Thank You Tara Spuhler McCabe, Our Vice-Moderator

Tara Spuhler McCabe during her installation as Vice-Moderator of the PCUSA.

For those of you interested in the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), this morning, my friend and colleague, Tara Spuhler McCabe, resigned from the office of Vice-Moderator.  The circumstances that lead to her decision are complex and real, but in all honesty, when I first heard of this, I was pretty angry that it had come to this. Soon I will reflect on the whole situation and implications for the church and our general assembly, but for now I wanted to provide a space for people to leave words of support and thanks for Tara during this time. If you know Tara, you know that she was open to the movement the Holy Spirit throughout her discernment and that she is confident that this is what God is calling her to do for the good of the body of Christ this week and into the future.

Tara will be looking at this post throughout the week, so please leave any words of encouragement, care and presence. Be warned that I am still feeling pretty Big Brother/Poppa Bear about the whole thing, so any attempt by any “camp” to leverage this post and her statement to pick a fight, name-call and/or ally the troops will be deleted with a mighty click of the [DELETE] button. There will be time to reflect more upon the deeper causes and implications of this time, but for now, in this post, the world DOES indeed revolve around Tara.

Below is the text from Tara’s statement that was delivered on July 4, 2012 at the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA. While I am sure there were those at the assembly who both grieved as well celebrated her decision, it was received with a deep sense of appreciation by all. The only thing that would have made it just a tad bit sweeter – though not at all helpful – is if she would have dropped the mic and walked away. Well done Tara. Thank you for your grace and presence during this moment in the life of the church.

July 4, 2012

Mr. Moderator, sisters and brothers in Christ:

In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul wrote:

1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus….

It has been quite a journey over these last few days since being confirmed as your Vice Moderator. The amount of conversation in person and comments online indicate that my confirmation has obviously touched a nerve. And so I appreciate a moment to respond.

I am a pastor. That is who God has called me to be. As I reflect on what’s happening now, I think I am embodying the reality of a growing number of pastors who find ourselves caught. We are caught between being pastors – being with couples in those sacred moments when they make their vows to one another . . . and having a polity that restricts us from living out our pastoral calling – especially in states where it is legal for everyone to be married.

The tension over all of this is real, and clearly the energy and passion about this issue runs deep – and isn’t going away. I am surprised and saddened by the pervasive poisonous activity that has increased toward the overall tenor of our General Assembly and toward the Office of the Moderator. Individuals and groups with no personal relationship with me and have made no attempt to have one-on-one conversations with me or the Moderator are blogging and tweeting unhelpful and, frankly, divisive comments.

I am also saddened by the amount of energy and time that others have taken on, in the midst of their important work here, to defend what the majority has already decided, or to feel the need to protect me.

Because I have great appreciation and affection for this church and our process, I am deeply concerned that some within our community here plan to use parliamentary order, among other things, in a way that will serve as a stumbling block to us – keeping us from tending to the vital business that is before us as the General Assembly.

I do not want this situation to get in the way. And it is obvious that it is.

And so I am resigning as your Vice Moderator. It is my choice and my decision, and it comes from that same pastoral core that led me to be present for two women in their sacred moment in DC.

I am incredibly grateful to this Moderator who has already demonstrated the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace and who continues to affirm, support, and love me as a sister in Christ.

So, bottom line: I care too much about this church and about this assembly to let this situation continue. We have important work to do here, and so let us get to what it is God called us here to do.

May the peace of Christ be with us all.

Again, please do not try expend energy defending, attacking or instigated here. Tara is doing great, but it would be even better for her to know that people are there, friends, colleague and strangers who offer words of gratitude and encouragement. If your interest in the Presbyterians and our General Assembly is now piqued I live-tweet most of the plenaries via @brc_live and the hashtag to track is #ga220.

Wherever Liberals and Conservatives are Gathered, There is _____?

Photo by rishibando on Flickr

I am sure that when you read the title of this post, you filled in the blank with:

  • fear
  • ignorance
  • hostility
  • injustice
  • distraction
  • Jesus
  • or beer

Sure, there are individuals who might indeed warrant such descriptors, but might we be better served by filling in the blank with “faithfulness, conviction and grace?”

As you some of you know, this week I am attending the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Pittsburgh. There will be many topics towards which we will direct our energy and time, but the debate concerning the definition of marriage will be right there at the top of the list. It is no secret that I am supportive of marriage equality as a civil right. I am also supportive of my particular part of the Christian world, the Presbyterian Church (USA) also recognizing same-gender marriage as an faithful symbol and expression of the love between two people.

What I have noticed about the debate between the most passionate of both sides is the preponderance of two distinct arguments and assumptions about the other. Liberals say about conservatives, “They are driven by fear and a lack of awareness.” Conservatives say about  liberals, “They have strayed from the Word of God and are capitulating to culture.”

If we are going to get anywhere, we have to drop these arguments, because I believe they are not, as a larger narrative, true.

Liberals must understand that there many conservatives who have not arrived at their position about homosexuality and marriage out of fear, but out of a deep conviction about and understanding of God’s truth.  Likewise, conservatives must understand that there are many liberals who have not arrived at their position about homosexuality and marriage out of a need to satisfy cultural trends, but out of a deep conviction about and understanding of God’s truth.

Lobbing accusations about the motivations of others is fruitless and is only good for adding to our own cache with those with whom we already agree. Because these accusations can not be defended or disproved, we must give the benefit of the doubt to the other that each has been and is being faithful to God, guided by Scripture and open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and not driven by fear, ignorance and cultural relevancy.

As one who has lived in disagreement with my church family for decades, I do believe we can find ways to live together in disagreement.  Should all involved truly yearn for that place to be found, it cannot be built on reckless, destructive and vindictive assumptions of the other. We will only find that place of healthy tension that disagreement brings if it is built on the common ground of faithfulness, conviction and grace.

That’s my hope and I’m sticking to it. Peace be with you.