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The views and opinion expressed here are not necessarily those of the staff or management of Perspectives magazine. It sort of goes without saying… But sometimes we need to be reminded.
Over the last couple of months, my thirteen and half years-old Australian Shepherd Cocker Spaniel mix, Sarii, has declined rapidly in health. We’ve done various tests, x-rays, and an ultrasound and everything has been inconclusive up until his last veterinarian visit the day before I left for the Reformed Church in America General Synod. He had developed a small little bump above his nose near his eyes that I wanted looked at before leaving him with my pet sitter. Under further examination, it provided more conclusive evidence for a kind of cancer that can develop in the dog’s sinus area. A cell sample was taken and I received a pathology report later in the week that confirmed the likelihood of cancer. Because of his rather swift decline in health, there was a part of me that found a certain kind of comfort in knowing. After so many weeks of fearing but not being sure, certainty can provide an odd kind of comfort. Why is that?
This blog post however, is not about my Sarii. I’m sure I will share more about him in the future. Rather, it is about my experience with the recent RCA General Synod. And it is also an expression of great sadness, as I went to Synod with a heavy heart and returned even heavier.
As my fellow-blogger Jes Kast-Keat shared yesterday, the big news following Synod is Recommendation 56:
R-56 SUBSTITUTE AS APPROVED
While compassion, patience, and loving support should be shown to all those who struggle with same-sex desires, the General Synod reaffirms our official position that homosexual behavior is a sin according to the Holy Scriptures, therefore any person, congregation, or assembly which advocates homosexual behavior or provides leadership for a service of same-sex marriage or a similar celebration has committed a disciplinable offense; and further,
that the General Synod Council shall oversee the creation of an eight member committee made up of representatives appointed by each of the regional synods to pray and work together to present a way forward for our denomination given the disagreement in our body relative to homosexuality. The purpose of the committee is not to revisit our stated position, but shall operate with the understanding expressed earlier in this recommendation and issue a report with practical recommendations to the General Synod of 2013.
The sharing that this is the “big news” of Synod, in and of itself is rather sad, because a great deal more happened at General Synod than this, and much of it should be celebrated. Furthermore, even though many entered our gathering with apprehensions regarding the Overtures that eventually lead to R-56, there were significant expressions of real unity, of grace, and discernment. The advisory committee process demonstrated clearly that the church is not of one mind when responding to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) persons in the ministry and mission of the church. It also spoke of our values of grace, community, truth, unity, and transformation even in the midst of our disagreements. Unfortunately, R-56 did not reflect this sentiment. While there was obviously a majority of regular (voting) delegates to agree with the recommendation, still many in the church do not, and probably even more believe that what ever one’s perspective is on LGBT persons and the church, there is another way that we can respond, a “third way” as the presiding General Synod President Rev. Lisa Vander Wal encouraged in her report to the assembly:
“The grace and love of Christ compel us to find a different way forward, a third way of patience and humility that allows other believers space to live out their faithfulness to Christ, to the church, to the Scriptures, and to the wider society in the ways in which God calls them. Our order allows this through the classes that live and work in vastly diverse regions of our denomination.”
Lamentably, a small but significant group of RCA members were focused to get General Synod to act. Cooperatively, various congregational leaders and Classes worked together to make sure their voice was heard, and it did indeed come across as the loudest voice at Synod. That’s important. Their voice is important. For far too long, many persons have felt their voice wasn’t being listened to and now they have had the opportunity to be heard. That is not the only voice, however. And personally, I am quite convinced that it is not the majority voice of the wider church nor the voice of where God is calling the church. We need to continue to listen to the Holy Spirit and to one another’s voices, and R-56 attempts to squelch the listening and to silence voices of which one particular group does not agree.
My intention of this post however is not to focus quite so much on the particular recommendation as to wonder upon the attitude that it comes from and conveys, an attitude of such certainty of being right, of knowing the mind of Christ. I certainly believe that I am right, too, and I have great hope that I have also listened to the Word and the leadings of the Spirit. And yet, I may be wrong. Conviction needs always be balanced with humility, bathed in grace. Still, knowing does indeed provide comfort, doesn’t it? That’s how I began this post. Learning of a certain diagnoses did, in a very weird way how ever terrible it is, provide a kind of comfort. Why is it that way? And in the midst of the chaos of a changing world, is there something similar, of knowing a particular specific “truth”? Of having it right?
As I started, I went to and left General Synod with a heavy heart. I lament and grieve for what the church has done, for whom we have done it to, for the—what I believe—sad witness and diminished reflection of the Gospel we have presented. Especially to those persons—sisters and brothers in Christ—where the words we have used inflict pain and cut further into wounded souls, I am truly sorry.
I have found special sustenance in 2 Corinthians 4:5-15 and pray you may as well.
5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you. 13But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke” —we also believe, and so we speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Thomas, God bless you. And for bringing back that fabulous Epistle from a couple weeks ago.
Albert Einstein is reported to have said that it is impossible to get out of a problem with the same mind that got you into it. We need a new mind. I propose that we need an integral methodological pluralism. An integral methodological pluralism allows us to grow in hope as we discover that we are able to consciously evolve into bigger, more comprehensive stories that transcend and yet include our previous stories.
Everyone starts at square 0 and then evolves through what James Fowler named the stages of faith: magical, warrior, conventional, rational, pluralistic, integrated, etc. What I appreciate about this post is that it points out what mythic-literal (warrior) religion does well, i.e. "the certainty of being right, of knowing the mind of Christ." But I don't believe that the RCA's center of gravity is mythic-literal. And that seems to me to be our problem.
In an ideal world, in my humble opinion, shepherding individuals through the various stages of faith development would be the responsibility of many churches. An ideal church system would pass folks along when they reach the limits of the perspective of the church they attend. Obviously, this is not the state of the RCA, hence the need for us to carry individuals from cradle to Christ consciousness.
A new way of seeing is required–one that intrinsically recognizes the value of each of the stages' perspectives in the overall development of the individual, culture, and society. This new way has been called "integral" because it integrates all the previous waves of development into a comprehensive whole. When GS uses an integral methodological pluralism to do business, the warrior folk among us will not be able to hijack the proceedings while they will be able to do what they do well which is battle with their Shadow. I appreciate the years and the church that permitted me to do my work of shadow boxing and shadow hugging. Thanks be to God that they stayed with me through my development to the next stage!
It is a new day, a new world, and we need a new mind!