Like Susan says, it has been a while. Between regional meetings, meetings with pastors regarding the conflict in ABCUSA, and writing in response to that conflict, I have been absent from this blog. I truly feel that any wisdom I may have had in this situation has been long since exhausted.
No doubt you are aware that the issue of homosexuality has every American denomination in its grip. Recently the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA received a report from its Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. It is entitled simply Peace Unity Purity. The entire text can be downloaded at http://www.pcusa.org/peaceunitypurity
. Scroll down to find the final report and study guide (it is in pdf, so you will need Adobe Reader).
I am not a Presbyterian and have no desire to be a Presbyterian. I do not agree with everything in their report (after all, I am a Baptist—regardless of what some may think). But there are some things from that report that are worthy of our attention.
The Task Force was specifically charged to address four issues that have been the focus of controversy and conflict in PCUSA: biblical authority and interpretation, Christology, ordination standards, and power. I believe the same issues are at work in ABCUSA.
In the course of Bible study, reflection and spiritual discernment, the Task force discovered several characteristics of the present conflict (in their own words, with no implied endorsement):First, those of us associated with the Anglo traditions that have dominated the Presbyterian Church (USA) came to understand how much alienation and pain we have caused by past oppression of other racial and ethnic groups and by currently maintaining barriers to the full inclusion of those groups’ members, cultures, and gifts.
Second, those of us who identify our views as liberal came to understand how alienating it is for conservatives and evangelicals when their passionate commitment to holy living and upright conduct are labeled as rigid and judgmental.
Third, those of us who identify our views as conservative came to understand how alienating it is for liberals when their passionate commitment to justice and compassion are labeled as unbiblical.
Fourth, those of us who identify our views as moderate came to understand how alienating it is when those with passionate concerns on either end of the theological spectrum are labeled extreme and divisive.
Fifth, many of us came to understand how alienating it is for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons to be so regularly identified as a major threat to the peace, unity, and purity of the church.
Sixth, many of us also came to understand how alienating it is for those who support a ban on the ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbian persons to be accused of prejudice, and how alienating it is for those who oppose such a ban to be accused of moral laxity.
Seventh, all of us came to see that the Presbyterian Church (USA), in its current factionalized state that we have all created together by our mutual stereotyping and misuse of power, fails to offer a suffering world a sign of peace, unity, and purity that is God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ.
While the Task Force worked hard and honestly, they did not overcome our differences and reach agreement on all the issues.
They did note that the most serious disagreements were not over biblical interpretation per se, but focus on what constitutes faithful pastoral application of scriptural teaching or on which passages of Scripture are relevant to a particular question.
While the Task Force was not asked to take a position on human sexuality or ordination, they did come to agreement on several points:It is a grave error to deny baptism or church membership to gay and lesbian persons or to withhold pastoral care to them or their families.
Those who aspire to ordination must lead faithful lives. Those who demonstrate licentious behavior should not be ordained.
Sexual behavior is integral to Christian discipleship, leadership, and community life. It is not purely a personal matter.
Sexual orientation is, in itself, no barrier to ordination.
Perhaps most challenging for us of Baptist persuasion is the conclusion: Truth, holiness, and righteousness matter as pathways to discipleship, in both the life of the church as a body and in the lives of its members. Ultimately, the church cannot simply agree to disagree on important matters of faith and practice. Church polity must provide ways for serious disagreements to be resolved. But resolution by merely technical or legal means will not endure because it does not address the conflict of convictions that gave rise to the disagreements in the first place. Only a resolution with theological integrity can be sustained.
Elsewhere they speak of a church both preoccupied with and weary of conflict
. That certainly rings true for me in ABCUSA. While some are openly encouraged by certain departures or disengagements, and chastise those who leave “in a huff,” I suspect many more are leaving and disengaging because of fatigue and discouragement. They are not angry or self-righteous; they are in great pain and have an abiding sense of loss.