Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The desire for the Inner Ring

I watched this video of our past Moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow giving a speech in San Francisco, after the repeal of proposition 8. It is on the More Light Web site. I also read the speech to make sure I actually heard correctly that he had stated that those who take the Bible literally are screaming “hatred, oppression and injustice." (read below)

I then went to Reyes-Chows web site where he had posted
an explanation of why he was speaking at the rally, I pleaded with him, as did others, to apologize to those he had insulted. And then when he put a poll up asking if he had gone too far in his speech I pleaded again several times. (I didn't vote-love and concern are not something to vote on.)

This was Bruce’s answer to me.

" … in reply to
Viola Larson...
Viola - I am afraid we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one. We sit so far apart on some understandings of faith that in all honesty, i do not have the energy to engage with you about these things. I have watched you and others try to hammer out some really tough issues on your blog and you are far more dogged that I when it comes to this engagement. For this I admire you greatly. I am sure there will be a blog post coming - where you will no doubt get a far different set of polling numbers- but I will say this, even though we differ greatly on content, delivery and assessments . . . I trust that even in these brief and rather impersonal interactions, somehow you are part of God's unfolding plans for my life. I trust God and will believe no other about people who are faithfully engaging the world through a lens of our triune God. That's the best I can do for you in particular right now. - Peace, Bruce"

This has been unfolding in my mind and heart over the last two days. C. S. Lewis speaks of the Inner Ring and how the desire to be a member of an Inner Ring, be it large or small, is bad. He writes:

Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”

One can understand people standing up for their convictions and speaking out. But when we come to that place where we are so intent on others hearing us and including us into their midst, into their activity, applauding us, that we spew ugly language at those who uphold the Bible something has gone amiss in our activism.

The Inner Ring is growing. The leadership among those who want ordination and marriage for gays and lesbians is beginning to overflow. Leaders of all kinds are pressing for this, including the clergy. But if the ugly language aimed at Bible believing Christians grows, and it is growing, some will need to make a choice. This has happened over and over in Christianity. It is not new. The choice is between hurting brothers and sisters with ugliness and insult or maintaining unity with the universal church that has existed in the heart of our Lord before the beginning of time.

Some will grow in beauty as they allow God to shape them in the crucible of our times. Some will struggle to maintain the kind of love God calls us all into.

May God’s mercy be upon all of us.

Bruce's speech:

“I also know that many of my people have influenced this particular journey in non-positive ways. I stand before you also confessing for the Christian church for too many times in our words and actions have created pain and violence. I stand before you confessing for those who have proclaimed a message of Biblical literalism and cultural narrow-mindedness that has oppressed rather than liberated. I stand before you at this time to confess for far too many of us well meaning straight allies who have not spoken out for justice that we need to step out now more than ever [applause]. This is a time of great celebration. This is a time when Christian around the world who will continue to push for justice must come out and stand, stand long and advocate the message of God to those Biblical literalists who have poisoned our understanding of marriage, sexuality and love. We will no long stand and allow the message of hope, compassion, justice and love to be drowned out by the screams of hatred, oppression and injustice [applause]. We will no long stand and see our friends, our family, our congregations members and strangers be denied the same civil rights that so many of us have been granted for a life time. There is a time that we must each embrace our call to speak out, act out of our place of privilege, risk our power, our authority, our comfort and assure that justice, compassion and love prevail. This is such a time. This is now. Thank you and God bless.”


Pastor Bob said...

I have never gotten this confessing for other people. If Bruce sinned, fine let him confess. If, as a leader of the PCUSA he says that he thinks the denomination has been wrong in the past, fine. But don't confess for me and others! Point at me all you want, but just don't confess for me.

John Kerr said...

In Eric Metaxas' book, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" he describes the divisions in the church in Germany as the German "Christians" tried to bring everyone else to heel. It's more subtle, but this sounds very much the same to me. We are filled with anger and hate and we do others violence simply by witnessing to the truth of Scripture. The Confessing Church was also accused of the sins du jour. It is so manipulative!

Noel said...

And now we have his continuing influence to look forward to in that weird, tenure-like status afforded to ex-Moderators.

John McNeese said...


Somehow, I do not believe that C. S. Lewis would approve of your use of his "Inner Ring" metaphor to criticize and categorize your opponents in the church. Nor do I believe that Bonhoeffer would approve of your comparison  of your opponents with "German Christians."

As such you are in no position to criticize  the former moderator's description of  those who take the Bible literally as  screaming “hatred, oppression and injustice ."  

Our views are irreconcilable. The full inclusion of GLBT in this society and this church is coming. You can, of course, slow it down but you cannot stop it.

The question for us as Christians is how will we treat one another in this changing culture? Do we gloat and run victory laps? Do we  retreat or split into like-mined groups? Or can we find a way to live together with different viewpoint without bitterness and anger? This is where we are today.

John McNeese          

Timothy F. Simpson said...

Viola--I don't think this has anything to do with the "Inner Ring." Bruce was a supporter of gay rights before it was even a 50-50 political issue, back when supporting such a position could cost one significantly socially or politically. There was no "Inner Ring" towards which to strive back then.

You don't like it when people question your motives--you want yourself to be seen to be upholding the scripture not directed by personal prejudice. But that's what I hear you doing to Bruce. He can't, in your view, just be wrong. He has to have some other agenda of which he can be accused, something which will show his moral weakness and explain why he's wrong, and thus imply why you are right. In this case, Bruce wants to be popular, liked in the right circles. So he'll say whatever he can to achieve that end.

I doesn't matter to me if CS Lewis said it. It's still just a personal attack, which adds nothing but rancor to the discussion.

Viola Larson said...

Hi Bob, several people have stated that. Yes, it is an insult for another individual to confess for all of us. On the other hand I think it is possible for the Church to confess for the Church.

Bonhoeffer in his book Ethics writes out a paryer of confession for the church of his time. Here is part of it:

"The Church confesses that she has found no word of advice and assistance in the face of the dissolution of all order in the relation between the sexes. She has found no strong and effective answer to the contempt for chastity and to the proclamation of sexual libertinism. All she has achieved has been an occasional expression of moral indignation. She has thus rendered herself guilty of the loss of the purity and soundness of youth. She has failed to proclaim with sufficient emphasis that our bodies belong to the Body of Christ." (114-15)

will spotts said...

I don't know - I imagine Viola has as much right to criticize her critics as Bruce does to attack those who disagree with him.

The thing is, he isn't standing on an issue. He is using his platform to attack people whose beliefs differ from his. And his position is politically correct and easy. I mean, who is it more fashionable to hate than the dreaded biblical literalists?

Viola Larson said...

I am about three fourths into that book. It is so good and I do need to set some time apart to finish reading it.

And I do see the subtle similarities.

Viola Larson said...


And wouldn't it be good if we could have a line up of orthodox moderators who stood for the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ.

Viola Larson said...

Yes John McNeese that was just the question I was asking in my posting:

"One can understand people standing up for their convictions and speaking out. But when we come to that place where we are so intent on others hearing us and including us into their midst, into their activity, applauding us, that we spew ugly language at those who uphold the Bible something has gone amiss in our activism."

Viola Larson said...

I wasn't writing about Bruce's long time support of homosexual ordination or marriage. I was writing about his insults in the face of a crowd clapping. Those are two different things.

Viola Larson said...


Bruce Byrne said...


Given that you write:

"The question for us as Christians is how will we treat one another in this changing culture? Do we gloat and run victory laps? Do we retreat or split into like-mined groups? Or can we find a way to live together with different viewpoint without bitterness and anger?"

What are your thoughts about what Bruce Reyes-Chow said?

John McNeese said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John McNeese said...


As one who has been on the outside looking looking all these years, I am sympathetic  to the moderator's remarks and I have thought and said similar things in the past. Considering how we have been described by many conservatives within this church, such an outburst is understandable.

I can say, that at this point, I do not intend to gloat or run victory laps. I would like to know what Viola and others like her are going to do when full inclusion comes?

Viola Larson said...

Keep living in obedience to Jesus Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit John, what all disciples of Christ have been called to do.

And as far as the Church goes I won't call it full inclusion I will call it something else. As does the theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg

"Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority
of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must
know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church."

Viola Larson said...

And John here is something else to think about, you speak of yourself as being one standing on the out-side looking in. And yet you are not excluded from the church just from changing the moral standards of the Church. Moral standards that have existed from the beginning of the Church.

Bruce Byrne said...


It just seems to me that characterizing those one disagrees with as narrow-minded oppressors, poisoners of understanding and screamers of hatred, oppression and injustice is the antithesis of finding a way to live together with different viewpoints without bitterness and anger.

John McNeese said...

"Keep living in obedience to Jesus Christ." good response Viola.

No church in this world comes close to being the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church."

As Christians, our moral standards are judgements we all make through study of scripture and through our prayer life.  Could we be wrong? Yes! Our hope is in the grace of a loving and forgiving God.

Bruce - If you want to call it name calling, it is. But it goes both ways. I will not remunerate the long list of name calling from your side of the aisle.

IndigoGirl said...

Sounds like you are just trying to promote yourself to your own Biblical-literalist inner ring through snarking at Bruce's motivation for this action. Your arguments are all re-hash and you clearly have no heart or understanding of those LONG excluded from full membership in the church. Eye, Log. Log, eye.

Viola Larson said...

Indigo Girl,
You need to leave your real name and city when posting here.

IndigoGirl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hi Viola: Paul in Ontario again…

It is sad when people given the trust of office in the church turn that trust into an opportunity to ride their hobby horses and advance their personal agendas. When I was in the PCUSA many years ago, then-moderator John Fife declared he was going to use his term as moderator to take a strong stance in favour of full inclusion of homosexuals in the church.

I responded with a note on PresbyWeb (remember that?) suggesting if Fife was going to speak as the leader of the whole PCUSA, supported by Per Capita income from the whole church, he ought to promote and defend the decisions of the whole church, not just the opinions of his little interest group within it. If that was too onerous a burden for his conscience, he ought to resign his office and work in a ministry supported by the offerings of people who believed he was doing God's work.

Whoee, you wouldn't believe (or maybe you would) the angry response from the “inclusive” wing of the PresbyWeb community. They said Fife was a man of conscience and I was hatefully using money as power to oppress voices long silenced in the church… and so on. People who had never met me were sure I was a tool of the forces of darkness striving to thwart the work of the Spirit in the church. Yep, I felt the inclusive love.

I'm not in the PCUSA any more, but I remember those days well. Reyes-Chow writes, "I trust … somehow you are part of God's unfolding plans for my life." I don't know about you, but it's hard for me to read that line without remembering episcopal blogger Chris Johnson's footnote: "as long as the pledge cheques clear."

Paul in Ontario…

Presbyman said...

Well, I at least give Bruce credit for being far more restrained in his support for LGBT recognition when he was actually Moderator of the General Assembly. I think he acted with commendable maturity in his role then.

That being said, I thought this was a very overdone speech that would inevitably make people think he was referring to other Presbyterians, as he is still a PC(USA) pastor and known as a former Moderator of the General Assembly. From following comments, it sounds like he MEANT to limit his criticism to an extreme group that is indeed hateful and screaming in its vies about homosexuality. Such people do exist. But whatever his intent, his words APPEAR TO condemn anyone who holds to the traditional view of homosexuality in the church, including someone like Viola Larson. And I think there are a lot more conservatives like Viola Larson than, say, Fred Phelps.

John Erthein
Erie, PA

Pastor Bob said...

@John McNeese: I plan to stay right where I am and keep on saying what I believe the Bible says. I agree with Calvin and Luther: you stay where you God put you until you get kicked out. If I am told I cannot serve as a Minister of Word and Sacrament if I don't toe the party line in what I say AND do (and the folks on the right that I know have never tried to penalize people for their speech) I will hear this as being kicked out. Or maybe I will just wait until someone brings charges against me and fail to show up in court. I have no desire to pay the lawyer bills for taking it through the courts of the church.

Having said all that I suspect that this kind of oppression will not come until after I retire. It took 18 years from ordaining women as MWS to the Kenyon case(and Kenyon was talking about ordaining elders. Women were first ordained as elders in 1930). I suspect this one will be shorter (Kenyon already set as a precedent in the PCUSA) but it will take more than 10 years. I expect those who disagree with me now to be gracious. Those in the next generation will probably not be so generous.

I don't do victory laps when I win. Usually I'm too tired from the race. On the other hand I may say something on my blog, win or lose, when I have recovered.

Viola Larson said...


One of the bigger concerns which no one has addressed is how the crowd took Bruce's words. I am fairly certain that most of them included all of those who from a biblical point of view do not agree with same sex marriage in Bruce's words. And he surely realizes that.

Viola Larson said...

I agree with you in part on ordination if it passes in the Presbyteries. But I will not, and I have stated this before, take communion in Presbytery because of the word being wrongly preached.

If we should change our book of order to allow same gender marriage that is very different. Then the denomination will have moved totally away from the Church. It will have become like the Metropolitan Church.

John McNeese said...

Well, I guess the answer is we retreat or split into like-mined groups. The PCUSA should allow these orthodox malcontents to leave with their properties with all deliberate speed. Maybe even throw in a bonus from the presbyteries and the GA to hasten the process.

Mary E said...

John you stated

“As Christians, our moral standards are judgments we all make through study of scripture and through our prayer life. Could we be wrong? Yes! Our hope is in the grace of a loving and forgiving God.”

“Could we be wrong? Yes.”

It sounds like you are saying so what if I am wrong. God will forgive me anyway? That is the ultimate WIN-WIN situation.
I see “Inclusion” the same way I view the governments creation of “No child left behind” It was originally created to bring all children up to certain standards. But as efficiently as the government is about education, it did not want to dedicate money for teachers and learning supplies or do the hard work to make that happen. So what did they do? They lowered their standards to have more children APPEAR to have met certain standards without really improving education.

“Inclusion” is the lowering of Biblical standards to give the appearance of acceptance without any real evidence of God changing His standards.

John you also stated.

“Well, I guess the answer is we retreat or split into like-mined groups. The PCUSA should allow these orthodox malcontents to leave with their properties with all deliberate speed. Maybe even throw in a bonus from the presbyteries and the GA to hasten the process.”

I agree with that. The PCUSA needs to let churches that want to leave, be able to leave with their property. The PCUSA in most cases has not spent 1 cent on any of the property, or anything else, so they should not be entitled to any of it. As far a bonus from presbyteries and the GA? They can keep their 30 pieces of silver.

If all this that is up for a vote passes they should change their name from PCUSA (Presbyterian Church United States of America) to PCACLU (Politically Correct American Civil Liberties Union), that name would be more appropriate. Because they are becoming increasing obsessed about being politically correct than being Christian.

Mary E.

Pastor Bob said...

@John And for those of us who don't plan to leave, what?

ZZMike said...

Just in case anyone is still following this thread:

A few days ago Bruce Reyes-Chow called us "hateful, oppressive, and unjust".

If I had any regard for him, I might have felt offended. I realize, though, that he's just another activist preacher from San Francisco, and his words say more about him than about us.

So I'll just let it pass, as politics as usual on the left.

Mike Zorn
Santa Ana CA

John McNeese said...

Mary -  Somehow I believe God will be more generous to me than you and Viola are to me. I pray that God will be just as generous to the two of you. But here again,  I could be wrong.

John - I hope you do stay.  I also hope you will be able to share communion with the rest of us, unlike Viola who seems to have reached a higher level of righteousness and purity.

Viola Larson said...


I think you meant Bob. And I didn't say anything about my righteousness. That isn't the pointat all. Calvin speaks about the word being rightly preached as well as the sacraments given. If the word being preached is that sin does not need to be repented of that is wrong.

Viola Larson said...

I cannot let it pass because Bruce isn't just another one of those. He has been a friend and he calls himself a Christian. Read Jude the last part about caring for those who are struggling with sin.

Pastor Bob said...

John if you were referring to me the name is Bob. And we have communion at every presbytery meeting here in Philadelphia. I'm on the committee that made the decision.