[Updated] Diversity required, integrity optional

Update – I have joined with my friends at the blog StayPCUSA.com to ask our Vice Moderator say few words about how her sense of call to high office in the PCUSA relates to her decision to perform a wedding of two women. You can read the letter here.

The election of Neal Presa and Tara Spuhler McCabe as Moderator and Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) demonstrates that the culture of the church has arrived at a place where integrity appears to now be optional–even in election to the highest offices of our church.

What apparently isn’t optional is celebrating (rather than lamenting) the deep and profound differences we hold, even those differences which deviate significantly from the teachings of the church over the last two thousand years. This is an untenable position for a church. Why? Because what is often perceived as “arguments about doctrine” are really arguments about discipleship–one of the central tasks of a Christian church.


I’m referring to Neal’s Vice-Moderator, Tara Spuhler McCabe (above officiating the service in question).

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, and people of good faith do disagree within our communion, surely it is clear that doing something forbidden by the Constitution of the Church demonstrates a stunning lack of integrity that cannot simply be washed over by an appeal to pastoral need, unless you’re willing to exclude, say, people of color from church office in some congregations based on the same reason.

Neal released this statement, which frankly is an exercise in equivocation.

He remarks that political expediency would have required him to have asked McCabe to step down as his Vice-Moderatorial candidate. True. However, it seems to me that he chose an alternative that is equally politically expedient–allowing her to remain thereby making the ticket attractive to the left wing of the church while allowing him to declaim about unity in diversity.The real path of integrity, if you ask me, would have been for the whole ticket to withdraw in advance of General Assembly.

Instead the church was exposed to an unprecedented vote as to whether or not to confirm McCabe as Vice Moderator–rather than a pro forma approval it was a 60-40 vote to confirm. Surely this is not working to further the unity of the church.

The church is now in the untenable position of having to say publicly that a Teaching Elder can participate in the ordination of a gay person, but cannot perform a wedding ceremony for that same person. The internal logic of the statement necessitates that the next step is to move to redefine marriage to allow same sex ceremonies.

As I’ve written before, this will cause the church to continue (and perhaps speed) its disintegration. Why?

It is not because evangelical people are any more obsessed with sex than others. Instead, it is because gay marriages serve as a concrete embodiment of the controversy we have been embroiled in for more than 100 years. We have become a church without a center–a place where it is more than acceptable to say one thing and do another even where we have taken a vow.

It seems to me that despite Neal’s eloquence in suggesting that we can model an alternative way of being community in and for the world, that we have said it is acceptable to violate our vows means that we have much more in common with the world than we would like to think.

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