Are We Even in the Same Ballpark?

January 4, 2007 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

Today, Toby Brown of Texas posted a blog entry that I find very disturbing.

He handles two different situations.

First, the Rev. Janet Edwards of Pittsburgh Presbytery held a marriage ceremony between two lesbians in September of 2005.  She was subsequently charged with performing a same-sex union by members of her presbytery.  The presbytery investigated and filed charges to be tried.  She was prepared for a trial, but the presbytery judicial commission dismissed the charges on the basis of being filed 5 days too late.  The conservative side cried foul and claimed that there was a setup to make sure the charges were late, but others state that the delay was accidental.

Now, Rev. Brown from Texas has decided to join a group of ministers (presumably from all over the country) to file new charges against her.  What those charges will be is unclear, but it seems that they will involve charges that she violated her ordination vows.

Sound like double-jeopardy to you?  Yeah, me too.  I’m sure that Rev. Edwards is ready for the trial, though.

This all flies in the face of the Definitive Guidance passed last summer in response to the Peace, Unity and Purity report from the last General Assembly meeting, in which presbyteries and session were exhorted to “outdo each other in trust”.  Our system is in danger of ceasing to be a church and turning into a bad TV lawyer show if ministers from all over the country are filing charges against other ministers who aren’t in the same presbytery, or even the same synod.  Such charges should be local, filed by people who are familiar with the details of the event and the people involved.

Rev. Brown’s second assertion is that any wedding that includes Christian elements and non-Christian elements should not take place.  His specific reference is again to Rev. Edwards’ gay wedding, where one of the women was Buddhist.  Rev. Edwards did what many ministers of all denominations (including Catholic) do all the time – they marry people of their faith to people of another faith.  Often the ceremonies include elements from both traditions to make each family comfortable – the alternative being two ceremonies (which also happens).
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I am a product of a mixed marriage though not one that Rev. Brown would complain about – my wife is Catholic.  I was married in a Catholic mass (not just a ceremony – a full mass with Eucharist, though I did not partake).  The priest who married us told us about a wedding that he had performed between a Catholic and a Buddhist.  He stated that he was very clear to the participants about the issues that a mixed marriage can create, particularly if children are involved.

What bothers me most is the idea that Presbyterians are so strict that they cannot abide reaching out to people of other faiths.  This is an issue of hospitality.  If I had a Muslim visitor to my home, I would have no trouble if that person felt the need to get up at a certain hour and pray (as long as they were kind enough to try not to wake the rest of us).  Shoot, I can see Muslims in a Presbyterian church facing Mecca.  My own church houses a Jewish congregation on Saturdays, and has done so for decades.

Apparently, this is too much for Rev. Brown.  He expects that in his house, his rules will be followed (note the lowercase h).  And his definition of which houses are his seems to include all PC(USA) churches.

This leads me to wonder if I have unequally yoked myself with Presbyterians such as Rev. Brown.  (Personally, I interpret that passage to be more about morals than about religious practices, but Rev. Brown specifically mentions it in his blog post comments.)  I believe that it is a sin NOT to respect and honor the religious practices of others.  We might not choose them for ourselves or recommend them to others, but we should respect the choice of the person involved.  And when we put two people together in marriage, I would much rather recognize two religious traditions in one ceremony than drive one or the other person away from their faith.

So that leaves the question – did I make a mistake joining a denomination that has a significant number of leaders who hold such a different belief about people of other religions?  Did I make a mistake joining a denomination that has a signficant number of leaders who view respecting other religions as sin?

Let me know what you think.  I really am wondering whether my new Presbyterian membership is a mistake.