly, but not necessarily, the treasurer) to work with a joint fiduciary coordinating committee appointed by the Stated Clerk and the Executive Director of the Mission Agency, with liaisons from WJK and PILP, to oversee the provision of shared services with a maximum of transparency in joint reporting to all three boards and one committee.

e. Authorize the PMAB to modify the election and confirmation process for the Executive Director to include in the presentation of any nominee(s) to the General Assembly the inclusion of a statement of faith and a strategic plan or vision for the Agency, and to consider limiting any Executive Director to two (2) terms of four (4) years each. “Executive Director” would be the sole title for the position.

We invite you to read the rest of the A&C, as these omitted paragraphs were only a section of ACSWP’s suggested edits to the report. (Click here and scroll down to see ACSWP’s full comment).

The church has in the past valued self-criticism enough to give a “prophetic” group direct access to the General Assembly as well as to the Board of the Mission Agency. But in a polarizing situation, to suggest a compromise can attract fire from both sides. So we call this a prophetic compromise, partly because we do not want the church’s national bodies to get bogged down in extensive re-organization.

At this Assembly, as Senior Editor Chris Iosso argues in his upcoming editorial, the tension between the church as institution and as movement could not be clearer. The church’s understanding of mission must bridge the gap between the two.


Note: This piece has been edited to reflect the fact that ACSWP’s full comment is now included on

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