Wednesday, February 2, 2011


I'm not really big into sacred objects.  Stuff, even church stuff, is pretty much just stuff to me.  Objects and places migh be imbued with meaning by our memories, or they might be particularly beautiful and evoke a sense of God, but they aren't any more magickal than any other place or object.

This isn't how humans think, though.  We cling to objects and spaces.  We derive our sense of sense and value and place from them.  And that seems, at least to me, to often be one of the primary things that keeps Christians from being Christian.

Take, for instance, the ongoing arguments in my denomination about buildings and real estate.  As Presbyterians, we assume that the denomination...or, rather, the local Presbytery...owns the facilities in which we worship.  Congregations hold those facilities in trust.  It's just part of our constitution, and one of those things you consider part of the background hum of our polity.  But as we argue about the place of gayness and lesbiosity in our fellowship, many congregations that want to leave are insisting that the church buildings in which they worship are theirs.

So there are lawsuits.  And countersuits.  Over buildings.  Here, I'm just fuddled.  I'm fuddled that folks would so conflate their faith with a place that they'd want to fight for it rather than simply choosing to find another place to worship without being exposed to all those gay cooties.  I'm fuddled that Presbyteries wouldn't simply release buildings and congregations that wanted to leave our fellowship...even if the reason for the departure is flawed.  I just see no evidence of the Master's will in any squabbles over property.  You know, the whole "walk an extra mile, give them your cloak also" thing that he so annoyingly went on about, instead of shutting up and just let us have at it the way we want to.

This creates some striking ironies.  Like, say, the amicus brief filed by the Presbyterian Layman in the Indiana Supreme Court.  That organization is affirming it's legal opposition to The Presbytery of the Ohio Valley's attempt to hold on to property of a church that's separating itself from the denomination.   The Layman, as the self-appointed ultraconservative defender of all things biblically literal in my denomination, is coming in on the side of the conservative church.  This is no surprise.  Having read the brief, two things are surprising.

First, I'm not sure that in the Kingdom that Christ proclaimed mutual accountability to that Kingdom includes phrases like "Incorrectly Utilized a Hybrid Implied Trust/Constructive Trust to Divest the Title Holder of Ownership."   Yeah, we're all supposed to hold each other accountable, and we're supposed to prophetically critique the powers around us, but...really?  This isn't God talk, unless the Kingdom is a whole bunch more tedious than I've hoped.  It's the church, dabbling in the law.

Second, the brief asserts that the courts are inappropriately intervening in religious practices.  This is...well...silly.  Filing a brief means you're engaging with the secular system of justice.  Filing lawsuits and briefs means you've stepped outside of the boundaries of Christian faith.  As Paul laid out pretty clearly in 1 Corinthians 6, this is a Major Jesus Fail.  

"But we've been wronged!  We've been cheated!  We have to stand up for what is right!"

The Apostle anticipated that bared-canine churchmonkey-argument, and says as clear as crystal that this is a sign that the Accuser has already won.  It is better to let the things of this world go than to fight over them.  If things and places become the things that possess us, then the grace that should define us dies.

Anyone who claims to be a Christian should know this.