Dear God, I Would Like My Presbyterian Church (USA) Back

[photo: bartelomeus]

With recent developments in the Presbyterian Church (USA) regarding changes in our constitution – AKA Amendment 10a – that now make it possible for openly LGBTQ folks to be ordained into leadership, there has been quite a bit of finger-pointing and blame directed towards those who live in the more progressive neighborhoods of our church.  If you are a Presbyterian, you have no doubt seen the letters or had conversations that usually contain some derivations of the following accusatory statements.

The reason the Presbyterian Church is dying is because we have lost our way, we have strayed from the Gospel and have turned our back on Biblical authority. Liberalism is killing the church.

Just look at churches that are growing, they are Bible-based, conservative followers of Jesus.

We are not leaving the Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church has left us.

Look what YOU [insert liberal label here]s have done to my church.

I want my Presbyterian Church back.

While I do not in any way want to invalidate the genuine anger, frustration and calling my conservative brothers and sisters are feeling about the church, I want to challenge the idea that there is any ONE reason that the church has changed and is changing.  While we should certainly study trends, cultural shifts and other organizational markers to help guide our way forward, the idea that if we were just more Biblically “true” and/or conservative we would not have experienced the decline just does not make sense to me. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the liberal part of the church has abdicated it’s call to traditional evangelism and the idea that new believers are a good thing, otherwise we too could make the same claims about the conservative church’s impact on the decline of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The reason the Presbyterian Church has been dying is because we have remained rigid, closed-minded and unable to see the Holy Spirit’s proddings to shift on social issues, especially around the issue of LGBTQ ordination.

The growth of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd, which tends to be more politically and socially progressive, has been pushed away from the Presbyterian Church because we worship doctrine and regulation over advocacy and relationships. We have missed a huge growth demographic.

We are not leaving the Presbyterian Church; most old progressives have already left and young ones won’t come near us.

Look what YOU [insert conservative label here]s have done to my church.

I want my Presbyterian Church back.

It really is silly, isn’t it? We keep fighting over deeply held beliefs and can’t find a way to either live with a healthy amount of tension or allow one another to shift in relationship without someone ELSE being to blame for our decisions or disagreement. One of the things about Presbyterians that I love is the passion with which we argue our points of view, try to persuade another person to see God’s will in new ways and engage in the kind of wrestling with one another that help us grow into who God intends us to be. Our love of meaningful theological discourse is commendable, but it seems to have  gotten to the point that we only think we can be happy when one set of people are proven right and another group is proven wrong.

This is not the Presbyterian Church that I grew up with.

While I do not want to fall into the “let’s go back to the good ol’ days”  trap – and I do know that this is GOD’S church and not “mine”- there is something about the time when we really did live with a deeply held sense of what it meant to live together as a denomination even as we disagreed over the deepest held beliefs. I remember when we valued people over the ideology when we examined candidates for ordination, when progressives found ways to stay in a denomination even when we disagreed with our constitution and when it felt like floor debate felt Holy Spirit driven and not ideologically fueled. I remember when we Presbyterians, fought passionately over issues, got angry with one another and didn’t always like the outcomes of votes, but through it all we truly believed that we best discerned the mind of Christ and will of God . . . together.

So come to think of it, there may be one thing that would make a huge difference.

If I had to choose my one reason for our decline in numbers and relevance, it’s not that we are too liberal or too conservative, but it’s that we have forgotten how to live together as a denomination in a way that honors the genuine faithfulness of both. Heck, it seems that we can’t even acknowledge that the same Christ is at the center of our discerning. While we used to be able to weather the fiercest of debates, it seems that we no longer value ending up together on the other side of our disagreements.  For as long as we continue to remain entrenchment in an either-or, blame-based relationship the church will be driven by this energy and will continue to lose relevance and meaning to a world that desperately needs to see genuine community lived out among disagreeing parties.

As I think back on my earliest years in the Presbyterian Church as a youth and hear stories from my mentors, while we have always taken on political issues, we have believed that the church should engage in the discourse in a different way. We have lived a different story of community than the rest of society, one marked by a graciousness of spirit, a posture of loving our enemies and a hope for reconciliation over separation.  Now it seems that we have adopted the ways of the world when it comes to our disagreements: graciousness has been replaced by judgement, loving replaced by demonization and reconciliation by isolationism.

Again, I want my Presbyterian Church back.

Now I have no delusions about our future. 1960’s denominationalism is crumbling around us, the future of large religious institutions  in an exciting time of discovery and ultimately some people will choose to not longer be part of the larger body called The Presbyterian Church (USA).  I am not so concerned about the Presbyterian Church getting our numbers back up to those 1960’s levels, but I am concerned with how we express our understanding of the Body of Christ to the world. So here is the challenge . . . if you think I am on the right track, left or right, we must reach over and beyond the tried and true ideological chasms and unspoken rules of engagement that have been built up for decades and be the church that we want it to be.

If we can do this, we may not get the exact Presbyterian Church that we remember it being in the past, but we will be the church we are supposed to be in the future . . . and ultimately we all live and experience this Presbyterian family, no longer as “my church” but as God’s.  And that would be great.

65 comments

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  • Kyle  

    Bruce, I really resonate with the overall implication of your post. I live and work in a divisive presbytery—one that has regularly had 51/49 or 53/47 votes on overtures regarding the “hot button issues.” While I understand the urgency of both sides, I believe that our current strategy of trying to legislate theology and faith through overture after overture after overture covering the same ground (in nearly the same wording) year after year after year not only accomplishes nothing but perhaps even grieves the Holy Spirit.

    When the difference between “aye” and “nay” on any given overture is smaller than the acceptable margin of error in things like statistical epidemiology or the assembly of electronic components for fighter jets, then perhaps whatever garners the most votes does not reflect the will of God.

    Unfortunately, little has changed in the 30+ years we’ve been arguing about this…except maybe that the edges are more entrenched and those of us in the middle with, perhaps, more reasoned and/or nuanced perspectives are feeling more shell-shocked.

    I feel like Captain Kirk in the episode “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield.” It might not be only the disenfranchised at any given point who leave the denomination, but those of us who are fed up with the fighting and will leave the “scorched-earth Presbyterians” to battle to the death in the wasteland of a denomination decimated by their fanaticism.

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  • Paul  

    Bruce, is the practice homosexuality a sin (sex between two same sex individuals) ?

    • Dick Powell  

      Only God can judge. What does your heart tell you?

      • Paul  

        I am not judging anyone, I am asking a simple question about a particular act, is the practice of homosexuality a sin in the eyes of the Creator ?   I need some direction.  Yes or No ?

        is lying a sin in the eyes of the Creator ?
        yes/no

        I just want someone to be honest with me.  

        • Paul  

          I am not implying anyone is going to Hell.

          • Dick Powell  

            Paul,
            I am not taking the easy way out with this question. We all sin. Are some more sinful than others? I think not. Jesus tells me to love everyone, no matter what. I do not spend a lot of time on this question. I spend more time on child abuse, spouse abuse and human trafficing. If the two people live in a harmonious and loving relationship, I am OK with it. There are far to many non loving relationships.
            Dick

          • Paul  

            Dick, with all due respect, you have continued to avoid answering the question.  I am not asking how to govern it,  I am not asking how to have relationships with people who practice homosexuality, the bottom line is that you have continued to bounce around the fact that it is like fornication between a man and a woman, it is a sin.  I asked a very simple question and the fact that no one on this site has given me a straight forward answer is the answer I have gotten.  I did not ask you personally if you were ok with it.  Is there no truth at all ? Is it totally subjective ?  without the law it is all darkness.  I sin everyday myself but I am merely trying to ask you what is sin and what is not.  I am not asking what sin is worse than another.  We are talking about the act, not the individual.  Please do not reply to this thread unless you can give me the answer to the original question in a straight forward way.  Is homosexuality (the act of two same sex individuals engaging in sex) a sin ? (just like two unmarried individuals engaging in sex is a sin, one I am certainly guilty of and is no better or worse that the one we are discussing).  Grace Dick, forgiveness, these are paramount but for what if we are not even able to call what is sin, sin.  Please give me the answer I seek.  Not whether or not we should focus on a certain issue, but is it a sin in the eyes of the God that created us ?  

          • Paul  

            God bless you all by the way ! 

          • Paul  

            Dick, God bless you and I hope you and everyone have a Blessed New Year,  I sin  too but thank the Lord for Jesus ! 

          • Dick Powell  

            Paul,
            You are right! I skirted the question. My answer is: Yes, it is a sin. I can still love people without approving of their actions. Sex is to be between a man and a women.
            Dick

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      I hesitate to answer with a black/white yes or no, so wil give some nuance to my response.  The sexual act between two people (same sex or not) can be either YES OR NO depending on the context. Promiscuity, abuse and other ways that we use sexuality that is not about acknowledging and deepening our spiritual connections is sinful.

      Often the problem in any of these debates is that we try to argue legalism through hypotheticals so we can ALWAYS create and shift a hypothetical that proves out point, so that’s about as close as I can comfortably get to answering your question.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      I hesitate to answer with a black/white yes or no, so wil give some nuance to my response.  The sexual act between two people (same sex or not) can be either YES OR NO depending on the context. Promiscuity, abuse and other ways that we use sexuality that is not about acknowledging and deepening our spiritual connections is sinful.

      Often the problem in any of these debates is that we try to argue legalism through hypotheticals so we can ALWAYS create and shift a hypothetical that proves out point, so that’s about as close as I can comfortably get to answering your question.

      • Paul  

        Bruce, thank you for your answer.  Are you saying that sex between two men is not a sin in certain circumstances ?  Like between two married men ?  I am not asking how to govern this but whether it is a sin in regards to Christ the Creator ?  I must say that I feel you are totally circumnavigating a very simple answer and to a very simple question.  I do not see how there is anyway around this one.  So what you are saying is that when two men have sex with one another, specifically anal sex, that it is totally sanctioned by the spiritual law that Christ taught and lived by when he walked the earth ?  …. are you saying that these certain circumstances can be reproduced in two men’s relationship for the rest of their married life ?

        God Bless,Paul

        PS I am not trying to be difficult here I just truly question your line of thinking on this topic.  We are not talking about the American legality of this issue but the spiritual legality in regards to faith in Christ and the God of the Bible. I hope you have a blessed New Year.  I sin just like my brothers and sisters who struggle and engage in any kind of sexual sin ! God bless everyone of you ! 

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  • Al Sandalow  

    Bruce, I appreciate your comments, but I think you have a very myopic view of Presbyterian history. I don’t believe the Presbyterian Church you write about ever existed.
    Right or wrong, the Presbyterian Church has had a long (almost constant) history of debate and division over theology. Our own Reformation roots are in division over matters of belief. Read the Scot’s Confession to see how civil our discourse has been.
    We have divided more times than I can count. Clergy have often been removed over theological beliefs that were outside the Westminster framework (and not always on the “Progressive” side; lots of Presbyteries purged Dispensational clergy in the 1930’s). Certainly you should remember the creation of the EPC in 1981 or the PCA in 1973. How does that fit into your framework?
    I’m not going to argue whether this is right or wrong, good or bad. That is a separate matter. I just think that your re-imagining of Presbyterian history and practice is faulty. If you grew up in a Presbyterian environment where you somehow believed that there was no ongoing division, you must simply have been unaware of what was happening (blissfully perhaps).

    • Dennis Evans  

      A few years before we moved to Live Oak CA in 1964 the presbyterian Church that was there called a minister who had a Charismatic experience and shared it with that congregation. The congregation fought over this. The presbytery removed the pastor and prohibited any Charismatics within the church to stop meeting together. Some left. Some went under cover. The next pastor, (the first one I knew) was one who did not believe in the resurrection or virgin birth or in much of anything except being open to good truths about God and about serving God in the world as Jesus did. Whether the charismatic minister should have been removed is something I am not competent to judge. The restrictions on the charimatics within the congregation seems harsh. When I became an evangelical and charismatic in 1970 and started pursuing a call to the ministry, that presbytery (Sacramento) made it rather hard for me because of my theology which was largely learned from CS Lewis and John Calvin (those radicals).

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Oh by no means do I think division is or has been non-existent, I am simple pushing on the fact that is does seem that we have absorbed more of an American political rhetoric that before. We can certainly disagree on that. The EPC came out of reunion conversations and the PCA I feel was a clean “break” for some. I think we can find a better way to move into different relationships w/o falling to the depths of violent rhetoric.

      At the same time, my experiential “memory” really does only stretch back to the 80’s when in 1987 I was ordained as an Elder at the ripe age of 17. 

      • Laura Cunningham  

        Hey there.  When I saw your post elsewhere, my first reaction was similar to Al’s.  It seems like our denomination and parent denominations have always been dividing over something – I would add issues of fundamentalism and slavery to Al’s list.  I would even go back to the early church, and the disputes that moved Paul to write letters encouraging churches to remember that they are all part of the same Body, or have many gifts but one Spirit.

        At the same time, the fact that we’ve always been this way doesn’t mean we always have to be.  You’re absolutely right that we are called to be something better, and I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on that note.  Keep on blogging with your good stuff, and inspiring us to express the Body of Christ that we are called to be, becoming God’s church and not our own.   Peace, Laura
         

  • Dennis Evans  

    I am just a dumb conservative, “dumbing down the church”. It was the smart people who told me I would be happier in another denomination, perhaps a “dumbed-down” one. The smart liberal/progressives are the smart ones and the smart ones can always tell us domb ones where to go. Put me in my place. I am heartily sorry.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      @73cbdb261befa1f0ba78371f81e882e2:disqus Dennis, I am not sure where the “dumbing down the church” appears in my post, but in no way to I see either “side” as smarter than the other, in fact, I think both are being as faithful as can find ourselves once again at a crossroads of relationship. IfI in some way inferred that, my apologies, because I know that assuming intention that is never stated is dangerous and unhelpful.

      • Dennis Evans  

        This was not a reply to you but there was a comment that seems to have disappeared referring to the dumbing down of the church by such concepts of inerrancy. (Ah the shibboleths of the church: inerrancy, infallibility. And it is true that the “conservatives” have shibboleths. Other perspectives have “red herrings”.) The comment that I can no longer find seemed to confirm an attitude that I felt in other times and places, and I definitely wigged out on it. I am very sorry. It was not a response to you at all.

        • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

          Cool. Just wanted to make sure.

      • David Moon-Wainwright  

        “Dumbing down” was my comment. Have to hit the “read more” to see it. Not edited or erased. 
        Dennis, the statement was, “we have allowed our denomination to be dumbed down…” and I stand by that. Never meant this as an attack on others or to tell others where to go, but that we failed to make our arguments.
        We on the progressive/liberal edge have not made compelling arguments that connect with people of faith and have instead allowed dogmas to make much of our faith under-examined.

      • David Moon-Wainwright  

        “Dumbing down” was my comment. Have to hit the “read more” to see it. Not edited or erased. 
        Dennis, the statement was, “we have allowed our denomination to be dumbed down…” and I stand by that. Never meant this as an attack on others or to tell others where to go, but that we failed to make our arguments.
        We on the progressive/liberal edge have not made compelling arguments that connect with people of faith and have instead allowed dogmas to make much of our faith under-examined.

  • Dennis Evans  

    I graduated from high school in 1969 and came under care of my Presbytery while in college, around 1971. I am pretty conservative. I came under the influence of “evangelical/charismatic” Christians and Presbyterians at the age of 18. My impression of the Presbyterian ministers I knew was that is was common for them not to believe in the historical nature of the biblical narrative. It was common for them not to believe in the divinity of Christ, or the virgin birth, or the resurrection. That seemed pretty normal. I did not want them to leave the church. I only felt called to enter the ministry and teach what the Bible taught. My calling from God was essentially to serve where the grace of God found me. So I knew from my college days to never expect the church to make decisions on a traditional Biblical or reformed basis. I do not see myself leaving. But the church made it very hard for me to be ordained and for me to receive a call. The seminary professors at Dubuque were good to me, and gave me good grades, but the candidates committee consistently encouraged me to leave the denomination. I simply would not go away, and I think I wore them down, but they didn’t hep me much. And I found that the liberal segment of the church, which seemed very extensive, regarded people like me as either ignorant/foolish, or obsurantist, or cowardly, or dishonest. I don’t understand why the conservatives are angry or indignant, because they should have seen recent developments coming when I did, 40 years ago. Where were their heads? but you have to realize that “Your”/My church has not been nice to conservatives for a long time. You are absolutely right that the basis of the church is our belonging to Christ no matter how foolish and error ridden we are. I, too, am very foolish, and here I am, I will do no other, so help me God.

    • David Moon-Wainwright  

      My experience is the opposite. My home church nearly tried to block my candidacy because I held to God’s sovereignty over free will and did not use the phrase “I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior” in my application to presbytery. Blessings in your ministry. 

    • David Moon-Wainwright  

      My experience is the opposite. My home church nearly tried to block my candidacy because I held to God’s sovereignty over free will and did not use the phrase “I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior” in my application to presbytery. Blessings in your ministry. 

  • Charles Hedrick  

    While I’m sympathetic with Bruce, this approach can’t win. Conservatives’ consciences won’t let them ignore the current issues. And from they’re point of view, I think they’re right. The main point of the disagreement is that some of us think it’s essential to maintain traditional standards and some don’t. The folks who think it’s essential can’t realistically be asked to say that differences are OK, because the whole definition of their position is that some things aren’t acceptable. Mutual acceptance is by its very nature more attractive to liberals than conservatives.

    Life doesn’t run backwards. We’ll never go back to the church of the 1960s.

    I am, however, concerned that too many liberal churches aren’t concerned about evangelism. While conservative theology may currently be more popular than liberal among people who are likely to go to church, I don’t think that’s the sole or even major reason that the conservative PCUSA churches grow more than the liberal ones on average. After all, from any reasonable perspective, *all* PCUSA churches are liberal. From my observation the conservative churches are doing more to reach out to people and bring them in, and to make adjustments to the way their congregations run to make them attractive. I am part of a wonderful congregation. But it’s not doing any real evangelism, and membership is slowly sinking. WIthin a few years we’ll no longer be able to sustain our current staffing level, and that will likely hasten the decline.

  • Dick  

    For me I see we don”t encourage our lay people to be leaders in the Church. We have placed a sign post up that says if you do not have a big education and strips on your sleeves you can preach the gospel. Holding people in the pews is just that holding them there.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      I hear ya and I think that is changing. Economic forces are at work, but also new forms of Christian community that requires new forms of leadership.  I am one that does think education and training are important, but must be removed from a one-size-fits all model. Easy to say, harder to do :-|

      • Dick Powell  

        Bruce, I am too all about education and training. My background is a trained speaker, teacher and instructor. I have participated in the Church as a Sunday school teacher. I have only ever been allowed to preach once. I have several close friends that also would be great. We are trained and educated. Just did not go to seminary. Is that a reason for the lay people to see that they are not important and only those with the robes?
        Dick

  • David Moon-Wainwright  

    Bruce,
    Personally I don’t think the issue is “we have forgotten how to live together as a denomination in a way that honors the genuine faithfulness of both.” This is another way of saying we need to be civil to each other, and yes, that is true, we do need to be more civil and intolerant. But both sides face a conundrum, how do you tolerate intolerance?

    IMNSHO I believe we are losing people right and left because of many complex issues, but at the heart of it lays a few things: We do not have a clear prophetic voice that speaks to injustice in the world today. We do have committees that write studies which are wonderful treatises, but they do not speak with the passion of God’s heart. (Part of this issue is because we do not believe in the role of the prophet, but in the ballot through committee and process.) And far too often we are far too busy protecting buildings, positions and pensions to speak the honest word from the Lord. Were the PCUSA to rise up and speak a clear word about hunger and starvation in the world today, perhaps by doing something like encouraging all churches to sell property and feed the people in the Horn of Africa, then perhaps our society may see us as a bit more relevant. (I know, you’ll talk to your parish after mine signs on!)

    The second thing is that we have allowed our denomination to be dumbed down: inerrancy is for many lay folk the only “honest” position–even though they are divorced, have a gay child or approve of women serving in authority. We have failed to make compelling logical arguments that rebut what our brothers and sisters posit as a totally inerrant or infallible view of scripture. We have failed to show the true depth of God’s character, it’s grayness, calling out how even God repents (with Moses), how God is inconsistent in judgement (death of Bathsheeba’s first child by David), how God changes positions (No king, bad idea, then, okay, give them a king!). We don’t insist on intellectual honesty when dealing with ancient stories like Noah’s Ark, the Ten Commandments, Jonah, Daniel and many of Jesus’ activities (walking on the water to start).

    Not only do our kids see us as hypocrites, homophobes and basically scared to face truth, but they honestly think that even we intellectually driven Presbys are basically dishonest and deny basic truth in order to validate a crazy view of the world where children are to be stoned for lack of respect (read: growing up normally and asking honest questions).

    Plus all churches are struggling to some degree, part of it is cyclical. The genitalia of couples are not the issue, but the heart and hands of the church? That’s the issue.

  • Nextchurch2012  

    Attend NEXT Church 2012 in Dallas in February – to make progress together. Let’s set aside the deviseness and dream together about what could be next for the PCUSA as we seek to excel in young adult ministry, build networks for innovative ministries, and form and reform faith communities. see www.nextchurch2012.org

  • Cinda Gorman  

    KEY STATEMENT…. “Now it seems that we have adopted the ways of the world when it comes to our disagreements: graciousness has been replaced by judgement, loving replaced by demonization and reconciliation by isolationism.”
    We too often are mirroring the world instead of being Christ and modeling Christ to the world

  • Anonymous  

    What I do find puzzling is that the extremes on both sides, who both claim to love Christ and love the church will destroy it for their side.

  • Anonymous  

    I have long felt that our greatest strength and our greatest weakness is our diversity.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Yep.

    • Jesus Christ  

         Your what?  You’re 90-95% white, middle/upper middle class.  You have all the diversity of cream cheese.

  • Dick  

    OK, I have read every post. I think we are all over thinking the whole thing. God loves us! I love God. I share my love for God in all that I do. You share God’s love with all you do. Period! Lay Pastors! Instead of one at the head of the Church. Everyone should be at the head of the Church. All should be able to be Pastors if that is their calling. Four years of college does not make a Pastor!

  • Viola Larson  

    Bruce, I am staying in the denomination for now, but it isn’t the PCUSA I am concerened about so much as the people who are in need of a Savior and that includes turning their lives over to Jesus and away from their sin. I also care about being where God wants me to be-my relationship with Jesus means a lot more to me than being comfortable although I sometimes protest loudly to the Lord. But denominationalism means very little, and even less in light of the wrecked lives all around us.

    Someone in this thread wrote about Bonhoeffer- I read him alot-and often I quote from his Ethics. He has in his book a confession for the Church of his time. He says that we must make our confession for ourselves for the sake of others. One of the things he confesses is “She [the church] has found no strong and effective answer to the contempt for chastity and to the proclamation of sexual libertinism. All she has achieved has been an occasuional expression of moral indignation. She has thus rendered herself guilty of the loss of the purity and soundness of youth. She has failed to proclaim with sufficient emphasis that our bodies belong to the Body of Christ.” We have not even done the little that Bonhoeffer says his Church did. In fact we have pushed unchastity and sexual libertinism.

    There is so much more that he confesses-putting youth ahead of the elders, not caring for the death of innocents, etc.

    It is all so much more serious than dialogue which isn’t happening now anyway. In fact with the Covenant Networks new guidelines stating that those candidates that will not ordain gays and lesbians cannot be ordained, we have reached a very sticky point-but I am off the subject now. I just want to be in a Church that takes seriously the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Thanks Viola – As I have stated over and over again, as long as we can stay centered on the salvific nature of the life, death and bodily resurrection of Christ, I am in and willing to go to and be in the bowels of our faith life with anyone. As soon as we lose that connection to one another or presumption of faith in the other, then we are indeed done.

      The nature of “denominalism” is certainly changing, but there is still something about the way of being Presbyterian that is in my DNA and I think can be a gift to the world.

  • Jake  

    “Heck, it seems that we can’t even acknowledge that the same Christ is at the center of our discerning.”

    Actually, that is exactly the issue. Which of these two statements is true of Jesus Christ?

    1) Jesus Christ affirms homoerotic practice.
    2) Jesus Christ does not affirm homoerotic practice.

    Only one of these two statements can be true. The one that is false describes an idol. Which one do you worship?

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Jake, let me answer a question with a question, is not believe and claiming eternal life through the life death and bodily resurrection enough for us to live in Christian community? There is much to squabble about around many many many social issues about Jesus that will never be full be revealed, but if we can’t even begin centered on salvific act of his being, then we are not engaging in faith, but engaging in pharietical practices.

      • Anonymous  

        Good answer Bruce but this person will never be satisfied with any answer we give them. I am with you that Jesus supports equal dignity and rights for glbt folks. And I think you can make a substantive argument that the Gospels support this view. But I am through having shouting matches with conservatives. GLBT individuals are children of God and are intitled to the same rights as heterosexuals. That’s my position. Conservatives are free to disagree with me. That’s what makes this a great country. I am willing to let that disagreement stand and work towards cooperation on issues where we can agree.

    • Frank  

      We all know the answer is #2. No scriptural evidence at all for #1. No wonder people are leaving a church that encourages sin.

    • Dick  

      Why? Why, does there hav eto be an either or?

  • Karenbigham  

    “it’s not that we are too liberal or too conservative, but it’s that we have forgotten how to live together as a denomination in a way that honors the genuine faithfulness of both.”   Yes, exactly.Unfortunately, this describes not only the PCUSA but America as a whole. I find it deeply distressing how the conservative vs. liberal, us vs. them mentality permeates our society.   It is even more distressing to find the same chasm within our own faith.  As usual, you are right on target, Bruce.   

  • Fidelis Ad Finem  

    Wow, Bruce. Reading your posts, including this one, has affirmed my desire to be almost anywhere but the PCUSA.  It sounds like you’re working to take a liberal worldview and make it the foundation for your church life — as if Jesus came not to establish his own Kingdom, but rather one that reflects San Francisco politics (or something similar).  If people disagree with you, that’s fine, as long as they don’t so sincerely believe differently that it causes them to actually act in contradistinction to how you would act.  You write as if you’d gladly make room for everyone in your religion, but you don’t really have space for traditional Christians who can’t keep their mouths shut.  

    As the PCUSA hemorrhages members, conservative/traditional Christianity is thriving outside its walls. You can blame a cultural shift from denominationalism if you want.  But I think your problem is that the PCUSA doesn’t really love your conservative brothers and sisters the way Jesus would, so they are leaving you.  God is blessing them elsewhere.  If you want your denomination back (i.e., comfortably liberal), why not make it easy for those who disagree to leave peacefully with their church property?  I regularly read about PCUSA property battles here in Sacramento.  Why would I ever want to join a congregation in a denomination that doesn’t respect the consciences of its individual churches?  Calling what progressives in the PCUSA are doing “justice” and “welcoming” and “inclusive” doesn’t actually make it any of those things when it comes to conservatives and traditionals.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      So . . . I cannot speak for my “liberal” friends as you call them, but can you tell me from my posts where I stand on the property issue? I think we all need to be careful about making assumptions without any backing or proof.  And for the record, while I rarely get called a “conservative”, “traditional” has been both claimed and plastered on me many a time.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Not sure if we know each other, but as many will tell you, as long as we stay away from “troll” tactics, I’ll always stay in the conversation.

      • Fidelis Ad Finem  

        You’re right, Bruce.  I have no idea where you stand on the property issues.   

        What I can tell from your posts is that you enthusiastically supported the constitutional changes in your denomination.  You won fair-and-square.  Your majority’s reach has penetrated from the top of your organization to its lower levels.  The power structure clearly belongs to you and those sympathetic to you.

        What are you going to let your majority power be used for?  Will it now oppress the minority, whose consciences are pricked by the changes you’ve made?  Your post implies that you want things in the PCUSA to return to normal, but that requires those whose spirits have been crushed either to simply get over it or to leave. There’s no room for them to stay in the PCUSA and oppose you vigorously, to fight to reverse your gains — not if you are going to get “your” PUCSA back.

        I think that the way for you to find peace is to be generous in division.  The Body of Christ is bigger than the PCUSA and, ultimately, the best thing you could do for the unity of his whole church would be to bless those who disagree and make a way for them.  I know that in some parts of the country, it’s easy for congregations to leave.  But when I read our local paper, I regularly see battles between the presbytery and churches over their property.  It’s so distasteful, such a poor witness to Christ.  Why would anyone want to be a part of that mess?

        Jesus warned us against using our power to “lord over” each other.  The apostle Paul admonished us not to do anything that harmed the “weaker believer’s” conscience — even to the point of giving up things that we had a right to have (such as alcohol and meat).  What I see in the PCUSA is a reversal of the historical power dynamic, but a continuation of the same types of behavior by those who are in power toward those who are not.  

        You have spoken volubly about justice, but I have yet to hear you advocate as loudly for the minority in your own denomination.  The reason I have no idea where you stand on property issues is because you are remarkably quiet about them, as far as I can tell.  

        And, no, we don’t know each other.  I’m just a layperson who works in a sensitive, public capacity.  I like reading the thoughts of those who think differently than I do, although sometimes I hope they’ll change their minds!

        • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

          It is interesting that when one side “loses” they forget that just before that, they were the ones in power. I still remember being told many times by some in the denomination, “if you don’t like the fact that we do not ordain LGTBQ folks, then find somewhere else.” but many of us chose to stay and seek a way forward . . . even in disagreement. Leaving was talked about by many progressive folks, but in the end, felt like this was not a choice to make. that said, if folks cannot feel that, in good conscience they can stay part of the PCUSA, I would never ask someone to compromise their convictions and I think that there is a way to seek separation that is both just and fair. In the end, I don’t actually think it is worth the energy to fight over property, but I also hope that any congregation that chooses to leave sees there life as larger and longer than recent changes and would respond with some gesture to recognize that. I just think it’s a waste of time to head to the courts, but I know that some on both “sides” get off on that power fight. Not me. I would rather find some other solutions.

          Also, keep in mind, “my” experience of the church for all of my 42 years has been in disagreement about our stand on LGBTQ ordination, but in great agreement about the nature of the ways that we engaged in that tention. Our church is so much MORE than ordination standards, but it seems as this has been a flashpoint much like slavery, female ordination and other stages along the way.

          Through it all, I can only trust and hope in God as I know everyone else does as well regardless of where we stand.

        • Stuccomango  

          Do we as a denomination no longer believe that our deliberations are guided by the Holy Spirit?  Do we not believe that God’s will for us as a denomination are discerned and affirmed in community.  Isn’t that the way it has been done since our inception?  Why now are people so quick to abandon such a rich tradition of representative rule?   Maybe the answer is for both “sides” to graciously go their separate ways.  It is sad, but maybe we can’t live together right now, the differences in how we interpret scripture, and how we view God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ are too great.  But isn’t that the way we have always worked out our differences.  My only prayer is that 50 years from now, both sides will come together and after the reconciliation, all will be asking themselves, “What was the big deal?”

  • Anonymous  

    The divisive era we have lived through is a product of the choices that conservatives and progressives have been making for two generations. The question, for me, is whether we can reclaim an older tradition of being reconcilers. I’ve been heavily influenced by Bonhoeffer’s initial essay in Ethics, The Love of God and The Decay of the World. I written a couple of posts on this, What Divides Us (http://edbrenegar.typepad.com/at_the_table_of_thanks/2011/11/what-divides-us.html) and What Unites Us and Makes Us Whole (http://edbrenegar.typepad.com/at_the_table_of_thanks/2011/11/what-unites-us-makes-us-whole.html).  My concern is not just the division within the PCUSA, but the division that exists within the whole of the church. I have no easy answer, except that we must believe that God not only reconciles us to Christ, but also to one another. I suspect that requires greater faith than virtually any that we can muster. Yet muster it we must. Thanks Bruce always for your prescient insight.

  • Rob of Glorious Mt Vernon  

    I think of Revelation 3:15-16… Lukewarm Laodicea…  The ones that have stuck it out are often the ones that like their faith at a room temperature that won’t offend anyone or challenge social structures too much.  I want a faith on fire… sometimes I don’t care how conservative or liberal it is… just want it on fire for something constructive and Bible-based.

  • Pastormary  

    “…there is something about the time when we really did live with a deeply
    held sense of what it meant to live together as a denomination even as
    we disagreed over the deepest held beliefs.”

    I, too, have experienced times like this, but over the years I think they have been few and far between. Actually, looking over the entire history of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, our history includes more times of schism than our memories allow for.

    But I’m with you – I want to engage in deep discussions not just with people of likemindedness but all who call Jesus Lord of life.

    In addition, all too often we lose sight of the way to live our faith before the world – not just speak it. People who are seeking something more want to see our faith lived out. They don’t care about our theological arguments.

  • Themostsplendid  

    Engaging in civil and thoughtful discourse is something I value and advocate for.  I had experiences in my mid 20’s with a different tradition of faith (raised Presby but went walk-about for a very long time) that gave me these concepts:  Understanding that “out of the clash if differing ideas comes the truth” and that, in a community that operates, more or less, democratically–when the majority makes a decision, it is incumbent upon the minority voice to support the decision.  If it becomes apparent that the decision made isn’t going to work, then the community can discuss, pray, think and decide again.  If it does work, then the decision was a good one, and folks need to walk together in that direction.  The key pieces are talking together and hashing things out–knowing that sometimes disagreement is a catalyst that sparks some new thought or idea that does yield powerful and loving action–and that, once the decision is made, work together to bring it into full bloom.  New conversation can come and different decisions can be made, but only if we walk, faithfully, into the intention to do what’s best for the whole body.  Hanging on tenaciously to a point of view without hearing the other side of the conversation (and this applies to all the conversation partners, not just the ones who don’t agree with me) disrupts any hope of viable discernment, fractures communities, breeds anger and animosity, and cracks the foundation that has, for centuries, graciously held up the edifice of God’s church.  We need, always, look at the Bible, the tenets of Reformed Christianity, and see them anew to understand how they guide us in our time and place.  Certainly, wrangling is a part of our Presbyterian DNA, but so is caring, listening, agreeing to disagree and walking, together, into whatever possibilities present themselves when we join together in love.  Not necessarily “kumbaya” moments, but certainly moments of glimmering grace.  Walking away from the conversation because we disagree may be, in the moment, the easier course of action.  In the long run, walking away diminishes the community and deprives of the gift of fellowship that transcends. 

    In 2003, I volunteered at General Assembly in Denver.  In that window of time, there were things going on in my church that broke my heart and led me to consider leaving the PCUSA.  I was there for the week, and was blessed to see people leaving the convention center chattering, making dinner plans, looking forward to going to a Rockies game, out for a beer or just roaming downtown Denver together.  This ought not to have been remarkable, except that the issue of ordination standards was large on the agenda that year, and I knew that many of those folks who were going out into the soft evening argued, perhaps bitterly, over this issue on the assembly floor.  In that moment, I saw the church at her best, and understood that, whatever may come, this large community of lovers and brawlers is the best community to be immersed in.  We can be lovers and brawlers and go out for a beer later, as friends.  Let’s hold on to that.

  • Themostsplendid  

    Engaging in civil and thoughtful discourse is something I value and advocate for.  I had experiences in my mid 20’s with a different tradition of faith (raised Presby but went walk-about for a very long time) that gave me these concepts:  Understanding that “out of the clash if differing ideas comes the truth” and that, in a community that operates, more or less, democratically–when the majority makes a decision, it is incumbent upon the minority voice to support the decision.  If it becomes apparent that the decision made isn’t going to work, then the community can discuss, pray, think and decide again.  If it does work, then the decision was a good one, and folks need to walk together in that direction.  The key pieces are talking together and hashing things out–knowing that sometimes disagreement is a catalyst that sparks some new thought or idea that does yield powerful and loving action–and that, once the decision is made, work together to bring it into full bloom.  New conversation can come and different decisions can be made, but only if we walk, faithfully, into the intention to do what’s best for the whole body.  Hanging on tenaciously to a point of view without hearing the other side of the conversation (and this applies to all the conversation partners, not just the ones who don’t agree with me) disrupts any hope of viable discernment, fractures communities, breeds anger and animosity, and cracks the foundation that has, for centuries, graciously held up the edifice of God’s church.  We need, always, look at the Bible, the tenets of Reformed Christianity, and see them anew to understand how they guide us in our time and place.  Certainly, wrangling is a part of our Presbyterian DNA, but so is caring, listening, agreeing to disagree and walking, together, into whatever possibilities present themselves when we join together in love.  Not necessarily “kumbaya” moments, but certainly moments of glimmering grace.  Walking away from the conversation because we disagree may be, in the moment, the easier course of action.  In the long run, walking away diminishes the community and deprives of the gift of fellowship that transcends. 

    In 2003, I volunteered at General Assembly in Denver.  In that window of time, there were things going on in my church that broke my heart and led me to consider leaving the PCUSA.  I was there for the week, and was blessed to see people leaving the convention center chattering, making dinner plans, looking forward to going to a Rockies game, out for a beer or just roaming downtown Denver together.  This ought not to have been remarkable, except that the issue of ordination standards was large on the agenda that year, and I knew that many of those folks who were going out into the soft evening argued, perhaps bitterly, over this issue on the assembly floor.  In that moment, I saw the church at her best, and understood that, whatever may come, this large community of lovers and brawlers is the best community to be immersed in.  We can be lovers and brawlers and go out for a beer later, as friends.  Let’s hold on to that.

  • Colleen Earp  

    Amen.

  • Debbie Davis  

    I really appreciate the way that you present these issues with such clarity.  This is exactly what is going on in my home church right now, and I hope that we will come out on the other side of the heated discussions as stronger, more loving people.

  • Nancy Janisch  

    For a long time, I have thought that one of the main things the church is called to be is the place that models for society what it means to live in true unity as the people of God even as we have our disagreements. 

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