As I have been traveling around for these very short few months, one word that seems to be bandied around a great deal is, "movement." I have heard it used by progressives, liberals, conservatives, malcontents, middle-of-the-roaders, moderates and, yes, I have been known to toss the M-word around a great deal.
I am starting to think that whenever one or two of us get together and realize that we agree about something, if we call it a movement, we have all of a sudden given ourselves legitimacy. "Movement" language that is used helps to bring about a sense of momentum, inertia and higher-calling.
Now I am the last person to think I can define one group/person’s understanding of their movement over and against another, but it does raise some questions. Now there has been quite a bit of conversation on the moderator’s Facebook Group about movements in the PC(USA) with some great insight and discussion, but I thought I would toss out some questions here.
How do we know if this is even IS a movement?
Are most movements simply ideological strategies dressed in populist theological rhetoric?
What is the purpose of a movement?
How many movements can one institution take?
Is there one movement that should define the future of our denomination?
Who gets to judge the validity of one movement over another?
If two or three are gathered, is it a movement?
Some of the movements that I have heard about over the past few months:
- 1000conversations.org – launched by by Presbyterian Welcome and That All May Freely Serve
- Campaign to Defeat Amendment B – launched by The Presbyterian Coalition
- presbymergent – a someone unapologetic gathering of postmodern pc(usa)’ers
- The case for realignment that has been talked about by Presbyterians for Renewal
- Letter from Younger Evangelicals – Sent to many folks from a group of students at Fuller Theological Seminary.
- Living the Ancient Call and being part of a movement towards biblical faithfulness – as lifted up by the Presbyterian Global Fellowship
- Forward progress is being made – as asserted by the Covenant Network of Presbyterians
And the list could go on and on and on.
So now what? Sure, we can all say that God will be the ultimate judge of any movement and any movement must be Biblical grounded. I firmly believe that, but if it were that simple, well . . . it would be that simple and we could all agree to disagree and amicably go whatever ways we felt called. But as we know it is not that simple.
So . . . can our church survive multiple movements?
My answer would be "no" as long as their are particular movements that claim ultimate truth and have no room for divergent discernment of God’s will for the church.
And let me tell you why I think this is the case.
And yes, I am going to hop on my culture shifts soapbox again in order to posit one possibility. I talk about this a little on my general blog, but I think one of the reasons that holding multiple and divergent movements in healthy tension is so difficult is because in so many ways we fail to see that we – culture, society, worldview – have moved beyond a two-party, black and white world that has each of us easily fitting into a nice and tidy ideological, theological or political box. We can argue whether or not we were EVER able to fit so nicely, but with the advances in technology and communication, we now know there are others who also don’t fit, so we are more apt to step outside of traditional platforms or "camps" thus causing the landscape to get flatter, fuzzier and more demanding of our constant adaptability.
Now I as much as anyone else wishes that I knew God’s mind on where we are going as a denomination, but what I am willing to say is that we are in deep deep trouble if we think the church is easily split into two and only two sides: those who are right and those who are wrong; those who win and those who lose; those who agree with us on one issue and those who do not. I say this because if we are not careful I think we will even set the process up to make it look that way. Simply put, if we set the rules up that the discourse about the future of the church – in whatever manifestation that may be – is only about decisions of "Option 1" or "Option 2", then we tell the many who are pushing third and fourth and fifth ways of being church further away. And sooner or later, if not already, we become so detached from such a great number of people that we all who participate in this, liberal and conservative, doom ourselves to actual extinction.
And lest anyone think I am pointing at any particular camp, well, I guess I am. I guess I am pointing at the camp that that finds it’s worth by its reaction to the other. I am pointing to those who think they speak for far more people than they really do. I am pointing to those who are blaming the other for the decline of the church as if there is any one reason, that we don’t all play a part in it and/or numbers is the single most important measure of success. I am pointing to those who are more concerned with the survival of
the church than faithfulness to the Gospel even to our death.
In the end, I am pointing to all of us because at some level we are each guilty of falling into any number of these traps. And the grace is that we are still joined by the salvation of Christ to which we are part. If we are to be a denomination with some kind of healthy future, this is the movement that we can claim, this is the movement that we need.
Now I know that I may be inviting trouble with this, but honestly, this is the movement that I hope for.
What about you?