Whether you are passionately for or passionately against Amendment 10-A (the amendment now before the Presbyterian Church which would replace existing language in our Constitution which effectively bars LGBT persons from holding ordained office) here is some good news: God is still in charge. Sure, believers across the world would agree with this fundamental truth, but we Presbyterians believe it with a particular ferocity. We count as our spiritual forebear one Mr. John Calvin, who was strenuous on the point:
“Truly God claims omnipotence to himself, and would have us to acknowledge it,–not the vain, indolent, slumbering omnipotence which sophists [quibblers] feign, but vigilant, efficacious, energetic, and ever active– not an omnipotence which may only act as a general principle of confused motion, as in ordering a stream to keep within the channel once prescribed to it, but one which is intent on individual and special movements. God is deemed omnipotent, not because he can act though he may cease or be idle, or because by a general instinct he continues the order of nature previously appointed; but because, governing heaven and earth by his providence, he so overrules all things that nothing happens without his counsel.”
That’s how very in charge God is. But, John Calvin was a practical theologian and his emphasis on God’s omnipotence was meant less as an instruction on who God is than on who we are to be. It’s a point that Paul made directly and succinctly to the Church in Rome: “…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought …” For Calvin, as for Paul God’s sovereignty requires our humility.
A few weeks back, I was an observer at the called meeting of San Francisco Presbytery as the presbyters voted on Amendment 10-A. At several points during the proceedings the Moderator reminded the body of the controversial nature of the vote, and urged graciousness and decorum, especially after the vote was announced and the meeting adjourned. “There will be those who will be celebrating,” he said, “and those who will be upset by the results and we need to treat one another with kindness and respect.”
He was right. When it comes to votes on LGBT issues, San Francisco Presbytery is just about evenly split. I appreciated the call for civility and grace; but still, the word “celebrate” hit an off note in me.
As it turned out, Amendment 10-A passed in San Francisco Presbytery, which would put me in the camp of the celebrators. But—though I was glad about the outcome— “celebrating” didn’t have much appeal.
I’ll confess to you right here, right now, that there have been times at presbytery or at a General Assembly when I’ve felt gleeful about the result of some vote or other. I’ll further confess that, once or twice (and I’m not proud of this) I even felt just a wee bit of glee that others, who had worked so strenuously against something that I cared about, were now feeling the sadness of having a vote go against them. Calvin would have had a word for that kind of cheap glee, and that word is sin. It’s sinful because it breaks relation with another part of the body of Christ, and it’s sinful because it demeans the sovereignty of God, as if we could be certain of God’s purposes.
The church is surrounded by a culture that measures the world by winners and losers. So saturated are we in it that we drag that language of win/loss, victory/defeat in to the church, where it never belonged, and where it only does us harm.
All of this is meant as a little shout out to those, who—like me—will be rejoicing should Amendment 10-A be ratified. It’s a reminder to all of us to practice the spiritual discipline of equanimity.
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through the One who gives me strength.”
Here’s our chance. Here’s our chance to be a living demonstration of graciousness, humility, and generosity. Here’s our chance to practice radical hospitality.
And, as a whole Church, bound by the unity of Christ’s body, here’s an opportunity to model a bit of positive Calvinism. We are not in charge – ain’t that good news?