by Talitha Phillips
Some further reflections from the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s recent bi-annual national gathering:
So… when they came in, I was on stage running Session Sync. You’ll note from my previous entry that this was a challenging job because of the kind of neutrality it calls for. You can only imagine the unsettledness I felt when these folks entered. I had a bit of a “what is going to happen?” moment and a confused moment (who were they? left or right? do i agree with them? are they here with authorization, or trespassing?) but then as the moderator abruptly closed debate and advised us to stand in prayer, I got a very sinking feeling that I was in the wrong place – that maybe I was supposed to be on the floor with the radicals, not up in the institutional, status quo, center of power on stage. It didn’t help that I was standing next to lawyers in suits who put on a bit of a secret service face. I was not ready to play that game.
I do believe now, however, that I did not want to be in that group of protesters. The news clarified the details: the group, Soulforce, is an LGBTQI advocacy group standing in protest of our assembly’s decision not to look at marriage questions. I support their goals 100%. But I do not like the method.
I’m liberal. If I’d had voice privileges I would have spoken on just about every issue in a leftward direction. If anyone with voice asked me to, I would’ve slipped them a carefully worded substitution motion or two (just kidding! so wrong!). I hate the idea of making up voting sheets ahead of time as the Layman did, checking off which way to vote on each issue, but if I were to make one up it would be easy — take theirs and reverse it.
I guess I got a taste of my own medicine. I had my liberal mind changed in a mildly more conservative direction. I would still NEVER vote for the measure they took on Thursday night — to dismiss all pending items in the civil union/marriage debate and give the presbyteries and congregations 2 years to discuss the study papers created in that area — because justice delayed is justice denied. But looking at it in retrospect, although I cannot in decent conscience actively agree with this decision, I can live with and hence submit to it. I can believe myself to be in “consensus” with the assembly whose conservative members cried out “too much! this is more than we can chew! Give us one task at a time!” I disagree, of course…. *I* think they should buck up and deal with the issues of justice. I think they’re being ridiculous. But I hear pain in their voices, and I have not yet walked a mile in their shoes.
We have a lot of communal processing to do. In the next two years, congregations and presbyteries are supposed to discuss civil union and marriage, and vote on the Belhar confession, changes in ordination standards, and the New Form of Government. I know presbyteries will vote, but may not discuss. Some may as well submit their votes now — they do not intend to have their minds changed. I know that many congregations will not even look at these, much less discuss. But in order to prevent our church from looking like our government (two entrenched opposing sides) we NEED more discussion, more communal process. I believe that the depth of our relational & communal processing might make or break our unity as a denomination. Minds are never going to be changed by 51% votes one way or the other. They were apparently not changed by Soulforce’s protest. They will only be changed by relationships.
conversation. compassion. a ferociously loyal, caring love. Too much to expect, yes — but not too much to ask!