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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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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The GOP/ Evangelical Quiet Revolution on Gay Rights

The Washington Post has a useful analysis of what it calls The GOP’s quiet evolution on gay rights. This has obvious and fundamental importance for gay politics and (marriage equality in particular) in the US. It has wider significance because it is also mirrored in a parallel quiet revolution towards queer inclusion in the Christian churches – a movement that is now becoming visible in some traditionally conservative denominations, as well as the more liberal Mainline Protestants.

In the Evangelical churches, this has sometimes been seen in the emergence of some prominent straight allies speaking up for inclusion on theological grounds, or a handful of openly gay pastors and welcoming churches  – but these remain rare (for now). On the other, there are also some who do not specifically advocate on behalf of gay and lesbian Christians, but are actively promoting a greater degree of dialogue and understanding, a toning down of the rhetoric and virulent homophobia. (This is a trend that I believe to be occurring also in the Catholic and Mormon Churches). Both of these trends are welcome. One of the second group is Philip Yancey, said to be one of the world’s most successful evangelical authors:

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Chart of the Day: Religion and Gay Marriage

Last week, Pew Research reported on the latest update in their continuing series of surveys on American attitudes to same-sex marriage. The headline finding, that for the first time fewer than half the sample opposed gay marriage was widely reported, as was the finding that support has been growing steadily since polling first began. From the viewpoint of the Churches, a further finding, that support is growing in all denominational sectors, and that opposition among Mainline Protestants has collapsed dramatically, had somewhat less attention.

Nevertheless, it is important to emphasise (as I did last week) that the battle over marriage equality has largely moved on from a struggle between the Christian churches and the rest, to one being waged within the churches. This prepared by the Economist from the Pew data shows the point clearly: Atheists, the unaffiliated and Jews show clear support.   White Catholics and Mainline Protestants are divided, but with pluralities in support, and have shown clear movement towards acceptance in recent years.

Only Blacks and White Evangelicals continue to show strong opposition, but even in these groups there has been some modest growth in support since the previous survey (for 2oo8/9). We can expect that within a few years, even these groups will become more closely divided, given the pronounced support among the youngest people from all religious backgrounds, while on the other side of the divide, there will be more Protestant denominations and local congregations moving to accept same sex marriage, even in church.

Gay marriage: coming (soon?) to a church near you.

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Gay Marriage: Coming (Soon?) to a Church Near You.

It is now widely recognized that the move to marriage equality is irreversible. From polling evidence, the trend is clear. Politically, candidates for office are increasingly recognizing the dangers of homophobic rhetoric, and some are starting to see the value of declaring openly for equality. Courts are ruling that discrimination, in marriage law, in military service, and in adoption law, is plainly unconstitutional. As some US states and countries of Europe, Latin America and elsewhere move towards recognizing queer families, the greater visibility that follows erodes resistance easing the path to equality for those that follow.

All this is well known – for civil marriage. What is less widely recognized is the extent of change that has also been taking place in the churches. Inevitably, this will lead in time to acceptance also for same-sex church weddings. From the position just a few years ago where almost all major denominations were strongly against homosexual relationships, and public condemnations passed without comment, this claim may seem hard to swallow, so let us review the evidence.


Same-sex Wedding, First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco

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It feels like a stuck record to say so, but some bishops and the politicos who favour them, still aren’t getting the message, so we have to keep repeating it. Most US Catholics support gay marriage! Support is growing, and even accelerating. Catholics are more supportive than the population as a whole. The pattern is repeated right across the globe. So, it is simply untrue to say that “the Catholic Church” opposes marriage or family equality. The strongest case they can make against it is that the formal teaching of the institutional church (or Vatican doctrine) is against same sex marriage.

In common with the the rest of the country, further segmenting the sample shows that in the church too, there is a generational divide. Jay Bookman at the Atlanta Journal Constitutional reflects on the broader, international context of the growth in  support for marriage equality, and headlines:

Gay marriage: Coming soon to a country near you

Even more than Catholics, ,mainline Protestants support full marriage equality.  We could validly restate the Atlanta Journal Constitutional headline, as I often have in the past,

Gay marriage: Coming soon to a church near you

This is the graph from Pew Research:

The corollary of growth in support for marriage is that opposition is dropping. Taken togetber, this means that although the opposition had a 17 point advantage over the supporters a year ago, that margin has now shrunk to just 6 points for the population as  a whole. For a whole bunch of demogtaphic sub-groups, there are more supporters of gay marriage than opponents, notably those mainline Protestants and Catholics, but also including women and the all-important younger age groups, whose views will in time come to dominate. The dramatic upswing in support is not just coming from the rise of a new generation, though. Even within specific generations, people are shifting their views.

The shift in opinion on same-sex marriage has been broad-based, occurring across many demographic, political and religious groups. Notably, pluralities of white mainline Protestants and white Catholics now favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally – the first time this has occurred in Pew Research Center surveys.

Pew Research

(Other research shows that the shifts are strongest among people who come to recognize specific family members, friends and colleagues who are openly gay. This is the great value to the community of people coming out openly, including coming out in church, or as a married couple. Every public wedding increases visibility and erodes opposition.)

(Scheduled post for tomorrow: “Gay Marriage: Coming (Soon?) to a Church Near You.“)

Queering the Church:


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