When I first moved to Chicagoland, I joined a gym.  It was the cool person’s gym, the beautiful people’s gym.  Bo knew this gym.  They had great equipment, gorgeous instructors, and enough mirrors to not let me forget I was going bald.

After I got married, bought a house, started a family, the cool person’s gym no longer fit in our lives.  The YMCA did, however. Now some people complain that there is not enough “C” in the YMCA anymore.  (The “C” stands for “Christian.”) However, the only absence I noted was “Y”, young.

So I would work out and afterwards, I would sit in the sauna and chat with a group of men who were 40-50 years older than I was. While I never asked their ages, Ray, who was one of the most talkative shared that he had been retired for 24 years. 24 years.

I don’t know what the official rules of the sauna were. My understanding was that the towels that were available were to wrap around one’s self.  Ray and the rest of the cast of “Cocoon” felt they were to be folded and used as seat cushions. (Survivor’s tip: ALWAYS keep eye contact in the sauna.)

Discussions were entertaining.  I would call my wife later in the day and tell her, “You should hear what Ray said at the last city council meeting.”  She would sigh and say, “Dear God, you need friends.”

Surprisingly, it took a long time for any of the sunshine boys to ask me what I did for a living.  Finally, after about 6 months of complaining about traffic and talking about how this could be the year for the Cubs (I think Ray was a bat boy during their last World Series championship.), one of them asked, “Patrick, what do you do for a living?” I knew things were about to change.

“I’m a Presbyterian Minister,” I said.

“Really?” said Joe. (Picture George Burns, but older.) “Whadya think about the priest that had that mass for all the gays?” I had no idea what priest or what gays he was talking about.  It didn’t matter.  Everyone else started sharing what they thought about it. And soon “it” turned into a much larger discussion, and I was clearly in the minority.

I knew that no one’s mind was changing by me saying they were wrong or that I disagreed with them. The  Matthew Shepard story was a fresh memory at the time, so I asked them a question, “What do you think broke God’s heart more?  The fact that Matthew Shepard was attracted to men, or the fact that two other men tied him to a fence, tortured him, pistol-whipped him, and left him to die?” (He did die six days after the beating.)

After a silence that had gone from dramatic to uncomfortable, Ray spoke. “You know.  I don’t really care what they do as long as they don’t mess with me.” With the straightest face I could muster, I looked at my dodecogenarian friend and said, “Ray, I think you’re safe.”

Fast forward to this year.

I’m still a Presbyterian Minister. Last week our denomination, the PCUSA,  changed our constitution to allow same gender weddings in states where it’s legal and to allow our ministers to officiate at those weddings. You can read more about it here.  Some people are happy about it.  Some are not.

Today, I read this, that four Presbyterian churches in Missouri had received threats that their churches would be burned to the ground. Lord, have mercy.

Someone told me once that Satan is using this sexuality issue to destroy the church. I agree.  I agree wholeheartedly.  As long as we focus on this issue, we can ignore the widening gap between the rich and the poor in this country.  As long as we focus on this issue, we can ignore the 27,000,000 people enslaved in the world today.  As long as we focus on this issue, we can ignore the fact that every seven seconds a child dies from hunger-related issues.

Feel how you want to feel about what our denomination did last week, but we have big problems in the world.  I pray that this decision will allow us to move on, to fight the good fight, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. To offer hope, comfort, and mercy to the world.  The one we follow? That’s what he did.

8 thoughts on “Big Problems

  1. Thanks Patrick – you have clearly said what a lot of us think about the change in how PC,USA views marriage. Questions we should be asking are:
    Does it impact my life? No – it does not in any way.
    Does it alter my faith? No – I would hope that my faith is not that shallow.
    Are we condoning a lifestyle choice of sin? I don’t think so because I do not think that it is a choice as I cannot conceive of anyone making that choice knowing the abuse and scorn that he/she will receive. Also, if it is a choice, then by definition the rest of us had to choose to be heterosexual. Funny, I do not remember the day when I had to decide which way I was going.
    Is it biblical? Don’t cherry-pick scripture with me. Quoting Leviticus? I will be happy to show you where we should all be put to death. Quoting Paul? Then you better be prepared to support the subordinate role of women and slavery.
    Will it destroy the church? I do not think so because God loves and accepts ALL of us, even someone as broken, imperfect, and unworthy as me.
    Is it “noise” and a distraction? ABSOLUTELY – as you eloquently stated, it keeps us from focusing on the REAL problems in this very broken world! Maybe we cannot fix every ill, but we should at least concentrate on trying instead of letting the “noise” consume us.

    1. OXNARD: What you fail to acknowledge is the PCUSA has fully become nothing more than a cult along with the Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others. PROGRESSIVE pastors and many others no longer adhere to Scriptural truth beginning with John 14:6 and going into Paul’s letter to the Romans that calls the faithful NOT to succumb to the cultural mores of the day. Does it impact me? Of course. Other than in 2013 losing 3 churches a week and 2000 members a week which we both know were total losses in some measure to achieving Christ’s work here on earth. Sure, EPC, PCA and ECO gained some, but many were lost completely. Just one example of the damage of recent: In follow-on to KATRINA in 2005, $22 million was contributed to PDA. They committed and stayed for 7 years. After SANDY $2 million (and $1.9 million grant from Red Cross) was provided to PDA. Went to Gulf Coast twice. PDA had fine, effective operation. After Sandy went to Jamaica NY to work on the Rockaways. PDA capability was a disaster all its own. We left after 3 days; but of course we were visited by ladies from Louisville enroute to the lobbying office at the UN and then off by train to the lobbying office in DC. Hang around to do some real assistance for the unfortunate victims of SANDY? ha ha ha, NOT, “advocacy” too important a function. Now realistically, given PCUSA down in 2013 to 1.7 members and dropping like a stone, who do you think listens to Gradye anymore?

      NO, the PC PCUSA is now merely a cult AND the PROGRESSIVES aren’t done yet. Discretion will go away next followed by accommodating the other 3 letters; and why not group marriage? A former, effective Christian denomination is a shadow of its former self and on its way to complete irrelevance. Lost the focus of the 5 SOLA’s that were the foundation of the reformation; really sad..

  2. Im a member of a “Southern Baptist” church. After many months of reflection Im now wandering if im in the right denomination. I completely disagree with how they treat people that don’t “conform” to their beliefs. Im a firm believer in treat everyone equal and everyone should be welcome in Gods house. I feel a sin is a sin ..greatest being blasphemy. How can I go to a church that kicks people out based on what man thinks as opposed to what God says? My husband agrees with the church…hense many arguments. What should I do? I don’t want my children believing that way. I try to teach them not to judge lest you be judged. Conflicted…any suggestions?

    1. While the church can be a powerful force, I think children are influenced more by how their parents treat other people. What you model is what your children will learn.

      It’s okay that you and your husband disagree. That can be healthy, and if the kids see that they can learn that you can love someone and still look at the world differently.

  3. Patrick!
    It’s good to know you are still in the Ministry in the Presbyterian Church.
    While I have not started retirement, and am a Cubs fan born after their last World Series APPEARANCE, I surely can no longer use the “Y” word in a self description.
    The topic of same sex marriage reminded me of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Paul was aware of the Greek fatalistic life view. They saw themselves subject to the caprice of not only the personifications of Nature, but also the personifications of human behaviors such as Love, War, Jealousy, etc. Paul recognized that the Christian view would be strange to them, and encouraged the followers to respect Greek custom so that their behavior would not distract the Greeks from the message. This included details like women being silent and having their heads covered during meetings to show respect.
    Fast forward some 19 centuries and in excess of 15 years since the last Chicago Cub participated in the post season. One could enter a Christian Church and find the women hatted and silent, still concerned about distracting 1st Century Greeks.
    If Paul were writing to the 21st Century Church in the United States, it would be interesting to know what instructions he would give us so that the culture that finds us strange would not be distracted from our message by our behavior. I wouldn’t be surprised if he found this change in the Presbyterian Church to be consistent with that goal.

  4. Amen! Thank you for putting into words what I often feel, but don’t have the gift to express as well as you do.

  5. “What do you think broke God’s heart more?”

    That’s my new mantra. Love it.

    For every time Leviticus is thrown in my face I turn to “Blessed are the Merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” or “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…” The words of Christ trump all others.

    PC USA ordained women, in spite of Paul’s command that women be subservient to men. PC USA stood against slavery. PC USA stood up for civil rights. PC USA is on the right side of history.

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