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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert


The Presbyterian way of doing church in America is as old as America itself. We see the Presbyterian way of balancing and distributing power in how our country designed our political system.

Presbyterians do not like to put too much power in a single person at the top, like a king, pope, pastor, or president, because they can easily become greedy tyrants. Presbyterians do not like to put too much power in the people at large, the masses, because when asked we are easily manipulated into voting "Crucify him!"

Instead, Presbyterians prefer to put most of the power to lead and govern in a small representative group in the middle, ones elected by the people for their widsom and character, and ones with enough conscience and courage to hold leaders, each other, and all of us accountable to our promises and ideals.

I am accustomed to seeing individual leaders go astray. The temptation is so great. The taste of power and fame is so intoxicating. I am also accustomed to large percentages of the people being duped, fooled, and convinced to believe conspiracy theories over testimony, recordings, documents, science, or fact. As a Presbyterian, I depend on the wise, careful, compassionate, courageous representatives in the middle of the leader and the people to resist self-serving spin and speak inconvenient truths.

In our founding documents as Presbyterians, truth is one of our highest values. One of the six "Great Ends" of our church is "the preservation of the truth." (PCUSA Book of Order, F-1.0304). The grand confessional and theological statements Presbyterians have made though time "arose in response to particular circumstances within the history of God’s people (and) claim the truth of the Gospel at those points where their authors perceived that truth to be at risk." (F-2.01) We even go so far as to say this:

We believe "truth is in order to goodness, and the great touchstone of truth (is) its tendency to promote holiness...” We also believe "that no opinion can either be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level and represents it as of no consequence what a (person's) opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise, it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it." (F-3.0104)

In this year, my top prayer is for truth. I want truth to be heard and believed. I want truth to guide our actions and policies. I want to see elected representatives seek truth, believe truth, and speak truth no matter the political consequences. I pray for truth to be the key ingredient that guides our beliefs (faith), our practices, and our duty. I pray for debunked conspiracy theories to wither, and for false accusations to atrophy. I pray for legal maneuvering without evidence to lose quickly, and for real issues of bias, hate, or bigotry to be confronted.

I grabbed my star word this Sunday and flipped it over to find the word Paradox. To help me walk this path through the mystery, puzzle, contradiction, and ambiguity that is paradox, I pray I will find, believe, depend on, and practice Truth.

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