Better together

Diversity is a gift, not a problem, Kirkpatrick tells Covenant Network

November 17, 2010


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.

  1. So let's see, Rev. Kirkpatrick, "diversity is a gift, not a problem." So it's a "gift" that when some hapless soul attends a Presybterian church on Easter Sunday he/she can't be sure anymore whether the preacher will describe the resurrection as the supernatural resuscitation of a corpse or as a metaphor for the way that Jesus, though forever dead in the grave, continued as a living reality for his most devoted followers. You just go right on declaring that such diversity is a "gift" while your denomination continues to shrink into what will eventually become a mere footnote in the religious history of our nation. The reality is that your denomination's message to the larger culture on all subjects, religious and moral, has become so "diverse" and contradictory as to be incoherent. And you describe that as a "gift?"

    by Jim Caraher

    November 23, 2010

  2. In a time when much-needed attention is being given to young people choosing suicide as a remedy to the intense bullying and violence they are subjected to for being gay or perceived to be gay, the PC(USA) is being called. Called to grapple with how people, sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) are to be welcomed in this church. We all - this church especially - is called even more, and in more difficult ways, to acknowledge and accept that the PC(USA) has unwittingly become complicit in the violence generated toward gay people as a result of our decisions and those of the broader church. The discussion about violence is one we do everything to avoid, perhaps because it is the one place we find agreement: agreement that God would never call us to practice harm, direct or otherwise, in God’s name. Excluding others, hiding in silence, establishing polity that marginalizes sisters and brothers, witnessing oppression toward people who are LGBT by such actions, encourages others to believe gay people are somehow deserving of wrath of God and humans. It encourages fear toward a group of people. And fear, eventually, always leads to violence. I say all these things as a Christian, a man who is gay, and a minister of Word and Sacrament, ordained in 2005 as an openly gay man who refused to abide by G-6.0106b by the faithful people of the Presbytery of Hudson River. We had no hidden agendas, we held a 45 day wait before ordination to allow any charges to be made, and none came. We moved from a broader environment of hostility to a witnessing community of extended hospitality. There was no irregularity then - nor is there now. How anyone can talk about faithful candidates and leaders who identify as LGBT without understanding the grace they are bringing our way, seems to be more the difficulty of those who cannot or will not accept the impact of their continued use of the Bible and Scriptures as "barbed wire" around God creation, as my friend Joe Gilmore says. And, if as you read this you wonder about the silence I refer to in this church, I ask these questions: Where in the PC(USA) is there an office for Gender and Identity? When did you last hear a leader our of the PC(USA) offices not yet retired or having completed their term, speak up for people who are LGBT? When was the last time you read a favorable article toward anyone who was LGBT written by such leaders? The silence, my sisters and brothers, is not only short on love, it is truly deadly. Is it a wonder we feed the illness of prejudice by our inactions. We need to ratify 10-A and we need to trust into God, rather than containing God within our own small and unimportant fears of each other. It is not the community of faithful people who are LGBT that is dividing the church. It is G-6.0106b. Time for it to go and for us to come together. Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament Presbytery of New York City

    by Rev. Ray Bagnuolo

    November 20, 2010

  3. Another anit-marriage article from Presbyterian News Service. It's gotten to the point where one can expect to see at least two or three such articles a week. For all this article's alleged emphasis on diversity, the fact is that the men and women who are committed to traditional marriage are NOT really welcomed in the conversation. Hence, PNS is not really very inclusive at all. The only people who are ever portrayed with any frequency are those empassioned to redefine marriage. Very frustrating.

    by Camburn

    November 19, 2010

  4. This has brought me to tears. My heart is so saddened to hear that people hate God's Word so much. We MUST keep amendment B in our Constitution if we are going to follow God. Homosexuals and ALL sexual unrepentant people living in sin cannot be ministers. That is God's Word, not ours. PCUSA, I beg you to get back to the Bible. Folks, yes we are called to be together, but Paul said in 1st Corinthians 1:10 that there is not to be divisions among us. We are to be of one mind. So, we must have UNITY on all essentials! One of the greatest Christian quotes is "In Essentials Unity; in Non-Essentials Liberty; in all things Charity." This has now become the basis of two Conservative, Bible-Believing Denominations; The Moravian Church, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. PCUSA, may this become our motto as we get back to the Bible! I will leave you with this quote by Southern Baptist Albert Mohler. When a denomination begins to consider doctrine divisive, theology troublesome, and convictions inconvenient, consider that denomination on its way to a well-deserved death - Dr. Rev. Albert Mohler, Jr. PCUSA, take these words to heart. In Christ's Agape Love, Caleb S. Carter, teenager of the PCUSA considering leaving the denomination because of the liberalism within its government.

    by Caleb Carter

    November 17, 2010