Harriet Miers is news, and so is her church
October 6, 2005
In listening to all the news, commentaries and assorted rants surrounding the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, I’ve heard mention several times of her affiliation with the Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, Texas.Valley View is an independent Christian congregation that seems to hold traditional Evangelical views.The church’s website makes clear that it stays away from controversial issues: “We try not to be dogmatic about matters on which believers hold divergent views. Our core beliefs are centered in Christ and his message as supported by Scripture. More obscure doctrine, as well as controversial issues about which the Bible is silent, are left to believers to sort out on their own. On these issues we take no official/dogmatic position.”According to the information I have, Ms. Miers has been a member of the church since the 1980’s. Indeed, her pastor, Ron Key, in response to questioning by a reporter as to her faith’s power over her political views, was quoted recently as saying, “The Constitution would be her major influence, I’m sure.”Which is a comfort to those of us who think the Constitution’s framers did a pretty wonderful job. The problem is Ron Key is not the pastor of Valley View Christian Church. He was fired a few weeks ago and is now in the process of forming his own church with former members of Valley View including Ms. Miers.
Now I know virtually nothing about the Supreme Court nominee, but I do know quite a bit about church schisms. They’re rarely nice and almost never neat. We assume that with a word like “schism” the division must be caused by some deep, doctrinal dissension but this is hardly ever the case. Most often the walk-out is caused by a change in worship times, a new hymn being introduced or, most common of all, the color of the new carpet in the fellowship hall. Honestly, I’ve had people leave the church for all kinds of less than theological reasons. Once I asked a former parishioner why she had left and she told me, “Preachers shouldn’t have mustaches.”I have no idea if Pastor Key has facial hair, nor do I care, but I am very interested in the whys of his abrupt leaving.Christians have a long tradition of not getting along. From the very start, the disciples were bickering amongst themselves as to who was the greatest among the 12.
By the time congregations started to be formed, St. Paul had a full-time job just trying to keep them from self-destructing. When Constantine became emperor of the Roman Empire in the early 4th century, there were so many different Christian sects that he demanded one short creed to which all would adhere.Faith by fiat – a concept that is still appealing to many Americans, it appears. It didn’t work, of course. Christians, true to their nature, soon began quibbling again and before Constantine knew it the Yellow Pages were filled with competing congregations all claiming to be the one, true church.It will be interesting to see if that is Pastor Key’s claim as well. It will be even more interesting to see if Ms. Miers claims the same. In my religious tradition, seminarians must serve a year of internship in a congregation before they can be ordained. Internships are designed to introduce the fledgling cleric to the realities of congregational life. He or she usually spends the year occasionally preaching and teaching, often attending committee meetings and almost always in charge of the middle school youth group.By the end of the year, the candidate has a good idea whether a lifetime of such activities is tantalizing enough to put on a clerical collar for keeps.
My first day on internship was marked by my supervising pastor telling me which door I was to use to enter and exit the church building. When I inquired as to why I shouldn’t use the other, more convenient door, the pastor informed me, “That is the door Pastor Jones uses. I don’t speak to him and neither should you.”It was a highly informative moment and sadly indicative of life in that particular parish.Unfortunately, I’ve found that such foolishness is not rare within other Christian congregations.I only hope the new one forming in Dallas, with Ron Key as pastor and Harriet Miers as parishioner, will prove the exception to this most disconcerting rule.Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.