Shuck and Jive


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Presbyterian Gayman: Where Are They Now?


In the late 90's, an on-line satire site, The Presbyterian Gayman, spoofing the very real Presbyterian Layman, offered solace and humor to those of us discouraged by the right turn in our denomination. Unless you are informed about Presbyterian politics and what was going on at that time, most of it will slip by you. It's kind of like reading the book of Revelation 2000 years after the fact. The creators remained anonymous and I still do not know who they are. My hunch is that they were seminary students at the time. In 2004, after the General Assembly in Richmond, it resurrected for a brief period only to go silent once again. The resurrected PG wasn't quite as good as the original, but hey, I'm not complaining.

So what happened to the creators of PG? Two speculations:

The cynical view: They graduated from seminary and with their M. Div.'s in hand and optimism in their shiny pupils were called to a little country church in Indiana. They became brave enough one Sunday to speak about sexual ethics, social justice, or the historical-critical approach to the Bible, and were politely yet firmly informed that that kind of sermon was not in the spirit of Jesus. Discouraged, they decided to join the mainstream, forget their passions, buy a mini-van, preach sermons that the (supposedly) big pledgers like to hear, and climb up the ladder to higher and higher steeples.

The hopeful view: They graduated from seminary and with their M. Div.'s in hand and optimism in their shiny pupils were called to a little country church in Indiana. They became brave enough one Sunday to speak about sexual ethics, social justice, or the historical-critical approach to the Bible, and were politely yet firmly informed that that kind of sermon was not in the spirit of Jesus. Discouraged, but not despairing, they kept at it. They made mistakes, angered some folks, got their butts kicked, licked their wounds, found their voice, and are still out there, somewhere, raising consciousness and speaking for justice.

Now, my little sermonette to seminary students. You who now call yourself progressive or emergent or whatever, if you decide to enter the church, you will likely get your butt kicked. That will result in part because of inexperience and stupidity. It will also result because the church needs reform and you know it and you know that to be honest and authentic you need to address it. Good for you. Keep at it. Don't complain (it's unbecoming). Learn from your mistakes and don't be afraid to make them. Don't assume that people in the church and in the church alumni association don't want to hear about issues of justice, biblical criticism, and radical theology. You are their voice as well.

While you are in seminary read the books you are not supposed to read, write radical papers for your professors (they need to keep their fires lit, too), be willing to look into the void, and challenge all dogma (especially your own). Finally, put your views out there. Create a blog or a website in the spirit of The Presbyterian Gayman, or some other forum. I suggest you do this anonymously as you are not yet ordained. Don't tell me you don't have the time to do this because you have to conjugate your Hebrew. I know better. Doing so will be good for your soul, it will help you articulate your passions, and it will inspire the rest of us. Your honesty will keep the fire burning for us old farts already in the ministry who walk the line between cynicism and hope.

Most importantly, be lighthearted. Laugh at yourself while you laugh at others. Here is some advice from the character Dr. Robbins to his patients in the Tom Robbins novel, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues:

"So you think that you're a failure, do you? Well, you probably are. What's wrong with that? In the first place, if you've any sense at all you must have learned by now that we pay just as dearly for our triumphs as we do for our defeats. Go ahead and fail. But fail with wit, fail with grace, fail with style. A mediocre failure is as insufferable as a mediocre success. Embrace failure! Seek it out. Learn to love it. That may be the only way any of us will ever be free." p. 173
To life,
John

9 comments:

  1. Help me out. I'm just a candidate, not a minister, so I don't have ecclesiastical politics figured out.

    Which of these is served by anonymous attacks or criticisms of the church: peace, unity, or purity?

    Calvin had a word for people who didn't have the courage of their convictions in the face of religious (papist) authorities: Nicodemites.

    Dissimulating divines are incapable of effecting a reformation of the church. Such clerical casuists do nothing but heap scorn on their cause.

    If you want to reform the church, you have to love God and the truth more than money. You have to be able to declare with Martin Luther:

    Let goods and kindred go,
    this mortal life also;
    The body they may kill:
    God’s truth abideth still!

    Unless, of course, the ministry is simply a means of financial security.

    Honestly, John, this has to be one of the most demonic strategies you've advocated yet.

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  2. One could also make an argument that seeking ordination in a denomination where such folk are routinely lef undisciplined demonstrates the same love of money more than God and the truth.

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  3. I suppose one could, if one didn't know the depth of love that I have for the people of the PC(USA). It was a PC(USA) pastor that gave me a copy of the WCF, discipled me through some tough times, married me, and baptized my children. It was a member of the PC(USA) who helped me get back into college. It was the ministers, elders, and members of the PC(USA) who reminded me that God's gifts are for service. It was members of the PC(USA) who made it possible for me to get a graduate education. It is members of the PC(USA) who continue to challenge me and love me.

    I love them. It would be easier for a Reformed evangelical to go elsewhere - or at least less troubling. But a charge to keep have I. I don't choose how the call takes shape. I simply choose whether or not I will joyfully obey.

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  4. Chris uses the same place to quote from as I do - the Bible Gateway and it's choice of which translation to use. Cool to say the least - at least one other person in blogs does this (thusly I am not alone).

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  5. Oremus Bible Browser includes the New Revised Standard Version that the Bible Gateway omits.

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  6. tl"It will also result because the church needs reform and you know it and you know that to be honest and authentic you need to address it. Good for you." (Aw Schucks)

    I agree and I am only 31 years old - 32 in a few months (which is when I become a full-fledged genius I hear). Nothing wrong with wanting to challenge the status quo of things and asking questions of the church - whether that be theology, traition, interpretation, social issues, structure, or methodology. If we think we have these things perfected we need to re-examine our collective hearts.

    Chris I do like the comments and the dialogue but my question is does wanting change make someone a 'non-Christian'? Why does change always have to be seen as a 'bad thing'? I read the prophets and Jesus and see people that tried to change the current affairs of the people of God - and a lot of time they challenged traditional ideals of God for someone not to be put 'into the theological box'. I see nothing wrong with asking the churches to consider change if it reflects the heart of God.

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  7. John, I think I use the American Standard Version - it's the version Gideon's uses in the bibles they hand out - and it's a great version I have found - I think it might even be the only 'inspired' one left - well, that and the children's cartoon bible.

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  8. Society,

    I'm not against change in the church. But I am against people who want everyone else the align with their own convictions, yet refuse to accept any possible negative consequences if it doesn't work. How can you ask someone to consider your position if you can't even be honest about how sincerely you hold them?

    Fundamentalism isn't the dominant theological paradigm in the PCUSA. Many people therein believe it to be a dangerous and backwards ideology. While I have spelled out my beliefs in excruciating detail there are probably a number of folks who didn't read my statement. I realize that if someone were to start asking questions of me on the floor of presbytery, they could orchestrate a move to paint me as a fundamentalist on the warpath.

    I could choose to give the moderating answers that are dissatisfying (but non-threatening) to "both sides" and avoid further trouble, but that would be bad faith. I think our denominational ties are tendentious enough to demand absolute honesty of candidates. More importantly, the faith that has been delivered is so amazingly liberating and salutary that it deserves to be trumpeted! Even if such frank disclosure sets me back in the PC(USA), it's the right (i.e., God-honoring) thing to do.

    The last thing a denomination with a trust-deficit needs is mendacious ministers who lack the courage of their convictions. And anyone who advocates for underhanded means of change rather than open, honest, frank discussion and discernment is leading us into trouble.

    PS - The Gideons only distribute the AV (Authorized Version, known in America as the KJV or King James Version). I figure if it was good enough for St. Paul, it oughta be good enough for me!

    PPS - I know about the Oremus browser, but I do not use the NRSV. I have too many disagreements with the ideological bent of the "translators" (much the same, I would imagine, that my counterparts have against the bent of the NIV translators). The ESV is an excellent inheritor of the KJV-RSV tradition. But for my money, you can't beat the Hebrew and the Greek, and when I study (rather than read devotionally) I try to go ad fontes.

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  9. I like the Gideon's translation I have - even italicizes the english parts that have been added and are assumed so as to 'fill the passage in'. I like that - sometimes the additions of those words do change the message a bit (usually not a lot) - but I like that this interpretation has thought of us - the poor, misguided english readers with peanut size brains and the contextual understanding for texts of most oxen. I guess I like a good translation too - but to be honest - I checked out the NRSV - and it's translation and the Gideon's one are almost spot on.

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