Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Wow! PC(USA) rejects endorsement of evolution

Well, I didn't see this coming, but maybe that's my own unfamiliarity with the denomination.  According to an article by Michael Zimmerman at Huffington Post, a committee at the 2014 general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted overwhelmingly (47 to 2) against a measure that would have designated an "evolution Sunday" wherein the denomination would have advocated evolution.  In essence, the proposal would have approved The Clergy Letter Project, which claims to be about the compatibility of science and religion, but is more about advocating evolution, as even a cursory glance at their website will tell you.

I'm surprised, because I've always understood the PCUSA to be the sort of "liberal" wing of Presbyterianism.  Again, I confess that I'm not really up on my Presbyterian politics, so I might be unduly influenced by all my conservative friends who know more about Presbyterians than I.  Nevertheless, given what I've heard in the news, I suspect that the average PCUSA pastor and I would disagree about a whole pile of things.  So I would have expected them to go ahead and endorse evolution with no problem.  Obviously I was really, really wrong.

Zimmerman of course thinks this is terrible, because he started the Clergy Letter Project, and he seems to think that acceptance of evolution is the only way for religion to move forward.  Given that many PCUSA pastors and theologians probably have no problem with evolution, I'm curious why they stopped short of endorsing "evolution Sunday."  Zimmerman doesn't cite many reasons, but one comment really struck a chord:
...there was concern that the entire topic was simply too controversial. The latter view was best expressed by the person who said, "I have people in my family who believe in evolution and those who don't. Why add fuel to the fire?"
Now I'm sure the average creationist would be upset that the PCUSA won't endorse creationism, just as Zimmerman is disappointed that they won't endorse evolution.  Personally I find their response really intriguing, and I don't find it cowardly at all.

Think of this: The majority of evangelical Christians in the pews (Presbyterians included) accept some form of creationism.  Acceptance of evolution among the rank and file is pretty rare (some surveys indicate maybe 1 in 20 evangelicals think that evolution is OK).  So what exactly does a strong endorsement of evolution do for a denomination where the leadership knows their own families are split on the issue?  It divides them, pure and simple, and as we know from Proverbs 11:29, "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."

So what's the way forward?  I'm convinced that the church at large needs better information and better understanding of science and faith before they can dive into the complexities of the interactions of science and faith. Forcing a huge majority of some church or denomination to accept a position they don't really understand much less agree with won't help.  It'll just give people something more to fight about.  At Core Academy, we want to help Christians better understand and appreciate science.  As a creationist, I hope that better understanding will lead to an appreciation and acceptance of creationism, but knowledge is a risky thing and people don't always react the way I'd hope.  Education isn't indoctrination, and the future unity (or further fractionation) of the body of Christ is too important to leave to raw indoctrination efforts like "evolution Sunday."

Beyond just education, my friends at The Colossian Forum have helped me to appreciate that basic Christian unity is something we cultivate through the sharing of prayer and fellowship, even across ideological divides over evolution.  Honestly, two years ago, I would never ever have thought I would count an evolutionary creationist among my friends.  Now, things are different.  Through the practice of prayer and honest discussion, I've discovered that "all things hold together in Christ" (Col. 1:17) and that building Christian unity doesn't necessarily require unanimity.

So despite the disappointment of zealots, I think the PCUSA decision is fairly wise.  Evolution really isn't worth destroying congregations over.  I pray for the day when the PCUSA (and every other denomination) can address evolution and creation with wisdom and without fear.  I pray for the day when disagreements over origins bring us together as the body of Christ rather than drive us apart.

In the meantime, hesitation about these divisive questions isn't such a bad thing.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.