There was a point in time when the Presbyterian Church (USA) was described as “connectional.” Although some people will continue to use that term out of habit or without some thought, our denomination has voted itself from connectional and into associated. It is no longer connectional but is now an association of churches by name and similar government. It has given itself room for a variety of differences between particular churches and even between pastors and their own church’s elders. In some ways it has established itself as a spectrum, a rainbow. And for some it has been taken over by a rainbow.
We moved from being connectional because we sought power, first. We sought to have our own way and how best to demonstrate that we are right. And this was started by those who first held the power. Those in power taught those who had a different opinion that it was opinion that mattered most and also that if you were of the wrong opinion you were siding with sin. So, the solution that was held up as proving both right and sinlessness was the finding of a majority. In other words, it wasn’t actually about truth. It was about numbers. So those of a different opinion from those with the power were taught to gather a majority.
The strategy was simple then. Beat upon those with the power not with persuasion or belligerence but with shame. The objective was to shame those with power until their grip would loosen. “Whom would you turn away?” became the weapon because of the importance of relationship, “Your cousin, your son, the gentle man with the shop on the corner?” This was not to find or establish truth. It was to gain power for a new majority based on feelings. The basis of the new opinion was knowing someone we don’t want turned away. So the experiential element of our new rainbow is tolerance, now our highest virtue. Now, we will allow everyone’s opinion to be their guide for the standards by which they will live and we will associate in tolerance.
The connectional reality of the church (universal) lies in the reality and person of Jesus Christ and not in the agreement nor consensus nor the tolerance of differences of any community of people. Instead, being connectional reflects the systemic experience of nature, God’s order, and requires a deep and seriously intentional and continual conversation between all members of the community. It is completely different from the conversation we’ve been having, because being connectional is when we seek out the ways in which we need each other. We do not seek out whether someone is “right” or “wrong” nor “good” or “bad.” We seek to recognize and then participate in needing, protecting and nurturing each other. This is because we are of a kind, the essence of kindness. It requires an enormous amount of work to do this and supremely more than deciding who holds the right opinion or tolerating our differences.
When we come to the place where opinion and mutual tolerance is most important, we are left with a similar structure of governing and an associated relationship. We live within our own standards and opinions, near but not seeking to discover each other. So, now we are here. The hill was taken. The inherent objectives were achieved. The wrong battle was fought.