From Richmond to Richmond

FROM RICHMOND TO RICHMOND

A Gathering of the Covenant Network

March 28, 2004

Stephen R. Montgomery

It’s good to be back home. There’s a part of me that is surprised that I would say that– for two reasons. There’s the “home” part.  Though my formative years were only two blocks away from here, over on the corner of Brook Road and Confederate Avenue, my parents moved to Atlanta when I was in college. (Fortunately, they let me know of the move!) But since I spent 16 years in Atlanta before moving to Memphis three years ago, whenever people have asked me where home was I’d say, “Well, I was born in Texas and grew up in Richmond, but Atlanta is home.”

And so I come back here for only the second time since 1974, expecting to feel somewhat alien, strange…I mean, that was 30 years ago! But I am amazed at how quickly the feeling of home came back. Part of it is simply in driving around this community and seeing how little has changed, knowing that much has changed. But the bigger part of it is seeing so many of you who were so formative in my emotional and spiritual development. Seeing one of my best friends from high school and then seminary, Steve Dalle Mura, for the first time in about 25 years. Seeing Izzie Rogers who was a shining light at PSCE back when my mother worked there, long before the rest of the denomination got to know her shining light as Moderator.

And being back in this presbytery, albeit with a different name, is being back home. The earliest recollections I had of the mission work beyond the local church was going on an “Operation Mexico” caravan during the summer of 1968 – 10 weeks of work camps sponsored by Hanover Presbytery, which of course was led by John Ensign. It was Grace Covenant that nurtured me and led me to appreciate excellence in church music and Christian Education. It was Ginter Park that opened up its softball team to allow a few vagabonds like my brother and me to play on their team. It’s home.

But I was also surprised to hear myself say “It’s good… it’s good to be back home.” My high school years were wonderful in so many ways, but difficult in so many ways. This was, after all, Richmond in the 1960’s! I was ready to leave, and back then all sorts of young people were rebelling in all sorts of ways….some rebelled by doing drugs, some by alcohol. I rebelled by going north. Spent some time at Wooster, and then some time at Yale, but it was through those experiences that I began to appreciate the fact that these were my people. This was my home. And I’ve been in the south ever since. It is good. I only hope your response to my talk will be a little kinder and gentler than the reception that another preacher received when he went back home for the first time to speak about 2000 years ago. (See Luke 4!)

But what I would like to do this afternoon is speak somewhat personally and share a little of that journey from Richmond, back to Richmond, to let you know why I think the most faithful and hope-filled movement in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is found in the Covenant Network of Presbyterians. I had actually agreed (and promised my wife) not to accept any more speaking engagements outside of Memphis, but I would jump over the moon for Janet James, and my wife would too! And I would do anything to introduce good people (you) to good people (in the Covenant Network.)

This journey actually begins in another church in this presbytery….All Souls.  Back in the late 1960’s there was a small but vibrant youth group there called “Nogapsallowed.” (That’s “no gaps allowed” without any gaps.) It was probably the only integrated youth group in the entire city back then, and they would form little groups to go to speak to other youth groups, with role-playing and such, and try to heighten the awareness of racism among young people, to help people understand people of different races. They were all friends of mine so I would drop in from time to time. But I’ll never forget one discussion we had. I don’t remember all the details, but somehow we started talking about how different people read the bible in different ways, and how their experience often shapes their reading. The discussion was being led by an older African-American man and we were talking about the birth narrative in Luke. He said, “Now when you hear ‘there was no room for them in the inn,’ what do you think that means?”

Well, just what it says. “There was no room for them in the inn. The inn was full.” And he said, “Now let me read it and see what you think it means.” “There was no room (he paused) for them in the inn.” And it hit me. Here was a man who had grown up in the south in the 1940’s and 50’s and had gone by many an inn that had rooms available, but not for them. And later on when I went to seminary and studied scripture in a little more depth, lo and behold, there was no less a scholar than Raymond Brown in his The Birth of the Messiah saying that Mary and Joseph were a part of the “anawim,” the poor ones, the lowly. There was no room “for them” in the inn.  It made me thankful that we have African-Americans in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to bring their eyes, their experience to the reading of scriptures, for it is through their experience and their honesty and their reading of scripture that my God became a lot bigger and a lot more just. It was hard to believe that for years they couldn’t even sit next to us in a sanctuary. And when our eyes were finally opened to what was already there in scripture–the equality of all God’s children– we were not abandoning the authority of scripture. Rather, we believed that the Spirit of God was moving in our midst.

Several years later when I was at Wooster I had the privilege of serving on an associate pastor nominating committee for the church there on the campus. We came up with a job description and started pouring over the resumes, and you’ll never guess what happened. We narrowed the list down to three names, and all three were women! Now, that doesn’t sound radical today, but I had never heard a woman preach up until that point. And all three of these just blew us away! (One of those, incidentally, is now the current moderator of our Presbyterian Church (USA). Another is a president of one of our seminaries. Neither one got the job, which says something about my wisdom and insight!)

It was hard to believe that only a few decades earlier, we would take verses from the bible, out of context, with a disregard for the greater themes of scripture and throw them around as though they were the gospel truth. “A woman should be silent in church.” Says so right there in the Bible. That settles it.

And since I served on that PNC, my ministry has been influenced as much, if not more by women, as by men. I shudder to think of where I would be without the gifts of women in ministry, or where the Presbyterian Church would be without the gifts of women in ministry. My God is a bigger God, a more tender God, a more just God, a more hospitable God, a more motherly God, as a result of women’s eyes and experiences that they bring to their reading of scripture. And when we opened the doors of the church more fully to women, there were those who cried “We are abandoning scripture!” Yet we believe that it was the Spirit of God moving in our midst.

There was another experience I had once I got out in the field and was serving a church in Atlanta. I was invited to be a part of a group to go down to Nicaragua during the height of the contra war. Most of you might remember that?  Well, we spent some time in what was called a base community. These were little communities that would get together and just read the bible and talk about it. That’s it. They didn’t have seminary educations, or even college for that matter. A few were even illiterate. But they knew their bible. And they gave me an education that I couldn’t have received at Yale.

One of their favorite stories, of course, was of the exodus. They knew all of the details. And I was right with them. “Way to go, Moses. That’ll show ol’ Pharaoh a thing or two.” But once we got beneath the details, they started bringing their experience to this story, about where they stood in the story, who they identified with, and about who Pharaoh was in their lives, about their desire for freedom. And you know what? In their eyes, I represented Pharaoh! I couldn’t believe it! I always thought I was on Moses’ side! They began to talk about their suffering under Somoza, who was supported by the United States government. And I knew all of this was true…I was a Latin American history major, but I had never had applied all of that to scripture. It took some people with totally different eyes, totally different experiences for me to see my own complicity in the bondage of the Israelites! I didn’t like what they said, but when I got home and did some more bible study, I found out that they were speaking the truth.

God loves us all, but I saw in a new way that God has a special place in God’s heart for those oppressed, those suffering, the poor. And I couldn’t see it without the help of my Latin brothers and sisters.

Now I’m not going to say that the Presbyterian Church has closed our doors to Hispanics like we have with women and African-Americans (although we do a rotten job of partnering with them!), but I do hope you can see a theme emerging. My spiritual growth (and I hope what little wisdom I have) has been at its greatest when people with different eyes, different experiences, and different cultures, and especially people without power, have spoken the truth in love with me about what they see in Holy Scripture.

You can guess where I’m leading, so let me fast forward several years. It was in about 1986 or so. I was in my study in my church in Atlanta when I got a phone call. “Steve, my name is Connie, and John Storey gave me your name and said you’d be a good person to call.” “Well, thank you. What can I do for you?”

“Well, I am in my final year at seminary here and the only remaining requirement I have is my SM210, my summer internship. In order to graduate I need it, but they won’t let me interview with everyone else and won’t let me post my resume on the board.”

“Now, why is that?” I asked.

“I’m a lesbian who is out of the closet, and I’d like to know if I could come and work for you this summer.”

I had to do some quick thinking. “Listen, Connie, we’re a small church and there’s no way we could afford an intern.”

“I’ll work for free.” We talked some more and like any good Presbyterian pastor trying to pass the buck I said “Let me take it to the session.”

I didn’t know the session well since I was fairly new there, and this was all before we had to vote on all those lettered amendments that we love to hate and have to choose sides on, so I honestly didn’t know what they would say. This wasn’t a radical church. I wouldn’t even call it liberal. But I learned that if there is one thing stronger than Presbyterians’ fear of homosexuals, it is our desire to get something for nothing. And so the session unanimously voted to hire her (for free) for the summer. (We actually came up with a little stipend, which was supplemented by donations from members of the faculty at the seminary.)

We’d take a look at Leviticus. After all, it says right there that a man who lies with another man is an abomination. (I heard that thrown at a gay person just last week. Remember, I live in Memphis, Tennessee!) But with Connie’s help, I looked at other parts of that same Levitical code. I found out that it was also an abomination to eat shellfish. I found out that if I had a son who disobeyed me, I could stone him. I found that I could possess slaves, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. (I wonder if that applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians.) I found out that if I were bound to the code, I could not be a minister, because it said that one could not approach the altar of God if I had a defect in my sight. Plus, I wore clothes of different threads.

We looked at Sodom and Gomorrah, which I had been raised to believe was an open and shut case. But Connie helped me to see what I had learned in seminary but hadn’t applied to stories like this. I had learned that Presbyterians let scripture interpret scripture, and that all of our interpretation must be in the light of the centrality of Jesus Christ. And so we looked at what the rest of scripture said about Sodom and Gomorrah, and there was nary a word about homosexuality. Rather, in Ezekiel, and Jeremiah and Isaiah and even Jesus all claimed that the sin of these two cities were inhospitality and violations of rudimentary social justice.

We went on to Romans 1 and 2, which has been considered by almost everyone to be the central biblical text regarding homosexuality. Paul wrote this from Corinth and from what we learned in our study about Corinth was that it was a seaport town that boasted just about every kind of bizarre and corrupt sexuality. Jack Rogers says that when you stand at the place where Paul was tried by the civil court, you can see the AcroCorinth, the mountain on which there was a temple to Aphrodite, a bisexual god/goddess. There were probably 7,000 prostitutes there, male and female. You paid your money, had sex, and you had been to church. [1]

And Paul felt that was the worst example of idolatry he had ever seen. He wasn’t talking about homosexuality per se, but idolatry, worshipping false gods. He was talking about idolatrous people engaged in prostitution. To single out gays and lesbians and apply this judgment to them would be like using Howard Stern and Hugh Heffner as the norm for heterosexual males and saying that all of us are just like them. [2]

Paul goes on to say that we are all guilty of sins just as bad as the idolatry that goes on up in the temple, and he lists about 15 sins that cover us all, including envy, gossip and foolishness. I’m not sure I’d have a session at my church or we’d have a presbytery in Memphis if we enforced a limitation there. I know I couldn’t be ordained.

And then, Connie would read to me Paul’s conclusion: “Therefore, you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” (Rom. 2.1) It was Connie who first pointed out to me that both Martin Luther or Karl Barth, who wrote arguably the two greatest commentaries on Romans, discussed this passage without even mentioning sex.

Then Paul summarizes the issues: “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Listen again to Jack Rogers:

“Justification comes by grace received through faith. That is the central insight of the Protestant Reformation. To turn Romans 1 into a law, condemning, not the pervasive idolatry to which every one of us is susceptible, but only the sexual expression of one group of people, is to misrepresent Paul’s point. It turns the Protestant Reformation upside down.” [3]

Now we could debate some of these texts until we are blue in the face. I have to admit that even professors in Presbyterian seminaries are divided in their interpretations. But I want to make two points here. First, I began to see, with Connie’s help, how inconsistent I was with my biblical interpretation. If, for example, I would hear a Southern Baptist quote Titus 2, in which wives should be submissive to their husbands, I wouldn’t know whether to laugh out loud or burst out into a self-righteous fury. (I heard a preacher say that just a few weeks ago. Remember, I’m from Memphis, Tennessee.) But then we Presbyterians would take a look at Romans 1 and take that to be gospel. Why Romans and not Titus?

Or, we have made peace, thankfully, with some of those difficult sayings by Jesus on divorce and remarriage.  They seem fairly straightforward, even more straightforward than the biblical assertions concerning same-sex intercourse. Yet we have moved beyond that graciously as a denomination. And one of the reasons we have is because more and more of our members, our elders, our pastors, had been through the pain of divorce, and we were able to look at those texts anew through their experience, their eyes, and see something of a bigger God, a more gracious and just God than we had ever imagined. We would also relate those texts with the larger themes of scripture as well as the rest of the life and ministry of Jesus.

William Placher asks the question why is it that we take some of these hard texts as gospel, and have made peace with other texts. He especially points to Jesus’ judgment that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. Have we ever made peace with that!!! And, he writes, “my sad conclusion is that if a given group is powerful enough, then we ignore the passages that criticize them. And that has become our interpretive rule.” [4]

And that relates to the second point I want to make about my bible studies with Connie. Like my studies with African-Americans, or women, or base community Central Americans, she helped me recover the classic Reformed practice of interpreting the Bible which begins with the Bible, and not with the powers and prejudices of our culture. It took someone with a different experience, a different world view, different eyes, someone out of power to help these texts come alive to me in a new, more graceful way. We lost Connie, one of the brightest, most biblically literate interns I had in over 20 years, to another denomination.

So I’ve struggled with these texts ever since, but I have always done it in the context of simply being a pastor of a local church and not a biblical scholar. And it is in that capacity as a pastor, that the deepest transformations have taken place in me.

As a result of that summer, I became one of the “go to” Presbyterian pastors when there were pastoral needs for people with AIDS. Remember, this was in the mid-80’s when AIDS was pretty much a death sentence; research on causes and cures had just begun, and the stigma of AIDS was unparalleled. I did a lot of funerals and provided a lot of pastoral care for gay men. I’ll never forget the first funeral I led. Sam had committed suicide. His body had been deteriorating for several years, and he knew the end was approaching and simply did not want to burden his partner Lee, who had cared for him night and day, any more. They had been together seven years. It had been Sam’s wish to be cremated, but when he died the funeral home would not release Sam’s body to Lee. It could only go to the next of kin, a family in Kentucky who not only had never accepted Sam’s homosexuality, but did not believe in cremation because, as they said, “How could the rapture take place if the body’s not in the ground?”

We were finally able to work something out, (one part of the journey I left out was that I spent four years in Appalachia, and I could “speak their language.”) but I’ll never forget that memorial service. I went to the front of the church and looked out and saw something there it was… a glimpse of the kingdom of God. They were all there: blacks, whites, old, young, gay, straight, men, women, some obviously working class, some obviously quite well off. A few dressed rather flamboyantly. A few little gray haired ladies. (Come to think of it, a few little gray haired ladies dressed rather flamboyantly!) Some obviously “in,” that is Presbyterian-looking; some obviously “out.” And during the prayer, I asked God to be with Lee in his grief, and thanked God for the way Lee cared for Sam. This was nothing exceptional.  I always try to make a point of mentioning by name those closest to the deceased, so it seemed to be a natural thing to do.

The next day, Lee came to my office. He had tears in his eyes as he told me that that was the first time that anyone in a church had ever acknowledged the relationship they shared in a positive way. “And,” he said, “it was beautiful. If the church keeps this up, maybe there will be room for me some day.” I of course assured him that there was, but I never saw him again.

There was one more part of the story. I have a friend who had graduated from Union Seminary right here who was gay and thus never ordained, but he moved out to California and became active in a little Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. Two of his friends were moving to Atlanta, not too far from my church, so he told them to come and visit. Tom and Steve had been together 17 years, and to this day, I still think they have one of the most beautiful relationships that I have ever seen, gay or straight. Tom had been transferred, so Steve moved with him, of course.

Tom and Steve were rather conservative. They lived in cul de sac in Dunwoody, an upper crust suburb of Atlanta. But they fit right in to our church, and soon joined and got involved by ushering, coming to work days, teaching church school, serving on committees, Tom even was installed as an elder, and made one of the best elders I’ve ever had….organized, gracious, headed a committee to upgrade facilities and got done what we had been talking about for 8 years! He even served on a task force for our presbytery. The 1993 General Assembly, to which I was a commissioner, had voted to make a concerted effort to study the issue of sexuality for three years, with a particular emphasis in bringing to the table those who had felt hurt by the policy of exclusion. Tom put himself into that with grace and diligence. And then 1996 came along.  That was the year the General Assembly handed down Amendment B, the so-called “fidelity and chastity” amendment.

I had moved to another church in Atlanta, and got a call from Tom. “Steve,” he said, “I just can’t do it any longer. I’m tired of fighting. You know me,” he said, “I’m not a banner carrier, I don’t march in parades. I mean, I voted for Ronald Reagan! I just want to be in a denomination where I can just be a member of a church and use whatever gifts I have for ministry.” We lost Tom and Steve. It still hurts.

Well, it was that amendment that led to the formation of a group called The Covenant Network of Presbyterians which brings me back here to Richmond. Far from being on the fringes of the church like so many of our organizations on the right and the left, this is a movement started by large church pastors, former moderators of our denomination, to try to claim the “radical center” of our Reformed heritage.

What do we affirm? 1) We affirm faith in Jesus Christ. 2) We affirm that the church we seek to strengthen is built upon the hospitality of Jesus. 3) That the people of God are called to be “the light to the nations.” 4) That the words of scripture provide life and nourishment…embracing gifts of scholarship, research and dialogue as we seek to understand the Bible’s relevance to the ever-changing needs of the world; and 5) we seek the gift of unity among all who confess the name of Jesus Christ as Lord.

Because we affirm those principles, these are the things we covenant together to do:

– Welcome, in the name of Christ, all whom God calls into community and leadership in God’s church.

– Reach out in solidarity and compassion to all who are wounded or excluded by recent legislative actions of our church;

– Continue to be faithful to the Presbyterian Church (USA), supporting its mission in Christ’s name to God’s world;

– Reaffirm our denomination’s historic understanding that “God alone is Lord of conscience” both for ourselves and for those with whom we disagree.

– Trust session and presbyteries to ordain those called by God, through the voice of the church, who are “persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord” and whose “manner of life demonstrates the Christian gospel in the church and the world (G-6.0106a);

– Seek pastoral and theological solutions to division in the church; (not legal solutions!);

– Maintain dialogue, study and prayer in the spirit of Christ with those with whom we differ, seeking to understand the deeper roots of our disagreements;

– And to seek God’s will for the church through the presence of Christ, the study of scripture, the guidance of our historic confessions, and the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit.

That’s the covenant. It’s not, you notice, a litmus test for orthodoxy. It’s not an attempt at a new confession. It is a call to covenant community, and it, more than anything else I have seen in the Presbyterian Church (USA), is what has given me hope that God just might not be through with us yet.

So let me close with just a few observations or reflections on my journey from Richmond to Richmond.

First, from my pastoral experience with straights and gays and lesbians, I have come to see that being gay is first and foremost about being a human being made in the image of God, not about having sex! Tim Hart-Andersen, a pastor of a large church in Minneapolis and a member of the Board of Directors of the Covenant Network and dear friend, I might add asked the right question recently: “Why is it that the church is so focused on the sexual activity as the central defining quality of the life of a person who happens to be gay or lesbian, while for the rest of us sexuality – if it is considered at all – is viewed simply as a piece of the whole, or as a healthy expression of love between two people?” [5] We need to work on that question.

Second, there are times when I, and perhaps you, get so tired of the struggle, tired of the constant wrangling. What has it led to? We have driven from the leadership of the church good and faithful leaders. We have become intolerant of one another. We have disillusioned a whole generation of young people who learned that song “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and now have turned away in frustration. And we have resorted to taking difficult biblical, theological, and pastoral issues and made them a political football… “judicial cannibalism” someone called it.

Add to that the fact that 6 million children die each year, mostly from hunger related causes. 12 million children in this country alone have to skip a meal to make ends meet. [6] And we are fighting two wars right now. There are times when I think God has more important things on God’s mind. Shouldn’t we be about the “real” business of the church?

Let me respond in two ways. First of all, any issues of life and death are indeed a part of the “real” business of the church. Fully 1/3 of all teen-age suicides occur because of issues pertaining to sexuality. If that’s not “real” business, I don’t know what is.

But secondly, well, I like the way Jon Walton put it: “resolving this issue may in fact be precisely the business that God has given us to do, which is why it will not go away. In fact, if we cannot solve this with God’s help, then what do we think God will help us solve? This ordination issue is not on our plate by accident, nor is it an interruption from our other work. It is precisely the issue God means for us to resolve, for heaven’s sake, and for the sake of the gospel.” [7]

Third, God has not left us alone to solve this. God has given us each other as the means by which it shall be resolved. Not by outvoting one another, or out-shouting one another or calling each other names. But by hanging in there together calling the church to a rigorousness of Biblical integrity and a faithfulness to theological depth which all of us, conservative, evangelical, moderate, and liberal aspire.

When I moved to Memphis, it became obvious that the presbytery was highly divided. Secret strategy sessions, tense debates, even rumors about opponents. So I called one of the leaders of the evangelical wing in the presbytery and suggested that he find five pastors on “his” side of the issue, and I find five on “my” side of the issue and covenant together for three gatherings over lunch. I was a part of such a group in Atlanta that we called “Common Ground,” and thought it might be worth a try in Memphis. Several evangelicals said there was nothing to talk about, but we did it…10 pastors gathered for lunch at Idlewild. We prayed, ate, and simply shared our faith stories that first time. It has now been going on for 3 years. Sometimes we talk about stewardship, about personal concerns, sometimes we read articles together, sometimes we address this issue.  Not one mind has been changed. And it has been at times one of the most frustrating, anger-producing experiences I have had. “Why am I doing this?” I ask.

And yet, through the breaking of the bread, the praying, the bible study, the sharing, the laughing, and yes, the crying, something has happened. I have been transformed. No, they haven’t changed my mind on this issue, as a matter of fact, they have unwittingly forced me to sharpen my arguments and through them I have been more convicted than ever to give voice to those who do not have voice. But I have found that we hear the same gospel, loud and clear. I have found that we have a lot more in common than we don’t have in common. I have found that so many of my stereotypes that I have carried about evangelicals turned out to be just that…stereotypes.

And I began to see that just because one disagreed with me that did not necessarily mean that they were homophobic. And I hope I have helped them to see that just because I am for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians into the life of the church, I have not abandoned scripture. I also quit calling them names. I became convinced that the Presbyterian Church will be better off – more faithful – if we in it hold on to one another.

Fourth, and finally, The Covenant Network is more than simply a single issue network. Far from it. It is about the kind of church that I want my children, one of whom is Hispanic, and one of whom is Asian, to grow up in. A church that believes in a BIG God, a church which can show and tell the world that submitting body and soul to the Lordship of Jesus Christ means giving up all pretense of power and privilege, and that walking with Jesus means listening to and walking with the poor, the marginalized, the voiceless, the grieving, the sick.  A church which is composed of manifestly Bible-believing Christians, yielding priority to no one in our fidelity to this book. A church which is joyfully evangelical, big enough and diverse enough to include us all – conservative and liberal and every point in between, gays and straights, single, divorced, and partnered, young and old, certain believers and confused seekers, abled and disabled – all the varied children of God who can help us change and grow and become more together than we can ever be apart.

I suppose the most beautiful and poignant glimpse I have ever had of that kind of church took place in a Presbyterian Church…St. Andrew Presbyterian in San Marin California. It was told by Anne Lamott, who shared a story about a man named Ken Nelson, who was dying of AIDS and had started coming to the church and finally joined. His partner had already died of the disease, and he had a totally lopsided face, ravaged and emaciated, but, she said, “when he smiles, he is radiant. He looks like God’s crazy nephew Phil.”

There was woman in the choir named Ranola, large, beautiful, jovial, black, and as devout as one could be, who was always a little standoffish towards Ken. Anne said she had been raised in the south by Baptists who taught her that his way of life – that he-was an abomination. It was hard for her to break through that. She might have been afraid of catching the disease. Ken was getting weaker and weaker and would start to miss a few Sundays, but when he was able to come, he would still, before the prayers of the people, talk joyously of his life and decline, of grace and redemption, of how safe and happy he was these days.

On one particular morning, Anne writes, “for the first hymn, the so-called Morning Hymn, we sang “Jacob’s Ladder,” which goes “Every rung goes higher, higher,” while ironically Kenny couldn’t even stand up. But he sang away sitting down, with the hymnal in his lap. And then when it came time for the second hymn, the fellowship hymn, we were to sing “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” The pianist was playing and the whole congregation had risen – only Ken remained seated, holding the hymnal in his lap – and we began to sing “Why should I feel discouraged? Why do the shadows fall?” And Ranola watched Ken rather skeptically for a moment, and then her face began to melt and contort like his, and she went to his side and bent down to lift him up – lifted up this white rag doll, this scarecrow. She held him next to her, draped over and against her like a child while they sang. And it pierced me.” [8]

That’s just a glimpse of the vision that I think the Covenant Network is working towards. And for me, we’ll get there when Connie, and Lee, and Tom and Steve, and a whole host of faithful, gifted children of God will come into a Presbyterian Church and say “It’s good to be home.”


[1] Jack Rogers, “How I Changed My Mind on Homosexuality,” Covenant Network Northwest Regional Conference, October 11, 2003. I think Dr. Rogers’ exegesis here is about as good as it gets on Romans 1-3, presenting a complex passage in a clear way. Also see David Bartlett, Romans, Westminster Bible Companion, p. 28-31 for an equally helpful treatment.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] William Placher, “Struggling with Scripture,” Address to the 2000 Covenant Network Conference, November 3, 2000. 

[5] Tim Hart-Andersen, “This Is Our Time,” Covenant Network GA Address.

[6] Bread for the World website.

[7] Jon Walton, “Is Anything Too Wonderful for our God?” Covenant Network G.A. Address.

[8] Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, New York: Pantheon Press, 1999, p. 64-64. (Yes, I do read things besides the Covenant Network Website!)

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