Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Why Amendment A Will Be a Bigger Deal than B

Of the amendments before the presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), amendment B is getting the attention. But the amendment that will eventually determine the future of the church is amendment A.

No one is keeping a tally. No one is publicly advocating or organizing for or against it as far as I can tell. This little amendment if passed is the one that will take us down the road to heresy charges, the expulsion of churches and clergy, and eventually toward fundamentalism.

It began in Texas. A church in Mission Presbytery, St. Andrew's Presbyterian, was taken to church court because it admitted into its membership a freethinker. You can read Robert Jensen's story here, Finding My Way Back to Church--and Getting Kicked Out: The Struggle Over What It Means to Be a Christian Today.

I wrote about it here and here.

Those who don't think freethinkers belong sent an overture to the General Assembly to make sure they aren't welcome and that if a church does welcome them as members, there will be hell to pay. The General Assembly modified it somewhat but still approved and sent to the presbyteries the following:

2. Membership Vows
After new members are examined, affirming their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and are received by the session, whether by profession of faith, certificate of transfer, or reaffirmation of faith, they shall be presented to and welcomed by the congregation during a service of worship where they shall make a public profession of their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as do confirmands (W-4.2003a, b, and c).
You can read the texts of all the amendments including the rationale behind this one (p. vi) here.

We already have requirements for membership in the Book of Order.

G-5.0101 a. The incarnation of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives to the church not only its mission but also its understanding of membership. One becomes an active member of the church through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life. Baptism and a public profession of faith in Jesus as Lord are the visible signs of entrance into the active membership of the church.
But we don't treat people like five-year-olds by forcing them to make public vows. This amendment is about creating a culture of sheep.

It doesn't matter if you have ever read a book. It doesn't matter what you do or how you live. It doesn't matter how you articulate the mysteries of faith. What matters is whether or not you can get up in front of a group of people and mouth a formula. Just say the magic words.

Forcing people to make public vows is how inquisitions begin. The fundies will be watching. If you don't do this, your session or clergy will be taken to church court for disobeying the Book of Order.

On one level, it may seem like a small thing. In the scope of all the challenges we face in life, it certainly is. Yet it reflects a trend. In response to progressive Christianity that is a searching, questioning approach to spirituality, fundamentalism insists on rules, requirements, slogans, formulas, vows, and hassles.

People are asking questions about Jesus, the canon, spirituality, faith, other faiths, science, and ethics. They are looking for communities that nurture and encourage this questioning spirit. This amendment and others that likely will follow are about silencing this spirit of questioning.

The things we force people to say do matter. This is offensive to people of conscience. This amendment is a direct slap in the face to St. Andrew's Presbyterian and progressive congregations and Christians. This is the no welcome mat for those with a questioning faith.

You can bet it will be used against churches who "misbehave."

We might as well put a sign over our churches that reads:

Don't enter here with any questions for which we do not have answers.