We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Two Separate Worlds

In a blog entry posted back April, Andrew Webb listed, "13 Differences Between the PCA and the PCUSA," that is between the Presbyterian Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Writing as a member of the PCA, he presents a fair assessment of those differences, and in them there is little that surprises anyone who knows at least something about these two intensely different Presbyterian denominations.  The list includes the following:

  • PC(USA) ordains women and the PCA does not;
  • PCA adheres to biblical literalism and the PC(USA) does not;
  • PCA is "pro-life" and PC(USA) is "pro-choice";
  • PCA considers homosexuality a sin and the PC(USA) does not;
  • PCA adheres to a traditionalist Reformed theology and the PC(USA) does not;
  • PCA is committed to evangelism and the PC(USA) is not;
  • PC(USA) generally places more authority in the higher councils of the church while PCA is more grassroots; and
  • PC(USA) accepts theistic evolution while the PCA does not.
There are other points of comparison, but these are the major ones.  They point to the undeniable fact that these two denominations live in very different faith worlds.  From the perspective of most of us in the PC(USA), for example, ordaining women and accepting the LGBT community are matters of simple, Christ-like justice.  Being "pro-choice" does not mean that somehow we are anti-life but that we are pro-women.  We are pro-life, which is about much more than abortion.  And so on down the list, which in all reflects a different set of values, attitudes, perspectives, and a different spirituality.

Webb does note that on a few of the differences there is some movement in the PCA toward the views held in the PC(USA), for example on evolution and in worship.  What he does not say is that in most of the differences between the two denominations, the PC(USA) is demonstrating a greater ability to adapt to changing social values and attitudes than the PCA, which is becoming more and more culturally isolated.  In a posting entitled "The Future of the PCA," conservative blogger Marshall C. St. John, makes that point and observes in some detail its significance, namely cultural isolation and inevitable statistical decline.  That decline set in 2008.  PCA apologists, of course, will argue that being culturally unpopular does not make its stands on the issues wrong, but equally of course it does not make them correct either.

A couple of thoughts: first, it really is better that we are two separate denominations.  We have relatively little in common in so many crucial ways, and about the best we can do with each other is exhibit some degree of tolerance of each other while equally believing that the "other" just doesn't get it when it comes to faithfully following Christ.  Second, perhaps in the larger scheme of things the reality of having two denominations so different at so many points is a strength rather than a weakness.  People in general are very different, and in faith as in everything else one size does not fit all.  This isn't a cause of celebration, but it does recognize the fact that the Spirit has to move in us where we are and in ways that we can hear.  It moves liberal Presbyterians in ways that conservative Presbyterians simply can't accept and vice versa, always pushing and prodding us in the direction of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom is not a race.  We all make it there or none of us make it.  Amen.