My presbytery, Holston, voted on the amendments this morning. We have a great process. All amendments were on the ballot. We debated and voted on them first before other business. Amendment A, I am happy to report, was defeated. This was the amendment that would have required new members to stand up in front of the congregation and make statements of belief.
I spoke against it from the pragmatic standpoint that introverts don't like standing up in front of people. I said I am speaking for those who don't like to speak. Allow congregations to exercise creativity and sensitivity in introducing new members to the church.
The person who spoke after me, also against, brought it home. He said homebound people would not be able to fulfill the requirement. Should they not be members? Amendment A lost 31-62.
I was thinking it is wise not to put rules in the Book of Order that exclude people, like the homebound or the introverts for no good reason.
On to amendment B. I had a prepared speech.
Some have suggested that this amendment will lower the standards for ordination. If I believed that were true, I would vote against it. I believe in high standards for ordained office as our Book of Order provides. Some of these standards include faithfulness and character, as well as the nurture of gifts needed for the particular office.
But there is a difference between standards and barriers. Barriers are arbitrary rules that keep people out regardless of their standards of behavior.
The current language is a barrier. It is a stumbling block. It keeps people with high standards from serving in an ordained capacity.
To illustrate, we have a couple in our congregation who celebrated their 22nd anniversary this past month. They gave me permission to use them as an illustration. If the state of Tennessee or the Presbyterian Church had a way to formalize their relationship I am sure they would have done that.
Despite that barrier, they have managed to make a life for themselves. They serve the community. They serve the church. They are Christians, saved by grace through faith.
As far as I can tell, they meet the standards for ordained Christian service as much as any other ordained officer I know now or have ever known.
But they run into this barrier. They are not married, according to the language of one man and one woman. Nor are they single. It is as if they don’t exist. Yet they do exist.
The church is not well served when we confuse standards with barriers. We need to have high standards for Christian service. These standards apply to everyone. With prayerful discernment ordaining and installing bodies evaluate individuals as to whether or not they meet these standards.
Barriers are artificial and discriminatory. They do not apply to everyone. Barriers say certain types of people are not qualified regardless of their standards of behavior. Barriers are stumbling blocks that keep qualified people from serving the church of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said it forcefully: ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.’
I believe that is a judgment on the church. G-6.0106b has been a stumbling block for our denomination. It is time to remove it.
Please vote yes on amendment B.
It convinced me. But it didn't convince 68 of my fellow presbyters who voted no. 24 voted in favor. Holston remains in the "yellow" category.
It was a good meeting with a good process. Few spoke for it, but those who did were awesome. They took great risks. They spoke from the heart and they said what I thought needed to be said. One speaker quoted from the Brief Statement of Faith: "The Holy Spirit gives us courage...to hear the voices of peoples long silenced." He spoke of friends for whom G-6.0106b has kept silent.
Those who spoke against the amendment were concerned about people leaving the denomination, that somehow this "standard" is required to keep the planets spinning and. the. Bible. says. so.
OK. I am glad I am here. One colleague said to me: "I disagree with you about almost everything but I like you." I like him, too. I think that matters.
Change is coming. We all know it. Some want to hold off as long as possible, but it will happen and is happening--even in Northeast Tennessee.