[You may skip to the last 6 short paragraphs for the kernel of this post.]
I still care about the Presbyterian Church (USA). It’s just that I have other more immediate and satisfying concerns in my retirement. I am weary of fighting for what should be little things like acceptance of gays and gay marriage. The PCUSA stopped fighting about war and peace, and social transformation a long time ago, so it is now irrelevant. That is why I think it has declined from about 6 million to 2 million members.
I joined the church in ‘66, the year the decline began. One might conclude that I, therefore, am the cause of the decline. No. It is the church that has been afraid to be progressive that has caused its decay.
Recently Jack Haberer, the editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, an independent magazine of news and opinion within the church, hosted a “Webinar” on the topic “What’s to Become of Our Church? …Trajectories of Hope.” I did not attend. Today Carmen Fowler Laberge, editor of The Layman, a newspaper of the right-wing orthodox within the church, wrote a response. She writes that “we have but one hope and His name is Jesus. The trajectories of hope are then:
a return to a unified declaration that Jesus Christ alone is the way to salvation;
a resurgence of evangelistic fervor to convert the lost;
a rediscovery of the Bible and a renewal as in the days of Josiah;
a repentance of our departure from and active participation in the suppression of the Truth; and
a recommitment to a pattern of discipleship that produces people mature to the stature of Christ who are able to speak the truth in love to a generation of itchy ears.”
The Layman began in the ‘60's in opposition to the adoption of "The Confession of ‘67" and the Book of Confessions of which it is now a part. Prior to this book of historical and time related declarations of doctrine, the "Westminster Confession" of 1647 was supreme. From the point of view of The Layman “Truth” was being surrendered. Westminster had said that the Bible was the foundational Truth. The Confession of ‘67 said that Jesus the Christ was that foundation.
This meant endless war in a church more concerned with words than with life. One of those who opposed both the bureaucracy of the church (of which I became a part) and the reactionary elements was John Fry, a saint from the south side of Chicago. He wrote this interesting book about the PCUSA in '76, which should be the subject of a blog post itself. One thing he said was that “The human race needs all the friends it can get.” The church was not being that friend.
If we want trajectories of hope for the church, here are mine:
A return to the teachings of Jesus about life. Downplay or forget teachings about judgment and damnation which probably are not from Jesus himself. Emphasize Jesus’ teachings and way of life and death as a revelation of God. Put aside unnecessary concern about divinity.
A return to teaching and learning of everything: the world from the sciences, from whence we have come in history, who we are from anthropology and biology and evolution, recognizing that we are all lost unless we learn, adapt, and act.
A return to prophetic witness and ministry by study of the problems that confront us now and in the foreseeable future. A willingness to stand up and speak out for human rights and the common welfare.
A rediscovery of the Bible and a discovery of world religions, learning of the human spirit and our common search for self-transcendence.
A repentance of the many ways we have harmed people by teachings that we thought were ultimate truth, which has profoundly created conflict and opposed peace.
A recommitment to a pattern of discipleship that produces people mature to the stature of Jesus as a model human being, who are able to speak the truth in love to the world and risk their lives for these truths.