Shuck and Jive

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Response to Jack Haberer

Jack Haberer, editor of the Presbyterian Outlook has written a couple of personal pleas: one to evangelicals and one to liberals. Evangelicals last week. Liberals this week. Since I am in the liberal camp, I will respond to his plea that was addressed to my ilk.

I want to say first that Presbyterian Outlook is at its best these days. I even subscribe to it, something I hadn't done in the past. I give Jack credit for a solid, informative magazine.

In his plea to the liberals, Jack said a very important thing with which I heartily concur. He wrote of those who oppose the changes to the constitution:

Almost none of them are militant fundamentalists or homophobes. They believe in the love, mercy, and power of God.
I totally agree. Jack also said they come to their conclusions based on theology and scripture. I agree that they do. Jack also wrote:
If you will listen intently and show respect toward those who resist these changes, you will earn the right to explain your convictions to them.
Fair enough. And Jack wrote:
In the amendment discussions and debates ahead, you can help the process if you will demonstrate how Scripture has shaped your thinking.
Sure. But, frankly, I don't see how it will matter. What possible argument could I make to convince you? Believe me, I will use it. We have been talking about scripture and its interpretation and application for years. As much as those who oppose equal status for gays in the church believe they are following the Bible, so do we. Honestly, what will it take to convince you?

Jack also seems to be convinced that we have to be united in our theological views before polity changes can be made:

Beyond all the talk about allies and opponents, we have been called to be church together. For that to happen, we will need to hold more in common than simply our denominational label or a few good dialogue events. We will need to revisit the slogan introduced at the 1994 GA by two of your leaders, John Buchanan and Robert Bohl: “Theology matters.”

They got it right in 1994 — to the delight of folks on the right as well as on the left. They realized that to change the church’s practice without changing the church’s mind would only promote ecclesiastical chaos. And to change the church’s ethical teaching without theological rationale ranks right up there with building houses on sand.

First, no ethical teaching has been changed. It is the same ethic that Christ preached, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Those who voted for this change in the constitution at the General Assembly didn't do it in spite of their theology and ethics. They did it because of their theology and ethics.

Second, Jack writes that "ecclesiastical chaos" results when our church's polity does not reflect our theology and ethics. I agree with that. What are our theological and ethical views regarding equal rights for gays and lesbians? We are divided. So what is the best polity in that situation? Freedom of conscience. The reason we have had "ecclesiastical chaos" for these past 30 years, is because (as I wrote seven years ago), "a simple majority has instituted and enforced a binding policy of categorical prohibition on one class of individuals for the whole church. We will continue to have problems until we allow charity on non-essentials."

Jack wrote:

Finally, please pray that, unlike most athletic contests, this season will lead miraculously to a win-win conclusion.
I agree once again. The win-win for this denomination is to pass the new G-6.0106b. Treat people like individuals rather than categories of individuals. If you think someone is a sinner, then don't ask her or him to serve as an ordained officer. But don't enforce your views on the rest of the church. Since the church has used polity to do that, the polity needs to change.

I take issue with one point in Jack's column. He wrote that the GA action was a victory by progressives over their opponents. He wrote:

So now, should you throw that victory party or, maybe, will you extend comfort to your defeated and deflated rivals?
I do feel for those who feel defeated by the vote at GA. Believe me, I have felt the same for many, many years. However, I am in no contest. The action by the GA was not a victory by my side over yours or anyone else's. I am in favor of extending hospitality to those who have been rejected. This is a polity amendment that is hopefully the beginning of a more inclusive church. All are welcome, even those who think they are my opponents.

The truth of the matter is that whether or not the new G-6.0106b passes, I will still be here. If it doesn't pass this go around, it will just take longer. I will be here for the long haul, the Lord willing. Even if the new "b" passes, there is still work to do. I will be here working to enact the inclusive Gospel of Jesus Christ in both the church and in society. This action by the GA is an opportunity for people to "get it." And the good news is, regardless of whether the amendment passes or fails, many will get it. For that I am grateful.

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