Exploring the Intersections of Faith and Life

THURSDAY, AUGUST 27, 2009

Let us Talk Together About Difficult Things

When I was considering ministry as a career, I had a choice about what denomination I wanted to belong to. There were several reasons I chose the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., but one of the primary ones was the emphasis the denomination put on education. In the church, we value education as part of our reformed heritage. Part of the reformed tradition is the foundational belief that everyone, whether they are a minister or not, has the right and the responsibility to read the Bible and study it on a regular basis, and to come to his or her own conclusions about what it means for them and for their life. We are NOT simply to take the word of someone else regarding what it means. We are to dig into it ourselves and come to our own conclusions. Certainly we learn from the thoughts and opinions of others who have also studied, but we are responsible for our own education and study of the scriptures and traditions of the Church.

I mention this because I have had a few conversations in the last couple days about the decision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) to allow the ordination of homosexuals in committed relationships. This is something that is very controversial in the ELCA church as well as the PCUSA and the Methodist church and other mainline denominations. Not everyone will be in agreement with this decision, nor would everyone be in agreement with a decision to bar such people from ordination.

So who is right? We often go straight to that question, but I believe it is the wrong question. The better question is, have we done our homework? In other words, have we simply taken someone else’s opinion as our own, or have we studied the scriptures themselves, wrestled with the internal contradictions, taken seriously the different ways of interpreting scripture, sought to understand the viewpoints of those who come to different conclusions, and done the often painful work of asking why we lift up some sections of scripture as more authoritative or influential than others? (We all do that, no matter where we come out on this issue.) Whether we like it or not, it is never as simple as saying “But the Bible says…”.

The people I respect the most are the ones who, after stating their beliefs and options, and how they arrived at them, end by saying, “but I may be wrong.” Whether we want to admit it or not, no matter how sure we are, we do not know the mind of God. We can only do our best to discern God’s mind, act in faith that we have done our best, and act with grace, mercy and love toward all, knowing that despite our best efforts, we may be wrong.

I have no doubt that there will be conversations in some of our churches about the recent decision of the ELCA, and questions, perhaps hopeful or perhaps fearful, depending on where you stand, about whether the PCUSA will follow the path that the ELCA has begun. As you have those conversations, grab hold of one of the shining traditions of our reformed, Presbyterian heritage, and study this from all sides before coming to a conclusion, seek to truly understand where other people of faith come from who have different conclusions, and always, always, treat each other with grace, love and mercy, and perhaps most importantly in a spirit of humility.

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