Presbyterian Church in Ireland, General Assembly 2018

In an age that lionizes hot-takes, I remain convinced of the superiority of the cold-take. There’s a reason the Gospels only got finalised four or five decades after the Ascension. It wasn’t that Luke had other deadlines that were hanging over him.

Back at the start of June, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland had their annual General Assembly. I used to attend every year for a day or two, but now I stay in Dublin and for reasons unclear even to myself, track the entire thing on the live-stream.

Me inviting you to watch General Assembly with me

Ninety-eight or so resolutions were passed that nobody outside the church cared about and many inside the church did not care about either, to be honest. Two were passed that caused great distress. They had to do with our relationship with the Church of Scotland and the question of sacramental discipline, albeit phrased in a sub-theological fashion. Over these two decisions, much ink has been spilled and many bytes have been bitten as people seek to disentangle themselves from any institution that could arrive at such broken conclusions.

Here’s my stone-cold take, prepared for your consumption long after the appetite for such a meal has passed:

The leadership of the church clearly expressed its mind at General Assembly 2018, and it is clear that it desires to distance itself from all that it sees as impure. The reaction of the church, mostly lay people, clearly expressed its mind after General Assembly 2018, and it is clear that it desires to distance itself from all that it sees as impure.

Each side says to the other, “between us and you a great chasm has been set in place.” And in their desire to be right, neither sees how they both do the exact same thing.

The unity of the church is not demonstrated in its uniformity. Fianna Fáil or the Irish Farmers’ Association or the local Parent-Child library group all realise their potential when they are pulling the same way. The church is different. Its distinctive unity is only shown forth in conflict. This is why the editors of the New Testament are brave enough to leave behind copious evidence of the strongest disagreements that occurred between the early church leaders. The called-out people that make up the church are not called-out all the same. The community that follows Jesus is able to bear with one another even as those other guys are fiendishly wrong, bigoted, stuck in the past, and addicted to all kinds of phobias and to bear with one another even as the other other guys are tragically misguided, judgmental, lost to the zeitgeist, addicted to all kinds of manias. What looks like wheat, might be weeds. And you might be wheat that looks just like weeds to the guy across the aisle from you. And you to him, because what looks like weeds might be wheat. We can trust the guy who is tending the field. The last thing we need is to do his work for him, badly, wrongly, way-ahead-of-time, and pull ourselves apart from each other.

This is not an invitation to split the difference and decide the correct course must be half-way between these poles. The politics that follow from the theology of wheat and tares is a radical third proposition, which refuses to distance itself from the groups called Conservative and Progressive, even if both are as bad as the other say.

You know that phrase, “singing from the same hymn-sheet”? From the very earliest of days, Christians have taken such pieces of music as opportunities to harmonise.

Harmony without difference is no virtue.

Your Correspondent, He supports just about any prejudice you can mention but your hero-phobia disgusts him