Wednesday, April 28, 2004

The downer of a split denomination 

Guest blogger and Fuller Theological Seminary senior Karen Sloan writes:

As a young, postmodern, evangelical, soon-to-be-Minister of Word & Sacrament* (whatever those labels all mean), experiencing the reality of our split denomination can be a real downer. Having joyfully lived nearly all my life as an evangelical minority among the socially and politically liberal environments of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Greater Los Angeles area, navigating among the different groups on either side of our split denomination is a strange journey.

For example: A traditional evangelical leader says, “They have same-sex couples dancing together there. Why would you want to go that [PC(USA)-related] event?”

My reply: “Uh … that’s the way it was in college.” In other words, “Your reasoning is totally unfathomable to me.”

I wish I had said: “What’s the big deal with being at such a party? To cap off InterVarsity-organized evangelism weeks during college, we would often co-host a dance with the GLBT student group. From doing our inductive Bible studies, we learned that Jesus regularly partied with those from whom the more religiously conservative kept their distance.”

Because I have solid evangelical credentials (right local church, right seminary), it hasn’t been all that difficult to be welcomed into evangelical circles. But my greater fear is of “coming out” as an evangelical among liberal PC(USA)ers. And Nicholas D. Kristof’s recent New York Times op-ed “Hug an Evangelical” affirms that I have reason to be fearful: “…the left seems more contemptuous than ever of evangelicals. [Otherwise] sensitive liberals ... blithely dismiss conservative Christians as ‘Jesus freaks’ or ‘fanatics.’”

Am I as boldly straightforward as I could be about my theological convictions with those I meet at “liberal” PC(USA) events? Stated plainly: No.

Why do I do this? It’s an attempt to circumvent the rejection and ostracism that I dread will happen when I “come out.” I’d rather seek to be in meaningful relationship with liberals than get quickly stuffed into an ideological box of “other.” When I come out as an evangelical, I desire it to be as a part of an ever-widening circle of friends and colleagues.

At the end of his column, Kristof states: “It’s always easy to point out the intolerance of others. What’s harder is to practice inclusiveness oneself. And bigotry toward people based on their faith is just as repugnant as bigotry toward people based on their sexuality.” Can those embroiled in PC(USA) politics hear this? I commend the few of you whom I have met that initiate helpful interactions with those on the other side of the split.

God knows why God has me here in the PC(USA), but for my part, it causes me to wonder at the mystery of God’s ways.

*Shameless plug: If you are a church looking for a pastor, I would be glad to talk with you.

Karen, who states “I have no desire to engage with people in useless debating,” can be reached at: sloankaren@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The validity of arguments 

"Look, if a sexual relationship is genuine, loving, non-exploitive, and balanced concerning power, why not permit it? In fact, why not celebrate it? Doesn't the world need more love?" That argument is asserted all the time for homosexual relationships.

That's NOT a good argument, however, since it fails to take into account God's desire that sexual relationships also require exclusivity, commitment, and a male-female pair. But if it were a decent argument, shouldn't the same logic apply equally as well for parties who are not same-sex couples?

In particular, what about genuine, loving, non-exploitive, and balanced sibling sexual relationships, or polyamorous ones? If being genuine, loving, non-exploitive, and balanced are the only important ingredients for an okay sexual relationship, why not approve incest or polyamory, too? What's good for the goose should also be good for the gander (or maybe the other goose, or geese, or fellow goslings).

This isn't mere speculation. The argument is already raised by Unitarian polyamorists! Already, too, renegade Mormons are trying to apply the same argument to polygamy.

The thing is, if you substitute anemic mores in the place of God's rules, you get a mess. For the same reason that we cannot buy the logic when polygamists, polyamorists, or the incestuous try to sell it, we shouldn't be caught in the fraud of homosexual advocates trying to promote it either. It's not a sound Christian argument in any situation.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Fiction is stranger than the truth 

My wife's parents live in the mountains of central Oregon. Last week they experienced a mid-afternoon hail storm that was so intense, it pounded on their roof and turned the ground white, as if it had snowed. Hail piled up and lingered.

That's not particularly unusual, but what WAS unusual was that the storm was confined to an area with a radius of about 200 yards from their house. Within that circle with approximately a quarter-mile diameter, there had been a violent storm. Outside that area, it was dry and springtime balmy, with no effects of a storm whatsoever. Weird!

Now I'm wondering if the fact that my in-laws are Episcopalian has anything to do with it. Why, you ask?

Well, according to a news report I read, Episcopal Church treasurer Kurt Barnes reports that denominational income is down and national economics is the reason. Could this be only a coincidence--an equally freaky economic storm hitting only comparatively wealthy Episcopalians?

Only such a perfect storm could economically explain the major decrease in giving to the Episcopal Church (USA), despite the fact that churches as a whole are enjoying steeply increased giving, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 33% in the last twelve months. Silly me! I thought Episcopalians might own a stock or two.

Yep, the only answer must be that those poor Episcopalians have been struck by an economic storm with pinpoint denominational accuracy, while other nearby Christians see no effects of such a storm at all. After all, who would ever think it possible that individual Episcopalians, entire congregations, and even whole dioceses are expressing their immense outrage over the consecration of homosexual activist Gene Robinson as bishop by halting the flow of money to those who instituted the travesty?

Nah. Can't be that. That little squall was supposed to blow over in a moment and be long forgotten by now. Wasn't it?

[Note to the satirically impaired: My tongue is firmly planted in my cheek.]

Friday, April 16, 2004

I read the news today. Oh, boy! 

Look at what one finds in today's news:

It's apparently okay to align with Roman Catholics to disagree with our President. But when it came to aligning with Catholics to affirm the Christian Declaration on Marriage, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy removed that section of their "Transforming Families" draft because they didn't want to associate with Catholics and Southern Baptists, who were among the signers. It sounds like political expediency is really the factor. The problem can be fixed this summer at General Assembly if the Assembly approves Overture 04-70 (Santa Barbara) that affirms the Christian Declaration on Marriage (not to be confused with the marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution that is also in the news.)

Internationally, a Scottish newspaper characterizes what is a remarkable stand of conscience by African Anglicans as "the latest attack by church conservatives on the consecration of an openly gay bishop in the US state of New Hampshire." Isn't the choice of words interesting? To The Scotsman, it's an "attack," although the African Anglicans are simply standing firm on their faith and are willing to lose significant American financial support for doing so. Any doubt which side that writer and editor are on?

Worrisome news must be relative. The Southern Baptist Convention is worried because their rate of growth is slowing. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have such a grave concern? Presbyterians worry because our rate of decline seems to be increasing. Jubilant news for Presbyterians, it seems, is when we lose people at a slower rate than normal. "Oh for joy! Break out the Champagne. We could have lost more, but didn't!" Would that we had the Southern Baptists' problem.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The Church of Me 

A friend writes about the issue of defying the meaning of our PC(USA) Constitution: "Are we prepared to subject our individual opinions to the considered judgment of the majority, or, are we each the pope of a one-person 'catholic' church?" He's got something there.

We live in a time when people expect to have total liberty to do whatever they jolly well please. No person, no state, no institution can tell THEM what to do. No one dare put any boundaries on what they can profess or practice--not even the legitimate authority of the church under whose polity they have ostensibly placed themselves through membership and even ordination vows. No, people will not be managed by anything so extra nos--outside themselves. They believe they alone rule.

A crazy example of this in the Presbyterian Church is a group of people who thumb their nose at what we as Presbyterians believe. Rather sanctimoniously, they call themselves a "Cloud of Witnesses." More than a thousand persons have signed a statement that reads: "As persons ordained to the offices of Elder, Deacon, and Minister of the Word and Sacrament, we believe that same-sex covenant relationships should be recognized and blessed by the church, and that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons should be ordained and installed to all offices of the church when called by God through the voice of the congregation or presbytery. Because there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty, our actions will be consistent with our belief."

Notice the fuzzy last line. Just what does that last line mean: "Our actions will be consistent with our belief"? If it means their actions to protest and try to change our ordination standards, so be it. They have the right to try, as biblically baseless as their cause is. But why get all serious and sign on to a list like this if all it means is protest? This has more the feel of a group who consider themselves brave martyrs making a stand.

It appears that the "actions consistent with their beliefs" are intended to be defiant. They will just go ahead and marry same-sex couples or ordain practicing homosexual persons. If so, they've just formed for themselves the Church of Me. They must think they know better than the rest of the Presbyterian Church and will not subject their individual opinions to the considered judgment of the majority.

Look at the list for those in your presbytery who apparently won't be governed by legitimate authority but choose instead to defy it, not as Presbyterians anymore, but as charter members of the Church of Me. Ordinary discipline begins at home, presbytery by presbytery, as colleagues care enough not to allow such abandonment of vow and covenant.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Stated Clerk: Plurality or majority? 

When the vote is taken at General Assembly for who will be our Stated Clerk for the next four years, will the winner out of the field of four nominees need a plurality (more votes than any other nominee) or a majority (more than half of all the votes)? The question has been talked about a lot recently, since three nominees are challenging the incumbent.

If the Stated Clerk is elected by only a PLURALITY, then three somewhat-similarly-positioned challengers (Bob Davis, Rus Howard, and Alex Metherell) would probably just split whatever opposition vote there is, giving the incumbent (Cliff Kirkpatrick) a better shot at winning.

But if a nominee must gain a MAJORITY vote to win, the number of contenders is immaterial. Consider three options:

1) A challenger gains a majority vote on the first ballot. That person is the new Stated Clerk, having enough popularity to win a majority of the votes.

2) Kirkpatrick gains a majority vote on the first ballot. That means he would, of course, win the election, and that's that. This would indicate that overall, there was insufficient opposition to unseat him. Even if all the opposition votes had been placed on one candidate, it still would have been insufficient.

3) No one gains a majority on the first ballot. This would signal something interesting: The majority of voters do not favor the incumbent (Kirkpatrick). That means that if he does not withdraw at that point as a matter of honor, he would probably lose anyway on a subsequent ballot, since it is unlikely that someone voting for one of the challengers would switch to him in subsequent ballots. The subsequent ballots would probably settle which of the challengers the majority of the Assembly favors.

So which is required: a plurality or a majority?

The Standing Rules are unclear when more than one nominee is running. Therefore I wrote our Stated Clerk for a ruling. Cliff Kirkpatrick, who I assume was being meticulous about not ruling on a subject that could affect him personally, passed the request on to Associate Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, who presumably will be the temporary Stated Clerk as the election is conducted at General Assembly. Parsons would be the one to make a ruling on this matter during General Assembly.

Here's what Parsons wrote in reply:

Dear Jim:

Cliff asked me to respond to your question. Roberts Rules of Order gives us procedural guidelines when the Standing Rules are silent. The fundamental basis of decision making in RONR [Roberts Rules of Order Newly Revised] is by majority rule. RONR makes it clear that a plurality vote can only be prescribed by an adopted rule or by-law.

Therefore: It will take a majority to elect the Stated Clerk, just as it does to elect the Moderator.

Roberts Rules of Order, 10th edition, page 392:

"A plurality that is not a majority never chooses a proposition or elects anyone to office except by virtue of a special rule previously adopted. If such a rule is to apply to the election of officers, it must be prescribed in the by-laws."

Gradye Parsons
Associate Stated Clerk
Director of Operations
Office of the General Assembly

Thus, the new Stated Clerk will be the nominee who eventually receives more than half of the votes of General Assembly commissioners in June. Having an incumbent and a number of challengers does not change the fact that one of them needs more than half of the commissioners to vote for him. If people want to unseat the current Stated Clerk, having several conservative/evangelical candidates does no harm to the cause, but neither does it assure that one of them will be successful.

No one needs to withdraw from standing for Stated Clerk. It's a free-for-all, well, in a decent Presbyterian sort of way! Only time and the vote of commissioners will tell the final story.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Nothing is everything 

Easter: The glorious day when we celebrate Jesus' followers' experience of expecting something, finding nothing, and concluding that it means everything. Perhaps there's an analogy for us, when a test for cancer comes back negative, which is positive, because there's nothing.

That maybe can give us a hint of what it might have felt like to go to a tomb, expecting to find death as stark as a putrefying corpse, and discover only graveclothes mysteriously vacated and a Lord resurrected and gone. Never before has nothing meant everything like this!

Our hope is built on nothing. And that's everything I desire.

Friday, April 09, 2004

First and last words 

Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

With three simple words, Luke tells us what happened: “They crucified Jesus.” Luke doesn’t dwell on the horror of rough spikes piercing tender hands, the terrible torture and pain, the cruelest of inhumanities. Luke, instead, gives us Jesus’ response, so characteristic of his unparalleled life: “Father, forgive them…”

It could have been “Father, stop them!” or “Father, strike these brutes dead.” But the One who was spiked there to hang on the Cross was not there for his own agenda, not for retaliation. He was there to buy the redemption of all of us who wield heavy mallets of sin to hammer in spikes of pain, there to purchase peace for the rebellious. “Father, forgive them,” he said.

And more: Jesus had a reason: “… for they do not know what they are doing.” How could anyone, knowing what he or she is doing, bring such pain to God? Who could be so callous, so hard, so chillingly cruel as to bring suffering to One whose every heartbeat was in love for them? Only the unknowing, the unrealizing. Only those who have never truly looked into the loving eyes of their Savior.

Blest, then, are the grief-stricken, who remember the weight of the mallet in their cruel hands and are mortally grieved by their actions, for the Forgiver brings peace.

Luke 23:46: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
Finishing well is so difficult. So often it’s easy to begin something, but finishing well—now that’s hard, whether it’s getting the last out in a baseball game, staying the course in a marriage, or remaining steadfast and God-focused in our Christian walk.

Jesus here is just at the end of his necessary but agonizing course. He has absorbed in his body and soul the worst Satan and humankind can throw at him. What Jesus began well—as a child determined to be about his Father’s business, as a young man tempted in the desert, at the hour of crisis when he prayed to trust in God’s will not his own—now Jesus is finishing well. In trust, he is relinquishing his spirit into God’s hands. Through storm and trial and agony, he has always trusted God. Now as his life ends, Jesus yet trusts God.

What we say can mean very little; who we finally trust tells the story of our ultimate allegiance. If I say you’re a good driver but don’t trust you with my car, you know what I really think. If I say I trust God but am afraid to give myself fully to God—both in life and at death—you know what I really believe, or actually don’t believe.

Jesus—right through the horrible events of the Crucifixion—trusted in God, and as he finished out this human life, he left himself completely in God’s hands. Blest are all those who, like Jesus, trust the Lord at death’s hour! They rest in the best of hands.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Credit where credit is due 

Back in December, I had some rather disparaging words for the National Council of Churches' Christmas message (see December 20). Now, to be fair, I need to commend their Easter message.

I particularly liked two parts of the statement:

1) "In the words of the Orthodox Paschal hymn, 'Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and bestowing life upon those in the tomb.' Our belief as Christians is that, as revealed on that first Easter morning, God has wrought salvation in this mysterious way, by 'trampling down death by death.'" Yes!

2) "Certainly, we should work in every possible physical way to bring peace, healing and sustenance to all people. Our calling requires it. But as Christians, we also have a faith to share, and it is only by comprehending with fear and amazement the paradox of Christ’s death that we can genuinely share with others the fruit of his resurrection" [emphasis added]. The NCC is often criticized for emphasizing politics over faith. It is wonderful to read that as Christians we have a faith to share. Indeed, that is the greatest and singular gift we have to give to a hurting world--along with the cup of cold water in Christ's name.

Thank you, Bob Edgar and the NCC, for a great statement that truly reflects our Christian faith.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?