Monday, September 27, 2010

Covenant Coalition - Conservative Presbyterians and Where Do We Go?

One thing for sure, reading The Layman is akin to watching a hurricane from aloft – it spins and spins and spins some more, round and around a singular eye – the ordination of LGBT persons.
With this agenda, the Presbyterian Coalition comes out now in opposition to three amendments:
- 10-A, which aims to focus and sharpen our Ordination Standards with wonderfully traditional language.
-10-1, a proposed new Form of Government.
-10-2, the Belhar Confession, a remarkable document coming out of the struggle of South African Christians to find a way through and beyond the horrors of Apartheid.

There’s nothing imaginative about a hurricane, and there’s nothing imaginative in the response of the Coalition to the three amendments – though predictably predicable: in their eyes, all three amendments will be used to promote the ordination of “homosexuals.”
Which is to say, the current G-6.106b was never intended to promote either fidelity within marriage or chastity in singleness, but was a cleverly worded phrase to slam the door on the ordination LGBT persons in a same-gender relationship, or who, for reasons of faith and conscience, will not take a vow of celibacy.
But like all hurricanes, this one, too, is losing its strength.
How often can one say no? How long can one bar the door?
Perhaps that’s the fear behind their rejection of Belhar – a reminder that justice prevails ultimately, and though the road to justice is full of landmines and barbed wire obstacles crafted by the guardians of the old order, the new thing God is doing to further the cause of justice in God’s world gains headway and strength from the opponents standing in its way.
In the same issue, it’s noted that the Colonial Church near Kansas City has voted overwhelmingly to leave the PCUSA and seek affiliation with the EPC.
And to that decision, I can only add my blessing and peace.
Our history is full of separations for all kinds of reasons – Presbyterians share this in common with the whole of Christendom.
Splits happen in bowling, and they happen in the church, too.
Until such time as the Millennium is upon us, we will struggle with our frailties, doing the best we can to honor the LORD Jesus Christ.
I honor the LORD by working for the ordination of LGBT persons, marriage equality and the right of our clergy to officiate at LGBT weddings.
While some would call me apostate, I think it’s time for us to quit such name-calling and simply get on with our respective visions, in separate churches, if need be, allowing for a gracious separation.
Perhaps we can yet work out some kind of a local option for Presbyteries and/or congregations, and I’d be willing to live with some such arrangement.
But as much as the Coalition fears the ordination of “homosexuals,” I long for the day when we will be able to ordain whomever the LORD calls to ministry, trusting our Presbyteries with the time-honored task of guiding and examining those within its boundaries, determining their suitability for ministry.
Enough, okay?
Let’s work out a peace treaty of some sort where we can all following the dictates of our conscience and faith, interpreting the Scriptures and Confessions as the Spirit leads.
And if we cannot craft a peace treaty, then let’s declare an armistice, a cessation of hostilities, and let’s all go home to our families.
There’s been enough blood shed on both sides! 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Anti-Islamic Sentiment in America

John Buchanan, editor of The Christian Century and pastor of Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian Church, writes poignantly of his loving grandmother's seething mistrust about Roman Catholics, and how radio evangelists with their lurid publications promoted hatred and raised lots of money.

Here is John's fine editorial, from the September 21 issue:


In his New York Times column (August 22), Nicholas Kristof wrote about the controversy over the proposal to build an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan: "For much of American history, demagogues have manipulated irrational fears toward people of minority religious beliefs, particularly Catholics and Jews . . . Today's crusaders against the Islamic Community Center are promoting a similar paranoid intolerance, and one day we will be ashamed of it."
His column reminded me that members of my family, showing the influence of their Scottish/Irish ancestors, believed that the pope was behind a Catholic conspiracy to take over the government of the United States. I used to sit on the front porch with my grandmother, otherwise the gentlest, most unconditionally loving person in my young life, while she regaled me with stories about what was going on under the dome of the Roman Catholic cathedral one block away. They're storing guns in the basement, Grandma assured me, and I imagined that the windows in the dome were gunports through which "they" planned to fire on the rest of the city.
Grandma was a lifelong Presbyterian, but at some point she stopped attending church and began to listen to radio evan­gelists and to send them modest contributions. Her mail was full of the radio evangelists' newsletters and gospel tracts with vivid pictures of the devil and the fires of hell devouring hapless sinners—along with appeals for more money. Some of it was benign. She adored Billy Graham. But some of it was toxic: anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant. As she aged, my grandmother became more dependent on the radio preachers. She also subscribed to their newspapers for me, including The Sword of the Lord, which condemned ecumenism, mainline church leaders and the civil rights movement—in short, everything I found compelling about the Christian church and its worldview. Nothing galvanized editors of that publication like Catholicism; when John Kennedy ran for president, The Sword of the Lord and Grandma knew that the end was near.
I loved my grandmother and treasure the memory of her love for me, but I'm ashamed of her worldview, and I cringe at Americans' recurrent irrational fear of minorities.
The most tragic dimension of that irrational fear is the way it is exploited by politicians. I cannot comprehend how otherwise sane and thoughtful people can conclude that an Islamic com munity center two blocks away from Ground Zero is inappropriate—not to mention dangerous—and think that the religion of the Qur'an is any more violent than much of the religion of the Bible. It's not a mosque and it's not on the site of the World Trade Center twin towers, but even if it were, the right of all Americans to pray and worship how and who and where they choose is one of the most important rights and values of our nation. It is not negotiable.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Purpose of a Confession

" 'Confessions' exist for us to go through them (not once but continually), not for us to return to them, take up our abode in them, and conduct our further thinking from their standpoint and in bondage to them. The church never did well to attach itself arbitrarily to one man - whether his name was Thomas ... or Luther, or Calvin - and in his school to attach itself to one form of doctrine. And it was never at any time good for it to look back instead of forwards as a matter of principle" (Barth, in Eberhard Busch's biography, p. 375).

The church is always tempted to find a place wherein it can find shelter; the only problem is this: such shelters are never God, but always our poorly constructed houses of straw.

Because standing in the shelter of God never quite feels safe enough for us, and, indeed, it's not all that safe.

God takes us on a great adventure, and sometimes our hearts are not up to it, and we want to find a pleasant tree somewhere in Palestine and settle down beneath its pleasant shade ... or on the Mount or Transfiguration, at least build booths for everyone.

The history of the church can be seen, I think, as a constant tussle between the heart's desire for security and the Spirit's call to adventure.

When things get dicey, the church hunkers down in the bunkers of orthodoxy. But what a loss, for in the very things we call dicey, God is at work. In one sense, hunkering down is a genuine loss of faith - faith in God and God's providence.

When things get dicey, the church goes looking for heretics so as to silence the inner voices of our own doubt (always our companion, though mostly quiet) and the voice of God, beckoning us onward.
If we trust God's providence, knowing the perfect love of Christ, a love that casts out all fear, then we can be brave and confident and bold in our faith, even as we are humble and patient and respectful before the mysteries of life in a myriad of human beings and ideas.

Fear, and the enemies it makes, destroys our faith.

But welcome and affirmation gives wings to our faith, faith in God who is creator of the world, and remains the decisive factor in it's history, gathering up everything - the good, the bad and the ugly - into the unfailing energy of redemption and the eventual new heaven and new earth.