Making space for God, not each other

One of the risks that we take in talking publicly is that we have absolutely no control over what’s printed or broadcast. Comments can be taken out of context or be quoted inaccurately. Headlines attempt to draw the reader’s attention but sometimes miss the mark and create the wrong impression.

Those don’t sound like the words of a person who was once wedded to the journalistic craft, do they? Yes, my 24 years in secular radio and print news were a genuine calling and I loved every minute of it. Well, 98 per cent. I was a defender of the Fourth Estate’s vital role in the maintenance of democratic freedom and I remain so.

But I’ve also seen how unprofessional work can tarnish someone’s reputation. Even a first-rate journo on a bad day can make a slip and do some damage.

Despite healthy preparation, interviewers sometimes say the wrong thing. In radio and TV, once the words are out of your mouth, there’s no rephrasing. Perfect example is the 11-minute radio interview CBC Regina did last week with Rev. Amanda Currie, the PCC’s moderator-elect when the host referred to her as the new “leader” of the PCC. Rev. Currie, in her response, deftly clarified the “leader” term, saying, “The moderator’s role is not a decision-making role. … It’s the person who helps to guide the people of the church in making decisions together.” Kudos for that.

But no amount of clarification deep into a radio interview is going to erase the headline on the web story: “New national Presbyterian assembly moderator from Sask. focused on LGBTQ inclusion, reconciliation.” That’s the power of a headline – something I’m familiar with after years as a daily front page editor. Black ink on newsprint can never, ever be corrected or taken back.

So, the tone is set. And this is the underlying message: “Change is coming to the Presbyterian church.” Isn’t that what “leaders” do? They steer their constituencies towards change.

Well, as any good Presbyterian knows, our General Assembly is not “led” – it’s “moderated”, as Rev. Currie points out. Sadly, the editor didn’t pick up that nuance and the headline sunk to a generality.

With that in mind, let’s look at the content. Rev. Currie responded to questions about reconciliation with First Nations, interfaith dialogue, and the challenges of moderating. Some thoughtful answers. And then there’s the inevitable LGBTQ question. That part of the interview didn’t take up much time, but – for me – it left the most questions. One snippet: “We will be looking at possibilities for how the church can continue with a diversity of perspectives and making space for fuller inclusion.” Whoa. What?

I’ve never met Rev. Currie, but she responded quickly to my email, saying she was “disappointed with the web story of the interview, as I think it includes several inaccuracies.” Fair enough, but what about the implication of her statement on “making space for fuller inclusion”? The underlying message in her words is that a change is inevitable.

We don’t know what the Special Committee of Former Moderators will be bringing forth. It was a premature statement, talking as though something is actually on the table for consideration. It wasn’t exactly moderatorial.

Rev. Currie responded to me this way, in part: “If I gave the impression that any particular decision was inevitable, I apologize. That was not my intention.”

Apology accepted. So, I pray that the moderator-elect will remain neutral as the discussion or debate transpires on the floor of Assembly. (For the record, I’d pray the same if it were a moderator who was not affirming.)

Still, the message is out there.

There is an assumption shared by many on the affirming side, and some in the traditional camp, that we can emerge from this debate with neither side winning or losing. It’s the belief that we can make space for one another, theologically and practically, and remain as a body of Christ.

Sorry, but if making space means changing our theology to be something different than I read in the Bible, there’s no deal for this commissioner. A church simply cannot be of two minds. Rather than making space for human perspectives, we need more space for God. I pray that General Assembly 2019 will provide an opportunity to witness to the inconvenient truth, humanly speaking, that life is not about us. We serve and worship a holy God, and to experience life to the full means to submit to a lifestyle that is based on authentic theology.

– Rev. Andy Cornell