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Diversity in Christ by the Power of the Holy Spirit

8/31

Even as many Presbyterians from around the country unpack after returning from gathering at the Fellowship of Presbyterians last week, many Presbyterians also pull out their suitcases to pack for gathering in Rochester this coming weekend at the biennial conference of More Light Presbyterians.

The reality of life in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) hasn’t changed between last week and this week: We know that our membership has been declining and all of us want growth. Of course, every single Presbyterian wants our church to prosper like the church in Acts where Luke reports, “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47).”

Why have we failed to live into Jesus’ command to make disciples over these past decades?

The way I see it, for the last thirty years, our leaders have focused not on what Christ calls us all to do, but on that which divides us. We’ve focused not on including and welcoming diversity in theology and worldly condition, but on sequestering into our own theological corners and enforcing exclusionary rules.

It reminds me of a local woman, Allison Schlesinger, who was quoted in my local paper recently in regards to her family’s decision to leave their congregation after the pastor there took a public stand against LGBT ordination and same-sex marriage. Allison said, “We had to make a decision about whether this matters in our lives. I didn’t want to raise kids in an environment where they think it’s OK to treat people differently. I couldn’t live hypocritically any more.”

While Allison and her family ended up finding a church that they felt reflected their values, how many other Allison’s of the PCUSA have fallen away?

So how do we live into Jesus’ commandment in the future?

The answer last week from the Fellowship of Presbyterians is written in the Book of Life.  What is most striking to me about it is the crystal clear implication in their work that I (and others like me) are not welcome among them.  The kind of diversity that I bring to the body of Christ is expressly excluded from their emerging vision. It baffles me as to how this group expects to grow the church through what I see as pushing people away.

More Light Presbyterians has another answer to lead the PCUSA into the future God holds ready for us.

Diversity is the vision of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as expressed in The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity. Ponder with me these two sections of our essentials from the first section of the Book of Order:

In Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God unites persons through baptism regardless of race, ethnicity, geography, or theological conviction (F-1.0403).

As it participates in God’s mission, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seeks: a new openness in its own membership, becoming in fact as well as in faith a community of women and men of all ages, ethnicities, and worldly conditions, made one in Christ by the power of the Spirit, as a visible sign of the new humanity (F-1.0404).

The stated theme of the More Light conference this weekend is “Reflecting God’s Heart.” This is another way of saying that we are placing ourselves in Christ, as Scripture and our tradition requires of us.  On our way to Rochester, we open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit, the only source of inspiration for proclaiming in word and deed God’s love in Christ for the whole world.

And the PCUSA, our church, has affirmed that the Holy Spirit empowers diversity in both “theological conviction” (like my interpretation of Scripture, shared by many and other interpretations of Scripture, different from mine, but also shared by many) and “worldly conditions” (including race, ethnicity, language, economic conditions, sexual orientation, gender presentation, and others which God may not have revealed to us yet).  Wow—very like the church in Acts on Pentecost!

I have seen many examples of commitment to diversity – both of opinion and of worldly condition – benefitting all. One example, close to my heart, is in my own church home, the Community of Reconciliation.

The Community of Reconciliation (a More Light church) was founded in 1968 out of the volatile race relations of that time. Thus, it is an intentionally interracial, interdenominational and inclusive church. My husband and I took our family there because we wanted our sons to go to Sunday school in a place where they were often in the minority, knowing that this would most likely reflect the reality of the world they would make their lives in.  We also hoped it would help them see Jesus in every person they meet. Other families – both African American and White – join  Community of Reconciliation to do the same.

And if it weren’t for us coming together each Sunday to celebrate Christ’s love, most of those who sit next to each other at Community of Reconciliation would never meet otherwise. We live in different neighborhoods, in different social circles, and in different economic worlds. But in sharing together, we also help our community grow, help send each others’ children abroad to expand their views of the world. At Community of Reconciliation we break bread together, serve in our city together and stay together through thick and thin.

More Light Presbyterians aspire to reflect God’s heart for all God’s beloved children.  There is no “but” in all.  We welcome all as Jesus does.  As the world comes to trust that the PCUSA welcomes all, because doing so reflects the heart of God who loves us all, the world will be drawn to us.  This is what all people — including the Fellowship — can expect from More Light Presbyterians.

Traveling mercies on all making their way to Rochester.  May what we write in the Book of Life this weekend truly reflect the heart of God.

Peace,

Reverend Janet Edwards


21 Responses
  • Donna on September 4, 2011

    Having read several of the reports of the Fellowship of Presbyterians meeting in August 2011, one thing seems clear *to me*:

    – those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it (paraphrased, George Santayana)

    It is ridiculous to assume that splitting off into an Evangelical Presbyterian group will “cure” the denomination of the issue of GLBT inclusion.

    Wherever people are, GLBT people are, regardless of the policies in place. And, wherever and whenever heterosexual couples bear children, they will undoubtedly bear children some of whom will grow up to be heterosexual and some GLBT, and the cycle of acceptance or non-acceptance will continue.

    Will the answer always be the punishment mentality of marginalization and casting out and splitting off?

    To me, it is not an answer at all.

  • Janet Edwards on September 4, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    Thanks so very much for your thoughts!

    I have a question and a comment. My question concerns the quote from Santayana. Could you elaborate on what of the past is being forgotten and therefore will be repeated? Are you speaking of the dynamic of churches splitting, particularly in the history of the Protestant branch of Christendom? Or are you speaking of something else? I would love to hear more from you on this.

    My comment is an answer to your question perhaps. The breaking down of exclusion in the church is inevitable now because of the culturally (I wish it were the church) driven inexorable willingness of LGBT people to come out, to live with integrity wherever they are, including in church.

    We know that the most effective way to bring change of perspective to conservative Christians is for a loved or respected person in their lives to come out. We also know that there is no stopping this coming out now. And so the marginalization must end throughout the church as it is beginning to end in the PCUSA (just the beginning of course).

    At the More Light Presbyterians conference, we mourned the way, for so long, LGBT Presbyterians had to choose between the person they loved and their call from God. I think there is a parallel dilemma for those who disagree with us on inclusion. For them the choice is between their concept of God and their recognition that their LGBT loved one is blessed.

    I think our work is to always offer to these Christians as real and true our concept of God having a heart that loves us all.

    I treasure your further comments, Donna.

    Peace, Janet

  • Mary Eidson on September 4, 2011

    Janet,
    “For them the choice is between their concept of God and their recognition that their LGBT loved one is blessed.” I can not speak for all of “THEM” anymore than you can, but I venture to say at least 50% or more of “THEM” never thought GBLT are not or should not be loved by God and experience His call. To me whether, regardless who, can experience God’s Grace, that was never the argument and I fail to understand why it is still the crux of judgement of “THEM” to you.

    I have to ask because I did not see it on your website, but wasn’t MLP started by people who have a shared interest of “like-mindedness”.

    Mary

  • Donna on September 4, 2011

    Hi Janet,

    It sounds to me like clarification is in order…

    From what I’ve read, it sounds like the Fellowship of Presbyterians are looking for a way to split off of the PC(USA) in hopes of 1) creating a church with what they call a “Biblically sound” foundation (exclusion of GLBT people in terms of ordination, and I presume more).

    Yes, by referring to Santayana, I am asserting that the PC(USA) is not remembering its own history: that splintering the church is not the answer to keeping a denomination strong.

    I am also referring to its own recent history of dealing with GLBT people. The church policy that was in effect 50 years ago has changed, precisely because of the fact you state here: GLBT people came out and stood up to the discrimination.

    Starting a new church does not ensure that GLBT people will not be a part of it. A new church will have GLBT people, whether they are currently “closeted” and later opt to come out, happen to attend as new members, or are born into it. Whatever the case, history will repeat itself and that new church will face the same issue of GLBT inclusion again.

    Do you see what I’m saying? The problem is not “out there” with those bringing change to the church; the problem is how the church deals with change.

    If it keeps with its history of splitting, it will splinter down to its own demise. There is even evidence of this kind of progression in Biblical stories. Still we don’t get it: God’s promise rests in gathering in and focusing on Him and His purpose, on love, and not fear.

    Mark 9:38-41 is clear in its meaning: those who profess Christ and do His work cannot be against Him. But as I postulated elsewhere, the words of the Son of God are made subordinate to other scriptures in the attmpt to make them serve exclusionary purposes.

    Call me crazy, but what makes one a Christian is a belief in Christ. His words, His commands, His model are (or should be) the priority. Or do Paul and Mosaic Law somehow rank higher when convenient?

    Donna

  • Donna on September 4, 2011

    I meant to a second point in the 1st paragraph…

    And 2) by doing in a way which will be ECONOMICALLY gentle to the church.

    But don’t even get me started me on this point…money…

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on September 6, 2011

    Dear Mary,

    Thanks so much for your comments and your question. Here are my thoughts on them.

    You are very right to call me on the use of “them” as it strikes us all, I think, as a divisive word. It’s antecedent in my comment was “those who disagree with us on inclusion.” If you have a suggestion on how to keep from repeating this description so as to avoid “them” I am very open to it. I look for the day when we all no longer imagine, consciously or unconsciously, the ends of a magnet when we use the word “them.”

    I am very interested in your articulation of what you call “the crux of the argument” and I deeply hope you are willing to share it here.

    I know there are many Christians who focus on loving the sinner and judging the sin. The most important thing in this for me is the way it ignores the testimony of LGBT Christians who tell us that same gender love is not a sin. It is the continued judgment that belies (for me as an LGBT person)the claim to love me (as God does) because, for humans, love and condemnation do not hold together.

    I need some help on what you mean by “like-mindedness” to be able to comment on your query about More Light Presbyterians. We do know that we are in the unity of Christ with Presbyterians in particular and all Christians in general but I am not sure that is what you mean.

    I treasure your sharing of your further thoughts.

    Peace, Janet

  • Janet Edwards on September 6, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    THANKS–this is exactly the expansion of your thoughts that is helpful to me and, I expect, to others!

    With regard to the Fellowship of Presbyterians, I think seeing them as seeking a way to “gracious separation” is only partly true. They put forward four tiers (I expect you, as a writer, probably find that choice among all the possibilities to be fascinating given its homonym of tears) for possible action among Fellowship folk. I think this reflects agreement with you on the way splitting weakens the body of Christ. And I wish that implied sorrow could be common ground with people like me who also weep over the state of the church.

    What I see among the Fellowship of Presbyterians is a painful struggle between wanting (as you say) to be separated from us and wanting to stay in the PCUSA which is (as it is for me) their church home. You have helped me see one reason this is so terribly painful–the Fellowship can not have what it wants.

    We are here in the PCUSA (and always have been). With G-2.0104 LGBT Presbyterians will become more known at all levels of the church so staying in the PCUSA means staying with us in a much more public way.

    At the same time, as you say, wherever Fellowship Presbyterians may go, LGBT people will be there and will be challenging any control or condemnation. This even includes the proposed structures inside the PCUSA which are meant to isolate the Fellowship Presbyterians from, say, More Light Presbyterians.

    For me, our common ground is being Presbyterian and our polity was forged in the Reformation to keep Christians who disagree on non-essentials to be the Body of Christ together. Embracing this is the solution for me–to engage wholeheartedly in our Presbyterianism.

    I am eager for your solution and further comment.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on September 6, 2011

    It may be more accurate to say that the more developed tier is to split, to “fill the warehouse” of the New Wineskins splinter. And it may also be more accurate to say that “they” cannot have what they used to have.

    An unfortunate truth overall is that “You can run but you can’t hide…”

    Donna

  • Mary Eidson on September 7, 2011

    I have to ask one thing, all during the time the Fellowship, someone was reporting out and information and pictures made it to Presbyterian Outlook. Why has there been no information about the MLP Conference in Rochester NY September 2nd -4th?

    Just curious? I was interested in what they were wanting to share in their meetings, but I can’t seem to find anything not even in Google Search.

    Blessings Mary

  • Calvin on September 8, 2011

    Mary, its because the MLP people were busy kicking people out of their conference they did not like. More Light is actually the least inclusive group operating amongst the PC(USA). The hypocrisy of the MLP folk is stunning, their rebellion against God knows no boundaries….

  • Janet Edwards on September 8, 2011

    Dear Mary and Calvin,

    Mary, thank you for your question and Calvin, thank you for your pointed comment.

    Mary, I encourage you to contact Jack Haberer, the editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, with your good question. I have my own opinion about the answer but I think it would be less helpful to you than the editor’s explanation. I hope you will share what he says with us.

    Calvin, it is very important to use words accurately. I was at the More Light conference and involved in its unfolding. No one was “kicked out.” More Light Presbyterians has a Media Policy which requires that media representatives like Rev. James Berkley of The Presbyterian Layman register as such (which Rev. Berkley failed to do). They are welcome to attend all public plenaries (which Rev. Berkley did) but not workshops so that there is a safe place for people to speak from their minds and hearts without fear of spiritual attack. Therefore the workshops were closed to the representative of The Presbyterian Layman. This is what happened at the MLP conference.

    You and Rev. Berkley can, of course, interpret this as you wish. All of us can judge whether your assessment of what happened is accurate, and compassionate, or not. For me, you offer a good example of why this policy is needful.

    I hope you both are inspired to write again.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on September 9, 2011

    I guess I have some questions about this…

    – Was he attending as a member of the PC(USA) and someone knew him to be from the Layman? Or, was he attending as a representative of the Layman?

    – In either case, wouldn’t it have been possible to get a signed disclosure/agreement from him NOT to publish his experiences in the Layman or elsewhere for that matter as a representative of the Layman?

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on September 9, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    These are good questions–thanks for asking them.

    Rev. Berkley registered as a participant without informing the staff he was a stringer for the Layman. At the same time, he presented himself as a reporter for The Presbyterian Layman, taking notes on his laptop through all the public gatherings which were also worship services.

    My impression is that the exchange between Michael Adee, the Executive Director of More Light Presbyterians and Rev. Berkley was not one in which a possible solution like the one you suggest could be amicably considered. It is a terribly sad situation for all of us who aspire to be faithful together in the Body of Christ.

    And, Donna, congratulations on your piece on Julian of Norwich in The Presbyterian Outlook which arrived today! Great job!

    Peace, Janet

  • Mary Eidson on September 9, 2011

    Janet,
    I think there will always be an us/them situation. As long as there are people that very homosexuality as a sin that is the way it is going to be. I have read nothing to make me change my mind. You can remove all the “clobber verses” and there would still be no biblical proof that same-sex relationships would be part of God’s plan. So the fact that the Fellowship is providing people in the PCUSA to remain faithful in their belief, without compromising their faith.

    The MLP Conference, I did not really expect that Presbyterian Outlook or even the Laymen would report about the MLP Conference, but I thought MLP, The Covenant Network, A time to Embrace, some where would report on the Conference. It did not happen, and now to here that the workshops were off limits to report. So now we know that the workshops are to figure how to direct the PCUSA on same-sex issues and how to deal with the Fellowship.

    The Fellowship reported on its website and had a twitter account open to share and comment. They were open and shared every facet of its meetings. You might not like, approve or agree, but you know where they stand.

    “Like-mindedness” From the mLP website

    MISSION
    Following the risen Christ, and seeking to make the Church a true community of hospitality, the mission of More Light Presbyterians is to work for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

    Sounds like a like minded mission centered on gblt inclusion ONLY.

  • Donna on September 9, 2011

    Thanks for the background. There was a point in asking the question: journalistic ethics.

    The article published? Unfortunately, Jenny didn’t believe in me enough to work with me on it. And unfortunately I have no copy of the magazine.

    But thanks.

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on September 11, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    As a journalist, I hope you share more about jounrnalistic ethics so that we can all understand better and prevent this kind of thing happening another time. What should have happened, Donna, or what would you have done?

    Thanks in advance for that gift to us of your experience and wisdom.

    Peace, Janet

  • Janet Edwards on September 11, 2011

    Dear Mary,

    i am again grateful to you for sharing your thoughts with us here. Here are some of my thoughts in response.

    First, I get that you find no place in Scripture that proves to you that same sex love is part of God’s plan. I hope you have checked out the conversations on this site where LGBT Christians and their loved ones share the Biblical foundations for coming to a different conclusion than you do.

    I think the larger question is Can we who disagree on this, as you and I do, live together in the church. My impression is that the Fellowship is not of one mind on this though they are proceeding to explore a way to distance themselves from Presbyterians like me. Correct me if I am wrong on that.

    My answer is to this question is Yes we can be in Christ together and that has been my answer through these decades in which I have been in the minority in the church and continues to be my answer.

    I would also just remind us that G-2.0104 does not agree with either your conclusion nor mine. It calls us to become articulate about the sources of our conclusion in Scripture, our tradition and our understanding of the ordination vows. The church is neutral right now so that we can discern together through conversation about where we disagree.

    With regard to More Light Presbyterians and the Fellowship, the one thing I would suggest is that equation or comparison between the two organizations is not helpful. More Light will share the resources of the conference–video was taken of the plenary sessions–but it does not have the resources to make those available instantaneously.

    More Light Presbyterians has worked faithfully within the rules of the PCUSA since its founding in the 1970’s. It grieves when individuals have left the PCUSA because they did not feel God’s love for them among us or could not fulfill God’s call to service in the church. It has never suggested to anyone or any church separation from the rest of the body in any form.

    We need to talk about what the Fellowship is developing and about MLP but comparing the two is not particularly up building, i would say.

    So, Mary, the thing I would say about the MLP mission is that the great end of the church of the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind means exactly what MLP does–work for full participation of LGBT people who are the ones who have been excluded from our embrace for the last generation. Evangelism is inclusion. MLP begins with those who have been outcast and then includes every one else (including those who have always been included like you).

    I trust that mission is being likeminded with our Fellowship brothers and sisters as well as with everyone else within the PCUSA.

    I look forward to your further comments.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on September 11, 2011

    Janet,

    I don’t know all of the details of Rev. Berkley’s representation. Did he say that he was there doing a story? Did he ask to work with MLP?

    A clarification: I wrote for and about the GLBT community. I’ve not done so since 2006. I do not consider myself a journalist, though I was so trained (BA) and worked freelance for over 15 years. I’m a clerk; that is my occupation, my job.

    In every news story I’ve ever written, particularly for the GLBT community, I tried to involve the subjects and ensure that they knew how the story was going to turn out. They knew every step of the way what was happening with the story. Other journalists would say that this is unethical or at least too subjective, but, in dealing with a victimized community my priority was to err on the side of love, to be tender, and “build up” all.

    From my experience, what would I conclude? Ethically, Mr. Berkley should have registered as press. It sounds like he intentionally misrepresented himself on the application and used the opportunity to then capitalize on the situation, which is to say, he lied, and then tried to make MLP look bad. I’m surprised that a reverend would do this. I don’t know if he has committed a breach of conduct or not in that regard – I’m not qualified to say.

    However, the situation illuminates a problem far greater. In order for the PC (USA) to progress, its “sides” must be able to come together, give up the “win-lose” mentality and WORK TOGETHER for win-win. Without trust and everyone willingly becoming vulnerable, it’s not going to happen. Were any MLP part of the Fellowship conference? If not, why not?

    What’s clear is that the Fellowship has its agenda and MLP has its agenda. Perhaps the two should conference together on how to unite the PC(USA).

    Donna

  • Mary Eidson on September 11, 2011

    Janet,

    YOur comment,

    ” I hope you have checked out the conversations on this site where LGBT Christians and their loved ones share the Biblical foundations for coming to a different conclusion than you do.”

    I have read your website and others and they say exactly what you said. That is that LGBT Christians and there loved ones come to a different conclusion. And that is it. Nothing else. No scripture, nothing. Just repeating that they come to a different conclusion.

    Mary

  • Janet Edwards on September 12, 2011

    Dear Mary,

    Thanks, Mary, I deeply appreciate your persistence in learning from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians. I can see you will not be satisfied until you get some specific answers.

    If you go to the top of this page, you will see a heading, “Conversations.” Click on that and a sampling of the series of conversations I have had with LGBT Christians and our loved ones will come up. Almost everyone of those conversations includes this question: “In your mind, what are the Biblical foundations for LGBT inclusion in the church?” Along the side of that page is a list of the most read conversations. Most of those people answered your question.

    And I hope you are able to get Jack Rogers book, Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church, revised edition. Former Moderator Rogers gives several chapters to Biblical understanding of both LGBT inclusion in the church and marriage. I know you will find it helpful.

    I expect you are aware of this maxim of Reformed Christian faith: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity. Clearly, for me, through my 34 years of ministry as of September 25, I have understood a person’s sexuality to be a non-essential of Christian faith and therefore something people “of good characters and principles may differ (F-3.0105).” I wonder if you come to that same conclusion?

    Peace, Janet

  • Janet Edwards on September 12, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    Thanks for your response and for sharing your practice when you were writing articles for the LGBT community. It does put the way Rev. James Berkley conducted himself at the More Light Presbyterians conference in Rochester NY over Labor Day weekend in some perspective.

    As far as I know he did not present himself as a journalist when he registered. And then he did proceed as a journalist.

    I agree with you completely that this painful incident gives us a measure of the hugely sensitive distance between people in the PCUSA. And I agree with you that talking, relating, being together is the only road for us if we are to love our neighbors in accord with Jesus’ command or to build up the body of Christ as Paul urges us to.

    There were people at the Fellowship meeting who are for LGBT inclusion in the PCUSA. The structure of the meeting would have allowed them to participate in their table discussions, I expect. It does not bode well for comity when all the proposals under continuing consideration by the Fellowship are meant to separate churches from others in some fashion.

    I would only add one other thought. One of the reasons Amendment 10A passed was because More Light Presbyterians and all those who support LGBT inclusion in the church reached out to have conversations, to develop relationships, to answer questions, in other words, to bind the church together. And I trust we will continue to do this in the PCUSA.

    I look forward to you further thoughts.

    Peace, Janet


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