(Article corrected 5/19/14)
The faculty members of two Presbyterian Church (USA) seminaries have called upon the denomination for “mutual forbearance” on the issue of same-sex marriage.
Originating at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., and now endorsed by the faculty of Austin Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas, the statement urges members of the PCUSA on all sides of the gay marriage issue to remain together at the proverbial table, regardless of the outcome of the General Assembly’s upcoming vote on redefining marriage.
The first outright rejection of the call for mutual forbearance has come from the left. Activist PCUSA pastor Jim Rigby’s excoriated the faculty of his alma mater (Austin), calling their statement “gay bashing:”
“The faculty of APTS has unanimously voted to urge ‘mutual forbearance’ from both sides, which sounds nice, but ‘mutual forbearance’ means something very different for the two sides. For those who have been denied equal rights, the concern is that they not press too quickly to be treated fairly. For those who would deny equal rights to GLBT persons, the primary concern is that they not leave the denomination. It isn’t hard to tell who really counts.
“I would understand such a statement if there really were two extremist groups battling one another, but one side is simply asking for the same rights the other already has. Can that really be classified as a lack of forbearance? What GLBT Presbyterian has ever tried to deny marriage to heterosexual Presbyterians? What GLBT Presbyterian has fought against heterosexual ordination? If only one side is attacking the other, and APTS pretends both sides are equally at fault, has it not in fact sided with the attacker?
“If the faculty of Austin Presbyterian Seminary believe those denied justice should wait patiently, then what are they to be waiting patiently for? Are they to be waiting patiently for all their oppressors to die before the Presbyterian Church will show them the dignity they deserve today? Are they to be waiting patiently for a time when it will be economically and culturally costless for the Presbyterian Church to do the right thing? Are they to be waiting patiently for future church leaders to emerge who will have the courage we lack?
“APTS is my alma mater, I owe them much, but this letter is a source of great shame. I wish instead of pretending to be evenhanded they would come out with a gay bashing statement, because that is what their letter really amounts to. To tell the oppressor and oppressed to show mutual forbearance, is to pretend the oppression isn’t even there.”
Several others have echoed, amplified and reinforced Rigby’s sentiments. One who hopes to be an “out ordained queer pastor in the PCUSA” in the future, Layton Williams reveals in her response that she has followed the Matthew 18 model, going directly to the faculty members for clarification. She then challenges them to declare publicly what they profess privately.
“On several occasions, I’ve had the opportunity to hear some of you clarify your intent and apologize for the other interpretations the letter has allowed. I have heard you say that your intent with this letter was precisely the opposite of how many of us have read it. That, in fact, you meant for your support of queer persons like myself to be assumed, and that you were urging others to be respectful of us and our need for justice. Some of you have admitted naivete and regret at the pain your words have caused. And hearing these things, I have wept again. I have taken great, gulping breaths of relief at the reassurance that you are not something other than I trusted you to be.
“But I want to speak boldly and say, ‘It is not enough.’ Intention is important. But I have learned in my writing and preaching that when words are spoken aloud, intention quickly becomes the shadow of interpretation. There are many who will read and interpret this letter for whom your support of equality, inclusion and justice is not a foregone conclusion. If this letter created doubt so quickly in hearts like mine who have directly encountered your support and love, imagine what it might stir up in less informed hearts. If it is true—as has been said—that there is no confusion among you about your support for queer people in the church—then I wonder if that too might be worthy of public declaration.”
The blogosphere is teeming with posts like those of Williams and Rigby. Which is curious because the goal of both the Columbia and Austin faculties was speak to those in the PCUSA who might be on what they perceive to be “the wrong side of history” and the “losing side” in the upcoming GA vote to redefine marriage. They were trying to cajole conservatives to stay in the PCUSA after their denomination blesses behavior that God does not bless.
Seminary faculty fail to rightly handle the Word of God
My issues with the Columbia Seminary faculty statement and the Austin seminary faculty endorsement of the same is the call to be patient as the “mind of Christ” (quoting Philippians) is sought. They want Presbyterians to wait for “more light” from God on the controversial issues facing the denomination’s General Assembly this summer and its constituent congregations now.
Translated for lay people that means: “Don’t leave the denomination — individually or corporately — even when your denomination redefines marriage at this summer’s General Assembly. Stick around and eventually, we’re confident, you’ll come around.”
What does it mean to seek the mind of Christ?
God has revealed, reiterated and reinforced His ideal design for human sexual coupling: One man and one woman in committed monogamous marriage. From Genesis 1 to Matthew 19 and 22 to John 2 to First Corinthians 7 to Ephesians 5 to Revelation 19, the blessing of God upon the exclusive coupling of man and woman in monogamous marriage is clear. If a person genuinely desires to know the mind of God on the matter of marriage, He has been gracious to reveal it in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. It is not a mystery. Any and all perversions are suppression of the Truth revealed in creation and throughout God’s authoritative Word.
The problem is not a lack of revelation about the mind of Christ in this matter. The problem is that some in the PCUSA are seeking new revelation because they do not like what “the the mind of Christ” thought, thinks and has clearly articulated in the only unchanging reference point we have: the Word of God.
The seminary faculty cites a preliminary principle of Presbyterian polity that states that “people of good will can agree to disagree on truths and forms that are not insufficiently addressed in the Scriptures, unclear in the Confessions of the Church and therefore areas of open dialogue.” This preliminary principle has historically been understood as a means of allowing for charity in the non-essentials of the faith. It is here being applied by our seminaries as a means of “guilting” conservatives into remaining in a denomination even as that denomination departs from the demonstrated will of God. Same-sex marriage is not a matter upon which we can “agree to disagree” because a godly understanding of marriage, although not a sacrament, is not a peripheral matter.
If God cannot be trusted to tell us the truth about marriage in the Bible then how can God be trusted to tell us the truth about anything else, including redemption?
One conservative pastor said in a letter about the matter, “The PCUSA is committing adultery against the Bible and the apostolic faith and that is grounds for denominational divorce.”
His letter to the congregation continues:
“If your heart breaks or you feel anger about the schism that is unraveling before our very eyes in the PCUSA don’t get mad at the churches who are departing in order to remain connected to a true church of Jesus Christ, get angry at those who told us 13 years ago that if we just allowed ‘scrupling’ (PUP) it would be enough. It wasn’t. Scrupling was passed and then they fought to change ordination standards, and now that is not enough. Now marriage must be redefined and that won’t be enough either. …
“Don’t be mad at those who are departing. This issue is before us because those who want to rewrite God’s intent for marriage have brought it before us. No church can avoid or ignore this issue any longer. It has to be faced one way or the other, (even if you face it by ignoring it) regardless of one’s position on the matter. As for Austin and CTS I can assure you that the vast majority of their faculty and student body is for the redefinition of marriage. This letter is a smokescreen. They aren’t interested in the mind of Christ. They are interested in redefining the faith …”
It would appear that time is up for those in the mushy middle who wanted to keep their heads safely buried in the sand. The opening salvos in a volley that will almost assuredly end in folly, has begun.