Wednesday, February 16, 2011

God Is No Respecter of Persons

Just another day in the PC(USA)
Over the last week or so, there was a small tempest in the increasingly shrinking Presbyterian teapot.   A group of forty-five pastors pitched out an open letter in which they 1) lamented the decline of the denomination and 2) suggested that perhaps things are so broken that it's time to pack up the saddlebags and mosey on.

No sentient being could look at the Presbyterian church as a broader entity and say, "Gosh'n'golly, things are just peachy."  We're a mess.  Why?  Because like all dying things, we're focused inwardly.  We fight amongst ourselves, and what little energy that remains gets spent on internal processes and procedures that are so stranglingly byzantine that they'd break the will of even the most hardened apparatchik.  So when this cadre of pastors says things are bad, they're not blowing smoke.

While I fundamentally disagree with their the idea that walking away makes sense, or that property has a single thing to do with our dilemma, I find myself equally disagreeing with the character of the hue and cry that's gone up around certain quarters of the denomination in response to their letter.  Much of the response that I've read and encountered seems to be fixated on the fact that the letter was written by men, and that those men are all pastors of large congregations.  They are most certainly all men, biiiiiiig men, all Boones and a-doers and a dream a come-a-truers are they.  

Sorry.  I can't imagine why that popped into my head. 

Whichever way, significant portions of the blowback seemed to focus less on the substance of what they were saying...which merits some debate and some gracious rebuttal...and more on who they were.

Among the Presbyterian left, this may seem acceptable.  Being the compulsively overeducated bunch we are, we're deeply steeped in the ethos of contemporary academe, where discourse is focused intensely on gender and ethnicity and social context.  

But while understanding the influence of culture and ethnicity and gender is essential, discounting someone's perspective because of their gender, their race, or their social location is fundamentally antithetical to the message of liberation that lies at the heart of the Gospel.   We hear in our sacred texts that the Creator of the Universe couldn't care less about such things.   God does not favor a partner in Goldman Sachs over a young Congolese girl forced into the sex trade.  Or the other way around. 

The ferocious demands of God's love and justice are unaffected by those categories, which is precisely and exactly why the Gospel is Good News to the oppressed and a bit of a pisser for those who think their worth can be measured by the size of their stock portfolio.  Or the height of

These.  Things.  Don't.  Matter.   To us?  Perhaps they do.  We are human.  Putting other human beings into neat little boxes as a way of controlling or dismissing them is what we do. 

But the radically egalitarian spirit that wells up from the Gospels and the authentic letters of Paul...the same Spirit that empowers women and anyone from across the spectrum of sexual orientation to proclaim and rejoice in the Gospel...that Spirit would seem to demand that we focus on the essence, that we try not to let difference and disagreement color our efforts to both discern grace and manifest it.