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Moderator Reflects on Ordination Issue, Politicization of the

Date 28 Oct 1998 20:17:28

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    Moderator Reflects on Ordination Issue, Politicization 
    of the Church, Biblical Interpretation 
    by Bill Lancaster 
Editor's note: During the recent General Assembly Council meeting, General 
Assembly moderator the Rev. Douglas Oldenburg sat for a lengthy interview 
with the Presbyterian News Service.  Part I of that interview appeared in 
the Oct. 16 issue of "NEWS BRIEFS."  This is Part II. 
    Q.  How close are we to resolution on the issue of the ordination of 
practicing homosexual persons? 
    A. "I don't think we're close to it.  I wish I did.  I am asked about 
it.  Not as often as I would have been last year, but I am asked about it. 
And I am willing to talk about it.  We have to keep talking about it, but I 
don't think we're close to a resolution." 
    Q.  What would a resolution look like? 
    A. "I wish I knew.  I think everybody wishes they knew.  I wish there 
were a compromise position.  But what some of us think would be a 
compromise position is not acceptable [to others]." 
    Q.  You mentioned earlier being concerned about politicization in the 
    A. "I'm concerned about that, and frankly, I don't know what to do 
about it.  I think I'm detecting increased politicizing of the General 
Assembly, and by that I mean groups, particularly from the right of center, 
very well organized to promote their agenda and their point of view 
vis--vis the General Assembly.  And my concern is that as one element in 
the church becomes more organized, it encourages the other side to ratchet 
up their organization and politicizing, and I seriously question whether 
that's healthy for the church. 
    "I want us to get beyond a win-lose mentality.  I want to see us 
seeking the mind of Christ, where all are striving to listen to each other, 
to be open to each other, we all hold our convictions with humility because 
we may be wrong.  That's a different kind of spirit and mentality than `My 
side's right' and `Your side's wrong' and `We're going to win.'  I guess I 
just don't want to see it escalate." 
    Q.  What will de-escalate this? 
    A. "I think what would de-escalate it is for both sides to recognize 
that they have a lot in common and to begin trusting each other and begin 
practicing humility.  I don't think that there's anything legislatively we 
can do to prevent [escalation] . 
    "At one of the most moving meetings I went to, there were about 12 of 
us sitting around the table, and we were really all over the map 
theologically, and we started off by sharing, each of us taking a few 
minutes to share what the gospel means to us.  I've never been to a church 
meeting where that happened.  The leader just said, `Let's just share with 
each other - each of us take five minutes and share what the gospel means 
to us.'  And we did, and we respected each other.  We used different 
metaphors. Some people used very traditional language, substitutionary 
atonement.  And others used more contemporary ways of expressing the 
    "And then we asked ourselves what do we have in common.  We had a lot 
in common.  It was good news.  No matter how you expressed it, it was good 
news.  It was all centered upon God's sacrificial love.  And there was no 
put-down, there was no questioning of each other's integrity.  There was a 
kind of affirmation of each other in that, even though we expressed it 
differently.  I wish we would do more of that." 
    Q.  At the Assembly, you talked about how we read and understand the 
Bible.  And you mentioned a booklet you thought was good.  What's happened 
with that? 
    A. "Two things.  We're doing a moderator's conference on that subject. 
The Assembly authorizes a moderators' conference for all the moderators of 
presbyteries and synods to come together for two or three days, and that's 
going to be the focus of that conference.  We're going to try to model how 
to talk about this issue of what Presbyterians believe about the Bible. 
The booklets are being reprinted, and we're going to send to each pastor a 
letter encouraging them to do an adult study or even a youth study using 
these booklets on what we believe about the Bible.  We're also going to 
write to presbyteries, encouraging them to do a one-day conference on this 
with a list of suggested leaders who represent both right of center and 
left of center. 
    "I happen to believe that that's part of the issue that's deep down 
within us.  You want to know what are the fundamental issues - one of them 
is how we go about interpreting scripture.  Forty-seven percent of our 
members were not brought up in the Presbyterian Church.  And a high 
percentage of our ministers were not educated in a Presbyterian seminary. 
Some of them were educated in what I'd call Reformed seminaries, but some 
were not.  But I think there are some basic principles found in "The Book 
of Confessions" and in Reformed theology for going about reading scripture 
that I think sometimes we ignore.  And therefore, I hope we can get back in 
touch with them. 
    "I don't want it to be more divisive.  I want just to remind ourselves. 
For example, to remind ourselves it's fundamental to the way Reformed 
Christians read the Bible that parts of the Bible are to be interpreted in 
light of God's supreme revelation in Jesus Christ.  That's a very Reformed 
understanding of scripture.  That means, among other things, when the 
psalmist talks about bashing the babies against a rock, that doesn't comply 
with what Jesus said about loving your enemies, pray for those who 
persecute you.  That part of the Old Testament, that psalm, carries no 
authority for me.  It's an expression of anger, which I can understand, but 
it carries absolutely no authority for me.  Sometimes I think we forget 
that and we take each part of the Bible, each section of it, as if it were 
equally authoritative, even though it does not conform to what we've 
learned about God in Jesus Christ.  I think that's a basic, fundamental 
principle.  It was very liberating for me when I learned that." 
    Q.  Do you think as you enter this study on the Bible that people on 
both sides of the current issues are going to be able to receive it okay? 
    A. "I don't know.  Time will tell.  I hope we discover that we have 
more in common about this than we think we do.  But I don't know.  There 
are some people who are worried that this will divide us even further. 
That's certainly not my goal.  That would be the last thing I'd want.  What 
I'm hoping is that we can all be reminded of some historic, Reformed 
principles for interpreting the Scripture." 

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