Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Good Is In the Listening

In two days I leave for Detroit to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I have been elected a commissioner from my presbytery to vote my conscience on a wide range of issues that will come before the assembly.

There are overtures to divest from fossil fuel companies, advocate against factory farming, ban the use of drones, lift travel restrictions to Cuba, support efforts to end sexual violence in the military, develop a comprehensive social witness policy on human trafficking, allow pastors and churches to officiate at same-gender marriages, amend the definition of marriage to include same-gender couples, take meaningful action to reduce gun violence, abolish the death penalty, end discriminatory policies in the Boy Scouts, promote food sovereignty, educate against and help prevent voter suppression, make our tax code more just, develop a churchwide antiracism policy, and the list goes on.  And all in one week!

I will add a resolution of my own to the mix.  A friend and colleague who is also a commissioner will join me in signing a resolution that was created by members of my congregation to endorse The Clergy Letter Project and to establish on the PCUSA calendar the second Sunday in February as Evolution Sunday.   I can make no prediction as to how far it will go.  You can read it here.

One might ask what good does this do?  In fact, a recent opinion piece in the Presbyterian Outlook by ministerial candidate, Jonathan Sauer, asks just that, "Opinions, Debates, Resolutions:  What Good Do They Do?"  His opinion is that they don't do any good:
General Assembly does not have to state an opinion on everything, and the last thing we need is to give General Assembly more divisive topics to argue over.
I cannot say what good will come of the General Assembly discussing, debating, and making statements on any of the above issues.   Maybe no good will come of it.   Then again, as a preacher I ask myself a similar question each week:
What good will come of my sermon?  Will anyone care?  Will any action be performed?  Will any hearts be moved? What good does my preaching do?  
Maybe I should just forget it and get a job mowing lawns instead.  Then I have to ask myself what good does mowing lawns do?  The grass will just grow again.  What good does anything anyone does ever do?   In the scope of things we are dust and to dust we shall return.

I cannot embrace the nihilism in that line of questioning.  While I cannot predict what good will come from anything we say from the pulpit or from our deliberations at General Assembly, I realize that is not my job.   My job each week and as a commissioner at General Assembly is to listen for Spirit and to follow my conscience guided by Spirit to respond.  I will let Spirit figure out what good will come of it, if any.

I do trust that our task is to listen.  General Assembly is the opportunity to listen to a wide variety of voices.  Many of these voices have been marginalized, ridiculed, dismissed, and silenced.   As I said in my sermon Sunday:
Voices will be speaking for the recognition of love between people that the dominant society has long dismissed as irrelevant.    I think those voices are speaking from Spirit.    Spirit calling us to act.

We will hear voices of those who have been oppressed by those who we have regarded as friends and whose oppression is connected to us.   It is complicated.  It is messy.  But even that is not an excuse to dismiss the voice of Spirit and not to act on behalf of justice. 
We will hear voices on behalf of Earth groaning under the weight of the toxicity of our energy consumption, voices on behalf of those sold into slavery today, in this modern world, voices on behalf of death row inmates, voices on behalf of animals suffering in factory farms, voices on behalf of victims who experience the terror of  drone strikes that supposedly stop terrorism, voices of victims of sexual violence in the military, voices of victims of gun violence, and the list goes on. 
I don’t say this enough, but I am glad to be a Presbyterian.    We have a lot of problems, but we do try to listen.    I am hoping for a Pentecostal uprising, a messy wild spirit fest, in which those without voices speak out and we hear them in our own language and our hearts are moved to act.     I hope that happens not only at General Assembly but here in this congregation and in our larger community.     
I hope we embody the words of our own Brief Statement of Faith and receive Spirit’s courage: 
to unmask idolatries in church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.


  1. John I need you to help me understand something that makes no sense to me. You will serve as a commissioner to the GA the highest governing body of our denomination charged in part with leading and guiding the witness of the whole church. Our constitution which establishes the GA and provides for commissioners states in it's opening pages that the foundation of our polity is "The Good News of the Gospel is that the triune God--Father,Son and Holy Spirit--creates, redeems, sustains, rules and transforms all things and all people" "By the power of the Holy Spirit this one living God is incarnate in Jesus Christ, who came to live in the world, die for the world, and be raised again to new life" I know you don't believe either of these statements from your sermons and blog entries. I think the beliefs embraced on your website could fairly be characterized as pantheistic monism but not Christianity as stated in the Book of Confessions. I mention your beliefs not to take issue with them but as background to ask how do you serve as a commissioner to the highest governing body of the denomination when you don't believe the statements which our constitution describes as the foundation of the form of government are true.

  2. It is probably because of my charm and winsome demeanor.