The past month has been a remarkable opportunity to see and experience the broad scope of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and our relationships.
It started with a delightful ride in the Montreat 4th of July parade, where we saw hundreds of wonderful Presbyterians gathered together to celebrate our nation and felt the warm embrace of the church at-large for the role of Moderator.
Next came a trip to the White House, where we witnessed President Obama signing legislation that prevents discrimination against employees of the federal government based on gender orientation or related matters. One of the highlights was having so many people thank the PC(USA) for its ongoing attention to issues of justice. These weren’t people who were saying they appreciated us for supporting gay marriage. They knew what we had done at our General Assembly, and expressed gratitude that we made provisions for people to follow their conscience rather than imposing restrictions on people, no matter which side they were on. Some even said they were considering joining the PC(USA) because of our sincere desire to follow Christ’s call to peacemaking and justice. I was surprised that the reaction was so broad-based and from so many different people.
Next we headed to New York, where I had the privilege of meeting with several outstanding Jewish rabbis, as well as some equally outstanding Presbyterian ministers. The objective of the meeting was to hear concerns of those gathered who have been devoted partners over the years. As my mail and conversations have indicated, so many Jewish people were hurt by our decision to divest from certain companies doing business that supports war efforts in Israel. Those gathered listened carefully to a brief overview of Presbyterian polity (so they would know the Moderator has little power to influence or change votes) and to hear how our church discerned and deliberated decisions.
They also knew but heard again that our church was clearly divided over the path we felt called to follow. That does not change the results, and they understood that. But we were able to talk about ways to be fair and honest in our communications as we move forward representing the complexities of the current war being waged in Israel and Gaza. I was grateful for their openness and willingness to dialogue. And they too reaffirmed the fact that historically our stand for justice and openness was something they appreciated.
When I returned to my home in Montreat I was offered the privilege of meeting with Ali Abunimah, a well-known Palestinian author and journalist and frequent guest on CNN and other news programs. Ali was in Asheville to speak at a gathering of Quakers, and to hold a book signing. Ali shared with me the gratitude of the Palestinian people for the help Presbyterians have given with interpreting their pleas for peace and justice. He understands we are a divided church over the best way to be involved, but said our historical stand for justice for all of God’s children is admired throughout the world.
Next came a visit to the Presbytery of Western North Carolina, my home presbytery, where I had the privilege of greeting them and preaching at their opening worship service. It was a warm and gracious gathering of Presbyterians, and when the commissioners to the General Assembly gave their reports, the rest of those gathered were in awe of their wisdom, knowledge, competence, faithfulness, and commitment. Impressive is not an adequate term to define them.
From there at the end of the month and into the first part of August I went to Ft. Worth to attend the National Multicultural Church Conference of the PC(USA) As a white, older male I was acutely aware and impressed by the ways the face of our church is changing. Whereas those several hundred folk were all members of one denomination, we represented different ages, races, cultures, genders, and other demographics. And as we prayed and sang together, often being invited to do so in “the language that best represents our hearts,” I realized that my English might have been a minority language to the vast numbers of different tongues being offered. I was overwhelmed by the unity of diversity, and the privilege to be in a setting where the love of Christ was the foundation of our gathering.
May God let us, as the PC(USA), see how to be one in the name of Jesus Christ. May the issues that cause us to disagree always be viewed in the context of the basic message of who we are as children of a loving and caring God.