More Lines in the Sand

My friend John Vest just blogged about how the Layman’s editor, Carmen Fowler Laberge,  commented on the Covenant Network Conference I was a part of last month. His article is here. And he says it well.

I’d been waiting for her response to the conference to show up. This summer, she’d gone to lunch with a friend of mine who happens to be gay and Presbyterian. He described the lunch this way in a sermon at the More Light Conference:

Over that shared meal we each clarified what was really important to our ministries, what excited us, frustrated us, saddened us. It was one of those moments where genuine conversation and dialogue rise about abstract politics and theologies. It was the kind of experience that reminds me the Spirit is alive and well… And very mysterious.

He acknowledged they saw the world very differently, but acknowledged in his sermon that each was faithfully seeking to live out their faith.

Here’s how she described their meeting:

I appreciate John’s candor and look forward to the next divine intersection of our lives. I am confident that he prays for me and I for him.
Which yes, may seem queer to some, but therein lies the point his sermon sought to make. We are not trying to set up straw men that are easily knocked over. We are seeking to discern and be conformed to the Truth of God’s holy calling.
One of us is wrong. One of us is deluded. One of us is bearing false witness. One of us is leading people down a path of destruction. But both of us will stand one day before the Lord and give an account. Between here and there we will speak the truth in love to one another – recognizing that the battle is not against flesh and blood – but a battle rages none the less.

Do you hear a difference in tone?

I sure do.

Having read what she wrote about my friend John being “wrong” and “deluded”, I was nervous and hesitant to encounter her at the Covenant Network Conference. I don’t, I confess, trust someone who smiles at you and is seemingly kind while she really is just convinced you’re going to Hell.

I saw her throughout the conference. She was friendly and smiling. She complimented my boots (let’s face it, they are good boots). And then she wrote a commentary where, once again, people of my theological framework are condemned to Hell.

Here’s just one line describing how she sees people who do not agree with her theological framework:

You cannot reach people with a love you have not experienced and you cannot invite people into a relationship with a God you do not really know.

She goes on to acknowledge some people (like me) might hear her comments as judgmental.

Is it not then a reasonable judgment call to say that there is a discernible difference between a life lived in Christ, with God, and a life lived in sin, apart from God?  And even as the first order calling of each Christian is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, is not the first order calling of the Church the proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind?  Does that calling not imply that some are yet in need of salvation? Is that not a judgment?

Dear Carmen, here’s the thing. Yes, the world is in need of salvation. You just were never the one appointed to stand at the gate and determine who gets admission.

It is galling, quite frankly, that she would presume that because I interpret scripture differently than she does that:
1. I don’t have a relationship with Christ.
2. That I’m living apart from God.
3. That I deny sin exists.
4. That I don’t believe in salvation.
5. That I do not know of the Love of God.

I would not make the same judgment of her, even though I might want to. Because judgment is not mine to make. God calls us to love each other. God calls us to seek the redemption of the world. God calls us to share the mercy and grace we’ve received.

And it is hard to do that when you’ve already condemned your opponent to Hell.

I would like to hear from my friends (and family) who come from the side of the church where Carmen lives. Do you agree with her that I’m going to Hell? Or can you acknowledge that there is room in the Presbyterian Church to see the tradition in different ways and still be faithful?

Because if the evangelical corner of the church is in agreement with her, then why are we still in conversation, why are we still seeking unity in the church? What kind of unity might exist in such a framework?

And if you aren’t in agreement with her, you should do something about that too. Because she is speaking, loudly and often, on your behalf. She clearly wouldn’t listen to me, since I don’t know God and am going to Hell, but she ought to listen to you.


just what we need. more lines in the sand

Ironically, she uses John 8 to justify her judgment of the other side of the church, you know, the story of the woman caught by herself in the act of adultery? The one where Jesus says, “who condemns you?” Yes. That one.

Here’s my sermon on that passage. Needless to say, I approach the text differently than Carmen does. Someday, God will exegete the text with us and we’ll see more clearly.

But until that day, I won’t condemn her or my friends in the evangelical church to Hell. I won’t presume I have all of the right answers and they have none of them.

I will continue to seek unity in the church, despite our different interpretation of scripture.

And, as we prepare to celebrate “Christ the King” sunday, I’m grateful that Christ is the King, and not Carmen. I’m grateful that Christ is the King, and not me.

Because we have too much work to do to share God’s mercy and love in the world. If we’re more worried about condemning half of our brothers and sisters (who are supposedly on the same team) to Hell than we are about sharing God’s mercy and love, we won’t be very effective, will we?

23 thoughts on “More Lines in the Sand

  1. Wow, he says that really powerfully. As do you.

    I’m encountering this issue at the moment in a very different context, and to me it’s a variation on the old “love the sinner, hate the sin” thing. People who espoused that viewpoint somehow thought they had found a middle ground that allowed them to keep all of their contradictory convictions and please G-d at the same time. In the end, they did not see that the fundamental undermining of the other person’s being made the message of love they thought they were preaching incomprehensible to the people they thought were their audiences. (I’d argue, in the meantime, that messages like this aren’t truly directed at people one wishes to convince; instead, they serve to bolster the identity of the person who’s preaching them.)

    I don’t know what to do, either, in my own situation, because I also just can’t spend time anymore around people who are willing to be friends with me for the sake of possibly changing my mind or else only as long as I’m not honest about how I feel and who I am. It’s hard to take the side of love when you feel like you’re the only one doing it. Maybe in those instances it’s better to be separate. That’s the position that I’m coming to …


  2. That’s unfortunate. Like you, I truly don’t understand Carmen’s line of thinking, scriptural interpretation and theology, especially when it seeks to dehumanize and discredit other faithful views. The different responses to Carmen and John’s lunch are telling. I believe much in the power of words and I was thrown by what seems to be an intentional use of the word “queer.”

    At the end of the day, I always come back to Shirley Guthrie who once said in class that if the good news is good for some and bad for others, then it’s not really good news.


  3. Oy, I just read Carmen’s article which you quoted and then read the comments in which everyone ganged up against one person who disagreed with her. While the dissenter articulated his view well, the others whined and fussed and threw Bible verses at him as weapons. The so-called gate keepers make me want to hurl.


  4. Having grown up in a fundamentalist environment, what I hear in the above quotes from Carmen Fowler LaBerge is her complete and absolute faith that what she believes to be true is indeed the indisputable actual truth, knowable by all Christians because it is simply revealed by God to all who honestly seek it. –However, in that way of thinking, there is no humility that as humans we could ever be mistaken. There is also no acknowledgement that there are any different theological worldview lenses that could exist other than your own. The black and white theological blinders of faith that she wears do not allow for grey areas or for change of position or for God’s continued revelation to humanity. –This is the same set of theological blinders that once argued for slavery and for women to not become ordained clergy. But one simple look at the history of the church should be enough to convince anyone that these blinders, while perhaps comforting because they make the world less frightening, are not given to us by God. Instead they act as the box that we can put God in so that the unpredictable and unstoppable power of infinite love can be grasped by the limited scope of the human mind. We can only pray that one day Carmen Fowler LaBerge will have the courage to slip off those blinders and to try on the glasses of an alternative theological worldview that allows for the church to be able to grow and change in her understanding of truth.


  5. Marci,

    Let me make two statements:

    A. Jesus does affirm and bless homoerotic practice.
    ~A. Jesus does not affirm and bless homoerotic practice.

    One of the fundamental rules of logic is that a proposition can never be equal to the negation of that same proposition. Expressed in symbol A = ~A can never be true. Thus we are left with the conclusion that only one of the two statements above can be true at any given time. So which is it? Scripture seems to support statement (A). But many are suggesting that the Spirit is doing something new. Some in the PCUSA are proclaiming a gospel that includes proposition (A). Some in the PCUSA are proclaiming a gospel that includes (~A). Are they different gospels? I think so. Somebody is going to have to answer to Jesus for the gospel they are proclaiming because one of the parties is proclaiming a false gospel to our LGBT sisters and brothers. Whoever that is may be earning a millstone necklace for themselves. I sure don’t want that to be me, so I think it is very important for the church to sort out the theological issues involved. I don’t think the church is ready for that conversation yet. Both sides are too busy playing politics.

    I know I don’t want to see anyone consigned to hell, so I hope we keep talking about this issue. I happen to hold to proposition (~A). Until I become convinced that Jesus does affirm and bless homoerotic practice I can’t in good conscience tell my LGBT friends that it is fine for them to be sexually active any more than I could tell a hetero- man or woman that it is fine to be sexually active outside of marriage.


  6. Marci,
    You stated that Carmen wrote that John is wrong and deluded. She did not such thing. Read what she wrote again.
    One of us is wrong. One of us is deluded. One of us is bearing false witness. One of us is leading people down a path of destruction. But both of us will stand one day before the Lord and give an account. Between here and there we will speak the truth in love to one another – recognizing that the battle is not against flesh and blood – but a battle rages none the less.

    “One” is not John. It can be either John or Carmen. Did you bear false witness about Carmen and what she had written? Are you not sitting in judgment of her? Is Carmen’s “one” open to your interpretation and you can choose to make it mean whatever you wish it to mean?


    • I look forward to hearing Carmen say she thinks she is the one who is wrong and deluded. It would also be nice if she would just come out and claim he is the one who was deluded, so she wouldn’t be hiding behind a friendly smile while she criticizes others.
      If she is unclear on which of them is deluded (if one of them has to be–which is another question) then she maybe ought not pronounce her judgments with such clarity.
      And when she clarifies her position that she is the one who is deluded, I will edit my post.
      Until then, reading her other commentary, I stand by my original interpretation.
      Thanks for your comment.


  7. I look forward to seeing you write that Carmen did not state that John is wrong and deluded. You are the one that has stated an untruth. You have declared that Carmen meant only John and are standing only on how you “interpret” what she wrote.
    I’ve been told that I am self-loathing by many that share your “interpretation” of Scripture. Is that judgmentall? I think so but I’m never going to demand that you call your friends self-loathing since many of them have called me self-loathing.
    Carmen is my friend and I don’t like it when a false statement is made about what she has stated. You did so but you don’t see it. You only see what you want to see.


    • I don’t think we have met in real life. (I can’t tell from your signature). But I don’t think you know me. And I don’t think we have anything further to say here. You keep repeating the same things. I understood you the first time.

      I wish you well. Have a great thanksgiving. Blessings, Marci


  8. By the way, you did not make a comment about how I’ve been called horrible names and told that I am “self-loathing” by many from your side. I was with OneByOne at the 2010 GA and the treatment I received by many on your side. I was treated with the utmost love and care by those on what you call “Carmen’s side.” I have experienced much more loving treatment from them much like I have always experienced such from the Southern Baptist, the denomination of my upbringing. I do not expect your side to stop insulting me. In fact, I expect a lot more of it. I know that it is either a sin for me to have sex with other men or it is not. It cannot be both because there can only be one truth. Why does your side that declares it is your “interpretation” then boldly declare that I am “self-loathing” and that I won’t accept myself. I find that what you call is “your interpretation” is not truthful. I wish your side would declare it to be “God’s truth” as opposed to hiding behind “our interpretation” while at the same time your side declares the orthodox are “homophobic, hateful, bigots.” I find that to be rather judgmental and insulting. Sadly, I don’t think you see in yourself and your side what you and your side so easily see in the orthodox, especially with those like me.


  9. Hi Marci: A thoughtful and, I’m sure, sincere blog. I sense a caring heart behind your words. But, unfortunately, like most of us, it’s really difficult to get out of one’s own perspective and feel life from The Other. I don’t think you really know what it’s like to be a person like Carmen in a denomination like the PCUSA. Not for lack of good will or trying, it’s just hard.
    I hold a degree from McCormick Theological Seminary. While I was there, with the majority of the community, as long as we were talking about the Chicago Cubs or hometown cooking or the great movie that opened last weekend or whatever, it was not hard to feel a sense of community. But once we began to talk about the nature and purpose of the church, once we began to talk about Christ’s mission for Christ’s people, once we began to talk about what it means to be a witness, I felt like your description of Carmen. You put it so well: I felt like I was talking to someone “who smiles at you and is seemingly kind while she really is just convinced you’re” aligned with the forces of the antiChrist — hell not being something often affirmed at McCormick.
    They often talked about the need to preserve a diversity of opinions in the church.Who can be sure they are right? But my experience of them is like your experience of Carmen: I waited for the day when they would live like they were the ones who are “wrong and deluded.” But they never seemed to act with anything other than complete confidence they were absolutely right about ordination and social issues.


  10. Marci, having debated the gay issue in our denomination for far too long it is quite evident that two sides of this debate can not co-exist in the PCUSA. I believe that God does not create some to be homosexual and others to be heterosexual. I believe homosexual expression is wrong. Many in the PCUSA disagree with me. I suspect that you would disagree with me. Both sides of this debate can not be correct. As Carmen pointed out one side is “bearing false witness and is deluded.” One day we will find out who was right and who was wrong.


    • But can’t we set up the structures of the church so there is room for both of us? I’m really not interested in being ‘right’ while then forcing you into the box of being ‘wrong’.
      I just wish there were space for each of us to practice the faith as God calls us to.
      But maybe your need for boundaries of orthodoxy are stronger than my need for unity.
      In any case, blessings to you. Thanks for the comment.


      • Marci,

        Thanks for starting this conversation, it has been a good one. In your comment above you say “[C]an’t we set up the structures of the church so there is room for both of us?” I don’t think we can. As long as inclusiveness (or anything else for that matter) is framed as a justice issue, the world divides into the just and the unjust. If I, as someone who does not support ordination or marriage, am described as ‘unjust’ then my views have to be dealt with in some fashion by those who are just. It is unconscionable to allow injustice a place in the church. Inevitably, the just see themselves as ‘right’ and cast the aspersion ‘wrong’ upon the ones perceived as unjust. Even if the PCUSA begins with an attitude of tolerance towards those who disagree, I don’t think it can last; eventually the ‘injustice’ will have to be addressed.

        Also, the church has always existed in the tension between orthodoxy and heresy — Acts 15, Mono/Duophysite debates, Marcion, Pelagius, Trent/Reformation, and so on. I don’t think matters are any different in our time. In each ‘age’ the church has distinguished between orthodoxy and heresy. My suspicion is that we are still embroiled in a discussion of the place of human experience in our hermeneutics begun in the 18th century: How valid is my experience as a hermeneutic for interpreting Scripture? It may take the church a few hundred years to sort this one out. It took her 600 years to sort out a doctrine of the Trinity, maybe we are doing OK.



  11. Marci, it’s easy to say in the abstract “I’m really not interested in being ‘right’…” Reality is something different. I attended lots of worship services in seminary, at Presbytery and at General Assembly. How many times did we pray to “Our Father in heaven” at those services? When we came together for governing body-sponsored worship, there was one “right” way to talk about God, one “just” and “inclusive” way to worship the Triune God — and other ways of talking about God were excluded as wrong for this community. Of course, what people like me did in the privacy of our own homes was our business, and I could sing the Doxology by myself any way I wanted to. But in the community, we praised our maker, Christ, and Holy Ghost. That was the “just” and “inclusive” way to go.
    For two decades, I heard people insist they wanted a church where we could all worship together… and of course their way was the one size that fit all, the way that included all Christ followers. Couldn’t we all agree and find unity in that way?
    One thing I learned in seminary was that all communities have a sense of boundaries. There is no sense of “in” without a parallel sense of “out.”


  12. Marci, as a long-time PCUSA pastor and product of a PCUSA Sunday School, VBS, youth group and Boys Scouts I mourn over the split that is occuring in our church. This denomination is all I know. Over the years Marci, I have asked myself the question can two totally different perspectives exist under one banner called the PCUSA? My answer is….as long as I stay hunkered down in my local church I can co-exist with anyone. But when I move into a presbytery or GA setting things change for me. For the past 20 years I have gone to the GA representing an organization that helps men, women and children leave homosexuality. Surrounding us are organizations that say that homosexually-identified persons can not change. Not only are these organizations saying that gays and lesbians can’t change but they also argue that homosexuals called to ministry should be ordained. The hot topic now, as you know, is the right for homosexual persons to marry. Since I disagree with the ordination of gays and lesbians and do not affirm marriage between two persons of the same sex I speak against gay ordination and marriage at both the presbytery and GA level. Some agree with me and more and more don’t. Right now Marci, I am weary of not being heard by the majority in the denomination as well as watching our denomination go through a huge shift in theology and practice as it relates to biblical sexuality. I suppose you are excited about the
    changes. I am not. And so, after 32 years of ordained ministry in the PCUSA I am looking for another denomination to finish out my years of pastoral ministry. It is very sad for me and the entire PCUSA family.


    • Sorry to those of you who feel unwelcome or unrepresented at GA or other denominational levels. One could argue, although it likely isn’t a fruitful direction, that many people felt that way in the PCUSA before the ordination change. In any case, blessings to you as you seek your new denominational home.


      • You wrote, “One could argue, although it likely isn’t a fruitful direction, that many people felt that way in the PCUSA before the ordination change.” Actually, I suspect this might be an extremely fruitful direction for discussion. Throughout my entire career in the PCUSA, denominational leadership portrayed this as a debate between a group who for love of Christ and hatred of injustice longed to invite all the world to the Lord’s table and and a group who for love of tradition and power and hatred of “the other” longed to fence the table and keep grace for themselves. The conversation would be a lot different if instead we saw it as a conversation between two groups who both sincerely and passionately want to see the church purely and wholly devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ — and just can’t seem to resolve their contradictory understandings of what that gospel is and what it means in our lives. It might not preserve the institutional unity of the PCUSA organization, but it might allow for a possibility of a spiritual partnership as each can say to “I see something I treasure in myself in you, and I can treasure that, even if we can’t agree.”


  13. I felt my heart lift when I read your discourse and have come to a conclusion on what church to belong to, which is namely THE CHURCH or “the body of Christ”. I think that I understand now that the church is within us, and that as long as my faith love and praise is for our lord and savior Jesus, and our eternal father in heaven, that I should not fear some pain of hell or more to the point I should not have to fear for those who don’t know.


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