I seldom respond to letters to the editor. However my most recent editorial, That the devils might weep, and a brief news report, Fellowship PC(USA) sends mixed signals- Minneapolis gathering will be multi-“tier”-ed , both generated a spate of letters that beg for comment.
One writer challenged my memory of the launch of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, suggesting that that denomination was began not in reaction to the UPCUSA policy requiring the ordination of women but by the denomination’s top court’s refusal to block the ordination of theologically unorthodox Mansfield M. Kaseman. Both are true. The 1974 court ruling on the Kenyon Case (Maxwell vs. Pittsburgh Presbytery) denied minister candidates from scrupling against participating in the ordination of women. This roiled many church leaders, especially those serving in the 1,712 UPCUSA congregations that had no women ministers, elders or deacons. Talk of leaving the denomination grew rapidly. In 1979, the General Assembly adopted “Overture L” adding a legislative mandate requiring the ordination of women. In that same year, the GA-PJC refused to overturn the National-Capital Presbytery’s approval of Kaseman’s ordination. Those two events provided the final two straws that together broke the patience of disaffected conservatives who then left to form the EPC.
A few readers reacted to the headline and brief report of the communication from Paul Detterman regarding the upcoming Minneapolis event. Those notes epitomize the great Shakespearian line, “Methinks [ye] dost protest too much.” The headline is a catchy way of saying exactly what Paul wrote: an event that was aiming to form up a single, unified plan for the future – within the parameters of “finding a way to stay in the PC(USA)” – has evolved into a program that will offer several different options for folks coming with different experiences, different ministry contexts, and different expectations. A single signal has evolved into “mixed signals,” plain and simple.
The very brief summary of Paul’s communication is followed by the whole communication itself. Any hack journalist or pundit intending to twist a person’s words knows better than to quote those words in their entirety. The way to misrepresent a person is by taking words out of context and thereby imposing different meanings than what was intended.
By the way, Paul Detterman is a dear friend of mine, one whose appointment to be Director of Presbyterians for Renewal I applauded, whose recruitment to provide administrative leadership to Fellowship PC(USA) I applauded, and whose recent presentation to the New Wilmington Mission Conference on the present challenges for evangelicals in the church I applauded as well.
Matt Mitchell writes: “From the tone of your article it sounds as though you are hoping for dis-unity and anger from the Fellowship group so you can say, ‘Hah! We knew it!’ ”
As a matter of fact, I deeply hope and pray that the gathering will not be one marked by anger and disunity. However, I’ve been in the thick of these debates for two decades (my first GA was 1991), and I’ve been an organizer of similar gatherings of evangelicals/conservatives several times. The grief, the sense of betrayal, the feeling of loss and hopelessness (toward the denomination) among this group is spiking today in a way unprecedented in my lifetime. In the light of that reality, I’m urging those gathering in Minneapolis – many of whom are long-time, dear friends – to exercise the greatest caution, humility, tenderness, and compassion that they – aided by the Spirit of God – can possibly muster.
As for the comment from Al Sandalow, regarding the issue here being biblical authority:, I well remember Tom Gillespie making that comment years ago. In fact, I agreed with him and quoted him often. However, on this one point I have changed my mind and I am pleading with my evangelical colleagues to consider changing their mind on this, too.
You see, I did believe by simple, straightforward logic that anybody disbelieving any one part of the Bible means they really don’t believe the Bible at all, which means that they ultimately deny the central teachings of the Bible. As Jerry Falwell once put it in the television interview, if you deny the doctrine of inerrancy you can’t really be a Christian.
Why did I change my mind? I made the “mistake” of getting to know lots of Presbyterians who actually thought it is okay to ordain gay and lesbian persons. And I found that most (no, not all) of them still believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, the reality of his miracles, his atonement for sin, his bodily resurrection and ascension to heaven. They fully believe in the doctrine of the holy Trinity, of the full humanity and divinity of Christ, in salvation by grace through faith and repentance, and, yes, they believe that the Bible is uniquely and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, and its teachings are to be obeyed.
How can they make allowance then for approving same-sex relationships? They acknowledge that they disapprove of many of them – e.g., those engaged serially, promiscuously and/or anonymously – but they suggest that the Scriptures do not directly repudiate monogamous, committed same-gender relationships. Moreover, they suggest that others’ opposition to all same-gender intimacy is built on six select biblical texts to the disregard of many others that ought to be considered in the mix of study. By way of the time-tested hermeneutical principle of allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, they argue that many other texts – from ones as general as “love your neighbor as yourself” (hence support your neighbor’s efforts to live a life of fidelity with the person s/he loves) to specific ones like the New Testament’s embrace of eunuchs – invite us to at least consider allowing for some acceptance of monogamous same-gender relationships.
They didn’t persuade me to agree with them on those accounts, but they did persuade me that
a) they are, indeed, Christians,
b) they are orthodox in their commitment to the essential tenets of the faith,
c) they are striving to be obedient to the commands of Scripture including the ones they’d rather not obey, and
d) their points of difference on same-gender relationships do not give cause to divide this or any other part of the body of Christ.
Finally, several letters suggest personal bias on my account. Guilty as charged. I am passionately biased in favor of a Christianity that is Biblical, a theology that is Reformed, a witness that is evangelistic, morals and ethics that are Godly, outreach that is just, and ecclesiology that is both Presbyterian and unitive. Then again, as the Outlook’s editor, I also am committed to presenting for the church’s refection the convictions of responsible, committed believers even when some of their convictions run against those held by other responsible, committed believers so that, in the end, those serving the Lord among us can be informed, instructed, and better equipped in that service.
Jack Haberer, Outlook editor