I’ve got a bunch of people upset at me for encouraging my friend, Adam Walker-Cleaveland, to forsake the ordination process of the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination. I even went so far as to post an online petition to attempt to convince Adam to drop out of the PC(USA) process and consider himself “ordained” by the Body of Christ — that is, by all of his fellow believers.
Over the weekend, I’ve been inundated by emails and tweets. Some have been from those who, like Adam, have found the denominational system of ordination to be abusive and are wondering what to do. Others have asked me to write more abut my theology of ordination. And still others have expressed “disappointment” (a truly patronizing word) at the tone of my Friday post. They’ve said things like, “As a Christian leader, you need to be more gracious in your writing.” Well, I call bullshit on that. When a friend of mine suffers abuse, I do not plan to be gracious about it.
My long-time friend, John D’Elia has posted the most thorough and evenhanded response to my Friday rant. John is the pastor of the American Church in London, he’s ordained in the PC(USA), and I respect him deeply. I ask you to go read that, then come back here and read my response to him. You’ll find it below the fold.
Before I begin the substance of my response, let me remind you of this: I’ve written often of my understanding of the medium of blogging. It’s not academic work — not even close. It is not careful work. It is immediate work. I’ve had a couple UCC pastors write me recently to say that they’ve quit reading my blog — and one even de-friended me on Facebook because I wasn’t responding to his many emails. Why? Because I called their denomination “notoriously liberal.” They thought I should be more sophisiticated, nuanced, and frankly, academic in my characterization. So let me say this: Don’t expect too much of a blog.
1) You title your post, “An Emergent Discussion.” That is a misnomer. Virtually every emergent leader I know is ordained — most by a denomination. In my evolving opinions of denominations and ordination, I speak for myself alone. I think that the minority of people in emergent churches agree with me on this.
2) Solomon’s Porch is not a house church. We are a body of 250ish persons with 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. We rent an abandoned United Methodist Church building. And we have an “ordained” pastor. But our deal is this: We ordain everyone. If you want to be ordained to perform a wedding, or to be a lawnmower repairman, we’ll ordain you to that ministry.
This is not to vaunt everyone to a high position, but to subvert and deconstruct the very notion of ordination. It is NOT like what John Wesley did (although there are some interesting parallels — see below) or like what the fundamentalists did or the Lutherans or the Calvinists. We ordain everyone, and I started an online petition to ordain Adam, to be ironic. It’s to point up what I consider to be the arbitrariness of the bureaucratic systems, and, to be honest, the tax benefits, of ordination. In other words, this is the opposite of a YoungLife leader who writes away to some dude to get ordained for the housing allowance write-off. This is, instead, to show how that entire system leads to such ridiculousness.
3) Hey, thanks again for preaching at my ordination in 1997 (I preached at an ordination service myself a couple years ago; I’ll post my sermon on Wednesday). I remember my ordination well. But let me remind you about my ordination: It’s not from a denomination. As a Congregationalist, I was ordained by the Colonial Church of Edina, the discrete, local church body in which I was raised, full of persons who have known me and my family since my grandparents co-founded the church in 1946. Those people told me, beginning in 7th grade, that I was “called to ministry,” and they have nurtured me along that path all the way till now. I consider ordination in the Congregationalist setting very different from one ordained by a national assembly or by a bishop (that is, the presbyterian, synodical, or episcopal systems).
4) Both you and others have questioned whether Adam has been entirely forthcoming in his posting about these matters. Maybe, some have implied, there’s a back story of disobedience that Adam is hiding from the blogosphere. I can assure you that Adam is being candid about his candidacy. In fact, he runs the distinct possibility of getting dooced for his public honesty about the process’s abuses. There’s a reason that most ordinands don’t start to bitch about how they were screwed by the system until after they’re ordained — because if they do it any sooner, the system will have its retribution.
TO BE CONTINUED…