The Right Wing Self Designated Neighborhood Watch
Once again, pastor John Shuck has been singled out for censure by the right wing publication Presbyterian Layman, on account of his “liberal” views. I’m not sure exactly what offense it is this time. I’m sure there have been many teachings of Shuck which are offensive to the Right Wing Thought Police, especially when literalized and taken out of context.
As our nation reels from the murder of Trayvon Martin by a self-designated Neighborhood Watch Vigilante, we observe another equally self-obsessed group of vigilantes within the Presbyterian Church, eager to take matters into their own hands to pass judgment on others they don’t want in their neighborhood. This time, the neighborhood of the Presbyterian Church. Claiming that the institutional mechanisms within the church don’t reflect Biblical truth, they would seek to have Shuck defrocked based upon their own view of the Gospel.
The way I see it, Shuck is in the trenches, preaching a gospel of love, forgiveness, and salvation to the drowning, and pulling them onto his boat. Instead of joining with him to shine a light on a hill (or to pull the lost into a lifeboat), the Right Wing Police are setting about to play gatekeeper, to decide who can be a beacon of light and to judge who should be allowed to be on the boat (and who should be kicked off the boat). John Shuck is someone they want off.
The Right Wingers claim that people like Shuck are the reason church pews are vacant in the USA. What a lousy, scapegoat excuse. For every one person offended by New Light Presbyterians, I can probably count ten people who don’t attend church because of being offended by right wing teaching.
Shuck finds himself in ignominious company. The self-righteous, Right Wing Police of Jesus’s day grumbled about Jesus, too. Jesus had such concern for the Lost that he even told three parables especially about them: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the woman who lost a coin and the parable of the prodigal son. All three of these are found in Luke 15. My, my. Jesus made himself welcome among sinners, spent time with them, talked with them, dined with them. The Right Wing Police, instead, would prefer to keep their own religious tabernacle pure and unadulterated by the unclean. Not Jesus. Like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, his was a love that knew no bounds.
Like the elder brother in the story of the Prodigal Son, those church goers who fancy themselves as judges of purity seem to be in grave danger of putting their souls at risk through the sin of self-righteousness.
I can’t quite put my finger on the reason why, but something about this scenario reminds me from a poem by one of my favorite secular minstrels, Leonard Cohen:
And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you'll trust him
For he's touched your perfect body with his mind.
Enjoy this video of Leonard Cohen performing this song with Judy Collins:
I don’t always agree with everything John Shuck says, and I certainly don’t expect him to agree with everything I say. But I would be the last person to judge him or to say that his voice did not represent the wind of the Holy Spirit in the world. It’s simply not my place to judge. I’m a drowning man. Thanks to my brethren in the journey for pulling me in the boat and securing me in the storm, in spite of my unworthiness.
If I must judge something, a key gauge, for me, about what to judge is found in Galatians 5:22-23, describing the fruit of the spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
What I see is that this is the fruit that pulls the lost into the church. Love. Joy. Peace. Forbearance. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self Control. I see none of this in the shrill voices in the Presbyterian Layman magazine. As such, perhaps something else is going on. Could it be that the real problem is that the riff-raff – the stragglers, the wet and the cold, the hungry -- are making the boat feel crowded and messy for those who feel so well off in their self-righteousness?
I’m thinking that I’d a whole lot rather be on the side of the one pulling people in the boat, rather than the one filled with self-righteous indignation. Beware to those who condemn ministers of the gospel engaged in bringing light and life to the lost and unloved.