LOUISVILLE (PNS) – In its fifth installment of Theological Conversations for 2017, the Theology, Formation and Evangelism ministry of the Presbyterian Church presents “A Legacy of Faithful Dissent” by the Rev. Christine Hong, Assistant Professor of Worship and Evangelism at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
The paper examines dissent as “a key element of Presbyterian theology and polity” and a form of critique. Hong says she offers the model “out of our love for the church universal and for the people of God” as the church and its members work at “communal reflection, self-reflection, confession, and collective efforts against the injustices that many in our community face today. “
Hong says the challenge is especially pertinent to the context of the PC(USA) and the commitments the General Assembly has made to the work of justice and inclusion, as represented by the 2016 adoption of the Confession of Belhar.
“Faithful dissent as a denominational body today requires cultivating and embracing necessary change, not through coercion of people with significant differences, but in conversation with those in our body that may not agree with us,” says Hong. “To be clear, faithful dissent is not a call for people of color or queer people to be in conversation with those who are actively oppressing them. This is me saying, ‘I see the labor you have done and are still doing. Labor that is done through tears, despair, and fury.’”
Hong’s paper invites readers to consider their part in urging others into the struggle against racism, and other forms of discrimination or exclusion, as an act of “Christian solidarity.”
“This is also me telling my white Presbyterian siblings — those that are not yet fully in the struggle — that I see them too, and this is me asking, ‘Do you also see me?’” she says. “If you do, if you see us, you will also see the work of Christian solidarity that lies before you: hard work with folks that look like you and that share the same privileges as you, but who may choose not to hear me because of what I look like.”
“Christine Hong presents us with issues that are difficult to face: the way we say we believe in the diversity of God’s people but don’t live it out in actuality,” says the Rev. Michelle J. Bartel, coordinator of Theological Education and Seminary Relations. “Writing with the insight of someone trained in analyzing society as well as theology, Hong gave me pause. To what degree do I expect my friends and colleagues of color to simply fit in? In what ways do I actually create space for them to be who they are without using them? To what extent do I expect my friends of color to teach me about racism instead of taking the time to learn about it myself from other white people or the internet?”
Bartel believes these questions are important to wrestle with, not only for their apparent personal benefits, but for the church, as it seeks to be truer to the cause of corporate healing.
“As Hong points out, baptism is not about conformity,” she says. “Baptism is about covenant: how do white people honor the fact that the Triune God is in covenant with individuals of color as with white people? This paper helps us explore these thorny issues and invites us to join in the work for liberation of all people.”
“Theological Conversations” is a series of papers designed to invite congregational leaders in the PC(USA) into theological conversation wherever they gather as sessions, presbyteries or for adult education in congregations. They began as a way to create space for conversations accessible to all church members. Each paper is a study resource with accompanying questions for conversation or reflection, suitable for use by both individuals and groups.
by Gregg Brekke, Presbyterian News Service