Sunday, October 29, 2006

Form of Government Revision I: Welcome and Openness

The Presbyterian Church's Form of Government Task Force has just released the first draft documents of their ambitious revision of this core section of the church's constitution. The most extensive of these drafts documents is chapter one, "Particular Congregations and Their Membership."

One section that has grown and grown in liberal church constitutions has been the list of groups who are not excluded from the church. Since the church officially welcomes all, it may seem peculiar that they have developed long lists specifying who they don't exclude.

The historical reason for making such lists, though, is clear: at a certain moment the church had to say "we welcome people of all races." This was important and necessary at the time. For many of the oldest church leaders, the civil rights movement was the clearest and most heroic moment in their life in the church, which they have been reliving ever since. All subsequent struggles have been seen as replays of the civil rights struggle, and each has added another term to the non-exclusion list.

At some point, though, the non-exclusion list gets so long, that it is numbing, if not a little silly. Especially since no one is really excluded, anyway – all are welcome. So I was curious what the revised non-exclusion list would look like in the new Form of Government. Here is the relevant paragraph.

1.0302 Welcome and Openness
The congregation shall welcome all persons who respond in trust and obedience to God’s grace in Jesus Christ and desire to become part of the membership and ministry of his Church. No persons shall be denied membership because of race, ethnic origin, worldly condition, or any other reason not related to profession of faith. Each member must seek the grace of openness in extending the fellowship of Christ to all persons. Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the gospel.

So what made the cut? Only race and ethnic origin. Everything else is covered by the capacious expression "worldly condition." This has the advantage of being more succinct. But it does raise the question; why do we still include race and ethnic origin? Why not just say this:

No persons shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith.

I am guessing that race and ethnic origin are still included so no one would forget the civil rights movement. But really, I don't think anyone will. We won. And we can show we won more powerfully if we don't even suggest that racial exclusion is possible.

My recommendation to the FOG Task Force: when it comes to reasons we don't exclude people from the church, less is more.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen and thank you.