Proof of Systemic Sin

I’ve been walking with my friend, Adam Walker-Cleaveland, through his tumultuous process of ordination over the past few months.  And I’ve often urged him to abandon what I consider to be a broken and probably sinful system.

Well, now he has gone public with the fact that his ordination to the PC(USA) denomination was scuttled by his home church and his presbytery because he had the temerity to invite his lifelong best friend, a gay man (gasp!), to preach at the ordination service. 

Today, Adam stands before some committee or other, defending his call to ministry.


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  • *sigh* it’s just all so infuriating sometimes. Makes me glad I’m not entrenched in the system anymore but that doesn’t help folks like Adam.

  • I feel sad, sick and in awe of Adam’s courage and class.

  • Jeff Anderson

    “For inviting his friend to preach”? My God! Why do these people take themselves and their rules and their convictions so seriously in a world where it is pretty damned clear that nothing is clear?
    When I look at the Bible and see all of the places where we CANNOT apply the Bible to contemporary times, I’m struck by the fact that one of the few things that is true in the Bible is that we will err. That being the case, it is also clear to me from looking at the Bible that if we are to err, it should be on the side of grace, love and forgiveness.
    I guess for as long as we have institutions and insecure people seeking power, we will have stupidity.

  • Larry

    Maybe he could find a congregation that is not in Idaho? Don’t get me wrong, I love Idaho, lived there for years, went to school there, but it does tend to the conservative side of things, even in the PCUSA.

  • Len

    I wish nothing but good experiences for Adam but is it really a shock that those that make the rules expect you to play by their rules?
    In case somebody is upset because I asked the question, I know Adam & I would disagree on many theological issues but I suspect that we’d get along wonderfully if I had dinner with him and Tony.

  • What a shame. For those of us in similar systems that hits a little too close to home. What to do…

  • Scott M

    There are rules in the PCUSA about who you can ask to speak at your ordination service? I guess I just don’t know enough about denomination structures to know what the rules might be. Is it a published rule that he should have known beforehand he was breaking?

  • Scott

    @Kirk: You said: “I feel sad, sick and in awe of Adam’s courage and class.”
    Yeah Adam is real classy.
    Tell me O Wise TJ about a human system that isn’t sinful? Solomon’s Porch? Beliefnet? The Presbyterian system presupposes human sinfulness and for that reason consists of several different levels of governing bodies and has appeals processes. For all its lumps I think Presbyterian polity is pretty damn good.
    Oh by the way, this sinful system granted Adam a transfer to SF Presbytery which would ordain an atheist so long as they support homosexual ordination so you don’t have to worry about him anymore.
    So go ahead shake your fist in righteous anger at the denomination that has subsidized your (still yet to be granted) PhD. Take about being ungrateful and ungracious. Maybe you should be really courageous and refuse to accept a Phd from an institution that is so affiliated with systemic sin, otherwise that degree might somehow taint you.

  • Scott

    And one more thing TJ, since you’ve only been talking to Adam maybe you should heed the advice of one Phil Collins (especially since you love “close readings” and “detailed histories”) and “hear both sides of the story.”

  • Do you feel better now, Scott? Did you get all that disgust and anger all out of your system? Or do you still have more spleen to vent? oy.

  • ryan

    Its flabbergasting to see what God calls sin, sin. I wonder Tony, how long before your big announcement you had changed your mind on homosexuality had you actually done so? The way you so passionately speak about the issues sounds like a long held conviction. Had you secretly held this position for sometime but did not want go public with it until your time was done with Emergent Village?
    I know you do not own me any answers and I really am not trying to play a game of “gotcha” just trying to understand how you went from point A to point B while serving is such a public position.

  • I think what Tony is trying to say in his joking kinda way is that he doesn’t believe in institutional ordination (anymore).
    There are plenty of people who would agree with this (me included). The reasons for not believing in institional ordination include:
    – the creation of a culture that created the word/concept laity and all that entails
    – disagreement with the notion of an ordination that ontological changes a person
    – that ordination is Biblically inconsistent to the way of Christ and how Jesus calls people to be church

  • Wes Ellis

    That’s beyond sad, it’s oppressive.

  • I really like what Dean Tregenza says. IDK if this is truly Tony’s intent, although I can see it being thus.
    I agree, ordination for many has become just another gate through which one must pass in order to be “approved” by those who have the power. There is something wrong with this model, and I agree that it has become far from Biblical. I shouldn’t have to have my calling from God and Christ approved by people in such a way.
    In my own Ordination (baptist), I went in front of an association board. They approved me with flying colors. The church I was working at ordained me, and 4 months later found out I had a gay friend on myspace, and jetted me out of the church in a 4 day timespan. They claim they “differences in beliefs”, but it had all been laid out there for anyone to see, and approved by an external council. It kinda marred my view of my ordination for a while, until I remembered that I had been chosen/ordained by God first for my particular path, and no human can take that away from me!
    I feel for Adam, Ordination shouldn’t be another theological conformity hoop that one must jump through so that others can stamp “Ordained Approved” on your certificate. we should get two stamps I guess: “Approved by God”, and “Approved by man”.

  • Paul

    Hey does Tony ever post replies to the comments. I’m a long time lurker here at his blog and I notice he doesn’t really reply to criticism of his opinions here. What’s up with that?

  • Paul-
    These are just some options for why Tony doesn’t comment back:
    1. Perhaps he does. When we post, we are asked for an e-mail address. Perhaps Tony perceives that some people like to leave comments in order to start a public row. Maybe Tony chooses not to acquiesce to their desire to start a fight in public, and instead addresses their criticisms through e-mail. That way, people cannot come by and pick fights for picking fights sake, because Tony does not allow that to happen.
    2. Maybe Tony likes to merely observe conversations. Since he is the originator of the post, we already know where he stands. Chances are Tony is not going to change anyone’s mind who disagrees with him, at least not in this kind of setting. So instead, Tony sits back and observes our conversations and interactions with each other unfold, and we get the benefit of thinking these things through and wrestling with the implications on our own end.
    3. This goes along with number 1, but maybe Tony chooses not to engage with those who are attempting to be combative. I haven’t “lurked” around here long enough to see whether he seems to engage more with those who present their differing opinions in a more respectful manner than he does with those who seem to want to correct him, because they have to be right and he has to be wrong.
    4. Maybe he’s busier than we think he is?
    There could be lots of other reasons, I’m sure.

  • james wheeler

    Interesting thread about ordination. Is it simply an outdated insider/outsider mechanism? hmmmm…
    Does it simply create a spiritually vacuous power culture for those who manage and control it?
    Is there something spiritually un-healthy about groups who use it? I would suspect that issues of coercive power are always lurking around in these rites of inclusion in any organization. Can we ever totally get rid of them? I would say no we can’t. I would also think that ordination can be as wonderfully inclusive and encouraging as it can be exclusive and violent. I believe that Justin strikes the right balance.
    People can utilize institutional policies and wield them in ungodly and oppressive ways. But they can also be used to bless and encourage, to invite and heal. And ultimately, churches should try and echo the voice of God into peoples hearts and lives. (another question: can denominations really do this anymore?)
    Maybe denominations need to hear the voice of those wounded by and excluded by arbitrary systems. To examine their mechanisms and see if the genuinely create inclusion and empowerment. I would suspect they would discover gaps.
    Maybe one gap is examining how a normally inclusive mechanism can be quickly converted to a tool for exclusion and rejection?