Closing worship for the Covenant Network of Presbyterians gathering here included the singing of “The Canticle of the Free.”
But the Rev. Mary Lynn Tobin questioned whether God wants us to sing songs that include verses like “I will sing to the Lord, triumphant is he; the horse and the chariot he cast into the sea!”
After the passage of Amendment 10-A — which broadened ordination standards to include openly homosexual leaders — many in the Covenant Network who lobbied for this change might have wanted to rub their victory in their opponents’ faces, casting them into the sea.
“We have been liberated … and so we dance and we sing,” Tobin said.
But the Hebrews who were led out of Egypt liked being liberated until they discovered what they had been liberated to: a harsh environment with scarce food and water and an uncertain leader.
What about the Covenant Network? Tobin asked. After 15 years of advocating for change, the network’s members are on the other side of the Red Sea and have a chance to breathe. They have a chance to look around and see that they were liberated from things they didn’t necessarily want to be liberated from.
“We are in our own wilderness,” Tobin said.
Covenant Presbyterians thought they were finally getting their church back, but do they still want it? The church is changing, and many in the United States are apathetic or hostile to religion in general and Christianity in particular.
“We long for the way things used to be — when churches stood at the center of the communities we served,” Tobin said. “We’ve been liberated from things we’re not sure were that bad.”
Like the Hebrews, Covenant Presbyterians can be tempted to look back on the past with rose-colored glasses and forget the downsides of the old way. But it’s important to remember that in those old days, the gods of power and money often crept into decision-making and we were content to be in fellowship with like-minded people.
The Hebrews expressed their fear by turning on Moses and each other, Tobin said, adding that even at the Covenant Network’s annual gathering here, she has heard voices of anger and confusion.
Although such comments and thoughts aren’t inappropriate, sometimes the expressed issue isn’t really the issue, Tobin said. The real issue might be that we’ve inherited a different church.
In the wilderness, God gave the Hebrews the gift of the 10 Commandments — sketches on the way to live out liberation.
“The law is a gift — a gift of grace,” Tobin said. “We can’t move from being a liberated to a liberating people if we’re following other gods. And we’re all following other gods — we’re human.”
So who are the gods that the Covenant Network is in danger of swapping for God? The church as it once was? Success? Power? Personal status in the denomination?
We must be brave enough to examine our hearts for other gods and to admit our mixed heritage of Hebrew and Egyptian. We must admit that we cling to power and see how we ourselves are drowning in the Red Sea.