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.

Out in Church: Summer Progress Expected

Change is coming, of that there can be no doubt. (Sadly, in spite of the suggestion by Cardinal Schonborn, I am not here referring to the Catholic Church, but to others. Just how long Rome can lag behind, is another matter.)

First, consider the progress up to now. The Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ accepted full inclusion some time ago, and have many openly gay, lesbian and trans pastors.  Last year, in a blaze of publicity, the ELCA voted to approve the recognition of lesbian or gay partners in committed and faithful permanent relationships, without the expectation of celibacy, on exactly the same basis as heterosexual marriages. That decision was accompanied by many dire warnings of doom, and predictions that many congregations would secede in protest. There have been some withdrawals, but as far as I can tell, not too many. Meanwhile, life in the ELCA has continued as normal, and the decision came into practical effect earlier this year.

In the Episcopalian/ Anglican communion, things are more complex, with international ties and allegiances also coming into play. The US Episcopalians have now consecrated two openly gay or lesbian bishops, and have nominated but not approved a few others. In the UK, that decision has been highly controversial, but is closely tied up with controversy over women bishops, which (unlike the US) have hitherto not been permitted. British Quakers resolved last year bless same sex couples in church, and were influential in the recent change in the law to permit civil partnerships in religious premises. Meanwhile, the Swedish Lutheran church has also ordained a lesbian bishop, and has agreed to apply the new law on same sex marriage in church as well. The Danish and Icelandic Lutherans are considering following their Swedish counterparts in applying their own countries’ laws on gay marriage when they are approved by parliament.

In the US and Europe, therefore, progress to full inclusion in church is substantial, at least in American mainline Protestant denominations and their European counterparts. Where can we expect the next victories? With the summer assembly season approaching, these are the major things we should be looking for. Read the rest of this entry »