16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3.16)
John writes this in his letter to Laodicea, one of the letters he is instructed to write to seven different churches. While the other letters have some words of encouragement, John’s letter to Laodicea lacks any sympathy and instead is harsh, blunt, and straightforward. This gives an impression that God doesn’t only dislike things that are lukewarm, but is repulsed by it, hence the negative connotations associated with being a “lukewarm” Christian.
To most, a “lukewarm” Christian is considered to be wishy-washy, not fully committed, non-zealous, and therefore useless. “Lukewarm” seems to universally suggest that anything at room temperature is a bad thing. Food served lukewarm, whether it is meant to be served hot or cold, is unacceptable. Not only does it not taste right, but it makes us question whether the food is still edible and hasn’t yet turned into a petri dish of bacteria. On a hot summer day, a gulp of iced, cold water is refreshing. On a cold, rainy afternoon, a sip of a hot, steamy beverage is satisfying. I don’t know if anyone can think of a time when they have craved a tall glass of room temperature water.
However, I would like to make a case that maybe “lukewarm” has gotten a bad rap. Certainly, drinking room temperature water is better for your body’s ability to digest than ice cold water. As a mother, I always tested the temperature of the milk in the bottle to be lukewarm and not too hot. As a baker, ingredients should always be at room temperature in order for the ingredients to blend together easier so that the butter will whip, the cake will be moist, and the bread will rise. And to quote Goldilocks when she was tasting the Bears’ porridge, “This one’s too hot; this one is too cold, but this one is just right.”
Recently, the Middle Governing Bodies Commission met. They are tasked with making and recommending necessary changes that would affect the functions of presbyteries and synods in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA) denomination. John Vest, one of the members on the commission, wrote a blog reflecting on whether more non-geographic presbyteries should be allowed to form based on theological differences. The desire to form more non-geographic presbyteries came out of a conference sponsored by the Fellowship of Presbyterians, where the formation of non-geographic presbyteries was given as one option to address the division PCUSA is experiencing in light of passing an amendment that gives room for GLBQ to be ordained in the church. PCUSA has always had advocate groups that represent the extreme temperatures of the church. Since the passing of this amendment, many groups that have long fought for either side of the issue, such as Covenant Network and Presbyterians for Renewal are having to recalibrate their sense of purpose. Also, new groups have formed to address the future of PCUSA, such as NEXT and the Fellowship of Presbyterians. So, the question is whether or not non-geographic presbyteries is a viable answer to how a denomination can remain together in the midst of diversity. My answer is no.
In a previous blog, I posed these questions about non-geographic presbyteries: Is there room and safe spaces for diversity? Or is the only answer to separate into groups with none to little accountability? What does this say to our core principle that we are connectional? I am not convinced that non-geographic presbyteries are a solution, but a cover up for a deeper rooted issue and that is how our denomination as a whole handles diversity. What happens when within these non-geographic presbyteries, another diversity group rares their “ugly” head, do we form non-geographic presbyteries within non-geographic presbyteries? A perfect example of this is Korean-language presbyteries. Until last General Assembly in 2010, people assumed that all Koreans were hunky dory when it came to Korean-language presbyteries. And although many had their concerns about forming another one, the vote in committee clearly did not express that. It overwhelmingly passed. It wasn’t until I and 2 other colleagues of mine spoke up on the General Assembly floor that people realized there are important issues that need to be addressed: lack of women being ordained and finding calls and lack of inclusion for non-Korean-speaking/2nd generation Korean-Americans. What pains me is that by speaking out we made ourselves and our sisters vulnerable. We betrayed our people by “airing out our dirty laundry” in public – a public that is predominantly white and in many ways supports a system that made Koreans want to form non-geographic presbyteries in the first place.
But, what was the answer for us, what choice did we have – women in those presbyteries that struggled years to be ordained? Are we to now push ahead to form our own non-geographic presbytery based on racial ethnic women who can’t get ordained in their own ethnic group? The answer is no. First of all, besides being absurd, we don’t want to. Our struggles hasn’t been about trying to have our own way. Our struggles have been to have a voice and be included in the wider body. I find it ironic that “those who have the power” are fighting so hard to segregate themselves from the rest of the body. GLBQ have been fighting for inclusion, not separate but equal. I get it. And I know that people will disagree that it isn’t about “power,” but about deep convictions on interpretations of scripture. But for someone like me who has had a myriad of scriptural references thrown at me regarding my sense of call based on gender, age, and race, it is about power. The proof for me is that in the blink of an eye, the denomination moved from years of the majority excluding GLBQ to bending over backwards trying to figure out how to keep everyone together, but separate. Instead, our attention should be on making PCUSA healthier and more inclusive.
If we don’t figure out how to deal with our diversity then we are deciding that the only way to get along is by not getting along. As a denomination, we do not handle diversity well, whether it is gender, race, QGLBT, immigration, justice, age, socio-economics, size of church, and theological. As a denomination, what we are good at is forming committees and special offices that focus on different aspects of diversity, such as Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries. But I think it is safe to say that forming Gay People Ministries or Conservative Theological Folks Ministries is not the way to go either. We can’t control whether or not churches or people leave the denomination. It has happened in the past and it will continue to happen. But what we can control is how we address issues of diversity within our denomination. What is happening now should be a challenge to all of us and our denomination as a whole to see how systematically our structure fosters the good and the bad of living in diversity. We spend so much energy on the extremes of our theology and differences that so much of who we are and what God calls us to be is lost. On all levels of the denomination (congregational, presbyteries, and General Assembly), we should examine and change how we make decisions, how we operate, and how we function. And I’m sorry, but the answers are not going to come from big, white steeple churches. This goes for both sides. The system is made for you all. The answer has to start with all those who have not benefitted from the system. By forming non-geographic presbyteries, the diversity issue will not go away. Not dealt with at its core, it has its way of raring it’s ugly head and mucking up the temperature of the water. Because most racial ethnic congregations tend to have a more conservative theology, if they were to join these non-geographic presbyteries, what happens when differences arise within these presbyteries based on race, socio-economics, or immigrant issues?
I’m tired of the extremes. I am ready for lukewarm. Lukewarm, where the cakes rise, the butter whips, mission is nurtured, congregations are supported, visions come to fruition, and grace is in abundance.