Thursday, February 12, 2009

Testing, Testing: A Route to Coexistence

I feel called to raise this trial balloon-- let's see if it flies. Evangelicals and Progressives in the PC(USA) are struggling for dominance; if we are to look for a path to coexistence with our differing points of view on human sexuality, I believe that several strands of thought need to weave together:
  • We must accept that we are a minority-- ALL of us, whatever side we take in the current disputes-- inside this culture. The culture and the church are no longer coexistential, if they ever truly were. We follow the Christ the head of the church, not the culture.
  • None of us truly knows what God is up to in this time. We all have our guesses, our timelines, and our storylines that prove that we were right all along. But no one really knows God's timeline or storyline. God is going to have to sort this out in God's own time.
  • We have to start finding ways to move toward each other, instead of doing the easy thing, which is lobbing bombs and rallying "us" to fight "them."

So, a path to coexistence probably has a good chance of being rejected by both Left and Right; it will not necessarily be acceptable culturally. The only people who will find it are people who are willing to look for it; the only way to look for it is to look together, "us" and "them;" and both the looking, and the uncomfortable coexistence, are going to last for an indeterminate amount of time. I am ready to accept these realities, coming from the evangelical side of the PC(USA).

So, with those ground rules, I move toward those who disagree with this idea: let issues of sexuality and ordination be issues of church discipline; and let us make our peace that church discipline will be exercised at different levels in different cases in different places.

What does this mean? It means an acceptance of the people shaped by the culture that we live in, without making undue accomodation to that culture. An example is divorce. We accept that people divorce in this culture, even though Jesus is overtly condemning of the practice. But that acceptance of divorced people into ordained office is done person-by-person, not always with the same results. There are persons who will be ordained despite being divorced, and there will be persons who are not ordained because they are divorced. Decisions are made pastorally by those upon whom the spiritual responsibility of deciding has been placed. In some places, divorce may never be seen as an issue in ordination, while in others, it is always an issue.

But if the Church should declare that a service celebrating divorce shall be offered, that divorce is a gift of God, and that there is no sin in divorce, the issue of divorce has moved from a matter of church discipline into a question of whether divorce is a positive good. If the PC(USA) were to mandate such a change, I-- and I believe a lot of others concerned with following the Scriptures-- would not be able in good conscience to comply.

Let differing bodies exercise their responsibility to discipline and decide as God leads them; let those who disagree with their decisions have a place at the table. Let conscience on both sides be held in peace, and let Jesus Christ the head of the Church judge the work of each in His time, as He will. But for this path to work, issues of sexuality and ordination must remain matters of church discipline.


  1. I hope this one gets people talking--thank you for having the courage to suggest that we accept God as God, and watch Him demonstrate His marvelous omnipotence!

  2. Clay,

    This makes a lot of sense. I, too, hope for a Presbyterian Church that is big enough for all of us. As someone on the Left, I would very saddened if we could not exist with those on the Right. We have many things to learn from each other.

    My heavy concern right now is that our divisions have moved beyond whether we accept gays and lesbians themselves. Now we accept or reject people on their position on gays and lesbians.

    Do you see what I mean? We have moved from a position that affects (I'm guessing) 4% of our membership, to a stance that rejects 50% of our membership.

    I can't imagine that this is what it means to be the Body of Christ.

  3. But, Carol--
    This is true of the fireaters on both sides-- they not only reject those they see as the "enemy", but those who they see as the enemies' allies.
    This is not new-- what we must do is stand in the midst of those yelling from both sides, and form some kind of prayerful circle that can become a nucleus for who we will become.
    So let's not look at the shouters-- what is necessary for you and me to be part of one circle of prayer? That's what I'm searching for.

  4. I must respectfully disagree.

    In this time of confusion in our denomination and disintegration of our culture into error and idolatry, any path that leads the church into trying to make contradictory ideologies work together is doomed to failure.

    If you can show me a Scriptural, confessional argument that truth and error should coexist within the church, at least on so fundamental an issue as human sexuality, then I will recant.

    For me, the most worshipful and gracious thing that can be proposed is a gracious separation within our denominational house, whether that be in the form of non-geographic "presbyteries of refuge" or in an all-out division of the house.

  5. Toby,
    I understand. But one question: do not truth and error always coexist within the church? The pernicious and absurd opinion is that there is no difference between the two.
    I am not saying that there is no difference. I am seeking a way to find time to let the Lord clarify what we are to do in the midst of that difference.
    You perhaps believe that time is up. You may be right, and if you are I will be the first to admit my error. But you, too, may be wrong-- that there is still time to allow the Lord to work through this conflict.
    Again, I am not proposing a fix; I am seeking a way forward together until the Lord clarifies. If you cannot agree to look with me, can you agree not to condemn me for looking?

  6. No condemnation here, brother!

    The Lord is always working His will, in and through all events. I have simply not seen a Scriptural teaching that our fellowships should keep us in covenant with those who defy God's clear teachings in the Word. I am being very specific here: I mean covenant fellowships (like denominations), not fellowships in the general sense.

    Are we to be in relationship with those who differ? Sure! But are we to bind ourselves together, as in a covenanted relationship? I don't see it in the Bible or our confessions.

    So, yes, denominations will have an admixture of truth and error. But there are levels of error. Some teachings blur the gospel and Jesus' commandments and others are within the bounds of legitimate Christian disagreement.

    To my mind, the question of the Creation mandate for our sexual behavior is a moral issue that we cannot minimize in the church.

  7. Toby;
    "To my mind, the question of the Creation mandate for our sexual behavior is a moral issue that we cannot minimize in the church."

    Is not divorce a moral issue that we cannot minimize in the church? How have we managed to live with ambiguity in the matter of divorced people, while we cannot live with ambiguity in this issue?