A ‘quieter battle’ over … gay marriage and ordination

If you watch internal church debates, you know that nothing gets people riled up more than just about anything to do with sex: premarital sex, homosexuality, you name it. People feel quite passionately about these issues, enough to part ways with one another. So I laughed out loud when I read a line from a piece published in New York Times about a “quieter battle” being waged within churches over gay marriage and gay ordination.

The piece from the Bay Citizen juxtaposes the Proposition 8 question in California with mainline Protestant churches struggling over internal church leadership debates.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit earlier this month upheld a decision declaring Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, unconstitutional. The ruling represented a milestone in the secular struggle over gay rights. In the shadow of that struggle, however, a quieter battle is being waged within churches over whether gay people can be married and ordained.

How can you quantify whether the mainline church’s struggle over gay ordination is quieter than the “secular struggle over gay rights”? Haven’t denominations split and churches waged court battles over these questions?

Long before the issue of same-sex marriage grabbed the spotlight, liberal Protestant pastors in Northern California were fighting against church rules prohibiting ordination and marriage of homosexuals. That internal church struggle is broadening nationwide.

The above paragraph feels rather broad. Is there a way to point to when these pastors began fighting on gay ordination and gay marriage?

And in her church’s liberal California-Nevada conference, 114 pastors from Northern California have signed a petition declaring they are willing to perform holy union ceremonies for same-sex couples, and thus risk being defrocked for violating church rules. More than 1,100 United Methodist pastors nationwide have signed the pledge. In response, 2,700 conservative pastors have signed a letter criticizing those pastors’ stance.

When the “conservative” pastors (conservative is a rather unhelpful word, by the way) outnumber the other group two to one, you would think they would get at least equal representation in the article, perhaps? How many people are quoted on the pro-gay ordination side? Six. How many against? Two. Here’s one of the quotes from the two who are against:

“There’s no way I can uphold my ordination vows and be in ministry with those people,” said Carmen Fowler LaBerge, a former pastor at Providence Presbyterian Church in Hilton Head, S.C., who resigned in protest over the denomination’s acceptance of gays and lesbians. She went on to lead the Presbyterian Lay Committee, a group that advocates against acceptance of gays and lesbians within the church.

Is the pastor against the acceptance of gays and lesbians as members, gay ordination, gay marriage, or something else? Generally, you get the sense that the reporter isn’t exactly eager to portray why opponents of gay ordination believe what they do, especially compared to the final quote.

“Those of us who are progressive people of faith often find ourselves caught in the middle,” said Mr. Stringfellow, whose job at the Pacific School of Religion includes developing a gay-inclusion curriculum aimed at historically black churches. “People in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community look at you with suspicion, or call you naïve because of your faith. And then there are people in the religious community who say you are in violation of the faith because of your sexuality.
“In the New Testament, the gentiles were seen as those who were outside God’s promise,” he said. “But the Apostle Paul was preaching to the gentiles. So the very concepts, issues and conflicts they had then in including people who had been received as outsiders, we’re still dealing with today.”

It’s clear that the reporter had the space to quote people at length. Again, the question for me is why people fall on the specific side that they do, and the quotes don’t do a great job of getting us that basic info. This has nothing to do with how you or I feel about the issue but about whether the story was executed fairly.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • http://www.lovemorefeedless.com Rueandy

    Although I appreciate the diversty of relgigious beliefs, the issue of SEX used to be a private issue and was once preferred as an issue to be discussed behind closed doors.

    Yet the media brought it out into the open–not the individuals. Sure there are Gay people who prefer to open up about their perfesonal preference yet most continue to prefer to keep their sex lives private. Yet when the media made sex public on Mags, TV and all over the internet then how can the church prevent sexual acts in public.

    Just becaue one may be gay does not imply that they do not believe in God, Budda, Mohammad or Allah as well as the others. Yes traditionally speaking a marriage is between 2 people who vow to cherish, respect and be there there for one another in good and bad times for richer or poorer. And although the church may not see all unions as acceptable but why should the LAW prevent such unions?

    And why should does the media promote one type of union as acceptable and another not. IF the media were to get out of another’s bedroom maybe people would begin to accept another for who they, rather than what they do behind doors. Sadly gay sexual preferences is not who the entire person is yet the media fails to draw this line!
    BTW: No I am not gay, yet I do accpet people for who they are not what they do behind closed doors.

  • drdanfee

    Has this author been away on vacation? The legacy negative religious views instruct us all to conclude that not being straight, i.e., being LGBT … is dirty … damaged plus further damaging in other areas … and dangerous. Yes, various religions and faith communities work out their own technical details in slightly different doctrines or preaching; however the unholy triad (dirt, danger, damage) is always at the core of all the technical theology going on.

    The quiet struggle, if we have one inside faith communities, is the deep intellectual sea change that may be painfully occurring as we learn new (and often a bit startling) data from the new Biology flooding out upon us. Legacy Christian Anthropology is struggling with the constant stream of new data updates, at so many different levels at once that it looks overall as if an intellectual revolution is taking place all around us.

    It needed many years for Ptolemaic Cosmology to fall into disuse, partly since that cosmology had been blessed and integrated by the western Christian church into its theology and ways of life. The speed of new discoveries in human sciences and biology is far greater than in the era of Galileo, Copernicus, and Bruno. The most public side of this shift is often the loud, strong claim that religious truth is eternal revelation, so has not, cannot, and will never change. The Ptolemy Cosmos lesson advises us otherwise, though it took centuries.

    Another hidden side of this change may be the fact that many religious leaders inside mainstream Christian denominations are growing weary of the extra negative work burdens imposed on all of us by the core antigay legacy threesome involving dirt, damage, and danger. How indeed can one maintain this triad, up close and personal as a key faith pledge? … when in contradiction of the triad one daily encounters ethical, competent, sometimes very gifted LGBT people at school, work, in extended family networks, among friends in social settings, and committed to raising productive children as a family in our own local neighborhoods?

    The gaps between what the legacy says LGBT folks essentially are, and the daily life realities of who LGBT folks truly are … that contrast between what and who is telling? … are slowly but surely widening. The wider those gaps, the more we must work to keep the negative legacy dominant.

  • MJBubba

    The topic is a struggle within church bodies in which the media were cheerleaders for the side of innovation and overturning traditional interpretations of scripture.
    The struggle over LGBT persons as lay leaders, priests, bishops, in the Episcopal Church was pretty well covered, and was anything but quiet. The struggle in other denominations has been just as emotionally wrought, but for reasons that Professor Mattingly documented in 1994, they got no media juice: http://www.tmatt.net/tmatt/freelance/ecpress.htm
    The Episcopal liberals succeeded in driving off so many orthodox Christians that they now have the votes, and the result is that none of the media types care about a battle that has been won.
    The rest of the American churches are settling into denominational splits that resolve the issue, as far as mass media types are concerned. They can now succinctly identify the good guys and the bad guys from their perspective without having to actually learn anything.

  • Mark Erickson

    Just wanted to make sure you’ve realized by now that minority atheism is a huge storyline.

  • Jeff

    Mark Erickson,

    Sarah has realized that atheists are a minority — a dwindling statistical blip, worldwide — if that’s what you mean.

  • http://areformedcatholicinthepcusa.blogspot.com RC

    FWIW … I do not believe that Carmen Fowler LaBerge said this in this way: “There’s no way I can uphold my ordination vows and be in ministry with those people,”

    Carmen gave up her ordination because of the ordination vow she made to uphold the Scriptures as the authentic Word of God handed down. She did not want to be put in the position of having to agree to the ordination of an unrepentant, sexually active outside of marriage person who is straight or gay.

    The removal from the PC(USA)’s Book of Order of the clause that prohibited ordination of sexually active persons has caused over 25 churches to leave, and at least 200 more in the process of leaving.