Presbyterians, PUP, and postmodernism

Recently the General Assembly of the PC (USA) passed a resolution that agreed with a report made by the Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity (the PUP report). This report is intends to help the PC (USA) deal with the ordination of gays and lesbians. Unfortunately, the passage of this report has caused discontent for a number of people who disagree with a "local option" clause in the report. Most of the rants I have read about the passage of the PUP report amount to little more than modern interpretations of religious dogma rather than honest appraisals of the underlying philosophy of the report. Furthermore, these rants tend to come from a more conservative cohort, who incidentally, also desires to embrace the "emergent movement" with its postmodern underpinnings.

Rather than continue the current course of "saber-rattling" that is happening with a number of more theologically conservative Presbyterians, I want to look at the local option issue through the lens of the postmodern phenomena that I have been discussing lately. I will use three of the four phenomena to examine this report. These three phenomena include: the disavowing of meta-narratives, the dependency on rationalization as a means of interpretation, and the emergence of new social movements. My take on the passage of the PUP report is that it is the most philosophically postmodern decision the PC (USA) has made in recent years.

First, the PUP report acknowledges the deep differences that we hold as a diverse body of theological minds and hearts. The committee was painstakingly chosen for their diverse background and theological stances so that representation by a differing number of interest groups was evident. It is my understanding that this final report was unanimously agreed upon by the members of the group. The make-up of the committee helps us begin to understand the difficulty with establishing one Presbyterian meta-narrative. Each person entered the group with a distinct Presbyterian narrative that informed their positions, decisions and outlooks. These narratives were brought together in order to derive some form of consensus about the possibilities concerning the ordination of gays and lesbians in the PC (USA). The resulting report pays attention to the notion that we are a diverse body and that as a diverse body developing one opinion that will satisfy everyone fully is improbable.

Furthermore, to attempt to establish one meta-narrative to inform and guide all Presbyterians is create an authoritarian structure that leaves little room for the mystery of God to work in the midst of the church. The local option issue, decried by a number of postmodern wannabes, is the best course for a church that is informed by a multitude of possible narratives. Moreover, its passage by the General Assembly means that the church IS informed by postmodern sensibilities and in tune with the philosophical nature of the cultural ethos that surrounds us.

Second, the PUP report attempts to eschew the certainty of rational thought by realizing the difficult and heartfelt faith of a multitude of Presbyterians. I can only imagine the difficult (and yet somehow decent) conversations this committee endured through the last two or so years. To create a document that attempts to bridge the numerous rational gaps created in traditional arguments about the ordination of gays and lesbians is ambitious. However, the language and presentation of the document seems to incorporate more than mere rational thought; instead it attempts to relate the multiple hearts and faiths that created the PUP report. Furthermore, rationality is not eschewed entirely; instead it is given a place at the table, just not the head seat.

Numerous attempts have been made so far to rationally decide the "options" churches have as a result of the passage of the PUP report. The problem with most of these options is that they create rational categories for a multi-modal document. Providing rational solutions to a relational document is misguided at best and detrimental to the denomination at worst. Furthermore, it creates a dogmatic extremism that thrusts these churches into a modern philosophical "my way or the highway" point of view. Rational dogmatism is one of the reasons why the church is mocked by younger generations these days. Moreover, it is far from a postmodern position that generally emphasizes relational modes of being over religious modes of being.

Third, the PUP reports allows for the possibility of new social movements that have the local flavor of congregations. The local option gives credence to the multiplicity of narratives and forms of relationality that are prevalent in our churches. By having an option, churches and presbyteries can be guided by the movement of the Spirit in their midst, rather than being tediously tied to a meta-narrative that misinforms their faith. The local option implies that God is bigger than the narratives we wish to tie God to, and that their may be more than one way of interpreting God presence in our midst. Through the possibility of local arrangements, the church embraces its postmodern context and gives hope to those who have been disenfranchised for many years.

Finally, I want to pay some attention to the "emergent conversation" that has been informing the positions of many churches and ministers for a while. In the PC (USA) there are some people who have become enamored with this movement. Furthermore, some of these ministers are the first to provide a reactionary negative response to the passage of the PUP report.

First, my understanding of the "emergent conversation" is that it is an attempt to apply postmodern ways of being to a thoroughly modern church. Therefore, most "emergent" gatherings are based upon the view that relationship has primacy over religious dogma. The PUP report seems to give credence to relationship in the same manner. Furthermore, given the multi-modal form of worship and the gentility that most "emergent" orthodoxies possess (I say this knowing that some churches that claim to be emergent are merely re-packaged versions of vacuous and harmful theological conditions that seek popularity rather than change) a "local option" would suit them just fine, because it allows for the relationship to dictate the beliefs of the gathering, rather than the beliefs dictating the relationships we make. Finally, my sense of a true "emergent" church is that it is an attempt to continue conversation despite obvious differences in experience, theology, and modes of faith.

True emergent thought brings people together, rather than separates them from one another.

The promise of postmodernity is not that everyone will agree in the end. Instead the promise is that we will love one another despite the fact that or even because we disagree. Furthermore, that love does not seek to make your experience and faith the same as my experience and faith; instead it seeks to allow me the space to find the voice of God and voice of love in my life while maintaining the relationships we share.

grace and peace



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