A True Fellowship
This week, a group of Presbyterians that call themselves “The Fellowship” is gathering in Minneapolis. Another set of meetings will follow right after, for representatives from “Committees of Correspondence” organized by the Presbytery of Santa Barbara.
Both groups claim to be looking for solutions that will comfort conservative Presbyterians who are anxious about the church, and today, I write with a solution that I hope they consider.
It is important for us all to remember that Presbyterian polity relies upon majority rule and, at the same time, allows for the possibility that majorities may err so the minority has the full right to bring its concerns to the body to be prayerfully discerned and decided again. Our church depends upon a delicate balance between majority and minority.
I see the Fellowship and the Committees of Correspondence – at their heart – as an effort of the conservatives in the PCUSA to find a way to protect themselves from the majority that brought about the adoption of Amendment 10A. This gets complicated because those in the majority and those in the minority vary from presbytery to presbytery.
So, what are conservatives to do?
What this does is offer a great advantage for both conservative and progressive members, no matter if they are in a majority conservative, liberal, or mixed presbytery.
For conservatives, the advantage is that this new congregation would remain under the care and oversight of the conservative majority. It would mean that conservative churches would now have a place to refer LGBT members, instead of pushing them out of the PCUSA altogether. For progressives, the advantage is that there would be an inclusive place for LGBT people and others who don’t feel comfortable in a declared conservative congregation any more.
This also means that any separation sought by some in Minneapolis would happen on the ground level of the church, rather than higher up, and all the congregations would have the ability to grow and thrive. Overall, the benefit to everyone is that this allows us to remain as one Church, giving us greater opportunity to focus on mission, and to work harder to be one in Christ,
The potential for this solution to conflict in the PCUSA came home to me twice in recent days. First, I received an email from a stranger who introduced herself as a member of a conservative church in my presbytery. She explained that the session, after the adoption of 10A, had passed a resolution to enforce the rule of fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness for nominations to elder and deacon. She was uncomfortable about this and asked for suggestions of churches where she and her family might feel welcome. What if our presbytery did not have a More Light or Covenant Network church? Might she and her family just drift away?
The other moment I saw the potential for this was watching a video about two Presbyterian churches in my neighborhood. One of them, the more conservative Eastminster Church is the congregation where I was baptized and confirmed. My Dad was a member there for over fifty years. It works on mission projects with its neighbor, East Liberty Presbyterian Church, a Covenant Network church. They show how congregations can differ on 10A and also engage in mission together to witness in word and deed to God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ. I’m including this video below. Let’s replicate this all across the PCUSA!
I confess that all the other alternatives being presented by the Fellowship and Committees on Correspondence mystify me because they are all based upon some kind of hard and permanent separation between people like them and people like me. Let me remind us of a simple fact we face here: There is no getting away from LGBT people for any of us in the PCUSA. Though lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will always be a minority among the faithful in the PCUSA, we will always be there, in whatever structures prove to be popular with the Fellowship and the Committees of Correspondence.
At the very least, one day some of their children will grow up to know them selves as LGBT.
All this said, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring attention to this simple, yet important question about any idea to further a schism brought forward by the conservatives: If these Christians judge me as a sinner, is it not their most basic call to engage me with the witness of the Gospel as they understand it, inspiring me to accept Christ as they understand Christ? How can walking away from us be faithful evangelism?
Once again, I hope you see the Grace in a More Light or Covenant Network church in every presbytery. There will be a liberal church of people to whom the conservatives can relate in safety and evangelize as they may be called.
Most importantly, the balances between majority and minority in the PCUSA will function as it is meant to — helping us to discern God’s will together as the church.
What do you think?
Reverend Janet Edwards