The Brief Statement of Faith: Beyond Either/Or
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been talking with ministers and elders across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) about Amendment 10-A. Voting on the amendment will continue through the next few months and, if ratified, 10-A would allow our congregations and presbyteries to ordain gay or lesbian elders and ministers they deem ready to serve in their communities.
Through these conversations, I’ve heard some thought provoking perspectives on why people are voting the way they choose. One Presbyterian said, “I know gays are good — one of my dearest friends is gay — but I will not vote for 10-A because I believe it could split the church.”
I’ve also heard from some that they feel the PCUSA’s current policies toward LGBT believers are already causing the church to lose members, such as LGBT Presbyterians who feel called by God to serve, but must switch denominations in order to do so honestly.
What can one say to this?
As I pondered these statements, I thought back to our history as a church and how this is far from the first time that the PCUSA has faced a sense among some that it’s “either them or me because the church can’t be both.”
Whether the concern was over mind or heart, or slavery or not, we have been down this road before. It breaks my heart to see it in the PCUSA today, but I find hope in remembering that eventually the church has come back together each time, most recently in 1983 after 124 years of division.
To mark that particular reunion, the PCUSA adopted the Brief Statement of Faith in 1991 as a confession we all together again embrace as our own. I love the Brief Statement of Faith and have come to see that it offers a wonderful response to those who fear schism today. Let’s explore together how that is so.
The Brief Statement of Faith begins, “In life and in death we belong to God.” And the conclusion comes around to this same idea with a reference to Romans 8: “With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Additionally, God “makes everyone equally in God’s image.”
These declarations are true for all Christians, period. It does not matter if we identify as conservative, liberal, LGBT, straight, male, female, young, old, etc, we can and must still see each other as made equal in God’s image and unified in the love of God for us all.
Jesus, “fully human, fully God,” proclaimed the reign of God by “eating with outcasts” and “forgiving.” Regardless, then, of how we might cast some out as beyond God’s love, we know by Jesus’ example that we are required to be with these others, as Jesus is, with all the intimacy of eating and forgiving.
And in the end, we can take heart that the Holy Spirit is, indeed, “everywhere the giver and renewer of life.” Just like LGBT Presbyterians I know, this is my experience: the Holy Spirit “sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor.” This inspiration is what brings LGBT people back to the church or keeps LGBT people here. And it is also the source of the choice every Presbyterian makes to stay in the PCUSA even when we sometimes struggle to find our common ground.
Perhaps it was also the Advent yearning for the coming of Christ that brought the Brief Statement of Faith so forcefully to my mind. At this time of year, in particular, we are all — every one of us — watching “for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, ‘Come, Lord, Jesus.’”
I commend this confession to us all, especially those who fear schism: How about skipping the either/or and dwelling in the unity offered by The Brief Statement of Faith?