Amendment B fails – Where Do We Go From Here?

April 28, 2009 by · 9 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

This article tries to answer the question “Amendment B failed, but it got closer than ever to passing.  What do we do now?”  This entire article is my personal opinion and not the opinion of any organization or group that I belong to.  This is also likely to upset folks – particularly those at the more extreme ends of the political/theological spectrum.

Let me also lay out my personal beliefs on the issue.  I believe that gay ordination should be allowed, and that gay marriage should be allowed both by civil authorities and by the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I do not believe that any congregation should be forced to meet some quota of gay officers, and I would like to see people work out a way to ordain called officers who happen to be homosexual without violating the conscience of those doing the ordination.  I believe that the biblical standard for a homosexual relationship is similar to that for heterosexual relationships – two people in a long-term committed relationship, with some outward sign to God and the community of their commitment (ie. a marriage).

The short version:  We need a pause.  Take the next General Assembly off from this issue.

I’ll address my remarks to three groups:  progressives, conservatives, and moderates.  My writing is a combination of what I believe to be the right thing to do, and what I believe is practical.

Progressives

While what I write here may upset you, I consider myself one of you on this issue.  My statement on the issue is posted above.

I believe that it’s time to pause on this issue.

We’ve changed lots of hearts and minds.  Some of those who were against us have retired, died, or left the denomination.  The combination of those two produced the “flips” in many presbyteries.  I also believe that there is a generational shift going on regarding this issue.  I work with a youth group.  On the rare occasions that homosexuality comes up, the youth mostly are confused about why we see a problem – homosexuality is for them something that is a trait and acceptable.  Admittedly I live on the East Coast in the NYC/Philadelphia corridor, and it might be different elsewhere.  But if we wait long enough, the tide will turn on its own.

A study of the votes on this issue in the presbyteries from 96/97, 97/98 and 01/02 show an increasing number of votes against our position.  I believe that this was due to issue-weariness – to the “do we have to vote on this again?” factor.  People got tired of talking about and voting about this issue that never seems to go away.  And they took out their anger and frustration on the people pushing for the change.

While all of this is going on in the church, it’s going on in society.  States are now voting to allow gay marriage (as opposed to judicial rulings).  There have been many times in the church where society was ahead of the church in getting to the scripturally correct place on an issue.  Slavery and women’s rights are just two of those.  Our polity is designed so that the ship turns very slowly intentionally – to prevent the “fad of the season” from taking over our theology.  Normally that’s a good thing.  Sometimes, particularly for justice, that’s a bad thing.

I believe that if we push this issue at the next General Assembly, it stands a fair chance of being sent to the presbyteries again.  I believe that if this were the case, it would fail again at the presbyteries and some of the flipped presbyteries would flip back.  The next General Assembly will be considering the Form of Government again, and that is going to create its own backlash (just look at how the conservatives are already arguing about single words).  I suspect that there will be a wholesale backlash against ANY Book of Order amendment then.

So here’s what I’d do.  Take the GA off.  Re-group.  Work on education.  Hold listening sessions in presbyteries again, but without any particular reason (like an upcoming vote).  Don’t push overtures now or any time before the next GA.  Let the waters get still, and let the clarity shine through.

Some of you will tell me that I do not feel your pain, and that you cannot stay silent against this injustice.  You’re right – I will never be able to feel this specific pain.  But I’m writing this out of practical concerns.  Pushing too hard now isn’t gonna work and will hurt the cause.  If you must, then you must, but realize that you will provoke a response and may end up delaying your goal.

A word on how we progressives deal with conservatives.  Conservatives are people.  Just like us.  For the most part, they have come to their understand of Scripture and God in the same way that we have – through prayer, study, personal experience, and other people.  They have come up with a different result than we have.  They are not evil.  They are not (mostly) living their lives to hurt us.  They are trying to speak the truth in love just like us.  Their definitions are different, but their goal is still the same – to bring people to God.  Please try to remember that.  I am amazed at how we can treat people of other denominations and religions with respect but we tear into those closer to us.

A word on how to deal with straight people.  I’m a very strong supporter of this cause.  In the past year I’ve been called a homophobe twice – once by someone from the GLBT community and once by a straight supporter.  I’ve been told that I have internalized homophobia no matter what I think.  The facts are this:  I find male-t0-male sexual activity icky.  That has never stopped me from supporting people’s rights.  I am VERY outspoken.  It seems, however, that if I don’t follow the “company line” on strategy or each iota of belief, I’m against you.  You may feel that way.  But here’s the thing I want to tell you – nothing turns supporters against you faster than telling them that they are against you already.  After each of those events I mentioned I took a lot of time off from supporting this cause.  I saw opportunities to correct inaccuracies and to state my opinion when presented with the opposite, and I remained silent.  The danger for you is not turning friends into enemies – it’s turning friends into bystanders.  Be careful – if you’re going to label someone be prepared for the result.

Conservatives

You’ve all read what I wrote above.  And you and I disagree on this issue.  I do have some thoughts and suggestions for you.

First, I believe that the Presbyterian system only works if there is mutual respect.  Too often we (both sides) use differences on specific issues to define the other person out.  It makes us feel better – we are IN, and they are OUT.  But I do not believe that God has called us to act like that.  God wants everybody IN.  There are limits to what beliefs we can tolerate and what behaviors we can tolerate in our worship places.  But I do not feel that this issue is enough to tear apart the community.  Why can we speak so respectfully to rabbis, Baptist preachers, Catholic priests, Methodist ministers, but we cannot speak respectfully with our own people?  What I said above about people coming to their beliefs honestly through the same methods applies here – progressives may be wrong in your eyes, but they are honestly wrong rather than wrong with an ulterior motive.

Second, do what you gotta do.  Stay, fight or not, leave – whichever God calls you to.  If you want to fight then please take the high road and fight fair even if your opponents do not.  If you want to leave, then outdo others in grace and openness and let God take care of the other side.  But PLEASE let each person make up their own mind.  It’s not your job to lead congregations out of the denomination.  If they want to go on their own, then please remind them that it’s also not their job to lead their fellows out.  We are an educated denomination.  We pride ourselves on individual study with collected discussion.  Let each member make their own decision.  And let the majority rule.  You are not personally responsible for the spiritual health of each member.  You ARE responsible for guiding them, but you are not expected to coerce them.  Let them be adults and make their own decisions.

Third, you’ve won this round.  As I said to progressives after the General Assembly meeting last June, please be a good winner.  There is no need to do a victory lap.  Doing that only causes the division to widen.  Let progressives lick their wounds.

Moderates

You are by far the most important group at this time in history.  You are the largest group, holding the center and the vast majority of the membership.  On some issues, I am one of you, but on this issue I’m not.

I have a few things that I’d like to ask you to do.

First – Take a stand.  Stand up and state your opinion.  Let others know where you are on this issue.  This issue is not going to go away all that soon.  If you feel that we need to leave it alone, then say so.  If you feel that one side or the other is right, say so (this is not the same as joining that side).  Most importantly – any compromise is going to have to come from the center.  If you have an idea, let us know, and don’t stop talking about it until it becomes reality.

Second, please help to heal those at the extremes.  There are people who are wounded out there.  Go to them, help them, make them realize that the church isn’t just them and their opponents.  Remind them that church is about much more than this issue.  Be honest about your beliefs, but respect theirs.  Show the people from each side that you want them to be with you.

Third, please be a conduit for reconciliation.  Sometimes it takes a neutral party to get two opposing parties to talk to each other and resolve things.  Be that enabler. We are called to work for reconciliation in the church – be the face of Christ to your more politically involved brethren.  “I don’t care what you think about X – I want you to be here” is a very powerful thing to say.

Fourth, be the voice of reason.  Curb the excesses of thought and speech from both extremes.  Name the truth as you see it.  Be a devil’s advocate (in a very Godly way).  The truth is somewhere between the extremes.  You live in most of that territory.  Help us find the truth.

In summary – I believe that we need to take 2 years off from this battle.  There are many other problems in the world today that need us more than this – the economy, war, health, etc.  Let’s concentrate on some of those and stop our internal bickering.

Amendment B fails – where does this leave us?

April 27, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

This past weekend, two presbyteries voted against Amendment B – the Book of Order amendment to G6.0106b that would have removed the fidelity/chastity rule – making it easier to ordain lesbian and gay people as deacons, elders or ministers in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  This time around the vote was much closer than in the past, indicating a shift in cultural and scriptural beliefs on the subject.

I’m going to write two articles on this – this one and one to come.  Today’s article is about where we are left (in my personal interpretation) by the combination of this amendment failing and the changes to Authoritative Interpretations made by the 218th General Assembly in 2008.  The next article will be on where we should go from here politically, with my recommendations for the progressive, conservative and moderate factions.

What happened?

The 218th General Assembly took three important actions related to ordination standards:

1.  Removal of all prior Authoritative Interpretations.

As part of the same resolution that sent Amendment B to the presbyteries, the General Assembly stated:

Interpretive statements concerning ordained service of homosexual church members by the 190th General Assembly (1978) of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and the 119th General Assembly (1979) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States and all subsequent affirmations thereof, have no further force or effect.

That has the net effect of throwing out all prohibitions on gay ordination other than G6-0106b.  It also throws out all PJC precedents that are not based on G6-0106b.  We are left with the Authoritative Interpretation on ordination standards that was part of the PUP report, stating that ordination standards are not defined nationally, but that each ordination decision is a local decision and individual to the person in question.  Plus, there is one new AI ….

2.  Authoritative Interpretation on ordination standards

The General Assembly passed a new Authoritative Interpretation:

That the 218th General Assembly (2008) to approve the following authoritative interpretation of G-6.0108 of the Book of Order:

the requirements of G-6.0108 apply equally to all ordination standards of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Section G-6.0108 requires examining bodies to give prayerful and careful consideration, on an individual, case-by-case basis, to any departure from an ordination standard in matters of belief or practice that a candidate may declare during examination. However, the examining body is not required to accept a departure from standards, and cannot excuse a candidate’s inability to perform the constitutional functions unique to his or her office (such as administration of the sacraments).

Some call this a codification of “local option”.  I think it’s simpler than that.  It’s a codification of “individual option” – the classical Presbyterian idea that each ordination decision is made based on the individual to be ordained.  Each of us is sinful – none of us are perfect.  The question that Sessions and Presbyteries face is this – can this person do the job, is there a call, and are this person’s particular sins so heinous as to preclude their ordination?

It’s important to remember that each presbytery or session gets to make this decision based on the candidate in front of them.  And it’s also important to remember that this is done in person – with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

In a GA PJC case from earlier this year, the PJC made it clear that G-6.0106b was a mandatory standard in the Book of Order.  The decision practically warned that any future cases involving a clear departure from this standard (should it survive, which it has) would preclude ordination.

It is my sincere hope that this AI will stop the “fly-over” disciplinary cases that have been filed by the most extreme conservative members of the denomination.  Some cases have been filed by people who do not know the candidate, did not attend the meeting, and are at most only peripherally affected by the ordination decision.

3.  Amendment B

The General Assembly sent to the presbyteries the following amendment to G-6.0106b:

b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament. Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.

I’ve only included the G-6.0106b amendment – there were corresponding amendments to G-14 regarding instructing Candidates on the rules.

This is the amendment that failed.  It was closer than ever (at this point 69-89 with voting continuing) but it still did not pass.  In my second post, I will talk about the climate that exists today to cause this near-success, and what that means for the future.

So Where are we now?

At this point, we need to turn to case studies.

Case 1 – a straight candidate for an ordained position, who is married and faithful to the spouse but unchaste at some point in the past (before marriage, perhaps even with the current spouse).  It is highly unlikely that this candidate will be asked about prior sexual practice.  It is also highly unlikely that the candidate will self-acknowledge this sin, or even consider it a sin.  If the issue does not come up, this person is ordainable.  If the issue does come up in the examination, the examining body would be required to decide whether or not the sin is a sufficient departure from standards.  Other bodies/people could only challenge through a disciplinary case alleging continuing conduct or lack of repentance.

Case 2 – a straight candidate for an ordained position is either married and unfaithful or single and engaging in sex.  This is a continuing practice.  It is highly unlikely that this candidate will be asked about prior or current sexual practice, unless someone has first-hand or hearsay knowledge.  It is also highly unlikely that the candidate will self-acknowledge this sin, or even consider it a sin.  If the issue does come up, the person is not ordainable.  Other bodies/people could challenge this decision by a disciplinary case alleging conduct, or via a remedial case alleging insufficient examination.  As a practical matter, the remedial case could only be filed by a church member or other session against a session, or a member of presbytery or other presbytery against a presbytery.  The immediately higher governing body could also investigate and take administrative action.

Case 3 – a homosexual person who is celibate.  It doesn’t matter how it comes up, only that the celibacy is on the record of an examination.  This person is ordainable.  Other bodies/people could only challenge this decision by a disciplinary case alleging that the candidate lied about celibacy – if that were to happen it might be beyond the pale of what Presbyterians would accept from an investigation given that it would require proof of sex (people would be mad that privacy was invaded to the degree necessary to allege this).

Case 4 – a homosexual person who is not celibate, but who is not questioned about the issue during examination.  This person is ordainable, though there will be a disconnect between his/her personal beliefs or practices and the Book of Order.  Other bodies/people could challenge this decision by a disciplinary case alleging conduct (also very ugly), or via a remedial case alleging insufficient examination.  See above for who could file a remedial case.

Case 5 – a homosexual person who is not celibate, and who is questioned during examination and makes a statement as such.  This also fits the case where a homosexual candidate is self-affirming of practice.  This person is not ordainable.  Other bodies/people could challenge this decision by a disciplinary case (based on self-acknowledged conduct) or a remedial case alleging violation of G-6.0106b.  This is the biggie – and the likely test case.  I believe that no matter what the presbytery or synod do, the GA PJC will rule that the person is not ordainable – based on their early warning in a prior case.

Case 6 – a person who states that they refuse to abide by G-6.0106b when making ordination decisions for other people.  This person is ordainable or not, depending on the ordaining body’s decision.  Other bodies/people could challenge this decision by a remedial case alleging violation of G-6.0106b.  I believe that such a case would ultimately fail at the General Assembly level.

Case 7 – a person who states that they refuse to ordain others who are elected who would violate G-6.0106b.  This person is NOT ordainable normally as a solo pastor, based on the new Authoritative Interpretation, because the person is unable to perform the constitutional function of ordaining a local officer.  I believe that special arrangements could be made with a temporary leave from their position and a Stated Supply in the extremely unlikely case that a solo pastor with such convictions would be leading a congregation that chooses to elect such an officer.  However, it would show a serious problem between the church and pastor and should come to the Committee on Ministry’s attention.  There are many other roles that this person could perform in an ordained role (pastor or associate pastor on a multi-clergy staff, teaching, mission, etc) that would not cause this problem.  If this ever happens, it’s gonna be a mess.

It should be noted that nothing above REQUIRES that a governing body find that a person is ordainable.  I believe that case 3 would be an interesting case if an elder-elect were refused ordination solely on G-6.0106b grounds – I don’t know which way the GA PJC would rule but I believe it would rule that the person should be ordained.  In all of the other cases where the person is ordainable the ordaining body has sufficient latitude in their decision to decide to ordain or not without challenge.

I know of at least one very chilling case where a person was not voted ready for ordination by his Committee on  Ministry based solely on the fact that he wanted a gay preacher of another denomination to give the charge at his ordination.  This action, and others like it nationwide, make me very concerned for the ability of the church to remain together.

Cat Health Update

April 21, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life 

The cats went to the vet for their annual visit yesterday.

Albert lost a pound, and is otherwise healthy.

Isaac found the missing pound, but is still not too heavy.  He is also apparently suffering from some arthritis.  We’ve been treating that by giving both of them Cosequin with their food.  Now we’re going to try a very low dose of anti-inflammatory for Isaac to see if it helps with his stiffness.  He still runs around like a maniac, but I can see him clearly thinking about whether or not to jump up on to my lap, the bed, etc.

Both had urine and blood drawn and we’ll hear in a few days about that.  Not expecting anything, but both have occasionally shown kidney numbers that are slightly elevated at times.

Rabies shots for all, which has made them sleepy (not that we can tell).

Staying Busy

Recently I have been thinking about what I do with my “non-work” time.  With my career transition, I’m able to use time for “non-work” activities during the day, hopefully to the benefit of others.  Someday I hope that I can combine my vocation and avocations.

This led me to thinking about listing all of the various things that I do.  Some people put them on their resumes, but mine is already too long and I’m not sure what it would add.  So I’ll list my “sideline” things here for your interest/amusement.  I know that once I find a job I may have to cut back on some of these (indeed – several of them have been started since my career transition started with the caveat that I may have to stop at some point).

Work-related

Recently I’ve been providing computer services to others as a sideline.  Mostly this consists of PC maintenance, including some hardware work, installing software updates, and a lot of fixes to things like “my computer does X when I do Y – can you fix that?”.  This is done for various forms of renumeration including lunch and good will.

I’m also going to be helping another church do some brainstorming of what they want on their church’s website.  And yet another church has asked for help with their website, but I don’t know the specifics yet.

Local Church

I have a lot of roles at church:

  • Deacon – currently serving on the Board of Deacons, assigned to the Prayer Team and enjoying serving Communion on occasion.  I’m also the designated “e-mail reminder” person who sends a note to the people assigned to jobs each Sunday.
  • Open Door – recently completed a stint as co-chair of a task force studying issues of hospitality to visitors and the community.  I’m likely to serve as a member of the new Session committee being created to continue this work.
  • Webmaster – of the church website and the weekly e-mail that goes to almost 400 people.  This role also has me serving as the social networking expert surrounding our presence on Facebook and such.
  • Youth Advisor and member of Youth and Young Adult Council – nothing that I do at church brings me more joy than my work with the Senior High youth group.  I’ve also been involved in supporting the youth director with strategic planning for the youth council lately.
  • Percussion – most members of the church have been surprised to learn that I was classically trained as  a percussionist in high school.  I’ve been using those skills on snare and cymbal, djembe, congas, and other instruments in both the alternative and regular service.  Apparently I’m not as rusty as I think that I am.

Greater Church

  • The God Complex – serving as Webmaster for the new weekly Internet radio show that is hosted by Bruce Reyes-Chow and Carol Howard Merritt.  This involves blogs, web hosting, e-mail and other stuff that I don’t even know about yet.
  • I will be assisting my local Youth Director with the Small Group manual for the next Youth Triennium.  Not in a major way – just reading and editing.  I hope to turn that into a trip next summer, but that would require some creative planning (anybody need someone to man a booth or serve as a chaperone?).
  • This blog seems to provide value to some.  I’m also on Twitter and most of my friends there are church-related

Other Stuff

  • I’m a member of the Delaware Valley Ham Radio club.  I’m a general-class ham – KC2SMS.
  • I’m one of the keyholders for the ham radio emergency equipment for the local Red Cross office.  The Princeton Red Cross chapter is the “center” for ham radio for the state’s Red Cross groups, mainly because we are centrally located.  Monday night will be the monthly equipment test for the Red Cross and the NJ State RACES/ARES folks.

So, I’m keeping busy.  If I were being paid for all of that at a reasonable salary I’d have a full-time job.  As it is, it’s more like 1/2 to 2/3 of my days and some of my non-work hours.  I like to help people, and I usually don’t care whether I get paid or not (though getting paid is important for other reasons).  My hope is that someday I can use these skills for a paying position with some meaning to the world.

That was a long game.

April 11, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Can't Make This Up, Sports 

As some of my long-time readers know, I have season tickets to the Trenton Devils – the ECHL (2 levels down from NHL) affiliate of the NJ Devils.

This year the Trenton Devils started off badly (with a record of something like 3-11) but then had a stellar 2nd half and have made the playoffs.  They are 2nd seed in the North Division.

Last night was the first playoff game against the Elmira Jackals.  This should be an interesting 7-game matchup – the record against each other in the regular season was 6-6-1.  Last night’s game was about what was expected, with neither team having more than a 2 goal lead.   Regulation ended with the score tied 4-4.

In the ECHL during the regular season games that are tied after regulation go to a 4-on-4 5-minute overtime period, followed by a shootout.  For the playoffs, they use full 20:00 sudden death overtime periods with a 15:00 break between each overtime for zamboni work.

At the end of the 1st overtime, the score was still tied.

At the end of the 2nd overtime, the score was still tied.  We went home, but I listened on the web after that.

At the end of the 3rd overtime, the score was still tied.

At 6:10 into the 4th overtime, Elmira scored to win.  That made the game 126:10 playing minutes long and 4:55 duration time, the longest in ECHL history.  Both goalies finished the marathon, and Elmira goalie Michael Teslak now holds the ECHL record for saves in a game with 71.

Both teams have to play again 19 hours after the game ended tonight at 7pm.  I’m seriously considering bringing my blankie and teddy bear to the game.

That was a long one.

The God Complex podcast – tagline contest

April 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

The Revs. Bruce Reyes-Chow and Carol Howard Merritt are going to be starting a new podcast called “The God Complex”.  They are holding a poll this week to choose the tagline to go with the title.  It can be found here.  Please go there and vote.

I have two entries in the finals, but I’m not going to tell you which ones so that I don’t stuff the ballot box.  I didn’t vote for one of mine anyway – I found another that I liked better.

BREAKING NEWS: PC(USA) Moderator leaving PC(USA)

April 1, 2009 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Can't Make This Up, Religion 

SAN FRANCISCO,  April 1 (AFN) – The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), revealed today that he feels called to leave the denomination that has been his home for all of his 39 years.  Reyes-Chow stated that during his recent Moderatorial trip to Hong Kong and Taiwan, he felt the pull of his Buddhist ancestors and plans to leave the Presbyterian Church and take up the robes of a Buddhist monk.

Robin Pugh, his wife, and his three children are said to be staying with relatives recovering from the announcement.  Our reporter was able to hear a single question from his eldest daughter to her mother:  “Does that mean that I have to shave my head?”

The Rev. Byron Wade, Vice-Moderator of the General Assembly, spoke extensively on the subject of Reyes-Chow’s abandonment of his Presbyterian heritage.  “I’m not at all surprised”, said Wade, “Bruce has always been a bit unusual.  I’m just glad that I get the chance to step into his shoes.  The Moderator gets all of the glamour while the Vice-Moderator is relegated to being a traveling second banana.  Bruce got to go to the Phillipines and China; I had to settle for East Tennessee!”

There is no word on what will happen at Bruce’s church, Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco.  Abby Kaiser was last seen rubbing her hands together and cackling with glee.

Read more

Presbyterian Bloggers Unite // Campus Ministry

April 1, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion, Young Adult 

81This is the first in a new series of monthly blog posts from Presbyterian bloggers on various topics.   For more posts on this month’s topic, go to Presbyterian Bloggers Unite // Campus Ministry.

This month’s questions are:

  • how have you been personally impacted by CAMPUS MINISTRY?
  • what future commitment are you willing to make to support CAMPUS MINISTRY?
  • what are the greatest hopes and challenges that you think face CAMPUS MINISTRY in the future?

How have you been personally impacted by Campus Ministry?

Personally, I was negatively impacted by Campus Ministry when I was a college student.  It’s a long story with good information for those involved in campus ministry or who are responsible for supporting it.

In the fall of 1986 (yes, I’m old) I was a new freshman student at Rutgers University.  I was specifically enrolled in Rutgers College, the main liberal arts college.  At the time I was heavily involved in church, serving as the youth member of Synod Mission Council and the Synod Nominating Committee, having just finished a summer on staff at Camp Johnsonburg, and having just resigned as a Deacon in my home church (because it’s hard to serve from college far away).  I came to college knowing that I’d end up leaving it either on the track to ministry or on the track to a computer career.  To that end, I enrolled in Computer Science and Religion courses in my freshman year, and I’d decide later which was my major.  At Rutgers the “main” campus is actually 5 campuses on either side of the Raritan River in the New Brunswick area.  The Rutgers College classes were mainly on the Busch (sciences, in Piscataway) and College Ave. (original campus) in New Brunswick.  I live on Busch my freshman year.  My classes were about evenly split between those campuses freshman year.

The Rutgers Protestant Campus Ministries was located (if memory serves) on the College Ave. campus.  We had campus buses that went back and forth, with a trip between Busch and College Ave taking 15 minutes to 40 minutes depending on traffic and which bus you took.  I’m the lazy sort and instead looked for an option available on the Busch campus.

On freshman move-in weekend, campus organizations had set up booths outside of the Busch campus student center.  I found two Christian organizations there – Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  IVCF was giving away ice cream (a brilliant move on a hot late August day).  I looked at both, and the folks at IVCF just seemed friendlier.  I should note that the Rutgers Protestant Campus Ministries folks had sent me a flyer in the mail either to my home over the summer or in my campus box (I don’t remember which).

I started attending the IVCF meetings on campus (Sunday evenings, I think – when my old youth group had met).  I soon discovered that these folks had a VERY different theology than I did.  I was taught that Paul’s “be not unequally yoked” meant that we should not be friends with Jewish people unless we were trying to convert them.

I attended their fall retreat in October.  This was a retreat out in the woods of Pennsylvania, a drive of at least 90 minutes from Piscataway at a Christian camp.  The experience was rather cult-like to me.  The first 24 hours involved the attempts by the leaders (and even the other participants) to criticize my strongly-held mainline more liberal beliefs.  It began with the other students in my cabin, and as time went on I found that successively higher leaders took an interest in my “case”.  Around Sunday morning of this retreat I figured out what was going on, and started saying the “right” things.  This led to Sunday morning worship, which I believe involved what was probably an altar call (though I didn’t realize it at the time).  All I knew was that I was profoundly uncomfortable, my beliefs were being questioned and derided, and I was a long way from “home” on campus with no way to get there on my own.  I said and did the “right” things to get home.

After returning to campus I never had anything to do with this IVCF chapter again.  I’ve since been told that other IVCF chapters are nothing like this and that the Busch chapter at Rutgers was known in the late 80’s as having issues with how it was run.

Ultimately, this experience was 1/2 of the reason that I ultimately left the church the following fall (a departure that lasted 18 years).  The other 1/2 involved some odd things experienced at Synod council and the main Synod meeting, which I have written about.  I chose Computer Science as my major, and started taking Eastern religion classes to fill out my minor.

So for me, campus ministry was a profoundly negative experience that ultimately hurt my faith and relationship with God.  It’s clear to me that this is because I was involved in the WRONG campus ministry.

What future commitment are you willing to make to support Campus Ministry?

One of the biggest problems in the PC(USA) church is the graying of the church.  This is happening for one simple reason – our young people are deserting the church in droves, and failing to return “on schedule” when they are married and have children of their own.  Some youth are lost after confirmation and I don’t think Campus Ministry can do much there other than try to get them to return.  Many others are lost when they go to college and the connection to their home church is broken.

I currently work with the Senior High youth at my church.  As I have the opportunity, I encourage our youth to find a Protestant campus ministry.  When the personal connection is strong enough, I’ll even seek out the campus minstry opportunities at their soon-to-be college and recommend that they get in touch with one.  I encourage them to find one that works for them, even if it isn’t the Protestant or Presbyterian ministry.  I also give them some idea of the theology to expect at each (determined by the organization’s national statements or what is found on the local website at their college).  I do warn them to be careful of those whose outward persona may not stand up to a deeper look (the friendly recruiter vs. the reality).

I believe that a strong campus ministry is a necessity if we want to reverse the loss of membership in our churches and denominations.  Unlike some, I do not believe that there is a fundamental incompatibility between the church and the culture at large.  Regretfully, the loudest Christian voices insist that there is an incompatibility.  We in the mainline churches need to out-shout those who are driving our young people away from the church with their highly judgmental and exclusionary theology.

In my position, there’s not much that I can do to directly impact campus ministry.  I plan to keep on keeping on – to let my students know that there is a place for Christ at college, but to be careful of wandering into the wrong place.  I also plan to continue to push for support of campus ministries where I have influence.

What are the greatest hopes and challenges that you think face Campus Ministry in the future?

Problem 1 – the negative stereotype of Christianity popularized by those who are anti-Christian and those Christians who follow a judgmental and exclusionary theology.  We lose more potential Christians to bad behavior by ourselves – both our more fundamental and outspoken brethren (like the Westboro Baptist folks) and by our own internal fighting (like the current fight in the PC(USA) over gay ordination – which most young people consider settled in their own minds and a silly fight).  Put make it plain – Christianity as a whole creates its own worst publicity.  Campus Ministry has to fight a battle for the hearts and minds of students that is more uphill than it needs to be.

Problem 2 – the changing nature of spirituality in young people.  I’ve been reading Youth Ministry 3.0 by Mark Oestreicher.  He describes the changes from Youth Ministry 1.0 (your parents’ or grandparents’ youth rallies and crusades in the 50’s and 60’s) to Youth Ministry 2.0 (your experience of youth ministry programs – the herd method of youth ministry) to Youth Ministry 3.0 (today, where it’s all about relationships, communion, and authenticity).  Youth Ministry today will be more one-to-one or one-to-few, and less about the “big program”.  Campus Ministry needs to take that a step further because you can’t even assume that your students have the same starting point.  Some will come to Christ for the first time in college, others will drift in and out, and still others are so committed that they are essentially on the seminary track. Individualized ministry will be what’s required.

Problem 3 – money.  Put simply, churches and higher governing bodies are short on money.  As people are squeezed by the economy, churches, presbyteries and other higher bodies are going to be squeezed.  And let’s face it – campus ministry has never been a high funding priority for the church controlled by adults older than college age.  The biggest fear that I have is that we’ll give up and stop funding campus ministry completely.  Campus ministry needs MORE money and more help on campus, not less.  Along with this problem goes the age-old problem of results.  How do you quantify the change in a student’s spiritual life?  How can you, when the change may not become apparent for years?  How do you satisfy those who want to see results for their dollars?

Opportunities – Problem 2 is both a problem and an opportunity.  By keeping ahead of the shifting sands of ministry to these Young Adults, we can both stem the tide of losses and bring others to God.  That’s what we’re here for, right?