That They May Be One

Back when I taught at Princeton Theological Seminary, the Presbyterians were devoting a lot of energy to sexuality issues, in a way similar to the present tensions in the Episcopal Church. Numerous congregations and presbyteries summoned PTS faculty to address them about the problem, and often enough they had to settle for one “conservative” Presbyterian and one “liberal” Anglican (though there’s another post in me about “why I am not a liberal” — that’ll have to wait).

At these events, I went out of my way to stress a couple of points apart from the merits of the particular arguments we were about to represent. First, I pointed out that we were deliberating not simply about vote-counting in some local or regional or national judicatory; we were seeking God’s will for humanity, for which deliberative discernment we would be judged by the Truth. As such, pettiness and caviling must play no role in our colloquium. After all, Jesus warned that we who indulge in name-calling would be accounted as murderers! If my arguments hold (living) water, then my less receptive colleagues would be found to be setting stumbling-blocks before the little ones who believe in Jesus; and if my arguments miscarry, I (in turn) am found to be releasing one of the commandments that Jesus instructed us to teach and obey.

Second, I invited the congregation to ponder the significance of the unhappy burden of division that beset us. I hoped not to be commended by God at the cost of their condemnation, and I promised always to pray that we not be separated at the last day. I asked that they likewise pray for me, that my error be forgiven me on the basis of their intercession (should I, in fact, be found in error).

I’ve tried to stick with that path as long as I’ve been a small-scale public persona in this turmoil. If I’m wrong, I’m ready to be accounted least in the kingdom; and I pray, and I ask prayers, that the mercy that prevails over judgment will embrace both re-asserters and re-assessors.

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Thank you for these words both wise and charitable. Some days I wonder if there’s any hope for our churches finding their way through these divisive issues. Your gracious perspective renews my hope.

  2. Really wonderful post. If only we could always speak to each other as dying sinner to dying sinner, suspicious of our own infallibility, and praying for each other’s salvation. Now that would be worth getting up for on Sunday mornings.

    Grace and Peace,
    Joe

  3. Hurry up and finish that “why I am not a liberal” post so I can plagiarize it. Being a post-liberal is hard work when everyone has this poorly constructed liberal/conservative paradigm in mind.

  4. AKMA:
    As ever, thank you for your irenic style, it serves as both challenge and example. So often I find that you are saying very nearly what I would say (yet stated with elegance and style) that I flatter myself that our minds travel in the same circles — but really, I’m just cruising in your wake.

    As for being a liberal or not, I’m with Thunder: I’ll either crib what you write, or ghost write it for you. I’m getting tired of funny looks when I disavow being liberal.

    Cheers,
    JF

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