In the wake of the release of the “Fellowship PCUSA” letter that I wrote about here, it was inevitable that Presbyterian Voices for Justice (formerly known as the Witherspoon Society) would chime in. The result is entirely predictable:
The statement recently issued by “Fellowship PCUSA” clearly contains echoes of past struggles within the PC(USA) over what it is to be church together. For some it will echo of New Wineskins; others will be reminded of the Presbyterian Church in America effort of 35 years ago, others of the Confessing Church. There are also more recent efforts that claim a new “way forward,” or that represent tall-steeple churches that do not feel they need much from the denomination.
We note that the General Assembly just affirmed a new Form of Government and authorized a commission to work on presbytery, synod and other inter-council relationships. This letter suggests that some ministers are making their own moves regardless of how those churchwide efforts go; perhaps, despite all those echoes of past efforts, they have something new to propose.
One thing looks pretty old, though: the lack of any women among the signers. This is deplorable, coming from a large group of pastors who seek to speak for Presbyterian churches.
What’s actually pretty old is that, like so many other relics of the 60s, PVJ still thinks in terms of quotas, considering a person’s gender more important than what they think or believe. It’s certainly possible that women pastors were asked to sign on, and for whatever reason decided not to. That’s their choice. But to the folks at PVJ, the lack of female names automatically means that they can discount anything that’s said, since that lack, in and of itself, is deplorable.
Oh, and by the way, despite the fact that the letter is reprinted on the very same page as the PJV response, the writer apparently didn’t bother to read all the way to the end (distracted, no doubt, by that lack of female names), and notice that the signers specifically say that they aren’t speaking for their churches:
*Signatories represent themselves, not necessarily the Session or congregation of their respective churches.
So anyway, PJV goes on:
We reject the notion that the movement for LGBT ordination rights is the root of the conflict that plagues our church. History shows us that justice-seeking – on behalf of people of color and women – has not been without struggle, but in the end it has made the Presbyterian Church stronger and more consistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We stand with all Presbyterians who believe that faithfulness to God’s justice-loving call demands that we extend to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons all of the rights and privileges of membership in the PCUSA.
It is undoubtedly true that gay ordination isn’t the “root of the conflict.” Of course, there aren’t many evangelicals who would say that it is. Instead, they would point abandonment of historic Reformed standards regarding biblical authority and trustworthiness, as well as the introduction of an alien hermeneutic, as the root. The issue of gay ordination is just one manifestation of this problem, though it has obviously been front and center.
As for the rest, however, it’s not a response so much as a repetition of tired cliches, fallacious analogies, and political slogans.
As we read this call from “Fellowship PCUSA,” we see a challenge (perhaps unintended) to our church’s leadership to be more visionary and inspiring, to present with conviction the distinctive calling of the General Assembly and of the Presbyterian Church (USA) itself. We do not need an echo of elements in the culture blaming Big Government and urging a kind of ecclesiastical privatization. We do not need threats that the PC(USA) must “do it our way or we’ll do it alone.” We do need a church united to face the challenges confronting our middle class and poorer congregations, at a time of growing inequality and the fading of the American empire.
Reading this, you’ve got to wonder whether PJV is capable of seeing the church as anything more than secular politics using religious language.
We do not believe that God is calling our church to further division in the name of some kind of doctrinal or moral “purity.” Rather, we are convinced that God calls us today, as always, to follow Jesus, the Christ, with courage, love, and respect for all people – which means doing justice, loving others with mercy, and walking in humility with God.
Right. Doctrinal and moral “purity” mean nothing. Being on the right side of the political issues, now that’s what church is all about.