interchange and discussion of ideas, especially when open
Another definition before you start:
Seduction: a leading apart or astray, from seductus [Seduce: 1. to persuade to do something disloyal, disobedient, etc. 2. to persuade to do wrong, as by offering something; to tempt to evil or wrongdoing; to lead astray] -- from Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary
Liberal and conservative Presbyterians meet
to "speak the truth in love"
GLEN ELLYN, Il. -- The atmosphere was more than a little tense when 10 Presbyterians from opposite ends of the theological spectrum sat down together in a church parlor here on Sept. 8 for the purpose of "speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15) to each other while studying passages from the New Testament book of Ephesians.
As the marathon Bible study drew to a close the next morning, participant Michael Adee admitted, "When I first came into this room, I felt like I could hardly breathe." But in the course of the conversation, he said, "the level of tension went down, and the level of trust began to grow."
Adee, an openly gay elder from Santa Fe, N.M., sat with Bible and commentary in his lap within spitting distance of the Rev. Parker Williamson, executive editor of The Presbyterian Layman, an independent publication known for its strident critiques of liberal theology. Pam Byers, an elder at Old First Presbyterian Church in San Francisco and executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a group that supports the ordination of gays and lesbians, shared a sofa with the Rev. Jerry Andrews, a co-moderator of the Presbyterian Coalition, which opposes gay ordination.
With Ephesians as the launching pad, the discussion rocketed toward the crucial issue of biblical authority. The participants acknowledged that their disagreements on sexuality and other issues were rooted in their differing interpretations of the Bible. Before adjourning on Sept. 9, they agreed to meet again early next year for a more in-depth study of what the Reformed tradition teaches about biblical interpretation.
The idea of studying the Bible together emerged in Long Beach, Calif., in June, in a groundbreaking meeting that took place on the fringes of the 2000 General Assembly, when representatives of the Coalition and of the Covenant Network talked frankly about some of their differences and decided to continue the conversation.
Heads nodded around the room in Glen Ellyn as Terry Schlossberg, an elder of National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., and executive director of Presbyterians Pro-Life, expressed one of her reasons for participating. "I've spent plenty of time talking about you," she said, addressing those aligned with the Covenant Network. "Now I'm going to talk to you."
The September meeting took place at First Presbyterian Church in Glen Ellyn, a suburb west of Chicago, where Andrews is pastor. Before the group got down to business, Andrews and his wife, Lois, were hosts of a Sept. 7 dinner in their home, the first of five meals together, during which the group talked about families, favorite foods and hobbies, told jokes and compared air-travel horror stories.
Each day's discussion began and ended with a time of prayer. Andrews and the Rev. Deborah Block, a Milwaukee pastor and co-moderator of the Covenant Network, planned the agenda and chose the Bible passages for study (Eph. 2:11-22; 4:1–5:2).
The format of the meeting allowed those present "not only to engage one another's minds, but to see each other as human beings," commented the Rev. Anita Bell, a suburban Philadelphia pastor and co-moderator of the Presbyterian Coalition.
Continuing a policy in operation for the Long Beach meeting, the group invited press coverage by the Presbyterian News Service, The Presbyterian Layman and The Presbyterian Outlook. Because Williamson was a participant, editor John H. Adams covered the meeting for The Presbyterian Layman. Several participants admitted to being uncomfortable in the presence of reporters, and concerned about being quoted out of context.
"I don't want anything I say to be taken as a summation of my theology or as the opinion of any organization that I'm a part of," said Mitzi Henderson, an elder of First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto, Calif., and co-moderator of More Light Presbyterians, a group that advocates for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church.
But Schlossberg said the conversation had the potential to help the rest of the church "come to terms with whatever divides us," and therefore needed to be open. "It is important for the church not only to know we're meeting but to know as much as they can about what we say."
While divisions were clearly evident, some surprising points of unity emerged. The group began its study on Friday morning by reading aloud the entire book of Ephesians. After the reading, Williamson commented, "As we read the Scriptures together it's as if there's a bonding occurring through this common language."
In the middle of a discussion on how to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3), Block asked abruptly, "Have we done the church a disservice by forming these groups (the Coalition and the Covenant Network)?"
The Rev. Bill Giles, a retired presbytery and synod executive from Birmingham, Ala., the executive director of the Coalition, responded, "I think it's a sad commentary on the church today that the energy is in these groups and not in the work of the church."
In one intense exchange, Andrews spoke directly to Adee, lamenting the fact that when they met each other they were introduced "as being on opposing teams."
Andrews told Adee, "I'd like to see a way forward where you and I wouldn't start out at cross purposes. I would like to be a companion with you, to be on a journey with you in Christ."
However, the tentative movements toward unity did not coalesce into concrete action, except for the agreement to schedule another meeting. The Rev. Laird Stuart, a San Francisco pastor and a co-moderator of the Covenant Network, floated a proposal that the two groups develop a joint mechanism for "holding the church accountable" when controversies arise. He said he was not proposing "a truth squad," but a group that "would have credibility with both liberals and conservatives," and could represent more than one side of a disagreement.
The proposal sparked mild interest, but no action was taken.
Block drafted a short statement to the church summarizing the content of the Glen Ellyn meeting, and encouraging others to undertake similar endeavors. However, several participants said they thought it was premature and unnecessary for the group to issue a statement, although they had no objection to the contents of Block's.
"If some of our members are not comfortable with the letter," said Byers, "it would be a pity for this to become a point of controversy." Those who had supported sending out the statement did not press the issue.
When 10 Presbyterians with different theological perspectives got together for Bible study, they found -- not surprisingly -- that they had different understandings of how Scripture is to be read and interpreted.
Here is a bit of their conversation:
Parker Williamson: To affirm that Scripture says we are called to be holy does not mean I think I'm holy and you're not, or that I'm part of a Fred Phelps brigade (a reference to the Kansas minister who led a virulent anti-gay protest at this year's General Assembly). I was repulsed by that. It was wrong.
Anita Bell: I don't think it's our business to define holiness.
Mitzi Henderson: It is in community that I discover what holiness means. I don't find it sitting alone and reading the Bible.
Terry Schlossberg: We can't discover for ourselves what is good and what is bad. It has to come from somewhere. Presbyterians say we find it in the Bible.
Laird Stuart: It's dangerous for us to limit where God speaks. God's revelation comes through the Holy Spirit speaking to individuals, through Christ, through Scripture -- even through nature. The problem is, we don't always get the message.
Henderson: I sense that one fear you (Coalition members) have of us is that we're throwing out the Bible.
Pam Byers: Some say there's only one true message of Scripture, and you're either stupid or wicked if you don't see it. I don't hear anyone here saying that.
Jerry Andrews: We've got a lot of work to do as a church to come to a common understanding of what the Scripture says. ... Do you think our church has the courage to acknowledge that we believe those who do not know Christ are without "hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12)? ... I firmly believe God has provided for the world one Saviour. My role is to be exclusive, to lift up Christ, but he can be as inclusive as he wants to be.
Anita Bell: We are fairly gutless in proclaiming boldly what is so politically incorrect. ... We can be so busy being nice that we don't speak the truth.
Michael Adee: I really struggle with persons and groups that say they want to uphold biblical standards and then come to different conclusions (on homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, ordination of women). I don't get that. I need some help.
Henderson: It's such an insult for people to assume that we (supporters of the ordination of gays and lesbians) haven't looked at Scripture seriously, that we haven't thought about morality. ... After my son came out as a gay man, I spent five years dealing with my faith and the Bible before I stepped forward to take a leadership role (in the Presbyterian wing of PFLAG -- Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). It grieves me deeply that my son has left the church because he cannot bear to always be labeled.
Stuart: I believe Scripture is inspired, but what does that mean? Some passages are more illuminating for faith and life than others.
Bell: (When I hear statements like that) I get nervous about where truth is coming from. I chose the Presbyterian Church because it was confessional. I wanted to serve in a denomination that was grounded in more than my experience.
Henderson: Is Scripture the only place we discover Christ? Is all of Scripture equally valid? I think we have different views.
Williamson: Scripture is God's Word, and we know Jesus Christ through Scripture. Otherwise, Christ becomes a mascot for our ideas generated by other sources.
Byers: My colleagues and I are trying with everything we have to follow the Jesus revealed in Scripture. It's not some made-up Jesus. It's the Jesus whose ministry is described in this book.
Henderson (to Williamson): You feel very strongly that the Bible has given you truth on gays and lesbians. I think you're wrong on that. I don't think that conforms to the Christ I have experienced.
Block: I hope one of the things we walk away with is a new respect for each other's commitment to basing our life on the Word of God. I want us to do this (find common ground on sexuality issues) the right way, by having it emerge from the Word.
Henderson: What excites me about (continuing this conversation) is not that I think we are going to agree, but that we're going to take each other seriously.
For you United Methodists who haven't learned the ropes yet, this is how it is done! Don't forget to take the Selah Moment before leaving -- there is a message in that, you know. It sort of takes me back as to my experiences in times past and how I easily got fouled up, and as a result my influence messed up the church from time to time. Oh, you're not familiar with that? Details are given at what CR describes as Theo's "Special Place" -- that's not really the name of it -- you just have to go there to see what it is really called!
For at the window of my house I looked through my lattice, and saw among the simple, I perceived among the youths, a young man devoid of understanding, passing along the street near her corner; and he took the path to her house in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night. And there a woman met him, with the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart. She was loud and rebellious, her feet would not stay at home. At times she was outside, at times in the open square, lurking at every corner. So she caught him and kissed him; with an impudent face she said to him: "I have peace offerings with me; today I have paid my vows. So I came out to meet you, diligently to seek your face, and I have found you. I have spread my bed with tapestry, Colored coverings of Egyptian linen. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he has taken a bag of money with him, and will come home on the appointed day." With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him. Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, he did not know it would take his life. Now therefore, listen to me, my children; pay attention to the words of my mouth: do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths; for she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death.
--- Proverbs 7:6-27 (NKJV)
Depending on where you've been before coming here, you can either return or proceed to other related areas located at:
Return to or Sneak a Peek at C. D. Harriger's BLOG at
Musings of a Maverick!
To vent your rage, mildly comment, or ask a question,
just click on Penelope, mail hostess at Circuit Rider's Range,
and she will speed your letter on its way to CR!