Task force members contemplate the job ahead

Before they gathered for their first meeting, the members of the Theological Task force on Peace, Unity and Purity wrote down some of their thoughts about the task force -- what they hoped for, what they were concerned about, what they expected. Here are a few excerpts from those statements, which were distributed without the writers' names attached.

“Recently I heard Bill Moyers speak on the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. One of the things he talked about was the underside of religion. Within every strain of religion is the temptation to claim one set of beliefs so passionately that no space is left for people of other perspectives. He said then, ‘Theology needs democracy.’ We need the differences within the Body of Christ for at least the same reasons a democracy needs more than one political party — to hold each other accountable, and to keep each other honest.”

“It is incredibly difficult to trust those whom we do not understand and with whom we do not agree, but it is not impossible. Not only is it possible, but I believe it is a very high and holy calling.” From the same writer: “I fear that the politics of the past several decades will be carried into our committee and that the pain born of these politics will erect walls between us. I fear that we will not feel safe enough to be honest and vulnerable.

“It is my conviction that there is a large ‘middle’ of the church that is going about doing mission and ministry in their communities while the extremes on the left and right continue to advance their positions through amendment after amendment. That large ‘middle’ is the center of the dam and the dam is still holding, but for how long?”

“I would expect that our work together would be carried on as a community of believers in the church of Jesus Christ. Thus, it is my hope that the Task Force will avoid all breaches of confidence, all personal attacks, all doubts of others’ motivations and dedication, all denigration of others’ positions. We have a difficult and potentially divisive task, and I trust that each of us will approach it in humility and love. “I confess that I have some misgivings about the PC(USA)’s dedication to process. If our task is to develop ‘a process and an instrument by which congregations and governing bodies throughout our church may reflect on and discuss the matters that unite and divide us,’ the end result may be just one more study paper, produced at great expenditure, that the church at large will more or less ignore.”

“I guess our job will be to find out how in the world we can get along as a family in the PC(USA). Will our love for Jesus Christ be enough to hold us together? Will our appreciation of our Presbyterian heritage be enough to help us work through our differences and be able to suggest some means to heal our divisions? Part of me is very hopeful that we can be helpful to the denomination. Part of me is rather skeptical that we can come to any resolution of our differences. But I am willing to be open and try. However, I must be very honest right up front and share that I do not plan to step aside from my evangelical convictions of Jesus Christ as very God of very God, the one in whom alone is salvation. Nor do I plan to back down on my high view of Scripture as the inspired Word of God. See, I told you I was a conservative curmudgeon.”

“In many respects the current debate over sexual minorities has raised in an acute way another critical matter before us as a task force and a church: how we interpret the Bible. I do not believe, as some have alleged, that the debate is between those who take the Bible seriously as a norm for Christian life and faith and those who do not, and I hope we can void that assumption and rhetoric in our own discussion. It is my impression that there are persons of great integrity, faith and scholarship on both sides of the debate, who are engaging the very same Scriptures with all the discipline and commitment they can muster, yet hearing and interpreting them quite differently. Indeed, I believe Presbyterians fight about the Bible and our divergent interpretations of it because we care so passionately about it.”

” . . . I recognize that many of the issues that the Task Force may address are ones about which public opinion is divided in the total U.S. populace, as well as among Presbyterians. There will be no unanimity of opinion about many of these issues. Thus, the role of the Task Force is to prayerfully — and with guidance of Scripture — reach consensus compromises that are acceptable to majorities of members, congregations, synods, and presbyteries in order to preserve the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as one body of Christ’s followers.”

“I believe that most people in the pews are not at all involved in the adversarial confrontations highlighted in the media, but want to worship God as Presbyterians.”

“Failure: a 200-page well-written report to the 2005 GA (General Assembly) with a majority and minority set of recommendations, accompanied by a congregational study guide, that nobody beyond the GA-junkies pays attention to. Our credibility will be linked, I suspect, with the degree of our unanimity.”

“I believe that peace, purity and unity can only come as a gift from the Holy Spirit, growing out of relationships in and through Jesus Christ.”

“Though there are deadlines that need to be met in reporting back to the GA, the work that we begin is the work of the Spirit that has no time line. What we may finish as a report may be just the beginning of the work of the church.”