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?


Reverend Janet

9 Responses
  • Debr Avery on December 17, 2010

    Thank you so much for reminding us all of this. History and perspective – powerful interpretive lenses!

  • Jean Thomas on December 17, 2010

    Not being specifically Presbyterian in my faith, I was unfamiliar with the brief statement of faith, so I clicked on the link and got an extremely long document, appearing rather legalistic in form and content. Finally got to Brief Statement. What a difficult format it is printed in, with a number by each line and the lines split up unnaturally. So I re-formatted a copy for myself and will now peruse it with greater comprehension and I hope understanding. It is plenty long enough to encompass love for all

  • Janet Edwards on December 17, 2010

    Dear Debr and Jean,

    Yes, the Brief Statement of Faith is available on-line in The Book of Confessions where it comes near the end since it is the newest addition to the book. The confession, itself, is on pages 267 and 268. Jean, I am so grateful for your persistence in seeking it. I know you find it worth reflecting upon prayerfully.

    Debr, you are very welcome. Having the Book of Confessions invites us to draw upon both the wisdom and the weaknesses of those who have gone before us in Christian faithfulness to live in the body of Christ as best we can. I am interested in your interpretive lenses. I hope you share them with us.

    Peace be with you both, Janet

  • Chuck Hale on December 17, 2010

    Whether we like it or not, the church always reflects our culture, even though we seek to be loving critics of our culture. It is obvious that Western culture is moving in the direction of full acceptance of lgbt persons and gay marriage. This is simply a generational movement that cannot be stopped. Unitarians. UCC. Episcopalians. Lutherans. Those denominations have moved in the direction that our world is moving. It is clear that the PCUSA is also moving in that direction, and will arrive at full acceptance. This movement cannot be stopped. But the efforts to stop it are a huge distraction from the mission of evangelism and the care of souls. The energy and talent and money to move the church forward – and to stop it from moving – is energy and talent and money diverted from our service to Christ. We are going to move in the direction of full acceptance. There is no doubt. There is only delay. The quicker we stop delay and move in the direction we know we are going – the quicker we can get back to serving our Lord with all our energy and resources.

  • Janet Edwards on December 19, 2010

    Dear Chuck,

    Thanks so very much for your reflection upon the connection between dynamics in our culture and dynamics in the church, specifically the PCUSA! I agree.

    I want to add two ideas for your consideration.

    First, I see clearly that God is working through the direction our culture is taking toward LGBT equality. It is like the God of Israel directing Cyrus, the emperor of Persia, in the prophet Isaiah. God can use all aspects of human experience to inspire and move us. In this instance, the culture is God’s tool.

    Second, for me LGBT equality is a significant component of the church’s mission of evangelism and the care of souls. It is service to Christ. Not only do LGBT people need to receive the Gospel and care, especially in light of the harm the church has done to LGBT people over time, but also everyone else understands that harsh judgment of LGBT people means that they too will be harshly and immediately judged. When judgment replaces grace as our message, we fail in our mission of evangelism and the care of souls.

    For me, we are serving Jesus with our energy and resources when we call the church to LGBT equality. And with you, I yearn for the day we get this one in place so that we can widen our mission of evangelism and care of souls.

    I am eager for you thoughts, Peace, Janet

  • Chuck Hale on December 22, 2010

    I grew up in the context of prejudice against “Negroes” (the most dignified name used at that time – though my parents used others I refuse to repeat). But my Sunday School teachers taught me about equality, about all of God’s children being part of one family. I was raised to believe that “colored people” were actually genetically inferior. Never, in a thousand years could I imagine a “colored” President. My college fraternity at OSU (Delta Upsilon with the ironic motto “Justice our Foundation” kicked out “liberal” eastern chapters in the 1950’s for pledging Negro “brothers.” I could not quite fathom having a Negro brother. A Professor of Biology, an Elder in the Indianola Presbyterian Church asked to speak to our college group in the church. She explained how mixing of the races (known as miscegenation) would be genetic suicide. Meanwhile, at the Agriculture College (my major) I was learning that hybrids were healthier! Our Presbyterian PhD biology professor was allowing her prejudice to win over both her science and her religion!

    But then the Civil Rights movement began in earnest, and I realized that our faith and our common humanity called for justice. I had to re-think all the prejudices with which I was raised. Gradually I realized that what I had taken for granted – was WRONG. Of course, attending McCormick Seminary finished my re-education in social justice. And I came under pretty heavy pressure from my congregations for defending civil rights, volunteering to march with Dr. King, accepting performing a black/white marriage, preaching against Vietnam My Master’s thesis in Public Address was on the Anti-Vietnam speeches of Dr. King, which earned him hatred of blacks who felt deserted as well as whites who were patriotic toward the war – and it was probably his Vietnam position that caused his assassination. Dr. King said this was a moral issue – and that our nation would be judged by God for this, and specifically, he said God’s judgement would come in the form of a scourge of drugs. Not many people remember Dr. King’s prophecy.

    Justice is a spiritual issue! Homelessness, Poverty, Hunger, Disease, Prejudice, Government run by gold – God cares. And God who loves us is also a God who punishes. We don’t hear that very often (except in the context of “are you saved?.”)

    The Trevor Project and the dialog around “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (which was a huge and awful farce) are putting the spotlight on the injustice of our time relative to GLBT discrimination. Gay Marriage is a spiritual issue, a justice issue. Gay Ordination is a spiritual issue, a justice issue. Our God cares about justice. Our God also punishes injustice, because it defies BOTH the first and second commandment.

    As one trained in Neo-Orthadoxy I was schooled in “false gods” – and how they would fail us. Nationalism felled Germany. Worship of Wall Street brought us the recent Depression. Worship of Heterosexuality has many implications – and I’ll even go out on a limb and suggest the Texas Oilmen’s macho complex may be bringing us a taste of how God feels about that when put into political actions. Full and total acceptance of brothers and sisters to whom God has given a different sexuality – is simply acknowledging God as OUR CREATOR.

  • Janet Edwards on December 22, 2010

    Dear Chuck,

    Wow–preach it brother! Thank you for sharing more of yourself and your perspective!

    There is little for me to add. The only thing that comes to mind is to remind us that there are voices in the church that put the spotlight on the injustice of our time toward LGBT people. Since David Sindt has the courage to raise a sign at the 1974 GA asking, “Is anyone else out there gay?” there has been a group in the PCUSA calling the church to embrace justice and love.

    One of the hopeful developments of this past year is the joining of effort among LGBT activists in both the church and in our society. We are all acting from the Truth you tell.

    Your description of your transformation from injustice to justice is inspiring, Chuck.

    Peace, Janet

  • Chuck Hale on December 26, 2010

    Basic premise – you can’t have peace without justice.

    Jesus came as the Prince of Peace.
    That also makes him the Prince of Justice.

    Micah put justice at the head of his triumvirate of values.
    Jesus gave his life championing acceptance of all – justice.

    Paul – was converted and welcomed the unclean into the promises of Judaism.
    Peter heard a voice from heaven declaring “You shall not call unclean what I have cleansed.”

    Dr. Martin Luther King challenged injustice and called Vietnam immoral. His dream lives on.

    Unfortunately, “We slay our prophets and then honor them as martyrs.”
    There are those who are profiting handsomely from their proclamation of their popular gospel.
    Prophet has never been spelled with an “f”. Never. Ever.

    Championing the cause of justice will always bring wrath because it tears down the comfortable structures of injustice as the Emancipation Proclamation destroyed the elegant “way of life” provided by slavery.

    We have massive economic injustice in our land and with the present systems in place it can only get worse and those who profit from it will destroy the prophets of justice in any way they can – legally, or illegally – by laws – or lawlessness.

    Justice doesn’t flow down from above in society. Justice is demanded from the bottom up. Yertle the Turtle tells the story very well.

    The torch of the French Revolution was supposedly lit by the spark of the Queen’s facetious remark, “Then let eat cake.” No. It was not the facetiousness of her remark that caused the spark – it was the fact that she was so out of touch with the pain of the people that she honestly believed they could eat cake if there was no bread. She had NO IDEA of the suffering, just as those making multi-millions today, have no idea of the incredible greed of the banks foreclosing on homes, etc., etc. and the suffering in our land.

    When Dr. Martin Luther King addressed the Columbus, Ohio ministerial association in 1962, the black minister who introduced him said: “We say marriages are made in heaven. Then who are we to question those whom God has joined together?”

    The Gay community heard those words and recognized brothers and sisters living with injustice, and joined the cause – notably Bayard Rustin.

    Now it is time for those whose cause was championed by gays – to recognize that gay liberation is the same injustice in another form.

  • Janet Edwards on December 26, 2010

    Dear Chuck,

    Once again, you preach an awesome sermon–THANKS!

    I have nothing to add beyond joining in the chorus of commitment to do justice, as I love kindness and walk humbly with God.

    May justice roll down like waters this coming year. Peace be with you, Chuck, Janet

Comment on this post