It was interesting to watch the recent General Assembly respond to the politics of fear. I was recently talking to a former Baptist missionary about his experience as the conservatives took over the denomination and began to fire all missionaries, such as himself, who didn’t agree with their positions. He said that while he was trying to decide, he came home for a visit. While the debate raged within the Southern Baptist community, he talked to his mother who had been a life long Southern Baptist. She told him that she just couldn’t understand what all the arguments were about. I suspect that also is reflective of many of the members of the Presbyterian church. Those of us who have been engaged in these arguments over the past thirty (or a hundred) years think that we are debating crucial decisions. The average membership may take sides depending on what charismatic pastor is advocating for one side or the other, but by in large they don’t understand what the fight is about.
With respect to the homosexual debate in particular, I believe that the mood has changed because of relationships. When the vast majority of homosexuals were “in the closet,” most people lived with characterizations of homosexuality that were based on lots of misinformation. When homosexuals began to come out of the closet in droves, many of us discovered that there were many homosexuals that were also people we cared about before we knew of their orientation. They were our brothers, sisters, parents, trusted friends, etc.
Then we began to hear that many of our presumed beliefs were not based on facts. For example, most gays are not sexual predators and our children are at least as vulnerable, if not more so, to heterosexuals. We also discovered that despite the reputation for pormiscuity, many gays were in long standing relationships. Occasionally we would discover that a beloved member of the church, even a pastor or educator, was gay, and yet we knew that their life was exemplorary. I know of one Presbyterian minister who serves as a youth minister in a church and is openly gay. The congregation knows it but they also know him. They have no more fear for their children than they would if he were heterosexual.
At the General Assembly there were those who argued that churches would leave the denomination if we changed our position on homosexuality. Other groups made that precise argument about the churches position on abortion, and still others as they argued against the new Form of Government. It seems to be the new nuclear option argument. What I saw at the GA was that the commissioners were growing tired of that argument. There might be good or bad reasons to vote one way or the other but fear was not one of them.
Was the Assembly reflective of the membership of the church? Will the presbytery votes be different this time? It is hard to know but I, at least, hope that the politics of fear will have less of an impact this time. Wouldn’t it be interesting if our presbyteries genuinely listened to one another and spent a lot of time in prayer as they made their decisions?