This week the General Assembly of the Irish Presbyterian Church passed a report from its Doctrine Committee clarifying a phrase from its Code relating to what constituted “a credible profession” (the main basis for church membership). Pretty much an internal matter to which, you would think, no-one outside the church would pay much attention. However, because the Report was prompted by a query relating to those established in same-sex relationships, it would be fair to say the Report was front-page news. As a later Statement from the church emphasised, this was not about excluding people from worship, church life, or even communion. The church’s position on an Open Table for all who love Christ and seek to live according to His will, is clear and remains unchanged. So too is the church’s position on marriage. When these issues appear to collide, obviously much pastoral wisdom and loving conversations are required. However the nuances were lost on most of the readership inside and outside of the church. As a result I find myself frustrated both with my church and its, at times, ham-fisted processes; and at the usual intolerance of the culture and it insatiable demands that the church compromise to satisfy the demands of those, many of whom have no desire to be part of it anyway,,,,,, This was my immediate response on social media which I reproduce here for those who have asked.
On the one hand….. I am aghast at the stupidity of our church in debating this very internal matter in public. We are victims of our own arrogance. Trapped in a Christendom mindset that thinks society cares a jot about what we have to say, we forget that the media will only report if it provides an opportunity to mock and ridicule and tear down.
How many of the other hundred plus reports outlining good news stories of mission and compassion will be reported or remembered? Exactly. I rest my case. To discuss this in front of a watching public that knows nothing about either church government or sacramental theology is crass foolishness. We could have written the headlines before the debate began.
So-called “affirming denominations” are a minority within a minority precisely because they are an aberration, an anomaly, a contradiction: and not one of them is growing
On the other hand…. I am bewildered at the naivity of those who were shocked or saddened by this, or who think that this decision is “news”. “News” would have been if the church had changed its position. There’s nothing to see here. I’m amazed that those who shout loudest about allowing people to “be themselves” are not prepared to let the church “be itself.”
There are over 100 denominations in Ireland. Those who think differently from the PCI on same-sex marriage can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Extrapolate globally and that minority is even smaller. Extrapolate back through 2 millennia of history and it’s virtually invisible. So-called “affirming denominations” are a minority within a minority precisely because they are an aberration, an anomaly, a contradiction: and not one of them is growing. Yet to listen to some, it seems that they expect the PCI hypocritically to stand up and shout “We thank you Lord that we are not like other churches…”
On the one hand….I am frustrated by the short-sightedness of those who think that orthodoxy is best served by passing resolutions and creating legislation; who feel that a vote secures ‘soundness’. It doesn’t. Soundness rests in our actions as well as our words; we have said (rightly) that we want to love and welcome everyone regardless of orientation, and that this policy does not preclude that; well, the hard work starts now, and because of how this has been handled and reported, it has just got a whole lot harder.
It is said you can’t legislate for stupidity; it’s equally true you cannot legislate for wisdom.
By intertwining pastoral guidelines with policy-making, we have further complicated an already complex minefield in the middle of which are real people. It is said you can’t legislate for stupidity; it’s equally true you cannot legislate for wisdom. And the real and diverse pastoral situations involved here require great godly wisdom. To give just one example, when same-sex couples come to faith and ask how they and their children should live as disciples of Jesus there’s going to be an awful lot of Presbyterian head-scratching. It’s not in the rule-book folks!
But on the other hand…. I am dumbfounded and face-palming till I’m sore at how, after oceans of ink have been spilled on this subject, so many still can’t make the most basic of differentiations between feelings and actions, between orientation and behavior, between inclination and choice. We are not animals. We make moral choices. Headlines trumpeting about the “banning of gays” may be click-bait, but they do a lot of harm to individuals and to the church. Yet it doesn’t change the simple fact. This Is Not About Orientation.
Meanwhile, there are the forgotten ones… (who) chose a road less travelled
So yes, the media will sensationalise this; yes, the LGBT community both the minority inside and the majority outside the church, will not be satisfied until we completely affirm their view of marriage, identity and sexuality; yes we will feel misunderstood and misrepresented, but it is a misrepresentation that we ourselves have colluded in, so it is no time for self-pity. Meanwhile, there are the forgotten ones: those who are same-sex attracted but who accept that their primarily loyalty to and identity in Jesus Christ mean that they choose a road less travelled. They are not at home in the noisy world of LGBT identity politics, but neither are they always at home in the church and it is imperative that after the talking has subsided we ensure that the road of obedience they have chosen is not, for them, a lonely one.