I have referred to the debates in the mainline churches over homosexual marriage in recent posts. I had in mind the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) when I did. I could apply the same thoughts to Methodists, Lutherans and others who are pursuing this same course in the present political debates over same-sex marriage and ordination.
I must confess this whole debate underscores the politicization of the church in general and the PCUSA in particular. I do not follow the Methodist and Lutheran debates as closely as that of the PCUSA but I have to believe there are clear parallels when the stories are compared.
In the PCUSA this debate began about thirty years ago. At first it was a friendly debate among thoughtful people. Before long it went to the General Assembly which made a recommendation to the presbyteries to adopt a change in the sexual conduct statements of the church. The presbyteries have voted several times and always rejected the change. Currently there are 173 presbyteries. The votes in these presbyteries are made by ministers and ruling elders from respective churches. If a vote is taken of the members of PCUSA churches it is not even close. The overwhelming majority of Presbyterians oppose homosexual marriage. But the vote is taken among leaders, following Presbyterian polity. Leaders include denominational leaders (who are ministers), pastors and the lay elders. The denominational leaders vote as high as 85–90% for same-sex marriage. The ministers are generally split almost 50–50. The lay elders are strongly opposed. Read that again if you missed it. It is very telling.
The final vote in 2009 was 95 against the proposal to change church practice and 78 for change. This is, by far, the closest vote taken in the history of this movement. When you look at it carefully there is every reason to believe that those who promote the change will win if they persist. There is also every reason to believe they will persist.
Consider the shift in popular votes. In 2001-2 the change vote was 10,189. In 2009 it was 10,359. That is a net gain of only 1.7%. The no vote was 13,273 in 2001–2. The no vote this year was 10,791, a decrease of 18.7%. You can clearly see what is happening. Those who vote for chastity and the sanctity of marriage are in significant decline. The forces for change need only a few more people to stay home and they win. They know this and this is why they are so active politically. They have already made it clear that they will try again in 2010. The response of many who oppose them is to give up. They have already left the PCUSA or they have stayed home and simply surrendered. The truth of the matter is that all it takes is for people of courage to give up and people who want change will always win. The culture is on the side of change, at least younger people in the culture are. It will be hard to resist this over the long haul.
So what are the various LGBT advocacy groups doing? The answer is aggressive politics. Carmen Fowler, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee (a group that strongly upholds the present stance of the church and opposes the LGBT agenda) has a unique way of describing this struggle. Three games describe what is unfolding: “Go Fish,” “War” and “Manipulation.”
The church has always had one primary calling, to fish for people, to make disciples. Even the most liberal advocates for change recognize this and talk about the need for evangelism quite passionately. So everyone agrees with “Go Fish” but some have a different view of fishing.
The second game being played, says Fowler, is “Manipulation.” This game was made up by Fowler’s family. It can be played by an unlimited number of players so long as you keep multiplying the decks and manipulating the cards. Fowler says the PCUSA has gone from a friendly game of “Go Fish” to a “no-holds-barred denominational version of ‘Manipulation.’” What evidence exists for this claim? Presbyteries were intentionally targeted for their vote. Groups that advocate the change refer to certain presbyteries as “target flips.” (Utah was even called a “bonus flip.”)
But why call this manipulation? Aren’t people on the other side doing the same? Yes, and no. Yes, there is political strategy on both sides, no doubt about that. But the advocates of change know they have to redefine the plain meaning of words like “fidelity” and “chastity” if they are to win. Winning, in this case, is everything so they work very hard to obfuscate ordinary language and to promote “peace and unity.” They want ordinary Presbyterians to believe that they are still playing “Go Fish.” But the game was changed.
The advocacy groups in the PCUSA are willing to go to the last game now: “War.” They have taken the gloves off and they are determined to win. They really do not care about the losses of the PCUSA. They really do not care about the decline of their denomination. They care about winning the game of “War.” Their openly announced plan is to hunker down and wait for their opponents to give up, something that is clearly happening.
So, should good people who want to fish and not fight avoid the politics of these battles? Not if they believe in truth and purity. Not if they believe in reformation and confessional integrity.
But isn’t the culture already moving away from these standards rapidly and isn’t the best way to advance Christ’s kingdom to move on? I say no. Darkness must be openly challenged by the light. Jesus puts his people at enmity against the spirit of the world. Even if the whole world embraces this agenda, and the fact is clear that it is not, then we must still stand for what is morally right. As secularism draws the West closer and closer to the Enlightenment, and the nearer to radical postmodernity, we have a choice. Will we pursue success or faithfulness? We may have to make that choice in due time. In the PCUSA I think that time has come. It has also come for the ELCA and the UMC. The Episcopal Church has already passed that time and their future has been embraced.