Sunday, May 15, 2005

I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself. I went to lunch with my Presbyterian colleagues on Monday which is newish for us because we don’t send time together except at Presbytery meetings three times a year. There are about 14 of us (active and retired) living within a three county area. I have one friend in the group. I don’t know the rest. I might know a little about some of them but they are strangers and not who I’d call if I needed help. Getting together for lunch without any agenda may help us become friends.

We have no agenda for the lunches. There are no assigned readings or reports to give. Yet, we can’t seem to meet without the conversation jolting over to what we are going to do when the denomination splits. The group has two younger preachers and the rest of us are seasoned in the Lord’s service (I’m being pious here, and kidding). The preachers assume that in a few years the denomination will be gone and replaced with a new configuration of Presbyterians.
This makes me want to weep.

I was born and educated in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and when I announced that as far as I could determine that God called me to the Gospel ministry, I was ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament.

Our history, both in Scotland and here in the USA, is one of schism. We hate and fear schism but our history has seen us split into any number of groups. In 1973, the Presbyterian Church in America was formed from our body over the issue of authority of scripture particularly the ordination of women. In 1883, the Presbyterian Church in the US (known as the Southern church) merged with the Northern branch of the church and we became the PC (U.S.A.). This was called "Reunion" as the Southern church broke with the Northern Church in the 1860's over the issue of authority of scripture, particularly the question of "could baptized Christians own baptized Christians?"

You’ve got your Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), your Presbyterian Church in America (this group considers us to be apostate which is the churchy way of suggesting that we are stinky and our momma’s aren’t nice), the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and I’m sure a few more that I can’t remember.
Breaking apart seems to be our tradition.

In 1977, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. began to discuss in a public manner the ordination of gay and lesbian persons for ministry. I was ordained in 1978.

I hadn’t considered gay and lesbian ordination for one moment as I did not know any gay or lesbian people seeking to be ordained (looking back, I must have been blind as a bat and I’m sorry). I was coping with the newness in the Deep South of the idea of women preachers. I took some amazing heat about being a minister and when I tell those stories, today’s women seminarians think I’m being dramatic and exaggerating.

I thought then that my denomination was proactive to ordain women. Little did I realize that the denomination beat the idea to death for years, discussed it endlessly in committee and that many pastors were against the idea. We ordained our first woman pastor in 1964. The Northern church ordained a woman in 1956.

The Church, the body of Christ Jesus, moves slowly.

Since 1977, my denominational conversations have rotated around the ordination of gays and lesbians. We don’t move forward in the discussion. We don’t move backwards. We stay at arm’s length and blast each other. Just like our culture, we are not civil with one another.
Summer before last the Confessing Church movement began with a group of pastors and churches who felt that they must stand up and defeat any incursion by the proponents of opening ordination standards.

Other groups who support the ordination of gay and lesbian persons sprang up.
I’ll have to say that the nay sayers get crabby faster than a cornered cat. I read more of the nay-sayers group’s info then I do the supporter’s info. When I read the supporter’s info, I notice more charity and a greater willingness to talk.

I can’t work out the issue for my bloggie readers. My point, and there is a point, is that my entire ministry has been spent within the discussion of ordaining gay and lesbian persons.
Many days, I feel discouraged about hearing about the issues over and over. I think of the opportunities we’ve missed to do mission because we’ve gotten to the point that the evangelicals hate the liberals and the liberals want to protect the world from the evangelicals.
We’ve changed from four Presbytery meetings a year to three. We’ve moved from annual General Assemblies to biennial Assemblies. Does this make sense? The big guns say this saves the denomination money but I see it as a mis-guided attempt to keep the conversations civil by limiting discussion time.

I believe that we should move in more closely when there is conflict, not move away.
I do not like this conflict. I do not like the effort spent on protecting the church rather than doing mission. I wish the pro-ordination people presented clear biblical arguments for their case. I wish the no-ord people would put aside their self-righteousness and egos. I wish we could all get along so that we could start new churches, encourage people to enter the ministry and nurture them on that path. I wish we could focus our attentions on great preaching, teaching and help for our people and seekers.

I wish we would learn to pray as Jesus’ taught us before yelling at one another. I wish we would allow the Holy Spirit to move our hearts to see this issue and our history in a larger, more loving view.

I've been punished in my presbytery for commenting on this issue.


Susan Rose, CSJP said...

Churches are human institutions and as such inherently flawed and full of this kind of stuff.

I'm Catholic so I know of what I speak. Heck, in our church we're not even "allowed" to discuss the ordination of women.

Hang in there. We're working on God's time, not ours.

the reverend mommy said...

This same issue is tearing up our denomination, as well. It rips at the fabric of our society. It's just the latest issue in a long list of issues in human history. It really is interesting that a hundred years ago the issue was "secret societies" and the Masons. It was slavery before that and in between the ordination of women. There always is an issue and there are always strong opinions.

Us idealists want it to be different but frequently are disappointed. But we must continue to dream of that perfect world.

Makes me blue that I still struggle with the ordination of women issue -- both internally and externally. I grew up AR Presbyterian and left 20 years ago over this issue (which is still being debated, btw.) I struggle with it internally b/c my father never supported me in my decision to enter the ministry. And even though I belong to a denomination that ordains woman, it's a tiered system. Women in my conference are usually either delegated to small rural churches or are associates at larger churches with a male senior pastor.

I have actually heard a male senior pastor call his associate pastor and music minister as "my girls."

Today was interesting because I went to an event with several (20 or more) male clergy and 3 female ministers (myself included). The females are spoken to by the brethren until some higher status male walks in, the conversation dropped and the posturing begins. If we object, we're called "pushy" and "too bold." If we don't we lose integrity. It's such a balancing act -- I thought I left this behind in corporate America.....

To be honest, most of my external affirmation and support comes from people of color or women clergy. I begin to agree with James Cone that God is Black. And Gay and a woman. There are days that I want nothing more than to go back to being a stay at home mother or teacher. It grieves me so much that the system that we call church is so broken.

This was long... sorry!

the reverend mommy said...

Presbyterian Denominations -- the List of such that I know of that exist in Georgia -- most of which are divided on this issue or decidedly against. None of these endorse the ordination of Gays. (I'm such a geek.)

The Presbyterian Church In America
The Presbyterian Church U.S.A.
The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
The Bible Presbyterian Church
The Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
The Federation of Reformed Churches
The Korean-American Presbyterian Church
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church
The Reformed Church in the United States
The United Reformed Churches of North America
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Russia

Anonymous said...

Tip O'Neil said, "All politics are local". Churches mirror the political world and we don't live in Mayberry anymore.

There is no longer "middle ground", amicable solutions, and "loyal opposition". Our world argues by villifying the opposition.

In church life, can you say that (a) God chooses who will be called to the ministry, not me; (b) that you know that the ordination of certain people is inflammatory ( whether it was Blacks in the pre-60's, women in the 70's, or Gays now); (c) that you believe that this issue will be a non-issue in the future; and (d) if this is true, why not move slowly, amicably, and lovingly toward that future.

You then are villified by both extremes. Do these sides wish peace or do they wish to win?

I believe that most arguments occur because of fear and distrust. The fear and distrust in our churches for the larger church and for mediation and middle ground and the larger picture--well, these are the bugle calls for splintering.

Sorry for the longer post,


reverendmother said...

I appreciated this post very much. I did have a minor correction--I think you meant to say that reunion took place in 1983, not 1883. Would that we had reunited so soon after the Civil War! Excuse me, the War of Northern Aggression. ;-)

I think I blogged about this in Feb., but I met with a group of liberal and evangelical/conservative pastors who'd all graduated from the same (PCUSA) seminary within the past couple years. Learned many interesting things. For one thing, the particular guys (and they were all guys, as it happened) there from the conservative "side" of the ordination issue did NOT feel that ordination of homosexuals was worth splitting the church over. I was surprised and pleased. At the same time, they feel that a split is absolutely inevitable. Apparently there is already a "shadow denomination" structure being put in place--curriculum being written, etc. I was shocked and dismayed.

At the same time, I think they were shocked that we libs actually care about the Bible and seek to be led by scripture on this issue. You are absolutely right that the pro-inclusion folks have done an extremely poor job articulating their position biblically. I think it can be done.

revmom said...

I explained to my car service driver this morning (the entire story will probably show up on my blog later this week)that we Presbyterians actually read the Bible. As a life-long Catholic, he thought perhaps I was the first Presby he'd ever met, and he wanted to know what kind of religion that was--as in, "Do you believe in Jesus?"

We have a long way to go...within and without.

Marie said...

This is a tedious issue but it's a mandatory discussion. We Episcopalians are looking schism squarely in the mouth these days.

In my weaker moments, I'm all for the schism. I'd like to tell the "conservatives" (for lack of a better label) to get the heck out and not let the door hit them in the butt on the way.

In my better moments, I just want them love those people into a new place. I'm such a wide-eyed idealist. But I'm cynical enough to know that it's not going to work.

And in my smarter moments, I know that it's not about the Gospel, so you can't give them a new vision or love them into a new way of being. It's about an institution. For those out front, it's about power, control, and protecting that institution. It's about manipulating the folks in the pews to think that it is about telling the truth in love or loving the sinner but hating the sin or some other such BS.

I wish we could stop talking about people winners and losers. In a public forum on gay marriage, I asked the speaker "What if there were no winners or losers? What if we all just allowed people to live as who they are, with no challenges from the government?" Her reply? "Then your side would win."

You see what I mean.

PPB said...

I guess I'm weary. I attended General Assembly in 1982 as a YAD and we were fighting about this. We're still fighting about it. And the church IS splitting over it. Literally half of the Presbyterians I went to school with have become UCC over this (and I have to think the UCC is tired of being the repository of exiled Presbyterians). I guess I'll be the bad guy here and say that though I hear what you're saying, I'm weary, I'm tired. This issue has overshadowed us for 23 years--probably more. When is enough? I want to move on, to talk about something else, but I can't rest, I feel, until all God's children are considered equal in their baptisms. And so, truth be told, were a schism vote to come up, I'm weary, I'm worn down, I'd vote yes. As it is, I feel like I'm going to have to choose between the denomination I love and the open and accepting UCC (who don't have the clearly defined theology and polity that I love--not that they don't have polity and theology--it's just not MY theology and polity) sooner rather than later. I understand patience, but my eyes have been on the prize for a really long time, and they are getting bleary.

St. Casserole said...

Dear Friends,
Thank you for your comments. Reunion was in 1983 (thanks RevMother).
I did not make it clear that it is the fighting which bothers me. Justice for all God's children is the Good News whether we are comfortable with this or not. My pity party was with hearing the issue for years with no resolution and seeing people drop by the wayside in exhaustion, despair and anger. I have trouble seeing what the future church will look like, too. You are all articulate and thoughtful. Thanks for letting me be part of the journey.
Guess what? I have a presbytery meeting today. I wonder what the brothers have to say today....

PPB said...

hey, st cass,
i hope the meeting was decent and orderly.
i'm sorry if that last post sounded too strident. it's a tough topic for me in the last few months...and i was probably alittle too quick on the melodrama.

nightwoodkitty said...

These posts were great. As someone against whom the conservative tirades are launched (I live with my female partner) I too am tired of the church's time and energy for mission being watsed on this issue. I went from Presbyterian to Episcopalian to UCC (so Protestant of me to keep changing)to be able to find a church that was beyond the issue -so I would not be a poster child for the issue while sitting in the pew. If I knew theology the way you Rev women do, I might notice the change in theology, but UCC is evangelical, reformed, does a great communion, and we have great preaching so it works for me. Our membership sometimes feels like a mishmash of faith backgrounds (Catholics, Presbys, etc) but so what.
Re there not strong biblical arguments for inclusion? What is lacking? Please educate me.

reverendmother said...

I think the point was *not* that biblical support for inclusion doesn't exist, but rather that "the left" just completely ignores the Bible when making its arguments. It/we tend to argue sort of theologically and culturally, which in a tradition that holds up the authority of scripture, is not sufficient.

Hope I understood your question, and that that makes sense.

Quotidian Grace said...

I share so much of the concern for the PCUSA that you shared. Thank you for your courage in writing this post.

Sometimes I feel that the shadow of schism is looming over everything I try to do in my local church and for the presbytery. I am on my presbytery's GA which is struggling to return to vigorously planting new churches in order to offset the denomination's precipitous decline in membership. Sometimes the effort seems futile.

My own congregation wants to continue growing but is finding itself in a no-growth situation because the PCUSA "franchise" is weak and has little distinct identity and suffers from much distressing publicity.

I'm a conservative on this issue and think that there is a big difference in the way in which liberals and conservatives in the PCUSA view the authority and interpretation of scripture and that is the source of the conflict on the issue of ordination standards as well as the role of the church in the world. It is this difference that has to be addressed rather than the issues that flow from it.

Again, thanks for the post.