Diversity in Christ by the Power of the Holy Spirit
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.
Reverend Janet Edwards