How we speak to another

Like many others in my denomination, I have been following the FOP (Fellowship of Presbyterians) gathering being held right now in Minnesota.  I have been following it almost exclusively through twitter and the hashtag #MN2011. It’s an interesting way to follow the conference because it is a mix of people there who are excited about the ideas being presented and discussed, some who wish they could be there, and a fair amount of people who are anything but supporters of FOP. As I am watching the comments fly back and forth (and writing some of my own), I see a familiar pattern of conversation that has typified this conversation for years.  

Simply put, when progressive Christians and conservative Christians speak to one another they often impune each other’s faith and motivations.

For progressive Christians it often looks like this, “You must not love gay people because you think homosexuality is sinful.” 

A better way to say this might be: “I affirm that you are earnestly trying to follow Jesus command to love all people. That’s not the issue. Where I think you have erred is that you have misinterpreted scripture regarding homosexuality.”

Likewise, for conservative Christians it can look like this, “Because you support GLBT ordination you must have a low regard for scripture and be willing to ignore God’s voice and instead follow society’s norms.”

The better way to say this could be: “I affirm that you take the Bible seriously and that you have the same desire to follow God that I do, but your interpretation of Scripture is flawed and, in my opinion, is leading you to some unBiblical conclusions.”

In both those cases the conversation shifted from denigrating people’s faith to questioning their judgment or reasoning.  For me, I have no problem being in a conversation where people state that my judgment or reasoning may be wrong. I am wrong frequently and for someone to say I might be wrong isn’t threatening.  But if you begin a conversation with me by stating that I don’t take the Bible seriously or that my faith is less than yours then you have made it hard for me to listen to you.

This is why, in my opinion, there is backlash against the FOP gathering.  There are things being said by the leadership and the people attending that go beyond questioning people’s judgment or interpretation of scripture, and instead questions their faith in God, and commitment to taking Scripture seriously.

For example, there was a Presbyterian Outlook article that summarized some of the first day of the FOP gathering.  A couple things caught my attention.

“We’re not mad,” Singleton said. “Our best solutions, we are convinced, will not be made in anger.” Repeatedly, he commended the PC(USA) leadership in Louisville for becoming involved in the conversation. Crosby said: “We are not calling anyone apostate.”

I was glad to hear that. As I said above, it’s hard for me to be in dialogue with you when you are questioning my commitment to God.  But…

Any new entity would include a theological statement of essential tenets that would be evangelical, orthodox and morally sound. “By golly, we’re going to stand on Scripture and its authority,” and not be embarrassed to describe essential truths, Singleton said.

And now you’ve lost me. The implication is that the PC(USA), of which I am a part of and committed to, is not intedning to stand on Scripture and its authority, and is also embarrassed to describe essential truths.  This questions my motives and my commitment to Scripture.  You haven’t just said that I have erred in my judgment (which I am fine with), but that I wasn’t trying to stand on Scripture in the first place.

I, along with thousands of others, will be a voting commissioner when any proposals for new ways forward come for a Presbytery vote.  If you would like me to support something that allows new ways of temporarily or permanently being in the PC(USA) together, then I will need to to know that my commitment to God won’t continually be questioned by my Presbyterian brothers and sisters.    

An Appeal to Those Attending the Fellowship PC(USA) Event

I will be anxiously following the conversation and information coming out of the Fellowship PC(USA) gathering that is happening very soon in Minneapolis.  I will be watching as someone who does not believe the PC(USA) is “deathly ill” or that the passage of amendment 10-A was a departure from faithfully following God and the teachings of the Bible.  I will also be watching as a Co-Pastor of a church that has had division and conflict over the passage of Amendment 10-A.  This division has led to a significant number of people leaving our church, a decrease in giving, and the unfortunate but necessary release of two of our staff because of the decrease in giving.

One thing I have learned in the last several months is that if you are going to be part of a church then you need to be able to support the whole of the church and not just those people with whom you agree and are comfortable with.  A body will tear itself apart if one group acts in a way that says, “We are following Jesus more closely than you.” Members of a body need to be able to say to one another, “I may not agree with your particular interpretation of Scripture on this matter, but I believe that you are a faithful follower of Jesus and are seeking God’s leading through Scripture as much as I am.”

My appeal to those going to the Fellowship PC(USA) event is that if you do seek to create a “new Reformed body,” while still remaining in the PC(USA), that you honor the intention stated on your website to do so in a manner that is a “mutually helpful association with the PC(USA) and its related institutions.”  If your intentions are to remain as part of the PC(USA) then you must also affirm that those of us outside the Fellowship are also faithful, Biblical Christians who are just as committed to theological orthodoxy and following God as you are. It’s fine if you think that we have erred in our judgment, but it is not “mutually helpful” to impune our motives or our faith.

I hope and pray that this event can lead toward a way that is mutually beneficial and helpful for the entire PC(USA) to move forward, instead of a way that is only best for one group within our denomination.