Tag Archives: More Light Presbyterians

40 Years In the Desert: Is the Promised Land in Sight? (Deuteronomy 8)

From the opening of the first reading for the feast of Corpus Christi, Year A (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14B-16A)

Moses said to the people:
“Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God,
has directed all your journeying in the desert,
so as to test you by affliction
and find out whether or not it was your intention
to keep his commandments. 

-V 2

desert-tracks

Queer readings of the Bible sometimes emphasise the story of Exodus, how the Israelites were led out of Egypt, the land of bondage, and into the promised land – just as the american civil rights movement did, years ago. However, it is perhaps more relevant, to recall that the Israelites’ deliverance was not an event, but a journey: the crossing of the Red Sea was followed by 40 years’ wandering in the desert, before the entry into the promised.

By a wonderful piece of timing, the US Presbyterians’ votes this week to permit same – sex weddings in at least some of their churches, and to support the global struggles against LGBT persecution, came on the same day that the Washington “March4Marriage” which was so strenuoulsy promoted by the religious right drew an response that was positively underwhelming. According to a facebook post at More Light Presbyterians on the day of the vote, General Assembly 221, which took these historic decisions, also marked a notable 40th anniversary of their own. It’s now 40 years since the first Presbyterian minister came out, very publicly, at a General Assembly

From the facebook post:

Today’s votes come 40 years after Rev. David Bailey Sindt showed up at G.A. with a sign, “Is anyone else out there Gay?” From that came PLGC / MLP. Today the hall was awash with rainbows, and the Spirit was at work. Thank you, David Sindt!

Actually, it’s 41 years. This was in fact in 1973, not 1974, but then biblical numbers are seldom meant to be taken precisely literally. GA 221 came also in the midst of Pride month, June – From a looser reading of “40 years”, we can also think back to Stonewall (1969, 45 years ago), or  to Rev James Stoll, the first ordained pastor to come out publicly as gay a few,moths after Stonewall, or to Rev Troy Perry, who founded the Metropolitan Community Church the year before that, or to Canon Derrick Sherwin Bailey, ,who in 1955 published “Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition”, the first notable book to challenge the traditional assumptions that the bible and homosexuality are in obvious conflict.

Whether we count it as 40 years, or half a century, it’s remarkable how far we’ve come, during these years of wandering in the desert of exclusion, in our journey of escape from the slavery of heteronormativity, and its attempts to force us to deny the truth of our sexual or gender natures, and our loves. Consider the fruits of these single pioneers:

  • Instead of a single pioneer at at General Assembly 1963, GA 2014 was “awash with rainbows”.
  • The year after James Stoll came out, the Unitarian Universalists passed the world’s first ever gay rights resolution, and later became the first church, anywhere, to conduct same – sex weddings – years before these could be recognized in law.
  • MCC, the church that Troy Perry founded with a small group in his living room, now has well – established congregations across the world.
  • Canon Bailey’s cautious book questioning the traditional Biblical interpretation on homosexuality, has been followed by what has become a flood of new titles, from every faith tradition, and moving from challenging the clobber texts, to celebrating LGBT figures in the Bible, to finding queer readings of a wide range of biblical texts (“The Queer Bible Commentary” devotes a chapter to every single book of the bible, except only the minor prophets, who share a chapter). 
  • From near invisibility in church, gay, lesbian and trans people are now serving openly as ministers in a wide range of denominations, in some cases even as bishops, moderators, and other leadership positions.

From widespread assumptions that the only unions that deserved celebration in church were marriages of different – sex couples, there are now many denominations that conduct either gay weddings, or confer blessings on same – sex couples. Many of those that do not, are visibly moving in that direction, with formal study groups of church commissions investigating.

For just about every major church grouping, there are signs of movement, either actively towards full LGBT inclusion, or at least away from previously harsh rhetoric and clear exclusion. Just as the start of our Exodus journey cannot be dated precisely to a single event, PCUSA’s three decisions this week do no mark the end of 40 years’ wandering in the desert of exclusion. There are many, many staging posts still to reach. But if we have not yet entered the promised land of full inclusion in church, we can at least begin to see it, or imagine it, in the distance.

Let us now read, and reflect on, today’s full reading from Deuteronomy:

Moses said to the people:
“Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God,
has directed all your journeying in the desert,
so as to test you by affliction
and find out whether or not it was your intention
to keep his commandments. 
He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger,
and then fed you with manna,
a food unknown to you and your fathers,
in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live,
but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.

“Do not forget the LORD, your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
that place of slavery;
who guided you through the vast and terrible desert
with its saraph serpents and scorpions,
its parched and waterless ground;
who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock
and fed you in the desert with manna,
a food unknown to your fathers.”

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Blessed Are the Queer in Faith – for They Shall Inherit the Earth

The Holy Spirit, "Leading Us To Recognize GLBT+ People" (Bishop Gene Robinson)

When Bishop Gene Robinson delivered the keynote address at More Light Presbyterians celebration dinner at 2012 General Assembly, he came under fierce attack in some quarters for some words about the value of MLP “sowing confusion” in the Presbyterian Church. This reaction was based on not only complete lack of understanding of what Robinson was getting at, but also and more seriously, a failure to see that the whole point of the Gospels is not as a defender of a traditional status quo, but as a transformative instrument, allowing the Holy Spirit to enter and transform our lives – and our societies.

In “Christ Transforming Culture” at More Light Presbyterians, there is an excerpt from Bishop Marc Handley Andrus explanation of why he and 28 other Episcopal bishops had submitted a friend of the court brief to the US Supreme Court in support of equal marriage – then continues with this extract from Bishop Robinson’s keynote address:

Jesus says this really astounding thing: “There is much that I would teach you. But you cannot bear it right now. So I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into all truth” (John 16:12-13). Don’t for a minute think that God is done with you, and those who come after you. Does anyone doubt that we were led by the Holy Spirit to turn our backs on defending slavery using Scripture? Is it not the Holy Spirit that is leading us to a fuller understanding of the gifts, integrities and experiences of women? And I would say that the Holy Spirit is leading us to recognize gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. We should see this as a sign of a living God. We don’t worship a God who stopped revealing God’s self at the end of the first century when the canon of scripture was closed.

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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.
Sometimes this is dramatic and hits the headlines, as in the ordination of openly gay or lesbian bishops, or approval for same sex weddings, or blessing same-sex unions, in church. Sometimes, it is less conspicuous, as where there is not  a new decision, but a gradual shift in emphasis by some Catholic bishops from outright condemnation, to more attention to the quality of relationships, and the importance of “dignity, compassion and respect”. Sometimes, it is marked only by local, personal experience, as individual church members and their families find that in many congregations (admittedly not all), they are able to worship and participate with full acceptance by fellow parishioners. For many people, this direct experience at parish level is far more important than the theoretical pronouncements from church leadership.
In the UK, one of the most prominent opponents of the LGBT- oriented Soho Masses is William Oddie. In the Sept-Oct issue of Faith Magazine, he rants once again about the continued existence of these Masses, and the role of the English bishops in supporting them. (Like the other opponents of these Masses, he totally ignores the even more important role of the Vatican itself, through the CDF, in their support). Introducing his lament, he refers to this time (of toleration for the Masses) as a “defining moment” for the English Catholic Church.
The affair of the Soho Masses has rumbled on for years now; and it has become one of the defining issues of the Catholic Church in England at the beginning of the new Millennium. That sounds a little pompous, maybe: but I predict nevertheless what, at my age, I will not live to see – that when the history of the English Church in this dire period for its fortunes is written, this subject will merit more than a passing footnote.
The question the affair poses is very simple: are those set in authority over us, the bishops, at this juncture in our history prepared to defend the teaching of the Church as though it were indeed, as Catholics have always believed, part of a body of faith given by God and not constructed by men?
When I first saw this, my immediate response was that he was grossly overreacting. On further reflection, I think he is right, but probably not in the way he intended, and not only for the English Catholic Church. This is not (as he thinks) about the bishops supposed failure to defend teaching “given by God”, but about moving away from sexual prejudices that were constructed by men, justified by distorted translations and misinterpretations of  a selected handful of Bible verses, and erroneously presented as central to Christian faith.
There is a much bigger, worldwide movement under way here, towards a more authentic understanding of Scripture and theology, and towards full inclusion for all in Church. William Oddie described this time as a “defining moment.” Theologian John McNeill has described it in more precise theological language as a “Kairos Moment“, a time ripe for transformation.  The Holy Spirit is everywhere to be seen, nudging us along the paths to change that are possible and appropriate in specific denominational, local and family circumstances.  It is incumbent on each one of us, queer and straight ally alike, to reflect and discern the ways in which we can best co-operate with the Spirit in her work.
Let us give thanks for the opportunity – and for my American readers, have a great holiday weekend.