For Everyone Born – a problematic hymn

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while.  I went to the first new PC(USA) hymnal launch event in Pennsylvania last fall, and I’ve heard this hymn sung MANY times – at Field Ed, at General Assembly, at Princeton Seminary many times in chapel, at the Worship and Music conference.  This hymn is quickly becoming a favorite of churches and seminaries.

It’s catchy.  It’s easy to sing.  It has a central message of unity, though it stumbles with some equality concepts.  The refrain is really pretty and mentions all sorts of good things.

But it has a problem.  Several problems really, but I’m going to concentrate on one.  This problem has been pointed out to me by several friends.

Recently I’ve been noticing a pattern among my friends – primarily my female friends and close relatives.  I’m becoming increasingly alarmed at how many have been abused – usually physically or sexually.  It’s not that far from the truth to say that all adult women that I know well enough to have heard such stories have experienced some form of sexual or physical abuse.  Or controlling behavior.  ALL of them.  Some more than once.  I’m alarmed, and trying to figure out what to do with the anger.

For these friends (and certainly others), verse 4 of For Everyone Born is a problem.  Here’s the verse:

For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live,
(Copyright 1998, Hope Publishing)

At a first glance it seems pretty benign – that abuser and abused should be able to participate in the church and Eucharist equally.  We truly believe that.  It’s not really a problem.

But then you read it again.  And you notice that the injunctions are all against the abused.  The abused has a need to forgive.  (What does the abuser have to forgive?)  The abused is called to have a mindset of mercy.

And worst of all – the abused is expected to be at the same table as the abuser.  THIS is psychologically damaging for everybody that has talked to me about this.  The idea of sitting at a table, a Holy Table, with one’s abuser is painful.  It causes panic attacks.  It causes anger.  One friend felt a call to walk out of a service in the middle of the hymn (though she didn’t).  This verse of this hymn turns our sanctuaries from places of safety to places of danger.  Danger in the triggering of abuse victims, and danger in the very real implication of sharing space with their abuser.

This becomes even more insidious when the abuser is a family member or significant other.  People who have suffered abuse have it repeated again through family pressures.  Family members urge or even demand that they reconcile with their abuser (often without knowledge of the abuse) “for the good of the family.”  The abused person becomes the problem in that they split the family, rather than having the responsibility for the split properly lodged with the abuser.  Some people continue years later to have nightmares about the abuser and the abuse, and this demand in this hymn can bring up all of that again.

The refrain calls on us to create justice, compassion and peace:

and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!

I question whether any of these are possible when calling for abuser and abused to be in the same place.  The abused will not feel justice.  They will not feel compassion – they will feel the opposite.  They clearly will not feel peace, or joy.

I doubt that the hymn’s author intended to make this statement.  Still, the verse remains imbalanced.  Some call for repentance and reparation might balance it.  But perhaps it would be better just to leave it out.  When this hymn was sung as the Class Hymn at my Princeton Seminary graduation last May I chose not to sing this verse.  I almost sat down for the verse, but I was in a place where that would have been difficult and nobody would have understood what I was doing anyway.

So if you want to use this hymn, please consider skipping verse 4.  Or consider skipping the hymn entirely – there are other hymns that say the same thing without triggering the many (many more than you realize) victims of abuse.  Or at least know that you may have some work to do after it is sung.

So what’s going on at General Assembly?

June 26, 2008 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

My loyal readers may be wondering why I haven’t posted much about General Assembly.

The truth is that the kerfluffle about my blog and my local congregation has consumed most of my blogging energy.  I am following General Assembly, though this year it’s not with the thought of “I might get there someday” but rather “I’m never gonna get there”.

But I am following it.

So here’s what’s going on.

Sexuality and Ordination

The committees involved (the sexuality question kinda got split between two committees) passed resolutions recommending changes to the Book of Order or Authoritative Interpretations that would essentially allow two things:

  1. Scruples could be declared by an ordained officer at the time of examination.  The examining body (and only that body) would be able to decide whether or not to accept that scruple.  The word Scruple was not used.  This was passed as an Authoritative Interpretation.
  2. To reword G-6.0106b, replacing the famous “marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” with:  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. This would essentially allow gay ordination in presbyteries or congregations that allow it.  This resolution also nullifies the 1978 and 1979 Authoritative Interpretations and any such later action that homosexuality is a bar to ordination.  This resolution also requires the examining body to be sure that the person is willing to assent to the ordination vows before approving them.

The committee also turned down an overture that would redefine marriage as between two persons, rather than between a man and a woman.  That committee turned back an attempt to solidify the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, instead commenting that this issue is still in question in our denomination.

Big stuff, eh?  Remember that this is just the committee work – the whole General Assembly votes later.

The General Assembly as a whole passed a resolution to create a sexuality curriculum for youth, choosing NOT to state specifics about what must be included.  This was passed after a lively debate that included a minister from KY (speaking against the curriculum) revealing on the floor of GA that his daughter has or had a sexually transmitted disease.

Christian/Jew/Muslim Relations

The General Assembly last night commended for study the relationships between these religions, calling for tolerance and mutual respect.  The resolution originally included a clause stating that the God of Christians, Jews and Muslim was the same God of Abraham, but that was removed by the General Assembly as a whole.

Membership Vows

The committee passed a resolution calling for a Book of Order amendment that would require that members being received by a method other than Confirmation will also make a public profession of faith.  This replaces the overture that I wrote about previously that would have required specific membership vows.

Form of Government (Book of Order) revision

The committee is recommending that the draft be referred to a new task force consisting of the original task force and members of the Assembly committee considering it.  This group would consult with the presbyteries and bring back a revised recommendation to the next General Assembly.  It’s not quite a punt or ignore, but rather a “still needs work” decision.  This is just the committee decision – we’ll see what GA does but I suspect this will be what happens.

Confessions

The committee recommended that the Heidelberg Confession be amended to return it to a closer translation from the original German, correcting some license taken by the translators in the 1960’s.  This has the effect of removing the wording against homosexuality from the confession, though others claim that the original intent of the passage in question was to mirror 1 Corinthians.

The committee also recommended that a team be created to study the inclusion of the Belhar Confession in the Book of Confessions – to report back at the next General Assembly.

Some little but important stuff

The GA passed a statement that the Catholic and Presbyterian baptism should be recognized by the other denomination, subject to each denomination’s rules.  This means something to me, a Presbyterian married to a Catholic.

The GA passed full recognition and participation in Eucharist between the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church.  We can now take Communion in the other church without question.  This also allows for limited use of ministers from the other denomination and allows further talks on allow integration in the future.

The GA passed a Book of Order amendment that changes part of the definition of the office of deacon – substituting “compassion” for “sympathy”.

Catholics, Birth Control and Eucharist

November 14, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Today’s votes by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops affecting birth control and Eucharist hit my family personally.

While I am Presbyterian (joining a new church tomorrow evening), my wife is a practicing Catholic.  (What the heck is “practicing” about?  I think after about 40 years she’d be good at it!)  We have chosen not to have children.  We are not using the rhythm method – my wife is an engineer and would never settle for a single point of failure.  You are welcome to draw your own conclusions on what all that means with respect to birth control.

The bishops issued two documents today that are relevant:

The first document talks about marriage and the Roman Catholic church’s teachings.  In reality, only the first page of the 12 page document talks about marriage – the rest talks about contraception, repeating Catholic doctrine stating that the Rhythm method is the only one allowed (though they call it “Natural Family Planning”) in any circumstance.

The second one talks about preparation for Holy Communion.  Among other things it states that intentionally ignoring church teachings is sufficiently serious that the lay person should avoid Communion.  It also repeats teaching about Confession, mortal sins, and the fact that Catholics should only take Communion in a Catholic or related Byzantine church.  Also that non-Catholics should not take Communion.

Put the two together and you reach the conclusion (verified by Catholic priests in a newspaper article that I read) that any Catholic using contraception should not take Holy Communion.  The newspaper article that I saw this morning cited a survey statistic that 96% of married Catholics used contraception.  One activist in the Catholic church on sexual issues was quoted as saying “This should save them some money on wafers”, but I don’t expect much to change.  I suspect that this new guideline on taking Communion will be ignored just as the teaching on contraception is ignored.  After all, the church spokespriest was quoted as saying that priests will not be refusing anyone at the rail on this issue.

So what does that mean for us?  For me – nothing.  Nobody changed the rules that I live by today.  For Carolyn …. well, I can’t speak for her.  I assume that if you ignore the teaching about contraception, you might as well ignore this teaching as well – and I suspect that 95% of married Catholics will continue doing so.

What I do know is that the Presbyterian Church will always allow her to take Communion in one of our churches irrespective of what her church teaches about doing so.  I also know that the Presbyterian Church will be happy to take her in should she get sufficiently frustrated by the differences between the Mother Church’s teachings and her beliefs.  And I know (and she’s been told) that the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville always welcomes her.

It’s probably easier to live in a one-church household.  We’ve done fine for all these years in a two-church household.  We talk, and exercise freedom of conscience on religious issues.  We support each other’s personal faith.  We’re also generally on the same page on theological issues and issues of applying faith to life.  That might not be the same page as the Roman Catholic church, but it’s OUR page.