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.

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Penitential Walk, Repenting for Past Homophobia.

Slowly, the message is getting through. It is not homoeroticism that is sinful and contrary to the Gospels, but homophobia and prejudice. In some cases the movement is dramatic, manifested in dramatic decisions that impact on entire denominations – but sometimes, the movement is purely personal, directly affecting only one or two lives.

Symon Hill is one of those in the latter category, who once actively opposed LGBT inclusion in church. Over the years, he has modified his views, and is now appalled by his former actions. He is quite clear that it was the influence of misguided religious teaching that influenced his homophobia in the first place – he had no problem with homosexuality or bisexuality before he became a Christian, but thereafter modified his earlier open-mindedness to “fit in” more easily.

However, after grappling with the subject with prayer, and scripture study, he found what many others have done, who have approached the subject with an open mind, and sufficient effort in study – it is not homoeroticism that is sinful, but homophobia:

I had no problem with homosexuality or bisexuality before I became a Christian. But I chose to support a narrow homophobic position, partly out of a desire to fit in at the church I had joined. I stifled doubts about the flimsiness of the arguments used to back up hostility to same-sex relationships. Although that church played an important role in guiding me towards Christ, I am now convinced they were severely mistaken about sexuality.

I have struggled for years with issues of sexuality – through prayer, reflection, personal experience and of course through reading the Bible. And I have come to the conclusion that it is not homosexuality, but homophobia, that is sinful and contrary to the Gospel of Christ.

My homophobia caused direct harm to several people. My support for policies that excluded gay, lesbian and bisexual people from churches contributed to the harm caused to many others.

-from Ekklesia

 

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Give Thanks For This Kairos Moment of LGBT Inclusion

For Thanksgiving, More Light Presbyterians have released an important statement “Giving Thanks for Change in Our Church“:

This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for God’s extravagant love for all of God’s creation…no exceptions, no one outside of God’s embrace. This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for God’s sustaining grace in and through difficult times, loss of those we love, illness, economic hardships and war. This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for the peace that passes all understanding that comes from trusting that God’s redemptive love and justice is at work in our own lives, in the lives of others, in our Church and in the world.

The rest of the statement is worth reading, but is specific to the Presbyterian General Assembly’s approval last summer of 10-A, on the ordination of openly gay or lesbian pastors. Thanksgiving is a specifically an American observance. The principle of recognizing and giving thanks for progress, though, is an important one for all who are queer in church, anywhere in the world, as the evidence for progress is strong, across all major denominations and regions of the world.

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DIY Catholicism, Europe: Breakaway Parishes in Belgium, Netherlands – Catholic, Not Roman

The Catholic Church in Belgium strikes me in some respects as a microcosm of the state of the Church in the rest of the developed world (Africa excepted).

In this nominally Catholic country, ordinary people have been turning away from formal religious observance in their droves; the clergy have been collectively tarnished by the clerical abuse problems, which culminated earlier this year in the resignation of a senior bishop; the public has been angered by the inaction and excuses of the bishops in response; churches are being closed for lack of clergy; and the main remedy of the Vatican has been to put in charge a grossly insensitive conservative, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels.   At a recent public meeting, one Belgian was so incensed by this man that he threw a pie in his face. More ominously for the Church as a whole, a small but growing band of Belgian Catholics, like their neighbours in the Netherlands, are simply going their own way. They are doing it themselves, practising their faith without depending on the benefits of ordained clergy – “benefits”, which in their eyes are distinctly dubious.

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"Coming Out" as Wrestling with the Divine

At this time of Pride, marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I wanted to post something on the important legacy of visibilty and coming out. (Now the 41st anniversary – this is a re-post)

After mulling over some thoughts on what to say, I picked up Richard Cleaver’s “Know My Name” for re-reading, and was delighted by the synchronicity of finding that his Chapter 2, “Knowing and Naming”, deals with exactly this subject.  So instead of rehashing or expanding the ideas I presented in my opening post 6 months ago (“Welcome:  Come in, and Come out”), I thought I would share with you some of Cleaver’s insights.

First, Cleaver points out that in addition to the modern association of “coming out” with escaping the closet, there are two other important contexts. It can also call to mind the Exodus story of coming out of the land of Egypt, of escaping slavery and oppression; and it was used before Stonewall to mimic the English debutante ritual of “coming out” into society, of achieving the first recognition as an adult in polite society .  For us then, coming out is both a liberation from oppression and an acceptance and a welcome into a new society.  He then continues by arguing that coming out in the modern sense is an essential first step in hearing the Gospel message of liberation .

 

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Eugene Delacroix

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DIY Catholicism: Twin Cities “Synod of the Baptized”.

The “whole church” self-evidently includes many more people than simply the self-appointed oligarchy of bishops and their clergy, but the Vatican has never made any serious effort to involve the rest of us in the affairs of the Church – beyond serving as fund-raisers and cheap labour for the simpler tasks. Questions of serious planning and decision-taking it keeps very carefully to its own. However, as I have noted frequently, there are abundant and increasing signs that ordinary Catholics, lay people, religious women, married priests now outside of institutional control, and some more progressive regular priests are recognizing the importance of making a full contribution to the life of the Church. Where they are not being properly involved by the institutional oligarchy, they are simply doing it for themselves.

One of the more impressive examples of this comes from the diocese of Minneapolis / St Paul, which has just brought to fruition their very successful “Synod of the Baptized”. This has been the fruit of long months of hard work and preparation, so I was delighted to read how well the event seems to have gone off – and that the team are already engaged in planning for the next stage.

Taken from the Progressive Catholic Voice, these are some extracts from a report by Paula Ruddy:

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Authentic Christianity & the Belhar Confession.

I was reading this article about the PCUSA decision on ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, when I was struck by two features that hadn’t fully registered before. The first was the narrow margin that stood between simple passage, and the need for the proposal to first go through local ratification.  Just nine more votes in favour, and ratification would not have been required.  The second was the note that a second proposal that passed, but requires ratification, was the acceptance of the “Belhar Confession.

Those outside the Reformed or wider Protestant tradition, and unfamiliar with South African history may be unfamiliar with this document, but it has powerful resonance for me, as a South African whose faith was strongly influenced by the long struggle against racial injustice – which has been transformed in my own story to the struggle against gender and sexual injustice. Here is a snippet from Saffer religious history.

Rev Dr Allan Boesak

 

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