In three short days that have flown by since my return from the General Assembly in Detroit (PCUSA), I have heard too many painful stories from friends on all sides of every one of the issues our denomination addressed, that I feel I need to write a little open letter.
Dear Presbyterian Brothers and Sisters (and others interested in the work we’re doing):
I want to offer words of hope and encouragement and to challenge us all to seek ways to share the hope we have in Christ so that we can figure out how to live into Paul’s challenge to “glorify God with one voice.” I know my words may seem suspect, especially since they come from someone who will be perceived to be on “the winning side” of many of the controversial issues that faced GA221. But for me, discerning God’s call is more about the journey than the finish line and it’s in that journey that I have found the most hope.
To many the decisions to divest from three corporations, to study fossil fuel divestment, and to allow clergy to perform same gender marriages seem extreme and narrow in scope. But as someone who has attended many assemblies and who has served congregations which have supported the bringing of a variety of other kinds of overtures to General Assembly (many of which did NOT pass on the first, second or seventh time), It’s been important for me to remember that no one is intentionally left out of our legislative processes. Any Presbyterian has the ability to move an overture forward through their Session, their Presbytery and finally to General Assembly. If people are passionate about divesting from corporations doing business in Syria or Sudan or any of the other nation-states I’ve heard mentioned, it is entirely possible to initiate that process and make it happen. If congregations want to make a statement about their understanding of human sexuality or marriage, that, too is possible. If a church wants to make a difference, the Session can nominate elders to serve on General Assembly and Presbytery committees, including as commissioners to General Assembly.
Withdrawing support and/or departing in place will never help like-minded brothers and sisters achieve their goals. In fact, I believe it does the opposite and has the compounding effect of hurting individuals throughout the church whose livelihood is dependent on our support. Throughout history, we have seen that the Church moves when there is passion and interest emerging in God’s people. Likewise, our denomination changes when our joint discernment tells us that Spirit seems to be moving in and through God’s people, calling us toward particular work. Sometimes this feels like a precipitous move, but more often big changes are the result of laboring year after year in what often feels like a time of exile. Rather than complaining and grieving, I want to encourage people who have deeply held convictions and passionate concerns to begin work now so your interests can be represented at the next assembly. And the next. And the next.
I know the counter argument will be something like: “my needs can’t be met now” or “there is no room for the conservative voice in the church.” But as part of a group whose needs were pushed down for a long, long time, I can testify to the reality that staying committed to the cause we cared about and continuing to speak in spite of year after year of resounding defeats has made a difference. But more importantly, my compassion has deepened as my awareness of the needs of others has come into sharper focus through relationships with colleagues and friends with whom I disagree. For me, our fundamental starting point is God’s sacrificial and unconditional love for us. It is my hope that we can keep that at the heart of our work together.
Grace and Peace, Debra