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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

General Assembly
Thursday July 5, 2012

Last evening General Assembly was adjourned to the roof of the David Lawrence Convention Center, where a large crowd assembled to watch the Fourth of July fireworks erupt a few blocks downstream. I was as intrigued by the way in which the thunder of the fireworks echoed from downtown skyscrapers – the sound of the echo was nothing like the sound of the primary explosions. The echoes stretched and groaned and hissed, rather than sounding like cannon shots. Echoes distort the original.

I have sometimes seen something similar going on when people echo each other in times of heated disagreement. How much more in the Body of Christ than in the world of politics should we guard against jumping to judgment based on second-hand reports! Paul exhorts us, “Focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true.” (Philippians 4:8, CEB) Before we get ourselves worked up about what people are reported to have said or done, we should at the very least do them and ourselves the decency to determine whether the echoes we have heard reliably represent what really happened.

A swirl of reports and judgments about the actions and motivations of Rev. Tara McCabe flew around the General Assembly during moderatorial elections last week, gaining in intensity over the ensuing days. It was exceedingly difficult to sort out hyperbole from fact. She had been selected by moderator candidate Rev. Neal Presa as his “running mate” early in the year, based on their long personal friendship, and Neal’s desire to have someone at his side who is on the “other side” of major issues with which the church is struggling – one of the hottest of which right now is whether the church may bless same sex weddings in states where they are legal. Neal is against it, Tara is for it. He knew that when he chose her, and it was one reason he made the choice. He wanted their candidacy to bear witness to his commitment to the church’s fundamental unity amid our differences.

Subsequent to his choice of Tara, and unknown to him until after the fact, she stood as a minister to witness and bless the wedding of two women in a D.C. restaurant. (Such weddings are legal in D.C.) The church has not extended permission to its ministers to officiate same-sex weddings, and when Tara’s action became public knowledge, she faced calls to step down from being a vice-moderator candidate. Neal stood by her, and together they were elected by the GA last Saturday.

The firestorm of opposition and defense intensified over the ensuing days, and yesterday afternoon she stunned GA with an unprecedented action as she resigned from office just four days after being elected. She cited her desire not to embroil the church in a debate over her when it has much more important business to do. Neal accepted her resignation with regret, but the assembly remained deeply divided on whether she should resign. Yesterday evening, amid the process of seating Neal’s second selection for vice-moderator (Rev. Tom Trinidad), a commissioner asked for a changing of the rules to allow a period of plenary deliberation about Tara’s resignation. The assembly voted NOT to reopen that conversation by the slimmest of margins – 323-322. Clearly the church has yet to find anything close to a common mind about the issues at stake.

As you watch and pray for GA as it moves into its final days, pray that the unity that IS ours in Christ will undergird and bring grace to conversations about things over which we yet disagree. Our unity is tested and proven not by our affinities and agreements, but by the grace and love we show for each other amid our disagreements.

According to Paul, the “mindset of Christ” that we are called to exhibit in our relationships with each other in the church is marked by a willingness to set aside that which we have every right to insist upon, for the sake of others. (Philippians 2:5-11, NIV) May the power of the Holy Spirit to bind us together in Jesus as we are reconciled to God be on bright display among us, at GA and in our congregations alike!

Yours in Christ’s bonds,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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