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June 28, 2001

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Dear Editor:

In his critique of my reply to Jack Sharpe, Andrew Musser says that "doing away with traditions not based in scripture may cause discomfort," but that "if you start picking and choosing which rules you want to follow you can no longer claim to be of the Christian faith." While I agree with his statement, I
must remind him that our history is full changes that a critic of Presbyterianism might insist are examples of such "picking and choosing."
The fact that I believe these to be acts of discernment that are neither
arbitrary nor convenient is, in fact, my reason for elaborating my own 250+
year heritage as a Presbyterian. I further indicated my belief that: 1)
through all of these changes, our faith has been constant; and 2) we ALL
view the world and read the Bible through our own "Tradition-colored
glasses." This means that we must be ever vigilant about OURSELVES and how our OWN issues get in the way of Christ, even as we read the Bible.

His claim that there is no scriptural evidence explicitly related to any of my other examples of Tradition is not strictly true. The impact of many of the items on my shopping list of Traditions may be argued on Biblical grounds, right down to the potluck dinners. The most blatant, yet generally accepted example is our ANTI-traditional view of women. To this day, there are Christian denominations that do NOT respect the spiritual equality of the sexes precisely because of the way that they read the Bible. The view that the communion elements must not be given to the unprepared and our current view that it should be freely available to the baptized were BOTH argued on Biblical grounds. These are NOT disagreements on issues of Law, but rather in discernment.

Regarding my inclusion of the passing of Nazi rule, my allusion was to the Barmen Declaration in our Book of Confessions. However, I must admit to a loose reference to what is arguably the singular, most highly charged example of how our Traditions have worked against the discernment of God's will: the stereotyping and persecution of Jewish people by Christians. During Holy week, it is cathartic when we read and recognize that it is we, the "religious authorities" who convict and kill Christ daily as he serves the oppressed, the outcast, the hated. We remember how, even at our best, we deny him in the presence of mere servants. We see ourselves for what we are, and we repent. Yet for centuries, these same passages of scripture have been used by some to blame and persecute Jewish people, while vindicating themselves. The holocaust itself would not have been possible if all Christians understood the need to discern the Word in Biblical texts. [You may also recall that concern over intolerance was the underlying reason for
the Peacemaking Conference at which Ficca spoke.]

I completely agree with Andrew Musser when he says, "While homosexuals have a heavy cross to bear, it does not relieve them from trying to live according to the Word of God." If, in good faith, he welcomes homosexuals into his own congregation and offesr them support, companionship and love as Christ Himself would do, if he honestly seeks to understand the biological, genetic, environmental and cultural origins of their differences from his (some chosen, some God-given), then I concede that it is possible that he might still decide to quote these verses to them. Then again, he may also conclude that, as the people of faith that they are, they've already wrestled with scripture themselves. [He might also conclude that it's unnecessary to quote certain passages to women who wrestled with the "obey" clause in their marriages.] Another problem is that Presbyterian ordination doesn't merely affect ministers of the Word and sacrament, but elders and deacons, too. Just how DO we welcome and bar someone at the same time?

Finally, I agree with him wholeheartedly when he says, "As a Christian you are called to completely surrender to the will of the Lord, not just in those areas where you are comfortable." This was the whole point of my letter. I sincerely invite him to let his defenses down and try to be SELF-critical as he follows the implications of his words . . . not here, but in prayer. I agree that it isn't easy for us, but our faith will get us through. One thing that I am certain of is that the will of Christ will be served if we all remain faithful.

Yours in Christ,

Craig E. Tenke
elder, neuroscientist
Center Moriches, NY

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