A Tale of Elephants and the Mouse: Presbyterians, 10-A, and the World Church*

A Tale of Elephants and the Mouse: Presbyterians, 10-A, and the World Church*

By Ken Bailey, Author and Lecturer in Middle Eastern New Testament Studies,
New Wilmington, PA

Once a small mouse was playing around the feet of a family of elephants.  The mouse suddenly decided to run down the hill away from the elephants.  The elephants did not follow the mouse.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2011 is just over one half of one percent of the population of America and America is approximately 5% of the population of the world.  We are a very small blip on the radar screen of world Christianity.  Sixty percent of the world’s Christians are now in the Global South, which is comprised of South America, Africa, and Asia.  Paul wrote to the churches of his day and affirmed, “You (plural) are the body of Christ.”  He also said, “You (plural) are the holy temple.” In our day the interconnectedness of each part of the larger body of Christ is more profoundly a reality than at any time since the earliest beginnings of the Church in the middle of the first century.  What can be said about Presbyterian world mission and 10-A?

From 1955 to 1995 it was my privilege to serve as a missionary academic, teaching New Testament in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Cyprus.  For the last sixteen years I have continued in full-time ministry teaching New Testament in this country, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  I lecture primarily for Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, the Armenian Protestants, and the Armenian Orthodox.  For the last 13 years I have been honored to serve (as a Presbyterian) as the Canon theologian of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.  The air I breathe is that of the larger body of Christ, which is the world Church.  It is out of this background that I offer these brief remarks.

The recent decision to change our ordination standards is a rejection of Scripture and tradition as understood by more than one billion Roman Catholics.  It is also an offense to more than 300 million Eastern Orthodox in their various communities in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe.

Western Christianity has been the “superpower” of the Christian world for more than a thousand years.  Across the centuries we were able to define what it meant to be a Christian.  This is no longer the case.  As is well-known, the numerical center of the Christian world has moved South and East.  That “global South” is becoming more and more important for the larger body of Christ and they (along with the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) will see us as having departed from Scripture and tradition as the Church everywhere has known it for two millennia.  Our relationships with them are now freshly damaged.

I am particularly distressed by how our decision will be received in Africa.  In one hundred years, Christianity in Africa has grown from 5 million to 385 million people.  In the process, African Christians, often at a high personal price, have set aside polygamy.  They rigorously opposed their own culture in loyalty to the witness of the New Testament and historic Christian standards of sexual practice.  How can we now face them?

Add to this is the reality of our “partner churches” around the world with whom we have served in mission for the last 160 years and longer.  They are quickly discovering the change we have made in our ordination standards and they will understand it as betrayal.  Many Anglican Archbishops in Africa describe the American Episcopal church as having “walked apart” from what the Church has believed and proclaimed for nearly two thousand years.  The same judgment will now be made of us by our partners in mission.  This has serious implications for our ability to continue in mission with them.

The countries of the world where we are serving are self-governing.  The only way foreigners can live and work in those countries is with work permits and residence cards.  These documents are only granted at the request of national Church leaders who invite said “foreigners” (read: missionaries) to serve among them.  A significant number of those churches will now be reluctant to welcome our missionaries and accept responsibility for their presence.  Furthermore, some (many?) of our missionary colleagues will be deeply uneasy about continuing to serve under our banner.  Those who do opt to remain in ministry under the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) course will have accepted the burden of being sent by a Church that has passed 10-A.  Most of us are in mourning.

Furthermore, there is the reality of Islam.  In the spring of 2003, I was invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to participate in a Christian-Muslim bridge-building conference of fifteen Christians and fifteen Muslims from around the world.  The week-long conference took place in Qatar in the Arabian Gulf.  The Iraq war had just begun and I flew there with some anxiety as to what I would have to face.

The conference was co-sponsored and paid for by the Sheikh of Qatar who attended the opening day with a large delegation of top government officials.  Sheikh Qardawi, the Imam of Qatar, addressed us.  He delivered an impassioned plea for understanding, cooperation, and mutual respect between Christians and Muslims.  In his speech he affirmed, “The Bible and the Qur’an agree on many things.”  He chose to focus on three points of concurrence.  These were:
1. The Bible and Qur’an are for peace and against war.  He pointed out that even the Pope was against the war that had just begun in Iraq.
2. The Bible and the Qur’an affirm the sanctity of the family and its importance.
3. The Bible and the Qur’an are united in opposition to homosexuality.

Over the past few decades, Islamicist preachers and broadcasters have delighted in Western scholarship that argues against the authenticity of the Gospel accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus.  Now at last (such Muslim preachers often affirm) Christian scholars are admitting that the Gospels are corrupted (muharrif).  Naturally, the only pure word of God is the Qur’an on which we must build our lives (goes their argument).  Those same preachers have currently been given fresh ammunition with which to attack the Christian faith as a religion that violates its own sacred scriptures.  I am very glad that the above mentioned conference is in the past and that I do not at present have to face those discussions.  In short, 1.2 billion Muslims will shake their heads in disbelief and despise us.

10-A opens other options.  What is wrong with polygamy?  There are an estimated five million Muslims in the USA.  Their sacred book and 1,400 years of tradition have affirmed the right of a Muslim man to have four wives and as many concubines as he can afford.  We are inclusive aren’t we?  This is a justice issue – isn’t it?  American Muslims should have the freedom to live out their lives according to their traditions.  We should apologize to the Africans and allow the Mormons to “come out of the closet” with their plural marriages.  And on our side of the street, if our leadership had the polygamy option, this would help solve the problem of single moms and widows who might like to have a man in their lives.  Why not?  As long as we are discussing long-term committed relationships – what is the problem?  Jesus said nothing about polygamy so he must have approved of it.  Paul does not discuss it.  Ah yes, there is 1 Timothy 3:2 which affirms that a bishop should be the husband of one wife.  But then Paul didn’t write 1 Timothy anyway, so that can be overlooked.  Besides, if the Bible can be set aside on one issue why not on another?  Beyond that there are other options.

Paul told his readers not to become slaves and, if they were slaves, to seek freedom.  Speaking pastorally Paul told slaves to obey their masters (because if they failed to do so they could be crucified).  He did not endorse slavery.  Women in leadership shine through in the New Testament from Joanna to Lydia and Phoebe.  10-A is in a category all by itself.

Regarding our relations with Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, the Global South, our partner churches, and the world of Islam, we have created huge cracks in the ground beneath our feet.

I take comfort in the fact that, numerically speaking, we are a shrinking mouse in the midst of elephants.  The elephants will not be influenced by the mouse.  But as regards the larger world beyond our borders, our world mission efforts and relationships have suffered a staggering, self-inflicted blow.  Is there any way that those efforts can be rejuvenated and those relationships restored?

* Originally published on the Presbyterians for Renewal website, July 14, 2011.

13 Responses

  1. Walter Jones says:

    Dr. Bailey presents many pertinent facts related to the recent decision. The greater church and other faiths are likely to judge us harshly, and one can understand why.

    Yet perhaps our unpleasantness is akin to a constitutional challenge by the ACLU in an American court. A group within the PC(USA), in keeping with our Reformed heritage, went back to our foundational document and the intent of our Founder in the light of a current question of polity. When scriptural references to homosexuality were reconsidered, a case for requiring change was brought before the denomination, acting as a court, and the old Book of Order was amended as a result.

    Is the ACLU ever popular? Not with almost anybody I know, but they are important. Despite all the negative practical consequences of many of the decisions arising from their challenges, they do force us to be true to our Constitution.

    Most people in the denomination would just as soon have avoided having to vote on
    Amendment 10-A, but the case was brought before us, the applicable portions of scripture referenced, and a decision made by a divided court.

    We shudder at the consequences as Dr. Bailey predicts them. We have made it more difficult for those who represent us in the larger world. But given the specifics of the
    case we were asked to consider and the evidence presented, that is how the majority understood the law. The case was not decided based on its probable impact. It was decided with humility and personal integrity. For that there is often a great price to be paid.

  2. Rev. Alice Phillips says:

    I don’t think anyone has expressed it more clearly than Dr. Ken Bailey. His scholarship. his relationships with others throughout the world, and most importantly of all, his unwavering faith in God’s Word is so evident. Thank you and God bless you, Dr. Ken Bailey, for your incredible, effective witness in these times in which we are living!

  3. Karen Jennings says:

    Well said and thank you for the posting. I agree with the Rev. Alice Phillips’ comments. From my discussions with some people in local Presbyterian churches, it appears generally that there is little concern for the broader church and Christianity in the world, as long as the local church continues to be a nice place with nice people, doing nice things to help others.
    I have been an elder and I am a part-time seminary student at an evangelical seminary. I believe that Scripture gives us the foundation for our Christian faith. After much praying and pondering, I have made the decision that I, along with my children, will for now be attending other churches that I believe are more faithful to Scripture. However, I will be watching with interest the developments arising from the fellowship meeting later this month. May the Holy Spirit inspire the participants in this endeavor.

  4. Graham Baird says:

    Dear Dr. Bailey,
    Your thoughts and comments are absolutely on the mark and completely and assiduously correct. The only thing I might add to your line of thought comes from your introduction to Chapter One, of Poet And Peasant, “If true not new, if new not true.” These PC USA denominational arguments for the passage of 10A are not new, therefore they are not true. They are not true, under any Biblical theological formulation, and therefore their tell tale signs of novelty and contrivance are not new.

    “Saba Al Hed, Saba Ach Noor”
    All the Best Things,
    In Christ,
    Graham Baird
    Highlands Church
    Paso Robles, California

  5. Thank you, Dr. Bailey, for your excellent article.
    As an American “foreigner (read: missionary)” serving in Russia for the last 18 years, though not affiliated in any way with the Presbyterian Church (USA), I can testify to the truth of what you express. Every action taken by that little mouse actually does effect the entire herd of elephants, because that “mouse” has stood in the lead role of world missions for so long. This decision along with others like it in other denominations is taking its toll on the Church all over the world.
    We are one Body and when one member suffers, we all suffer. In what way does 10-A cause the entire Body to suffer. It does so because the Presbyterian Church (USA) is no mouse in reality – it is a small but viable member of the whole. 10-A is a viral infection; smaller than a mouse but able to fell the mightiest of elephants.

  6. Rev. Matthew McGowan says:

    Dear Dr. Bailey,

    I am thankful that God has raised you up, gifted you with a great and clear mind, strong and devout Christian convictions and a high view of the authority of the Bible as God’s Word.

    When I was the Exe. Director of Covenant Fellowship of Presbyterians (Presbyterians for Renewal) I was blessed to hear you at many of our conferences. I was ordained in the PCUS in 1952 and early in my ordination the question of the ordination of sefl-affirmed practicing came before the General Assembly where I was present as an observer. When a vote was taken, there was less than one percent in the affirmative. Those who were favoring the question have been unrelenting in their effort to get this passed in the PCUSA.

    As one who has sought to be faithful in my effort to to work for Biblical and Holy Spirit renewal of the PCUSA, I am deeply grieved that we have lost more than 50% of our communicant membership. My friends from the Presbyterian Church in American and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, while many more have simply moved out to more evangeical and Biblical fellowships. I will not to able to attend the meeting in August, but my fervent prayers are with you and I pray that God with be exalted, the Lord Jesus glorified and may a new pentecostal blessing fall upon the assembly.

    Grace and Peace,

    Matthew McGowan

  7. Lee McClurkin says:

    Dear Dr. Bailey,

    “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” – a great line from the movie, “The Usual Suspects”.

    His second best trick was the invention of Moral Relativism. I’m not a biblical scholar, but I can’t find any suggestion that God’s commandment’s were subject to modification at the whims of the moment.

    Surely, “moral relativism” has severly damaged the Epsicopal Church (USA)) and is on its way to marginalizing the Presibyterian congregation in the Us.

    Keep up the good fight.

  8. Arthur Montgomery says:

    Thank you for your message “Elephants and a Mouse.” Amen! I would add that while the PC (USA) can’t explain to African Christians why it passed 10-A, we can’t also explain to the Triune God why we passed 10-A. If our apostasy offends other Christians, what must be the response of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit?

  9. Serena Sullivan says:

    Jesus “walked apart” from what the Church has believed and proclaimed” too …. as did Martin Luther, John Calvin et al. Sometimes it’s what people have to do to live as they believe Christ is calling them to live

  10. Bill Goff says:

    Dr. Bailey,
    You are one of my favorite scholars. I think I own all of your books, some of which you have signed for me. So it is with great regret that I read your article. You articulated two arguments: 1) The “What will the neighbors think?” argument and 2) the slippery slope argument. From my intensive study of Scripture spurred by my contact with homosexual Christians, I have concluded that excluding homosexuals (GLBTQ) from full participation is the church is not defensable biblically and dishonors the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I would have expected biblical and theological arguments from someone of your stature rather than the arguments you put forward. Please re-examine your position. Respectfully, Bill Goff

    • Lee McClurkin says:

      Apparently, Mr. Goff is unfamiliar with Paul’s teachings.
      The Devil’s greatest trick was to make us think he didn’t exist.
      But his invention of “Moral Relativeism” isn’t very far behind.

      I have never read about “Moral Relativeism” in the Bible. Perhaps, Mr. Goff has books in his library addressing the subject

    • Lottie B. Haswell says:

      Bill Goff, shame on you. Dr. Bailey does not argue from “what will the neighbors think” but from what do our sisters and brothers think?
      Oh, when I was young, I too scoffed at my elders for their fear of the domino effect. But not any longer! I have seen the dominos fall and the PCUSA slide down the slope. Thank God for Dr. Bailey and his wise and honest explanation of the current situation. Thank you Dr. Bailey

    • Stuart Gordon says:

      Mr. Goff:

      Your writing shows evidence that you might be familiar already with the biblical and theological argument that Dr. Bailey could repeat, but has published in other places. Personally, I’m amused that you treat him as if the burden of proof lies with his side of the argument. People sharing your conviction have worked tirelessly for years now, to overcome “injustice” to LGBT people, working to be agents of change, and now you act as if the burden of proof lies with one who simply endorses the historic position of the global church? The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has now changed its mind on the subject, and we all know full well the Biblical texts that stood in the way for so long. You may wish to dismiss Romans 1 according to the exegesis of Mr. Scroggs and others, and to ignore Jesus’ words about male and female becoming one flesh, but Ken Bailey doesn’t have to keep repeating Paul every time he writes or speaks.

      It’s unfortunate that you adopt a pompous tone with someone you claim to respect. It is the same tone that supporters of 10-A have adopted throughout this wearisome debate.

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