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!

Friday, June 26, 2009

A New Reformation, Part 3: TCPC

My little club of bandits is affiliated with The Center for Progressive Christianity, which means for $100 we get a listing on its website. It is an interesting on-line connection. The website has books and resources and an interesting theological list called The Eight Points. Each point comes with an accompanying study guide.

To go along with Robert Funk's 21 theses and Matthew Fox's 95 theses, here are eight more points to add to your collection of lists. I have more lists to come as well as one that I am compiling for myself. For comparison, I will include the list of vows required for leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I will have more to say about that list in future posts.

Here is a teaser.

Vows are a good thing. To make a vow is a sacred act. It is a binding to one another, a commitment to one another, a promise to stick with one another through thick and thin, through personality conflict, disagreement, poverty, wealth, sickness, and health. It creates a bonding of interdependence which encourages creativity, compassion, intelligence, imagination, trust, and love. Vows are sacred acts. We need them to bind our communities and to show each other through ritual and reminder that each of us matters.

But something has gone wrong. Maybe it has always been wrong and I am just getting to the point at which I can voice it. It isn't the act of making a vow, it is the content of the vow and the function of the vow that has become problematic in the church today.

The vows foisted upon clergy, elders, and deacons are not wrong so much as they are dated. The vows themselves are innocuous on one level. The best word I can use to describe them is quaint. They don't really mean much of anything. I affirm them in all their sentimentality.

Their primary function, however, is punitive. Because they are thought to mean something other than what they say, they serve to keep the church in a state of institutional inertia. For instance, here is a common response to a clergyperson (we won't say who, who writes favorably about say, the Jesus Seminar, on his blog):
"You are violating your ordination vows. How can you be a Presbyterian minister?"
Get it? As opposed to "Here is where I think you are wrong" or "Here is where I disagree with you" the response is punitive: "You can't say that."

Worse than censure from the outside is self-censure. Clergy are so afraid of the potential charge of heresy (and there is good reason for it as clergy can lose their livelihoods) that they remain silent and acquiesce to that which goes against their own consciences. Far too few clergy speak what they truly think (or even what they learned in college or seminary) from the pulpit.

Sadly, the ordination vow culture that is the Presbyterian Church is not about a vow to uphold truth, goodness, conscience, beauty, integrity, or even "God" however that term is defined. These are vows of subservience to "the club" and its symbolic world. They are vows to uphold so-called "right belief" or orthodoxy. The constant repetition of these vows (every year with the ordination and installation of deacons and elders) reinforces this culture of subservience.

I use as an example the Presbyterian Church, but you will find parallels in the other Christian groups. What is amusing is that all the institutions think they are orthodox. I heard that there are over 30,000 Christian denominations in the world. There are over 10 Presbyterian denominations in the United States alone. Which one is the orthodox one?

Christian orthodoxy has a place. If you describe yourself as orthodox, if you believe that the various creeds of your particular sect reflect the most true statements in the universe, you are on my team. You are in my club. You can come to my church. I will vote your approval at a presbytery meeting. The orthodox path is an acceptable one. The reverse is not true, is it? Orthodoxy, perhaps by definition, cannot abide freedom of thought that counteracts its own. Orthodoxy is a word that people in power use to describe truth. When might makes right, subservience is a virtue.

In response to religious institutions that reinforce subservience and control are the Eight Points of Progressive Christianity. These points didn't just arise from the vapors. They are a particular response and rejection of church-as-usual.

By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who…

1. Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus;

2. Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us;

3. Understand the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus' name to be a representation of an ancient vision of God's feast for all peoples;

4. Invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable (including but not limited to):

believers and agnostics,
conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
women and men,
those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
those of all races and cultures,
those of all classes and abilities,
those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope;

5. Know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe;

6. Find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty - more value in questioning than in absolutes;

7. Form ourselves into communities dedicated to equipping one another for the work we feel called to do: striving for peace and justice among all people, protecting and restoring the integrity of all God's creation, and bringing hope to those Jesus called the least of his sisters and brothers; and

8. Recognize that being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails selfless love, conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege.

Part 2, Fox
Part 1, Funk