Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fragmentation and an Idealized Opposition

In comments on my previous posting, a writer warned against fragmentation among evangelicals/conservatives, following the event of the recent General Assembly in San Jose.

I replied in the comments, but I thought it worthwhile to make my reply a separate posting. Here's what I wrote:

Thanks for your insights.

Yes, personal foibles always are at play in any organization. It's easy to have "ergocentricity" rear its ugly head, where my work is central and everyone else should drop what they are doing and do what I do (or what I lead).

Fragmentation is always a danger within the orthodox camp, especially when we start laying blame on others for a difficult setback. We need to be gentle on one another at a time of disappointment, and then firm in our stern opposition to whatever damage might have been attempted.

We also need to avoid the tendency to idealize the opposition. They are not monolithic or without their own internal squabbles. I have attended Covenant Network meetings in which significant infighting was evident. The "Let's get it on!" group always chafes against the "But we need to be strategic" group. The "I don't care if it destroys the PCUSA!" group wrestles with the "But we must not kill the goose that lays the golden egg" group.

The "others" are definitely not unified. Why should there be both a That All May Freely Serve and a More Light Presbyterians? And why a Covenant Network that is ideologically aligned but usually strategically at odds with the GLBT groups? You should hear the gay voices complain about the sympathetic liberal voices trying to counsel restraint.

In the case of Covenant Network versus MLP or TAMFS, all of them are fundamentally at odds with the Bible and Christian morality. But they are not in lock-step with one another on how to proceed. They, too, are human and have their leadership and tactical foibles.

What the gay-activist forces have done for the most part, however, is endure setbacks. They didn't have just one General Assembly as bad for them as our San Jose assembly has been for us. They have had one assembly after another after another that has been a horrible disappointment that was filled with setbacks, from their perspective.

And yet, yet--they were still there in San Jose, working their plan. This time, in an odd situation with a very skewed set of voting commissioners, they experienced a major victory.

Now, will this one setback cause evangelicals to: 1) blame each other, 2) get all discuraged, 3) fragment, and 4) just plain quit? Or will this setback make us fighting mad and awaken the fence-sitters and spur us into better, more determined action?

I hope it is the latter. I don't think we are made of lesser stuff than the gay activists, who have weathered far worse for decades and still show up for the dispute.

26 Comments:

Blogger Dave Moody said...

JIm,
Good reminder of the nature of human society, your piece is both thoughtful and irenic, and mostly on... but I'm not sure you've got it, towards the end.

If the point is to win GA's then, yeah-- our side is winning historically. Strategically, we've done a good job, if that is indeed the point.

If the point is to keep the institution from going off the rails in theory, if not practice, then- yes, lets lick our wounds, figure out what went wrong and come back ready to kick tail (if that is too jingoistic for some of our linguistically sensitive speech monitoring shrinking violets, tough beans). Tactically, this would make sense, if that is indeed the point.

But, I don't think either of those is the point.

'Winning' GA's hasn't done a thing in renewing the denomination into a more effective Gospel preaching, Truth teaching, Christ witnessing, Cross bearing, World caring, God fearing, Scripture loving, Servant leading, Church planting organization. It has kept those of us with union cards and vested interests engaged in byzantine battles of polity utterly incomprehensible and irrelevant to most of the folks in the pews, sapping energy from gospel work the churches need to be focusing on.

So instead of trying to get folks on board with new SS reorganization with outreach as a focus, I've got to deal with 1) how help session understand what really happened, and 2) advise them on their options, and 3) remember that new ss reorg?

Two scriptural images come to mind- given what you've written about the common anti-biblical morality thread that unites the otherwise fragmented other-side.

The first is of Abraham and Lot in Genesis 13. Why quarrel? Why not separate amicably, even letting the other side take the good parts. This, to my mind is a peacemaking approach to our current troubles. And how we should treat each other.

The other one is something our Lord said to a man, with what on the surface seems like a perfectly reasonable request, "Let me first go bury my father." Jesus' comeback, "Let the dead bury their own dead- follow me dude." This seems to me, again, the posture we should take towards the institutional bureaucracy that again and again, seems to be little more than a time/energy black hole.

my 2c... and I'm way open to being corrected. The wife says I need to work on that. Go for it. You'll be participating in my sanctification. I thank you, ahead of time.

Dave Moody

2:36 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Jim said...

Dave,

I understand, but I don't agree.

1) If we wanted to be independents, we should not have sought ordination in a Presbyterian denomination. We don't have the option of merrily tending our independent garden while the whole countryside becomes blighted around us. Reason #1, the altruistic reason: we made ordination vows. Reason #2, the pragmatic reason: if the countryside becomes blighted, our garden is ruined anyway right along with it.

2) Winning GAs or losing GAs won't do a whit to renew a church or denomination. Renewing a church or denomination is what it takes to renew a church or denomination. The two activities of tending to the denomination and renewing a congregation are rather separate enterprises, but they aren't mutually exclusive. Which do you need: red blood cells or white blood cells? Yes. That's the correct answer.

3) Let's say you retreat into quietly tending your pristine garden and let the denomination stew in its own juices. How long before one of these things happens: The denomination comes after you for one reason another? You get "billed" for horrendous activities you don't want to finance, but if you don't pay up, there's a new authority voted in while you were gardening that allows the denomination to set aside pastors and sessions of "rebellious" churches? The stink of the denomination makes your attracting people to your branch of that denomination too difficult, because they want nothing to do with those rebellious and unbelieving Presbyterians and you're one of them? And so on. There is no safe isolationism.

4) So you "simply" split. You walk away. Now, if you think you have been preoccupied with peripheral activities, you haven't seen anything yet! You need to reorganize. You must fight your way out. You must deal with families split right down the middle over staying or going. You must reinvent several wheels. You must deal with placing significant new resources directly in the hands of the old denomination, now in the hands of people who would be unfettered to use the resources for destructive purposes contrary to the gospel. And the list goes on. Things just got harder and more complicated, rather than simpler and clearer.

5) You may be able to in essence take care or yourself and cry, "Every man for himself!" You jump ship. You'd probably end up okay. You could figure out a way to survive, perhaps quite handily. But as you abandon ship, you leave a whole lot of the less able and the actually helpless to a rather dire fate. I just can't see doing that to so many sheep who look to leaders to help and protect them, not abandon them in the hands of wolves, to change my metaphors.

6) If gracious separation seems like a good idea, draw me a line on how you propose to get there. You can't wish it to happen. It has to be caused to happen. How?

7) What does letting the dead bury the dead mean practically in how we should respond to presbytery and GA responsibilities. The entities will continue to exist. If they become the unfettered playgrounds of only the progressives, help me out: Exactly how will that make the Presbyterian Church better? Would you kindly fill me in on how your congregation would be better off with denominational leadership run amok?

We would all like ease and peace. We'd like unhindered ability to build churches and grow them deep and strong. But this is a fallen world, and we have another task: withstanding evil. We ignore and neglect that responsibility to our own peril, and especially to the peril of the most vulnerable. I just won't do that.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

4:10 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Doug Hagler said...

As for "fighting mad" - I think you're certainly there, and a lot of bloggers at least are with you. The real test of what you're made of will be what you do once you're fighting mad - the kind of language you use, the tactics you choose, etc. That, more than anything else, will tell me what "your" side is really about. You always learn the most about someone when they lose or experience a setback. So we'll see what happens.

Doug Hagler
San Anselmo, CA

7:20 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Dave Moody said...

Jim,
I may have given you the wrong impression.

I'm not advocating an independent congregational option. I'm presbyterian for a reason. I'm just becoming less convinced that our current 'brand' is worth sinking more energy into, as an institution within which the church catholic subsists, but which is becoming less capable (incapable?) or certainly less willing, of faithfully fulfiling the mission of the Church as scripture describes it. And I've not sunk into it nearly the blood sweat and tears you have, so I'll take your points and reflect upon them.

I am not advocating a Voltairean solution of, "Tending my own garden' at the expense of the greater vineyard. If you are in presbytery, you need to be in presbytery. I'm just saying, let those who want to go and settle near Sodom, do it. Freely, with blessing and continued prayer. And those who wish to walk in obedience to scripture, as God's word written, do it. Freely, together. Perhaps there will be a meeting of the minds in the future, and we will once again be homothumadon, of one accord. Passionately of of one mind.

So, I take it, you don't give much truk to a two synod (or some such structure) model for association?

Dave Moody

7:45 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Jim said...

Doug,

I would hope you would see the same values at work in defeat that you have seen in my trying to head off the defeat. I try my best to know what's going on, to analyze what's going on, and to convey what's going on. You know who I am, what I stand for, and what I seek.

Tell me if I'm wrong. Show me where I'm wrong. Expect passion and vigor from me, because this is not a light matter. But expect fairness, and if you think I'm not being fair, let me know where and how.

We're going to disagree regularly, Doug. We know that. But we can continue to be decent about it--even if hard-headed!

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

11:02 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Jim said...

Dave,

You're too good a friend for me to want to contest what you say. We're probably very close in our perspectives.

If there were a charitable agreement to surgically split the church bloodlessly and each go our own way--progressives one way, and orthodox another--I'd take it in a moment. I believe I've learned a few things from the progressives and benefitted from their acquaintance, but I think I could pretty well benefit from that interchange across denominational lines rather than in trench warfare within our denomination.

Practically, however, I don't see how that lovely scenario could happen. Congregations aren't monolithic, so the fracture lines would fracture congregations and families and friendships. There is no surgical, bloodless way to divide the denomination. It would be a bloody mess, and, if human nature prevailed, it would get ugly rather than gracious.

You should have heard the triumphalist anger in the voice of the progressive commissioner who on the floor of General Assembly said something to the effect of this: "You've heard talk of 'gracious separation.' Here's my idea of gracious: Leave us the keys when you go!" Applause broke out.

It was chilling in its harshness, especially when his side was winning vote after vote. It gave me an idea of what kind of church evangelicals would find should the progressive side prevail nationally. It won't be a place of classic liberality of thought; it will be a harshly retributive and actually intolerant reign of political power to rid the denomination of orthodox "intolerance." Shudder at the prospect!

The two-synod model seems to me to be the worst of both worlds. You wouldn't have freedom to fully do what you'd want in your synod, because there would still be the squabbles over GA-level politics, funding, and so on. You'd be joined at the hip with this evil twin!

On top of that, you'd still have the major burden of the OTHER synod's misadventures dragging down your synod's name. Any time the other synod inevitably did things you just couldn't stand, it would reflect on your synod, too. You'd spend your whole time pointing at the other side and saying, "We're NOT them. We aren't to blame!"

Besides, again I can't find anyone to draw me a practical legislative line that leads to such an arrangement. Some initial tries have died horrible deaths of disapproval at GA. Even if it were an idea I could live with, how would we ever get there?

Right now we're all family, and even though we think our brothers and sisters on the other side have gone bonkers, we need to figure out ways to make this family work and to reintroduce a little order and morality back into the family system.

What we evangelicals/orthodox seem to forget all the time is that we outnumber the progressives about two to one! And yet, we keep acting like a puny minority, because the progressives have seemed to have locked up GA votes and GA-level offices. That needn't remain so if a slumbering giant would just wake up and/or get off the fence and/or show some fighting spirit, rather than slink off into the night.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

11:31 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Doug Hagler said...

Ok, I'll take the invitation and butt heads once more :)

I think that using warlike language is almost certainly the wrong way to go. I think that it makes any kind of reconciliation less and less possible with every battle cry raised up. And I'm concerned because I'm seeing a LOT of bellicose statements being thrown around which amount to "They (we) are destroying Christianity and attacking us all so we need to attack back harder."

This is guaranteed to go nowhere.

I also think you have a tendency to paint your opponents in an unjustly poor light (honestly, who doesn't?). It seems like every action is interpreted very cynically, as if "we" are all finger-steepling villains seeking to undermine Christianity at every turn, so that we can turn around and worship the culture like we want to. This is a guarantee that what you're saying will never be taken seriously by your opponents - just like Fidel Castro probably doesn't carefully consider what George W. has to day about him. If the worst is always already assumed, then there's no point in talking is there?

I try to make the case that "we" are also doing what we think is best, which is most in line with the Gospel, what is best for the church universal and particular. I understand that a lot of disagreement exists, and that on both sides are good-intentioned, intelligent people who believe they are doing the right thing.

This tells me two things: 1) I must try not to claim the high ground and 2) If there is going to be reconciliation on homosexuality and the larger issues that it touches upon, then neither "side" will get everything it wants. I can't expect either side to capitulate entirely against its conscience, but on the other hand, we'll get nowhere if it is always hard line vs. hard line (and I'm not assuming we'll necessarily get anywhwere - I just hope we do).

So, I think for both "sides" there are two options. The first is to continue with bellicosity, continue to portray the other side in the worst possible light, and continue to participate in a zero-sum political game of vying for power via 51% majority.

The other option is...something other than that. I'm a long way from seeing viable alternatives being lifted up, but frankly, right now most of us seem to be taking option one, and that is guaranteed to be damaging to all involved, prevent reconciliation, and undermine our witness in every area.

What I'd personally like to see is some recognition, on the vocal conservative side, that those of us who are in favor of homosexual ordination are anything other than evil demonic lunatics seeking to destroy the church. That would be a prerequisite for listening to other things you have to say without cringing or shutting it out entirely - natural responses to having one's integrity, morality, intelletct, etc. attacked.

On the other side, we're held up to the same standard. We're not allowed to pretend that you are flag-worshipping bigots who are allergic to scholarship that's more recent than 1600. If anything, I think we should always hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold others to - not that you can tell by how I act, but there you have it. (I think I'm about even with stupid things I've said and apologies - I try not to let the stupid things pull out ahead, but that proves unfortunately difficult.)

Basically, we can either go forward with mutual respect or without it. I'd like to see us choose the first one.

Now before you say "But Doug, your position is anti-Biblical and immoral and theologically abysmal, so we can't possibly reconcile until you see the light", please remember that many of us feel the same way about your side. So that will just lead to an impasse. We need something else to say to each other.

Or, perhaps we're at an impasse. That's sad but possible as well. We've had them before and surely we'll have them again. I'm glad I have no power in this situation, so I have the privilege of sitting back and watching and blogging. I'm a pessimist, so this is playing out exactly as I'd expect, but I'm a Christian pessimist, which means my cynical views are sometimes invaded and colonized by hope. Maybe this will be one of those times.

Doug Hagler
San Anselmo, CA

11:55 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Jay Weemhoff said...

My great thanks to both Jim and Doug for solidifying my understanding of the rapidly growing fissure that is taking place from top to bottom of the PCUSA. Having left the denomination some time ago over abortion issues I none the less retain a great interest as well as family members in the denomination.

From the not so distant outside looking in I can't help but see a powerful Biblical disconnect between your positions. Doug claims: "We're not allowed to pretend that you are flag-worshipping bigots who are allergic to scholarship that's more recent than 1600." I am sure that Doug and those who support his position can make that claim but to do so would point out their own sides retched scholarship (read past moderator Roger's works in the homosexual area as an example).

It really is painful to see so many people unequally yoked in an organization supposedly seeking to share the Good News and as Jesus so clearly teaches, " Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand." The sad part is that as Jim puts forward the victims will most likely be those who don't even grasp what the battle is all about. The reality may be that there will be no worldly victory in this battle as the PCUSA is only an organization of governance in the larger church catholic, but the battle touches all of us who claim fellowship in Christ.

Jim thanks for keeping me informed and energized as I pray for the body of Christ in the PCUSA. Thanks Doug for defining the other side of the question, no one likes to strive against a shadow.

Jay Weemhoff

11:31 AM, July 10, 2008  
Blogger Mac said...

What an interesting string of comments. The concerns expressed reveal just how far apart we are. The disconnect is most apparent when those whose position prevailed at the PC(USA) GA speak of "reconcilliation" and complain that those who were in the minority are too "war-like."

I have never taken the position that the vast majority of the PC(USA) on both sides of the several questions that separate (or in my case, separated) us are anything other than part of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Nonetheless some have clearly abandoned the historic faith in favor of polity and sociology, and have usurped the leadership of the man-made construct known as the PC(USA).

As a result, rhetoric has heated up. (I am as guilty as any of using language to forcefully frame and present my arguments.) But at the risk of offending others, I recall that even at the bitterest moments of the American civil war, General Lee could never bring himself to refer to the Union as "the enemy." Instead, they were always simply "those people."

Those people say that we are too warlike and ought to seek reconcilliation, meaning "Accept our position and understand that we will keep insisting upon it until we get our own way."

We say "No, repent and come back to our understanding of Scripture. If you cannot do so, do not presume to coerce us into a connection based on mere property."

And where are we evangelicals?

What some see as "fragmentation" can also be viewed as part of a stream when viewed from a distance. I believe that many have now reached a fork in the road that will cause us to take different paths to the ultimate end.

Over the past 18 months, I have received phone calls from elders in numerous congregations who were unaware of the tug of war underway in the PC(USA).

As some have commented elsewhere, a significant problem is that ruling elders have abdicated their responsibility for bodies other than the congregation. They have allowed teaching elders to take over the government of the presbyteries--especially those who are not accountable, such as those who are honorably retired or serving in ministeries other than in congregations. Often, they are "too busy" to attend presbytery, leading to the ability of the more liberal members to stack committees with "professional" elders whose loyalty is to the bureaucracy.

Then, when the deed is irrevocably done, they awaken to find that the denomination not only bears little resemblance to their beliefs, but procedures have been institutes to ensure that the liberals retain control of the higher governing bodies. After a few years of attempting to get back on course, only to be treated as the village idiot, their congregations either dwindle or they look for a new connectional body that is theologically in tune with their own.

In-fighting along the lines of who is really orthodox is wrong, but splits occurring when some receive God's call to move while others are called to stay are not. I still pray for a Gideon minute in the PC(USA)--when the faithful who are called to restore and revive the PC(USA) do so under circumstances that make it clear to all sides that it was God's work and not their own.

Just thinking.

Michael R. "Mac" McCarty
Downingtown, PA

2:00 PM, July 10, 2008  
Blogger Stephen Hukari said...

G-1.0303 "it is incumbent upon these officers, and upon the whole Church, in whose name they act, to censure or cast out the erroneous and scandalous, observing, in all cases, the rules contained in the Word of God."

G-2.0200 "The church is prepared to counsel with or even to discipline one ordained who seriously rejects the faith expressed in the confessions."

Friends, I believe it is time to purge the church of the evil that captured the majority at the last GA. Every presbytery should move to expel any "more light" or "progressive" congregation - those beliefs being at odds with Scripture and the confessions.

This will accomplish the "gracious separation" so long desired as properly presbyterian congregations may demonstrate grace toward heretical congregations by allowing them to depart with property.

I agree with Jim. Those of us who are true to Scripture and the confessions should not allow heretics to steal the church from the faithful.

Stephen Hukari

2:00 PM, July 10, 2008  
Blogger Pastor Bob said...

Doug

I have listened very carefully to those who disagree with me. I have read their books. Oddly enough my closest friends disagree with me! But no one has convinced me that the Bible does not say that homosex behavior today is sin.

Unfortunately a compromise, like the AI from the PUP Task Force does not look like compromise to me. It looks like those who disagree with me get what they want.

An aside: I'm not sure that the idea of allowing GAs to make AIs is a good one. Most who go to GA simply do not have the necessary background in the Book of Order to make such heavy decisions. The GAPJC should rule on what the constitution says.

Another aside: One of the reasons for deep anger among those of us who believe homosex behavior is sinful is that we learned from the Swearington Commission and played by the rules. We learned that statements by GA's are not binding on the denomination. Yes, we used AIs for a while but finally, (because we were afraid the GAPJC would rule against AIs) we managed to put a section in the Form of Government that banned sex outside of marriage for those ordained.

And what happened? First it was simply ignored by a variety of churches and presbyteries. More Light church does mean we will ordain whom we choose no matter what the constitution says, doesn't it? Then in 2006 and 2008 AI's pass that say you can get ordained and don't have to obey the constitution if the ordaining body says it isn't essential for you. So we followed the rules and some who disagree with us just ignored the rules or got AI's passed by GAs that seem to say you don't have to obey the rules.

A respectful conflict over an amendment to the Form of Government I can handle. I don't like it coming up 3 times in 12 years but I can deal with it. It is the proper way of doing things. Ignoring the Form of Government or getting the GA to say you don't have to obey it if you don't want to makes me mad.

Back to compromise: one of the basic problems about compromising on the subject of ordination is that we are Presbyterians. We aren't Congregationalists. When someone is ordained by a session or a presbytery the ordaining body acts on behalf of the whole denomination. That's what connectionalism is all about when it comes to ordination. And that's why this issue is either/or. If a compromise says that one governing body can find that a mandatory section of the constitution on ordination can be waved for a particular individual then I must recognize that person as a deacon, elder or MWS. And in fact I will do so. I do it more often than I like to admit. I vote no on the ordination of candidates whose statements of faith I believe are not up to snuff. But if the presbytery votes to ordain that person, (and I am often the only no vote: I'm old enough to be a curmudgeon and I don't care), I receive that person as a fellow MWS. That is the whole problem. Compromise tells me that I must put my interpretation of Scripture aside in what I believe to be essential: in this case saying sin is not sin or what I believe to be sin can be ignored in this individual's case. Note not forgiven or repented of: ignored.

That's the problem. That's why there is no compromise. That's why it's either/or. And yes I get angry. But mostly I hurt for my denomination in which my best friends and I can't come to anything that I believe is an agreement. Compromise to me, Doug, simply means you win and I lose.

Your brother in Christ

Bob Campbell
Sharon Hill, PA

4:22 PM, July 10, 2008  
Blogger Bill Crawford said...

Jim,

Over on another blog you were upset by the characterization of renewal leaders. Now it's our turn. You seem to be implying that leaving the PCorpUSA is equal to quitting.

Nothing can be less true. You suggest in point 4 that leaving is a waste of fruitful energy. I would ask you how many years have you been giving nearly all of your energy to this particular fight?

For two years I've worked on helping my congregation move forward out of the corporation. Hardly a comparison between the two. In my case I compare 8 years of fighting vs. 2 years of leaving to go and faithfully represent the gospel (being an ambassodor) while ditching the huge dead body on our back. We're back to primarily talking about planting home groups, second worship services, and how to help our members grow as disciples again.


You also act as if the current fragmentation is a weakness of those who are reconsidering the fight. No it is not. It is sober backing away from the fight and reflecting on what the heck is going on.

I took the time to attend two GA's and see what was going on. Yes there were very faithful Christians in there working their tails off.

but ultimately what I saw was a giant political rally. I came away thinking what an absolute waste of millions of dollars.

6:18 AM, July 11, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...

Jim
Thanks for your time and effort in provoking discussion here. I find that it helps me to focus on these difficult matters when I can put things down in writing, and often the reactions of others can help me to think of these things in a fresh, and I hope better, way.

I’m not a theologian. I have no seminary training. I’m not learned in religious doctrine. I do consider myself reasonably intelligent, though I sure don’t know all the answers. I’ve been a Presbyterian for over 40 years, have read the Bible regularly, and have also read views about the Bible from people who have devoted their lives to its study.

As many have observed, our denomination’s controversies seem to be rooted in differences about the authority of Scripture. From the conservative side (if I could use that term), there appears to be dismay that on a variety of issues many in the denomination appear bent on ignoring the clear mandate of the Bible. At the moment, one focus of that dismay is with regard to sexual issues; though there are concerns about other matters too.

And as I think about this, I keep coming back to the fundamental question “How do I know that the Bible is authoritative?” Presumably because its text, words written by humans, was inspired by God. Well how do I know that? And how do I know that there is a God, anyway? Pretty important question. Do I know there is a God because the Bible tells me so? Here you have a collection of pages with words on them written by people, saying that there is a God, and providing a rich and complex description of Him, and about this person Jesus Christ, and what they mean for human beings. But of course for those descriptions in that book to be authoritative, that is, to command acceptance, that means there has to be a God who inspired these people to write what they did. So for me, I submit myself to the Bible’s authority because I believe, in faith, in one God, and I believe, in faith, that the Bible, this book that I can buy down at Borders, was written by people who were inspired by God to do the writing.

OK. Well if that’s true, then the Bible’s authority comes from an external source, that is, the faith that God in His grace has created in me, so that I may believe in Him, and I may believe that the Bible’s words were inspired by Him. But my experience at least is that my personal communication with God happens also in ways other than in reading the words of the Bible, such as in prayer. So what happens when in communicating with God, I perceive that He is telling me that those portions of the Bible, analyzed with great skill by those such as Rob Gagnon, which unmistakably indicate disapproval of sexual relations between those of the same gender, are not to be relied upon today to mandate denial of ordination to a class of persons who admittedly engage in such relations?

Well, first I suppose I should ask, are you sure that’s God talking? That’s always a big problem to be sure. Shouldn’t I be most suspicious of my own perception that God is telling me something different than what these particular Biblical texts say? I run into this kind of thing every day. I might have the perception that God is telling me I can really sleep in on Sunday this week instead of going to church. Hmm. Or more seriously maybe I have the perception that God is telling me that that prohibiton on adultery doesn’t apply to me, because my wife doesn’t understand me, isn’t supportive, you know the drill.

I deal with this kind of thing all the time. Everyone does. And I often figure out that this is my own human brokenness talking, or Satan, or however you want to describe it. Not God. God helps me figure that out.

But what makes it hard for me in wrestling with the same-gender sexual issues facing us now is this. I’m not gay. There’s no personal sexual temptation for me in these issues. What I see are men and women who want desperately to be able to serve God through an ordained office in our church, and who are barred by their own honesty, and our rules. And something keeps saying to me, you know what, I think Jesus would have said these people should be permitted to serve, if an individual assessment of their overall character supports that judgment. I don’t know for sure if it’s God saying that. But I’m leaning that way. Not based on specific Biblical texts, but on my admittedly imperfect and struggling understanding of God’s love, informed by all of the Bible story, as well as my own prayer and experience. And if it is God saying this, that’s the paramount authority, even if contrary to what the most skilled interpreters of Biblical texts are telling me the verses in Romans and Leviticus and elsewhere mean. Because after all it’s my faith in God that provides any authority that the Bible has in the first place.

Jim, perhaps this view is mistaken in your eyes. I trust you will not find it evil.

Bob Morris
Philadelphia

7:58 AM, July 11, 2008  
Blogger Jim said...

Bill,

Anything you write, I take seriously. You have paid some stiff dues, and I appreciate the work you do.

But I think you have felt a slight where none was intended. When I talked about quitting, I meant just doing nothing, just slipping into denial, just remaining unknowing by intention so that one doesn't have to deal with things.

I hate to see anyone go. I bemoan losing good people like you. But I don't put you or others down. You must do what you must do.

However, I do ask that we all treat each other gently. If the leavers in effect say, "You're a bunch of chumps who lost and can't see the handwriting on the wall like we did, and it's a gigantic waste for anyone to support your efforts!" I think you would see how it would be unfair.

If those of us who stay behind and try to stand in the gap, now with fewer bodies and less resources, blurt out, "Those who leave are just a bunch of sissies fleeing the battle. They're selfish and weak!" well, I would think those who have chosen to labor elsewhere would have every right to be upset.

What we cannot do is allow ourselves to get all sensitive and defensive and consume all our wind snipping at each other. That's why I was cautioning aganst fragmentation into all kind of factions within our own camp and picking at one another. We need to use the energy for whichever means of fighting the good fight we feel led by God to do.

I don't think God is leading us to badger one another. In short, I wasn't talking about you when I wrote what I think caused you offense.

And please, let's not be exhibit #1 of doing exactly what I called us not to do. Okay?

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

10:29 AM, July 11, 2008  
Blogger Jim said...

Bob,

Not evil. Your thinking seems to me to be mistaken in a misguided attempt to be something good: caring.

What would you think if I did a simple change of sin in your argument?

But what makes it hard for me in wrestling with the anger and violence issues facing us now is this. I’m not the one who is out of control. There’s no personal temptation to physically abuse people for me in these issues. What I see are men and women who want desperately to be able to serve God through an ordained office in our church, and who are barred by their own honesty, and our rules about beating up people. And something keeps saying to me, you know what, I think Jesus would have said these people should be permitted to serve, if an individual assessment of their overall character supports that judgment. I don’t know for sure if it’s God saying that. But I’m leaning that way. Not based on specific Biblical texts, but on my admittedly imperfect and struggling understanding of God’s love, informed by all of the Bible story, as well as my own prayer and experience. And if it is God saying this, that’s the paramount authority, even if contrary to what the most skilled interpreters of Biblical texts are telling me the Bible verses about anger and violent behavior against others mean. Because after all it’s my faith in God that provides any authority that the Bible has in the first place.

Would you buy that explanation for ordaining physically violent and abusive persons, who in every other way were qualified for ordination?

What has happened is that the Bible hasn't changed. God's will hasn't changed. We've simply been immersed in a society that has been bombarded with a false message for so long, that the false message seems true. When you do the substitution test and substitute any other sin--maybe grand larceny or serial lying or adultery--in the place of homosexual practice, you see the absurdity of the argument.

Three other things strike me about your ending arguments. First, you talk about people being barred by their honesty and "our rules." Hey, if it were just "our rules," I'd be with you. If we make the rules, we could jolly well change the rules.

But who says that biblical sexual morality is "our rules"? We are talking about God's rules, and since he made them, only he could change them. And he hasn't.

Second, God doesn't say things now that are contrary to his Word. The Bible doesn't just "inform" our practice; it must dictate our practice. The weather forecast informs my choice of clothes; the law dictates that I must be clothed. There's a vast difference.

Finally, you argue that "it’s my faith in God that provides any authority that the Bible has in the first place." Oh so wrong! The Bible has absolute authority apart from your acknowledgement of it. You don't make it true and authoritative by one day declaring it so. It IS true and authoritative, and you may or may not acknowledge it and live by it. God wasn't waiting for your approval before he revealed himself to us in the Word, and he's not relying on your continued support to maintain his immutable will.

Bob, I deeply appreciate your struggling with the matters. You are to be commended. Caring is to be foremost.

But "caring" that turns out to be in a wrong and actually harmful way because it is contrary to God's will is not good caring. When we attempt to overrule God because of wishful thinking or vague hunches, we'll go astray. Every time.

Thanks for opening up your thought process to the rest of us. You give occasion for some fundamental discssion of what we believe, why we believe it, and why it is the best and most caring policy to believe it.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

11:01 AM, July 11, 2008  
Blogger Pastor Glenn said...

I think it is admirable to advocate "stay and fight" again. Every time the GA meets and precious ground is lost or seriously compromised, this is the refrain. Only somehow now it's beginning to seem more like it's a dysfunction all its own, or the voice of the enabling Evangelical wing of our church.

I'm reminded of Peanuts, where Lucy says to Charlie Brown, "C'mon Charlie Brown. I'll hold the football, and you'll run at it fast as you can, and kick it!" Charlie Brown says, "No, Lucy, you'll pull it away at the last second and I'll fall." She tells him, "No, I won't, I promise."

And so good old Charlie Brown goes back, gets a good running start, bears down on the ball... and Lucy pulls it away at the last second. Too late for Charlie Brown to stop his kicking motion. He's launched into the air, with is familiar and oft-repeated cry of anguish. "Aaaugh!" and then Thud!

I think Vic Pentz has it right. And PFR. It's over.

11:11 AM, July 11, 2008  
Blogger Presbyman said...

"Stay, fight and win" is not a helpful slogan to me. "Stay and witness" is better. That is the focus of Presbyterians Pro-Life, who have been dealt more than their share of losing hands in the PC(USA).

2:22 PM, July 11, 2008  
Blogger Presbyman said...

Sigh ... I forgot again ...

John Erthein
Erie PA

7:41 PM, July 11, 2008  
Blogger Jim said...

Pastor Glen,

I need your name and town, please. Dem's da rules!

The analogy kind of hurts. Lucy is devious. She has planned her trick on Charlie Brown and pulls it off with gleeful skill.

Are you saying that renewal leaders are likewise pulling a scheme on their fellow evangelicals?

As well, Charlie Brown flying through the air does absolutely no good. Although preventative and restorative work at General Assembly has obviously had mixed results, due to the determination of the opposition, it seems callous indeed--and rather cruel besides--to imply that no good and only "Aargh!" or "Good grief!" experiences are the result of renewal work at General Assemblies. You have benefitted in multiple (and I suppose in unconsidered or unacknowledged ways) because some people have cared enough to give of themselves to forestall disaster.

I don't think you mean harm. You were only attempting a humorous analogy. But please be careful in how offhand your dismissals are of the blood, sweat, and tears of some fine and dedicated people who have sacrificed much for your benefit. It's just plain cruel to dismiss them and their efforts with a smirk.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

7:42 AM, July 12, 2008  
Blogger Doug Hagler said...

Sadly, Pastor Bob, the connectionalism that you describe is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Because of all of the harsh conflict over various issues, it is becoming common practice to re-examine MWSs who are entering a new Presbytery. My mother is a pastor, and has changed Presbytery three times now, and each time she has been re-examined in a very confrontational way, as if she had never been ordained before.

Honestly, I think that the virtues that you see in being non-congregational church are falling by the wayside in everyday practice.

"Compromise to me, Doug, simply means you win and I lose."

Yes, that's the thinking that will make it impossible to make this anything more than a zero-sum fight. Next GA, we'll all get our noses bloodied again and will get nowhere because we can't see past winning and losing.

I think that 'playing by the rules' is a complex issue. There is no question to me that both sides are manipulating the rules for their benefit in every way they can come up with.

Rules are not enough, and will never be enough, because rules are implicit threats - otherwise they have no weight, are unenforced.

If we're dealing with this primarily on the level of rules, we've already lost our identity as Church.

Doug Hagler
Sodom and Gomorrah, CA
Over and Out

9:06 PM, July 12, 2008  
Blogger Bill Crawford said...

Jim,

Sorry I forgot to check back. I'll take your response and say fair enough. I've been known to misunderstand a time or two.

Thanks for the response.

6:36 PM, July 15, 2008  
Blogger Austin said...

As a fan of Church history, and also as an interested outside observer of the implosion of the PCUSA, I have a couple of comments/questions that I would like to throw out.

1) Looking over the track record of the PCUSA for the last 100-120 years, as far as I can see there have been no significant "wins" for the "conservatives." Sure, various & sundry minor-league "wins" have occurred, but there have been no serious, big-league reversals of the leftward slide.

Case in point: has anyone noted that many of todays "moderates" would have been considered "far left" to people like Warfield, Hodge, Dabney, Machen, etc.? And today's conservatives are, in many regards, what the "moderates" of the mid-1900s were. Most of those whom our forefathers would have identified with as being "Reformed" have now left for the EPC or PCA or somewhere.

For instance, where has been the recapture of ONE PCUSA seminary for Westminster orthodoxy (or even mere lowest common denominator Evangelicalism)? Where has there been any serious attempt (let alone a success) to have credible church discipline when it comes to heresy?

If you haven't done so lately, go read up on the Auburn Affirmation, Fosdick, & the rest of the boys back in the 1910s-1930s. They ate the conservatives' lunch then, & they're still doing it today.

What's the difference? Simply this: that the numbers of "Conservatives" are ever-thinner, the heresies are ever-greater, & the baseline is pushed ever further from the Bible & from Confessionalism.

What's the same? Simply this: the "conservatives" are still playing the part of the codependent enabler to their abusive spouse to whom they are unequally yoked.

To summarize: there have been NO "wins" -- REAL wins-- for over 100 years.

This leads to my 2nd question:

2) Why keep playing the game? Seriously, what's the payoff?

Our name ('presbyterian') is perhaps irreversibly besmirched. (How many times do I have to explain to people, "We're not THOSE Presbyterians... & then give my Evangelical bonafides to prospective people...) The liberals WILL control your monies/pensions/etc. AND YOU WILL NOT WIN. (Unless Elijah comes again & calls down fire on those priests of Ba'al who control your denomination.)

I'm with Bill in Louisiana-- stop making those bricks. There're a lot bigger & more Christ-honoring things to do than to continually waste your efforts on polishing the brass on the Titanic.

I'm sorry if I sound harsh. I just am really & truly unable to understand this policy of "stay-fight-win" or "stay & witness," or whatever you want to call it.

When does one hear the call: "Come out from among them & be ye separate"?

If someone could explain a reason to keep up the fight that is based on anything other than vain hopes, please tell me. After all, as a son of the South, I have supporting a Lost Cause deep in my blood. But isn't it time for y'all to realize what my grandparents' generation did, & see that your Glorious Cause is lost... and that it's time to work for a newer & brighter tomorrow?

Shalom (seriously, y'all need it),

Austin
Perrysburg, OH

2:04 PM, July 17, 2008  
Blogger Jim said...

Austin,

You have a last name. We need it.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

11:29 PM, July 17, 2008  
Blogger Austin said...

Sorry. My name is Austin Olive.

10:52 AM, July 18, 2008  
Blogger Tim Woodruff said...

Jim,

I came across this while preparing for the oalition Gathering, and I think your comments are right on.

The proposed realingment will end up creating Evangelical versus Evangelical conflict. If it goes through, I am one of many who will be put in a position we hope never to be in -- being forced to choose between cutting off "constructive engagement" with their present Presbyterien or becoming more and more isolated.

Here are some of the questions the realignment proposal raises for me,
1. The struggle to create “safe havens” for ourselves will be long and difficult. It will consume a great deal of time, energy and money. Is this really where we want to put our energies? Is this really what Christ wants?
2. One of the stated objections to other ways forward is “nor would they help unify evangelicals.” Unifying evangelicals certainly should be one of our main goals, but many evangelicals disagree strongly with the idea of realignment at this time. At a recent meeting of about twelve evangelical pastors in our presbytery only one was enthusiastic in support of this idea and several strongly opposed it, myself being one of them. How do you propose to unify evangelicals whose responses to this are all over the map?
3. If you cannot persuade me that these non-geographic presbyteries are not a ruse to create governing bodies that will allow the participating churches to leave with their property in a few years, how will you persuade the rest of the PCUSA?
4. We WILL take conflict with us. The history of every attempt to form a pure ecclesiastical group makes this very clear. We are a headstrong opinionated group. Anybody attending a Coalition Gathering who has not seen this did not attend the same meetings I did. Jerry Andrews has done a most excellent job of herding cats. When we are not united in struggles within the PCUSA that matter deeply to us, what will unify us?
5. If we invest heavily in pursuing this and fail to win the approval of the next GA, what kind of position would we be in? Would all Renewalists, regardless of their position on this initiative, find themselves in more difficult situations?
6. Do we serve Christ more faithfully by seeking to restructure the denomination, or by unifying, restructuring and strengthening the Renewal movement?
7. Since when did Jesus call his followers to build safe havens for themselves where we would be free of trials and conflicts?

6:58 AM, October 09, 2008  
Blogger cal said...

Jim,
Good to catch up with you again. Love that word ergocentricity!
My blog is located at: http://calsinsights.com/
Cal Ratz

4:31 PM, April 17, 2009  

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