[Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of reflections and prayer posts from the biennial General Assembly of the PC(USA) offered by the Rev. Scott Clark, Chaplain and Associate Dean of Student Life at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.]
June 18, 2014
When it comes to LGBT issues in the PCUSA, I find that I am careful to hope. I have been here too many times. An amazing community has come before the denomination, and we’ve made our case for full equality in the church, in the image of the full equality we have in Jesus Christ. Everyone should be free to serve. Everyone should be free to love and to marry. Everyone should be free to follow Christ and their conscience in offering pastoral care in marriage to all people. I have been here before. And too often we have been crushed by an indifferent “no.” We need to talk further. We need to study you more. Not now. Not us. Not you.
I am careful to hope. With that said, let me share where I am full of hope and gratitude today. Yesterday, a committee of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) soundly and confidently recommended that the denomination permit pastors to celebrate the marriages of same-gender couples. They did so with convincing votes, and after declining the offer to wait and to study yet again. Almost as important as the movement toward justice though, they spoke of LGBTQ people and our families, assuming our full humanity. Not only those speaking in favor of marriage equality, but even some of those speaking against. The conversation was filled with compassion and care. And there was a conviction in the committee that something must be done now — that the pain of LGBTQ people and our families and our pastors and our congregations is too much. And in their actions, the committee also reached out to those who disagree, adding language that no one is bound to perform any specific marriage ceremony. What’s more, they asked for a process of reconciliation in the church, as all this moves forward in the church.
During most of the debate, I sat with a group of friends who are young LGBTQ seminarians, seminary graduates, and ministers. I have heard these folks preach — standing up in their particular location and saying this is where I see the good news of Jesus Christ — and here is what Christ is calling us to do. They preach from a social location of knowing what it is to be other, of what it is to be treated as somehow less-than. And they have found their voice — each wonderfully their own — and they preach with compassion, not flinching from speaking sometimes-hard truths. I have seen them lead — leading student communities, leading national advocacy organizations, and leading churches. When I am in their company, I cannot help but overflow with hope for the church. And I should say, this particular overflowing hope doesn’t come just from these amazing young LGBTQ leaders I’ve met, but also from each and every young leader I’ve met here — each YAAD, each TSAD, the youth from Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta I met — and of course, I am sustained in this hope every day by the SFTS students with whom I have the privilege of serving.
And then, yesterday, there were powerful glimpses of the possibilities that lie ahead in God’s future for us when we are able to pass through to the other side of conflict. Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer Oget gave a powerful sermon at the Presbyterian Voices for Justice breakfast. Looking at Matthew 25, she said that when the text says, “when I was hungry, you gave me something to eat” — it’s not “you” singular, but “you” plural — or “y’all.” She said that the text wasn’t about individual piety — it was about our collective responsibility and collective judgment for our collective inaction and for the systemic oppression that we together create and allow to persist. She exhorted us to resolve this marriage disagreement with a move for justice, and then to get busy — feeding the poor, freeing the prisoner, housing the homeless.
And then, after Margaret’s prophetic challenge in the morning, after the moves toward marriage equality of the day, I got to spend the evening talking with folks about innovation in ministry — how folks are already doing new things in ministry, already dreaming of the ministry and the service that we can imagine and do in the days to come. We gathered for this conversation at the reception hosted by San Francisco Theological Seminary, where I have the privilege of working with students (and some amazing colleagues). We planned the event, inviting conversation among the participants about where they see innovation, as a taste of conversations we hope to have in the Center for Innovation in Ministry that we will launch in October. I met some amazing people. I met a woman who has a “missional incarnational” ministry that seeks to follow the example of the early worshipping communities of the book of Acts. They imagine and live a “church” without walls — a community gathering in homes, and extending the hospitality of homes. (She cautioned me not to even use the word “church” in talking about the ministry because they want to move behind our restrictive current notions of Christian community.) I met a man who lives in a geographic area that I might call post-Christian, where the majority of folks are not Christian, much less Presbyterian. They’ve started a ministry in a health food store. I never knew that so much could come from asking the questions: “Where do you see innovation in your ministry?” and “Where would you love to see something new emerge? What might that be?” So much Spirit already at work in the world, already imagining the next things.
It is true that I am careful to hope. But this morning I am committed to letting go of that in this moment. This morning, I am filled with hope for what we are able to become in the power of the Spirit of Christ, because yesterday I have seen glimpses of what we can be.
Scott Clark is the Chaplain and Associate Dean of Student Life at San Francisco Theological Seminary, a seminary of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and of the ecumenical Graduate Theological Union. Additionally, Scott’s ministry includes advocacy for the full inclusion of all people within the life of the church. A former attorney, he has represented Presbyterian ministers who have been brought up on disciplinary charges by the church for celebrating the marriages of same-gender couples, and he currently serves on the board of More Light Presbyterians.
Scott is participating in the national General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which will be considering a number of faith issues, including the marriage of same-gender couples. Scott is participating in the Assembly as an “Overture Advocate” (one of the advocates sent from regional presbyteries on a particular issue). With others, he is advocating for an amendment to the Presbyterian constitution that would affirm marriage equality for all people, including same-gender couples and their families. Scott also is participating in the General Assembly as part of the team representing San Francisco Theological Seminary, hoping to open and energize discussion about innovation in ministry and in theological education.