Presbyterian Inclusion: Ratification Reflects the Bigger Transformation of Christian Response to Homoerotic Love

In the three weeks since I first noted that Presbyterian ratification for the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian clergy looked promising, the prospects have continued to improve.  There are now 13 regional presbyteries that have switched from No to Yes –  compared with just a single one which has switched the other way, from Yes to No. This makes a net gain of 12 – against just the 9 which are needed. It is likely that there will be others too, making the switch in the weeks ahead. Already, the number approving ratification (67) is more than two thirds of the way to the 87 required – just 20 more to go, with 58 votes to still to be held. The opposition, conversely, would need to win 39 of those remaining votes to prevail.

This process is clearly of fundamental importance to lesbigaytrans Presbyterians in the USA, but I believe it has far greater importance for the entire Christian church, worldwide: it is just one, local manifestation of a much bigger process. The ECLA took a similar decision in 2009, and recently 33 retired Methodist bishops called for that denomination to do the same. Three openly gay and partnered bishops have been ordained in the Episcopal and Swedish Lutheran churches, and the German Lutherans have no problem with pastors living with same sex partners. The process extends beyond the ordination of gay clergy. There is increasing willingness in many local churches and (some national denominations) to bless same sex partnerships or even celebrate gay weddings in Church. These are not, as the conservatives claim, simply opportunistic accomodation to secular trends in defiance of Scripture, but are prompted in large part precisely by careful attention to scholarly Biblical study, prayer and attentive listening process. Even Catholic professional theologians are now recognizing what lay Catholics already know – that homoerotic relationships in themselves are not immoral. What is presently unfolding in the PCUSA, why I find it so riveting, is nothing less than a wholesale transformation of Christian responses to homosexuality.

 

 

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Gay Clergy: Rev Peter Gomes (Gay, Black, Baptist, Republican) – RIP.

In the growing ranks of out and open gay or lesbian clergy, Peter Gomes was an anomaly: he was raised Catholic, but became a Baptist pastor. He was also African American, and a Republican. Not, in short, an obvious fit with the popular image of an American gay man. But (and this is important) he was able to recognize and publicly acknowledge his sexuality, and to reconcile it with his faith. This is an important reminder for us that there is no conflict at all between a gay or lesbian orientation and religious faith, or with conservative political philosophy. The only conflict is with those influential people in some churches and in some political circles who seek to impose their own interpretations of Scripture, or their own political prejudices, on everybody else – in disregard of the fundamental Gospel message of inclusion and justice, and the conservative principle of non-interference in private lives.

I have no personal knowledge of the life or work of Rev Gomes, other than the inspiring title of his book, “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?“. (The Gospel message is indeed scandalous, and should be read much more carefully by those who in their ignorance use it to promote their modern conceptions of so-called “traditional” family values, or untramelled capitalism).

Instead of extensive researching and writing a full assessment of Rev Gomes myself, I simply draw your attention to reports elsewhere.

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The Transformation of Christian Response to Homoerotic Love

You’d never guess it if your only knowledge of the churches and homosexuality came from Focus on the Family, NOM or California Catholic Daily in the US, or from Christian Voice or the rule-book Catholic blogs in the UK, or from breakaway groups in the Anglican communion worldwide, but we are in the midst of a dramatic, wholesale transformation of the Christian churches’ response to homoerotic relationships. This is clearly leading in the direction of full inclusion in church for queer Christians, and for evaluating couple relationships and their recognition in church on a basis of full equality. This is bound to lead in time to profound improvements in the  political battles for full equality, and in the mental health of the LGBT Christian community.

These are bold statements. Am I mistaken? Am I deluding myself? It is of course possible that this is a case of wishful thinking, that I am misreading or exaggerating the evidence.  It’s possible – but I don’t think so. The evidence is compelling, if not yet widely noted. To substantiate my argument, I want to present the facts, and their implications, in some detail. As there is too much for a single post, I begin today with just a summary, as heads of argument. I will expand on the main sections in later posts, which I have in preparation.

(For now, I have made no attempt to supply detailed substantiation or links – these will follow, as I expand later on each specific theme).

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Image via Wikipedia

 

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Presbyterian Inclusion: Ratification Looks Promising

Last year, the Presbyterian Church of the USA voted to approve changes in the criteria for ordination of clergy, in terms which do not discriminate against partnered gay or lesbian candidates. The resolution removes a paragraph which includes the requirement

to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness.

and inserts instead:

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

In effect, this is a vote for full inclusion of LGBT Presbyterians in the life of the Church. The vote at General Assembly must be ratified by a majority of local presbyteries before it takes effect. 2010 was not the first time that General Assembly voted in favour of inclusion: similar resolutions were passed in 2009, and   and – but failed to secure ratification. This year could be different.

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Raymond Gravel: Former Sex Worker, Politician – Gay Priest.

Sometimes I hunt down information, sometimes it finds me. I have been looking up information for a forthcoming post on openly gay or lesbian politicians of ministerial rank – and came across this piece on a politician who is also relevant to another of my interests – gay priests !

For now, I post without further comment the entry from Wikipedia:

Raymond Gravel (born 1952 in Saint-Damien-de-Brandon, Quebec) is a priest and politician from the Canadian province of Quebec, who was formerly the Member of Parliament for the riding of Repentigny, as a member of the Bloc Québécois. He was elected to the House of Commons in a November 27, 2006 by-election following the death of Benoît Sauvageau.

Gravel had an eventful youth during which he worked in bars in Montreal’s Gay Village; he has been open about the fact that he was a sex-trade worker during that time.[1] He entered the seminary in 1982 and became a priest. Gravel is controversial among the Catholic clergy and laity for his support of abortion and same-sex marriage — two issues officially opposed by the Church. He is currently the priest at St-Joachim de la Plaine Church in La Plaine, Quebec.

He was acclaimed as the Bloc’s candidate on October 29, 2006. He received a dispensation from Gilles Lussier, bishop of Joliette, to enter politics. Elected with a large majority in the Bloc stronghold, he became the Bloc critic for seniors’ issues.

However, following his opposition to Bill C-484, which would have recognized injury of a fetus during a crime as a separate offence from an injury to the mother, and his support for Dr. Henry Morgentaler receiving the Order of Canada, Gravel was ordered by the Vatican to either give up the priesthood or leave politics, and he finally announced he would not run in the 40th Canadian federal election, saying that the priesthood was his life.[2] He cited as his biggest regret his inability to pass hisprivate member’s bill C-490, which aimed to improve seniors’ access to guaranteed income supplements.[3]

The Presbyterian Path to Inclusion.

At More Light Presbyterians, there is some useful material on the PCUSA’s path to full inclusion for LGBT Presbyterians, which are worth thinking about and celebrating by all, regardless of our particular faith traditions. The time lines and details may differ, but the process is being repeated across all denominations  – change is coming (and yes, that includes the Catholics, Mormons and Evangelicals).

Consider:

It was way back in 1974  that Rev. David Sindt came out as the first openly gay Presbyterian minister in the PCUSA. Since then, there have been many, many more, even in the face of strong opposition.

The opposition has waned in recent years, to the extent that there have been repeated votes at General Assembly to amend the existing ordination regulations – most recently by last year’s Ordination Amendment 10-A. Local presbyteries are now in the process of conducting votes on ratifying  GA decisions.

Encouraging ratification are a steadily increasing number of local presbyteries which are declaring themselves “More Light” churches, openly declaring active support for full LGBT inclusion. First United Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Illinois is just the latest of many, reported by MLP.

Influential Presbyterians are declaring that they have seen the error in past policies, based on a study of Scripture. Rev. Dr. Arlo D. Duba, former director of admissions & Director of Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary, describes his own conversion in a paid advertisement promoting Ordination Amendment 10-A in the current issue of the Presbyterian Outlook..

My mind was changed

I am a life-long conservative Presbyterian.
I never got very excited about the issue of gay and lesbian participation in ministry,
simply assuming that things had been set for two thousand years.
I was so smug that I never explored God’s Word on the matter any further.
Then a study of early baptismal practices led me to Acts 8 and 10. I became aware of a
progression of calls for a broader inclusion in the church beginning in Luke’s gospel.
Luke names Levi among the favored four. He stresses Samaritans, and talks about a
“Good” Samaritan. He stresses the supernatural in Philip and the baptism of the
eunuch. He lays great stress on Cornelius and the Holy Spirit falling on the Gentiles.
All of these call for the inclusion of persons formerly excluded.

(More Light Presbyterians has an interview with Dr Duba, where you can read more).

The most interesting part, to a numbers junkie like me, is a spreadsheet MLP have posted, where they are posting the voting results for those presbyteries which have already taken their decisions on ratification. It’s early days yet, but my reading is that in general, there has been a clear shift in favour. (On average across all votes, the percentage in favour of ratification has gone up by 5% on the previous attempt). Is this enough to tilt the balance? Time will tell, but full approval by the  PCUSA of LBGT clergy will surely come.

More denominations will follow.

Come Out to Save Lives – Megachurch Pastor Jim Swilley

There are many sound religious reason for coming out (which I summarise below).  The Georgia megachurch pastor Jim Swilley, of  “Church in the Now”, by his own example has presented another. He has come out to save lives.

Swilley has hidden his sexuality from his congregation for years, through two marriages (although he was at least honest with his second wife, who in turn encouraged him to be open more publicly). Unlike so many other closeted preachers (Bishop Long, George Rekers and Ted Swaggart, for instance) however, he has never fallen into the trap of preaching against homosexuality to hide his own orientation.

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