Making space for God, not each other

One of the risks that we take in talking publicly is that we have absolutely no control over what’s printed or broadcast. Comments can be taken out of context or be quoted inaccurately. Headlines attempt to draw the reader’s attention but sometimes miss the mark and create the wrong impression.

Those don’t sound like the words of a person who was once wedded to the journalistic craft, do they? Yes, my 24 years in secular radio and print news were a genuine calling and I loved every minute of it. Well, 98 per cent. I was a defender of the Fourth Estate’s vital role in the maintenance of democratic freedom and I remain so.

But I’ve also seen how unprofessional work can tarnish someone’s reputation. Even a first-rate journo on a bad day can make a slip and do some damage.

Despite healthy preparation, interviewers sometimes say the wrong thing. In radio and TV, once the words are out of your mouth, there’s no rephrasing. Perfect example is the 11-minute radio interview CBC Regina did last week with Rev. Amanda Currie, the PCC’s moderator-elect when the host referred to her as the new “leader” of the PCC. Rev. Currie, in her response, deftly clarified the “leader” term, saying, “The moderator’s role is not a decision-making role. … It’s the person who helps to guide the people of the church in making decisions together.” Kudos for that.

But no amount of clarification deep into a radio interview is going to erase the headline on the web story: “New national Presbyterian assembly moderator from Sask. focused on LGBTQ inclusion, reconciliation.” That’s the power of a headline – something I’m familiar with after years as a daily front page editor. Black ink on newsprint can never, ever be corrected or taken back.

So, the tone is set. And this is the underlying message: “Change is coming to the Presbyterian church.” Isn’t that what “leaders” do? They steer their constituencies towards change.

Well, as any good Presbyterian knows, our General Assembly is not “led” – it’s “moderated”, as Rev. Currie points out. Sadly, the editor didn’t pick up that nuance and the headline sunk to a generality.

With that in mind, let’s look at the content. Rev. Currie responded to questions about reconciliation with First Nations, interfaith dialogue, and the challenges of moderating. Some thoughtful answers. And then there’s the inevitable LGBTQ question. That part of the interview didn’t take up much time, but – for me – it left the most questions. One snippet: “We will be looking at possibilities for how the church can continue with a diversity of perspectives and making space for fuller inclusion.” Whoa. What?

I’ve never met Rev. Currie, but she responded quickly to my email, saying she was “disappointed with the web story of the interview, as I think it includes several inaccuracies.” Fair enough, but what about the implication of her statement on “making space for fuller inclusion”? The underlying message in her words is that a change is inevitable.

We don’t know what the Special Committee of Former Moderators will be bringing forth. It was a premature statement, talking as though something is actually on the table for consideration. It wasn’t exactly moderatorial.

Rev. Currie responded to me this way, in part: “If I gave the impression that any particular decision was inevitable, I apologize. That was not my intention.”

Apology accepted. So, I pray that the moderator-elect will remain neutral as the discussion or debate transpires on the floor of Assembly. (For the record, I’d pray the same if it were a moderator who was not affirming.)

Still, the message is out there.

There is an assumption shared by many on the affirming side, and some in the traditional camp, that we can emerge from this debate with neither side winning or losing. It’s the belief that we can make space for one another, theologically and practically, and remain as a body of Christ.

Sorry, but if making space means changing our theology to be something different than I read in the Bible, there’s no deal for this commissioner. A church simply cannot be of two minds. Rather than making space for human perspectives, we need more space for God. I pray that General Assembly 2019 will provide an opportunity to witness to the inconvenient truth, humanly speaking, that life is not about us. We serve and worship a holy God, and to experience life to the full means to submit to a lifestyle that is based on authentic theology.

One thought on “Making space for God, not each other

  1. Hi Andy, with respect and love, I disagree with three things in your blog and since “unprofessional work can tarnish someone’s reputation”, I’d like to bring them to your attention.

    First, there is nothing scandalous about the headline. Moderators choose a focus for their moderatorial year whether it is youth, healing and reconciliation or mission. Coming on the heels of the Rainbow Communion’s work, I would hope that any moderator would make this coming year one of repentance and reconciliation for the harm done by the church through its homophobia and heterosexism.

    Second, it isn’t new information that the church has been looking at possibilities for how the church can “continue with a diversity of perspectives and making space for fuller inclusion.” This is literally what the church has been doing for the last few years. The document “Where do we go from here?” outlined three possible options, two of which were about continuing with a diversity of perspectives and making space for fuller inclusion. To say we are looking at “possibilities” is not an inaccurate statement. And while I agree that a change in our theology is not inevitable, I hope that what is inevitable after GA is a church that is more welcoming to the LGBTQ community. We are in the process of listening to the voices of those who have experienced homophobia and heterosexism in the church. It would be a shame if we weren’t more welcoming after the process is done.

    Third, this is the second time you have scolded people for not waiting for the moderator committee’s report. This is a little unfair coming from someone who has already made up his mind before hearing the report. You write “if making space means changing our theology to be something different than I read in the Bible, there’s no deal for this commissioner.” You can’t fault someone for making a premature statement when you’ve already decided what the outcome needs to be.

    Andy, you know that being moderator is a stressful position and those who take up this mantle need our love and support rather than our unwarranted criticism. This post asks the church to be of one mind but what it fails to recognize is that the church has always been two minds about one thing or another. Paul didn’t seem to have a problem with this provided we are guided by love. What Paul did ask was that we have the same mind as Christ, doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regarding others as better than ourselves, looking not to our own interests, but to the interests of others. In my opinion, your post has not regarded Rev. Currie in this way and has instead tried to tear her down for the RF’s own agenda. In my mind, it is not Rev. Currie who needs to apologize.
    I praised the Moderator-Elect’s choice of words as she described her duties. But I added a gentle reminder of the need to be more of a conversation guide than a leader. All this is done as encouragement, as iron sharpens iron.

    Regarding the report and any recommendations from the Special Committee of Former Moderators, I am not taking a position on something I have not seen. I’m simply stating that there are lines over which I cannot cross.

    Repentance has already taken place. Reconciliation is to come. Being welcoming to all people is a given. It’s how we define it that’s the issue. In my mind, the welcome mat does not imply that the occupants can make their own house rules. It is my hope and prayer that we can be welcoming while maintaining the biblical definition of marriage. You may wonder how that is possible. With God, anything.

    And while it’s very good to look out for the interests of others, we need to be always mindful that God’s interests always supersede ours.


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