I am a parish pastor.
More focused on congregation and community than on denominational issues and politics. Because of that I am not often asked my opinion about the larger church. But last week I was. My name was suggested and so I was taken to lunch and asked about my impressions of the work of the Presbyterian Mission at the United Nations and the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. I have been a Presbyterian long enough to know of both of those offices. Living near NYC, I have even visited the Presbyterian Mission at the United Nations, though it was years ago. But, to tell you the truth, other than the occasional uproar because of something said or written or reading an occasional article or position paper or seeing snippets posted on Facebook or Twitter, I have not followed the work of either of those offices very closely.
I was surprised I was asked about my views.
And, even more surprised that I had something to say.
Here is what I said.
Both those offices could be a great resource for the Presbyterian Church and beyond. Not, primarily in advocating for policies adopted by the General Assembly, but in being a facilitator of discussions around the important issues we face both nationally and internationally. In a culture dominated by news and information that comes to us in carefully crafted sound bytes there are few places where thoughtful insight and civil discourse takes place. With the tools at our disposal, in terms of email and social media and the contacts and resources at the disposal of these offices, could information and a variety of positions be shared and then the larger church and community invited into a discussion rather than just leave it to the General Assembly to debate the issues. I recognize this would be a real shift for those offices and a tremendous amount of work. And, something like what I am suggesting would take some real getting used to on our part…those of us who sit in the pews. Added to all that, the demographics of the PCUSA are against us. My children are much more accustomed to such a discussion than I am, but maybe we could learn.
Policies have their place, but if that is all we offer people then we automatically leave a portion of the them behind. Can we find a way to present differing, thoughtful points of view, share it and invite them to enter into or at least to follow the conversation?
Here is an example of what I mean.
The issue of divestment is, once again, coming before this year’s General Assembly. In Hudson River Presbytery we have two caring, thoughtful, committed people who see this issue differently, Susan Andrews and Rick Ufford-Chase. Both care deeply about the church. Both care deeply about each other. Both have served as Moderators of the General Assembly. What is a platform we could use to allow them to share their points of view and then invite us into the conversation with them? What if we had a healthy discussion of this issue for several months before we ever got to GA? That discussion could then be a resource for commissioners as they consider the issue? Even more…what if we invited our Jewish and Palestinian partners to be a part of the conversation? Or, what if we used that conversation as a springboard for conversations with our neighboring synagogues and mosques?
I know I am reaching for the stars.
But I am not sure any of the great debates we have had over the last 20+ years have done us much good. In fact, I think they have created more alienation than healing.
Maybe it is time we find a different way.