Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Let the Convictions Collide--as They Must

New editor Jack Haberer wrote a cogent editorial in Presbyterian Outlook recently, explaining how he will be handling the Theological Task Force news story, of which he is a major player. Knowing Haberer’s integrity and having been a magazine editor, myself, I think he will be able to build the wall of separation between “Jack as editor” and “Jack as news.” I greatly appreciate the candor and foresight he offers in facing an odd situation right out of the chute.

In Haberer’s editorial, however, I think I may see something that explains part of the dilemma of how Jack Haberer--card-carrying evangelical, strategist to maintain ordination standards intact, cagey polity wonk, and leader of renewal groups--could so surprisingly become such a drum beater for the Theological Task Force recommendation #5 (see line 1063 on page 36 of the booklet). That one recommendation would reverse two thousand years of Christian moral practice in a stroke and allow the ordination of sexually active homosexual persons, and yet Haberer inexplicably supports it.

Here’s what I see: Two paragraphs in a row in the editorial find Haberer speaking approvingly of ways for Presbyterians “to hold on to one another while holding on to their differing convictions” (emphasis added).

Haberer is holding up two things he considers worth holding on to: (1) “one another” and (2) “differing convictions.” People are worth holding on to, but I would contend that differing convictions are actually the problem--make that an evil--rather than a good.

Obviously, if a terrorist believes that blowing up babies in a nursery is good and a humanitarian believes saving babies from danger is good, both firmly held convictions are not equally noble. Nor will such mutually contradictory viewpoints be conducive to good fellowship and singleness of purpose among the holders.

Holding on to convictions can be terrible, if the convictions are evil, untrue, damaging, or God-defying. In addition, some mutually exclusive convictions will never meld successfully in the same group. Holding on to convictions per se is not necessarily a good thing.

So what are the different convictions that Haberer believes people can hold on to while they hold on to each other in the Presbyterian Church? One side thinks it evil that sexually active homosexual persons cannot be ordained under our constitution. It’s prejudiced, unjust. The other side thinks it evil that God’s clear moral law and will could ever be lightly tossed aside to ordain the serially sexually unrepentant. It’s immoral, conforming to Satan’s lie. Both are firmly held convictions.

But there’s a problem. Both sides can’t be right, since one conviction contradicts the other. Both sides could be wrong, and some third conviction could be right--whatever it might be. But far more likely, one side is right and one side is wrong.

If that’s the case, what is so great about celebrating a church in which a great number of members are advocating by conviction something actually morally evil? And perpetuating that condition. And calling it a good to be valued?

Hold on! Shouldn’t a church interested in God’s true truth (as Francis Schaeffer put it) be more concerned with resolving colliding convictions rather than tenaciously holding on to them? Shouldn’t a church interested in God’s will want to determine and live out that will, rather than simply say about tough moral quandaries, “Whatever…”?

I can’t agree with Jack Haberer on this one. There are convictions within the PCUSA that badly need to change, not be held on to. That’s classically what conviction of sin, confession, repentance, and sanctification are all about--turning from wicked ways and thoughts. “Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways!” If there are right convictions and wrong convictions in the church, then we must have the gumption to try to turn the wrong-headed convictions into righteous ones.

No. Holding on to one another cannot come at the cost of cheap denigration of truth and God’s will. As our Book of Order so wisely states, “No opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a [person’s] opinions are” (G-1.0304).

Remember the old ad line about chicken: “Parts is parts!”? Well, “Convictions is convictions” is just as silly.

2 Comments:

Blogger Dave Templin said...

Right on, Jim! Not all convictions are equal, nor are they equally good. Any body of people has the right and duty to establish its boundaries for the clarity and common action of its members. Your final quote from the Book of Order is exactly what we are dealing with on this issue and, specifically, with the PUP report.

2:48 PM, January 05, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

Agreed in general, but I don't think you're reading Jack Haberer quite right (though of course, you know him and I don't). The sense I got from his comments is not that he thinks holding on to differing convictions is a good thing, but that he takes it as a given--which it is, barring some drastic work of the Holy Spirit--and wants people who are going to hold on to their differing convictions regardless to find ways to hold on to each other as well.

I agree with that desire, at least up to a point; for me, though, Recommendation #5 goes beyond that, because if it's adopted, we will effectively cease to be Presbyterian. It would be bitterly ironic if we only succeeded in keeping our hands linked by amputating our arms at the elbows.

3:39 PM, January 05, 2006  

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