Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling to affirm the ban on travelers from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Venezuela and North Korea (five of those nations being predominantly Muslim) felt like an anti-American mistake to some of us. Writing for the minority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the decision “gravely wrong.” She compared it to the 1944 Supreme Court decision that allowed the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II – a decision that has since been overruled. Donald Trump called for a “Muslim ban” in 2015 and although he has tweaked that message as President, his travel bans still smack of sanctions against a particular religion. This is inconsistent with the principles of our democracy and with the message of Jesus.
Sometimes even our Supreme Court gets it wrong.
The same is true for Church councils and courts. Sometimes we get it wrong.
Presbyterians believe that – in the context of an equal number of ruling elders and teaching elders (pastors) at the General Assembly every two years, the commissioners – guided by advisory delegates and informed by the 170 Presbyteries – are charged with “discerning and presenting with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, matters of truth and vision that may inspire, challenge, and educate both church and world” (Book of Order, G-3.0501c).
This is how the General Assembly makes decisions and in the case of constitutional changes, those decisions must be further approved by a majority of those 107 Presbyteries. (Note: For God so loved the world, God didn’t send a committee.)
This is how my denomination has discerned changes in everything from the ordination of women to the decision not to wholly divest from fossil fuels – and many, many things in between.
Some believe that last week’s decision to vote down divestment from all fossil fuel stocks in denominational investments was not the faithful decision. Others believe it was the right decision for this time.
Sometimes we get it wrong and sometimes we get it right and truth (with a small “t”) is like that. It changes.
My hope is that one day the Papal Head of the Roman Catholic Church will discern that it’s “right” to ordain women and allow priests to marry.
My hope is that one day my siblings in the other Presbyterian denominations will discern that it’s indeed “right” to recognize that God calls faithful LGBTQIA people into leadership.
My hope is that one day soon, fossil fuels will be replaced by alternatives that do not wreck the earth. Especially for our faithful siblings whose livelihoods come from oil companies, know that your calling as Christians includes caring for this Earth that God gave us.
All of us need to do better in caring for the planet.
All of us need to educate ourselves about our Muslim neighbors.
This is how we get it right.
Images are The Four Justices by Nelson Shanks (2013) which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC and from the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA in the St. Louis Convention Center last week. [Note: Not all the Justices of the Supreme Court are women.]