Friday, October 02, 2009
...and Unnecessary DilemmasSarah Lynn at Presbyterian Bloggers writes a very personal reflection based on a very difficult story our of a PC(USA) church in San Antonio. The set-up is, a San Antonio church allowed an atheist to join, after filing a clearly atheist Statement of Faith. This set the ajudicatories of the church in to motion and resulted in the person's removal from the membership roles - for a minute - due to a technical bureaucratic maneuver his membership was soon restored. Sarah Lynn laments:
The root problem is that our systems rely on humans. Human humans, the kind with strengths and weaknesses, love and pain, doubts and sins and failures of every kind.But even the aformentioned Robert Jensen says:
But it’s also obvious that any group (religious or otherwise) that is to remain a recognizable group has to have some standards for membership, or else membership becomes meaningless.Jensen's piece is very personal and discusses the hurt he felt. But he, and the local congregation picked this fight. For one they could have admitted him to membership under the maneuver that restored it to begin with, removing all need for professions of faith and thus avoiding the conflict. Or Jensen could have affiliated with the congregation absent membership. Most PC(USA) congregations now have a large contingent of quite active attenders that are not members. Membership is really only necessary anymore for participation in leadership in one of the ordained lay offices. Jensen also could have, as I am quite certain many, many have before him, simply lied when it came to a profession of faith. Nope, they wanted this fight, so I don't buy the "innocence" of Jensen's presentation of what happened.
Which brings me to Sarah Lynn's lament. I have a hard time being upset by someone picking a fight and losing it. There are no innocent victims here.
Now , that does not mean there were not any number of mistakes made on the winning side. I am willing to bet the people that gave Jensen, and frankly, St. Andrew's, the fight they asked for, were not quite the ogres Jensen paints them - but such people, and I freely admit to being one of them (not in this particular case, just in general) lack a certain grace when approaching these issues. Jensen's presentation is so one sided, that I am not sure how much of it to believe, but he professes to wanting to affiliate with the congregation because of the grace he felt from it. That's a good thing - that many of us can only dream about.
But the bottom line is this - all the discussion seems to be about what we want, what we are attracted to - what we feel. That is not what the church is supposed to be about - It's supposed to be about what God wants and how attractive He is.
You see the key question is how to say to a Robert Jensen, if he is indeed sincere in his attraction to the church (which remains an open question, he could have other agendas, there is insufficient evidence) "Not yet," while continuing to offer and extend the grace that he finds so attractive.
Sarah Lynn is right when she says this:
Where I am right now, I tend to look for justice and kindness and humility on a personal scale before seeking out a larger context. I think it's hard to go wrong when facing this direction; the personal can and should be expanded outward to the global, while the neighbor can be disregarded when the focus is on the entire world.If the people involved are indeed changed by Jesus Christ, transformed into the images of the Almighty that we were created to be, then we would know how to be both firm and graceful.
That's my prayer, and belief - God has a way to "satisfy" both sides of this issue. Our job is to come to understand and know God well enough to do the same.