My Thoughts on God’s Will for the PCUSA in 2012


Christmas, 2011, is written in the Book of Life, assuring us that God comes, astoundingly, as a newborn who will bring peace on earth and goodwill to all. Now we stand on the brink of 2012.

Earlier this month I wrote about looking back on 2011. Now I’d like to reflect on what I hope is ahead for the church in 2012. What do you see God having in store for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this coming year? Perhaps you can bounce off my anticipations and share yours.

I have been a minister member of Pittsburgh Presbytery for 33 years. My service in the church has happened to coincide with the era of strife over the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the life of the church and in the mind of Christ. All this time, I have been in disagreement with the majority of the other teaching elders here in Pittsburgh Presbytery. My promise upon ordination to be a friend to my colleagues in ministry has driven me to engage with those who disagree with me in regular conversation. Some of these conversations have sparked feelings – at least simmering, if not close to boiling over – for both myself and my colleagues in ministry.

It has helped me a great deal to learn that our present, seemingly intractable conflict in the PCUSA is the most recent in a history of tension and strain reaching back at least to the time of the Civil War.

The industrial revolution drastically remade our world as the United States shifted from a rural to an urban population, from a rather homogenous people in power to a mass of varied ethnic origins. I am sure there are many other monumental changes over the past 150 years that come to your minds.

Since after World War I, when the first blow-up in the PCUSA effort to remain faithful to the triune God in such a swiftly changing world, known as the fundamentalist/modernist controversy, split the church, one eruption after another (race and civil rights, women, LGBT people, for example) has tested how the church will handle modernity.

Through it all, we have persisted in putting people into the categories of the 1920’s: liberal or conservative. Many struggled to avoid being placed in one camp or the other by avoiding direct engagement with the concern of that particular day. Because our polity relies upon majority rule, the camp on top has flipped more than once and from presbytery to presbytery. Resentments have been building among those in the minority and fears have grown in the majority that they will be shunned one day when they become the minority.

Since Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave the awesome gift of sharing his thoughts with us here, I have been reading his description of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa called, No Future Without Forgiveness. Near the end, he asks a poignant question: “Might those who have been at one another’s throats try to live amicably together?”

I believe that God’s answer to this question is decidedly, “Yes!” And I see 2012 as the year this begins to unfold in earnest in the PCUSA by our doing two things God desires of us.

We must shed the antiquated 20th century labels of “liberal” and “conservative.” They have never served us well and do us serious harm now. In 2012, God can inspire us to see ourselves as Presbyterian Christians together who disagree on how Scripture informs our faith in Christ as we all navigate through the unpredictable and turbulent seas of this life. These are disagreements that can serve us if we choose. Namely, they can help us all to grow in our faith and to better serve God.

And we must forgive one another for the hurts inflicted in the course of our strife. When we do this, there will be no need for any part of us to leave the PCUSA in an act that wounds the body of Christ, so freshly born in Bethlehem, and grieves the Holy Spirit even to be contemplated.

Archbishop Tutu comments, at the end of the story of the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa, that “in fact, goodness and peace and tolerance were wonderful and ultimately uncomplicated.” They require these New Year resolutions: forgiveness and embrace of the truth that we are all one in Christ.

That’s what I see coming in 2012. What do you see?


Reverend Janet Edwards

2 Responses
  • David Carlisle on April 13, 2013

    Reverand Edwards, I appreciate your thoughtful essay. You can be proud that after 35 years, that your side has won the internal struggle within PC USA. You mention Christ in your essay. Do you think of him as the only way to Salvation, as God, that he was born of the virgin Mary, that he performed miracles, that he was physically crucified (killed) on a cross, and that he was bodily resurrected? Are those beliefs important or is it sufficient to believe that he was a wise Jewish teacher who advocated the Ethic of Reciprocity?

  • Janet Edwards on April 14, 2013

    Dear David,

    Thank you for your kind words and for your questions. Let me try to answer in the hope that you will share why you have asked them and your reflections on my answers. I also have a few questions for you.

    David, I do look to Jesus as the only way to salvation (At the same time, I do not think that “Christians” are the only people who know and follow Christ). I believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, performed miracles, was physically crucified and bodily resurrected (and for me this is a matter of faith, not knowledge in our present way of “knowing,” that is, seeing with my own eyes). Why do you ask?

    These beliefs are important to me, giving color to my daily life. I am, (which may not please you–you need to tell me), a Christian more along the lines encouraged by James when he says, “I by my works will show you my faith.” I think we are in the midst of a great reformation of faith in Christ from centuries of emphasis upon doctrine (what we believe) to, I hope, centuries of the church being centered in what we experience (what we do, not to gain salvation but to express our faith).

    I am, as far as I know myself, not so much proud that the PCUSA has begun to embrace LGBT people as joyful. I see this shift in our church life to be one facet of this turn to matching what we do with God’s loving heart and thereby proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed.

    I am not familiar with “the Ethic of Reciprocity” so I can’t answer that until you clarify for me what it is. I hope you will and will answer my questions as well as comment on my thoughts.

    Peace, Janet

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