Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lectionary Devotion: Wounded Hearts Club

Luke 24:45-48                        Then Jesus opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

The Motion to remove Amendment B has been defeated for a third time and we are all witnesses to the wounds that this has cost our beloved denomination. We have crucified ourselves with polity and policy, but this time there is no victory or resurrection for the Body of Christ.

The arguments will continue and as usual each side will affirm their positions. The church will be torn asunder and the motto for the next GA should be something like: “Battling Again in 2010.”

Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be as rare as unity and connectionalism. The letters PCUSA may as well stand for “Putting Congregations Under Separation Anxiety” as we will all be in a theological war zone for the next three years.

And as we rip ourselves apart, the world looks desperately for a Christ who cannot be seen because of all the Christians, on both sides, who get in the way.

Maybe instead of looking to theologians and scholars, radicals and reactionaries, lobbyists and laymen to help formulate our opinions, we should all retreat to an Upper Room and ask Jesus to open our minds. Our hearts are closed to each other, so only His truth will set us free.

If we expect to be witnesses of the faith, then we have to try something different. This going back and forth to the General Assembly and Presbyteries is mass suicide for the denomination. It’s also a definition of insanity - of doing the same thing again and again, expecting the results to be different.

We need a Year of Discernment and to be open minded to Christ. I’m ready to try something new – aren’t you?

Prayer:                        Lord Jesus, help us. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

29 comments:

Quotidian Grace said...

I am so ready to try something new, too.

John Shuck said...

I am ready for something new, too. Vote out discrimination in the constitution. When we do that great new thing, then you won't have to get hyperbolic about the denomination. "Mass suicide?" Please.

Equality is coming.

Stushie said...

That's where we disagree, John, and need to talk & pray together. There's a lot of people ready to leave. We have to find a way of doing this together without tearing the church apart.

Sarahlynn said...

I, too, am ready to try something different.

But I believe that you're wrong about nothing changing even if we do this same thing over and over again. For one thing, the denomination will continue to bleed, as you've said. For another, change will, eventually, come. Watch the demographics. See how people of my generation feel about this issue compared to those of your generation and your parents' generation. Change is, eventually, inevitable.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/172688
"History and demographics are on the side of those who favor inclusion over exclusion. (As it has been with reform in America from the Founding forward.) The NEWSWEEK Poll confirms what other surveys have also found: that there is a decided generational difference on the issue, with younger people supporting gay marriage at a higher rate than older Americans. One era's accepted reality often becomes the next era's clear wrong. So it was with segregation, and so it will be, I suspect, with the sacrament of marriage." - Jon Meacham, Episcopalian and Editor of Newsweek (I'll note here that we Presbyterians celebrate marriage, but wedding ceremonies are not sacraments for us. We have but two of those: baptism and communion.)

paulboal said...

I think that the Bible provides some encouragement here:

Matthew 15:21-28
Mark 7:24-30

The way I read it, there are two relevant points:

First, that God is for everyone: Jews, Canaanites; men, women; straight, gay.

Second, that persistence is a big part of faith. The woman in the story refuses to accept the words that God's message is not for her. She knows it is, and persists in spite of resistance from the disciples and from Jesus.

Persistence and patience are things humans aren't great at, though. That's why they lie so closely to faith.

(That's to Thursday-night Bible study for the cogent scripture.)

Stushie said...

The trouble is that we've still to decide what Biblical authority actually is. We can cite scripture to back up our opinions and cultural ideas, but is that using it authoritatively or personally?

As for generations, things do change. Will we re-advocate marrying 12 year olds, as we did in the pioneer days? Who knows? Some are pushing for this in the Netherlands.

We need to talk constantly, but not at GAC or presbytery levels. Votes and vetos don't work and only cause distress, division, and diminishment of faith on both sides.

We need to have grass root conversations in parish churches. Our denomination is being ripped apart and that is something that I hate to see happen.

As for equality, John, that will never happen because we are not a totally inclusive church - and we never have been. To give everyone an equal voice, we would have to give up our exclusive representative and appointed commissioner systems of Session, Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly.

John Shuck said...

My openly straight church member is ordainable.

My openly gay church member is not ordainable.

That is inequality.

Once upon a time this was the scenario:

A male church member was ordainable.

A female church member was not ordainable.

That is inequality.

I can't put it more simply than that.

I am glad opponents of equality regarding openly gay church members want to have grassroots conversations.

That has been something noticeably lacking since I have been involved in ministry for the last 17 years.

Why the interest now in conversation? Why the interest in "trying something new?" I think I know why.

Since this time last year we have witnessed big advances for equality in both the ecclesial and civil realms:

1) PCUSA Authoritative Interpretation--gone.

2) In the U.S., Vermont, Iowa et al.

Those who oppose basic civil and ecclesiastical rights and privileges for lgbt people for religious reasons are already starting to look like southern clergy who were still arguing for God-ordained slavery after the Civil War.

We are not there but we are getting there. Check out this article in Forbes:"Answers to other survey questions about homosexuality do show greater acceptance. For example, should homosexuality be legal?

Forty-three percent gave that response to Gallup in 1977; 55% did in 2008.

Should homosexuality be considered an acceptable alternative life style? Again from Gallup, 34% agreed in 1982, 57% do today.

Should homosexuals have equal rights in terms of job opportunities? Fifty-five percent said yes in 1977, 89% in 2008.

And what about gays in the military? Two-thirds support it, up about 10 percentage points from a decade ago."

You can interpret these changes in attitude as a move toward equality and against prejudice.

Or, you can interpret these changes in attitude as the devil's work corrupting our morals.

You have the right to your opinion.

It is pretty clear that whatever your opinion, the PCUSA is moving along with the tide.

For those like myself who see this change as positive and who work for it in both the civil and ecclesial worlds, we think the method is going pretty well.

We will continue through legislative means to give the church the opportunity to vote for equality and non-discrimination.

There is not a great deal of motivation to "try something new."

But if you all want to come to the table now and have some conversations, great.

I am all ears.

John Shuck said...
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Stushie said...

This is becoming the type of he said, she said conversation that gets us nowhere. The mission of our church is suffering because of the forthrightness on both sides. Just look at the recent round of budget cuts made by the GAC because of the lack of funding. My own Presbytery is also suffering and this all started happening before the economic downturn.

It may be cathartic for us to keep vilifying each other, but it wastes energy, time, resources, and mission. That's why something new has to occur. I'm going away to a self-imposed retreat to pray about all of this. I'm asking Christ to open my mind to what He wants. I'm no longer interested in skirmishing and scoring points - that makes me an ugly, bitter, and hostile follower of Christ.

I want the Church to be healed so that we can actually help the world.

Alan said...

"We need a Year of Discernment and to be open minded to Christ."

It's been 30 years. There's been time. There have been studies, and task forces, and more task forces. There are libraries of books written on every angle from every point of view. We do not need another year, or another month, or another day, or another second of anything. We need justice and equality and love. Now. Not tomorrow, Not next year. Not when we can get yet another study committee appointed in a cynical attempt to delay and distract.

"It may be cathartic for us to keep vilifying each other, but it wastes energy, time, resources, and mission."

I hear this and yet I don't see it.

Are people really that unable to multitask?

Our church was, until recently, the only MoreLight church in Michigan. So you can imagine that we had quite a job in front of us. We've sent several overtures to GA over the years, engaged in battles brought by cowards who try to file charges against us from afar, we've voted and revoted and revoted on various amendments. We've agitated, poked, and prodded for inclusion and justice.

So how did that distraction hurt our mission? Did it waste our time, energy and resources? Well, frankly I'm not sure how anyone could believe that working for justice is a waste of time, energy, or resources. But no, it did not. We somehow managed to multitask.

We've grown significantly, and keep growing, which is hard to do in a college town with a largely transient population. And our growth has come almost exclusively from young straight couples with families who want to raise their kids in a real church that actually believes the things in the Gospel, not just another country club with stained glass windows and bars on the doors.

We have one of the largest per-capita mission budgets in our presbytery, a presbytery with one of the largest per-capita mission budgets in the denomination. But we don't just give *at* people. We house the homeless during the cold January Michigan winters in our sanctuary, we feed hundreds in area shelter meals, we've provided funding for low-income housing in town, and support services for those who move in, and now we have a dedicated mission with a community center that services homeless families in the area. We provide a welcoming place for hundreds of folks in AA to meet at every week. We provide performance space for artists and musicians and we provide a restful retreat for study, prayer, and reflection, for anyone in the community in our nature preserve. And that's actually just a short list of what we're up to at Northside.

I don't boast in our work, but in the good work that God is doing in and with and through us and our friends in the community.

Distracted? Not remotely. Some folks may have spent the last 30 years waiting to get on with the business of being the church, but some of us know that this is all wrapped together. Perhaps it's hard to get on with being the church and doing anything else when your hands are busy keeping the doors of the denomination tightly shut. I understand that they might have difficulty doing anything else but argue, for how can we preach a message of Good News to some people but not others? How do we have the moral authority to preach *anything* if we preach discrimination? Yeah, they've got a tough job to do.

Get over it and you won't be too distracted to do mission. In fact, you might find that doing mission and preaching the Gospel just got a whole lot easier.

And, healing the world is what will heal the church. Not the other way around. I'm surprised you didn't know that.

Stushie said...
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Stushie said...

22 people regularly worship at your church in 2007? I must be looking at the wrong stats, Alan...

Alan said...

That's fine. You don't have to be.

We'll keep working around you. Just lift your feet so we can vacuum. ;)

peace

Alan said...

My last comment was in response to your comment that we didn't need my kind of "agitation."

---

Your numbers could be right, I'm not much of a bean counter. I think we have around 60 or so members now, and growing. We just had two more members join a couple of Sundays ago.

We obviously haven't been distracted. While others sit and argue and complain about arguing we get our hands dirty.

John Shuck said...

Kind of a low blow there, Stushie. In response to Alan's comment, you look up his church's membership statistics? Is that to prove something? Your church is bigger so its better? What?

Sarahlynn said...

"I'm going away to a self-imposed retreat to pray about all of this. I'm asking Christ to open my mind to what He wants. I'm no longer interested in skirmishing and scoring points - that makes me an ugly, bitter, and hostile follower of Christ."

I really do appreciate this sentiment and the feeling behind the post.

For me, the issue is one of basic civil rights.

I understand that for others it does not seem so. I can afford to be patient and hope that eventually - as we keep talking - most people come to understand this issue as I do, but it's easy for me to say that because I am not personally invested (as a straight person) except through the experiences of my gay friends.

Stushie said...

No John. It was to see what was happening in his church to see if I could learn anything from it. I thought he was talking about a much bigger church like the one that I serve.

Alan said...
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Alan said...

John, I didn't see it that way at all. I assumed he was amazed that we do so much with, compared to some tall steeple churches, so little. And he should be amazed, God has blessed us richly.

If you want to learn from us, Stushie, I'll be happy to tell you what I know, but there isn't much of a secret here. Go out and get to work. Preach at your congregation to go out, get to work. Then preach it again. And again. When your members start complaining that all you talk about is homelessness, for example, then you might be getting close, but keep going at it for another year or so. Emphasize in new members classes that members are expected to contribute to the world and that your church isn't just a place with comfy pews and good potlucks. Pick a few, or just one, issue to work on. Focus on that issue with laser-beam intensity. No limousine liberalism -- you're not giving at people, or to people, you're supposed to be working *with* people; they know better than you do what they need anyway. Coordinate Bible studies, adult Christian education, Sunday School, and other church programs all to focus on whatever issue your congregation has decided to work on. Work with community groups that already work on that issue so that you can leverage their administrative organization without having to re-invent the wheel. Don't think outside the box; forget there are boxes altogether. If they've got a volunteer coordinator, make him/her your best friend. Nag. Find out each person's passion in your church and figure out how they can contribute that passion to the issue you all have decided to work on. Pray.

You might find, Stushie, that if you want to find out something, it's easier to ask. That often tells you more than numbers.

Anyway, if he did mean it as you said John, and his response to the good work we do is to cynically try to find something to nitpick, well that reflects more on him than us, I'd say.

Stushie said...

We're doing all the above Alan and constantly growing. I thought that your church was making a much bigger impact, that's why the numbers surprised me.

Alan said...
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Alan said...

I thought that your church was making a much bigger impact, that's why the numbers surprised me."

Um, well, I guess John was right after all.

We house about 50 men in the winter, feed a couple hundred in our monthly shelter meals, donate hundreds of pounds of food per month to a local food bank, have written overtures to GA that have been passed, have provided thousands of dollars to build affordable housing, etc., etc., etc.

I mean, sure ... I'd love for us to have an even bigger "impact", but the people we serve seem plenty thankful we're here. So, I'm not sure your snotty, smart-alek comment about our "impact" was warranted, particularly, based as it is on apparently knowing nothing at all about our congregation. I'd frankly love to see you try to keep up with some of the members of our church.

What are you doing, other than looking down your nose at people? Or is that as much of a full time job for you as it seems?

Stushie said...

I guess that's why I don't get it, Alan. You make a big issue about the big issue and what we as Presbyterians should be doing about the injustice of it. You make it out as though you've got the right way of doing things, but to me, it seems to be that the traditional churches are still growing despite us being told that we're out of touch, on the wrong track, and irrelevant. Numbers may not mean anything to you, but for the church to survive numbers are important. That's why this issue is bigger than what we both claim to espouse - it's about survival.

As for looking down through my nose at you, I'm a realist and pragmatist. I honestly thought that by the way you were enthusiastically describing your church that it was overflowing and making an immense impact on the community - that's why I was surprised and mentioned it. I thought I was looking at the wrong stats.

Alan said...

Wow, you just keep digging in deeper don't you? I'm embarrassed for you.

You have never been to our church, have never seen the programs we work on, have never met a single member that I know of, and you're so certain that you can accurately measure the breadth, height and depth of our impact on the community, based on a statistical report.

Just how Freudian is this going to get? Yes, I admit it, your steeple is much bigger than ours. And??

"You make it out as though you've got the right way of doing things, "

No, I make it out as though we can multitask, and that was my entire point. I simply stated that one can both fight for equality and justice for LGBT people in the church AND affect the community at the same time. That was in response to *your* suggestion that working for justice was a waste of time and resources and that we can't do so and heal the world at the same time. Do try to keep up with the conversation, won't you?

I'm not sure that we have *the* right way of doing things, but I am sure we are doing the right things. Sorry if you think they don't measure up.

"That's why this issue is bigger than what we both claim to espouse - it's about survival."

Yup, it is. You care about the survival of the church.

I care about the survival of people.

Like the woman who came to our church because, as she says, she literally had no where else to go. She went to a big, massive, gigantic, huge tall steeple Presbyterian church like yours and they told her, in polite Presbyterian-eese of course, that she wasn't welcome. Fortunately they were at least nice enough to recommend Northside. She says we saved her life. Personally, I think she saves ours every day.

One person. Yeah, you're right, not much of an impact. Perhaps we should close up shop. Know anyone in the market for some used paraments? Sorry, they're not silk, so they're probably not suitable for your temple, but maybe there's a kids' play room where you could use them for floor mats?

"the traditional churches are still growing despite us being told that we're out of touch, on the wrong track, and irrelevant."

Must be the potlucks. I'm sure they're huge at your church too.

(Oh, BTW, since you're a numbers guy, if my math is right, it looks like our per capita mission giving is higher than yours. Since you think such things are an accurate indicator of the "impact" of a church, I thought you'd like to know.)

John Shuck said...

Stushie,

Way back to an earlier comment.

I have no interest in vilifying others or scoring points.

My interests are very clear and have been since I was in seminary 20 years ago:

Equality.

To get there means removal of constitutional provisions that prevent equality.

You tell me "something new" that will allow for my openly gay church members to be ordained without risk of church judicial prosecution and I'll consider it.

Until then, I will be working through our Presbyterian process for the removal of discriminatory provisions.

Want to heal the church and help the world? Then vote with me to remove these prejudicial barriers.

We will have another opportunity in 2010.

John Shuck said...

Wow Alan, your congregation does a lot! I am honored that our congregation is a More Light partner and a PCUSA partner congregation.

The response from your new member who had no where else to go is the response we get as well, including by some who will join this Sunday.

I am thrilled to have them as members. Yet, it is also very sad. Because there are so many other churches closer to where some of these folks live (including PCUSA churches).

And there are many other churches that would be closer to their denominational tradition.

All churches "closer to home" in a sense, yet none make a home for them.

Alan said...

Thanks John. Our contribution is tiny, of course, compared to the needs of the world, and when measured by the yard sticks of the wordly, but we do what we can.

Stushie said...

John,

"You tell me "something new" that will allow for my openly gay church members to be ordained without risk of church judicial prosecution and I'll consider it."

If I knew the answer to that, John, I'd shout it from the mountaintops.

What happens if we all come back in 2010 and you fail again? Will we come back in 2012?

This may be a generational issue and perhaps by 2020 it may be well and truly over, but as I stated before, and to paraphrase Christ, what would be the point if you won the battle and lost the Church?

From my perspective, I would like to come together in dialogue and have face to face meetings instead of being told by this group or that group what the scriptures do or do not say on this issue. I'm fed up with diatribes from the Layman and cries of injustice from the Covenant Network. I'm tired of people skewing scripture to suit themselves. I have no interest in reading ivory towered theologians' points of view that mean nothing to the parishioners that I serve.

I honestly want to find a middle way that will satisfy both parties, but that will only happen if both sides lay down their sticks and stones.

Maybe I'm looking for something that just isn't there. If that's the case, then I'll seek Christ's discernment and go with Him.

John Shuck said...

Hey Stushie,

Thanks for this. A couple of responses:

**"What happens if we all come back in 2010 and you fail again? Will we come back in 2012?"**

In short, yes. It is kind of like asking a corporation to extend benefits. At first they say no. You ask again next year. A few say yes. Then you go back year after year until a tipping point is reached and the board provides benefits.

We are at the tipping point. One more vote would remove/change G-6.0106b. If it doesn't then the next one will.

This is not a threat; it is reality. Those who see this as discrimination will not stop until discrimination is removed (as in the past those who removed discrimination against women had to keep coming back).

**"This may be a generational issue and perhaps by 2020 it may be well and truly over, but as I stated before, and to paraphrase Christ, what would be the point if you won the battle and lost the Church?"**

I don't think it is only a generational issue. The reason to think it is generational is because those who are younger than I am are beneficiaries of the struggles of the previous generation.

It is an awareness issue. The more LGBT people come out and are not seen in a stereotypical fashion the more people realize that prejudice against them is not the will of Christ.

I am not sure what you mean by "lose the church." At worst, we will have a split in which half the church forms a new denomination. I don't see that happening. I see perhaps a splinter. I can't predict these things and neither can you, but I think most churches will accept that removing G-6.0106b is really not as apocalyptic as they might think.

The thing is, I can't be responsible for what others might do. We all have choices.

**"I honestly want to find a middle way that will satisfy both parties, but that will only happen if both sides lay down their sticks and stones."**

I am not sure what you mean by sticks and stones. But if that means lay down our Presbyterian process of voting, then no, I won't lay that down, nor will anyone.

You and I can sit down and cut a deal about what is the middle way, but that doesn't mean it will happen. The church still needs to vote.

Amendment B was the middle way. It allowed for ordaining bodies to evaluate and ordain candidates.

You know what would be a compromise for me? Stop the judicial proceedings. Stop challenging Lisa Larges' and other LGBT candidates' ordination. Keep B on the books but don't use it against them or against congregations who ordain LGBT elders and deacons.

There is a compromise. Can you go for that?

The thing is, you are going to have to give me some motivation. I am pretty confident that G-6.0106b will be removed the next time we vote on it. How do I know that? I look around. Ever watch "Ellen?"

Presbyterians are also Americans. They are also lgbt or have lgbt co-workers, family members, friends. The votes changed this time not because the conservatives left but because attitudes are changing.

We have a PFLAG group in Johnson City, Tennessee for crying out loud.

I have said what I need:

1) Remove discriminatory provisions.
2) Or...stop judicial proceedings against LGBT candidates, governing bodies and clergy who are LGBT or allies.

If you can't give me that, then I see no reason to stop advocating for legislative change.

What is it you need?