(By the Rev. Janet Edwards, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Written in response to the lament published by the Post-Gazette on 9/9/17 by Holly Lott, “A Presbyterian’s lament: Our church is forsaking core values with ‘reform’ that deforms.“).
When I was ordained in September 1977 to the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament in what is now the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), there were 92,792 members among 194 churches in Allegheny County. Now there are 137 churches with 28,518 members.
When Holly Lott and her congregation leave — as she wrote in this space last week (“ ‘Reform’ That Deforms, Sept. 9 Weekend Perspectives”) — there will be fewer. This so terribly grieves me.
I will be left — I, definitely a progressive Christian who embraces God’s covenant with us reflected in same-sex marriage, God’s respect for a woman’s discernment to become a mother or not, and Jesus’ wisdom in the greatness of a child (Luke 9:48). So, yes, the PCUSA will become more progressive by her going. And this grieves me, too.
What I trust worries us all is the fact that not just the PCUSA and the church in America are dividing this way. We all see how society is splitting into camps with different news sources and even claims about what’s real. It’s clear to me that the difference between Ms. Lott and me reflects this tension across our country.
I agree completely with Ms. Lott that the PCUSA “exists to bring good news of Jesus Christ to all his children.” I expect she would be surprised to know that I do not think the church is meant to be progressive or, I would add, conservative. The Presbyterian Church of my ancestors was founded in order to hold differing views like mine and Ms. Lott’s together. When we fail to live out Jesus’ desire “that they may be one” (John 17:11), it saddens me and, more importantly, wounds Christ.
The Reformed Church came to be in response to the violence of the Christian conflicts in Europe 600 years ago. Our core values reflect a way to live together with disagreement, in church or in society, rather than bashing one another over them. This way is simple on the surface but, obviously, difficult for people to practice.
Reflecting God’s love for all, here is the foundation — let’s say our core value — for harmony in the PCUSA and anywhere, really: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”
What this means is, we agree that Jesus is our Lord and Savior — declaring this is the only requirement for membership in a PCUSA church. This is an essential upon which we need to agree. When Presbyterians like Ms. Lott judge my confession of faith in Christ to be unworthy of fellowship, it grieves me.
I do question how conservative Christians live out their faith; I do not judge the sincerity of their confession. How we live out our lives in Christ and how we interpret Scripture (and we all do) are non-essentials. We are free to follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that gives us different gifts and different perspectives. Conservatives bring a rootedness in tradition that is valuable to the church. Progressives like me bring an ear to God’s still small voice that calls us to the unknown. This is also valuable to the church.