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Feeling Trembly

By August 5, 2015 8 Comments
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[8/5/15 While the Rev. Jes Kast-Keat is on vacation, the Rev. Marla Rotman is filling in. Marla shares the position of lead pastor with her husband, Tim Rotman, at Peace Church in Eagan, MN. For the record, she feels working along side her husband isn’t nearly as hard as she thought it would be.]

 

I’ve got to be honest. I’m anxious about the future of my denomination, the Reformed Church in America (RCA). When I get thinking about the many issues that are driving wedges in our denomination, and the threats I hear from this person and that person about this church or that church leaving our denomination, I tremble a little.

I’ve been quite the little trembling ball of anxiety these last few months. Certain topics tend to have that effect on me. Whenever the topic of immigration, or gay marriage, or Obama Care, or police shootings, or gun control, or women’s rights, or welfare, or the confederate flag, or Planned Parenthood, or Hilary Clinton, or Cecil the Lion comes up, my heart starts fluttering and I brace myself for a storm of divisiveness. Though it’s true in the other demographics as well, the lines between Christians get drawn firmly in the sandy concrete and the “us” is distinctly separated from the “them.” That’s when I start to vibrate with anger that people don’t listen to each other. I vibrate with frustration that fear dictates action. I vibrate with bitterness that voices don’t speak up or shut up. I vibrate with dread that things will be said that can’t be unsaid. I vibrate with confusion that everyone doesn’t see things my way.

So this little blog serves as a reminder as much for me as for anyone.

As Christians, we are part of a heritage that values unity over any other moral, ethical, traditional, or political standard. Unity has the highest value in the Christian Church compared to any other issue that threatens to distract us from the fellowship to which we are called. As Christians we are called to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Why? Because of our oneness: ONE body, ONE Spirit, ONE hope, ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, and ONE God.

This list of “The Ones” is the gold standard for the believer in Christ. We are called to unity because we are a part of one body, the body of Christ crucified and resurrected, whose purpose is to be the diverse membership of many people working in cooperation as one to fulfill the great commandment to love. We don’t accomplish this through our own efforts, but in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the hope and faith the Spirit provides, in the resurrection life given to us in the one baptism, and for the glory and honor of our one true God.

God knew we wouldn’t be able to agree on everything, so we have the list of Ones to unify us around what’s important. It’s not the only scripture that matters, but it certainly helps us get out of our own heads and step away from opinion-making, side-taking, and finger-shaking.

Our unity comes from God and is for God’s sake. It doesn’t require uniformity; it doesn’t require that we think, act, dress, sing, or look the same because it’s not about us. It’s about God. What a relief! Our differences have been anticipated, or we wouldn’t need to this list of ones.

Think about the early Christian community. A more diverse group of misfits has hardly been seen since. At the time the letter to the Ephesians was being written, Jesus-following Jews were first being introduced to Jesus-following Gentiles. Those two groups had very few areas of agreement between them and unity was crucial for the message of Christ to be preached. Unity in diversity was the ONLY way forward.

Unity in diversity is the only way forward for the RCA as well. If the Gentiles and the Jews could put aside their vastly moral, ethical, traditional, and political in nature differences for the sake of unity in Christ, why can’t we?

The biggest issue threatening to divide the RCA right now is gender and sexual diversity. In the coming year, a group of approximately 90 hand-selected people will gather together to face down our denomination’s disagreements around the topic of sexual sins. It seems to me the goal is to finalize the debate with a comprehensive statement that will stop all the tremblers like me from trembling. Because I am a little more liberal in my interpretation of the scriptures around sexuality, I was told by a classis representative that I would be eliminated as a prospective participant in the process. It’s not the first and won’t be the last time that I’ll be asked to not show up. But those who do should keep the “List of Ones” in mind. If it helped the Jewish Christians not only tolerate the Gentile Christians but also share a table with them, it can help us through this season of dissent. The way forward was the same for the early Christians as it is for us: be like Christ. Break bread together. Pass the gravy. Welcome the outsider to the table. Say a prayer. Preach the Gospel. Love. And leave the trembly topics for the Holy Spirit to work out.

Jes Kast

The Reverend Jes Kast is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament and serves West End Collegiate Church as their Associate Pastor.

8 Comments

  • Your last sentence “leave the trembly topics for the Holy Spirit to work out” makes me tremble with joy!
    I live in Nova Scotia where United Baptists are members of the Convention of Atlantic Canadian Baptists. At some point at an annual convention it was decided to allow individual churches the freedom to call women to serve as senior or lead pastors. This was a recognition that there can be valid differences in interpretation of Scripture and of the need for unity in diversity of opinion. While some churches now have women pastors, others remain solidly against it. Of course there were also churches of the latter stripe that left the Convention but the majority still remain and co-exist. I’m not sure how well those women pastors are accepted and respected at annual meetings but at least the leaders who are “not there yet” get to see the depth of their faith and the reality of their call to ministry.
    I’m pondering why this approach did not work for the inclusion of LBGTQ Christians as those who are capable of serving in leadership roles in our churches. A few years ago the Convention voted against this as well as equality in marriage. It comes to me that denominational leaders are very hypocritical in their thinking when it comes to who can be called a Christ-follower. In this “enlightened” age, most of them will admit that no one denomination has THE definitive interpretation of Scripture. As there has been an increase in cross-denominational ministry especially among younger Christians, leaders have seen that there can be unity in diversity and have maybe even changed their minds on certain points. But when it comes to gender and sexuality issues those same leaders revert to the “old ways” and essentially are saying that if they allow freedom in this area, the United Baptist Convention will no longer be a keeper of the TRUTH – going right back to the idea that they have some sort of inside track on what the Bible says. United Baptists can’t allow that those of other more affirming denominations might also be Christ-followers and certainly are not listening well to the voices of LGBTQ Christians in their own churches.
    Maybe denominations are the new abomination! When they exclude other Christians I can’t see how they are honouring “the Ones” and the Holy Spirit has definitely taken a back seat to the lordship of the denomination.

  • Nancy Landrigan says:

    Well said. Thank you!

  • Lee Collins says:

    YES!

  • Ann says:

    Where ever we encounter fear and trembling (and we seem to find it in abundance around issues of sexuality)… that is the place we should expect to FIND God’s presence. Where we should be looking for signs of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Instead, fear causes us to shut down. How can we say we believe that God will work all things out according to God’s purposes when a classis decides one of it’s members is not allowed to be part of a discussion because they may be too “liberal”? That is not faith at all. That is complete lack of faith. And it’s a sign that we have much bigger “problems” than what to do with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the church. We have lost our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. How sad.

  • Thanks for pointing that out. Seems to me, if you (and I!) are on the more liberal end of spectrum we should be the ones invited to the Jerusalem council! How else can they get a diversity of opinion? Oh, who am I kidding?

  • Marla, thank you for this post – voices of calm, steady presence are so needed in our denomination right now. Even the midst of your own tremblings, you help remind us where the comfort to our anxiety lies – in the simple reality of trusting the Spirit’s presence.

    I’m frustrated that a Classis representative told you that you would be “eliminated” from the process. Thanks be to God that you continue to show up in other places, helping make sure that ALL voices are given space. After all, we can only be fully “united” when we have all the parts to make that a reality!

  • Twila Fnkelstein says:

    Reading this sentence, “Whenever the topic of immigration, or gay marriage, or Obama Care, or police shootings, or gun control, or women’s rights, or welfare, or the confederate flag, or Planned Parenthood, or Hilary Clinton, or Cecil the Lion comes up, my heart starts fluttering and I brace myself for a storm of divisiveness” leads me to think about how just addressing LQBTQIA+ division concerns is minuscule in comparison to what needs the attention of all denomination and the Holy Spirit. And, humans need to do the work as lead by the Spirit. When we have people how have graded hold of conspiracy theories and stopped listening to the HS, we have a serious problem in many denominations. Banning the full study of American history changes how we can study World history, giving our kids an incomplete education. Banning books when one person complains changes education of youth completely so it is incomplete. Thinking about how keeping confederate flags and statues to honor confederate Civil War ‘heroes’ while refusing to teach full, rich Black history approaches evil, to me. Allowing kids 18 years olds, who’s brains are still very immature and they are dealing with volatile hormone vacillation, to buy automatic guns (weapons of war) seems to me to take away parental control to protect their kids from committing crimes and falling victim to gun violence. Why don’t we make mass shootings legal and be done with it? Allowing members of Congress, who know very little about how the human body functions and close to nothing about medicine, to determine how women’s bodies are manipulated to meet their desires, is also legalizing murder of pregnant women who are destined to carry a deceased fetus until it expels naturally (and I can tell you that doesn’t always happen and sepsis can set in creating great unnecessary harm, expense and sometimes death, and an ectopic pregnancy is an express danger). Health care must not just be for the middle and upper class. Everyone needs nutritions food. Everyone deserves to live in homes with bathrooms and a place to be out of the elements. Jesus was and loves immigrants. I’ll end with this quote from The Celtic Christian Tradition, “Jesus didn’t die for us so that we could continue treating people the way people treated Him.” Much work to do beyond praying, beginning with listening to Holy Spirit. Can we break bread before or while we do the work?

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