Instead of one of our letters to the General Synod, today I’ve decided to repost the letter sent to all churches in the Regional Synod of Albany from the Rev. Nancy Ryan, President, and the Rev. Kent McHeard, Vice President. As people who hold differing opinions around same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ people, still they united to write pastorally to our churches after the 2016 General Synod meeting, and it is my hope that their words will serve as a witness to all of us of what is possible in Christ.
June 24, 2016
Brothers and Sisters in Christ serving in the Regional Synod of Albany:
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
In light of all that transpired at the 2016 Reformed Church in America General Synod, we felt compelled to write and share our encouragement, thoughts, hopes, and prayers for you, the pastors and members of our Albany Synod churches.
Both of us served as delegates to General Synod, and one of us (Kent McHeard) served as a moderator of an all-synod advisory group. We, like many others, came away from this synod with a mixture of emotions. We observed that some delegates arrived at synod with pre-formed opinions on the discussion of marriage and ordination of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender persons. The tone of discussions was often angry and defensive. We witnessed mean, disrespectful language and behavior, a lack of listening, and threats of schism.
We disagree with the polarization displayed at General Synod this year, and in previous synods. We disagree that our denomination must be defined as “us/them” or “either/or” as was the sentiment expressed and experienced at synod. We believe that reformed people can hold diferent views on homosexuality and still maintain a covenantal relationship of unity.
This is the exact situation we have in our own regional synod. Some of us identify as conservative, others identify as progressive. Even we your synod officers are, as might be said, “on opposite sides of the aisle.” Still we officers and the synod as a whole share a very real spirit of cooperation and love for our reformed heritage. We share a commitment to the covenantal relationship described and supported in our standards and polity. In fact, despite our differences, or possibly because of our differences, we are able to do ministry in all these places and reach communities of people in ways that none of us could do alone or by forcing a “one belief/ministry fits all” attitude.
A hallmark of the Regional Synod of Albany, and a blessing we have shared over the years, is our unity amidst our diversity. We have unity despite our diversity of bibilical interpretation, ministry context, and theological understanding. Instead of dividing ourselves, we find common ground and pathways forward in our work for the Kingdom of God. Our willingness to have “robust conversation” about the very issues that could be divisive proves we are truly “in this together for good.”
We believe this is possible because of our reformed heritage. Our sharing of standards and polity allow us to work together in the power of the Holy Spirit, even though we recognize that we are not all made the same. Because of this there is a plethora of good ministry happening in many places in our region, all in the name of Jesus Christ.
So, regardless of where you land on ANY issue, we encourage you to participate over the next several months in continued dialogue (as opposed to debate) about how we do ministry, even if we do not agree; how we talk to one another without diminishing the other; how we use scripture to put forth the kingdom and not as a stick to beat others with; and how we understand out polity and standards as tools that God has given us to live together decently and in order.
It is our prayer that as we join together in conversation, we can do so holding the desires of Christ, who said to his disciples that the world would know that they belong to Jesus because they love each other (John 13:35). Let us all continue to trust in the Spirit of God to direct us in the ways we should minister alongside one antother and encourage each other. We are praying for you. We ask that you pray for us as we make ourselves available to you and the whole RCA for the dialougue that will shape our ministry together.
To God be the Glory now and always!