Monday, July 6, 2009

Gamesmanship at the Layman

Carmen Fowler, President of the Presbyterian Lay Committee has published an editorial over at the Layman entitled: "'War,' 'Go Fish,' and 'Manipulation,' in the PCUSA". In it she suggests that the denomination has moved from a game of 'Go Fish' in which we spent all of our time obeying the Great Commission in relative harmony, to a game of 'Manipulation' which is a game I've never heard of, but apparently "can be played by an unlimited number of people as long as you keep multiplying the decks and manipulating the cards." (It sounds like a fun game Ms. Fowler you should post the rules online somewhere!) Writing to the churches of presbyteries who switched their vote from previous amend or delete-b overtures, Carmen Fowler makes it her purpose to inform them that the game has been changed by nefarious agents like The Covenant Network, More Light Presbyterians, and That All May Freely Serve, and if they don't get into the game it will soon become an all out game of 'War!'

The letter is charmingly wrong from beginning to end.

First, there was never a time of harmony where all Presbyterians were playing the same game. Ours has always been a communion of knock-down drag-out parliamentarian brawls. See exhibit A:

If it's not one thing it's another that we're fighting about, and the fact that there have not only been divisions, but also reunions makes it rather futile to try and trace the history as the story of a single faithful communion surrounded by heathens. The fact is, we don't agree and we won't. Both sides believe fervently that they are right and there is no way to reliably arbitrate the dispute which everyone will agree to.

As for infernal interlopers like More Light Presbyterians... I find it humorous that it is "manipulation" when progressive para-church organizations try to change the Book of Order by assembly, propaganda, changing hearts and minds, and parliamentary procedure, but it is just good old-fashioned democracy when The Institute on Religion and Democracy, Presbyterians for Renewal, New Wineskins, and, of course, The Layman do exactly the same thing, using exactly the same methods. Would everyone please quit playing the righteous indignation card? You make fools of us all. We are all in the same muck and you look like an idiot standing up on a dung hill covered in slime proclaiming yourself purer than the rest of us.

The real failure of the letter, and perhaps the conservative vision, is a failure of imagination. All of the games that Carmen Fowler listed as metaphors for our conflict are Zero-Sum games. They are strictly competitive. One side wins, everyone else loses. Whether we are playing 'Go Fish', 'Manipulation', or 'War' there is no way in which we all win. Which means, it doesn't really matter what you call it we've been playing 'War' all along, because there isn't any other game.

But there are other kinds of games. There are individual achievement games where each person competes against their own previous best. This kind of game is like sanctification. There are cooperative games wherein all the players work together against a central mechanic of the game. This kind of game is what our denominational life is like - we are really only competing against human nature and our sad tendency for conflict. We either all win or all lose together. There are games of pure imagination where the only victory condition is 'everyone has fun.' This, I think, is the kind of game God really loves and it is what the Church is like at its best.

All sides agree that God is playing this game with us, and God is going to win. What conservatives fail to realize is that it is not a zero-sum game. There will be no losers in this fight, because the victory condition is 'everybody gets to play.' God is playing until everyone takes their place at the table. God is playing until everyone joins the fun. God is playing until everyone realizes that there are not a limited number of invitations to this game and so there is no need to elbow and shove and try to secure your place by pushing others away. In fact, the more you fight the more clear it is you haven't realized what game it is we are playing here. This is not 'Go Fish' or 'Manipulation' and it is most certainly not 'War.'

This is 'Christianity,' so quit trying to "win" and just start having fun.


Doug Hagler said...

::rousing applause::

Jodie said...

Love it.

"The game is the game of Christianity. So quit trying to win"

Yes. Rousing applause

Jodie said...


That was a "pastoral" letter???

What an ego! She really needs to get over herself.

Alan said...

I like how she tries to play Paul at the beginning of the letter.

Something Paul, I suspect, would not have appreciated. Didn't anyone tell her that it's inappropriate for women to try to teach? ;)

Boy they're really grasping at straws these days.