At the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Minneapolis this past summer, the commissioners voted to send to the presbyteries for ratification an amendment to change G-6.0106b in the Book of Order and thus remove the denomination’s discriminatory ordination policy against gay and lesbian people. The text of the current provision and proposed change are at the end of this article.
If a majority of our 173 presbyteries approve the change, the new provision will be the new standard for the church. It won’t be easy. Two years ago a similar proposal was rejected by a majority of the presbyteries. It was heartbreakingly close. However, the close vote offered hope that perhaps the next time the change would come.
Now is that next time. It is time for this change. It is past time. Every vote in every presbytery counts.
Holston Presbytery will vote on Tuesday, December 7th at 9:00 a.m. at Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church in Kingsport.
Those who get to vote include minister members of the presbytery (like me). Also, each congregation sends an elder delegate who will vote his or her own conscience. Observers are welcome. While the track record of Holston Presbytery on this matter (3 to 1 against equality) leads me to be pessimistic about Holston voting in favor of the change, the debate and vote is crucial nonetheless.
As they say in church circles, the debate and vote is an opportunity to bear witness.
It is an opportunity to bear witness to the truth as opposed to the false witness that gay and lesbian people are “sinful” or that their relationships are “against the will of Christ” or that they are condemned by the Bible and on and on. All of that is a lie. It is false. It is wrong. That false witness hurts. In fact, it kills.
In an October 28th article, Chelsea.com reported that anti-gay bullying resulted in the deaths of
two 13-year-old boys, Asher Brown of Harris County, Texas, and Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California; two 15-year-olds, Justin Aaberg of Anoka County, Minnesota, and Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana; and 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman.Unfortunately, they are not the only ones by any means. Many more teens have taken their lives due to harassment. The church needs to take responsibility for its role in providing a cover for this bullying to take place. When a church body such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continues a policy of discrimination, that discrimination has effects on the lives of real people.
Imagine the healing that could happen if the church were to tell the truth! What if the church were to say clearly:
We were wrong and we are sorry. We realize now that being gay is not a sin. The sin is prejudice. The sin is not telling the truth about people. The sin is turning our sacred texts into weapons that are used to bully our own children. We are not going to do that anymore.Because I have been outspoken regarding nondiscrimination I get asked to serve on panel discussions or to speak to college classes about diversity. I am unique in that I am apparently one of the few ministers in our area who do not think gays are headed for hell. In these discussions, the students seem surprised that there actually could be a church anywhere let alone in East Tennessee that not only accepts but celebrates gay and lesbian people and their relationships. And we do. We do not discriminate in regards to membership or leadership. We use our space for holy union services (weddings) for same-gender couples. We support equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in our state and in our nation. I am sure there is more that we can do and will do to be a place of welcome and a safe harbor.
This past June we held a More Light Sunday service. We declared in worship who we are and why we are who we are. About forty people signed cards to send to our commissioners at General Assembly urging them to remove the discriminatory policies. Some of our church members knitted scarves for the commissioners to show our support. Our commissioners listened. Now it is our turn.
We are affiliated with More Light Presbyterians. MLP, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and That All May Freely Serve work for equality within the church. They are worthy of our support. On their websites you will find resources for ways in which you can help pass this amendment as well as find resources to help you in your own personal advocacy for equality.
I am proud to serve this congregation. I am proud of what we do and who we are. It matters.
Here is the current text, G-6.0106b, that was added to our constitution in 1997.
Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is 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. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.The vote before the presbyteries is to replace the above with the following new text:
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.