In a precarious world, people of faith count on religious institutions to hold tight to the truths once delivered. When such institutions’ witness wavers, we despair. The denomination’s adoption of Amendment 10-A is fueling despair and disdain among many of us.
As one who poured his lifeblood into promoting and preserving the “fidelity-chastity” ordination standard, I hurt with you who hurt. I also feel compelled to say, “Time for a reality check.” A few reality checks, to be exact.
Reality check #1: The PC(USA) still affirms that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God and the only source of salvation — per the policy paper “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” approved by nearly unanimous General Assemblies of 2002 and 2003. Both volumes of our Constitution still affirm the divine inspiration and authority of holy Scripture. And we still affirm the norm of sexual intimacy being shared in the marriage bed (see pp. 18-19). We have not eliminated the ordination standards that provide skeletal strength to our connectionalism.
We have changed just one national standard, at worst taking one behavior off the sins-that-disqualify list, and adding it to the sins-we-indulge list. The latter list already includes such sins as “enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, [and] envy” about which Paul tells the Galatians, “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:19-21). When’s the last time anyone committing those sins was disqualified from ordination?
Reality check #2: We didn’t invent such confusion. The Corinthians dabbled in incest, dismissed Paul’s apostolic authority, and denied the resurrection. The Galatians traded the gospel of grace for legalism. Yes, the apostles condemned these sins, but as the letters to the seven churches of Revelation indicate, both the committing and rationalizing of sin (e.g., “practicing fornication”), continued throughout the apostolic era.
Indeed, as Reformed (“total depravity”) Christians we reject the notion that ours is a sinless church led by sinless leaders. Other traditions may promote an image of a holy clergy. We know better.
Reality check #3: Those N.T. churches also argued intensely how to interpret and obey their holy Scriptures (i.e., Old Testament). Clear, biblical commands regarding circumcision, Sabbath observation, keeping kosher, and avoiding the appearance of idolatry were practiced by some but jettisoned by others – some debates still unresolved after the apostles’ deaths. Other theological controversies have arisen in every subsequent era of the church. Our tendency to react with righteous indignation to today’s debates needs to be tempered accordingly.
Reality check #4: It’s easy to condemn behaviors we’re not tempted to indulge in ourselves. In the present case, those tempted by same-sex desires number less than 10 percent of us, maybe as few as 2 or 3 percent. So it’s easy to condemn them while minimizing our own gossiping, materialism, laziness or gluttony. In the process, we turn Jesus’ teaching on its head, disregarding the beams in our own eyes while judging the specks in others’. Indeed, our conservative-evangelical habit of spending more time fighting the gay agenda than loving gay and lesbian persons also turns Jesus’ people-dealings on its head.
Reality check #5: Let us revisit biblical teaching about the church. The God of the Bible is invested in reconciling estranged peoples — not dividing them. Ephesians extols the building of God’s dwelling out of formerly segregated Jews and Gentiles. The letters to the Corinthians and Romans command the pursuit of unity, and the Gospel and letters of John teach one essential ethic: love your brothers and sisters in Christ. To do otherwise is unbiblical.
Yes, the change has brought sadness and loss. Grieving is appropriate. But let’s hold on to reality. And let’s hold on to one another.