Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians

When the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently moved to open the door for the ordination of gays and lesbians, it was inevitable that those for whom this action was a line in the sand would seek ways to distance themselves from the denomination.

So when a gathering of conservative Presbyterians coalesced in Miami, the output of that event seemed inevitable.  There was much praying.  There was much worshipping and preaching.  After it all, to no-one's great surprise, there is now yet another denomination.  Or sort of a denomination.  A denominish?  Denominette?  It's a bit difficult to tell yet.

What was formed at the Miami gathering has been called, somewhat opaquely, the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.  This name has the advantage of sounding a bit like the campus ministry at Hogwarts, or better yet, a league of oldline superheroes with a secret subterranean sanctuary.   "To the Bat-Nave, Robin!"

For branding purposes, they're going to call themselves ECO.  Coupled with an appropriately leafy-growthy logo, it feels rather more contemporary than the blockish and fusty logo of the PC(USA).

Getting into the meat of this movement, though, there are a few telling things.  As has been noted by others, there's almost no indication of the "why" of the creation of this entity.   For example, as a "covenant order," there is a covenant that you need to affirm.   Reading through the covenant, I can see little in it that I wouldn't be able to affirm in both practice and/or principle.   Nor, quite frankly, do I see much in it that a practicing, open and married lesbian teaching elder couldn't affirm.

Going more deeply into their theological statements, I'm there with the exception of one or two sentences out of many, many pages.  This I can say as someone who stands on the other side of the fence they're in the process of teetering on top of.  If your raison-d'etre is the Divine Nyet to gays and abortion, it's a bit odd that this isn't more evident.

This highlights something of a conundrum for the fledgling ECO.  They are positioning themselves as a back-to-the-roots conservative movement, one embracing eternal biblical truths while being open to new forms of being church.

But they are not the conservatives who believe that the universe is 6,000 years old.   They are also not the conservatives who reject global warming and climate change as a Wiccan/Democrat/Bilderberger plot to contaminate our precious bodily fluids.   They are also not the conservatives who reject women's roles in leadership.

ECO is only fundamentalist when it comes to gays and abortion, and those positions are hedged and hidden by indirect language.  They'd slide into the denominational continuum to the right of the PC(USA), but just a smidge to the left of the EPC, and several notches more to the left than the PCA.

Further, while ECO seems to be taking on the form of a denomination, that form seems remarkably close to the thing they've just left.   Or rather, left-ish.  A tremendous amount of depresbyribonucleic acid is still evident in the ECO genome.  For example, their constitution includes in its entirety the PC(USA) Book of Confessions.  Their materials indicate that a congregation can can be both PC(USA) and ECO at the same time.  They focus a great deal on the pensions and benefits for pastors, an odd thing for a movement.  I'm fairly sure Luther didn't include a benefits package rate sheet underneath the theses he nailed to the door in Wittenberg.

The challenge for this group would seem to be the Aesop's Bat Conundrum.  That classic fable describes the Bat, who claimed himself neither beast nor fowl in a war between air and earth.  Are you a bird of the air? Are you a beast of the ground?   

As much as I like the via media myself, claiming to be both often gets you neither.  

Still and all, I can appreciate the positivity with which ECO seems to be trying to launch.  They're not fulminating or raging, which is a welcome thing in our binary, demonizing culture.  For those who choose to participate in whatever this new thing proves to be, I'd hope PC(USA) folk will choose to be as gracious as our Master calls us to be towards them as they semi-depart.