Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Thoughts on my future in the PCUSA

I posted this on livejournal privately about 16 months ago. It was right before I started blogging - right before the committee that oversees my work in the PCUSA (the CPM) passed me through to candidacy. I've sat on it for a long time because the CPM did forward me through the process, and I was overcome with a sense of hopeful expectation. I'm finding that 16 months later, that hope was misplaced. I've been doing a lot of soul-searching and trying to listen for what God is telling me to do with the call to preach that he gave. It's hard because I've had to face so many of my own idols (especially idols of professionalism, entrance to the middle class, intellectualism, etc.). But in the end, I know that Christ will have a more useful instrument in his hands.

To that end, I'm posting some of my reflections. Many of these have been written over the past two years, but were held back because I didn't want to seem pessimistic (especially when there were these glimpses of hope). However, the situation has really become intolerable for me. I'm having to take my own advice. For years, I've told LGBT friends (yes...I have them) to seek a denomination where they can be faithful to what they believe they're called to do. I told them that if we stayed in the same denomination, we'd fight until there was no time left for faithfulness - and would destroy all the bonds of love that should still tether disagreeing Christians. The time has come for me to do the same thing: It's time I chose whether I wanted to spend the next thirty years fighting OR do I lay that down and go where I can minister without feeling that I'm compromised? (Quietude in the face of what's happening in the mainline simply isn't an option for my personality, and I'm not even sure it's biblically possible.)

Here's the first post, written when I was but an inquirer....

It's finally beginning to dawn on me.

I've been quite rigorous in my preparation for ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament (mowas) in the PC(USA). I've done reasonably well in an antagonistic seminary where I was opposed and maligned (while making no small stink of my own), I've managed superior marks on our mandated ordination exams, gone through several psychological evaluations, and passed field education requirements with lauds from both supervisors and congregants.

Nevertheless, I find my efforts at advancing to candidacy stonewalled by the committee that oversees that preparation. Musing tonight on what I might say should they again deny my request for candidacy, it finally dawned on me:

The PC(USA) has spent forty years eroding the doctrinal core (the Westminster Standards) of our unity, and dilapidating our constitutional integrity, that the only thing left to hold us together (besides the Board of Pensions) is a certain attitude or posture.

I wish that I could describe that attitude, but I do not understand it well enough to display it to my committee - much less provide an analysis of it here. There are some elements I believe I have singled out, but they are not kind and I do not think I would do well in displaying my own biases here as they touch so personally upon my own sense of call.

But one thing is certain: in the opinion of the CPM of my home presbytery, I do not have it. And no matter how sane and well-meaning I am, no matter how professionally competent I am, no matter how ardent I am in my love of Jesus Christ and the salvation he has secured for me and for all of his flock, I am not yet able to live out my call within the bounds of the PC(USA).

If any good has come out of this at all, it would be that I have greater sympathy for those who feel as though they are unfairly denied a place in the leadership of the church (esp. women in the Roman Catholic setting and LGBT persons in the protestant world). I haven't changed my mind on what the requirements of ordained ministry are...but I think I can trust their hurt a little more. Further, I think I can see how easily this hurt can overwhelm our best reflection on our particular place in the process.

I have affirmed again and again that I trust the CPM to make the right decision. It will break my heart if they believe that the best decision to be made - for the sake of the church - is to restrict my ministry within the PC(USA). They have every right to do it - and I would even maintain that they have every responsibility to do it. And it takes every ounce of Christian maturity to say that, because I fear that the answer will be "no" when I go before them this fall.


Red_Cleric said...

I wish I had great words of advice and or hope to give you but I can understand your hesitancy. I myself came through San Francisco Presbytery, decades ago--1980, and understand what it is like to be the outsider.

I think the question of whether you want to be in a denomination that spends the next 30 years fighting is valid. I know that very thought is part of what is behind many in our congregations seeking to go to the New Wineskins model of denomination.

Peace and good discerning...


Reyes-Chow said...

Chris - Thank you for a thoughtful and honest post. The CPM process, regardless of what "side" one is on regarding any issue can be frustrating to say the least. I don't know you from Adam's house cat, so don't know if we would agree or not on this or that, but I do want to say that I appreciated your ability to articulate with other may be feeling and experiencing. Thanks. Bruce

Dave Moody said...

Jn 16.33

will said...

Chris - as you are well aware, I have never been through this process - and I think I would find it intolerably frustrating. But then again, my calling is not the same as yours.

I wish I could say something encouraging about your situation - but it would be false coming from me. What I can say is this: if God has called you to something, God will provide a way to follow that call - whether Holston presbytery, the PC(USA), or anyone else wishes it or not.

Your observation about those who feel they have been unfairly denied a place of leadership in the church is right. The pain these express is legitimate, whether or not these *should* be in such positions. In many cases they have "jumped through the hoops" and done their best. In all cases this is closely tied to personal livelihood.

Whether or not I agree with their theology is quite beside the point. I think that leading people on ... creating false hopes is wrong.

You are undoubtedly right that it is, in most cases, best for these to seek a place where they can be faithful to what they believe themselves called to do. The same most likely applies in your situation. [That can vary according to specific call, I suppose - but it is a question.]