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 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.

A Kairos moment for LGBT Catholics?

Former Jesuit, theologian, psychotherapist and author John McNeill (The Church and the HomosexualFreedom, Glorious FreedomBoth Feet Firmly Planted in MidairTaking a Chance on God and Sex as God Intended) has written an angry open letter to the U.S. bishops. He begins by slamming the bishops for ignoring the call to dialogue made by Dignity 30 years ago, and continues by lamenting “the enormous destruction recent Vatican documents have caused in the psychic life of young Catholic gays, and of the violence they will provoke against all gay people.”Gay Catholics, he says, have had “Enough!” With repeated cries of “Enough! Enough of …….” opening each section, his declaration rises in power and anger to its climax.

Holy Spirit in action?. Read the rest of this entry »