The Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly (the nationwide gathering of ministers and elders coming from churches all over the country) just finished meeting in Pittsburgh. What did they accomplish? They heard some dynamic preaching, all focused on Mark 2:1-11. They elected the Reverend Neale Pressa as our new moderator. They got many Presbyterians connected to one another in dialogue, not just those who traveled to Pittsburgh, but also virtually via Facebook, Twitter, and numerous websites. On international issues, they did not press for a boycott of companies that are providing materials for Israel’s expansion on the West Bank, but they continue to encourage Christians not to buy products produced on the West Bank. On evangelism, they endorsed a new approach to start new and dynamic congregations called “1001 Worshiping Communities” (http://www.onethousandone.org/Home.aspx), which looks exciting. A new hymnal was introduced. A new confession and the revision of an old one was put on the table. And many conferences were held within the General Assembly to support all kinds of worthy causes and missions. Yet, despite all of this, only one issue will likely get front line billing. Let me call it “The Big Issue.”
Liberals at the GA truly hoped to get a resolution passed to ask the presbyteries to re-consider whether marriage is limited to one man and one woman (hoping to get marriage for gays approved). They failed to do this. So, are the conservatives happy? Not by any stretch. The question of reconsidering the definition of marriage has become akin to “Have you stopped beating your dog?” There is no good answer. If the liberals had won, the conservatives would respond by showing this as yet more definitive proof of an apostate church. But when the liberals failed, they simply turn and say that even that such a question comes up for a vote shows an apostate church. So the conservatives remain angry. And the liberals walk away feeling rejected. And neither is happy.
The real issue is whether we can celebrate the good that has come out of the General Assembly, and continue to reckon together with the big issue, and simply accept that Presbyterians have on this general topic (homosexuality) a divergence of beliefs, opinions, and views. As you who read my blog well know by now, I think any move to continue to splinter and outright divide the church (and Christians) is not only wrong, it is un-Christlike. For most congregations in the PC(USA), this is much more a theoretical issue than a practical one. Just as there was no rush of homosexual candidates for teaching and/or ruling elder after the last General Assembly, I strongly suspect there would have been no rush on Presbyterian churches of gay couples wanting to get married if the liberals had prevailed.
First, in most states, no matter what the PC(USA) had done, gay marriage is against the law. Second, I suspect that most gay couples desiring to get married likely will choose some place where everyone will applaud the decision (which surely is not the case, at least at this time, in our denomination).
So, for the meantime, the question is whether we can openly discuss this issue without it either driving us apart or becoming the only issue we want to talk about.
Many will now argue (on both sides) that this is not just about homosexuality. They will say it is about integrity. They will say it is how we view Scripture. They will say it is about who we understand Jesus Christ to be. They will say it is about compassion (or lack thereof). They will say it is about human rights (or lack there of). If so, let left and right engage on those topics rather than divide over them. I can’t think of a better time in the life of the church to get into an honest and deep discussion going about integrity, Scripture, Jesus Christ, compassion, and human rights. Do we really think God would be upset for Christians with different understandings on some issues to gather together, to worship together, and reason together? Do we not believe the Jesus foresaw all of this coming? Do we really think that dividing is what Jesus is hoping we will do?
I give thanks that Parkway is not a community that divides over such issues. It doesn’t mean that everyone would agree on everything, but this congregation sees more important things to focus on. I truly give thanks for that.
The honest truth is that the General Assembly discussed many big issues this past week, not just one. Let us Presbyterians study the results, give thanks for all those who put in so much time and effort for Christ’s Church, share the good news, and refuse to get distracted (and divided).