Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Faithfulness, frustration and fear

We are now in the middle of this General Assembly, I am already exhausted!

I do not usually feel this way at this stage of Assembly. Indeed, through the (all too many) years of my attendance at Assembly I have tended to enjoy it. The break from the normal routine, the cut and thrust of debate and the meeting of many friends have – in the past – been stimulating and enjoyable.

There have been aspects of this Assembly that I have enjoyed and especially the meeting with friends, the coffees and lunches and drinks with different folks and the post Assembly gatherings and so on.
But it has also been very intense. VERY intense!

One question in my mind throughout is that of faithfulness, and what that means. I am called to be faithful as a commissioner, and I have made every effort to be so. In fact I cannot recall a General Assembly when I have been so attentive and engaged.

But there are the deeper issues of faithfulness to the Gospel, faithfulness to one’s ‘conscience’ and faithfulness to one’s sisters and brothers. And in all this there has been a tension.

My frustration has been with attitudes, processes and labels. While my view is that the contentious debate on ministers and same-sex relationships was in the main carried out in a spirit of grace and love yet there have been other undercurrents around in conversations, blogs and facebook postings from both sides of the sexuality debate.

And that is a further frustration. Are there simply two ‘sides’ to this? I do not think so.

What about those who are not yet sure what they think?

Or those who take a ‘traditionalist’ view but do not see this as an issue that should divide us?

Or those who regard themselves as evangelicals in every respect but in terms of this issue of same sex relationships, but who are scared to put their heads above the parapet?

And that is where the fear comes in. I know this to be the case because of the many, many folks who have contacted me in response to previous blogs. But they have done so privately and anonymously. They are (understandably) afraid to publicly declare their views. Thank God for the privacy of the electronic voting system) These are people who are questioning the traditionalist line on this issue but who would not then wish to identify themselves as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ or whatever. They believe that the scriptures are authoritative; they affirm the need for a personal response to Jesus and are committed to proclaiming the faith. These are folks who (like me) gladly affirm the historic faith of the church and who owe their own Christian commitment and engagement to the evangelical witness of faithful folks.

But if they go ‘public’ with their doubts or questions then what? They may lose their sense of belonging and fellowship and allegiance. They may even lose their friends. And as one whose previous comments and declarations have led to receiving some pretty bruising comments, I can sympathise.

And that brings me back to frustration.  

.. and fear...

For I think that the ‘two sides’ approach has done the church a disservice. I am angry that the Theological Commission ‘enshrined’ polarisation. And that brings me back to my fear; that we are unable to really dialogue about our differences in a spirit of openness and mutual respect.

I did not vote for my friend Albert Bogle’s motion, but I think given where he and others are coming from he has displayed great courage in it. Rather than seeing it as fudge, I regard it as a real act of grace, humility and courage.

As I said in a previous blog ‘there will be a time when true courage in revealed in compromise’.
And two final thoughts:

I think Lorna Hood is doing a wonderful job as Moderator in the midst of very difficult Assembly.

And, if the view that I have now moved towards is to be more widely accepted by the large group of the uncertain then I think that there is a very real need for revisionists to present their arguments with a much more rigorous, disciplined, biblical and theological rigor than has thus far been evident. See the comment of URC minister Nick Brindley whose blogs I follow and whose comments are always full of thoughtful reflection.

You may disagree with me. If you do I hope you will say so. But please be gracious in your comments. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Courage and Conviction

It is generally considered a good thing to have courage and convictions. ‘She is a woman of great conviction’ or ‘He is a most courageous man’ or even ‘He has the courage of his convictions’ which rather neatly ties the two qualities together.

And, in general, I would tend to agree.

In particular, good leaders need both courage and conviction. A political leader lacking in either quality ends up being weak, which is how many of our present political leaders are regarded.

This applies to military leaders too. A good general is one who has courage, but will also need conviction. In the heat of battle there is no time for convening a meeting, discussing the options and delaying a decision until a consensus is reached.

And, of course, conviction and courage are also desirable qualities in church leaders. Ministers need to be women and men of conviction and they also need courage. Decisions are not always easy, nor are they always universally popular! That much is self-evident.

A good minister will sometimes need to express their convictions strongly and have the courage to stick by them, the courage to express them clearly and honestly, the courage to stand firm when opposition and resistance are experienced, and even the courage to put up with threats of leaving the congregation or the actuality of members lifting their lines and going elsewhere. This is never easy and rarely enjoyable, but that is where conviction and courage come into play.

But I wonder if sometimes what some of us ministers imagine is courage and conviction is in fact something rather more self-indulgent and a good deal less commendable. Stubbornness, arrogance, cockiness and rigid unbending certainty can occur too. And we can convince ourselves that we are being people of conviction and courage when in fact we are simply being brash, belligerent or even bullying.

We need courage. We need the courage of our convictions. But we also need the courage to care, the courage to listen, the courage to admit when we got it wrong, and the courage to change our minds. And while we will all value and respect firm convictions honestly held and will wish to stick by our convictions, there will be a time when true courage in revealed in compromise.

Courage brother, courage sister, do not stumble...
...trust in God and do the right.