Monday, January 19, 2009

Can there be common ground in the midst of our differences?

Detail from a mural at the Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Monroeville, PAOn Saturday I attended a listening session sponsored by Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Cross Roads Presbyterian Church in Monroeville. The 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) sent a number of proposed amendments of the church constitution, along with four ecumenical statements, to all of the presbyteries for their votes. The Assembly recommended that presbyteries use a listening process in voting on these amendments.

Pittsburgh Presbytery has formed a task force to prepare recommendations to the Presbytery on each of these matters. That task force scheduled six listening sessions in order to hear from ministers and elders about each of the issues. I decided that I would try to get to the three that were closest to me in order to hear from people in the presbytery.

Logos banner reading "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" hanging at the Cross Roads Presbyterian Church in MonroevilleSaturday's session was held on a cold day, but the temperatures did not stop 21 people from coming out to listen and be heard. The Rev. Tom Moore led the session that morning.

Those in attendance identified proposed Amendments 08-B, 08-E, and 08-F, and ecumenical statement 08-K as the ones about which they wanted to speak.

The majority of our time was spent discussing proposed amendment 08-B, "Ordained Officers: On Amending G-6.0106b, G-14.0240, G-14.0450." The energy expressed around 08-B primarily had to do with the amendment of G-6.0106b. The thrust of the amendment is to replace a reference to a specific standard with a more general, but specifically Christ-centered, standard for officers "to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church ...."

As I listened to the statements people wanted to make both in opposition to this amendment and in support of it, it seemed to me that the major division we were experiencing had to do with our differing interpretations of Scripture. For some the proposed constitutional change seemed like a relaxing of clear teachings of Scripture; for others the same change seemed like a move towards greater faithfulness to Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. With such great differences of perspective, is it possible for us to find common ground? I continue to hope so.

When we discussed Ecumenical Statement 08-K "Ecumenical Statement with the Roman Catholic Church on Ratifying a Common Agreement on Baptism" many were pleased at the prospect of formalizing agreements that that some of us had assumed were already in existence. Yet even as we looked with favor on this statement, there were some who were still concerned about the fact that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Roman Catholic Church have different understandings of justification. Should a disagreement on justification (not addressed in this ecumenical statement) be a sufficient reason for disapproving an agreement on eight points where there is no dispute? I don't think so.

I plan to attend other listening sessions that are reasonably close to me, to continue to hear the thoughts of others in Pittsburgh Presbytery. I need to know how these potential changes affect them. The people with whom I may have disagreements are all recipients of the same grace that God has shown to me in Jesus Christ.

Mural showing elephant, giraffe, camel, and bird under a rainbow. at Cross Roads Presbyterian Church in Monroeville

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