“Why on Earth?”
In the World News section of the national Canadian Presbyterian magazine, The Record (Oct/2011), the following story was printed: “MEXICAN PRESBYTERIANS SHUN U.S. CHURCH: The National Presbyterian Church of Mexico has voted 116 to 22 in favour of ending its 139-year relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA), in response to the U.S. church’s decision earlier this year to allow the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians… (Mexican) Presbyteries and sessions now will examine candidates for ordination or installation with the standard being that the candidate’s ‘manner of life should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world.’… The Mexican church also considered the ordination of women as clergy. The special Assembly, held Aug. 17-19, was called specifically to discuss the issue and voted 158 to 14 to sustain its policy of not ordaining women. Any presbytery that has already ordained women must immediately revoke these ordinations.”
I am grateful that the Presbyterian Church in Canada (P.C.C.) is more in line with the Presbyterian Church (USA) than the Presbyterian Church of Mexico, yet still lagging quite far behind the United Church of Canada (U.C.C.). For example, the P.C.C. has been ordaining women to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament since the early 1960’s, yet the U.C.C. began this progressive and just practice much earlier. Still, sadly, within the P.C.C., gays and lesbians cannot be ordained unless they agree to remain celibate. In terms of the national P.C.C. position on the subject, homosexuality is still viewed as an expression of Sin.
Over the past year or so I have attended U.C.C. presbytery meetings, studied U.C.C. history, theology, and worship, attended a U.C.C. Orientation conference in St. Albert, and chatted with U.C.C. clergy and lay people. I have found it more than interesting, more than coincidental, that on no less than four occasions U.C.C. folk have asked me the same question: “Why on earth would you want to join our Church?” Each time the question has been asked I’ve been rather stunned, shocked by the rather negative attitude expressed toward the Church . Why on earth? My quick response would have to be this: “Precisely because the U.C.C. lives out its mission and calling ‘on the earth’!” A more thoughtful response would be to say that what attracts me to the U.C.C. is its long history of tackling justice issues when doing so has led to criticism, even condemnation; its long history of seeking to be progressive not just in word but in deed, living out the teachings of Jesus, striving to allow the Kingdom of God to take shape on earth, in our midst, among us!
Mexican Presbyterians are, sadly, way off the mark! Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, and, as every credible Bible scholar knows, of the seven references in the Bible to homosexuality, most are clearly culturally bound expressions of opinion rather than enduring eternal truth, some clearly transgressions of ancient hospitality codes and nothing else. U.C.C. leaders and scholars accepted these scriptural facts and led the way toward justice for gay and lesbian people in the 1980’s. The U.C.C. paid the price (thousands across the nation leaving the church, condemnation by other denominations), for what was, at that time, a courageous stance. Yet the Church’s vision is to be lauded.
Sometimes the U.C.C. is criticized by those of other denominations for its progressivism. Ought not such criticism be welcomed and worn as a badge of honour? Ought we not persist with pride in seeking justice and mercy for all of God’s children, as we understand it scripturally, serving God through our active discipleship, upholding the U.C.C.’s long history of walking the talk?
What will the future hold for Rundle Memorial United Church? I have no idea but I have some ideas, if you know what I mean. Perhaps a renewed sense of pride in our Christian heritage of standing for progressive justice causes? Perhaps a rainbow flag hung for all to see on the Banff Avenue side of our building? Perhaps declaring ourselves as an “affirming” congregation? How will we add more to our numbers in years to come? I don’t think we’ll attract any Mexican Presbyterians, but maybe we’ll have the opportunity to speak to those in our society, in our Valley, looking for a faith community that seeks liberation for the oppressed and relevance for today’s context of inclusion. It’s not for me to decide but rather you. How is God leading us at this particular time in this particular place?
Prayer: God of Grace, we acknowledge that the cause of justice – socially, economically, environmentally – continues to be highly relevant in our time and world. Let your loving Spirit speak to the church and guide it, that we would seek with passion the fulfilment of your loving purposes for us and all humankind, that we would carry forward, with pride, courage and conviction, the ministry of Christ and the Kingdom of which he preached. Amen.