Denominational Political Stands (& Who Really Cares?)

In the name of social justice, my denomination (and maybe yours) takes stands imageon things:

  • We are against homelessness.
  • We are against hunger.
  • We like apple pie. Note:  This is not really one of our official stands, because some of us like pecan or coconut cream more than apple.

In a recent meeting of Presbyterians, we were debating drones.  Some people pointed out that drones cause so much collateral damage that they are immoral.  Others stated that they are less dangerous than having boots on the ground.  One faithful man asked, “Are all of us willing to send our sons and daughters instead of a drone?”

My son was at the meeting but he’d left the room to get some water.  When he returned and heard that people were debating drones, he leaned over to me and asked, “How many drones do the Presbyterians really have?

He was half serious.  Why in the world were the Presbyterians taking a stand on drones when 1) nobody really cares what Presbyterians think about drones  and 2) do we really think we can come up with a stand on drones that every Presbyterian might agree on?

We can’t even agree on who gets to be an elder or deacon.

On the one hand, I understand that we want to have serious theological conversations about real life issues, but where do we begin and end?

  • What’s our policy on twerking?
  • What about plastic surgery?
  • Do we have a common opinion about letting our kids play football?
  • Are we taking a stand about Viagra?

I could make a case that each of those “issues” have spiritual ramifications and moral consequences.

The truth is that we Presbyterian Christians don’t all agree about war and peace, health care and diet, and smoking and drinking.  Heck, we don’t agree about these things in my own little family.

So why do denominations take such stands that often divide us and exclude us?  Anybody have wise answers on this?


Note:  I’ve edited this a bit since it first went out this morning, mostly because I felt my first version was too flippant.  Global issues are important and are not to be taken lightly, and I don’t want to give the impression that they are.  Nevertheless, I still wonder about the pros and cons of taking stances on complex issues as if we have one voice.  (This is also why we have Minority Reports at General Assemblies, but if few people understand our official stands, fewer still understand minority reports.)

16 responses to “Denominational Political Stands (& Who Really Cares?)

  1. You’re asking the right questions, in my opinion. They are similar to the ones I’ve been asking for a couple of years.

    I don’t think the problem is talking (or even debating) these issues as people of faith. In fact, I think that’s necessary. It makes us more faithful citizens. I think the problems arise when:
    a) we are left with the choice of “yay” or “nay” only. That’s what divides and excludes;
    b) we think anyone cares, especially in the halls of power. They did fifty years ago, but these days, I don’t think so.

    I find this hard to stomach as someone who has worked passionately on our denominational policies on the Middle East; but I was always more driven by us being faithful than successful. At least, that was my aim.

    Thanks, as always, for provoking!


  2. Amen. Thank you.


  3. I would love to have a longer conversation on this — the UCC does exactly the same thing, passing resolutions at our denominational meetings about issues over which we have no influence, issues which then divide congregations. Couldn’t we, instead, discuss the underlying theological issues (give people a framework through which they can make ethical decisions) rather than trying to make those decisions for them? The question is not whether its more moral to send your child to war or ship off a drone, but how can we live to remove the occasion of war?


  4. I wonder if this is where our “trickle up” polity runs up against other traditions’ ability to speak from the bishop’s seat?
    The pope makes a lot of stands (against contraception comes to mind) yet the catholic in the pew might not agree with him. They still recognize the authority to speak.
    Our situation is more muddled in terms of where the voice of authority is.


  5. Marci’s point is a good one.
    The other thought is how it impacts practical matters. If it is a subject and a stand that empowers our office of public witness, then I think it has some merit to discuss and be on the record about. If not, then it is likely superfluous…


  6. Good comments all. I love our offices on public witness as well but these issues are often so complex that we our stand cannot incorporate every angle of the issue. Sometimes people of faith disagree even on the life and death.

    I also want to honor the work of those who beat the pavement for justice. It’s just not easy to make a stand that all of can agree on and so “The Presbyterian Stand” doesn’t always seem complete.


  7. Excellent question, Jan. And one that I ask myself all too frequently and surely will be asking myself this summer at GA.

    I think the answer to your question lies in part in our failure to address the confusion too many RE’s, TE’s and members have between the mission of the church which is the making of disciples for Christ and the mission or responsibility of secular organizations such as charitable and governmental entities. I agree that arguments supporting the interest of the church in virtually any subject imaginable can be made. And certainly there will be disagreements about where that line should be drawn.

    But before overtures like the one you describe in your post are proposed, proponents should be asked to consider whether the church is the appropriate venue for the concern being raised and the whether the debate will create unnecessary division in the church. Both sides of the church have pushed divisive proposals without regard to their effect on the unity of the church.


  8. I don’t have a good answer. But I do have a question: Was there ever a point in our history when decision makers seriously took into account what the Presbyterians (or Methodists or UCC) thought about an issue?

    We spend a lot of energy debating whether or not the office of the bishop (in my tradition) should be instructed to write a letter to the office of the governor. As far as I can tell the governor doesn’t care what the office of the bishop has to say. We need to find ways of engaging that reflect reality and not our outsized visions of our own influence.


  9. Interesting timing with this post. I’m urging our presbytery council at its meeting tomorrow night to recommend that our presbytery concur on an overture to GA urging “occupation free” investment in Israel and Palestine. It’s the first time I’ve taken a stance on an advocacy, and I’m doing it because a young adult from my church went on a Presbyterian Peace Fellowship delegation to Israel/Palestine last month and returned full of righteous indignation about the situation. She’s eager to be the overture advocate at GA, and she urged me to work for our presbytery to concur. Honestly, she kind of inspired me. Even though I have reservations about the practicality or effectiveness of such a stance at the end of the day, it still feels like the right thing to do.


  10. Fine case in point Rocky. Such an overture fills me with righteous indignation and to me is clearly not the right thing to do. It is a point upon reasonable people can and certainly do disagree and will continue to be a major source of division within our denomination.


  11. Rocky, before you meet with the council, ask your young adult if she met with anyone other than those on the Palestinian side, did she hear other opinions than those pushing for divestment. Do some additional research before you concur on any overture on the middle east. Much of what is being pushed is not balanced, and is actually in violation of a resolution the GA made back in the mid-2000s.


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  13. Seems the one thing we should all be able to agree on is the we are to seek, and encourage others to seek, God’s counsel in these matters. We should respect that God’s counsel may not be the same for everyone. We should respect and reflect on that. God is sovereign; I believe we Presbyterians agree on that.


  14. Presbyterians must take a stand on drones for the following reasons among others:
    – Our country is invading sovereign nations, their airspace, and civilian life to kill and destroy with impunity.
    – Our country assassinates and executes people outside its international boundaries and jurisdiction.
    – Our country condemns and executes people without due process and outside the rule of law in violation of human rights, international law, and Geneva Conventions.
    – Our country acts in the name of US citizens funded by US taxes and a swelling financial deficit to inflict death and destruction without accountability of its own citizens and justice system.
    – No power or court is able to hold the USA accountable for these violations including collateral damage and tragic death of innocent civilians who are mostly victims, helpless, and oppressed.
    The Church is called to speak truth to power regardless to how unpopular or irrelevant Presbyterians may be. Actually, silence in the face of injustice is not only sin, but also contributes to the reality of the church becoming even more irrelevant in a growingly dangerous world.


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