I love that, as a PC(USA) minister, our constitution will soon reflect my ability to perform marriages for any two folks who want to get married, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The thought actually makes me ever-so slightly teary eyed.
So, hear me say clearly that PC(USA) ministers’ ability to perform same-sex marriages is something I deeply celebrate. For that matter, I’ve been one of the denomination’s loudest same-sex marriage advocates for quite some time.
But, also, hear me say clearly that how the PC(USA) is handling the celebration-worthy event reveals everything that is wrong with our denomination, and only further signals the death of the institutionalized Church.
As I said, this is an event worth celebrating.
And, as a matter of fact, it just so happens that a group of young PC(USA) clergy were gathering at an event called “NEXT Church” when the vote tipped in favor of same-sex marriage. My friend and progressive Christian thinker/author extraordinaire, Diana Butler Bass, happened to be there presenting (yes, we embrace Episcopalians – at least the cool ones) and was able to help lead the cheer.
The place went nuts – in the very best way.
There was a standing ovation.
And lots of hugging all around!
You have to understand, NEXT Church is a gathering of “leaders across the Presbyterian Church (USA) who believe the church of the future will be more relational, more diverse, more collaborative, more hopeful and more agile.”
Those folks, the future of the PC(USA), cheered at the announcement of the news.
You’d think that’d give me hope for the institutionalized Church, right?
All it did was provide stark contrast between generations, and point to the reality of the too-little-too-late nature of the Church as an institution.
This contrast is most clearly revealed in the reactions of folks in the PC(USA) who have been around a bit longer than the NEXT Church attendees, and who hold the majority of power in the denomination.
Like most hierarchical institutes, the PC(USA) is a pay-your-dues kind of operation. So, while there are exceptions, the older generations hold a great deal of the power and influence.
How did the majority of those with power respond to this celebration-worthy news?
Nope – at least not publicly. That wouldn’t be very “Presbyterian.”
Those who disagree are already trying to take their ball and go home.
They’d like to move their congregations to a different branch of Presbyterianism.
But oddly, as it turns out, the folks who are staying (the majority) seem much more worried about those who are leaving than they are about celebrating a big win for LOVE!
There is much wringing of hands, and the frozen chosen have taken to social media to proclaim, “it’s much more complicated than some news sources are making this out to be,” “ministers don’t have to perform same-sex marriages if they don’t want,” “it’s a church’s choice as to whether they host a gay wedding.”
You can (and in my opinion should) read all of this to say, the most powerful decision makers in the PC(USA) are much more interested in unity and resources than in dong what is right: publicly celebrating love winning out the day.
We’ve come to this decision very late in the game.
And, the fact that the PC(USA) is ahead of many other mainline Protestant denominations just underscores how dire the situation really is.
You see, there was an entire room full of young Christian leaders who saw this moment for what it was:
a full expression of the love of neighbor that Jesus taught us about, a vision of doing unto others as we’d have done unto us, a movement toward the radical inclusivity of an all loving God.
The place went nuts – standing O.
But the system is in place – it’s a pay-to-play environment.
And what is the currency?
The one thing we are running out of.
We should have celebrated.
Every PC(USA) church sign today should read: “Love wins!”
Instead, we will watch some churches leave or split or close down over this issue that can barely be described as a blip on the biblical radar. We will downplay the importance of the ruling, so that as few churches as possible will leave along with their resources. And we will continue to quietly and informally nurture the pay-your-dues structure that plays right into the hands of stagnation and rigidity.
I fear that by the time the NEXT Churchers begin to gain a majority of influence over the institutional system, there might not be much church remaining, considering that the Great Decline of religion in America continues.
That decline continues, in part, because we don’t give moments like this a public standing O.
We augment it, modify it, reshape it and recast it in a way that “Love wins!” sounds more like “Love wins?”
And, to me, “Love wins?” just doesn’t sound very much like the man we are trying to follow.