Controversy is Baked Right In: On Marriage, the Middle East, and the Presbyterian Church

medium_2495257461 1. I was not elected vice moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly.

2. I'm home, and very glad to be so.

3. We made some people mad last week.

...Those are in reverse order of importance.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) made decisions about marriage and the Middle East that left some of us celebrating, and others of lamenting or downright furious. You can read my take on the marriage decision at TIME.

Temperamentally speaking, Presbyterians are not firebrand folk. We joke about being the Frozen Chosen and doing things "decently and in order." (That's from the Bible, by the way.) So it's a bit uncomfortable for us to be in the news, even if we agree with the decisions made last week.

But as my friend Jan Edmiston reminds us, Faithfulness is Disruptive.  And last week, after hours of deliberation, conversation, prayer and discernment, a majority of commissioners decided that the faithful thing was to give pastors and churches the discretion to perform same-sex marriages where they are legal, and to divest from three companies who are profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in the Palestinian territories, in keeping with a long-standing policy of socially-responsible investing.

Some people wonder why we wade into controversial issues at all. Churches will leave the denomination, they say. Our long-standing partnerships with Jewish congregations are in serious jeopardy.

Yes, and yes. Here's the hard thing though, for big-tent, good-natured Presbyterians: that doesn't make the decisions wrong.

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook yesterday--a snippet from last week's Feasting on the Word:

If Jesus were really the affirming nice guy we often insist on imagining, should he not have been able to stay out of trouble? What incited people to call him such appalling names? Why would following him wreck families? How did he end up on a cross? The answer is not that his opponents had strange and unsettling ideas, but that he did. Contrary to popular opinion and bestselling books, not everything the follower of Jesus needs to know can be learned in kindergarten. Kingdom work, it turns out, is more controversial and subversive than conventional kindness.

Not every controversial action is of the gospel, of course. We may have gotten it wrong last week. But the potential for controversy is not a reason to do nothing.

When you're talking about Jesus, subversiveness is baked right in.

That said, conventional kindness is a welcome overlay to all this. So be kind, folks; everyone is fighting a great battle.

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photo credit: incurable_hippie via photopin cc