Aug 5, 2011

When Does Diversity Become So Diverse it Becomes Departure?

Polity, by its very nature, can only reflect and mirror a church's theology.

Therefore, if a church's theology or confessions are confused, that church's polity will reflect that confusion. 

One of the main problems with the homosexual ordination debate in the life of the PC(USA) has been that we have been trying to fix a theological ambiguity (i.e. understanding of ordination and sexuality), through polity measures.

Until the PC(USA) can confess clearly her understanding of what she believes about ordination, human sexuality, biblical interpretation, Christology, etc., our polity will continue to reflect both the ambiguity and confusion of our theology.

P Johnston in the comments from my previous blog asks me to clarify my statement "As long as I am alive and breathing, me and my church will continue to proclaim the goodness of the crucified risen Christ who frees all people from all bondage and all sin. That is the good news of Jesus Christ and I am sticking to it." with the reformed understanding of ordination that the ordination of one council (session, presbytery) is the ordination of the whole.

That's a fantastic observation. 

What follows is my attempt to clarify my statement.

When the church had a more uniform confession, it was possible to claim that the ordination of one is the ordination of the whole church, and that the bodies that were responsible for carrying out that ordination was the local councils. This functionally worked because the church was operating out of a more uniform understanding of her confessions.

However, as our understanding of the "essential" tenets of the reformed tradition is muddied and confused to the point that no one in the life of the church can agree on what those essential tenets of the reformed tradition are, it has led to a fissure in the ordination practice of the church.

It is precisely because I still believe that the ordination of one is the ordination of the whole, that when a council (session or presbytery) calls a "scruple" to particular parts of our existing confessions and constitutional documents, that those of us who cannot agree with such "scruples" find such ordinations untenable and unacceptable. 

I believe in the one holy catholic church. I believe that the Presbyterian way of doing church is one of the faithful manifestations of that one holy catholic church.

But when a council's "scruple" takes itself outside the bounds of historical orthodox faith, it is that particular council that has departed from historical orthodox faith. 

I am not naive enough to think that all will agree that the ordination of homosexuals is a departure from historical orthodox faith. 

But it is precisely this difference in understanding over confessional standards that represents a fissure and a real chasm in the life of the church. And for folk like me, the difference in confessional standards represents a departure from historical orthodox faith to such an extent that it calls into question just how we are connected to one another.

There comes a point when diversity is so diverse, it is no longer what in essence was what it once was. And when that happens, diversity has become so diverse it becomes departure from rather than diversity within.


Sharon said...

James-- I always start out agreeing with you and then you keep going and I simply cannot. I too have a problem that we have created a system where the ordination standard may be different council to council. I agree that our theology informs our polity. So why do we end up in such different places? You believe that homosexuality is a sin and therefore homosexuals should not be ordained. I ask who among the ordain teaching and ruling elders of the PCUSA are not sinners? Of course I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. But no matter are you suggesting that because we are ordained we are pure? Diversity, I believe is part of our theology. If not I would not be ordained an African American Woman and trust me a sinner.

James Kim said...

Sharon, I don't think ordination makes anyone pure. That's not the issue.

The crux is whether the Bible calls homosexual behavior as sin or not. if it is sin then it needs to confessed and repented of. If it is not, then we can celebrate it.

I know you and I disagree on this point. Heck, we disagree on many issues.

But I want you to know that I respect you. You are a friend.

What hurts is that we disagree on such important issues.

I don't mean to hurt you and I know you don't mean to hurt me.

I know you love Jesus and seek to honor him. I trust that you can say the same for me.

And yet, we disagree. And yet, you are a friend.

So the tension remains. I can live with that because I appreciate you as my friend and sister.

James <><

Anonymous said...

Sharon's objection does not make sense. Of course none of us is pure! But would we ordain an avowed, practicing wife beater who says, "Sure I beat my wife. I do it all the time. God made me an angry person, and I am celebrating who God made me to be"?

The difference, as James pointed out, is recognition of one's sin, confession of it, and repentance (the turning to go in a different direction). A former wife-beater who still has such urges but through repentance and with God's help is now violence free could be ordained.

But Sharon isn't advocating that for gay folks. She wants them ordained in the midst of their sin, while they continue on doing it with a sense of impunity. Of course, she doesn't consider it sin, but if she can put herself in our shoes and understand that our biblical interpretation certainly deems it sin, then she ought not give such a facile analogy that doesn't fit at all.

And James: I love your thinking on this, but I think you've been watching Cookie Monster too much. Where you write "me and my church will continue to proclaim...", it is like saying "Me like cookies!" Your statement would be stronger if written: "My church and I will continue to proclaim...".

I think you're probably drawing from Scripture: "As for me and my house...." There, however, the "me" is dative because of "As FOR me..." You want the nominative. Trust me.

Sorry. Once an editor, always an editor....

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

John Shuck said...

Hi James,

I haven't commented on your blog before. I just want you to know that I appreciate your tone. I am not sure what we are to do with our diversity that may in your words "become so diverse it becomes departure?" Departure from orthodox faith is what you mean by that, right?

We can do a lot of quibbling over all of that, but the ball is in your court.

Obviously, those from my perspective think the denomination is doing the right thing. More LGBT people will be ordained. That is what we want. We rejoice that what some call standards, we call discriminatory barriers are now removed.

Many of us see this development not as a departure from orthodox faith at all but in fact an embrace of orthodox faith.

I am not departing from the PCUSA. None of us is going anywhere. We don't particularly want you to go either. My point is that we are diverse. Whether or not this diversity is "departure" is your call and your decision as to what you will do about it.

I think we have a lot in common despite this disagreement as clear as it is. I don't have an answer to your question, because it isn't my question. I am happy to be on communion with you. Only you can answer whether or not you can be in communion with us.

L. Lee said...

Could we look at diversity in the church like we look at apples. There are many different kinds of apples, some sweet and some sour, but we can make apple sauce and goodies out of all of them even though they are different. Though differnt they are still apples.

The PC(USA) is still the PC(USA) even though there are different people.

But then there are the apples that start to have bown spots or be rotten in their core. They are still apples, but are not good for their purpose and may even cause other apples to spoil. There may be a need to separate the good apples from the bad for the purpose of making healthy applesauce.

That is where we are today - considering if the "rotten" theology that has deviated from Scripture will ruin the purpose God intended. Of course not all of the readers of your blog will like this anology. But it may give some light on an outlook that is taking place with subtle force in considering when diversity becomes departure from orthodoxy and if separation is necessary
or if all apples can have a good purpose
without affecting the whole batch that is the PC(USA).

James Kim said...

Jim, thank you for your comments and your help in becoming a better writer. I appreciate you my friend.


James <><

James Kim said...

Linda, thank you for heartfelt response. May God bless you on this Lord's Day! Blessings!

James <><

James Kim said...

John, Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comment. I have no idea what the future of the church will hold. But I do know I appreciate that we will be discerning the future of the church together. You are right. I too think we do have more in common than what separates us.

I will continue to pray and listen for God's guidance in knowing how to live into God's future.


James <><