Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How Do We Go Forward?

After reading this post from Viola Larson, and an interesting conversation at lunch with my evangelical brothers in the PC(USA), I am left with the same question I've been asking for almost 4 years now. How do we (pastors in the denomination) go forward?
I have stuck my neck out, and tried to reach across the aisle to promote a "no action" vote on 08-B, which my evangelical brothers have graciously received by handing me my head. It seems that reaching across the aisle propels one out of one's seat on this side. I asked them the same question, and I got back a variant of this Long Island pastor's answer: "...Personally, I will stay in the PCUSA and pastor my flock as I fulfill my call - not to be faithful but because I have not found a way out yet. But should God ever open the door to a call away from the PCUSA, I will be gone in a heartbeat; shaking the dust from my shoes as a testimony...even if I have to wait until honorable retirement to do so..."
Being a minority is hard on the soul. I see it all around me in the community I live in, one of the few places in the USA where African-Americans have majority status. The privations of the southern part of Dallas are perceived to be entirely the work of "them," the rich white majority north of the Trinity; but the desire to separate is on both sides of the river. Separation is the last defense of any minority; it is a way to survive the crushing forces of conformity to the majority. Minority cultures can survive no other way.
This is why OCPC is such a strange and wonderful community. We are all refugees from our cultures of origin: to come here and be part of this family, everyone has to leave home. And yet, the relationships that bind us, first to Christ and then to one another, make this place in no man's land home, too. It was home when white flight emptied the neighborhood of good "Presbyterian" families; it was home when busing scarred the lives of young people who went to school knowing that they were not wanted. It was home as it changed from an Anglo congregation where African-Americans were welcome to a more integrated congregation with a lot of people for whom the word "church" did not engender warm memories of being welcome.
I live as a minority now; our family is one of 3 Anglo families in our neighborhood. So how do we live as a minority, my evangelical brothers and sisters who are reading this? I made a suggestion of what to do with 08-B that might open some lines of communication. You didn't like it. What's your idea?
We cannot stay and leave at the same time.


  1. What a sad comment from the Long Island pastor. His definition of “call” is disturbing. ("...Personally, I will stay in the PCUSA and pastor my flock as I fulfill my call - not to be faithful but because I have not found a way out yet. But should God ever open the door to a call away from the PCUSA, I will be gone in a heartbeat; shaking the dust from my shoes as a testimony...even if I have to wait until honorable retirement to do so...") I don’t know who he is, and I may simply misunderstand his head and heart, but reading his words, I hear a lack of moral courage and a desire to stay safe.

    As we prayed and worked and prayed and studied over the months it took to write the New Wineskins Strategy Report, we were led to understand that the call is not from a congregation to a pastor. God calls the congregation to seek the leadership of a particular pastor and He calls the pastor to shepherd that particular flock. It seems to me as if this fellow has somehow cut God out of the process.

    How can Long Island pastor fulfill his call if not out of a desire to be faithful? I suspect that he is in one of those congregations that is evangelical on one small side, liberal on the other, with a mushy middle. He says he hopes for a “way out,” “a call away from the PCUSA (sic).” Sadly, that is a call to stand fast and relax in the status quo. It may be safe, but it is not faithful.

    In the Strategy Report, we said

    ". . . The goal is to further the Great Ends of the Church, and not to undermine, but to uphold our life together as members of the Body of Christ.

    Some of us will be called to follow The Plan detailed in Part III that leads to new relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ who are in a different place. Those who follow this path will leave their parent’s home and join with others to discover new ways to carry out the Great Commission.

    Others may be called to stay where they are and be a prophetic witness to what has been our traditional home. Those who follow this path will continue to strive to reform, renew and repair the old homestead so that it can once again be a vibrant and welcoming lodging for those who are lost and hungry for the Word.

    That being said, we implore all to whom this report shall come: there must be a new thing, wherever it may occur. To simply stand fast and relax in the status quo is to agree that no change is necessary. Is such a course a faithful response to the moment in time in which we find ourselves? We emphatically respond, 'No!'
    We believe there are two faithful options for evangelicals to follow:

    • To realign with an evangelical, Reformed body that is more faithful to Christ, obedient to Scripture and seeks a missionally-focused partnership with us than is the PC(USA); or

    • To stay in place within the PC(USA), while working for the reformation and renewal of that part of the Body of Christ if so led by the Holy Spirit."

    I am praying that God—who knows exactly who this gent is—will both soften and strengthen his heart. Soften it to salve the hurt and anger that are apparent. Strengthen it so that he can be a leader by example.

    Perhaps his current flock, with prayer, leadership, instruction, and courage, will be called to go together with him to a new part of the sheepfold. Or perhaps, with prayer, leadership, instruction and courage, he and his flock will discover that God has called them together to be a loud and faithful witness in their current ecclesial location for reform and renewal of the PC(USA).

    In His humanity, Jesus prayed "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; . . ..”

    In his humanity, Long Island pastor also seeks to avoid the hard part of being faithful. Until he has a safe way out, he will remain, silent and inactive, in the status quo, even if it lasts “until honorable retirement.”

    But Jesus calls us to follow His divine example, continuing His prayer, “. . . nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."

    God’s call can often be away from the safe “now” to the hard “tomorrow.” Your description of the call at OCPC, where the Pastor and the Flock joyfully witness together to a hard world, is the example that Christ set. I will pray that our Long Island brother receives that call he so earnestly wants—even if it is the hard call to faithfully and dangerously stay but witness where he is.

  2. I agree with you, Mac--
    But I think that the Anglo mindset is peculiarly unable to embrace the loss of control that comes from being a minority.
    That is a cultural blinder which becomes a spiritual one. We claim Jesus as Lord, but we need control; we can't do those two things at the same time, either. I think that in many ways this is the dilema across Anglo America.