Saturday, January 07, 2006

When Holding On to One Another Costs Too Much

Presbyterian James D. Berkley, Interim Director of Presbyterian Action, has written recently on the controversy in the Presbyterian church over their Theological Task Force report on human sexuality. ABC observers will find surprisingly close parallels to the issues, if not the exact lanugage, of our own conflict. The echoes of Dr. Medley's Biennial address are striking, particularly the desire to hold on to "one another" despite "differing convictions."

Here’s what I see: Two paragraphs in a row in the editorial find Haberer speaking approvingly of ways for Presbyterians “to hold on to one another while holding on to their differing convictions” (emphasis added).

Haberer is holding up two things he considers worth holding on to: (1) “one another” and (2) “differing convictions.” People are worth holding on to, but I would contend that differing convictions are actually the problem--make that an evil--rather than a good.

Obviously, if a terrorist believes that blowing up babies in a nursery is good and a humanitarian believes saving babies from danger is good, both firmly held convictions are not equally noble. Nor will such mutually contradictory viewpoints be conducive to good fellowship and singleness of purpose among the holders.

Holding on to convictions can be terrible, if the convictions are evil, untrue, damaging, or God-defying. In addition, some mutually exclusive convictions will never meld successfully in the same group. Holding on to convictions per se is not necessarily a good thing.

So what are the different convictions that Haberer believes people can hold on to while they hold on to each other in the Presbyterian Church? One side thinks it evil that sexually active homosexual persons cannot be ordained under our constitution. It’s prejudiced, unjust. The other side thinks it evil that God’s clear moral law and will could ever be lightly tossed aside to ordain the serially sexually unrepentant. It’s immoral, conforming to Satan’s lie. Both are firmly held convictions.

But there’s a problem. Both sides can’t be right, since one conviction contradicts the other. Both sides could be wrong, and some third conviction could be right--whatever it might be. But far more likely, one side is right and one side is wrong.

If that’s the case, what is so great about celebrating a church in which a great number of members are advocating by conviction something actually morally evil? And perpetuating that condition. And calling it a good to be valued?

Hold on! Shouldn’t a church interested in God’s true truth (as Francis Schaeffer put it) be more concerned with resolving colliding convictions rather than tenaciously holding on to them? Shouldn’t a church interested in God’s will want to determine and live out that will, rather than simply say about tough moral quandaries, “Whatever…”?

I can’t agree with Jack Haberer on this one. There are convictions within the PCUSA that badly need to change, not be held on to. That’s classically what conviction of sin, confession, repentance, and sanctification are all about--turning from wicked ways and thoughts. “Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways!” If there are right convictions and wrong convictions in the church, then we must have the gumption to try to turn the wrong-headed convictions into righteous ones.

No. Holding on to one another cannot come at the cost of cheap denigration of truth and God’s will. As our Book of Order so wisely states, “No opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a [person’s] opinions are” (G-1.0304).

Remember the old ad line about chicken: “Parts is parts!”? Well, “Convictions is convictions” is just as silly.


[As usual, the choice to cite our Presbyterian brother is unilateral on my part and not to be confused with anyone having official roles in the PSW]


Bryan Peters said...

Truly, sometimes amicable separation may be best. However, my lament is that the separation occurring within the ABC-USA is anything but amicable. I am an inerrantist evangelical, but I find myself disgusted at the unChrist-like manner in which so many of my theological brethren have conducted themselves. Secret meetings, takeover attempts, venomous rhetoric, and backroom politics are not the tools of a Christian.

Dennis E. McFadden said...


I'm not sure where you hail from, but I do know FIRST hand that much of the talk of takeover and secret meetings is a total fabrication. At the Biennial this past summer, I had to endure hearing people inform me that they KNEW that a colleague and I were part of a substitute slate in a take over attempt. Not only was there no substitute slate, but the colleague and I would not have accepted an ABC office on a dare.

As to firey rhetoric, you are sadly on target. However, you might read Dr. Bill Herzog's Roger Williams Fellowship screed against evangelicals. It exceeds anything I have seen by those on the right.