Carmen Fowler LaBerge of the Layman recently posted a reflection titled “Commentary on a Comment: ‘People are Going to Hell While You’re Playing at Presbyterianism.” She wrote it after attending the Covenant Network conference on marriage a few weeks ago and last week’s World Outreach Encounter of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Here is how she sets up her commentary:
The headline is a quote from a Presbyterian frustrated with what feels like an interminable elitist obsession with sex and an equally grievous lack of passion for the proclamation of the saving Gospel to a lost and dying world. … “Carmen, people are going to hell while you’re playing around in ivory-tower Presbyterian politics.”
Carmen and I stand at opposite ends of the theological spectrum and have completely different views of LGBTQ issues in the church we both serve. In her commentary she maintains a line of argument that suggests conservatives and progressives are not simply different expressions of faith with different emphases but are in fact different faiths altogether. She’s a leader in the political games of “playing Presbyterianism.”
Unless I missed something, I don’t think Carmen ever provides a response to the challenge of her evangelical friend. She never defends her political crusade against the charge that it misses the point of the gospel. Instead, she uses it as a jumping off point to dismiss progressive Christianity—“You cannot reach people with a love you have not experienced and you cannot invite people into a relationship with a God you do not really know.”—and play more political games.
There is no doubt that Carmen’s friend and I have very different understandings of salvation. But I agree with him that “playing Presbyterian” is a waste of time when the world desperately needs the good news of God’s love. Heaven, hell, and the afterlife are not central to my understanding of the gospel, but I am no less passionate about salvation in the way of Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t say that “people are going to hell while you’re playing at Presbyterianism,” but I would say that “people are suffering, people are dying, and the world is burning while you’re playing at Presbyterianism.”
Bitterly fighting over theology and polity is the obsession of Christendom. In the post-Christendom church we don’t have time for such distractions.