Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing

Today while I was having lunch with the Central Quilters someone showed me the column in this Sunday's Valley News Dispatch, "I believe in Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe" by Kathleen Parker and asked what I thought about it.

I don't like the column which appears to be commentary on the report "The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing" which was received by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) last month.

I question whether Ms. Parker actually read the report herself before publishing the column, and note that she does not claim to have done so.

The first four paragraphs of her column are total speculative fiction. The "gender-neutral version of the Apostles' Creed" that she offers appears nowhere in the Trinity report. Nor does her phrase "sorta-holy (lowercase) trinity." (Nowhere in the report does the word "Trinity" appear in lowercase.) Nor does her phrase "dad-boy-ghost scenario." Nor her phrase "patriarchal leftovers."

Ms. Parker characterizes the theological statement on the doctrine of the Trinity as a "policy paper on gender", but she ignores the theological resources cited in the document. She claims that the motivation for receiving the statement was attentiveness "to the world's evolving feelings" (again, her phrase). Her sole basis for claiming this to be the case is that she guesses it to be so. Having made a blind guess about the motivation behind the production of the report and the Assembly's reception of it, she is now freed from any need to acquaint herself with the actual rationale or content of the report.

She quotes the report as saying that the traditional language leads some people to believe that God is male. That is true. I had a phone call from a woman who believed God was male for that very reason. If that isn't evidence of the need for better teaching about the Trinity, I don't know what would be.

Parker cites the phrases that are likely to get the most attention -- "Mother, Child, and Womb" and "Rock, Redeemer, Friend" -- but omits the scriptural citations that were included in the report. Why the omission?

(Personally, I see how Mother, Child, Womb, Rock, Redeemer, and Friend can work separately as metaphors to talk about God, but I do not yet see how the triads work to illuminate the nature of the Trinity.)

I am glad the report was received the way it was. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) needs it. The PCUSA adopted a Directory for Worship in 1988 as part of our church's constitution. One relevant provision concerned the language to be used in worship
W-1.2006b. The church shall strive in its worship to use language about God which is intentionally as diverse and varied as the Bible and our theological traditions. The church is committed to using language in such a way that all members of the community of faith may recognize themselves to be included, addressed, and equally cherished before God. Seeking to bear witness to the whole world, the church struggles to use language which is faithful to biblical truth and which neither purposely nor inadvertently excludes people because of gender, color, or other circumstance in life.

Long before the Trinity Working Group started their task, worship leaders in PCUSA churches were mining the Scriptures for diverse and varied language that would help all of God's people to lift their hearts to God. Some of the attempts worked well, and some failed to capture the fullness of what we believe about the Triune God. The report, with the amendments made by the Assembly, will help us continue a necessary conversation about this core doctrine of the church.

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