In church, the communicant (customer) is always right?
I was reading some posts on a prominent progressive/liberal presbyterian blog earlier and I was struck by something. Reading these two posts and digging a little to expose the reasoning behind the argument produces an interesting appeal to something like consumer capitalism or an appeal to demand. This is interesting to me because evangelicalism is often critiqued as being a religious manifestation of the consumer capitalist system.
These posts (here and here) suggest to me that evangelicals are not the only people whose theology has, at times, been co-opted by market-driven thinking. It’s not just evangelical mega-churches, but liberal churches and ministers in the PCUSA too. This is ironic because often such ministers and churches are fierce denouncers of free markets and consumerism (although not necessarily).
In response to what seems to be a tipping point in the denomination’s handling of a theology of human sexuality and the steady decline of membership in the Presbyterian Church USA, Edwards offers a way for conservatives and liberals to “get along” by essentially agreeing that each of them serves a niche market.
Presbyteries in the PCUSA should, according to Edwards, start or develop a gay-friendly congregations. She writes,
For conservatives, the advantage is that this new congregation would remain under the care and oversight of the conservative majority. It would mean that conservative churches would now have a place to refer LGBT members, instead of pushing them out of the PCUSA altogether. For progressives, the advantage is that there would be an inclusive place for LGBT people and others who don’t feel comfortable in a declared conservative congregation any more.
The thinking that undergirds the article is that there need to be practical ways for gay people to connect to the PCUSA otherwise they will go somewhere else. Surely we don’t want people going elsewhere. This is an eminently practical solution.
The problem is that where truth and falsehood is involved, however, practical solutions very often are not good ones. As G. K. Chesterton has noted, the world needs more impractical men (and women).
Here’s where my thinking on the matter takes me. As an evangelical Christian I believe that the Bible is the Word of God written, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. That is to say it is the standard by which my experience of God and of myself is judged. It seems to me that the Scriptures are univocal along with the tradition of the church that homosexuality is not an expression of healthy sexuality.
There are people who read the Scriptures and come to the conclusion that the form of homosexuality discussed and condemned in its pages is not the same as expressions of homosexuality today. As a result, they conclude that GLBT people should be welcomed into the ordained offices of the church.
I disagree with this conclusion quite strongly. However, I can respect someone who reaches this conclusion on the basis of a rigorous study of Scripture.
What I cannot accept and I do not respect is simply an appeal to the survival of the PCUSA or to a niche market approach. (Note: I don’t mean to suggest that Janet Edwards has no strong or intellectually-formed opinions about the matter. I’m pretty sure that she has both. However, the posts in question seem rather more political that theological). I also cannot respect any view that contradicts our Confessions concerning the unique and authoritative role of the Holy Scriptures in forming the content of our belief.
If Scripture doesn’t condemn homosexuality then the church is in sin by placing limits and excluding folk for no good reason. If Scripture does condemn homosexuality then the church is failing in its fundamental mission of offering the healing grace of God to all people.
God knows we all fall short in many ways–gay folk don’t have the corner on sin. The church too often turns away from many sins with a simple wink and a nod. However, at the end of the day the phrase “peace, unity, and purity of the church” has to be rooted in something more than the absence of hostility; something deeper than an agreement to share a bedroom, but not a bed. Peace, unity, and purity demand the healthy exercise of the church’s authority to discipline its members–something we haven’t seen modeled in healthy and redemptive ways.