Friday, April 27, 2007

Article of Faith

I think the thing that really cheesed me off about the Mike Daisey situation was the fact that, while committing vandalism on his work, the assailant was justifying his behavior by being a Christian. I've gotten real tired of people using faith (in particular, MY faith) as cover for their moral cowardice. Hey you kids, quit hiding behind my cross!

MY cross? Maybe not. I caught this on Blog-Lebo, which bounced me over to the Post-Gazette, which made me kinda sad.

By a vote of 195-4, Beverly Heights Presbyterian Church in Mt. Lebanon has decided to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) with the intention of joining a more theologically conservative Presbyterian body.

BHUP is the church I was confirmed in. I am Christian, subgroup Protestant, subgroup Presbyterian, subgroup United Presbyterian, subgroup Beverly Heights United Presbyterian Church, recently deceased. The church itself was originally in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, but moved south soon after the tunnels were punched through Mt. Washington. I grew up in this church, attended Boy Scouts in its basement, played in the bell choir (wonder if that is still around), and pretty much had Presbyterianism installed as my base moral operating system.

The church I remember was comfortable and welcoming. It was apostalic in nature, meaning it was about spreading the good word. There was a lot of sermons about making joyful noises and new wine, and the Book of Acts was a regular feature in Reverend Dosch's sermons. Reverend Dosch typlified a minister to me - a gentle, warm man who could roll into a hellfire sermon when the occaision demanded it. His wife handled the Sunday School and our confirmation classes, and I think it was from her that I got my interest in reading the Bible, and being able to treat it as simultaneously as a spiritual guide, historic artifact, and creative work.

But I went off to college, and despite a few feeble attempts to keep up with organized religion(as opposed to faith), I drifted away. Reverends Dosch and Barrett moved on to other churches. I remember there was some sex scandal long after they left, in the late 80s. The last time I was in the building was for my sister's wedding, which was well over a dozen years ago.[[LATER EDIT: Try 17 years - I found the pictures in a photo book from 1990]]

And in the time since then, the Church veered to the right, heavily. The new ministers and the hard-core faithful viewed the United Presbyterian area as not apostalic, but apostate, corrupted by the very world they sought to reach out to. Too soft on issues of homosexuality, women, and the existence of other faiths. The church leaders haven't paid their dues to the presbytery for seven years, and currently have stiffed them for 72 large. A solid chunk of the congregation lit out a few years back, taking elders and a pastor with them. to join up with South Minster Prebyterian down the road. At the time of the vote, the church was down to 267 members. As a point of comparison, my Boy Scout troop was half that size.

And the breaking point, if I'm reading this correctly, comes from an announcement from the General Assembly that "for us the assurance of salvation is found only in confessing Christ and trusting him alone". The words that have flung them into righteous fury is "For us", which implies that there are other methods of salvation. The current church is very much about absolutes - the phrase "your mileage may vary" is anathema to them. So they're leaving, going evangelical, and want the UP, who they've been yelling at for years, to turn over the church building itself to them. Because, of course, you will know us as Christians because we duck our obligations.

Now the thing of it is, I went back a few years ago and dug up the Presbyterian Book of Confessions and Book of Order, which are pretty much the church's dogma. I found that what was there pretty much jived with my own moral outlook. Open, positive, looking at root causes, and ecumenical in an environment that is becoming increasingly restrictive. I'm a bit more to the left than the church doctrine, but not as much as I thought I would be, and I support a lot of their historical and current initiatives. And my faith, the faith given me by BHUP and Reverend Dosch, has given me the guidance I needed, the encouragement to help others, and the aspiration to be better than I am.

And I am sorry to see my church go away, replaced with an identity that seems to be hostile to what it once stood for. But on the other hand, my faith is not a building, or a minister, or even one particular shade or sect of a larger construct. My faith is what gets me through the day, wonder at the world, and treat others as I would myself choose to be treated.

And if it sounds like I am endorsing faith and religion? Well, I'm just saying that it's worked for me, though your mileage may vary.

More later,