United we stand, divided we fall

March 26, 2012

22“No!” the other woman
shouted. “He was your son. My baby is alive!” ”The dead baby is yours,”
the first woman yelled. “Mine is alive!” They argued back and forth in
front of Solomon, 23until finally he said, “Both of you say this live baby is yours.24Someone bring me a sword.” A sword was brought, and Solomon ordered, 25“Cut the baby in half! That way each of you can have part of him.” (1 Kings 3.22-25)

Solomon
is approached with a serious dilemma. The equation doesn’t seem to add
up. Two mothers. One baby. In what's declared as an act of wisdom, Solomon decides
to cut the baby in half to correct the equation. When threatening to do
so, the truth is discovered and the baby is returned to his mother.

While moderating at a recent presbytery
meeting, I had a new insight into this particular story. Except in my
case, we are not fighting over a baby. We are fighting over a community –
the Presbytery of San Francisco community. By name, my presbytery is
assumed to be liberal, but in reality we are evenly divided, evenly
split and all the players have a high stake in who wins and who doesn’t.
Lately, the issues we have been fighting over have been anything that
has to do with LGBTQ issues: ordination, sense of call, marriage, sin.

I have been involved in these issues and
debates in two roles: one as a member of presbytery and now as
moderator. In both roles, I have struggled with how a divided community
can truly be an authentic community and yet be affirmed in our different
beliefs. Is it possible? If you asked me in January, I would have said
‘no.’ As moderator, I have seen the “ugly” come out of both sides. It
stuns me to see how “ugly” we as Christians can be all in the name of
Jesus, love, righteousness, and unity.

If I threatened to cut this community in
half, who would compromise their side, vote, belief, truth, and
perspective for the sake of the health of the community? Right now, the
answer is no one. I am part of a wonderful group of leaders in my
presbytery who have given so much of their heart, passion, energy, and
time to move this presbytery into a healthier place – a task that is
daunting on its own and impossible when in the midst of making healthy
changes, we still act and treat each other in the same dysfunctional
manner.

I’ll give two examples:

A few years ago, my presbytery was voting on
Amendment B. Amendment B referred to a clause that linked “fidelity and
chastity” to standards of ordination for deacons, elders, and pastors.
Amendment B was seen as a significant barrier for LGBTQ to be ordained
in the PCUSA church. It was late at night and we had heard the
exhaustive pros and cons of the debate. I remember holding my sleeping
baby in my arms while my husband held my son as we awaited for the
written ballots to be counted.  While the vote was being counted, we had
communion. To the leadership’s credit, I believe their intent was to
gather in “unity” around the Lord’s table, but unfortunately, it was
only a stark reminder to many who was not invited to the table. The vote
was close like it always is, proving the point that every vote in that
room was crucial. The motion to remove Amendment B did not pass and you
can feel the tension in the room palpitating. I have to be honest that I
was upset. I can feel tears rolling down my cheeks as the vote count
sunk in. We were instructed to circle up around the perimeter of the
sanctuary for prayer. Then, someone started singing “Amazing Grace.”
“Amazing Grace,” really? People who were upset about the vote started to
leave the room. I get it. I didn’t feel like praying. I didn’t feel
like holding hands with anyone. It took everything in me to stay in that
room until that song was finished.

A few weeks ago, on the consent agenda,
there was a motion to approve the transfer of a pastor who was openly
gay and married. As expected, it was pulled off the consent agenda and
placed in the evening’s Committee on Ministry report. There wasn’t as
much debate as I thought there was going to be. As moderator, I tried to
be fair and respectful. With the song of “Amazing Grace” still
lingering in my memory, we made sure that we didn’t plan any “community
building” activities that people would deem as manipulative or forced.
Although the vote wasn’t huge, the vote was easily determined by visibly
counting the raised hands. By a small majority, the pastor was received
into our presbytery. We invited him to stand in the middle of the
sanctuary so that we could lay hands on him as we would do with any
candidate or transferred member. And it was a clear visible sign that
most who opposed the vote did not stand up to pray for this pastor. I
wasn’t surprised. I will say I was disappointed.

In these two scenarios, I experienced the
vote not going my way and the vote going my way. In these two scenarios,
I felt what it was like to be in a community where I grieved and where I
celebrated. I have watched my colleagues and friends walk out or take a
visible stand against. And what I struggle with is can we be a healthy,
diverse community or do we have to divide “the baby”?

One thing I noticed about Solomon
threatening to divide the baby is that it put both mothers on equal
footing. Both mothers were going to lose that baby. In some way, that is
my approach to moderating this year. I can’t prevent people from
wanting to debate until the wee hours of the morning. I can’t squelch
what comes out of people’s mouths. I can’t control how we choose to
treat each other. What I can do is maybe change the way we fight. Sorry
Robert’s Rules of Order, but we will face each other and not only the
moderator when we speak. We will gather around tables for discussion and
worship around things we can come together on like mission, ministry,
and the future of the presbytery. And by introducing different process
modalities and decision making tools, my hope is to equally confuse
everyone, including myself, so that we can open ourselves to the spirit
of where God is moving instead of holding firm to where we believe God
is.

What have you done to build community in
your church, presbytery, or family? How have you handled groups with
divided interests and beliefs?

Originally posted at Still Waters