I am 29 years old. Frequently, I have heard voices on both sides of the current debates in the PC(USA) refer to people of my generation. They say we don’t care about denominationalism. They say that the old institutions of the past don’t matter to those under age 40. They assert that if their ideology or theological view is adopted, we will somehow start caring.
I follow celebrities on Twitter. I am on Facebook constantly. I get my news online and haven’t touched a newspaper since I was 18. I was a member of MySpace but I “got over it.” I am, in many ways, typical of my generation.
Yet, I care about the PC(USA). In fact, I care deeply about the PC(USA).
This isn’t because I am “liberal.” Yes, I worked for a Democrat in the House of Representatives in my mid-20s. But, I also went to Westmont College, grew up in south Orange County and am currently attending Fuller Seminary. I will let my evangelical credentials speak for themselves.
No, my care for the PC(USA) stems from the fact that I believe the Presbyterian form of government is the best way of making collective decisions — even when I disagree with those decisions. And I am not willing to blow up the entire system because I disagree.
It’s not that people under 40 don’t care about denominationalism. No, it’s that we don’t care for the way in which the baby boomers have fought and bickered for decades now. And we really don’t care for baby-boomer definitions and labels.
“Conservative” means less to my generation than “connected.” “Liberal” means nothing compared to “unified.” “Progressive” is a meaningless term when compared to “missional,” and “tradition” is only appealing when associated with our church traditions — not our American political traditions. If “denominationalism” is simply a smaller stage for the same dramas acted out in the American political scene, then no, we don’t like “denominationalism.”
But, the PC(USA) is more than that. The PC(USA) represents a tradition of hospitals, of colleges, of cross-cultural dialogue and disaster relief work. It represents a tradition that values minds. And, it represents a tradition that has consistently and passionately debated how best to spread the love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. After the more reactive of the baby boomers have finished doing their best to tear the PC(USA) to the ground, it is this tradition that we, by the grace of God, will pick up and carry forward.
If you view “denomination” as a bureaucracy, then I can understand why you would assume that people under 40 don’t care about denominations. But, some of us view the denomination as the parent of the congregations that raised us, the congregations where we first heard the words of Jesus and learned that we were a part of God’s work.
The PC(USA) organized my local congregation. For that, I will always be indebted to the denomination. I want other communities to experience congregations like the one in which I was raised, with the same connectedness that our congregation experiences. I left a promising career in politics to pursue ordination in the PC(USA) and devote my life to spreading the news of Jesus’ resurrection. I care deeply about my denomination. And I am under 40.
For those who want to leave the PC(USA), you are obviously free to do so. But, please, stop acting like you are doing so for my generation. If you leave, you are doing so for yourselves. We don’t want you to leave. We don’t want this to fall apart. When my generation comes into its own, we want to be handed a diverse denomination that can have healthy disagreements over real issues. So, please, stay and work it out. We grew up with our parents divorcing. The last thing we want is our denomination divorcing.
JONATHAN SAUR is a candidate for ministry in Los Ranchos Presbytery and a former district representative for U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (Calif.-23).