Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sacramento Presbytery: About marriage & the battle in and for the church

In the  May 2014 Newsletter of the Presbytery of Sacramento our General Presbyter, Rev. Jay Wilkins  has written a message about the debate going on in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on same sex marriage. He is very polite and straight forward about it and I appreciate that, but I am bothered that Wilkins refers to it as a 'fuss.' I think that perhaps he and others, particularly the progressives in the denomination do not understand the seriousness felt by many of the orthodox Christians on this matter. 

 It isn't just about marriage; instead it is about the authority of Scripture. It is also about Christology. And yes, it is also about morality. It is all tied together. When Jesus spoke about marriage, in the context of divorce, he went straight to the heart of the matter. He bypassed all of his religious peer’s arguments and went to the beginning of the story of God’s creation of marriage.  Because God created a woman to be a companion to a man, the model is set with glorious consequences:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

Jesus uses this beautiful picture to explain why, except in the case of immorality, there is to be no divorce.  To disobey the text is to disobey the Lord. But the door of mercy is wide. After Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9 names many of the sins of his day, including homosexuality, he lists what God in Jesus Christ has done for the sinner, which we all are:

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

But to deny the sinfulness of any of the sins listed in verses 9 through 10 is to deny the word of God.  Yes, some of us are or have been fornicators (that means having sex outside of marriage), some of us are or have been swindlers, etc. The list goes on. But Jesus loved us while sinners and died for us. That is beautiful but we cannot deny the word of God, or the Lord of the word.

So to return to that word “fuss,” it hardly defines the battle orthodox Christians feel they are in for the sake of Christ and the church.  And on top of the desire to stand faithfully for the word of Christ, is that other new realization of marginalization. Wilkins very clearly defines one of the big problems with this:

"We do have a problem since many Presbyterians live in states where a different understanding of the civil contract exists, and the Book of Order is not accurate in those states. Some make a fuss by saying we should redefine marriage in light of the changing culture and laws. Others fuss that we should maintain the definition and fight changes in laws. From my perspective the comfortable church-state relationship we have had regarding marriage is ending."

But, how strange it would be if the laws of the church universal always agreed with the laws of the state. How frightening it would be if the morality of the church always agreed with the morality of the culture. Christ would be shamed and his people would be without the power that comes of a humble and broken heart.

No! It is a battle, a fight, but one that must be fought with kindness, carefulness, faithfulness and courage. And that for the sake of the sinner.


Doug Hagler said...

Speaking as a progressive who doesn't understand the "fuss", what I don't understand is why suddenly "orthodox" Christians have chosen to die on this hill.

Violence and militarism were not worth it to the "orthodox." Economic exploitation wasn't worth the fight. The "orthodox" were on the wrong side of history with regard to women's rights and the civil rights movement - both were worth a fight, but the self-described true-believers fought for the wrong side. The wholesale destruction of the natural world isn't worth fighting about.

But the private sex lives of other people, and their desire for civil unions, somehow trumps all of the things that actually were central to Jesus life and ministry, and the practice of the early church.

That's the "fuss" we don't understand. It's the lack of fuss over violence, and exploitation, and environmental degradation, and civil rights and on and on and on.

To us, it is a little bit suspicious that suddenly the "orthodox" are drawing the line at sexual orientation and, equally baffling, women having access to contraception. Not men having access to contraception (or viagra or cialis, etc.), just women. Those are the core moral issues, for the "orthodox." And I put that in quotes because I don't agree that "right belief" would lead a person to draw the line where the "orthodox" have seemingly drawn it.

Jeff Winter said...

Doug, as a PCUSA pastor for the past 34 year I have been battling all those issues you mentioned. I have also battled the abortion issue in our denomination. Frankly, I am so tired of battling these issues. For me same sex marriage is the last straw. When the commissioners in Detroit affirm same sex marriage I will be looking for the exit door.
I don't have the physical and emotional energy to fight anymore.

Eleanor Duffield said...

Yes, folks were slow to be rid of certain cultural shames but there's nothing in all of Holy Scripture that makes being female or a person of color sinful.

Mkellynotes said...

@Doug Hagler- All have sinned. All. The standard has been set by God's inspired word in Scripture, not by past sins of omission or commission by any group or by the perceived righteousness acts or beliefs by other groups. Scripture remains(Sola scriptura) Let God's words be true though every person a liar. Your comment about women having access to contraception is clearly a talking point from the the political left. It is a red herring argument and a straw-man as well. Sadly, groups within the Presbyterian church have precious little in common with one another.

Mkellynotes said...

Actually, in terms of theological beliefs and perspectives, groups or factions within the PCUSA have precious little in common. However, the one and only thing we and all of humanity have in common is this: Christ died for us all, depraved and wretched people that we are. Aside from Christ, no human can do any good.

Anonymous said...

Doug, part of the problem is that you have framed the core of the Church's calling in terms of "moral issues" whereas the "orthodox" you seem so puzzled by frame the question in terms of "spiritual issues." Our first order concern is not about who gets to sleep with whom, or how to minimize violence or pollution, but how to point people to eternal life in Christ. When that relationship is secure, the moral issues you are focused on will find their proper order and balance in the life of discipleship.

For many of us, the move to embrace gay ordination and same-sex marriage is an indelible sign that the PCUSA has wedded itself to cultural "causes" and tried to give them a veneer of respectability by jettisoning the plain meaning of Scripture for interpretations which any objective observer would find laughable (assuming he/she were interested in the intended meaning of the text in question). The PCUSA seems little interested in bringing people into the Kingdom, and more driven to try to create its own "progressive" utopia.

Many of us evangelicals have grown tired of fighting those who have made second-order concerns primary for the church, and who seem to have lost the gospel in the process.

Perhaps that will help you understand the "fuss" from one evangelical's perspective.

Viola Larson said...

Doug while I certainly agree with Mateen's words,that you are framing your thoughts around moral issues before thinking in terms of Spiritual issues, I think you have a very large blind spot about the orthodox of the church. I see this in much that you write. Part of my masters thesis was on early feminism and their ethics. Many of them were orthodox and were not only for women's rights but were abolitionist also. Several famous ones fought hard against the exploitation of young women in what was called white slavery.

But this is the hill that those of us today, who are orthodox, must die on, because it attacks the authority of Scripture, the saving grace of Christ and his Lordship. It leaves the sinner without any means of attaining the righteousness of Christ-since it calls no sin what is sin. It harms the future of our youth who have no where to go for safety since the denomination shuts out any call for repentance.

The grace of Jesus Christ is wide, but we are being encouraged to trample it.

Jodie said...

When Jesus refers to the "word of God", he refers to something that must be planted in your heart, so that it can grow. Or something that you must eat. Authority of Scripture as best as I can tell, is not a biblical issue. So why do folk even bring it up? As best as I can tell, it's something some people want to have over other people, and they will use whatever trick they can find in the book to get it (pun intended).

It seems to me that arguing about "progressive" and "orthodox" and "liberal" and "conservative" is like arguing about where we want to sit at the table to eat. For exactly the same reasons: status and honor and respect. The fork goes here, the spoon goes there, so and so you sit here, so and so you sit there, and we don't start eating until the right person has pronounced the right blessing over the food.

But, as Jesus pointed out, even a dog who is focused on eating the scraps off the table has more faith than those arguing about who sits where at the table. Or did we miss the point of the story about the Canaanite woman? Or the Parable of the Sower? His 'Word' is for planting, and feeding, and healing.

I'm hungry. I'm just going to eat. Then maybe I'll go out and water the trees. It's been a dry winter.

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Viola Larson said...

Yes Jodie, His word is for planting, healing and feeding. But if we just toss it over saying it is bad seed, it won't do the feeding and healing.

Part of the healing comes about because of the forgiveness of Christ and his power to transform our lives. But we must be willing to allow that. Willing to submit to his word and his gift of grace.

Jodie said...


It's good seed. It will grow anywhere. Just toss it to the wind.


Viola Larson said...

That is not what the parable of the sower says.

L. Lee said...

I am most concerned with a lack of the Holy Spirit in the the denomination. Watching the General Assembly is like watching a battle in the arena. We forget who is God and that it is God who "makes the rules." The Word sown is only effective if the hearer surrenders to the Holy Spirit.

More than anything, I lament the ways the denomination, by their lack of honor to God and HIS word, Is stifling the Work of the Holy Spirit.