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“Follow the money.”
If you are of a certain vintage, you recall “Deep Throat” saying those memorable words to Bob Woodward in a dark DC parking garage in All the President’s Men. Over the years, I’ve found that advice has helped me often understand what’s really happening in an organization.
Following the money is why I think that perhaps the most significant thing talked about at the ongoing Reformed Church in America’s General Synod happened way back last Thursday during the opening session. More about that in a moment. First, let’s look at what’s going to happen today.
The overtures to Synod are being taken up today, and one way to measure the potential explosive effects these overtures might have is to consider how much preparatory work has been done by those managing the Synod to emphasize the theme of unity. Both the General Secretary and President of Synod spoke about unity in their addresses to Synod. Unity has been stressed in scriptural choices and music and liturgy and even a special worship song titled “One for the World” has debuted at Synod. Why so much talk about unity? The short answer is because several of the overtures address homosexuality. Before focusing on the overtures, delegates spent Saturday night in small groups talking about “The Pastoral Response to Homosexuality,” after listening to three different speakers bring perspectives on the topic.
General Synod President the Rev. Lisa Vander Wal said in her address, “Trying to legislate our way out of our differences will not work, even as it has not worked in virtually every other denomination around us.” I agree – I think her words echo another maxim that has guided me along the way, “Convince a man against his will and he’ll be of the same mind still.”
So what’s going to happen when the overtures are taken up today? I asked a wise soul attending Synod as a delegate and he said, “Best case scenario is ‘not much.’” We’ll see, won’t we? Today could be monumental or just another day in the life of the denomination.
In the meantime, allow me to go back to “follow the money.” In the opening session, far from the controversy, the financial report was given. Denominational assessments were discussed, and the need to raise assessments was mentioned to provide the same level of support to various programs because denominational membership numbers have gone down. No one said “Again,” but they might as well have. RCA membership numbers have been dwindling for decades.
I wonder what it would take for all members of the Reformed Church in America to get as passionate about that as they are about what divides us.
Instead, I have this image of a liberal and a conservative in a canoe, arguing, oblivious to the mammoth waterfall in front of them.
Or I have this other idea that keeps running through my head. Suppose Hitler had risen a few generations earlier, during the American Civil War. How could the United States have answered the world’s needs while it was preoccupied fighting itself?
Neither image totally captures the moment, I suppose. But I’m praying that the delegates find a way to commit to addressing the world’s needs over fighting amongst themselves.
What did end up happening today made me very sad. A second substitute motion that was grace-filled, upheld our current position and called for continued dialog was defeated in favor of one that, in my opinion, is out of order with respect to the BCO and, more importantly focused on discipline rather than grace.
I felt the waterfall. I actually think many delegates did – just not enough of them.
"focused on discipline rather than grace. "
Cannot discipline be an expression of grace? If not, then how do we understand Hebrews 12?