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Irrelevencies

Let’s dive right in.  Last night is was announced that Proposed Amendment to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) 14-F will pass.  The vote is unofficial as of this moment, but enough presbyteries have responded to show that it will pass.

What is Proposed Amendment to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) 14-F?  It is the amendment that allows pastors who believe that same-sex marriage is something that can be blessed by God to perform same-sex marriages in jurisdictions that it is legal (and perform ceremonies blessing civil unions already created) and sessions to use their facilities for such ceremonies.  To do this, it redefines marriage to be between two people instead of a man and a woman.

Now, if you are wondering why I wrote that as a description of something humdrum and rote, it’s because I don’t particularly care about the decision. I could make it all sensationalized, write it in a way that charges the emotions and sets your battling heart afire, but this, to me, is not that big of a decision. It does not compel any action whatsoever. Pastors who want to refuse to have any part of same-sex marriages are empowered to do so. Any sessions that want to categorically deny the use of their facilities for same-sex marriages can do so. Pastors and sessions who believe God can bless and be present and the third person in a same-sex marriage can do so. It is freeing, not compelling.  Anyone can treat it as the same interpretation as it was before if they desire.  It simply takes the decision of conscious and put it in the hands of sessions and pastors instead of the General Assembly.

I happen to believe that our restrictions on same-sex marriage hold a lot less biblical weight than a restriction on second marriages after divorce would and are a symptom of discomfort, not strong morality. I think we should be seeking, as churches, to be welcoming people who want Christ to be part of their lives to invite Christ into every facet of their lives and because same-sex civil union (legal marriage, which I think should be the term for all contracts that bound two people, not just same-sex) will soon be nation-wide and likely federally recognized, we should act in a way that opens the door for the Spirit to work within all couples that are legally bound and have Christ bless all unions. Call me crazy, but forcing people to seek Spiritual care, counsel, and guidance elsewhere because of homosexuality strikes me as antithetical to the message of love in the gospel.

That’s what I think about the decision. That’s my answer, as I am able to state it right now.  I wrote that before I had even gotten out of my pajamas, before I had any coffee, I spent the day working on a sermon and worship prep, and my position hasn’t changed.  That’s what I think of the decision.

But, as I said, I don’t particularly feel strongly about it.  I don’t think it as historical of an issue for the church as everyone feels it is, and I think our desire to make it historical has more to do with emotions and right now than it does with 20 years from now.  But that’s me.

You know what I do care about, though?  Hatred and disunity in my church.

If you read that post I wrote last week, you had a glimpse into the struggles I’ve had getting ordained.  There were multiple times I contemplated leaving this church that I love so much because the ordination process was killing my faith.  There were times that I felt this church that raised me and helped me grow was pushing me out and wanted nothing to do with my ministry.  I had to choose to be here, to fight to be there, and sacrifice time in my career (and likely some of Nora’s career) to stay in this church.  And I’m on the right path now, I see a light at the end of the tunnel – and the tunnel isn’t nearly as dark as it used to be – and ordination no longer feels like a pipe dream but an eventuality if I’m willing to work for it.

I had to fight to stay here, though.  I chose to be in this church, and made that decision multiple times when it felt like it was the wrong decision.  I would not have done that if I didn’t love this church, love God, and worship a savior through Biblical means.

Here is what I’ve seen my church do since the passing of 10-A in 2010 and affirmation by presbyteries in 2011:

Disunity and Hatred

I decided to visit the websites of the two PC(USA) groups that fall on the radical ends of the spectrum – the Covenant Network and the Layman – to see what each had to say.  The Covenant Network had a simple letter expressing joy that the measure they had worked to get passed had come to fruition yet understanding that it would create a rift between Presbyterians and hope that the conversation between them could continue.  In honesty, I thought it was a classy gesture and expressed joy while recognizing that not all would be celebrating.

I can’t fault them for that.  They faithfully believed this was the action that God was calling them to, and the celebrated in having it pass.  It’s the same as celebrating victory in an election.

I wanted to present a balanced account of how people were responding and yet I couldn’t because the response wasn’t balanced.  Covenant Network’s letter was about unity and not compelling any action.

When I visit the Layman, I was horrified as I was in 2011 to see how they responded.  I want to give them a benefit of the doubt, that they truly believe that this is so antithetical to Biblical teachings that all who agree with it should be labeled as heretics and stop being called pastors.  (To the Layman’s benefit, much of my horror was from the comment section and not the letter – though the letter wasn’t exactly unifying, either – but those comments point to a mentality.)  I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt when I read nothing but judgement – not admonition or disagreement – in their response.

I can’t understand it because I know people who were fighting this battle on the side that won.  I know pastors who have fought this battle from day one who are biblical teachers, well read and knowledgable and faithful.  I know scholars who have spent a considerable amount of time with the scriptures, the historical context of the words, and the style of literature each book is made up of, and come to conclusions that aren’t just well reasoned but faithful and Spirit-filled, in my opinion.

I know these people.  Some of these people are the reason I’m still in the process and didn’t jump ship.  Some of them have radically changed by views through use of the scriptures – the whole scriptures.  They have made me better at preaching, better at interpreting, better at every facet of ministry.  I am three or four times the pastor I would have been had I just been with people who agreed with me.  I still disagree with many of them – MANY – but I am better, and hopefully they are, too, because we butted heads.

So when I see people calling these faithful, loving, well-read, and Bible-followers heretics, evil, non-pastors, or anything other than loving Christian leaders, I get incredibly angry and I see a symptom of our fallenness.  We desire to be right so much that when we think we are right and the majority disagree with us, instead of seeking to find a way to reconcile that, and reconcile back with each other, we lash out and act in hatred instead of love.

That is unacceptable.  I had a list of people who I believed where literally pushing me out of the PC(USA) for no reason other than they didn’t like me.  Those feelings lead me to lash out at the process – not necessarily the wrong things to say in the situation, but certainly not done in a pastoral way to people who were judging my fitness for pastoral ministry – and that lashing out rightly risked me being removed from the process.  Everything that lead up to it was wrong, but my lashing out made it worse, and needlessly so.

Lashing out of emotion is not helpful.  It may feel good in the moment – I know it did for me – but it does nothing but create hostility.  If you are going to claim that your lashing out is because of something in scripture, show me in the same book of 66 pieces of literature where lashing out of emotion is how reconcile differing opinions.

The other response from the losing side I see is the victim status.  I could spend hours dissecting that and saying why I think it is childish and baseless, but I’m going to say this:

Nothing in this decision compels anyone to do anything, and no one made this decision outside of their understanding of scripture.  You don’t get to claim victim status if it has no effect on your ministry and wasn’t an attack on your beliefs.

All teaching elders require seminary education, and there isn’t a PC(USA) seminary that doesn’t have exegesis courses.  We may not all agree on the path of interpretation, but we all have a strong background in interpretation because of our educations and the heritage we come from.  No one is a heretic in this situation – conservative or liberal.  You can’t make that claim every time you lose; you have to be an adult about it.

Fight for the next 100 GA’s.  Create resolutions every two years.  Discuss and debate passionately and peacefully.  Spend time honing your Biblical, theological, and historical arguments, and make them stronger so your position can become the majority position.  I encourage it; that’s how we grow.

What you cannot do, period, is claim that anyone who disagrees with you does not follow Christ.  It’s not fair, and you know it.

The other half of victim status is presbyteries who are making it difficult for churches to leave the denomination.  I’ve seen it a couple of times today, and I just want to address it like this:

I think leaving a denomination, further splintering the Body of Christ, is the wrong action.  Period.  If you can show me where we are supposed to fracture and splinter over disagreements of teachings and faithful interpretation in scripture, I will delete this whole thing and publicly shame myself.  But it’s not there.

We are one Body.  One.  I support presbyteries who make it difficult for congregations to leave – especially over an issues that have no effect on ministries that don’t want to have an effect on them – because we preach unity.

If the decisions today were to compel pastors to perform the ceremonies and sessions to allow them under their roof, then I would think the splintering was done to the congregations.  As it is now – and has been stated as the goal all along – the decision is to lie with the teaching elders and sessions.  You can be blunt about disagreeing, vocal about not doing it, put it in bylaws.  You are not forced to be something you cannot faithfully be, and splintering because effectively nothing changed for you is unacceptable and an emotional response.

And again, if it were truly heresy, then it would no longer represent the Body of Christ.  As it is, we also ordain women and allow women to enter the church while menstruating and eat shrimp and say slavery is bad and no longer have concubines and polygamy, all of which is from scripture.  This isn’t a heretical decision much like saying slavery is bad wasn’t a heretical decision; it is an interpretation of scripture, done faithful and humbly.

We cannot become splintered because of this.  We can’t just run away every time we don’t our way.  Some of us fought to serve this church and find it offensive that people are willing to split because a decision didn’t go their way.

And ignoring my selfishness, that isn’t the way we show love to one another.  If you truly believe something is evil, you stick around and lovingly try to fix it.  If you believe someone has erred, you admonishing them lovingly, from a position of humility, and seek to reconcile.  You don’t respond out of hate, disunity, and a desire to break apart.

We are called to be One Body, and confess to One God.  Maybe we should worry a little bit more about that and not a decision of conscious being given to the individual churches instead of a mandate from on high.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Pray my sermon – which is completely irrelevant to this blog post – is actually Spirit filled and not just me blabbering for 15 minutes tonight.

In Christ and out of love,

– Robert

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