I’m a pastor. But there are days when I wonder whether I belong in the Christian Church, whether I’m really a Christian. Ever wonder that about yourself? Or have you left the church as a matter of dissent, embarrassment, or protest?
Take the last two weeks.
President Barack Obama shares his faith at a National Prayer Breakfast. He declares that we are “our brother’s keeper.” I feel proud. The comments on CNN run heavily against him. Ayn Rand’s “the virtue of selfishness” – not the story of Cain and Abel or the teaching of Jesus – has won the hearts of the people.
‘Some phony theology’
Rick Santorum tells an Ohio audience that Obama’s agenda is based on “some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible.” I feel sad … and angry.
I read the story about the church court case of the Rev. Jane Spahr, a lesbian Presbyterian minister rebuked for officiating at same-gender marriages, one of them the wedding of Lisa Bove. Lisa was an ordained student elder at the church I served at The College of Wooster. She went on to seminary and was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I feel proud of Janie and Lisa, their tenacity, their courage, their strong and gentle spirits, their deep faith. I feel sad that the church still doesn’t get it.
I’m embarrassed by how ridiculous the church debate is and how absurd this church family feud looks to the world. I want to withdraw, pull the covers over my head, go to sleep, take a sedative maybe. But I’m also angry. I want to fight. I want to weigh in on the debate. Yet to do so will only continue the polarization, the disrespect for others, the tendency on all sides of a church argument to proclaim with Little Jack Horner, “What a good boy am I!”
Stay quiet, or speak out?
If I stick my thumb in the pie, I’ll just continue the ludicrous display of Christian arrogance. What to do? To keep silent feels like abdication of conscience. To speak adds my voice to the appearance of the church’s absurdity. But I’m a fan of the Theater of the Absurd and Albert Camus, as well as Jesus.
I decide to stick my thumb in the story. The comment I posted is the first thumb in a hot pie:
“I know Jane Spahr and Lisa Bove as colleagues and love them both. Lisa was a student leader at the Westminster Presbyterian Church at The College of Wooster where I served as Pastor. Jane is that rare minister of the gospel who has managed to remain gentle and bold, acting in conscience and ecclesiastical disobedience without becoming hard or cynical. Lisa is the same. When you’ve been working for GLBT full inclusion as long as Jane and Lisa, that’s a testimony to their soulfulness. For Jane, Lisa, and so many of us, the Bible calls disciples of Jesus to live in love and to be advocates for justice. The Presbyterian Church (USA) last year restored an older principle of church order that removes the restriction against ordaining GLBT members. The issue of marriage remains contentious in the church, as it is in the society as a whole. Some pastors have declared that until church and civil law permit them to officiate at same-sex marriages, they will not marry anyone as a witness to justice. Jane and Lisa are sweet, sweet spirits whose lives bear witness to justice, love and peace, working from that inner light of courage, conscience and consolation that keeps them sane and strong.”
‘Good boy!’ — and ‘Bad boy!’
Three replies come quickly:
1) “You are a faithful and honest servant of God. It has taken a long time, but every year there are more like you” (i.e., “What a good boy am I. Good boy! Good boy!”); and
2) “Pastors should know and preach the truth of God’s word. Please read: 1 Tim: 3:1-7 and Titus 1: 5-9 When folks go against the truth of God’s word, then they are following deceit and you should know who the great deceiver is” (“Bad boy! Bad boy!”)
3) “Let’s hope this church sees the light and retracts the rebuke. And perhaps even apologizes.”
Then this morning a classmate sends me this story about an apology: “Christian Group Shows Up to Chicago Gay Pride Holding Apologetic Signs”:
I wish I’d been there to hold one of these signs.
I’ve experienced the forgiving hugs of gay and lesbian church members. And when I write comment or a commentary like this one, I hear a little voice inside myself: “Good boy! Good boy!” Then, as soon as I feel the relief, I know I’ve fallen into the very self-righteousness I despise in others. “Bad boy! Bad boy!” and I’m back where I started: “God help us ALL!”
The Rev. Gordon C. Stewart is pastor of the Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, and moderator of First Tuesday Dialogues: “examining critical public issues locally and globally.” He blogs at www.gordoncstewart.com.