January 1, 1998
It used to be that sex, politics, and religion were generally excluded from polite conversation. Once sex and politics became the only things that Presbyterians seemed to talk about (any stray mentions of religion being subsumed within the first two topics), we needed a new unmentionable. So the possibility of a split within the PCUSA was, evidently by acclamation, elected as that item Presbyterians could not ponder publicly.
Apparently another referendum is needed.
In an article on p. 5, the present moderator, a former moderator, and a presbytery stated clerk all mention the possibility of a division within the PCUSA. And an article on p. 14 quotes a letter from the Presbyterian Coalition citing Book of Order language about the peaceable withdrawal of those who will not abide denominational decisions.
Since its founding more than three decades ago, the Presbyterian Lay Committee has worked for change from within the PCUSA. We have urged others to do the same. We still do.
But we have also advocated full and fair public discussions of all significant issues in the life of our denomination. And we still do. Attempting to stifle debate by declaring a topic unmentionable is no more productive than holding “dialogues” among hand-picked participants behind closed doors. Suppressing open discussion all but guarantees a future uncontainable eruption.
The value of openly discussing even “noxious doctrine” was recognized by Supreme Court justices Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in a 1927 dissent, where they wrote,
“It is the function of free speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears … If there be time to expose through discussion falsehoods and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
Rather than remain in bondage to irrational fears, rather than acquiesce to protests that effectively make an idol of a unity that does not exist, would it not be more in keeping with our Presbyterian tradition to say with Isaiah, “Come, let us reason together?”