As I’m writing this, the two-day gathering in Dallas of the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO) is underway.
ECO was formed in January of 2012 a fit of pique by Presbyterians reacting against the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s vote in May 2011 to allow for the ordination of gay people. (I shared my conversation with the first ever gay ordained Presbyterian minister in my October 2011 post Meet Scott Anderson, Soon To Be the First (Openly) Gay Minister Ordained by Presbyterian USA.)
Basically, the people who formed ECO cried, “No way! Being gay is a sin! We’ll start our own denomination!” So they did.
In my January 2012 post, ECO, the New Anti-Gay Presbyterian Denomination: Cowardly Lions, I wrote:
ECO has simply refused to say why they were formed. They won’t do it. They won’t say that they’re a one-issue organization, that they exist solely in opposition to PCUSA’s sanctioning the ordination of gay people. … you can search high and low throughout ECO’s website, and nowhere will you find a single, solitary word about gay people or homosexuality. … ECO honchos! Just say that you’ve formed because you believe that gays shouldn’t be ordained! If your convictions are so great that they’ve compelled you to found a “breakaway movement,” why aren’t they great enough for you to be explicit about what it is you’re breaking away from?
That said, though, I’m heartened by the leaders of ECO being so weak about proclaiming their true nature and purpose. It means they’re as uncomfortable as, God knows, they should be about excluding gay people from full participation in the life that Jesus so passionately offered to all. It’s always encouraging when someone can’t force their mouth to say what their heart knows is wrong. It means there’s hope for them yet.
Two years later, guess what? ECO is actually being even less forthcoming about who they are and why they formed. Nowhere, for instance, on the ECO website will you find homosexuality so much as mentioned. The closest you’ll get to the group’s formative identity is this, from their Missions and Core Values page:
We believe the Bible is the unique and authoritative Word of God, which teaches all that is necessary for faith and life. The prominence of God’s Word over our lives shapes our priorities, and the unrivaled authority of the Bible directs our actions to be in concert with Christ’s very best for our lives.
Which is nothing–unless you’re savvy enough to understand what “authoritative Word of God” and “unrivaled authority of the Bible” are code for.
Dig a little deeper into the site, and you’ll find ECO’s Essential Tenets and Confessional Standards, the core statement of ECO’s convictions and theology. On page five of the document’s ten pages we find the totality of what it has to say about homosexuality or gay people:
… being faithful within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman as established by God at the creation or embracing a celibate life as established by Jesus in the new covenant. [bolding mine]
There. At least they said it. Barely. But … there it is, the entire reason for ECO’s existence. Out of about six thousand five hundred words spent articulating their “Essential Tenets,” they spent exactly three on what was undeniably the single cause of their defection and formation.
If you go to the website for ECO’s 2014 National Gathering, and hit the “About” button, you get the Better Living Through Vapidity video below. (Legal disclaimer: watching this video does not constitute legal grounds for suing me for the ninety-seven seconds of your life you’ll never get back.)
Oh, and be ye not confused by the 2014 National Gathering seeming to be sponsored and presented by two groups, ECO and The Fellowship of Presbyterians. The latter group created the former. This video, from the Fellowship of Presbyterians website, shows how difficult-to-impossible it is to separate one group from the other:
You are, however, allowed to be confused about why, on their website, the Fellowship of Presbyterians (www.fellowship-pres.org) is called the Fellowship Community, even though the group hasn’t changed, their logo hasn’t changed, and for the Big National Gathering they revert to showing themselves as the Fellowship of Presbyterians.
If you look at the three-day gathering’s Schedule of Events, guess how many have anything to do with homosexuality? None.
None published, that is. But note, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the seminars listed only as A, B, and C. If you go to the daily listed online schedule of events—scroll down here and hit the faded calendar days—it says, about all of those seminars, the same thing:
Find topic and room listings in your registration packet.
Clearly the substantive sessions of the event, and they don’t want to say anything about them to anyone—not even to anyone just thinking about attending the event—until the conference is underway.
Gee, I’m just gonna guess it’s behind the locked doors and closed windows of at least some of those Mysterious Sessions that they’ll actually dare to discuss anything having to do with the reason they’re all really there.
Oh, the creative chicanery! Why, it’s like when children are so clever they come up with a secret handshake and a secret password.
(Homework assignment: The reason ECO remains so intricately tied to the Fellowship of Presbyterians (FOP), a conservative body within Presbyterian Church (USA) is because breaking with FOP would mean breaking with Presbyterian Church (USA), which ECO pastors aren’t about to do since that would mean losing their very generous pension and health benefits. True or False? I’m unhesitantly guessing true, but haven’t had time to firmly verify through research.)
Dear attendees of the 2014 National Gathering of … ECOites:
The world is watching you. Well, probably not, actually, since … you know … Christians at a meeting. But some of us are watching you. And we humbly suggest that you consider the truth, which is clear and unarguable, that you belong to an organization that at best is deeply ambivalent about the righteousness of its cause and purpose—about its raison d’être, if you’ll excuse our French—and at worst is purposefully and operationally craven, manipulative, exploitive, and bullying.
You are associating your name—your honor, your integrity, your reputation, your entire relationship to morality—with a group at some level so ashamed of what it is and what it stands for that it can barely bring itself to whisper it.
You have aligned yourself with manifest cowards.
We are begging you to stop. To reassess. To consider that there is, in fact, nothing whatsoever unchristian or unbiblical about being gay.
We’re asking you to stop, think, and get back to being a real Christian—that is, to spending some real time listening to what the Holy Spirit of God within you is really telling you about gay people.
If you will but listen to what God is telling you about gay people, we are 100% confident that you will realize that gay people are no threat to you; that they don’t want anything from you; that just because more people are straight than are gay doesn’t make being gay any sort of moral failing, any more than does being left-handed or red-haired.
It’s okay that people are gay. That’s just the way God made them. It’s not a problem.
If you really listen to the Holy Spirit within you, we are certain that you will hear the very voice of God telling you to leave the ECO event, to leave ECO altogether—to go, now, and sin no more.
[UPDATE: An especially crass and noxious breed of troll has found its way to this post, so rather than spend the next Who Knows How Long playing WhackaTroll I’ve disabled comments to it. Thanks to those of you were participated in the conversation like … well, rational adults. I sincerely appreciate it.]
I’m the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question: