* we argue about homosexuality even though that fight should have ended long ago;
* we fight over disposition of church property when we should put our time into caring for people with no property;
* we issue white papers threatening fissure when we should minister to people whose hearts are broken;
* we devote endless years to tweaking our form of church government when we should challenge our own federal, state and local governments to be voices for people with problems instead of people with money;
* we work to protect the way we’ve always done things in our congregations instead of discerning where God is at work and then finding ways to help;
…when we do all that and more, I want to grab folks by the lapels and shout at them — momentarily forgetting that verbal violence ultimately wins no arguments.
I spend lots of time with non-Presbyterians. I speak to many churches, synagogues and other houses of worship. I hang out sometimes with atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Unitarians and others. I write a biweekly column for an independent national Catholic newspaper.
And it’s my firm impression that if those folks think about us Presbyterians at all, which isn’t often, they are most likely to wonder why we’re so divided, why we think it’s worth our time to beat each other up over internal issues about which they care almost nothing while we often fail to respond to the needs of people who are hurting, who are searching for meaning, who are trapped in a twisted materialistic culture that imagines we need to be entertained every waking moment.
What are we thinking?
I’m certainly not saying that we Presbyterians aren’t doing anything right. Oh, my. We do wonderful things, including introducing people to Jesus. But it seems to me that we often spend so much time on internal — and ultimately unimportant — matters that we forget our primary task is to help people understand the good news of the Gospel.
And who are these people? Oh, our children and grandchildren for starters. Our neighbors. Our co-workers. The people who deliver our mail, dry clean our clothes, wash our cars, sack our groceries.
My guess is that we wouldn’t believe it if we could know all the things that those folks struggle with each day. And for sure we’ve all heard about others in crisis who could use our prayers and support.
For instance: I serve on the board of an Anabaptist-based insurance company that provides not just insurance but also mutual aid ministries. I get regular prayer request e-mails about people the company is helping. Whew. One I got a few weeks ago touched me deeply. A couple in Pennsylvania lost seven of their eight children, aged 7 months to 11 years — six girls and a boy — in a terrible house fire.
In the face of such catastrophe and ensuing need, does it matter what our form of government is? Really?
BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. E-mail him at [email protected].