The Presbytery of the Cascades is moving toward the final adoption of new mission and vision statements that will direct our corporate life for years to come. In the weeks remaining I will continue to use this space to work our way through “The Six Great Ends of the Church” as we think about our core identity and commitments in our modern context.
I am going to skip ahead one week since the theme of Epiphany and our country’s January 6 anniversary are colliding on the same day. Rather than address the third great end, “the maintenance of divine worship,” it felt perfectly appropriate to chew on the fourth great end, “the preservation of the truth” as we wrestle with the truth of January 6 and the attack on our nation’s Capitol.
I think the difficulty that we as a nation are having with regard to the January 6 events is rooted in the same difficulty that we have in our churches when it comes to truth. Our great end states that we are committed to the preservation of the truth. In order to preserve something you have to know what it is you are preserving. This great end assumes that the truth is already known. There is a difference between seeking and preserving.
Twenty years ago, I helped a loosely organized group charter their own religious community. As they discerned the best denominational fit for them, they landed on the Unitarian Universalists. Part of their attraction to this denomination was their Fourth Principle (sort of like our Great Ends): “the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”
As they considered various denominations, they were uncomfortable with the truth claims of most Christian denominations and liked the humility inherent in the language of “searching for truth.” I think most of them weren’t sure enough about what constituted truth to be in a denomination that wanted to preserve it.
But getting back to January 6 and the attack on our Capitol building. It would seem to me that resolving this issue should be easy. But in order for it to be easy we would have to agree on more than just the facts; we would have to agree on the meaning of those facts, something that we often call truth.
The problem of January 6 is not in what happened, but the meaning we assign to what happened. No one disputes that it happened on January 6. No one disputes that people scaled the walls of the Capitol building, broke through windows and doors and violently forced their way into the House chambers. What is disputed is whether this constitutes insurrection or whether it is just a protest that got out of hand. What is disputed is whether people should only be held accountable for acts of vandalism or the higher crime, acts of sedition.
It is objective fact that people broke into the building. It is a subjective claim to label the acts either of the following—merely vandalism and protest or insurrection and sedition. Which of these is true? Truth is much harder to pin down. We can agree on the facts. Where we differ is on the meaning of those facts, something we often call the truth.
I write this as we prepare to observe Epiphany, when we celebrate the truth of God’s light coming into the world through Jesus Christ. I write this as we are investigating the January 6 attack on our Capitol building and seeking the truth of those events.
I feel strongly that truth is not something we can prove. It is something we share. Facts are provable. Truth takes trust and a leap of faith.
Truth IS something worth preserving, as our Fourth Great End states. But we would do well to know the difference between objective facts and subjective truth.
Confusing the two gets people killed.
This is a dialogue. Thoughts?
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission
For me, the”truth” at the basis of Christianity has always seemed to be the acceptance and belief in a Trinitarian God. Historical battles were fought regarding this issue: Was Christ of a substance “similar to” God, or “the same as” God? The Nicene Creed won the day in 325, voting that Christ was “the same as” God, which really did not put an end to the conflict, and in my view, complicated it even more.
I would presume that this is “the truth to be preserved” stated in this Great End. However, in recent reading, I saw it stated that most people in our Christian congregations are more likely to be “undifferentiated monotheists,” and unable to define or defend the concept of Trinity and its development or history.
The Presbytery needs to decide whether it wants to be defined by preserving this particular ( more narrow) Trinitarian stance, or move toward a more open (inclusive) stance like the Unitarian Universalists.
The Unitarians are growing and we are not. Will it come down to numbers and survival? Can we allow ourselves to still be “seeking” truth and still call ourselves “Christians”? I think so, and would hope so, but there are good arguments on both sides.
Interesting point about the UU’s growing right now while our mainline Protestant denominations continue a membership decline. I do think, based on my experience with my one group, that the openness to consider and dance between many truth claims is an attraction to many. So many don’t trust the rigid truth claims in many traditions in this post-modern world of marvelous diversity.
The concept of “Truth” is much like that of beauty, which most often resides in the eye of the beholder. This is particularly true in the area of religion where most all of the theological concepts that are considered “Truth” are not subject to any type of factual experience that can be verified or experienced as being reality based. Nor is there any present basis to determine the trust worthiness or reliability of those putting forward their version of “Truth”.
“Truth” in non religious settings is usually subject to experience regarding verifiable facts and an evaluation of reality, along with a testing for honesty and trustworthy background of those proclaiming “Truth”
Most all of the “Truth” relating to Christianity (The nature of Jesus—Relationship to God—Holly Spirit) was developed over several hundred years by the Roman Catholic Church, who also developed the scriptural basis for the Christian Bible. The Protestant Reformers worked to end the corruption inside the leadership of the Catholic Church, but retained most all of the theology “Truth” proclaimed by the Catholic Church.
Whether the various Theological “Truths” held by the Presbyterian Church USA are worthy of “Preservation” is a function of religious faith and belief and from my view is NOT A Matter of their actual reality based“Truth”. I would think that a faithful preservation would also include a
Continued seeking of “Truth” in the Future.
The unlawful criminal behavior of the Trump Supporter Mob that attacked the U.S. Capital Building on January 6, 2021 clearly fits the Webster dictionary definition of an Insurrection since it consisted of “A RISING UP AGAINST ESTABLISHED AUTHORITY” which had the goal of stopping or delaying congress while in session to ratify the electoral votes for president in each state.
The Mob Insurrection was only successful in delaying the election certification, which was completed the following day. From a factual basis the attack had only the limited goal relating to delay of certification of election results, and Not overthrow of the Federal government, and would Not be considered Sedition.
Certainly Donald Trump Lied to the public as a matter of both fact and law regarding the Election of Joe Biden to serve as President. He openly planned and invited various Trump Supporter Groups to Washington for the January 6th protest, and then incited the Mob to march on the Capital building. Equally important he openly and privately ordered VP Pence to take action to falsely de-certify the state electoral votes, which is a criminal act. Donald Trump should be indicted and tried in Federal Court for his criminal activity, and hopefully serve jail time, which he clearly deserves.
Very well thought-out reasoning delineating between religious truths and the truth that can be verified by facts. Thank you for adding more depth to this discussion.