Why CAN’T we be friends?
Last Thursday evening I attended an event featuring Richard Mouw.
- I didn’t take notes or livetweet it (something I often do).
I tried to be fully present.
I’m working from memory here, reacting in part–
and I’m not pretending to be reporting on everything that was said.
I live in San Gabriel Presbytery, and Fuller Seminary is located “within the bounds” of the presbytery. He is a Presbyterian, not a member of San Gabriel, but of the neighboring Presbytery of Los Ranchos. Dr. Mouw is an important voice within the greater church; Fuller is a large non-denominational, ecumenical theological seminary.
- San Gabriel is the presbytery which authored what eventually became section G.6-0106b, prohibiting the ordination of LGBT people (more below). When we voted on Amendment 10-A on the same night that it was ratified by Twin Cities Area Presbytery–the 87th required vote for it to become part of the Book of Order–the vote was a tie. This result was unexpected by anyone. (I’ve written another post about that.)
Our Executive Presbyter, Ruth Santana Grace, recently attended an event at Fuller, and she encountered Dr. Mouw while she was there, and that conversation resulted in her invitation to him to come and speak to the members of the presbytery and any other interested persons. There are several churches in the presbytery that are considering or who have taken actions to leave in some way, and Ruth is working to keep the church together.
Among many other things, Richard Mouw is involved with a group called The Fellowship which came together following the passage of the PC(USA)’s new constitutional provision on ordination standards (Amendment 10-A). The old language was written to prohibit the ordination of Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, Elders and Deacons who are in same-gender-loving relationships. The new language, approved by 97 of the denomination’s 183 presbyteries (local governing bodies comprised of an equal number of ministers and elder commissioners), allows for the possibility of ordination of those same people.
Unlike many (most? I think so) of the leaders of The Fellowship, Dr. Mouw is an advocate for the conservatives to remain in the PC(USA). The title of his talk was “The Unity of the Church.” On this subject, he has stated that conflict in the Presbyterian Church is nothing new, that one schism leads to further division, and that a greater church is more important than winning and losing. At a Fellowship gathering Mouw said, “It is too small a thing to crawl into our ecclesiastical corner and reduce the scope of our vision. We need to expand it.”
This presbytery-wide event was well-attended. I find it somewhat telling that it took place at a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) church that omits “Presbyterian” from its name, San Marino Community Church. I didn’t count or even estimate the number of people there, but I know that there weren’t enough chairs set up for those in attendance and more were set up for everyone. There were some in attendance from the other nearby presbyteries: Pacific, Los Ranchos, San Fernando, and Riverside. This was also was attended by people representing the broad theological spectrum that constitutes our denomination–as well as old and young, and people of many varied ethnicities. Pretty much what the church should look like all the time.
Dr. Mouw talked about how he has been part of a Christian-Mormon conversation for several years, and another between himself as an “evangelical” Christian and an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi. Neglecting to mention that he had previously advocated for converting both Mormons and Jews to Christianity, Mouw talked about how those Mormon-Christian and Jewish-Christian conversations worked because they were never leading up to a vote. Unlike in our Presbyterian system, where our most important issues are only discussed when they are controversial, when a vote is impending. This was obviously important to him because he repeated it several times.
- I too think this is important. For a time I was co-moderator of the Covenant Network chapter here in San Gabriel Presbytery. We tried to engage people on the “other side” in conversation or bible study or in some other way they proposed. We were denied, and it was heartbreaking.
The emergent church was another subject he touched on as a positive–that some of our younger pastors and the congregations they lead are looking at ways in which church can be done differently.
- I’m not an emergent, mainly because I haven’t had the chance to experience what this is–and it’s very experiential. I’m old enough that it sounds a lot like some of the things that we were doing in church in the 1960s. Being an avid part of the Facebook / Twitter world, I have many, many friends who are emergent Christians. My observation is that when this movement first started there was an element of misogyny and another of homophobia. Since then, it seems that these beliefs have changed, and the movement is greatly pro-woman and pro-LGBT. (Putting this into practice is another story, one with a long way to go, but that’s another blog post.)
Mouw also talked about what he called the Pan-Asian church here in Southern California (and elsewhere). This is based on the common experience of younger second- and third-generation Asians who grew up in immigrant churches and immigrant communities. They themselves grew up going to English-speaking schools. After college or university (and seminary for the pastors), returning to the immigrant churches of their parents and grandparents wasn’t what they wanted and needed, but–not wanting to fold themselves into dominant European-American congregations–they’ve come together in a new way as multicultural Asian-American Christians.
- This isn’t new, but this was the first I’d heard of it, and I find it to be exciting. Another kinds of “emerging church.”
One of the primary reasons that Dr. Mouw stated and reiterated for staying together as a denomination is women in ministry. He stands side-by-side with “sisters in the faith,” and isn’t willing to back down from that. He reminded those in the room that the PCA and the EPC do not ordain women as ministers (and the EPC doesn’t ordain women as elders either). He has engaged in bible study, grappling with Paul and with contemporaries about the perceived misogyny in scripture–and his conclusion is that not only do women belong in ministry, but that the church is far better for having them as such.
Interestingly, he told a story about a man who had been a Fuller seminarian. An “evangelical” Christian, after graduation he took a position with the Scottish Reformed Church in The Netherlands. It wasn’t long until this man went through his own personal discovery process, and he soon came out as a gay man. He met another man with whom he fell in love. They soon married. His work with the church continues, and he and his husband have developed an outreach to the gay and lesbian people of The Netherlands–particularly to those deeply involved in self-destructive behaviors. When Phyllis and Richard Mouw traveled to The Netherlands, they spent time with this couple, socializing and learning of their work.
- Observation: This is what friends do.
During the question-and-answer period, a question came up about “homosexuals.” Dr. Mouw answered in an evangelical and conservative way, expressing that he would like to see a proselytizing effort take place in “gay bars and gay bathhouses.”
- As an openly lesbian Christian and Presbyterian elder, I found this to be very offensive and painful. The intimation is that this is primarily where LGBT people are found, this is what they do.
To me there was a clear disconnect in what Dr. Mouw said about his gay friend in Amsterdam and what he perceives to be the “lifestyle” of gay people, invoking “gay bars and gay bathhouses” as where (and what) we do. The message Dr. Richard Mouw was conveying is that his friend = one of “us” = okay DESPITE this man being openly gay with a spouse in a committed marriage; and those perceived more amorphous and generic gays who hang out in bars and bathhouses = enemies to be conquered = “other” = definitely NOT okay.
This is why communication is so important. We need to get to know each other. In getting to know those of us who aren’t heterosexual, it is impossible to characterize us purely as a stereotype. Survey after survey shows that people who know same-gender-loving people are less likely to have negative attitudes, and that friends and family members who love LGBT people are the ones who become our allies. This is exactly the same as Dr. Mouw’s positive attitude and unmovable advocacy for women in the church, but he just hasn’t met and worked with enough of us to realize this. And, as far as what the bible says, there is plenty of biblical scholarship that runs contrary to the traditional, evangelical reading of those so-called clobber passages.
Dr. Mouw, I would love to have the opportunity to sit and have a conversation with you. My wife and I would love to take you and Phyllis to dinner and be friends in Christ. The Jesus who we know and love spent the vast majority of his time hanging out with outsiders and just plain folks: that’s us. We’re here: we’re not going anywhere. You can find us in church.
The coopting of the term “evangelical” bothers me, with its use by conservatives as if other Christians can’t also be evangelical in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. [back]