Pastor Judy Peterson and Pastor Steve Armfield remain suspended until at least June when the Board of Ordered Ministry is scheduled to meet next. In the meantime, we have been reflecting on President Walter’s words from almost a year ago.
This past June, one of our board members asked a question at the Covenant Annual Meeting about the apparent discrepancies between the Covenant Affirmation of Freedom in Christ and the narrowed limits on freedom imposed by a resource paper written for clergy in 2015. This latter document suggests clergy should refrain from publicly voicing views that differ from Covenant positions and resign their credentials if the difference cannot be resolved.
We’re grateful for President Walter’s response, which brought some clarity to the issue. We’re thankful he noted that “the Covenant has chosen neither license nor legalism.” We’re glad to hear that “Freedom has been, is, and will be an important value to us.”
We know that God and Christ desire that Christians not be divided. As noted in the Covenant publication Living Faith, “Covenanters have offered to one another theological and personal freedom where the biblical and historical record seems to allow for a variety of interpretations of the will and purpose of God.” We reiterate the Covenant position that theological freedom and a communal commitment to the Bible’s authority are crucial to our identity. The first and sixth Affirmations are not mutually exclusive; rather, they are inseparable.
There is no single biblical interpretation of sexuality. While freedom in Christ is bounded by the authority of scripture, pastors like Judy, Steve, and others have not overstepped those bounds. They and we are not asking for free license. We are asking for the recognition that expelling those who disagree is the very definition of legalism, which President Walter has rejected.
Our denomination was born out of an incontrovertible belief that we must value our freedom in Christ as we do the hard work of living together in Christian community.
In these days when dark forces would divide us, we must protect the tradition that “The Covenant Church seeks to focus on what unites followers of Jesus Christ rather than what separates us” (Living Faith). “Serving in concert with the Covenant” should not result in valuing uniformity over unity. Our Covenant is with God and with each other in our common mission. We are to serve in concert with each other.
We implore the Board of Ordered Ministry to contemplate this while Judy and Steve remain suspended, and we remind them of President Walter’s wise words that the Covenant has chosen neither license nor legalism.