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The Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly is well under way. Like many other Presbyterians, I’ve been watching from afar—reading daily denominational news posts and skimming the interpretations posted by various special interest groups. The assembly began, at least for me, on a hopeful note: the elected moderator (Neal Presa) and vice-moderator (Tara Spuhler McCabe) are long-time friends who disagree on the definition of marriage. They represented unity-in-diversity in their leadership. I wondered if they could be a sign to the rest of us, a testimony of the love of God that binds us together and leads us forth into mission in spite of (and perhaps even on account of) significant difference and disagreement?
The vice-moderator has now resigned. The fact that she officiated a civil marriage ceremony and signed the marriage license for two women has elicited a backlash of judgments, accusations, and divisive comments. She referred to painful, divisive twitter feeds and blogs about her, about her friendship with the vice-moderator, and its impact on the focused work of the commissioners at GA. In response, she has stepped down in hopes that the assembly would proceed with greater ease, peace, and trust.
I haven’t read the blogs or tweets that she refers to, but I can only imagine the vitriol. I worry that this might elicit a counter-response of similar verbal attacks and increasing polarization. I’ve been to enough General Assemblies and read enough blogs and responses to PCUSA news to observe that both those who identify as evangelicals and those who identity as progressives are equally guilty of condemning one another.
As Presbyterians continue to process this event, I hope that at least some of us can remember these words from the book of James:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. (James 3:1-12)