As a child, I was always amused by Warner Brother cartoons. The wit. The slapstick. The playfulness. One such series that I loved was the ongoing saga of Sam the sheepdog and Ralph the wolf. Each episode would show the two of them “clocking in” and then battling it out through the day only to “clock out” as buddies at the end. It made for good comedy and a few good laughs on a Saturday morning.
These two came from totally different perspectives, and yet, they had the ability to be civil and appreciative of each other. It set the model for a young impressionable mind on a greater value. This is good. Albeit, today, I wonder if this is disingenuous.
Beyond the theatre of the absurd found in Saturday morning cartoons, one is able to remember a similar relationship in real time. President Reagan and Tip O’Neill. These two were just like Sam and Ralph. They modeled something that seemed so ridiculous that it reflected the comedy of a Saturday morning cartoon. Although, it proved maybe it is possible. There again, these men were politicians. How sincere could it have been? According to Tip’s son, it was very real. Our popular culture would call this: Frenemies.
Currently in the PCUSA, we are facing diametric differences of opinion and perspective on several different topics, and one in particular. This isn’t new. Differences and disagreements are bound to happen whenever you bring a large group of people together.
When faced with disagreement, what should we do? Should we adopt the Sam and Ralph mindset of being frenemies? In light of the gospel, that seems strangely disingenuous. Maybe it is best to sever the tie to be “honest” about one’s convictions. This tension is stirring up major consternation for those who are struggling with what to do.
I have certainly been in the midst of that struggle. But, it is a theological, ecclesiological and ontological conviction that keeps me in the PCUSA. I’m not staying because the PCUSA is the best thing out there or because of the hassle it is to leave. I’m not staying because I’m afraid of risk or simply wanting to avoid financial ramifications. These are all cartoon strawmen.
There is no perfect denomination this side of glory. The challenge and risk of staying is far more difficult than surrounding myself with likeminded individuals. Sure, I’m heartbroken by the events that happen in this denomination. I am also thrilled by the things we promote and provide for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
I stay, because the PCUSA still affirms Jesus Christ is Lord of all. I stay, because the PCUSA grants latitude on the theological continuum of Reformed faith for me to nurture a congregation with the gospel of Jesus Christ that spans millennia of biblical and ecclesiastical history. I stay, because throughout God’s revealed word and full counsel, I read that we are to seek unity not division.
Our ordination vows place us in a very interesting triad of tension: Unity, Purity, and Peace. This vow establishes for us the challenge to balance all three along with the other vows we have sworn before God and our presbytery. These are equally important in our quest of fulfilling the call to serve our Lord Jesus Christ, whose grace comes freely to us.
How do we live into this calling? It is my hope that we live into this calling more than just “frenemies”. I would hope that we are genuine with one another. I would hope there is respect and value. I would hope there is not coercion or slander. I hope in the promise that God’s love for us goes beyond measure, and I recognize we are all steeped in sin whether we acknowledge it or not. May we live as faithful children of our heavenly Father.
Rev. Dr. Theodore H. Martin is a senior pastor at Hampton Presbyterian Church.