The Presbyterian Church (USA) is in the news again. Most, recently our governing body voted on constitutional amendments and one of those amendments addressed the issue of homosexuality. Again. It’s great fodder for the newspaper. Like most of the other mainline denominations, we are wrestling with this issue and trying to determine faithfully where we stand. There is frustration on every side.
There is fear of being unfaithful to the gospel, fear of being hypocritical or permissive, fear of letting the other side oppress us with their opinions.
I was dreading the vote at our meeting. (The PCUSA has a democratic governing system; I can fill you in on all the gory, organizational details if you want to know more.) The amendment in question would change our current language concerning those called to ordained office (our ministers, elders, and deacons). Currently our Book of Order requires that people must practice “fidelity in marriage” or “chastity in singleness” to be ordained. And the current amendment would change it to read that they must “live lives in obedience to Jesus Christ” through the Scriptures and the Confessions of our church. (this is shorthand—see http://www.pcusa.org/generalassembly/amend.htm Amendment B for details) It might seem like a bunch of semantics that don’t change much. That being obedient to Jesus could mean fidelity and honesty in all relationships. But sadly, no. This is just another chapter in our debate over homosexuality and whether or not these brothers and sisters may be called by God.
I’ve got my own thoughts on the issue, gathered from reading the Bible and praying and discussing with many people on all sides and I continually pray for God’s guidance. It’s been a very, very divisive issue for the church. And I expected that it still would be at our regional meeting where we discussed the amendment. I was ready for a room full of shouting and name calling and finger pointing and pew throwing. It's sad to think that I would assume Christians wouldn’t be the most gracious in a disagreement. That we wouldn’t be known to be kind and forgiving and respectful. (How painful to admit that.) During the meeting, I could only pray, Send us some help, God. Send us some help, God. When the time of the debate came, people lined up at the microphones with speeches in hand. And then something miraculous happened. People spoke respectfully. They acted graciously. And though we didn’t all agree, we still listened. It gave me hope to think that we could still be faithful and not give up on one another as the church.
Never miss a local story.
Like I said, I’ve got my own position on the amendment, and I have great respect for those with whom I disagree. In our discussion, I could hear their honest concerns. I could sense that they want what I want: To please God more than anything. That's what we all want: to please the God we love. And be obedient just like the revised amendment called for. That gives me hope.
I hope that means we will have as much passion for other issues in the church. That we will want to please God with all of our lives. That we will get after the sins that the church has slacked on, the more pressing issues, the less popular issues. Issues of wealth and poverty, issues of creation stewardship, issues of gun violence and family neglect, issues of jealousy and gossip, issues of spiritual emptiness. Issues concerning the lives of the invisible and the least of these, the homeless, the prisoners, the foster kids, the families with unsafe drinking water, the outsiders and refugees and immigrants and human beings we haven’t been ministering to because we have been too preoccupied with who should be ordained to do the ministering. I suspect these issues will be more difficult. The church will have to take a hard look at itself. But I have hope that our God is faithful, and that the church can be faithful. I have hope in this church, the whole Church around the world, there is still good news, and all sorts of faithful people ready to preach it.