So, we had a gathering last week to meet the Moderator Candidates (the Moderator in the Presbyterian Church is a national officer. S/he moderates the General Assembly). There are four candidates, and two showed: Bill Teng and Bruce Reyes Chow. The other two had some significant personal things they had to deal with. Which is too bad. I was really looking forward to meeting Carl Mazza.
I’m writing an article about the event for the Outlook, so I’ve been pondering on it a lot. Here’s the interesting thing… as you, dear reader, may know, my beloved denomination’s been trying to sort out whether to ordain gays and lesbians or not. It’s been difficult. A very painful process on all sides. Right now, people are trying hard to keep the unity of the church, find some middle way. But nothing seems to be working well.
During the conversation with the candidates, I notice that the two different candidates contrasted greatly.
Bill Teng was recently the President of Presbyterians for Renewal, an organization that does a lot of things, but they are generally conservative. They believe in the ordination of women, but they also uphold gender complimentarianism (here’s a PDF download on it). And they have organized efforts against the ordination of gays and lesbians. Bill stepped down from president to run for moderator.
I’ve known Bill since I was a teenager. I was a janitor in the church where he was a pastor. He had just left the Christian Missionary Alliance Church to become Presbyterian. What was interesting was each time we talked about gay and lesbian ordination, he talked about purity, unity, or putting more energy in missions. Even though he was the head of PFR, even though he’s a national speaker, and he’s been actively fighting in this cause, he was very careful about his words.
I didn’t know Bruce Reyes-Chow. He’s a friend of many of my friends. I read his blog, and I watched how his candidacy sprung up from a Facebook group (there’s a first for the Presbyterians!). And I’ve supported his run from the beginning.
What was interesting is that Bruce said that he gets very few questions regarding gay and lesbian ordination, and he’s the one who usually brings it up in the forums. (Imagine that. It’s probably the most crucial issue in our denomination right now, and no one wants to talk about it.) Bruce explained that he’s a supporter of gay and lesbian ordination, that he’s excruciatingly fair, and a strong listener of all sides. And he said that the denomination needs to find ways for churches to gracefully leave. I have to say, it felt good to hear.
The contrast reminded me of a discussion I had right before Tribal Church came out. In the book, I talk about how an overwhelming majority of younger generations support same sex relationships. Another seasoned author told me, “You can’t say that. You’ll alienate half of your readership. You need to avoid those issues or you’ll never sell any books.” His point was that if I’m doing advocacy work, then being honest about these things is fine. If I’m interested in the larger goal of reaching out to a new generation, then I needed to stay away from things that would divide. Furthermore, I was constantly advised, “Evangelicals buy a lot of books. Don’t say anything to make them mad.”
I tried to explain that my goal was not to mirror what Christian readers think, but to give an accurate account of what a new generation believes.
I left our meeting wondering if that’s a pitfall of Christian publishing, and perhaps Christian leadership. I wondered if people are so concerned with the audience that they’re unable to tell the truth.
These are problems that all good communicators have. How much do you tailor your message to your audience? Practically speaking, are there issues that are just better to avoid? Should a person ignore them in order to gain trust or power?
And I also wonder, is this a cultural shift? Is a new generation more open with what they’re thinking and what they’re doing (and I mean “generation” here in a cultural sense rather than an age bracket)? I mean, evangelical authors, like David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, are wrestling with the perception of homophobia in churches as well, so I don’t think it’s a conservative/progressive thing. Are we less calculating? Are we too naïve? Will this be to our detriment or to our advantage? What do you think?
The photo’s from Beale