Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I Ain't No Prophet

In many ways, I have always been a misfit in the PCUSA, but I always sensed that theologically I was "at home," in that the major tenets of evangelical and orthodox Christianity were subscribed to by at least a slim majority of my fellow denominational participants.  And even if they were not, I could point to our strong evangelical and orthodox statements in our official documents, especially the Book of Order and the Confessions.  Well, with the passage of Amendment 10-A by the presbyteries, I now must face and deal with the reality that I am well out-of-sync with my denomination, that the major Reformed theological views I hold to are in the minority, and are even disparaged by many as backward, uninformed, and unworthy of respectful dialogue.  I am denominationally adrift, and theologically marginalized.

Does this mean I am going to jump ship at this point?  Take my Bible and seek a more accommodating climate for my evangelical soul?  No, I am not going to react blindly or self-servingly.  I need to think through my new situation, and pray about it.  I've always told the congregations I've served that we need first to seek to do what God wants --- regardless of whatever we may personally think or feel.  This has always involved prayer and reflection, so these are going to be my primary means for discerning, and then doing, whatever God wants regarding my place or role in the PCUSA.

In many ways, the passage of Amendment 10-A is a very good thing.  It has been the reality of our denomination that people who are sexually active beyond and outside of marriage are already serving as pastors and leaders.  This just makes official what was already the case.  Our orthodoxy was a paper orthodoxy, nothing more.  Now we are openly what we have really been for some time.  As National Capital Presbytery executive Wilson Gunn stated, "It's not a secret that has to be kept."  He was referring specifically to the Presbytery being able to accept marriage between persons of the same sex.  The interesting thing will be seeing how "open" we will be in this new reality .  Will those who are in a "partnership" of more than two find sanction and acceptance as they seek to serve as PCUSA pastors, or will this be "too open?"  What about other behaviours, such as practicing another religion?  After all, what is the standard we are using to decide?  Scripture is only a guide, not the Word to be obeyed, and no behaviour can be dealt with in a categorical manner, but only in a case-by-case basis.   Right now, our standards are derived only from our own sense of justice and whoever's sense has the most support in a presbytery vote.  God's standards have already been "categorically" rejected.

Finally, I must commend my liberal and progressive colleagues on their victory.  The Presbyterian Church USA as a denomination is theirs.  They have won through political savvy and patient persuasiveness, areas where my evangelical cohorts have shown themselves to be wanting.  Of course, having won the denomination does not mean that all hearts and minds are now marching to the progressive drumbeat.  In fact, it doesn't even mean that all the congregations and presbyteries are yielding anything to the victors.  There still remains considerable resistance to joining this parade, and the triumph may yet prove to be a hollow one.  The disparities in ministry standards among the presbyteries are likely to lead to a "balkanization" of the PCUSA, in which conclaves of liberal, evangelical, and whatever else are carved out in fractious maneuverings in many presbyteries.  With the prospect of most of the largest and financially able congregations moving at this moment to form a "fellowship" that effectively removes them from substantive involvement in the PCUSA, along with the energized exodus of members from many other congregations, this denomination likely will be in a couple of years only a shadow of what it is now (as it is now a shadow of what once was).  The liberal victory today may turn out to be like winning a season ticket to a pro football team's games, only to have the season cancelled due to a player's strike.

So, I will be doing what many are doing in the aftermath of Amendment 10-A:  praying, thinking, studying, discussing, reading, and deciding.  No one at this point really knows how all this is going to shake out.  The only thing any of us can do is struggle to understand what it means in this new context to be faithful to Jesus, obedient to the Word, led by the Spirit, and glorifying to God.   I am no prophet, and I cannot tell what is going to happen.  However, both the Word and the Spirit are pretty clear right now that there is a tumultuous time of judgement and purging ahead of us as a denomination.  Again, I am no prophet, but I can still be like Jeremiah, pleading to God on behalf of the people --- people loved and called by God.