Righteousness and wrongfulness

21:49, Apr 29 2014

Editorial: Gore's Calvin Community Church has closed ranks - tightened its holy huddle - against a 72-year-old woman in its midst.

It has revoked her membership because she wasn't married to, and wouldn't dump, her partner.

Before the church members rise to protest this conclusion we should acknowledge that strictly speaking she wasn't turned away. She remains welcome to worship with the others; just not as a member.

It seems to be a white folks having different status to black folks deal, albeit in sinful rather than racial terms.

Unsurprisingly, the elderly woman is feeling stonily judged and rebuffed by the church to which she belonged for 30 years.

Mercifully (if we could put it that way) she has found a warmer welcome at another church - one that doesn't appear to regard her, at all, as a geriatric Jezebel.


That is probably the best achievable outcome.

On the face of it, she may have grounds to appeal her loss of membership. The Presbyterian Church's rule about de facto relationships relates to leadership roles rather than membership, according to Southern Presbytery executive officer Rev Alan Judge.

Whether the call made by the Calvin Community Church's elders is simply inconsistent with this, or reflects a degree of autonomy between individual Presbyterian churches, is a matter about which the wider community isn't likely to care much.

But there's strong interest in the unkindness of the decision. Some side entirely with the woman's partner, Bruce Laird, that the approach taken was "archaic" and at odds with the acceptance and understanding to be expected from modern Christianity.

The counter view - every bit as sincerely held - is that this is a church holding true to its values.

And that is quite right. It is exactly that.

The question is how those values stack up.

Some churches are more liberal than others. They have many commonalities in how they interpret the word of God, but also many differences.

They should be allowed these differences and stand accountable for them.

Much as the Calvin church elders would raise their eyes skyward at the very word accountability, the fact remains that if they lowered their gaze just a tad they would see that the wider community - the one into which they would surely want to reach - will make its own calls, too, about whether this is a matter of integrity or meanness.

Those human judgments will be directed not only at which church got it right - the one that rejected her as a member, or the one that accepted her.

The coherence, consistency and internal logic of Christianity itself comes into question at such times. There are biblical passages that can certainly be cited to support the rejection of people in de facto marriages from Christian congregations. And others that certainly seem to embrace them.

To which all we can say is to repeat a phrase we picked up somewhere:

By their deeds shall ye know them.

If it applies to people it surely applies to churches, too.


The Southland Times