A Response to Wes Granberg-Michaelson

Last week, I wrote a blog post about the trouble in the Reformed Church in America. It caused quite a stir. Enough that Wes Granberg-Michaelson wrote a response; you can find it on the Reformed Journal blog. He takes random pot shots that I think are unfair but overall he articulates the (old) liberal position admirably. The major takeaway of his essay is that unity in the body is a higher calling for the church than having purity in the body (on what he would consider an unsettled issue). I just want to point out that he does not actually engage the ideas of my essay. Intentional or not, his response is filled with smoke and mirrors.

Before anything, I want to give an explanation of sorts. When I said in my previous essay that it’s a necessity for orthodox churches to leave the RCA and if they stay, they have acquiesced on what matters, I was using hyperbolic language in the Pauline tradition. An example is when Paul says this about those leaders distorting the gospel of grace with the gospel of circumcision: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” Galatians 5:12 (ESV). Paul speaks in an exaggerated way to get his readers attention; if they think circumcision saves, imagine what good cutting the whole thing off would do. His point is clear: the leaders are fools and leading you astray. Follow them and it will be a bloody mess. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want people to actually emasculate themselves. You can decide for yourself.

In the same way, I used hyperbolic language to capture people’s attention. I was saying the current place the RCA is at is really, really, really bad; and if the current denominational stance doesn’t show you the sickness of the RCA, nothing will. But it’s obviously true that there are faithful people and churches still in the RCA. Like I said, I was trying to grab the attention of people. It worked. 

In his essay response, Wes makes his argument from the Bible, Ephesians 4 in fact. There is an underlying principle here that I assume he embraces: there is a horizon[1] of truth that exists by which we make decisions. Here, the horizon is the Bible. Wes makes the claim that we should embrace unity because God says so. This argument assumes that there is something true to know and knowing results in action. 

It gets a little complicated from here, so stick with me. Right underneath this imperative of unity at all costs is another conversation. It is the one the RCA no longer wants to have. Wes thinks the Bible declares that same-sex relationships are God’s best and he will hand you Jim Brownson’s book to prove it. So what conversation are we really having? 

Are we to believe that Wes thinks this ‘truth’ on sexuality doesn’t matter? Are we to believe that he doesn’t dream of a day when the RCA is open and affirming? Are we to think that whatever a church says to a gay person is fine with him? Are we to think his endorsement of and standing with Room for All doesn’t matter? I feel like we are riding a roller coaster flying off the tracks.

With me so far? All this makes it hard to believe the whole unity argument isn’t misdirection but we will let that go for a second. In the pursuit of truth, one declares that the truth matters. Now, the RCA says that instead of pursuing the truth—finding the horizon of God’s reality to make choices—we will just let each person/church/classis have their own version of the truth. Everyone is right. Win. Win.

But remember, Wes’s Ephesians argument asserts there is a horizon of truth and it matters. Wes uses the language of the Bible to say he believes there is truth to reckon with. We need to embrace unity because it’s a fundamental condition of real Christians. You still with me?    

Then, he advocates and celebrates a denominational move that declares there are different horizons and which one you choose doesn’t really matter; we will make room for your truth. You tell us what you think and we will find you your subculture of identity—affinity classis based on ethics—and all shall be well. This is a move that Nietzsche and Foucault would love. 

It seems to me that Wes is using the rhetorical tactic of bait and switch. He uses the Bible so we think he is part of a world where truth matters and then ends up celebrating a world where what matters is each person’s truth. Whether on purpose or not, he uses smoke and mirrors to never reckon with what’s really going on.

Perhaps, I’m cynical. It’s hard not to be. Wes describes my essay as an example of the “toxicity of the culture wars” and describes my argument as “shrill”; this is language used to pigeon hole a person into the current partisan narrative. Almost seems underhanded but who knows. Maybe Wes is unaware of the cultural shifts happening. Maybe he thinks that embracing different truths is a virtue for the church of Jesus. Maybe he thinks that being mean is love in action. What do you think?

I’ll end this essay with a challenge. Do your own work and find out for yourself. Decide if truth exists and whether finding it matters. Decide if the church can embrace multiple truths and still be a hope-filled community. Decide if subcultures of identity centered on relativism is what Jesus wants. Decide if the gospel is at stake. Decide for yourself.

[1] Horizon is used by Charles Taylor to give an image to our search for meaning, identity and the good. We compare ourselves to something outside of ourselves to decide if it is right or wrong.


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