Three weeks ago I attended a presbytery meeting. It was triply depressing because it was a triennial meeting of the three presbyteries covering the State of Oklahoma. The fact that each of these presbyteries voted in favor of 10-A will give you some idea of where on the theological spectrum the OK PCUSA leadership lies — a far cry from that of the average person in the pew.
The highlight of the Tri-Presbytery was meant to be a series of presentations by our denominational moderator, Cynthia Bolbach. She seems to be a very pleasant person, with an attractive sense of humor, and is capable of listening to many viewpoints. She, too, is decidedly liberal in her views, but recognizes that the PCUSA is in dire straits. Her final session with us was an opportunity for commissioners to voice what they perceive to be the biggest challenge facing the denomination going forward. Most of what was offered was depressingly trivial. But two comments stood out to me.
The first was offered by an older, self-confessing lesbian elder who called for greater inclusiveness in the church by telling a bit of her story of feeling like an outcast. The only time she had sensed true belonging was when she joined a PCUSA congregation in the Oklahoma City area which embraced gay couples with fervor equal to their treatment of heterosexual couples. She and her partner of twenty-some years felt they could be themselves. Unfortunately, in her opinion, that church ended up closing down, and since that time she has not found a church that she believes will accept her on her terms. Feeling deeply wounded, she claims that the biggest challenge facing the PCUSA is to become radically inclusive, so that those outside the church will really be welcomed into God’s love.
The moderator’s response to this was to join her in decrying the state of many congregations today that continue to sin by erecting barriers which prevent some folks from experiencing full fellowship with the people of God. We must continue to work to eradicate all such barriers, she declared.
The second comment was also offered by a woman, this one a minister in her early 30s. In the context of our meeting, it was extremely courageous and well-crafted. After having heard repeated clamors from others that we needed to reach “the younger generations” for the future of the church, she stood up, identified her age and spoke concerning the new ordination standards, particularly the meaning behind “joyful submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” Her question was — how do we teach what joyful submission to the Lordship of Christ means to the younger generations raised in an environment of doting permissiveness, to young adults who want encouragement to pursue whatever feels good or right to them? Her question was phrased so masterfully that many in the room apparently did not see it as an indictment of the prevailing direction of our denomination — the passion to welcome all people on their own terms.
I’m not sure our moderator did either, but I do know that she didn’t rush to offer her verbal support for this critique.
Here’s what we face. Two voices crying out: one is the siren song of our mainline church culture calling us to embrace and accept all lifestyles in ways acceptable to those seeking entrance; the other is the voice in the wilderness, yearning to see human beings willingly surrender our sinful proclivities to the rightful reign of Jesus Christ, adopting his decreees for life instead of our own.
Though we may speak of “joyful submission to the Lordship of Christ,” what a growing number in our midst really want to pursue is “joyful permissiveness in the name of Jesus Christ.” The ordination of practicing homosexuals will be cloaked in language of joyful submission, but the Lordship of Jesus Christ will be defined not by the objective standards of biblical truth but by the fickle standards of cultural permissiveness. We want to recast sinful behavior as normal, and then bless it with the name of Jesus Christ.
For those of us who see this as wrong, it will be impossible to sit on the bench or in the stands any longer. To remain silent to this travesty will be to share complicity in it.
Two competing voices are calling to the Church. Which voice will we follow?