During his time as president of the former World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick worked to create the World Communion of Reformed Churches. Formed this June, the WCRC is a merger of WARC and the Reformed Ecumenical Council.
The new group was created to show global Reformed unity, and during the process, Kirkpatrick encouraged people to stop criticizing each other. But someone else pointed out to him that God doesn’t call us to get along — God calls us to be together.
"Diversity is not a problem. Diversity is a gift," Kirkpatrick said.
He was speaking at the Covenant Network of Presbyterians conference, held here Nov. 4-6.
Founded in 1997 following the passage of G-6.0106b — which requires of church officers "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness" — the Covenant Network is a national group "working for a church that is simultaneously faithful, just, and whole," according to its website. It especially works for the removal of the "fidelity and chastity" provision from The Book of Order.
WCRC chose to form a "communion" rather than an "alliance" in order to be a family of God together, Kirkpatrick said.
"This family we’re called into is not a small, homogeneous family," he said, adding that it's made up of people who never would have chosen each other but whom God chose to call together.
In New Testament times, there were three divisions that were sources of oppression: Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, and males and females. But such divisions are not just New Testament problems.
"These are the very same problems that tear us apart now," Kirkpatrick said, noting that the recent midterm elections were full of an incredible dishonoring and disrespect for one another.
Kirkpatrick preached what he called the "powerful social justice agenda" of Galatians 3:28, which states "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one on Christ Jesus." (NRSV)
"It is first and foremost God's vision for the church," he said. "There is no vision more important in our church today than the vision of Galatians 3:28, and this may be just the time for us to bring that vision to light."
With globalization and technology, we now live in a more connected world, but we remain more divided than ever, Kirkpatrick said. We live in a society of great wealth with enough for all, but there is also great poverty and a huge gap between the rich and the poor.
The church is more diverse than ever, but congregations are more segregated than ever, he said.
In times like this, it's a challenge to hear Paul’s words to the Galatians. But the Covenant Network, Kirkpatrick affirmed, works for justice with genuine kindness. It does not return evil with evil, but makes all feel welcome.
Kirkpatrick said he believes G-6.0106b will be overturned this year — the 219th General Assembly proposed it and the PC(USA)’s presbyteries are voting on ratification between now and next July — and invoked wisdom shared with him by the Rev. Samuel Kobia, former general secretary of the World Council of Churches: "If you want to go somewhere fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
We live in a complicated world full of snares and traps, Kirkpatrick said, and we need each other.
"Together we can be so much more than we could ever be alone," he said.