Grace Presbytery in Texas has officially defrocked a former renewal leader who led the charge to remove Highland Park Presbyterian (one of the larger churches in the Presbytery) from the Presbyterian Church (USA). According to the report, Joseph Rightmyer lost all credentials with the church of his ordination:
“The censure imposed…was removal from the ordered ministry of teaching elder. This means that he is no longer a minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and is no longer a teaching elder member of Grace Presbytery. This is the highest level of censure permitted by the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”
The charges all stem from Rightmyer’s leadership of and participation in the process that removed Highland Park Presbyterian from the PCUSA and brought them into the ECO fold, including the charge of: “advocating and facilitating a process for Highland Park Presbyterian Church to determine whether to remain a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”
My guess is that this won’t actually bother Rightmyer all that much, since he will likely be enjoying the friendly embrace of ECO’s schismatic arms soon. If it does, so much the better: there should be consequences for violating one’s covenant. It’s even more troubling to me that Rightmyer led this effort in his capacity as an interim. Funny enough, when you look on Highland Park’s website under “Our Denomination,” one of the things for which they praise ECO is a commitment to covenant: “To connect leaders in accountable relationships and encourage collaboration.” I don’t they know what that word “covenant” means. This is, after all, a new denomination built on stealing congregations from the PCUSA.
This story caused a bit of a stir among some United Methodists. I find it encouraging, actually. Yes, schismatics – people who tear the fabric of our fellowship – should be defrocked. This is as much a no-brainer as there can exist in the church. Many UMs seem to have little stomach for something that is rather common in other professions (and yes, I know that clergy represent neither a business nor a “regular” profession). One regularly hears of lawyers being disbarred or doctors losing their license for malpractice of some sort or another. Some state medical boards even publicly list those whose licenses have been revoked or are facing disciplinary action. When one’s vocation can seriously impact the lives of others for good or for ill, a lack of faithfulness to that vocation should lead to consequences. We either care about the church or we don’t; refusing to hold schismatics, abusers, and incompetents accountable is not grace, it is spiritually sanctioned indifference.
It’s one thing for a pastor to find themselves at odds with the denomination that ordained them; it’s quite another to lead an exodus of clergy and/or churches from that denomination. The former is unfortunate, the latter is unconscionable.
Every healthy organism has boundaries; like a cell, a healthy boundary is permeable – it’s not a wall, but it does have substance. The UMC needs some of the intestinal fortitude shown by the PCUSA to maintain some semblance of boundaries, otherwise the organism can only grow more sick.