Category Archives: Other denominations

Presbyterian Assembly: Lesbian/Gay Ordination.

Last week, the PCUSA General Assembly meeting in Minnesota approved a decision to accept openly gay or lesbian pastors without any requirement of celibacy. This move, widely reported, follows a similar decision by the ELCA in the same venue a year ago. This should be a clear cause for celebration – but hold the applause for now. The same decision has been taken in previous years, without coming into effect. First, the GA decision must be ratified by local presbyteries, which is where it has come unstuck in the past. Does the present assembly decision represent real progress, or will there be yet another failure at grass roots?

At “More Light Ministries“, who will carry  a major share of the work promoting the idea to local congregations, the mood is optimistic, but conscious of the hard work involved:

We rejoiced with the extraordinary pro-LGBT vote approving by 53 to 46% a “Revise-B” Ordination Overture. This vote advances the moral equality of LGBT persons in both Church and society within the USA and around the world. There are Presbyterians in over 100 countries. So, creating one standard for ordination for all persons regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or any other human condition in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is remarkable statement for justice and equality.
Historic levels of support for Ordination Equality during the 2008-2009 Ordination Amendment 08-B Campaign offer hope and encouragement. We look forward to the life-giving and liberating conversations and work of a national ratification campaign to ensure passage of this overture. Everyone participating in this national grassroots ratification campaign will ensure its passage.

This is the fourth year that this decision has been approved at GA – but the margin this year is almost unchanged from last year (in fact, support has slipped slightly – from 54 /46 last year, to 53/46 this year. At least one report from the grassroots, in a region where the decision was rejected last year, the expectation is that there will still be no ratification.  This is from “The State” (South Carolina):

The debate over the ordination of practicing homosexuals to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church USA once again moves to the local level, leaving some clergy energized and others worn out by the continuing debate.
“I’m frankly weary of it,” said the Rev. Scott Bowerman, pastor of New Kirk Presbyterian Church in Northeast Richland and an opponent of a more liberal ordination policy. “I’ve been talking about it for 20 years, and I’ve been involved in study groups and debates and conversations. I’ve not changed my position over time.”
“I hesitate to count the number of ways that we have dealt with this,” said the Rev. Alan Arnold, leader of Trinity Presbytery, which oversees 67 PCUSA congregations in the Midlands. “It has been four or five times that it has gone back to the presbyteries.”
He predicted Trinity Presbytery would again reject the new overture, despite updated language that makes no mention of gays and lesbians. The new language states that “standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.”
-Read more at  “The State
Does that mean that the motion is doomed, yet again, to an endless stalemate? Not necessarily. There are strong grounds for hope, even so – and even if the ratification drive does fail.
First, the new moderator is strongly in favour of LGBT equality and inclusion. It is likely that her backing will help to strengthen the continuing work on the ground, at local level. It is entirely possible that some of the presbyteries that narrowly defeated the proposal last year may now switch sides.
Even if ratification is  not achieved, gains will have been made.  In a less widely reported move, the Assembly also voted to extend spousal benefits applicable to staff to LGBT couples on exactly the same basis as married staff. This is in itself an important symbolic move (and a hugely practical one for the people directly affected), and will help to set the mood for future votes, if they are required again.
Win or lose, the process is important. Once again, I am impressed by the discussion, debate and prayer that goes into decisions at these assemblies, which is such a contrast to the Vatican method of simply dictating from on high. We know from experience that where people of good will sincerely discuss pray over matters of homosexuality and faith, minds are changed. Sometimes firm opposition becomes tolerance, sometimes indifference is moved to active support – and sometimes a full Damascene conversion takes place, whereby former hostility is replaced by repentance and advocacy. The Rev. Peter Hobbie, a religion professor at Presbyterian College, said Monday he believes the continued examination of the issue is reflective of the Presbyterian system where “you keep dealing with it until there is a resolution.”
“I know that some people are getting tired of talking about it,” Hobbie said. “But you have to admire the people who deeply believe that it is a cause for justice and what it means to be a Christian.
“I think this is a very crucial issue in the life of the church and I think that it is one we should pursue,” Hobbie said, likening it to the battles over women’s ordination and integration 40 and 50 years ago. “I hope that more and more people are getting to know gays and lesbians and know what these Christians have done for the church.”

But the most important source of hope is fundamental.  Ultimately, it is not human actions that will decide these things, but God, who will not allow injustice to prevail. (For the arguments in favour of full ordination for gay and lesbian clergy, see the “Overture Advocates’ Speeches

"And Grace Will Lead Me Home": A Conservative, Evangelical, Theological Case for Gay Marriage

There are, thankfully, many sources available today which can counter and debunk the infamous clobber texts which have for so long been used abused in the course of bigotry and exclusion. There are also an increasing number of progressive theologians who have thoughtfully addressed considered matters from an LGBT or queer perspective, and developed a growing body of gay and lesbian, or queer, theology. What we do not often see is sympathetic theology from a conservative evangelical straight ally.
I was delighted therefore. to come across a recent paper by Dr Mark, Achtemeier, who describes himself as can “out, self-affirming, practicing conservative evangelical”, in which he tells of the process of theological enquiry which led him to reverse his longstanding opposition to LGBT inclusion, and instead to argue in favour of same –sex marriage and ordination. Addressing the Covenant Network of Presbyterians on November 5 2009, Dr Achtermeier begins cautiously:
I have every confidence in the ability of my colleagues to address this discussion with genuine wisdom and deep insight. For myself I confess the topic makes me nervous. The reason is this: if you had told me just eight or nine years ago that on this date I would be standing before this group, speaking out in favor of marriage and ordination for lesbian and gay Christians, I would have declared you out of your mind.
But here I am, and here you are. And all I can say is that because of this experience I have learned never to make confident predictions about any situation in which God is involved.

This point about God’s own involvement is crucial. A further key point, one which we as gay men, lesbian and trans people of faith would do well to a ponder carefully, was that the transition began when he started to speak with gay and lesbian Christians themselves, and came to see how false were the stereotypes and assumptions that he had previously taken for granted. God, he says, “had other plans” than his earlier equanimity, and led him to serious conversation and friendship with some gay Christians. Getting to know them, talking to them, showed how deeply his earlier assumptions had come out of reading only the authors he already agreed with, and was based on the popular stereotypes of gay people. Talking to these people, he says, was a surprising and unsettling experience, because he discovered that entirely against his preconceptions, he found that these people shared a deep Christian faith similar to his own, who were willing to engage with him in frank and conversation in spite of their knowledge of his own deep opposition. He then found how his earlier “comfortable settled convictions started to crack”.
These false assumptions were:
  • Homosexuality is a destructive addiction – which means that talk of “justice” , “rights”, or “compassion” are meaningless.
  • Homosexuals are self-indulgent, putting their own self-gratification above all else
Instead, he found what is well known to us, and to any one who has looked at the research evidence. A same sex orientation is deep-seated in our make-up, not amenable to “change”, and that the people he was talking with were “devoted Christian believers, filled with grace and a loving concern for the downtrodden…and deeply engaged in spiritual discipline”: typical Christians, in fact, just like him. He was also surprised to find that they resembled him in another important respect – their lifelong commitments to partners.
One of the religious arguments against “homosexuals” is that such “acts” are said to lead us away from God. Talking to real people showed Achtemeier how by focussing instead on the relationships, he discovered that these were leading people not away from God, but to Him – in exactly the same way that he believed his own marriage drew him closer to God.
However, he also faces the fact, uncomfortable for evangelicals with a strict respect for Scripture, that he is, or may be, putting experience ahead of scripture. Struggling with this, he remembered a story from Augustine, who quotes from I John 2:6, that we should “walk in the way of the Lord” – and then refers to the celebrated passage in which the Lord walked on water. Quite clearly, it is not possible to accept every text precisely literally. He then concludes that what he is doing, in reflecting on his experience, is not putting above Scripture, but using it to interpret Scripture.
Looking again at Scripture, he found a powerful Scriptural basis to argue in favour of marriage equality. In Genesis 2, God says “It is not God for man to be alone. I will give him a companion to help him.”
This leads him to an extended discussion of the standard Calvinist theology against celibacy. (This is based on the idea from Paul that although celibacy is an ideal for those who are able to practice it, most people are unable to. To protect weaker men (which means most of us) from the sins that this inability will lead to, Paul encourages marriage). He recognises from his own life that living singly, before marriage, He realises that many of the stereotypes he has acquired of gay people are based on single people, deprived of the opportunity of marriage.
This is an excellent, thought-provoking article, which deserves to be read in full (do so here), especially by other conservative evangelicals. However, they are unlikely to be reading “Queering the Church”, so I will restrict my comment to its significance for queer Christians – and especially my cp-religionists in the Catholic Church.
First, note the importance of conversation. Dr Achtermerier’s conversion would not have begun without the dialogue with gay Christians who were willing to engage with him in full frank and friendly conversation, even though they knew (to start with) that he was strongly opposed, on firm religious grounds, to everything they stood for. Yet they persevered, and in this case, won a valuable ally. (I am quite sure that not every conversation results in a conversion. There will be many disappointments. The perseverance in the face of other setbacks is what makes the achievement of Dr Achtermeier’s friends especially notable.)
To get these conversations going, the “welcoming and affirming” programme now found in several denominations (such as the Presbyterian Moe Light churches) are invaluable.
In the Catholic church, opportunities for such interaction with Catholic decision makers are limited – Catholic bishops are not renowned for their skills a the “listening church” they proclaim themselves to be. However, there are opportunities to talk one to one with ordinary Catholics in conventional congregations, and with local parish priests. Mark Jordan “The Silence of Sodom” warns against the futility of trying to argue rationally with the institutional Church, and he is right. But it is certainly possible to talk rationally with ordinary Catholics, and often with the local priest as well,
This is why dedicated, explicitly queer congregations such as London’s Soho Masses are not enough. T
here have enormous value, as moral and emotional support for those who are just beginning to face the facts of their situation in the institutional Church, as support and spiritual sustenance for those of us who have moved on to advance the struggle by other means, and for their symbolic value. But they do nothing to change the perceptions of ordinary Catholics, in ordinary congregations. For that, we also need people to participate in local parishes, to become visible, and to engage in frank conversations with their new co-parishioners.
Secondly, note that we are not alone in this. Early in his address, Fr Achetemeier refers to God’s role in moving his ideas along “God had other ideas”). As Catholics, we tend to be less aware of this than the Protestants, but it is an important point. Fr John McNeill has repeatedly reminded us that the Holy Spirit has a way of turning te most unpromising circumstance to her advantage, and my be doing now, with the abundant evidence of clerical failings all around us. He is right.
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