Now that the liberal vanguard of the PCUSA has successfully implemented its ordination agenda and is feeling empowered, what kind of future are its leaders planning for us? Let’s take a look at some of their declarations soon after the passage of 10-A, beginning with the more moderate liberals.
Covenant Network’s Board of Directors believes that 10-A replaces “a contested sexual ethic” in our ordination standards, implying that now that fidelity and chastity language is no longer there in writing the majority of the PCUSA membership no longer embraces it. Yet they go on to acknowledge that “…Presbyterians are not of one mind about the wisdom of this reform and the interpretation of scripture in matters of sexual ethics.” Their belief is that 10-A makes room for Presbyterians to hold and respect diverse views and remain together. Citing the unity of the church as one of their goals, Covenant Network proposes more dialogue and shared mission as the means to create this unity.
This is “pie in the sky” thinking, exacerbated by language crafted to hide the indelible divide between those resting on divine wisdom and those promoting human wisdom in the matters of human sexuality. While Covenant Network speaks of “diverse” views, I and many others see “contradictory” views. Homosexual behavior either is sin or it isn’t. If it is, it must be repented of by those seeking to serve Christ and His church. If it is not, then those falsely accusing others of sin must be brought to account. Both sides cannot be right; one side must be wrong. In matters of truth and falsehood, one may respect the right of others to cling to falsehood, but one cannot respect falsehood itself. If what Covenant Network envisions is a future where we live in some politically constructed unity supported by the propaganda-driven spin machine of “inclusiveness” where we are all one in Christ (a catch-all phrase that is never precisely defined), then what I see is the increasing division and diminuition of this denomination. If the foundation of a house is off-kilter and it is causing the walls to crack in larger and deeper ways, simply papering over the cracks when they tear the previous wallpaper and declaring the house to be safe does nothing to solve the problem. The foundation must be set right. In my view, Covenant Network’s vision for the future will merely accelerate the already imminent death of the PCUSA — it will become a sister club of the Unitarian Universalists, retaining a smattering of Christian, Reformed language and vestiges of Christian practice resting precariously upon a hollow foundation of theological vacuity until what remains implodes. Not a pretty picture.
Our denomination’s leadership also sent out a letter on the results of 10-A which offers a spin worthy of the most astute political party ever to tackle a thorny issue. This new decision, we are told, is our latest attempt to allow all to “…share their gifts in ministry while, at the same time, the integrity of every congregation, member, deacon, elder, and minister is respected.” I’m not sure what this means for a denomination that touts itself as being “connectional”, but it’s clear from this letter that our leaders recognize the divide runs deep over what course our church should take. They seek to smoothe the ruffled feathers of evangelicals by highlighting that all officers of the church must joyfully submit to the Lordship of Christ in all aspects of life, but of course they pointedly ignore the sad truth that we in the PCUSA fold can’t seem to agree on which sexual ethic reflects true submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. What the future seems to hold for us is a schizophrenic practice where we speak out of both sides of our mouth in claiming that fidelity and chastity exclusively demonstrate submission to the will of Christ and at the same time that other forms of sexual expression equally demonstrate submission to the will of Christ. But only in this way, it seems, can we be a truly “inclusive” church. We sacrifice truth, purity and even the path of salvation on the altar of a humanly-engineered unity. How can we move forward together, in the eyes of our denominational leaders? Here’s the key:
“…as Presbyterians, we believe that the only way we will find God’s will for the church is by seeking it together – worshiping, praying, thinking, and serving alongside one another.”
The fallacy in this otherwise nice statement is that it focuses singularly on the mode by which we are to discover God’s will (in community), and almost completely ignores the means by which God has directed us to find His will (study of the Scriptures under the tutelage of the Spirit). Worship, prayer, thought and service are all good activities, but when done absent obedience to the whole counsel of God, they are empty, even deceptive, in leading us to follow our own hearts’ desires, rather than God’s.
What was most distressing about this letter was its closing prayer, in which we are all invited to join. It begins by expressing gratitude to God for all G.A. commissioners and presbyters, especially in this present time, “…who have sought diligently to discern the mind of Christ for the church.” Having been to the last two GAs from start to finish, and having served in 4 different PCUSA presbyteries, I am convinced that only a small percentage of leaders falls into this category. Not only are most of us (on all sides of important issues) blinded by our own prejudices which barricade our minds from inconvenient truth, but our bureaucracy (under the ever present reality of human fallenness) has become a powerful means of manipulating the decision-making of our commissioners at presbyteries and GAs. This is why so few people trust that the decisions coming from our governing bodies reflect anything more than the will of those who have stacked the deck. Who would not agree that our system of government needs huge reforms?
But the letter’s prayer concludes with a plea to God that in my mind illumines so clearly why we face what the writers describe as an unclear future. It asks God, “Open our ears and our hearts to listen to and hear those with whom we differ.” This of course is not a bad thing in itself. But in the face of such division over God’s will wouldn’t you think our leaders would cry out to God that He open our ears and hearts to discern His mind accurately from the Scriptures and thereby lead us together into joyful submission to His Lordship in this arena, as in all others? The fact that we prioritize the listening to one another over the listening to Scripture demonstrates how far we have drifted from the Reformers’ understanding of the means by which God most clearly communicates His truth to the church. Such a practical divorce from the sola Scriptura standard bodes ill for our future.
In my next blog, I’ll tackle the letter from our former moderators and the communication issued by More Light Presbyterians. The latter in particular demonstrates clarity and honesty by openly enunciating the future to which a liberal theological agenda will lead in this cultural climate.