I Do Not Want You To Leave

This past Saturday, March 21st, 2015, the Presbytery of New Covenant voted on amendments to the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.’s Book of Order. Included in that vote was amendment 14-F. In case you are not familiar with this amendment, it is an amendment to the Book of Order that would redefine marriage. Instead of saying that marriage in the PC (USA) is only between a man and a woman, it changes that to “… a unique commitment between two persons, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.” In order to pass this amendment, as recommended by the 221st General Assembly, a simple majority of the presbyteries (regional governing bodies) have to approve of the amendment. The Tuesday before the Presbytery of New Covenant met, the 86th presbytery approved 14-F, which put the PC (USA) over the line of the simple majority of 171 presbyteries. This means that, in June, the PC (USA) will officially recognize same-sex marriages and allow them to be performed in approving congregations/buildings (in states where it is legal, of course). On Saturday, when the Presbytery of New Covenant voted, the tally came out to 128-114, in favor of 14-F. Whether or not the votes were affected by the fact that the PC (USA) had already garnered enough votes is something to look into another time. Here, I want to address the people that spoke out against 14-F in the Presbytery of New Covenant as well as other places across the nation in our denomination.

I do not want you to leave. I want you to stay with us. I want you to be part of our collective church and faith journey. I value your faith journeys and each of you individually as a person. We are not our denomination without you.

I was born in 1982 and baptized into the PC (USA) that same year. As long as I can remember, there have been disagreements in our denomination. Even on a local, congregational level, I can remember members of my home church disagreeing on issues. And despite those differences, the members of my home church stayed. Even if they “lost.” They still came to worship. They still stayed for fellowship events. They remained friends with the members who “won.”

The people who did not get their way stayed because this is not about “winning” or “losing.” This is about being a church. This is about being members of the Body of Christ. I do not want you to go because I know that 98% of what we believe as Christians is the same thing. And, as Mike Cole, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of New Covenant, said on Saturday, that should not keep us from working together for Christ.

Our polity is set up in a very distinct way. Our national denomination is intended to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. This amendment does that very same thing. In the last paragraph of the proposed, soon to be adopted, amendment, the language reads, “Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.” This amendment has passed and will be included in the Book of Order. But that does not mean that any congregation that disagrees with same-sex marriage will have to participate in same-sex marriages. This amendment was written with that in mind. We, as a national denomination, do not intend to force anyone out. Even though this amendment allows for other congregations to do something you disagree with, you will never be forced to do something you do not want to do.

And, if you disagree with this amendment and its purpose, then I encourage you to draft one with which you do agree. I am not saying that you will succeed, but you will encourage more dialogue. And that dialogue is how we grow. Why do you think the center of Reformed worship is the Word Proclaimed? So we can have dialogue around the Word.

I know that this is a painful time for you. Something is happening within the church that you do not agree with and do not wish to see happen. For many of you, the PC (USA) is the denomination in which, like me, you grew up. This change is painful because it is separating you from the denomination which you care so much about. And that sucks. But there is something you must know: The people who want an amendment like 14-F have been in pain much longer than you. This has been an effort that has been happening for over 40 years now. And all along the way, there was opportunity for them to leave. For years, they were dismissed. They were told their beliefs are not valid. They were told they were not welcome. They were told that their humanity was less than ours. And every time, they came back to worship. They came back to fellowship. They came back to friendship. They came back to The Table. And I am asking you, because they stayed, to stay.

The way churches move can be painful. Not everyone agrees with the way a church or denomination moves. I guarantee you that there will be amendments in the future that will be painful to me. There will be changes to the Book of Order which will make me question the way the church is headed. But I will not leave. I have not left before now, which I was certainly tempted to do, and I will not leave in the future.

If you go, we lose our collective voice. I have a friend who was fond of saying, “I don’t want a church where everyone thinks the same thing. That sh– would be boring!” And it would be boring. And there would be no conversation, forcing the church to grow. We would forget the humanity of the other side’s argument. We would forget what it is like to think about the other side before we spoke.

If you stay, we continue our “Big Tent” theology. A theology where everyone is welcome. A theology where we can be inclusive of all people who associate with Presbyterian. If you go, our tent becomes smaller. It becomes narrower. That is the opposite of the goals of the people who propose amendments such as 14-F.

I do not want you to leave.

 

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