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.