Finding Connection with the Fellowship
Next week, the Fellowship of Presbyterians will once again gather – this time in Orlando, Florida. According to the Presbyterian Outlook, one big area of discussion will be two documents that were drafted since their last convening; one on theology and one on polity.
Right at the end of the draft document on theology, entitled “Draft of The Theology of The Fellowship of Presbyterians and the New Reformed Body,” comes this question: “How can reconnection with the whole church be increased?” With the fervent hope that this will be a priority at the approaching Fellowship gathering, I offer three thoughts to consider and invite further comments from all my theological friends.
So, how can connection with the whole church be increased?
First, we should remember and hold fast to our connection in the church being grounded in the theme of Covenant that fills Scripture from start to finish. God promises to be connected with us through Noah, through Abraham, through the kings, the prophets, the disciples and—of course, most of all—through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. “Connection” could be understood as the modern word for “covenant” which is not a particularly common word in our time.
I trust we can all agree that “connection” as a human experience is morphing at light speed in our time. Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone , documents some of what we have been experiencing in the church for a long while. For example, the mechanisms of cyberspace have become alternatives to morning prayer breakfasts or pre-conferences at presbytery. Through all this, God’s example of covenant, and God’s call to us in the PCUSA to be in covenant with one another, remain. Let’s grasp these as singularly important.
Second, we should accept that connection does not mean agreement. There is a good reason the early church chose to include in Scripture the four gospels rather than harmonizing them into one story. They valued the rich texture of the four perspectives. They valued both the correspondences between all four and the differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Here is an example of the way in which connection is not synonymous with agreement.
To connect and reconnect in the PCUSA is to be in covenant with Presbyterians with whom one disagrees. That is the way of our church family and has been all along. How to connect when we disagree was exactly the question our ancestors who created Presbyterianism were desperate to answer. What they gave us was a framework like the Gospels where there are correspondences among us and variations, which add to our communion when we embrace them.
Third, we should choose to connect with our colleagues in ministry. In other words, we should choose to connect with everyone in the PCUSA. This is a choice we make in response to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who places us in this church fellowship at this particular time. We choose to be theological friends with those God has placed in our neighborhood here and now.
When I read the draft documents sent out in preparation for the coming Fellowship gathering, I get a sense that “theological friends” are meant to be like-minded folk. And yet, I also get a sense that they are preparing for disagreement even among the like-minded folks gathered there. Do others of you sense this as well?
We will connect or reconnect in the PCUSA when we knowingly choose to be theological friends with all those around us. This choice of connecting with everyone around me in my presbytery is one I continue to make, including colleagues who are involved in the Fellowship. I will not pretend that this connecting is easy. Yet, I feel that the connections I make with those who disagree with me have both challenged and enriched me. This is proof to me that this effort has been and continues to be the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of being a disciple of Jesus.
I have chosen to connect and will continue to.
I want the Fellowship to make the same choice. And you—will you choose to increase your connection with the whole church? How are you going to do this?
Reverend Janet Edwards
Why are you so willing to connect after passage of 10A when each time it was defeated you refused to connect with those belived in the authority of scripture. Why do you believe that those of us that are true to the scriptures should disavow or believes and follow those whom many of us believe are false teachers.
Thank you for your pointed questions.
The fact is I never refused to connect with those whose understanding of the nature of the authority of Scripture is different from my own. I don’t know what you base your assumption upon and need you to explain.
As a Christian, I, of course, seek to do and be true in my faith and life to my understanding of Scripture. If you are also seeking to be faithful to Christ, I know you are doing the same. What you highlight is something that has been true since the disciples: followers of Jesus disagree on many things.
As far as I know myself, I am telling you and others what I see and believe. I pray that I am inspired by the Holy Spirit and that others will agree with me. I do not think of this as pushing anyone to “disavow” what he or she believes. It is to speak up for what I see as true and to desire a conversation with those who disagree with me about important things.
You have not shared here exactly what you believe. I hope you do so that we can have that conversation.
Dear Janet Edwards and Gerry Watson,
I can not be in a covenant with Presbyterians who use the authority of Scriptures as an instrument of terror, who use their faith and their Presbyterian institutions as a theological shield to continue practicing discrimination against our Gay and Lesbian sisters in Christ. Unfortunately, the Presbyterian Church in the United States has a very well documented and ugly history against many minority groups (African Americans, women, divorcees). They are using the same theological tactics and the same ecclesiastical maneuvers to justify and to continue to discriminate against Gay and Lesbian Presbyterians.
As an openly gay member of The Community House here in Pittsburgh, I feel deeply ashamed about the behavior of the PCUSA and in particular, with the behavior of the Pittsburgh Presbytery and the Presbyterian Institutions associated with it. They are asking us to break bread with people who do us harm, who consider us evil, who consider us morally inferior, who consider us sinful, and who believe that we should be punished because of our very existence as Gay and Lesbian persons. These Presbyterians are willing to do all this from their pulpits and from their civil and political involvement in society, and essentially behave like Judas behaved with Christ.
To ask LGBT Presbyterians and their loved ones to put up with thirty more years of debate, for the sake of keeping a covenant together, is also a very cruel act against us, and it is another way to oppress us. The Presbyterian Church needs 1) to repent (and ask for forgiveness) from the way they have treated us; 2) to revert and correct all its theological stances towards its LGBT members that promote exclusivity, discrimination and hate towards us; and 3) should welcome ALL our LGBT brothers and sisters, regardless of their relationship status, to all areas, sacraments and ministries of the Presbyterian church.
Anything short of this, and the PCUSA will be in the wrong side of history once again. Anything short of this, and the PCUSA will continue to be a Church of suffering and sadness to all of us Presbyterians who are LGBT persons and who are members of its covenant. Anything short of this, and the PCUSA will continue to be an institution of evil towards LGBT Christians and their families.
And I can not be, and we should not be willing, as LGBT Presbyterians, to be members of a covenant of discrimination and hate. Nothing can be more un-Christian.
(openly Gay and HIV Positive Presbyterian)
The longer I am away from “church” the happier I am. I’ve seen, on both sides of this struggle, where people use their human power (and wealth) to destroy others, to hold multitudes captive, in order to get what they want. Meanwhile, Christ’s true mission doesn’t even make the agenda, and souls are or remain lost everyday. Church…please…
That is precisely the way I feel: I am held captive to either stay silent in the front of social injustice or to defend a Presbytery that, with their actions and writings, full of discrimination, homophobia and hate, bring shame to me and cause deep suffering to others.
Good luck, Angel…I’m a destroyed one. I hope it’s not true, but right now I can only see the Church (and religion and seminaries) as nothing more than another human arena of power and money, no different than politics.
I am destroyed as well, but I still believe that somehow you and I will be resurrected.
I like your point about the Christian seminaries because, taking as an example the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, it is another school of indoctrination and hate towards LGBT persons, and I do not know, or would like to know, how are we going to make any progress to end discrimination within the Presbyterian Church, if the formation and curricula of its clergy here in Pittsburgh is deeply rooted in discrimination and hate.
In other words, PTS is a factory of homophobes.
Dear Donna and Angel,
I confess how difficult it is for me to read your testimony to the damage and hurt you have both felt and witnessed at the words and actions of Presbyterians.
I know we have sinned against you and, in that, Christ. My efforts to bring understanding and reconciliation is one aspect of my repentance.
My sense is that Christians who judge LGBT people to be sinners are coming to an understanding that their conclusion is NO license to harm another. And I hope it is becoming clear that the judgment, itself, does harm. You two have made it very clear.
I am also aware that some who see Scripture and the LGBT community in a judgmental way testify to feeling seriously hurt by the opening of the PCUSA to the ordination of LGBT Presbyterians. If Gerry or others reading here feel this way, I hope you will share with us as courageously as Donna and Angel the components of that hurt. This (like Donna and Angel’s sharing here) would go far to help us all come closer to repentance and reconciliation in Christ.
Thank you all so much for adding your voice here.
The peace of Christ be always with you, Janet
Janet. We have not been in touch for a long time. Hope all is well with you. We are retired, if preaching some and writing, in Charlotte NC. I do not know how I found this blog, but I am grateful that I did. I just want to say that I am proud of you for your honesty and integrity. Thanks for being a friend to those who have not felt the friendship of the Church. God bless you and keep you in his care. Dick Cromie
Dear Rev Edwards,
Thank you for your apologia, however, I remain skeptical about your motives as future Moderator. I hope that you are deeply committed to reforming the Presbytery and to the end of all the forms of discrimination that are practiced in our seminaries and churches. I also hope that you take an honest look at the tactics of reconciliation that have been used in the past, and that obviously have not worked, and find new ways to implement new ones. I suspect it is more important to you to keep the conversation going or that you are more interested in acting as and arbitrary of a debate society of homophobes and intolerant Presbyterians. I also want to make sure you are not turning your own Presbyterian Church into an idol of worship.
Glad you have your faith. I have none left and do not want to be resurrected, as you say, back to it. It causes me deep grief and unhappiness, and no one, NO ONE can tell me that God is good after what I have suffered in my life.
May you and Janet have good luck.
Janet, are you going to these meetings in Florida? If not, why not?
Heartfelt thanks for sharing your passionate views here! It is crucial to the church and to the world that your experience is known and your conclusions heard.
What continues to be important to me, Angel, is that there is no “but” in Jesus’ “all.” This includes those who disagree with us. This gives us the best reason to keep the conversation going. It sustains my efforts. Of course, nothing requires any of us to join in, as you know. The Holy Spirit gives us different gifts for proclaiming and living the Gospel.
I share all of your hopes for my intentions.
Peace be with you, Janet
Deepest thanks for your good wishes and back at you with them.
No, I am not going to the Fellowship meeting. I already had important things scheduled for this week for almost a year. I can follow what goes on with the rest of us.
Donna, may you be well. Peace, Janet
Dear Dick Cromie,
How lovely to hear from you and hear that all is well for you.
You are very welcome–I am touched to be seen as someone who is a friend to those who have not felt the friendship of the church. This is a good way to follow Jesus, I’d say.
And thanks for your kind words. I hope you come again to share your experience and thoughts on the concerns touched on here.
I’ve been following but not posting. I do however pray that you’ll find peace…….
Many thanks…I’m back to where I was before re-entering the “Christian” Community in 2003. 19 years raised in a church, 19 years away, 9 years returned. I was right the first time departed and much happier now than in the past 9 years.
Take good care & thanks –
Thanks Janet. I am well and moving forward. I’m sorry, but I don’t think this “split” in the church is something that can be mended. Until the separate groups can feel vulnerable enough to invite each other in, there will be no mending.
What you have is two groups saying “I can only do _____”. When will the Fellowship invite MLP to join its gatherings and when will MLP invite the Fellowship to join its gatherings?
It is a natural human function to fight what is feared rather than succumb to the possibility of what could be by discarding fear.
Fear, power, winning, these are all theological themes. lessons in the Bible, that all lead to destruction of self and others, but both sides purporting to be knowledgeable in these lessons have in truth not learned them for themselves.
As for me, enough is enough, and it’s time to walk away from the whole mess of organized religion and a God I can only right now as somewhat sadistic.
Donna, you are absolutely right. What Jannet and her crown call “conversations” and “sharing” are neither conversations or sharings. They are MONOLOGUES, were factions vent on either side, or they betray each other while they give each other the sign of peace. In these monologues, for which Rev. Edwards is running as moderator/arbitrer, no reform is achieved, but a lot of hurting and re-deployment of theological homophobia is.
As an LGBT person, I also choose to stay away from those Presbyterian rings.
Angel and Donna,
You both seem to have taken some pretty deep hurt at the hands of the church. Your pain and anger are almost palpable in what you have written. The history of the Church is ugly. Our past is colored with catholics beating protestants, protestants beating catholics, witch burnings, support of slavery, racism, sexism, homophobia, and you name it. It ain’t pretty.
The breathtaking mystery is that in spite of all this Jesus continues to entrust His message of grace to her. Maybe someday we will get it. (I have my doubts…)
I can’t fix your hurt, but I love and serve the One who can. So I pray that you both would find grace in brokenness, healing in your hurt, and shalom –well-being — in His arms. I pray that He will bring you to a community where your wounds can be bound up, where you will find nurture, love, and acceptance for who you are, where you are, how you are, just as Jesus loves you. I pray that you will find support and people to walk alongside you in the pain of transformation (whatever form it takes) that we all must endure (= not fun) as our humanity becomes Christ-like.
Dear Angel and Donna,
Your forthright honesty is a huge gift to us all. Thank you for it.
You bring to my mind the wisdom from the classic movie, The African Queen. Rose (Katherine Hepburn) says to Mr. Arnot (Humphrey Bogart), “Human nature, Mr. Arnot, is what we are placed in this world to rise above.” I agree completely that fight or fight are human nature and both of these are pretty dominant in the PCUSA right now. At the same time, there is every reason–primarily the Gospel–to give ourselves to another possibility: being with, in other words, love.
Angel, I appreciate that you have been in many a conflict that has turned out as you say. I hope you can agree with me that none of us knows what the outcomes may be in a person’s heart when there is a real exchange between those who disagree with one another.
Peace be withyou both, Janet
Dear Bill and Jake,
Your prayers and words are kind. Thank you for sharing them here.
For me the important thing is to turn words into action. Many now see that the church’s treatment of LGBT people fits in the long line of mistreatment of the stranger (women, dark skinned people are the ones we know best).
And we all know that there is much in the Bible that supports such fierce treatment of God’s beloved children. What is important to me is to love my neighbor every day, knowing that every person I meet is that neighbor. There are no strangers to me, as we are all children of God. It is also important to me to inspire others to do the same.
I trust your kindness arises from the same desire. And I hope your kindness includes both words and actions.
Peace be with you both, Janet
Thanks…I’ve not been here for a few weeks, but I have no problem with the website. While not comparable at all to face-to-face conversation, at least it allows for voices to be heard, if people choose to share. Unfortunately, too many people are afraid to share.
I also have no gripe about Rev. Edwards. Everyone embroiled in this struggle has adopted a win-lose mentality. What either “side” sees as a “win” is a “loss” to those who oppose. Unlike the journeys of other “minorities,” there is not even middle ground for LGBT people, not even a “separate but equal” status.
I truly believe that because I come from an evangelical background that I was mistrusted by, and I would say “turned out” by, both “sides.” The only way for me to resolve it and to be happy is to return to what gives me peace. That’s where I am and where I need to be.
I hope you find some peace and happiness at Community House. I already know that there isn’t anywhere I can go where I can be at peace.
I’d like to respectfully suggest that peace is not a place. Peace is a person—Jesus Christ. Our circumstances may be horrendous–and it sounds as though you have had your share at the hands of the church–but I have found in my life that Jesus is an anchor that I can hold on to, even when things blow up under my feet. The stink is that he never promised it would be easy. Contrary to the TV commercial, life does not have an easy button…
I would encourage you not to give up on Jesus. He may yet bring you into a community that loves you where you are, how you are, what you are, and who you are. Indeed, I hope he does so soon, for we are created for intimacy–first with the Triune God-the-Father-Son-and-Holy-Spirit in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, and then with each other.
Thanks for your kind words. I meant that there is no church I can go to where I will be at peace. And I’m not interested in trying.
I am at peace with where I’m at right now, and moving forward, or at least staying away from, what brings me grief.
Interestingly, the one thing that unites all Christians is Jesus, and yet it churches and Christians who cause division and find it difficult to love as Jesus loved.
Thanks for your kind words and good wishes. I wish you the same.
Donna, you nailed it. The church has a long history of failure. But in the mystery of His will Jesus doesn’t give up on her (I would have). He doesn’t give up on us either, and that gives me hope that this broken-down, old, overweight, brain damaged biker trash can have meaning in the Kingdom of God. That same hope is there for you in Christ. I sincerely hope you find it, and it takes root in your soul.
PS. Janet — thanks for sharing
I would describe my experience with this from Matthew 13:
“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.”
Says that the “church” is spotless or blameless depending on your version….
Thanks for your reference to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I hope you will write again to share with us what brought this verse to mind and what its importance is in this conversation.
What I see in this section of Ephesians is that Jesus gave Himself that we, the church, may be holy. Where I suspect you and I may differ is on the exact nature of the church’s “holiness.”
What does it mean to be “without spot or wrinkle?” I hope you return and share your interpretation with us.