Do Evangelicals Have a Voice in the PC(USA)?

February 15, 2013

I have lost my singing/speaking voice only once in my life. I had just completed a Palm Sunday performance of the Brahms Requiem, in which I was the soprano soloist. Some time during the reception to follow, my voice suddenly closed down. And so it remained for a full six days. I was advised to drink a lot of water, rest as much as a church worker can during Holy Week, and stop trying to talk. My greatest anxiety came with the awareness that I was scheduled to lead the musical worship at a large Easter sunrise service the following Sunday. I went to bed Saturday night unable to sustain a tone, but in faith I set my alarm for 4 a.m.—the service began at 5:30—not knowing what else to do, frankly. I got up, took a hot, steamy shower, and started to warm up vocally. It was all there, well-rested and ready to go, and a very grateful musician drove into the foggy morning eager to sing God’s praises and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Scary? You bet! A faith-stretcher? Unmistakably! Putting God to the test? I don’t think so; more likely God was putting me to the test.

In the last several years, there has been a lot of talk in the PC(USA) about “voices at the table.” People and groups have complained that their voices have been silenced. Others have felt their voices have been drowned out. I would go so far as to say, in some church environments, that the voice of God has been taken off the air, which should be the most concerning thing of all. A high value has been placed on giving voice to the voiceless, as a matter of justice. The voice of a small minority is given equal time to that of the majority as though it has equal value, truth, or reasonableness. In Christian circles, this extends to the implicit belief that all opinions are biblical and faithful and must be included in our consultation with each other. The unintended consequence of the equal time rule, paralleled in 21st century journalism, is the perception that the house is far more equally divided than it might actually be. This offers the minority the advantage of more air time; we all know, the more times we hear an assertion, the more likely we are to believe it to be true. The church has undergone a major shift in its thinking and practice, precisely because a very vocal minority convinced the majority that theirs in the prevailing and right view.

Unfortunately now, in the PC(USA), the minority view—that persons committed to homosexuality are not barred from ordination and that “marriage” can include same-sex couples—is being adopted in practice and the majority doesn’t know what to do about it. An extension of that minority view is that anyone who differs from it is adorned with a new label: bigot or hater or un-Presbyterian (as the Parnell case implied in March 2012). After being railed against in successive presbytery meetings, evangelical members of my presbytery feel the tension in the room if they rise to ask questions. Murmuring, calls to sit down, and moderatorial gavel falls cutting off questioning all are sending the message that air time is only open to those who agree with the new way of doing things. During Open Space meetings, evangelicals’ comments are not passed on at the reporting phase, as if they never spoke up around the table. This reality stands in sharp contrast to the insistence by presbytery leadership that “we need your voice at the table.” Really? In one instance when the evangelical caucus provided twenty-one names to the mission council, at its request, for inclusion in presbytery/congregational discernment teams, only one was included in the final appointments. The message is clear, “We say we want you at the table, but we really don’t.”

So the question for evangelicals is this: what voice do we have in the church? Is that voice more likely to be heard from within or from without? Will it be a voice of teaching the flock from within, or prophesying to the Body from without? Will it be one voice speaking for many, or many voices speaking in concert? Or will it be a voice that goes underground, silenced for a time, until the prevailing winds of false doctrine eventually implode? These are serious questions we must ask ourselves and ask God, because we don’t know what to do.

My hope is that during this time of evangelical voice loss, we can be nourished in our souls, strengthened in our faith, and prepared for the Zechariah moment with God’s praises on our lips. We may be quiet for a time, but that doesn’t stop us from writing and praying and remaining faithful. We may not be heard by fellow presbyters for awhile— in fact, we may be shunned—but God can overcome the most impossible obstacles when the time is right. And then, will we be ready to speak?



4 Responses to “Do Evangelicals Have a Voice in the PC(USA)?”

  1. Viola Larson Says:

    Mary could you write a bit more about the voice being heard from within or without. As a blogger this means a lot to me and I am not quite sure of your meaning. I sometimes wonder if I am finished and there is no more to say.

  2. Linda Lee, mukilteo Says:

    The liberal contingency has shut down the evangelical voice.
    They have closed their ears to essential tenants so naturally there is frustration for those (like you and Viola and others)
    who have been lifting up the Scriptural mandates.
    It seems that the wall is high, solid, and pat answers shut
    off evangelical voices.
    In the face if this, there needs to be a new way for the evangelical voice to make a difference. I believe this is to turn away from denominational leaders and instead turn to any who WILL listen.
    That is what Jesus did…..he did not spend most of his time in Jerusalem arguing with the leaders. He only went into Jerusalem for the feasts and to meet the expectations of the Law. Instead, He went to the people who would respond in humble faith and recognize His as Savior.
    Now, we need to turn away from the contentious arguments of the denomination and the leadership, m,and turn to help those who will listen and teach people HOW to draw near to God. Evangelical leaders need to build up the pastors, churches and people who have taken a stand for Scriptural truth. I know that you have been faithful to do this as well as standing firm at the General Assembly and courts, but wouldn’t that energy be better spent on teaching those who need to grow their faith and draw closer to God. Your curriculum on the big story and essentials, your desire to finish writing on Prayer is helpful. But I think now there is a need to help church leaders to PRACTICE moving closer to God and and teach others to utilize the Spiritual Gifts and power of God. As we see new disciples drawing near to God, having God write the laws on their hearts, we will see a renewal of awe of God that is missing in the PCUSA.
    This should bring deep exciting and life generating Worship of God.( I believe this is the difference in the Fellowship and the General Assembly) Many will be drawn to this as they hear the truth, desire to “eat” of experience God’s word and goodness, and sense the life of God. That is the new voice that Evangelicals need to offer….
    AND it may mean traveling to churches, pastors and people who WANT to hear and move closer, who have already taken the stand.
    It is no longer about trying to bring people into the PCUSA or to change the position of the PCUSA leadership. The need is a growing relationships with God! People will be drawn to those who display the life of God experienced through the Holy Spirit, through awe of God, repentance, renewal, and worship. For some it may mean separating from false teaching of this denomination in order to seek total submission. It is not so much with in or with out, but it is UPWARD worshipping and looking, listening,speaking what we hear from God and teaching by leading out of our excitement of knowing God.
    As we draw near to God, being with God, others will be drawn into that circle toward God. It is all about what God is, can, and will be continuing to do and it circumvents the wayward,political, drama of the denomination in favor of being personally in a growing relationship to God.

  3. […] more of this story at Bringing the Word to Life. Download this page in PDF […]

  4. Jodie Says:

    I think the Evangelicals lost their voice when they chose to summarize their entire message into their opposition to the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church. That was like a great musician suddenly refusing to sing anything other one simple song, with no harmony or accompaniment, in a major key. Its not because they don’t like music that they tune it out.

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