Wednesday, May 11, 2011

About the Presbyterians

Many years ago, we had breakfast with Jane Spahr, the poster child for lesbian clergy in the Presbyterian church. Afterward, we heard her preach in the seminary chapel. We liked Dr. Spahr just fine, with a few homiletical reservations. But even then, we had among our classmates three or four, ahem, Lesbyterians whose preaching we preferred to hers, and we hoped for little more than that they would have what Spahr had largely been deprived of -- the chance to preach, often, without needing to be made either scandalous or heroic by their sexual identity.

That day is somewhat closer now, since the PCUSA has just voted to permit the service of ministers who are neither straight nor single, nor pretending to be one or the other.

The debate of homosexuality, ferocious in many European and American churches, was perhaps especially so among the Presbyterians. During our seminary years, it had reached such a fevered pitch that the General Assembly actually shut down debate -- declared a moratorium -- in the hope that hackles would lower. Not so much, as it turned out.

The present decision will surely alienate some congregations and cost the church some members. It is unlikely that those already alienated by the status quo ante will come back in comparable numbers, and so the net impact, at least in the near term, is likely to be an accelerated loss of membership. And we expect that most voters knew that, which is a reminder that this decision (like those taken in the UCC, ELCA and PECUSA) is not a matter of cynical calculation, or an attempt to appease the fearsome Spirit of the Age with a stab at relevance. It is, on the contrary, a matter of principle, and a decision based upon the Gospel as those churches understand it.

That's important to remember, because the accusations will fly fast and furious for some time to come. In that line, and thinking of our last post, we couldn't help noticing the comment, in this Reuters report, by Duke sociologist Mark Chaves:
Chaves said his father, a voting member of his presbytery, was persuaded to vote for it due to the vitriol of opponents.
We hope, however vainly, that some of that vitriol will be kept in the bottle, now that the fait is all accompli. And in any case, we are happy for those of our friends and colleagues who have been doing, for all these years, what we all do, but who are now able to do it without hiding, lying or living in fear.


Anonymous said...

This will give "traditionalists" yet another group to scorn...

What's the list look like now?


Will the next ones be the Methodists?

What irks me more than anything is the self-righteous assumption to know the mind of God...without question.

Whatever happened to "Sündige tapfer"? - and it's followup - "aber tapferer noch glaube und freue dich in Christus, der Herr ist über Sünde, Tod und Welt". Somehow, I think our "traiditonalist" have forgotten that and the spirit of that little ditty...

Father Anonymous said...

Please don't forget the UCC, which was the first of the classic American Protestant church bodies to go this route - and by quite a number of years.

They (or their ancestors in the German Reformed church) were also out front on the Romantic revival of Reformation theology in America. And, since John Williamson Nevin had a profound influence on the young Charles Porterfield Krauth, it is worth remembering that confessionally conservative, liturgically well-dressed Lutherans in the country owe the UCC a tremendous debt.

Anonymous said...

And so the process of self-selection goes on and both sides continue to drift into irrelevance topped off with episodes of self-importance and shrillness.
How is this news, for any church, Mainline Protestantism least of all?

Father Anonymous said...

By "both sides," do you mean in effect all Christians -- those who ordain openly gay people and those who don't? Or do you just mean all of the old Protestant families in the United States?

Because if it's the second one, sure, there's a real decline, and nobody denies it. People only disagree about causes and responses.

But if you mean that all of Christianity is drifting toward irrelevance, you're mistaken. The growth of Christianity in Africa and Asia is stunning, and will change those continents dramatically over the next century.

What remains to be seen, though -- an this is extremely interesting -- is the role that Roman Catholicism will play in the southward and eastward shift of Christian relevance.

Anonymous said...

Ok, but I don't live in the Phillipines or Togo. I can only hope that religion won't screw them up the way it did Latin America or the US south and midwest-or eastern or southern Europe, for that matter.
Face it-religion is a poison only tolerable in small and adulterated doses. Otherwise it's a waste of time and dangerous.

Father Anonymous said...

The ignorance (or is it racism?) in that remark is almost palpable. What is this, the sixteenth century, when you could just throw out the names of exotic places and talk about the way "those people" don't have any faith? They did then and they do now.

Look, if you really think that religion -- rather than, say, human nature -- has screwed up the world, you have obviously missed out on the sterling successes of militant atheism. Robespierre, anybody? Stalin? Mao?

In any case, we're off topic here, which brings me back to the point I made the other day: I'm not interested in letting you turn every post into a signboard for your hostility to religion. Start your own blog which does that, and I'll even link to it. Not to mention leave derisive comments.

But unless you have something interesting to say about the subject at hand, whatever it may be, I'm going to stop hitting the "publish" button.