Well, we finally did it. The PC(USA) took a demonstrative stand on the issue of homosexuality, and it has become quite the media sensation without and quite the firestorm within. I will admit to voting in favor of this amendment, and I will tell you why. Primarily I felt the former language of the rule limiting ordained office (ministers, elders, and deacons) to those "faithful in marriage and chaste in singleness" to be disingenuous. The church had no desire to become the bedroom police of it's heterosexual leadership, and no desire to take a stand on issues related to sexual promiscuity. The language was simply there to keep a gate closed to homosexuals and to turn a blind eye to those following social norms. I do not mean to say that the norm of marriage between a man and a woman is bad. I mean to say that we all know which speed limits are enforced and where to push the limit.
Beyond the double standard of the language, there are gays and lesbians who have served the church with gladness for years - probably from the beginning. There are also gays and lesbians with incredible gifts who have left the church because of the neglect or abuse they have received from those who claim to be loving as Christ loved.
I have never spoken publicly - or forthrightly in mixed groups - about my feelings because of my fear of reprisal, but many have known about (or assumed) my support of gay ordination for some time now. I suppose this is my own "Coming Out," and even as I write I am not sure if this will see the light of day.
Partially this is because of fear of how it will impact me and my family. Partially it is because of my concern for those I have been called to serve. My congregation is small but mighty. They are mostly older. We do have a few homosexuals who attend occasionally and feel welcome here. I have been straightforward with the congregation regarding the PC(USA)'s decision, and though a few are less than pleased I do not anticipate anyone leaving.
Friends and colleagues I know across the country have it a little differently. Some face schism in their congregations. Some have Ministers, Commissioned Lay Pastors, and Elders in their Presbytery making tremendous waves. One friend asked if I thought schism was bad for the church, historically. He also challenged me by asking what scriptural proof can be given to show congregants that ordaining homosexuals is a good thing. Both of these questions thoroughly challenged me, and I want to share my responses with you in case you have any thoughts to add to the conversation.
As to schism, has it not given greater witness to the church universal? Where would the proclamation of Jesus Christ be without the Protestant Reformation and the development of denominations? It's not directly related, but the current trend in church membership (which is not to join) may actually be a greater opportunity for connecting the witness of the church, and there is nothing that a new denomination or a swapping of sheep from one fold to the next can do about it.
As to the need for (or expectation of) schism. It seems to me that things are intractable. Many of those who are against 10a and want to stay only want to do so in order to martial resources, circle wagons, and consolidate power. The tension over homosexuality, in some ways, has become our identity. So much time and energy has been spent on this issue that could be spent on proclamation, justice, and kingdom living. I believe that we should find a way to let people leave with grace - even if that means taking their property with them.
Of course, nothing feels good or right about schism or loosing members. It even seems a bit like Jesus' warning in Mark 13:12 "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death."
That leads me to the scriptural argument - which is probably where I should have started, and where I remain challenged. I can tell you why the typical Bible passages are not sufficient to condemn (related to temple worship and Greco-Roman servitude, not loving monogamous relationships). I can tell you about a host of mandates from scripture that we neglect and ignore in the name of inclusivity, equality, and justice, but when it comes to something that says, "God blesses homosexual relationships" I am a little weak.
I can affirm John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
I can affirm that Jesus blessed the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew and Mark - healing her daughter by her faith.
I can affirm 2 Kings 5:18-19, the story of the foreign general, Namaan, healed by Elisha. He asks Elisha to forgive him when he kneels in the temple of Rimon with his master, even though he knows the Lord is God, and Elisha says, "Go in peace."
At the base of this (and the expected rebuttal) is the question of belief and transformation. Can a person be a homosexual and believe? Do gays and lesbians have faith? How can a person remain at peace with God while practicing an activity that pulls them from God? Personally, I think that if I, forgiven sinner who continues to transgress, can claim to believe, to have faith, and be transformed, then I can't say that someone else has not just because they are attracted to, or in a relationship with, someone else. I may not like it (some relationships are simply not healthy - gay or straight). I may not want to see it (not fond of overt displays of Affection between anyone - gay or straight), but I can still encourage a faithful response to grace under the Lordship of Christ (from anyone - gay or straight).
All of this reminds me of my friend, Nancy. She is a fun loving, rather intense young woman who barged into my office one day after school.
"I need to ask you a question."
"Can gay people be Christian?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Because I'm gay, and people at school are telling me I can't be a Christian! I need to know if I need to be a Buddhist or something."
"Well, Nancy, do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and do you believe he died for you?"
"Then I think you are a Christian."
We continued to talk, pray, and study together for the rest of the time I was at that church. Since then we have stayed in touch. Nancy has since converted to Judaism because she did not find a welcome embrace in the Christian faith - Presbyterian or otherwise. Recently, Nancy converted to Judaism. She has become more open to God's presence through the music and community of the Jewish faith. I couldn't be more proud of her for embracing God's calling, and she is more aware of herself as a child of God then she has ever been.
I do not want this to be our legacy. I do not want to be the church that encourages others to continue in their journey in a place where they can be more welcome. As I right this, I realize the hypocrisy of hoping that some may leave gracefully to make room for others. Sadly, we do not seem to be able to offer the love of God and the opportunity to respond in a way that makes all people feel welcome. So we move forward, attempting to be faithful, and we seek to be the living stones that Christ is using to build the Kingdom of God (1 Peter 2:2-10).
Grace and Peace to all...