My Hopes as Presbyterians Vote for Inclusion

My Hopes as Presbyterians Vote for Inclusion May 10, 2011

UPDATE: Amendment 10a passed the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, 205 in favor, 56 against, 3 abstentions.

Originally, I was tying to track some of the responses, but Robert Austell is building a much more complete list of responses from all perspectives. Here are just a few:

Today the Presbyterian Church (USA) will most likely cross the threshold on a vote to change language in our constitution that, for more than a decade, has required ordained leadership in our church to hold a position of fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.  The battle over this part of our constitution has been going on for years and, regardless of what people have tried to say, this has always been about homosexuality and whether or not we will recognize LGBT folks as being called into ordained leadership in the  Presbyterian Church (USA).

Over the years, I  have been very clear about my position on LGBT ordination knowing that I have the luxury of staying, serving and speaking out in the denomination.  Like so many, I have felt called to persevere on behalf of so many who are forced to live in secret, have left the church altogether and/or have been harmed by the rhetoric and actions that have been part of our theological and ideological battles.

Today or soon after, this will change for the Presbyterian Church (USA) and I am joyful at the core of my soul.

I also know that there are many who will see this move as one more example of a church that is falling further away from God’s intentions for humanity.  Some will leave our denomination, some will stay and fight and others will simply find a way to live in the midst of disagreement.  Anger will be spoken, sadness will be felt and many of our brothers and sisters will be in pain.

My hope for the Presbyterian Church – my family – is this, that no matter where we land on the other side of this vote, we rise above any language or actions that would tear down the dignity of the other.  Whether righteous indignation or jubilant relief, I hope that graciousness will reign, for if we cannot sit in both joy and despair without having to resort to destroying one another then we dishonor the Body of Christ of which we are all a part.

So this day, I will rejoice with many and I will weep with joy for friends long yearning for this day; but, I will be gracious to those for whom there will be no joy during this time in the life of our denomination for they too are my brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you would like to track the most up-to-date results of voting you can follow me on twitter and or follow the twitter hashtags: #10a or #pcusa. The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area meeting where the threshold vote may take place around 3:00pst can be tracked at #ptca.

If you are from the outside looking in or have great investment in the outcome of this vote, please lift all members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in your prayers this day and into the future.


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64 responses to “My Hopes as Presbyterians Vote for Inclusion”

  1.  In the Sunday, May 15 LOS ANGELES TIMES: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-tremba-presbyterians-20110515,0,4233480.story

  2. @29941144ece05e193aae3432aa3323ea:disqus Thank you for your response. Graciousness does not have to mean compromising one’s deeply held beliefs.  Now how we live that together, for those who choose to do so, will continue to be the challenge.

  3. I greet this news with sadness, but beyond that I’m uncertain how to respond. 10-A paves the way for the sanctioning of something that, in my reading of Scripture, is not sanctioned. Nevertheless, the interpretation of Scripture cannot be a private matter and must be lived out in the community of faith, so I’m torn. I don’t know how to respond. 

    We conservatives must resist the temptation to equate belief in the authority of Scripture with agreeing with our interpretation of Scripture. The last thing I want to do is reject those whom Christ receives. Truth in love, brothers and sisters, truth in love.

    May God have mercy on all of us in our weakness and blindness.

  4. One thing that I feel is a real challenge for anyone considering separation (I’m not one of them, but I feel I know enough that I can say this with integrity) is that, if you value the ordination of women (yet are at best ambivalent about gay ordination), there aren’t a lot of options on where you’d go. Although EPC does ALLOW for women’s ordination (as mentioned above in response to another comment of mine), it’s a “local option” that’s really quite ineffectual in actually getting women into pulpits, because so many congregations remain, at best, ambivalent about WOMEN as pastors. If you’re a woman called to ordained ministry trying to decide whether to stay or go, I daresay its even worse, because your prospects of finding a job would diminish dramatically if you leave.

    (Full disclosure for those who don’t know: while I am in the PC(USA), my wife is an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church of America)

  5. One last comment in response to “what is going to happen next?”.. I doubt that anyone can predict. Y’all will loose some members, y’all will gain some. You may loose a whole church. Hopefully you won’t loose a whole presbytery – apparently over here in the Episcopal Church (TEC) we lost a whole diocese.. I go to a church that fully embraces the ordination of openly gay and lesbian members, but my uncle’s church has taken a neutral stance on the issue. As with the TEC (and the ELCA) it’s unlikely this is the end of the PCUSA. Hopefully people will be able to have loving, respectful disagreements and remember that it’s about God, and Jesus, His resurrection and love for a denomination as reasons to stick with the PCUSA.

    Oh, and this response isn’t really for you Bruce.. I know you know this. I suspect you watched what happened in the TEC and the ELCA, especially when you were moderator. You were in a position to potentially be moderator when this [finally] passed. This is more for others who are thinking about what is next.

    God’s peace be with the PCUSA as you all move forward to understand what this means for your individual churches and your denomination as a whole.

  6. I actually agree with you about embracing the T in our institutions. I don’t think they are ready to, and I hope you didn’t take my comment as an insinuation that now the PCUSA needs to jump right into the T. It was meant to be more of a “use the correct language” kinda post. As an allies of the T community we don’t have to say trans as we are referring to issues that address sexual orientation, but not gender identity, for example this issue. I believe it is a way of putting it out there, in a not in your face way, that the trans community exists and that their issues are different than the issues for the gay and lesbian (who aren’t trans as well) community. I hope that makes sense.

  7. “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave
    themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an
    example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”

    Jude 1

  8. Jude . . . Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the
    salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for
    the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about
    Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe . . .

  9. One isn’t to have fellowship with the unrepentant sexually immoral who claim to be Christian. Unless you can make the case that you can have zero fellowship with someone in the same denomination. To remain is to open your church up to this error and to tacitly say “you can be a Christian in good standing with this unrepentant sin.”

    Where a church should go is up to them. EPC (if memory serves) allow for a local option on women’s ordination.

    As to worship, that is based on theology and convictions. And the we can’t be too sure about anything mushiness isn’t going to produce any sort of convictions about worship beyond “we like it this way.” Why not merge? I would guess the answer will be no. But there is no reason not to.

  10. I’m not quite clear on what you’re asking, so pardon me if I misrepresent your question in my response, and feel free to correct.

    Do you mean to suggest that anyone who isn’t convinced that gays should be ordained should leave the PC(USA) now? I find that prospect deeply troubling. Now, if you mean instead that those who cannot ACCEPT that such people WILL be ordained in our denomination should leave, I agree with you. But for those who simply don’t agree on the sin issue (or otherwise were against voting “yes” on this amendment), to leave strikes me as an over-reaction, and one with potentially negative consequences on several levels.

    Just to give one: it has been my experience that groups who have left denominations because of gay ordination (but who didn’t have a problem with women’s ordination) often end up joining up with denominations that have stricter standards on other issues (such as women’s ordination).

    So, say you’re a woman who feels called to ordained ministry, but who can’t in good conscience agree with ordaining gays. Do you stay with the denomination that ordains practicing homosexuals, or do you go to the denomination that isn’t as open to women’s ordination?

    You also ask “what valid reason is there for not merging with the Episcopals, Methodists, and mainline Lutherans, etc.(?)” Even if there is widespread agreement on doctrinal issues (and I’m not saying that there actually is), each of these denominations still has widely different traditions when it comes to worship practices. There remains much to overcome even if merging is something considered a desirable outcome.

  11. I Cor. 5 necessitates that people who feel otherwise have to split and get out of the PCUSA. Now the big question for the PCUSA is what valid reason is there for not merging with the Episcopals, Methodists, and mainline Lutherans, etc.

    But you have to admit that people who refused to enforce the previous ordination standard were being deceitful. Not to mention those who chose to get ordained when they were breaking those standards.

  12. Like so many, I have felt called to persevere on behalf of so many who
    are forced to live in secret, have left the church altogether and/or
    have been harmed by the rhetoric and actions that have been part of our
    theological and ideological battles.

    I don’t want to overplay this “on the other side” aspect, but I do think that this has held true, and will continue to hold true, for people who oppose gay ordination, as well. (Perhaps depending on certain circumstances such as geo-political climate) This is not to diminish the struggles of those who have fought for equality, but I know that there are those who have been on “the other side” have felt stifled, as well. We must not forget them.

  13. @afe43a4cba2ae8e43c10462605cb9086:disqus Thanks for this. My first reaction is yeah, you are right, but in all honesty, I think we are not ready, willing or knowledgable enough to embrace institutional change around the “T” component. As you say, transgender folks have been marginalized by the LG community, so I think it would be difficult for those of us “allies” to have an informed and helpful understanding of the whats and hows of what needs to happen next. Not right, not worth letting remain the way it is, but that would be my honest assessment of why we are where we are now.

  14. @d2e477d7f92b6258941f2cfa9e5b1e2c:disqus I think that is a great point and one that we should address in this way . . . can we see that churches will grow in different ways, even with different theological perspectives? The church I pastor has grown, but our primary focus is not to grow, but to make disciples and serve in the world. Might be splitting hairs, but I think that scapgoating a position for a decline in the denomination does not take seriously the cultural realities that impacted ALL denominational realties over the past 40 years. There is not ONE reason that we have declined and to blame one side or the other on the issues of hoosexuality is a weak argument IMHO.

  15. @ca1a9ee8983f7a95866c44bd22f73b1d:disqus Well obviously I disagree with your assessment and analysis of the situation, but I am grateful that you took the time to comment. I will say that my challenge to not tear eachother down was not actual addressed to one side or the other. In fact, I would say that it was more a pre-emptive call for non-triumphalist expressions of Joy. But, as any preacher knows, what one intend to say, for goor or bad, is not always what is heard. Again, thanks for commenting.

  16. argh.. that should have been:

    “During a discussion at First Pres of Logan, during my stop in your denomination, I pointed out that there wasn’t anything in the original amendment that said that someone with a different gender identity than the one they were assigned by biology as their sex COULDN’T be ordained”

  17. Hey Bruce – Congratulations on this! I was there last time around, and now seeing it from the outside I’m thrilled for the PCUSA that it has finally taken this step…

    One thing.. and I’m saying it now for the second time in the blogsphere.. the original amendment did not address gender identity.. now, this new amendment doesn’t address it either.. it doesn’t address anything about sexuality specifically.. so, does this mean that those in the PCUSA who have been so adamant about passing this amendment and being accepting of the GL will be as adamant about accepting the T into the clergy as well?

    During a discussion at First Pres of Logan, during my stop in your denomination, I pointed out that there wasn’t anything in the original amendment that said that someone with a different gender identity than the one they were assigned by biology as their sex could be ordained, but on further listening around the church via the net I learned that the PCUSA hasn’t embraced their T brothers and sisters as they have worked to embrace the G and L brothers and sisters… I suspect you know all this. You are a pastor in San Fran, how can you not be aware of the Trans community…

    So, what does this mean for the Trans community? Will they be tokens for the G/L community in the PCUSA as they are every place else? GLBT is the known lettering for this community, but it’s rare to see the T actually being addressed, most of the time it’s just the G and L that is addressed and there is no mention of gender identity.

    Oh, and please know that, as I learn more about the Episcopal Church, I doubt that the Episcopal Church as embraced the T as it has the G and L. I doubt the ELCA church has as well.. but that’s a question I’ll ask our local ELCA pastor this weekend when I see her next.

  18. @geoffrobinson:disqus Obviously this is a matter of opinion and discernment. The bigger questions for me now is what next for those who disagree with what has happened. There will certainly be a variety or responses with all claiming the moral high ground, but I wonder what that will truly look like as we move through this as brother and sisters in Christ.

  19. @92155921c56f394cd022f469fdcf0304:disqus Thank you for offering this. I think it is helpful as all take some time to reflect on the most faithful responses in support of or in opposition to what has just happened.

  20. So instead of lying and sinning by being deceitful and breaking ordination standards and not enforcing valid ordination standards, the PC(USA) now just has a plain old sinful standard they can live by.

    If our view of God doesn’t challenge our behavior but just acts as rubber stamp of what we desire to do, that should be a warning sign that your god is actually an idol.

  21. Your “Vote for Inclusion” is a de facto vote for exclusion. By including the view that LGBT ordination is moral you effectively exclude everyone who views it as immoral. Are you so blinded to this duplicity?

    Secondly, those with enough moral vertebrae to speak out on a lifestyle that God has unequivocally condemned are not “destroying one another,” it is not the person we target (of course there will always be some). We, I hope, can still distinguish the sin from the sinner. The Church needs to minister to LGBT persons, not to be ministered by them. Is our moral compass calibrated to the World or to God? One is perishing and it cares not who it takes with it.

  22. I to am hopeful that all our brothers and sisters in Christ can resolve this within themselves and not externally in a destructive manner. However, no matter how well this is handled in a social setting, we as a denomination will not ever be at peace as long as we deny the unequivocal and unquestionable guidance of the Bible. This has been the basis of our Reformed heritage and should not be changed. God Bless all Believers.

  23. @Johnny, I believe sexual activity of any kind IS a choice in lifestyle made by each of us, regardless of sexual orientation, and I believe that chastity and fidelity are still (or should be) relevant religious standards for clergy and members, alike… right-handed or left-handed.

  24. @Eva2691, if the leading minds of the Presbyterian Church can’t fix this important issue of human rights and equity, then the Church is not worth saving, far less growing. Marx would say with your story there that you are a perfect case study for the case of “false consciousness”. You need to break free. And to describe homosexuality as a “personal lifestyle” is incredible in this day and age. Nowhere do we say that a left-handed person has chosen a left-handed lifestyle – yet being gay and being left-handed are identity issues. You fly in the face of mainstream psychological and medical knowledge with this unfeeling approach.

  25. @Eva2691, if the leading minds of the Presbyterian Church can’t fix this important issue of human rights and equity, then the Church is not worth saving, far less growing. Marx would say with your story there that you are a perfect case study for the case of “false consciousness”. You need to break free. And to describe homosexuality as a “personal lifestyle” is incredible in this day and age. Nowhere do we say that a left-handed person has chosen a left-handed lifestyle – yet being gay and being left-handed are identity issues. You fly in the face of mainstream psychological and medical knowledge with this unfeeling approach.

  26. With all this concern about “saving” the Presbyterian church, and the need for graciousness and unity, it’s interesting that we don’t seem to be concerned with what our Lord called us to do and that is to “grow” the Kingdom of God, otherwise the Great Commission wouldn’t be so great. Our Lord gave us a wonderful blueprint in the Sermon on the Mount. Let us do as we have been commanded, and yes the Word of God does make a difference.

  27. This seems to be a no brainer compared to the virgin birth and eternal damnation vs salvation, and creationism.

  28. Thanks, Bruce, very well said. I may quote you, since I’m also hoping that graciousness will reign and the family can stay together.

  29. I keep trying to enter the pool (“two presbyteries down, 171 to go” is my motto). I just have had a hard time getting excited about 10A, but as I said, I really do hope it makes a huge difference for others.

  30. I don’t believe we are called to do what is popular, but rather, what is just. (That said, it’s interesting that the UUAs have had a steady increase in membership over the last few years. Add to that the steady increase in the MCC. Your statement “Every church” may be painted with too broad a brush, I fear)

    Will this save the PCUSA? Depends on what you think the PCUSA needs to be saved *from* and how one goes about judging that salvation. Is it numbers? I’m not sure.

  31. Bruce thank you for your words. I spent 3 years in seminary convinced that changing ordination standards was the wrong way to go- I have since changed my mind on this and now support the vote and pray that it will lead to a more diverse and healthy body of Christ. I think that the central point must be that we are gracious towards one another no matter what we think about the issue- thanks for verbalizing that. I have had more than enough problems with my own CPM, and I am a white, straight male. 🙂

  32. @
    ἐνδεκα With all due respect, nowhere do I say this will save the denomination. I hope that is not what you heard or if you did, let me correct that assumption. In fact, I challenge those, left or right, who focus on “saving” the church or denominational survival. Numbers as a driving force is a false God in my opinion, and I speak as a church planter for the past 12 years. I firmly believe that if we are faithful – and may even be wrong sometimes – God will have us be the size we are going to be: 2 million or 500K.

  33. One thing taken into consideration by almost every denomination that has approved homosexual ordination is the ”
    many who are forced to live in secret, have left the church altogether and/or have been harmed by the rhetoric and actions that have been part of our theological and ideological battles.
    ” I’m wondering why this keeps coming up, unless by “many” you meant “an undetectably small number.” Every church that has gone this route has seen either a continual slow decline in membership, or else a catastrophic drop in membership. If a multitude of people were waiting in the wings to get excited about Christianity again, the UCC and Episcopal church would be dominating Christianity in the United States. Those who think this is going to “save” the denomination or lead to some kind of revival of vibrant orthopraxy are in for a colossal
    disappointment
    . I fully expect to see the denomination fall below 500,000 members by the time I die.

  34. Sorry to hear that your experience has been like that and I do know that you are not alone. I suspect one way that will change things is that those who have dropped out of the process before even starting the process – totally understandable – MAY now feel as if they can enter the pool.

  35. Thank you sir. I always appreciate your thoughts and your ability to reach out to all, even when disagreement is evident. Graciousness is the right word and the right action. Bless you and all of us. amen.

  36. While I am thrilled that the hurtful language will change, I’m still not convinced that it will make that much of a difference as far as ordination is concerned.

    I only have anecdotal evidence from my own experience, but it seems that no matter what the constitution says, the primary ordination standard of the PC(USA) is “Can you get half the people at that CPM or Presbytery meeting to vote for you?”

    If you can then you have a chance, if you can’t then it doesn’t make an iota of difference whether they’re voting against you for constitutional reasons or because they don’t like the way you’re dressed. As an Inquirer, Candidate or one applying to be an Inquirer, you have absolutely zero recourse when the good people in the Presbytery or CPM vote against you. By PJC precedent, the fact that they voted against you is, in itself, “sufficient cause” for you to be removed from the rolls.

    Again, I’m thrilled that the language is being changed, and I pray that it will help someone, somewhere along on their ordination journey, but for my journey all this is completely meaningless.

  37. This is just one more step towards a slippery slope by which I fear the PCUSA is bound to slide into ecclesiastical oblivion… and I say that as one who felt compelled to deny my first invitation to become an ordained elder, painful though it was, because at the time, my single lifestyle did not comply with the chastity standard. To think that these standards are now potentially being changed to accomodate personal lifestyles– rather than to adhere to unpopular Biblical prohibitions– is not ultimately about inclusion of people, I fear, but about exclusion of those Scriptural standards which do not fit the whims of popular culture.

  38. Bruce, I really appreciate your call for graciousness. It is the right thing to do, the loving thing to do, the practice of mutual forbearance. Still, it will be good for those who have been so long denied to finally be able to have voice and vote, without the threat of reprisal.
    I am grateful for all you do to help this church move forward. Peace.

  39. It’ll be a very gray day in our Church. Specially when it’s the body fighting with itself. Today is the day, the Body of Christ will develop fever, because it has detected a possible threat to it. Will it be a possitive threat or a negative one? We’ll see.

  40. It’ll be a very gray day in our Church. Specially when it’s the body fighting with itself. Today is the day, the Body of Christ will develop fever, because it has detected a possible threat to it. Will it be a possitive threat or a negative one? We’ll see.