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.
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?