Friday, February 1, 2013

Such Offense in the Future

I don't make it to Presbytery meetings anywhere near as often as I used to.  I tried not to miss them, and for years and years did not.

But as I shifted from a two-thirds-time church to a half-time congregation, some things just had to give. Oh, I'm happy to make it out to committee meetings.  There, I feel the capacity to have some input.  But as much as I like the worship opportunity, and the chance to talk with folks, I'm aware that it's both work and a place where my presence is rather less than necessary most of the time.

If I'm attending to the terms of my position, then going will happen with less frequency.   Not to mention that the little guy has a packed and late-running schedule on Tuesday.   I'm the parent who handles that, and the meetings are almost invariably on Tuesdays now.  Ah well.

So I read the meeting agenda, and check on the meeting minutes, and listen to the social media hum as I perform my parental duties.

At this last Presbytery meeting, though, there was a public censure.  Technically, it was a "rebuke," a formal statement of institutional disapproval for an errant member of Presbytery.  And when I say, "formal," there is literally a form.  It's a Fill In The Blanks statement, drawn from our Rules of Discipline.  It goes like this:
Whereas, you, (Name) ________________________, have been found guilty of the offense(s) of __________________________ (here insert the offense), and by such offense(s) you have acted contrary to (the Scriptures and/or the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)); now, therefore, the Presbytery (or Session) of __________________________________, in the name and authority of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), expresses its condemnation of this offense, and rebukes you. You are enjoined to be more watchful and avoid such offense in the future. We urge you to use diligently the means of grace to the end that you may be more obedient to our Lord Jesus Christ.
That doesn't happen often.  In fact, in the years I've been going to Presbytery, I can't recall seeing one.  There's been discipline, mind you.  But typically, it's involved booting folks for malfeasance or removing them from office.  They haven't stood there and taken it, in front of a gathering.

The rebuke was delivered to Tara Spuhler McCabe, a pastor who'd officiated at a same sex marriage, which while in conformity with the laws of the District of Columbia remains something we Presbyterians choose to study and debate.  And study and debate.

My position on the issue is reasonably clear, and has been for years.  If approached to bless the vows of a same sex couple, I'd be morally and spiritually obligated to do exactly what she did.  Perhaps I should keep a pre-filled out version of the form available for an Investigating Committee just in case.  Not that the Presbytery was eager for this.  Sigh.  What a mess.

In reflecting on this unfortunate bit of mess, I found myself wondering about which church it is that primarily governs us.   Yes, we stand in deep and transforming relationship with the sacred texts of Scripture, and in respectful dialogue with the faith confessions of those who have come before.  That is the church from which we spring.  It is our root, and our ground, and it still has much to teach us.  We should not be an offense to that golden thread of the True Kirk that runs through it.

But there is another church, one that is equally significant.  There is that church that is not yet.  There is the gathering of disciples who have not yet gathered, but who will be called into relationship with Jesus of Nazareth after we have passed.  And we will pass.  There are forms and patterns of following Jesus that we do not yet know, and depths of grace that we have not yet encountered.  As a church constantly reformed and reforming in response to God's Word, that's a basic bit of our self-understanding.

That church, I am convicted, looks at us now and is troubled.  Offended, even.  Why do we fight over this thing, which doesn't have a thing to do with what is most essential about our faith?  Why do we use it as an excuse to hate and exclude?  The world is filled with such real horror and deep brokenness...and this is how we waste our kairos?

Lord have mercy, but they'll think we're fools.