What is your only comfort?

Urban God-talk for the church-o-phobic.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Speaking departure into existance

While searching for something totally unrelated, I came upon this 1998 press story. While it's old, it certainly isn't outdated. It has to do with women's ordination in the RCA - a topic that still gets certain segments of our denomination upset. What I thought was interesting, though, is that it directly mentions certain threats by at least one minister about leaving the RCA if the conscious clause is removed. It also talked about how this issue has divided denominations - "forcing" churches to withdraw.

"You can push us out, but someone has to speak out," said [Rev. Tom] Stark. "We are such an ecumenical denomination, our president has labored in Chiapas where they have no women ministers, no women elders. Surely we don't want to say that's just a third-world undeveloped culture?"

Stark cited the Christian Reformed Church as an example of a denomination that has been decimated by divisions over the women in office issue. "I don't want to be judgmental about this, but they think it has to be all or nothing, and once one side won, a lot of churches had to leave," said Stark. "The Lord perhaps has spared us that for eighteen years."

Opponents of women in office weren't the only people to defend the conscience clause. Rev. Doug Van Bronkhorst of First Reformed Church in Grandville noted that the Presbyterian Church (USA) had created serious dissension by requiring ministers to support women's ordination. "In the Presbyterian Church it was very easy, and we were told what percentage of women we had to have in our next election," said Van Bronkhorst. "It was very easy, and very painful as we saw a large segment of our congregation leave."

After delegates complained about "blackmail" by those warning they might leave the RCA over women's ordination, Stark took the floor again to clarify his intentions. "I'm not going anywhere, I am not saying I might not get pushed out before I die, but I am not going anywhere," said Stark, who said the problem was more a matter of concern to younger ministers and seminarians.

"This is going to give a signal, young seminarians, you'd better not apply for ordination in this denomination," said Stark.

Now, this is going to seem a little unrelated, but allow me a moment to share a short story. A few months ago, I was driving through the Bronx. Since I was alone, I had full control of the radio. I flipped it to the local Christian radio station, where some old white man was pontificating about the Christian family. I can't remember the show, but for some strange reason, I continued to listen to him. I can listen to a lot of people who I don't always agree with 100%, and he was no exception.

He told his listening audience how he had been married for a very, very long time, and then spoke of how he and his wife managed to stay married for this long. He said the main thing was that they never, ever mentioned the word "divorce." They wouldn't speak of it, because it wasn't an option. He said that if you speak of it, by even mentioning divorce, it makes it a possibility. That speaking it is to bring it into existence.

Now, getting back to this press release. I was saddened to see these men speak of churches or themselves, or even seminarians leaving the denomination. When "controversial" issues are spoken about with regard to the church, it always seems that someone is going to threaten to leave. Either they are going to threaten to leave, or they are going to offer up that someone else is going to threaten to leave. In doing so, they speak this into existence. They have no proof that it's going to happen. But, they have enough self-confidence to say that it will happen - if they don't get their way.

According to Mr. Dr. Superfamilyguy on Christian radio, this would spell doom for most marriages. Yet, we allow it to happen, we almost expect that it will happen, in the church. The first thing that is said when anything remotely controversial comes up is "it will split the denomination." This is just one of the ways that differences of opinion get stifled. Slowly and surely, minority voices, quiet voices, voices on the edge, become so marginalized that they disappear into a sea of what appears to be a monolithic consensus. The powerful have maintained control, and the weak are further alienated from the church they love.

Out of full disclosure, I'd like to note that Rev. Stark is one of the men who brought charges against my father for officiating at my legal wedding in the state of Massachusetts. As a result of Rev. Stark's charges, my father is no longer a minister. He has been purged from the denomination in which he was baptized, confirmed and ordained. Essentially, he has been forced out - just like Rev. Stark complained would happen to him if the vote on the conscience clause didn't go the way he wanted.

Thanks Rev. Stark. You're a winner. You've pushed a good man out, just like you compained about happening to you in 1998. But, someone has to speak out about this, just like you did. Perhaps I'm just the one. After all, what kind of signal are you sending to me, a young pastor (formerly a seminarian)? What kind of signal are you sending to other seminarians? Ahh, yes - you'd better not apply for ordination in this denomination.


At 1:24 PM, Blogger reverendmother said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger reverendmother said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger reverendmother said...

This is my third try because Blogger isn't handling links very well, so I won't provide even try this time... (It even looked right in the preview. Whatever.)

Hi, I just found your blog through Songbird's site (http://msongbird.blogspot.com/). It's a bit of kizmet because I had just read about your dad getting forced out after officiating your wedding--was that article in the Christian Century?

Anyway, good to meet you in the blogosphere, and I'll be back.

Incidentally, you get major theological nerd points for naming your blog after Q1 of Heidelberg. Nicely done.

At 2:58 PM, Blogger Ann said...

Hi RevMom,
Thanks for visiting, and for the extra nerd points. I'm a big fan of Q1, not just its theology, but also the fact that it's the one Q&A I managed to actually memorize in Sunday school. My nerd points only go so far - they don't extend to sword drills and other memory tasks.

I'll make sure to check out your blog as well.

Best regards,

At 3:26 PM, Blogger reverendmother said...

Heidelberg rocks. sin, grace, and gratitude. What more do you need to know?

At 7:13 PM, Blogger Friday Mom said...

Ann, I found you through Songbird, too. Welcome to the blogosphere. I read about your dad's departure in the spring (a news release posted on a listserv I belong to, I think). Anyway, glad to have a way to get to know more about you. You all are courageous folk.

With regard to this post, I've been pondering some thoughts from Bonhoeffer that were discussed in a seminary class I took which focused on his work. He doesn't address it at length, but notes that "unity" in the church is not a goal toward which we work, but is in fact already a reality because of our common kinship in Christ. Bothered by the "let's run from controversy because it will split the church" mantra that is prevelant in a lot of denominations right now, I've wondered what would happen if we could shift toward Bonhoeffer's understanding of unity and make that a conviction that centers our dialogue.

At 6:40 PM, Blogger Friday Mom said...

I looked for an e-mail address to respond to your comment at my blog, but didn't see one. Just wanted to make sure you knew there was a response there.

At 5:20 PM, Anonymous LIAlbanyDutchGirl said...

I found out about your blog through a post on RENew, the 'evangelical' reformed Yahoo bulletin board. Ironic, huh!

You mention Tom Stark - I saw him at General Synod - after the horrid punishment meted out to your Dad. Contrary to his post on RENew, I heard him tell the AP reporter that neither he nor the other 'accusers' would talk to the press. I called him a coward but doubt he heard me - but another did, I am sure. It angers me that he out and out lied on RENew.

I was with people who care deeply about you, Jen and the rest of your family. It was heartbreaking to see their faces and feel the hurt they felt for you all.

Many in Albany keep you all in prayer.



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