In the midst of overwhelming anxiety and uncertainty, Abraham Lincoln delivered his first Inaugural Address. And this is what he said:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely as they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
The nation was struggling in 1861, and so was the church. We broke apart over the issue of slavery.
Is history to repeat itself?
It is clear that the passage of Amendment 10-A has strained our passion. What remains to be seen is if it will also break our bonds of affection — the bonds of affection created over the shared life of witness to the Gospel.
Across the church, people are responding to the passage of 10-A in many different ways. Some welcome what they see as an affirmation of justice and equality. Some grieve over what they see as a rejection of scriptural commands. Statements have been issued, blog commentaries have been posted, newspaper ads have been published. Across the PC(USA)’s diverse family of faith, we are discussing, we are praying, we are discerning what this means for our life together.
My prayer for the church is twofold.
First, to those who grieve over the adoption of 10-A, I pray that you do not act precipitously. I pray that you will take the time to live into it, to prayerfully and carefully consider what 10-A means. It sets a strong standard for what we expect of candidates for ordained ministry: a desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ “in all aspects of life,” and the ability and commitment “to fulfill all requirements” expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation. Live with this standard for eight, 10, 12 months. If after that time, you still believe it impacts your ability to proclaim the Gospel with integrity, take action then. But don’t act immediately.
Second, I pray that we can be, to each other, the “better angels of our nature.” We may disagree on ordination standards. But we are still all members of this family of faith, family members who must respect and appreciate each other as reformed Christians who struggle each day to live out the demands of the Gospel. I know, I trust, persons who do not agree with me on ordination standards; I do not for one minute think that they do not pray to the same God that I do, and I know that it is the same God who listens to each of us.
We must not demonize or denigrate each other’s beliefs or values. We, together, are a family that has struggled, and still struggles, with this issue; we, together, are a family that is not of one mind; we, together, are a family that hopes the issue won’t destroy our Thanksgiving dinner congeniality but refuses to dodge the issue if it comes up.
We may not agree on ordination. But as members of the family of faith called the PC(USA), we confess together that “Jesus is Lord,” and that confession binds us together.
We have our own “mystic chords of memory” that also bind us. We are bound together by our gratitude to those who have gone before us. We are bound together by our common understanding of our Reformed heritage. We are bound together by our belief that we discern Christ’s will for us best when we come together, with all of our differences laid out for all of us to see and to appreciate.
The world we live in today needs to hear the Gospel message proclaimed — and there is no better family to proclaim that message than the PC(USA). That must be our focus. Given that focus, Lincoln’s words resonate even more strongly:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”
CYNTHIA BOLBACH is moderator of the 219th General Assembly of the PC(USA) and a member of First Church in Arlington, Va.