The Deafening Silence of Disengagement

April 11, 2013

Friends of “Bringing the Word to Life,” I submitted the following letter to Presbyweb in response to a letter to the editor by Mike Garrett. I believe the fray is going to start up again, and commend to you as a catalyst a very thoughtful and well-written “prophetic word” by Jim Goodloe, found here.

Dear Presbyweb,

In response to Mike Garrett’s letter which observed the “deafening silence of disengagement,” I want to agree and to explain further.

As one who has contributed to the debates in the last several years and lately by blog, I can acknowledge the truth of his observation in my own experience. There are a few factors contributing to, for instance, my rather sporadic blog coverage of PCUSA matters lately:

1. The Presbyterian decision-making process is rigged, and thoughtful discourse has nowhere to go to make a difference. I have read the most reasoned and helpfully clarifying pieces by colleagues, directed both to GAPJC and the General Assembly, but they get nowhere because decision-makers choose to remain so open-minded that their brains fall out. What we have going now is not debate based on Scripture and reason but on emotion, experience, and a worldly view of unlimited personal rights. Interjecting a voice of common sense and Scriptural sanity, for the moment, is an exercise in repetitive head-banging with no appreciable result.

2. I struggle with soul-care in the midst of the fray. Topics and discussions that have the ongoing effect of raised blood-pressure, sleep deprivation, and a constantly critical attitude are not good for my spirit. I am still learning how to stay in the discussion with eyes on Jesus without sinking into Galilee’s waters.

3. Who is the audience? Those a theological conservative like myself might encourage to action are opting for alternative ways of being Presbyterian, either by sheltering in place or dismissing to other denominations. Those to whom truth must be spoken are not listening, or if they are, they are patronizing and even, at times, abusive in response. The role of the prophet within and to the PCUSA is not acknowledged or respected because the church has lost sight of what constitutes the Word of God. So what else is new?

4. So the question of engagement, for me, boils down to call and empowerment by God. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It is a costly business to put oneself out there with a counter-cultural view, and there have been times and seasons when I have given this service willingly and even joyfully. But now more than ever there is little personal support holding up the arms of a prophet. To answer this challenge, I have tried to balance draining “engagement” work with projects that are spiritually uplifting. In the last few months, I have collaborated on a curriculum for study of the Essential Tenets, reviewed the five-part The Bible series, and now am preparing to speak at a congregation’s all-church retreat. Three books await the daily discipline of personal engagement. This all takes time, which I have in only finite quantity, and the choice about how to spend it is sometimes torture. If, in those daily dilemmas, comments 1, 2, and 3 above seem particularly strong, then “Presbyterian stuff” goes to the bottom of my things-to-do list.

But don’t worry; I’ll be back soon enough. And others will be right there alongside me to try again to help our denomination listen to Scripture and reason. Until then, I remain

Christ’s servant and your friend,
(The Rev. Dr.) Mary Holder Naegeli
Walnut Creek, California

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2 Responses to “The Deafening Silence of Disengagement”

  1. Jodie Says:

    Mary,

    You made an interesting comment that can be taken as a position from either side here:

    “Those to whom truth must be spoken are not listening, or if they are, they are patronizing and even, at times, abusive in response. The role of the prophet within and to the PCUSA is not acknowledged or respected because the church has lost sight of what constitutes the Word of God.”

    What caught my eye here is that if if becomes evident to a person of one side that the person from the other side sees him or her self as holding the “truth that must be spoken” and as anointed to be “the prophet with and to the PCUSA”, the only path left is disengagement. A self image as such is never conducive to constructive dialog. Never has been, even if not self deluded, as is almost always the case.

    People keep wanting to speak for God. Curiously, the first prophet, Abraham, got this title by NOT speaking for God. In fact, the first time the word shows up in the Bible, God is using it in giving words of instruction to a decidedly non-prophet.

    If those who would be prophets in and to the PCUSA were to follow the Abrahamic prototype more closely, I do believe such a prophet might actually be respected, and things would turn out better for everyone.

    Jodie Gallo
    Los Angeles, CA

  2. Linda Lee, mukilteo Says:

    Rev. Mary,
    I appreciate your wisdom and acknowledge these items
    as God’s working in you and in the church. Yeah!
    One message of disengagement I am seeing is people saying that we should not give Scripture and scriptural references as our reason for a position on current topics when dealing with our culture. Several times lately this message was given by people in influential positions……and it is a disengagement Message and lack of faith.

    Lately, I feel God saying to me, if the ways of God given in scripture are so wonderful and for my good, then they should be good for everyone even those outside the church.
    We should not buy into the idea that just because some reject the Bible, that we should not speak the truth of Scripture.
    God longs for us to both know Him and to allow His Holy Spirit to work for good and Scripture is the element that people need to hear for the Holy Spirit to work.
    If the Word is powerful, and if faith comes by hearing and heeding God’s word then using scripture should be our first choice to defend our positions.
    Instead I hear the message from the pulpit that we should not engage the culture with God’s word.

    I understand that some will not hear as Paul says. Now, I fear this way of thinking, ” don’t use scripture in the market place of society” is the disengagement that is harmful
    And is the reason there is no evidence of evangelism or
    People coming to Christ.

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