Across the Aisle

Several strains of thought have converged recently for me and shaped these paragraphs. The Outlook editorial of Jan. 15 by Robert Bullock and William Stacy Johnson brought thoughtful assessment of Amendment O as well as a challenging reminder of work to be done by all the church in the days after the presbyteries have voted.

Their words were strengthened as they acknowledged that they, themselves, did not agree on how the church can finally resolve the larger question of the sexuality debate; the very fact of their writing the editorial together sent a message. In addition, their point about the “long process of dialogue” still before us was significant, no matter the outcome of the vote.

The narrow margin of the General Assembly vote that sent this amendment to the presbyteries reflects our lives today. In Washington, national gridlock is underscored by the recent presidential election and the balance in the Senate. “Reaching across the aisle” is no longer a generous gesture; it is now a necessity. Our cities lose or win bond issues by very few votes; our congregations squeak through or barely defeat long-range plans for building or mission projects. In almost every arena, we deal with varying and deeply held expectations. How soon the dividing labels come: them and us. We are emotionally tired; the idea of a prolonged process of dialogue is not appealing.

In spite of fatigue, in spite of frustration, in spite of the continuing pain these questions hold, I believe we need these ongoing conversations no matter the outcome of this year’s vote. Within such a group, I can come to risk sharing my own questions and fears. It is even possible that I may hear my neighbor saying things I never expected, and a stereotype is challenged. I can find my own understanding stretched or corrected. In a dialogue there are no deciding votes to set up winners/losers.

We, as a church, were asked to participate in gatherings of this nature. There have already been such conversations, with experiences that varied even within the same gathering. We do not have the luxury of checking this off with “been there – done that.” Can we keep talking together — knowing that we will be bringing different expressions of loyalty: to tradition, to structure, to polity, to family, to theology, to Scripture? Can we listen to each other in the context of new developments in science, of shifting populations, of spans of generations? I believe we can with integrity learn from and contribute to such dialogue.

We sometimes act as if God is waiting in the wings for our churches to settle this question so we can get on with the callings before us. We are living our calling days, however falteringly. The God of the Bible doesn’t wait in the wings; God is in the midst of our struggles, even this one. God’s love for folks on all sides of the issue offers the grace that must guide our process.


Sara Bernice Moseley is an elder from Sherman, Texas, who was General Assembly moderator of the PCUS in 1978.