“There is so little room for genuine give-and-take in our Presbyterian discussions these days, while at the same time so much hangs on how our conversations go. The issues that we are discussing are not simply topics about which we happen to disagree. They are matters that are vitally connected to the question of whether we can stay together as a denomination. In that sense, our present Presbyterian debates do not feel like friendly arguments over the breakfast table, or even the more heated kinds of exchanges that might take place in the presence of a marriage counselor.”
The issue referred to is the place of same-sex marriage and non-celibate LGBT ordination in the polity and practice of the church.
These are not my words but rather those of Richard J. Mouw, former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, in a 2004 article in Sojourners magazine as he surveyed the denominational situation in the PC(USA). His article was titled “Why the Evangelical Church Needs the Liberal Church.” He clearly writes from an evangelical perspective but does so in a humble and forthright manner that I found winsome.
His good friend Barbara Wheeler, then-president of Austin Theological Seminary, wrote a parallel article titled “Why the Liberal Church needs the Evangelical Church.” She clearly comes to the matter at hand from a liberal point of view.
I commend both articles to all of you. I am pretty sure that evangelicals like myself will not be convinced they are wrong. Neither will my liberal friends. What we might all be convinced of is that there is a greater issue at play here. Unless there is a change in some of the rhetoric and intractability Dr. Mouw describes in the opening quote and which I have witnessed in recent days on this side of the border, the casualty may be our Presbyterian “large tent” that provides a ministry and theological home to many liberals, many conservatives and many evangelicals. It has been the nature of our wonderful diversity for many generations.
Post-Christian Canada does not need to see another messy church split. It is already convinced that we are irrelevant—both liberal and evangelical. Our denomination does not need congregations and presbyteries and ultimately our General Assemblies ground to a halt by countless cases, appeals and endless debates while the Titanic continues to sink.
Let me conclude with Dr. Mouw’s closing comment:
“I want with all my heart for this to happen to us in the Presbyterian Church—that we take up our arguments about the issues that divide only after we have knelt and laid our individual and collective burdens of sin at the foot of the cross. Needless to say, if it did happen, I would be surprised. But then, the God whom we worship and serve is nothing if not a God of surprises.”