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.

I See Presbyterians

Like many Presbyterians who rode down the escalators at the Pittsburgh airport, when I arrived last night, I was greeted by the, the familiar – and oh so stylish – sight of those Committee On Local Arrangements (COLA) PC(USA) seal-emblazoned aprons. Like the smell of fresh cookies or sizzling bacon wafting from the kitchen, it was a warm reminder what was to come. Yep, it’s General Assembly time – the 220th – for the Presbyterian Church (USA), my denominational family.

In a nutshell, the PC(USA) gathers together every two years to discern the mind of Christ and the will of God together at the national level of our church. Made up of commissioners from across the country, advisory delegates from around the world and thousands of others who love attending this “family reunion,” GA is time when we worship together, pray together and struggle through the difficult calling of being community in the world today, complete with all of the complexity, dysfunction and beauty that families tend to embody. Here is a reporter’s tongue-in-cheek guide to the 220th General Assembly from Jim Nedelka that will give you a little taste of the family fun.

This year, as we descend upon downtown Pittsburgh, we will be taking on many issues. From “hot buttons” ones such as the definition of marriage and our divestment from the Caterpillar corporation, to less-buzz-worthy, but just as important issues as restructuring our special offerings and approving the formation of non-geographic presbyteries, this year should, once again, be jam-packed.

There are a variety of groups who will be reporting on General Assembly from a variety of perspectives but I would commend a few for you to track, not because I endorse them all, but because you’ll get a broad view of what’s going on at GA: GA Junkie, The Presbyterian Outlook, The Presbyterian Layman, More Light Presbyterians, Presbyterian for RenewalCovenant Network of Presbyterians and others. For official news be sure to follow the Presbyterian News Service and you will want to bookmark the official General Assembly Home Page for all information about business items, schedules, live-streaming, etc.

If you are attending General Assembly and have one of them fancy, schmancy smart phones, be sure to download the Guidebook App, search for “General Assembly” and begin tracking your schedule of activities. Pretty sweet app.

Social media will again play a big role in how people connect and communicate with one another about and at General Assembly. Not only do I predict that more than one of us will become Mayor of our assigned plenary seat on FoursquareGeek Alert Level Red – but the Twitter hashtag, #GA220, will be quite active throughout the week.

I will be live-tweeting from @brc_live and posting pictures on my FB Photo Album and if you are on Twitter you may want to follow my Twitter list of those at GA , the List of Candidates for Moderator and Vice-Moderator and @presbyterian for official news. If you or your organization needs to be added, please let me know via @breyeschow and I’ll be sure to add you.

Please keep in prayer the many GA staff and volunteers who keep things running smoothly, the Commissioners and Advisory Delegates who will be debating and voting and the many observers who simply soaking it all in. I would also lift up special prayers from the out-going Moderator and Vice-Moderator, Cindy Bolback and Landon Whitsitt as well as the current candidates, one of whom will be elected tonight.

On a personal note, as a former moderator, my time is pretty cush. I’ll help out with some things during the election, sit in the former moderators section on the plenary floor and generally try to stay out of the way. Like many, I’ll be exploring the amazing exhibition hall so please stop me and say hi, stop at the SparkHouse Animate booth to see a new study that I am part of and, if you are free, you are invited to join me for my Book Release Party on July 3rd at August Henry’s City Saloon.

Let me end by saying that, despite what many say about our General Assemblies when decision are made with which they do not agree, I am a firm believer that GA brings people together from across the church and helps us to remain connected in a culture that would rather have us retreat into our own individual bubbles and clusters. While there is much that can be improved, at every General Assembly there are moments when the Holy Spirit sweeps over the body and we get a glimpse of God’s grace and hope for the world and for us. For these grand moments as well as the random hallway conversations, I am grateful for and excited about what is in store for the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

See you around the hall.