News from the Executive Presbyter/Stated Clerk
THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH SEAL
Occasionally, I get questions from churches that I assume others perhaps are also asking, like the one I received about the Presbyterian seal, which was given a rainbow-color appearance.
The seal of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was adopted in 1985, two years after the reunion of the United Presbyterian Church (UPCUSA) and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). The seal exists in several formats: color or monochrome, and with the words “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” in a circle around the cross/flames, or without the words.
The following is from the web page about the seal on the General Assembly’s web site:
Each congregation and governing body may use the seal without receiving prior permission. Congregations and governing bodies may not, however, license use of the seal to anyone else. All other organizations, groups and members must receive prior written permission to use the seal.
The design and proportions of the symbol must not be altered in any way, except the size may be changed for use on stationery, signs, banners and so forth.
We live in an age of rapid communications where individuals and groups make statements or simply use images that they alter for their purposes, posting them on various social media platforms. One frequent example is putting a blue stripe on an image of the American flag in support of law enforcement. Likewise, people have taken the Presbyterian seal and altered it by giving it rainbow colors, for multiple and diverse reasons.
The only versions of the Presbyterian seal officially authorized by the General Assembly and available on the denomination’s web page are the ones I have copied above, and the only alterations made to them are that they are available in Spanish, Portuguese, and Korean versions for groups that are prominent in our denomination.
Whether the rainbow version that has been making the rounds on social media has received permission from the General Assembly for its use I cannot say. It is not listed as an available and authorized option of the GA’s web page. Technically, it appears to be an unauthorized alteration.
Early on in my ministerial career, the Associate Executive of my presbytery told me that when people vote on an issue, there could be fifteen different reasons why they voted the way they did. When people alter a seal like the rainbow version that has been making the rounds, there could be fifteen – if not fifty or more – different reasons why they have done so, ranging from full-blown advocacy for LGBTQIA+ causes to a simple statement that they are open and inclusive of all people, with no other particular agenda intended.
As we think about such issues, may we be mindful of these words from the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, F-1.0404:
As it participates in God’s mission, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) seeks:
While we are at it, perhaps it will be good to recall these words of F-1.0302, about our calling to bear “witness in word and work that in Christ the new creation has begun, and that God who creates life also frees those in bondage, forgives sin, reconciles brokenness, makes all things new, and is still at work in the world … The Church seeks to present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of Christ alone as Savior and Lord, and new life as his disciples.”
At our core, that is who we are as Presbyterians, and what we stand for, no matter how one colors the seal that is supposed to represent our unity and common calling in Jesus Christ.
Executive Presbyter/Stated Clerk
Rev. Dr. Dan Williams