In 2001, the Presbyterian Church (USA), torn by internal theological strife that focused mostly on issues of homosexuality, created what we Presbyterians often create when we're in trouble -- a committee.
This one had a big and auspicious name -- the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church. Its task was to look at the disagreements within this Mainline Christian denomination and to help us through the woods to a place where we might live together faithfully, despite those issues that separate us.
Just recently, the TTF, as it's become known, issued drafts of three of its four-part report. Part IV (the recommendations) is to be posted on the TTF web site in late August, and the church's national body, the General Assembly, is to receive the report next June.
Many faith communities are in similar turmoil, so even though this report deals exclusively with my own denomination, perhaps others -- and even other religions experiencing internal dissention -- can learn from it, too.
You can read the reports for yourself by clicking on the TTF link I've given you, but I'd like to make just a couple of brief comments before you go do that. One is that this committee has done long and faithful work.The task force was quite representative of the various theological perspectives found in our denomination, and it's been fascinating to watch the reports about the work as it moved along.
But I think it's important to recognize that what such groups inevitably produce is a compromise work that includes portions or wording that no single individual would write. For example, the prologue uses some well-written and even soaring language about the Christian reliance on grace -- the pure, unmerited favor of God that Christians say saves us through faith in Jesus Christ. And it has something useful to say about how we live as authentic Christians in a pluralistic society.
But then, almost out of context, it includes two of the most difficult -- even inflammatory (to non-Christians, especially) -- verses in the New Tesatament, the one from John (14:6) that says no one comes to God except through Jesus Christ and the one from Acts (4:12) that says Jesus is the only name that will save you.
There are responsible and useful ways to unpack those verses so as to make them understandable in their context. But simply to paste them into this report without the kind of detailed exegetical -- and pastoral -- work needed to make their meaning clear for our time and place is an indication that the "conservatives" got this bone thrown to them while the "liberals" or "moderates" got some other bone thrown to them later (perhaps, in fact, words about Baptism on that same page).
I believe in finding common ground, which often means making compromises that don't abandon core principle. But in doing that in a religious context -- especially when it's done by a diverse committee trying to help everyone through a difficult thicket -- committees can be counted on to create potholes and speed bumps that delay and annoy, no matter how hard they try or how well they succeed otherwise.
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