Part 8 of series: The End of the Presbyterian Church USA? Revisited
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No, We Can’t All Get Along as a Unified Denomination
Of course we Presbyterians haven’t been getting along very well for a long time. We’ve been fighting over homosexuality for thirty years. This isn’t just a matter of intransigence or a quest for power. I’ve shown that those who support gay ordination see it as a matter of fundamental justice, while those who oppose it see it as a matter of fundamental righteousness. If I’m anywhere close to correct in this analysis, then it’s obvious why the PCUSA is so divided today, has been so divided in the past, and will continue to be so divided in the future. We’re not dealing with relatively insignificant matters of church practice or theological issues about which we can agree to disagree, but with fundamental biblical realities and convictions. We’re talking here about justice and righteousness, and ultimately about sin and love. It doesn’t get much bigger than this.
So, though we who disagree on this issue can get along in a wide variety of contexts, we clearly cannot get along when it comes to the question of who should and should not be ordained. And this is one of the essential functions of a denomination. Thus we can’t just agree to live and let live when it comes to homosexuality and ordination. If one group of Presbyterians ordains someone and another group of Presbyterians cannot recognize that ordination, then those groups are profoundly divided. Such a division makes denominational connectionalism extremely difficult if not impossible to maintain. It also cripples many efforts at unified mission. And it greatly complicates the ministry of individual churches.
It seems that the new moderator of the General Assembly, Bruce Reyes-Chow, agrees with me about this, though we come down on opposite sides of the gay ordination issue. Here’s an excerpt from one of his blogs:
For some issues I think this [agreeing to disagree] is entirely possible. For me I can live with agreeing to disagree on things such as . . .
How do we engage in evangelism and mission
What language we use for God
Our voice/action in regards to the Middle East
Positions on a myriad of social issues;
But when it comes to homosexuality, regardless on which side of the aisle you live on, how long can one be engaged in a community where the position is held in the contrary? Could we agree to disagree about the ordination of women? Could we agree to disagree about interracial marriage? I don’t think we could, but yet for some reason we believe we can in this case.
This is not a call for folks who disagree either way to get the heck out of dodge, but it is a little nudge out there to see what folks are thinking. If in the end, it looks like we are headed in a particular direction or if we are already there, would our efforts be better spent in grace-filled disengagement that allows for new life? Do we keep passionately engaged in the discourse trying to reach some kind of resolution? Do we sit in the middle with a posture of “wait and see” and/or “don’t ask, don’t tell”? (Photo: Bruce Reyes-Chow as moderator)
I’m grateful for Bruce’s willingness to raise this issue and to speak so openly. Even though he and I disagree on several things, I find his candor to be a breath of fresh air. And I would be quite glad to team up with him in a variety of ministries, even though I’m not sure it would be productive for us to serve in the same denomination indefinitely. Along with Bruce, I wonder if our efforts as Presbyterians would “be better spent in grace-filled disengagement that allows for new life?”
For thirty years members of the PCUSA have battled over the ordination of active homosexuals, with one side fighting for justice and the other side fighting for righteousness. Most votes, whether in General Assemblies or in presbyteries, have been relatively close. Whether one side or the other is on top for the moment, the denomination is deeply divided. And this division will continue because, whatever you might think of PCUSA folk, or if you are one, whatever you might think of the other side in this debate, both sides operate with integrity and conviction and persistence given their beliefs about homosexuality. Neither side will surrender its integrity or give up its conviction, even if it’s currently losing the battle. In the end, either one side will win definitively, and the other side will leave the PCUSA, or both sides will keep on fighting until there is no more PCUSA to fight for. If current trends continue, the end of the PCUSA, one way or another, is both inevitable and imminent.