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