Dear Presbyterian Brothers and Sisters,
How are you? I thank God for you whenever I think of you.
I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately and trying to listen to you and I must ask you if you are tired of splitting up? Tired of the threats? Tired of seeing people speak out of both sides of their mouths? Saying one thing in public and another in parking lot? I am. I bet you are too.
Have you ever heard the joke about two people meeting on a bridge as one is about to commit suicide, and together they try to figure out if they practice the same religion, and they do so by getting more and more specific with the labels they want to apply? There are many versions that offer various levels of complexity but it sometimes ends this way,
“He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
I said, “Me too!”
“Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
I said, “Die heretic!” And I pushed him over.
It’s a funny joke because it’s true.
I wouldn’t laugh too long at it though because it really is a shame and an embarrassment that we so often fail to dwell together in unity (Ps. 133). If being a member of a church (or an ordained elder/minister) is a covenantal relationship, and I think it is, then we must say that it is sinful that we tear apart what God has put together (Mk 10:9). But tear apart we do, in our brokenness, in our falleness, in what some want to call our disorganization. We have managed to divide ourselves further and further, defining God and the godly life ever more finely (and by that I mean smaller) until everyone around is just like us and thinks just like us. This pattern makes our churches look less and less like the early church and less and less like the vision of Paul in Galatians.
I am writing to you because as a person involved in the Presbyterian Church in Canada you will surely be aware our church is on full alert and high-sensitivity as we tackle the thorny question of where practicing LGBT folks fit into our denomination. We don’t know each other that well, so let me tell you that I am only recently ordained and I am just as frustrated as the next person that we are spending so much time on this question rather than others of great import, like what our theology of buildings really is, or who we might be joining with to preserve the Gospel for future generations.
Friends, the reality that I can see is this: This debate is getting nowhere and neither side is really carrying it. I hope and trust that everyone involved is sincerely trying to follow God’s will and seeking to keep the denomination biblically centered, including you, whichever side you happen to be on (sad, isn’t it, this being on sides?).
You have likely heard a lot of talk about safe spaces for debate but I think we know we are doing it wrong; I think we know it deeply. I’ve listened to people and watched people and something deep within them resonates when they get into this discussion. It is the sort of anxious feeling, the nagging feeling I get when I know I am doing something wrong. Do you know the feeling? For me it’s a sort of heaviness in the belly for some it stops in the throat, either way it is a hint that what we are doing isn’t working.
Sometimes I say something I know isn’t true, and sometimes the person I am talking to knows it isn’t true but lets the moment pass, lets the words slide and we are both embarrassed when that happens. It’s the feeling I have when I am trying to convince myself I need a new watch, computer, or camera. It’s the feeling I get when I want to take a certain path but don’t really believe it’s the right one. It’s the feeling I perceive in others when they are talking about our Great Debate. Do you feel it?
Maybe I am wrong and my diagnosis is inaccurate but if I’m not and what I am describing feels familiar then I want to posit a guess as to why we are feeling this way.
It’s because we are headed for splittsville and that’s the last thing anyone really wants.
I’ve noticed the eyes roll, and the ears are blocked to each other, as the minds are “already made up” (as though it’s all up to us). It seems to me that we more and more pay lip service to hearing each other and less and less actually listening. It’s like we are among the famous couples from study after study whose divorces are predicted on account of their eye-rolling contempt for one another. We are like a couple at the end of their ropes who really want to see the marriage work but also see it falling and aren’t sure how to save it.
How do we change the tone so that we are working together? How do we double down on prayer? How do we overcome our own biases and open ourselves to each other again?
I’m not sure, but I sincerely hope we can.
One avenue I would like to explore is to talk less about sexual acts and more about marriage (I don’t know about yours but the sexual component is only one part of my marriage). What marriage means, it’s purpose, and how God views it is something I am very interested in. I want to talk more about how my ordination vows are akin to wedding vows and how for every member of our church something like a marriage covenant has been agreed to.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I think I am the majority when I say I am not interested in a divorce over the issue. I imagine many of us would do well to keep that in mind as more and more people talk of pension plans, buying buildings back from the denomination, and as ministers speak of leaving the denomination or retiring.
Will you join me in conversation about marriage? Will you join me in a conversation about the place of sex in marriage? How does God view marriage? What is its purpose? How does earthly marriage reflect the covenant God made with Israel (Gen. 6:18; 9:9; 9:11; 15:18; 17:2; & etc.)? How does earthly marriage reflect Jesus’s relationship to His bride, the church (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5; & etc.)? Maybe we could talk about where the questions of the overtures fit in the total theology of our church? And where it fits into my marriage to the church? And yours.
I pray that God will help you and I as we move forward, nothing short of the hand of God will hold us together, but then that’s the good news, isn’t it, nothing more will be needed for the church is the bride of Christ, and he is a good husband capable of miracles.