I received a comment to one of my recent blogs that deserves special attention. I’m truly thankful for any responses to what I write. When you put out what you think, you should expect legitimate, contrary opinions. What follows is the comment sent by Jodie. I reply below it.
I hope the reason you have a public blog is to invite comment without taking offense. I grew up as a Presbyterian PK and MK, and both of my grandparents were Presbyterian pastors as well. I am not unfamiliar with church politics. However I am not ordained and my adult life has been as a member of the church, not of the clergy. So I am bicultural even when it comes to the church itself. There is a huge chasm between the church you attend and the church we attend - the members of churches such as yours. You live in a completely different universe than we do. I give you this feedback in the knowledge that as with Plato's parable of the men in the cave, it is almost impossible to communicate across this chasm, but I must. For your sake and ours.
In your universe it is important to you who my congregation and presbytery ordains and how, and whether you get along with the commissioners of the GA and whether they are conservative, or liberal or other. In ours, it is not. I am a member of a big church. It makes no difference to my fellow church members and me whether your presbytery ordains fat people, skinny people, gay people, divorced people, liberals, fundamentalists, or neither. When we hire a pastor, the fact that they are ordained only means they get to apply for the job. After that, it is a matter of who they are, whether their skills and gifts match our needs, whether they like us and the opportunity we offer, and their own priorities.
Their priorities, your priorities, should be your own congregation.
Our lives are not filled with church polity but they are full nevertheless. There is scarcely any room in our lives to add to them the problems the clergy have with each other. In fact, one measure of a good pastor is how well he or she protects the congregation from whatever nonsense may be going on with the church at large. I think this may be what Bill is at least in part trying to tell you. What we need from our pastors is the word of God for our lives, fresh air - the breath of God - for our lives, teaching for our lives, prayers for our lives. The Gospel for our lives. If we then interact with the world and the world changes for the better because our lives are filled with the Spirit of God, that is when your ministry is fulfilled. Not when you go around trying to spear the windmills of the whole denomination. Whatever evil happens with the denomination only affects us if you drag it in. Please do not. As my mother used to say, before you come in the house wipe the mud off your shoes.
Church politics serves only to distract you (and us) from our primary purpose. It will always be there, like the devil, pretending to be important; telling you if you only do this one thing for him, he will let you save the world. Silly. If it's not one thing it's another. If you want to leave the PCUSA and find another church to pay attention to, you only need to look out over your own congregation.
In my humble opinion,
No offense taken at all. I realize that all of us are centered on the world we live in—not that of other people.
The place where I’d disagree with you is at the intersection of these things. You wrote, "Whatever evil happens with the denomination only affects us if you drag it in. Please do not." Can we ignore what goes on in a denomination when it may eventually have a spiritual, moral effect upon those who have no idea of what is going on right now?
I have a granddaughter who is a sixth grader. She has been a part of my congregation since birth and, because of that, I believe that she is getting a good, orthodox Christian background. Should she be the only sixth grader I care about? There are many of that age in my congregation, but millions more outside it. If our denomination is teaching that abortion is a strictly personal choice, that all expressions of sexuality are equally moral, or that Scripture may or may not be true, isn’t that of concern beyond my church’s walls?
In high school I attended a church where I met my wife, Chrissie. We were taught Biblical values there as a real, practical guide for our lives. At that age, of course, some of the Biblical injunctions on sexual expression were particularly timely and important.
I did a paper in my junior year on changing views of sex (this was the mid-60s). In my research I came across a copy of the Presbyterian magazine, Church and Society. There I read that premarital sex was natural, moral, and normative. My first reaction was to think that I could buy in to this kind of church teaching—after all, it matched exactly what my hormones were telling me.
Thankfully, the Biblical teaching I received, and continued to receive, kept me on the right track. This, I believe, is why I am still successfully and happily married after 38 years (this after being married at age 18!). I thank God for the people who, in my childhood church, were faithful in the teaching of Scripture and its practical application to daily life. The fact that certain actions are normative in society does NOT mean that they are right, healthy, or even helpful. Add to that the fact that Christians are called to live a life in obedience to Christ and Scriptures apart from whatever the world might be teaching.
When a denomination leaves Scripture, it leaves its people defenseless. This may not be apparent at the outset, or even for many, many years. Eventually, though, it will take its toll in human lives and souls. Just consider how dangerous life is today (sexually, in terms of addiction, crime, etc.) compared to the time of my childhood. No one really thought that the “little” changes we were making then for the sake of personal “freedom” would have any negative effect on anyone else. After all, our philosophy told us, “if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, it’s alright for me.”
Sadly, we now know first hand what Donne wrote: “No man is an island.” What I teach affects generations. What my denomination teaches does so on an even greater scale. We all should be VERY concerned.