I’m a Presbyterian Church (USA) Teaching Elder. For those outside the PC(USA) universe, we’ve been pretty enthralled lately, thanks to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Mr. Trump has been saying things lately. Strange things. Inflammatory things. Things about immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and the disabled, just to name a few. But, for PC(USA)-ers, among the strangest things he’s said is that he’s Presbyterian. *gasp* Seriously? He can’t be. Even our staunchest conservatives sound nothing like him. He must be in another Presbyterian denomination, because he hardly sounds like “us.” Well, sure enough, he was baptized at one of “our” churches.
Even our Stated Clerk spoke up and, in an open letter to Trump, clarified the PC(USA)’s position on immigration (which, spoiler alert, does not match Trump’s). But after Mr. Trump called for a moratorium on the immigration of Muslims, it appeared we’d had enough. Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York unanimously approved a resolution in response to Trump’s call, condemning it and asking the appropriate PC(USA) bodies to “review his standing/membership in our denomination.”
Friends, that made national news. As the headlines read, we were trying to “kick him out” of the church or “excommunicate” him. That’s a bit hyperbolic. The call was to review his membership, as in verify if he’s an active member of any PC(USA) church at all. If he is, it would be incumbent upon his church to address him directly. There might have been grounds to censure him, which is not the same as excommunication. While members can be removed from rolls due to their conduct in the most egregious of cases, they’re not removed from God’s grace and embrace, nor are they barred from the sacraments. And membership, whether it’s lapsed due to inactivity or revoked due to offense, can be restored. But, as it turns out, he’s not on any of our churches’ rolls.
I believe this presents us with a teachable moment about what it means to be not just a believer, but a church member. And how should church membership inform how we operate in the world?
When someone claims membership in a church or a tradition, it should mean something. Namely, it should mean involvement. I like how the PC(USA) Book of Order describes what church membership looks like.
Membership in the Church of Jesus Christ is a joy and a privilege. It is also a commitment to participate in Christ’s mission. A faithful member bears witness to God’s love and grace and promises to be involved responsibly in the ministry of Christ’s Church. Such involvement includes:
proclaiming the good news in word and deed,
taking part in the common life and worship of a congregation,
lifting one another up in prayer, mutual concern, and active support,
studying Scripture and the issues of Christian faith and life,
supporting the ministry of the church through the giving of money, time, and talents,
demonstrating a new quality of life within and through the church,
responding to God’s activity in the world through service to others,
living responsibly in the personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social relationships of life,
working in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillment,
participating in the governing responsibilities of the church, and
reviewing and evaluating regularly the integrity of one’s membership, and considering ways in which one’s participation in the worship and service of the church may be increased and made more meaningful.
Regardless of our denominational affiliation, I think we can all agree this is what church membership should look like. It means that we are involved in the life and ministry of the church, but we’re also changed in our interactions outside of church. Being a church member has bearing on what we do and what values we promote when we’re not with our church family. Additionally, we’re always examining ourselves to see how we can more fully live out our membership.
Thanks be to God that we are loved whether or not we belong to a church. But if we’re going to claim it, then I think the fruit should be apparent. Personally, if someone seeking my vote talks about their faith, I expect to see how that faith informs their platform. If it does not, then claiming a faith or a membership in a community of faith comes off as political expediency, and voters of faith need to be smarter than to fall for that.
Look for the fruit. Look for the concern for the poor. Look for the commitment to justice. Don’t take what any of them (on the right or the left) say at face value. If they’re going to speak about it, ensure they are about it.
Membership should inform more than what we do for an hour on the occasional Sunday morning. I think that’s a charge for all of us to keep, not just the latest politician making headlines.
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