The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board met last week in Louisville, Kentucky. There were a lot of other meetings, too: Way Forward Commission, 2020 Vision Team, Governance Task Force, Committee on the Office of the General Assembly. Maybe you didn’t know. Maybe you did, but you don’t care. I would argue that maybe you should know and you should care.
Here is why:
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is not the Titanic, nor were all those meetings merely moving around deck chairs on said Titanic. This metaphor (which often appears in comments left on our website) is cliché, insulting to our brothers and sisters who serve on all these entities and, frankly, unhelpful. If you think we are swirling toward the drain or about to hit an iceberg, I can suggest some congregations for you to visit that indicate otherwise. I would also advise, if you feel a need to simply throw stones in the form of clever, quickly-dashed-off comments on social media, you instead go in your prayer closet for a while or be like the Good Samaritans who had boats and rescued those about to drown in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
If you really think you see a disaster unfolding in our life together, don’t point to it with an I-told-you-so glee. Get busy mitigating it. If you aren’t willing to be a part of the solution, you have no business complaining about the problem. (Sorry, my mother just took over my keyboard.) Reach out to one of the people deeply invested in this work and ask to have a conversation with them. Those are the kinds of conversations, with the right spirit, where everyone learns something. Speaking the truth in love is a radical notion in our increasingly polarized world. All the more reason to seek such dialogue as it will not only build up the body, but bear witness to the world that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our denomination has serious, but not insurmountable, challenges. There is this thing about through Christ all things are possible and this other saying about the gates of hell not prevailing against Christ’s church. Now, I know, Christ’s church is not synonymous with the PC(USA), but we are a branch on the vine and perhaps, just maybe, all this pruning we experience will lead to new growth. Could it not be possible? Could we look for those buds and sprouts, spot the grass coming up through the cracks in the cement, and notice and nurture them? Dig around that dead-looking fig tree, add some fertilizer, water it in expectant hope and out of beloved dedication? Such gardening would be a witness to our wilderness-weary world.
Things like cultural humility, the Doctrine of Discovery, translations, power and privilege, the structure and membership of governing bodies may sound like jargon to some, but make no mistake, these words and ideas matter. Words, ideas and structures brought us Charleston and Charlottesville, the destruction of cultures, the genocide of peoples, Jim Crow, the hyper-segregation of the 11 o’clock hour on Sunday morning and so much more. Often with our prayers and in the name of Jesus.
For those of us who want to point a finger at “Louisville” and say “they” are out of touch, remember that old adage about four fingers pointing back at ourselves. (Mom, I told you to keep your hands off my computer.) While I recognize that such language does not roll off the tongue around the tables in our fellowship halls, that does not mean we can write it off. Perhaps the translation work that desperately needs to be done in our church is in our mostly white congregations. We need to learn to listen to the language of those long silenced and hear the cries of the oppressed and marginalized. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation we might ask God to send a second Pentecost our way – not so much reformation, but a Holy Spirit revolution.
Issues of power and privilege impact every corner of our country and every crevice of our congregations. Don’t think this applies in your context? Go back and read the session minutes from years gone by, talk to the people in the community who don’t attend your church, learn the history of the town, the street, the plot of land where you worship week in and week out. Such holy curiosity might lead to a road to Damascus moment. We could discover just how out of touch and misguided our righteousness has been.
We talk about being a connectional church. Are we? Do we want to be? How about part of a covenant community? If we claim and confess that there is one Lord, one faith and one baptism, we are called to care about the entire family into which we have been adopted. How we live together as Presbyterians has implications for the health of the whole. That’s perhaps the most important reason why we should care about what happened last week in Louisville and why everyone who spent hours in those meeting rooms last week should care about us, too. We’re united in Christ, in this together, whether we like it or not.
None of what was discussed, approved, considered or implemented will usher in the Kingdom. Some of it will fail, badly. A few seeds will fall on good soil and produce a mind-blowing, abundant harvest. Workers will be needed. We will be surprised by where the growth happens and what God will do with everything else.
Good News flash: nothing will be wasted. Shouldn’t we care about that?