Another Easter Week, Another Conversation on the Road
Once more we have greeted one another on Easter morning with the joy of “Christ is risen!” “He is risen, indeed!” We have sung the great alleluias upon Christ rising from the dead, welcoming this fresh morning made new by God’s everlasting love.
And once more, Easter week comes with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the midst of presbytery voting on a revision of the church constitution that would open ordination to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Presbyterians. Two years ago a similar vote called 08B stood during Easter Week at 65 Yes, 82 No. Today the vote on 10A is 80 Yes, 59 No, with 34 presbyteries yet to vote.
It is difficult to capture how fraught this present moment is. I will try.
Although other mainline denominations in the U.S. have made decisions at the national level to allow the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender candidates for ministry, none of these denominations have faced, in the same way, the process unfolding in the PCUSA right now. The difference is that in the PCUSA, each local area (presbytery) engages in serious conversations among faithful Christians that lead to a vote, a choice, Yes or No, on allowing the possibility of LGBT Presbyterians being ordained to church office.
This week, I connect the thousands of conversations that have been going on in this voting season — over lunch or coffee, at a presbytery study, with an article in The Presbyterian Outlook, at the registration table before the presbytery meeting, or in the debate on the floor — with that astounding conversation on the road to Emmaus reported by Luke (24:13-53). Every one of these conversations has had the potential — and many the actual outcome — of the participants asking with these disciples, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?”
And this conversation was just the beginning for the disciples. Luke says they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, blessed God in the temple and then he turns to the second volume of his story, The Acts of the Apostles, where he describes how their burning hearts spread their joy far and wide to Jew and Gentile alike.
There are many conversations still to be had this Eastertide in the presbyteries yet to vote. Two years ago, the majority of 87 was reached a few weeks after Easter. Right now, only God knows what will eventually be written in the Book of Life. What we do know is that the outcome depends upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the thousands of conversations still to be had around the PCUSA where our hearts will burn within us as Christ speaks to us.
What we do know is that Christ is risen — He is risen, indeed. In the invitation to the Communion Table in my church last Sunday, the leader enjoined us to remember “all the tombs from which we have been delivered.” Suddenly, the past forty years in the PCUSA felt to me like that tomb. It struck me that the silence forced upon lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Presbyterians has been a tomb; 10A will roll away the stone. And it struck me that many voting on 10A — no matter Yes, No or Abstain — have felt entombed by the contention of this generation. And the wording of 10A felt like an Easter gift in its deep Presbyterianism, its return to our roots, it respect for and trust in us all to follow Christ out of this tomb.
That is worth having a conversation about!
good morning janet.
thank you for this latest post. this is perhaps the most provocative commentary on 10a i am yet to read.
your connection between God rolling aside the stone confronted at Jesus’ tomb and the stone pcusa has placed in front of lgbt people is just so profound. as one affected personally, and i’d bet i share this with many, many others…that’s exactly what it feels like; a tomb. sometimes it feels like i am just floating through my church life unheard and unseen, like an apparition; watching, seeing and hearing everything but having no voice that can be heard.
as blessed as i felt to have a statement from me read before the presbytery voters when THEY met to vote on OUR future, the flip side is this: that message had to be delivered by one of the living. the dead, of course, can’t speak for ourselves.
the statement pastor eric read for me…a minute long…focused on irony, so please correct me if i am wrong. as i understand the language in 06b, lgbt people are not restrained from ordained service if they are willing to swear to abstinence. it’s the same question asked…in not so many words…of our heterosexual brothers and sisters, that is: sex outside of marriage is considered immoral. it seems to me that ongoing and unrepentant immoral behavior might be a good enough reason to exclude folks from ordained service, there’s nothing wrong with having standards. so, the irony is: gay people who are in long term, loving and committed marriages are seen on the same level as adulterers. (i started to put “marriages” in quotes but changed my mind. my marriage is not quotated, it’s just another run of the mill marriage.) for the life of me i can find no immorality either in scripture or as guided by the Holy Spirit in our marriage. we love each other with all our hearts; we serve each other; we are true to each other; we are bonded as one in Jesus. isn’t that what marriage is?
frankly, and i think i share this with many, many others…including virtually all of my heterosexual friends, the private love life between myself and my wife is just simply not open to public discourse. what we do in our private relationship is intimate, it is personal, it’s place is between ourselves and God. there are places in our lives that we share only with each other, that’s one way we are bonded. that’s how God made it. so, for me, or any other married person, to swear to abstinence would be a betrayal of the trust we have in each other. whether we are libido driven sexual creatures in our bedroom or be we asexual, or anything in between…it’s ours and ours alone. we are married, in fact…and God has so ordained.
so for me to swear off sex in order to fulfill God’s call to ordained service would require that i betray a sacred trust between myself, annie and God. what kind of standard is that? i can be faithful to that trust and ignore God’s call, or i can betray the trust and serve as an unworthy elder. the very act that would render me worthy in the eyes of the chruch would render me unworthy in the eyes of God….such an irony.
the good news is this: seven years ago when i came to pcusa i was overwhelmingly grateful for just being allowed to sit in the pews and quietly listen for God’s Word. today i boldly ask for a seat at the table of governance. pcusa is no doubt a flawed, human institution, but God’s fingerprints are all over it. this church is indeed, as you pointed out, blessed. as frustrating as all the procedures and processes can be, it took a pretty smart group of people to put these methods of checks and balances together in such a way as to be able to respond to the Holy Spirit when we are called to change. if any chruch can respond positively to this change, my bet is on us.
much love and hope. pj
As one who is leaving the PC (USA) for a number of reasons, I can only think of the story of Lazarus, who was brought forth from his tomb, restored to a full life, by Jesus, for the glory of God. Raising Lazarus to life was not a justice situation; it was an act of Godly love done purely for the glory of God so that others would believe.
This is what I see lacking in both “sides” of the PC (USA) on this issue: the emphasis on bringing glory to God so that others will believe. If we all come to God by the grace in Jesus Christ, there can be no argument over “rights,” otherwise we are like the disciples arguing over who among them is the greatest.
Outright exclusion or acceptance with limitations (such as an insistence on celibacy) does not bring glory to God. That is clear. People are wounded and end up leaving the church. Voices are stifled, and hence, as I see it, so is praise to God. But I personally would find relief in hearing more about how full inclusion would and does bring glory to God, other than ending an injustice, a “righting of a wrong.” In other words, what does full inclusion look like and what is the impact on the church, and how does it cause others to believe in Christ?
hi donna. first, i have to say that losing such a wonderful voice as yours will be a great loss to pcusa. the institution will, of course, survive, but the loss of a voice so full of love and discernment will be missed by all her people. i have read all the comments you have left here and have been challenged often, but perhaps no more than now. i think you are so right, this discussion, this conversation about 10a and it’s repercussions does seem to sometimes miss the point you make, that the glory of God is what should always be at the heart of our mission. for some of us it is so personal that it can be easy to get caught up in the minute…we are winning, they are losing…i have my rights and they have no right to trample them underfoot. if this is a sin then i confess…i have been so caught up many times.
but blessed are all of us who come to this site…for such loving admonitions as yours await us here…you stengthen us and help guide us onto the right path.
i don’t know you personally and surely don’t know the different reasons for you to leave pcusa, but the fact that we are losing you causes me to wonder about such things…why do we lose people who have the very gifts we need in order to be sustained in our quest for life in Jesus? where have we failed you and where are we failing so many others? these aren’t rethorical questions…i hope you will share more with us, teach us how to serve you better, show us how to express the glory of God to you just as we witness His glory in you. whether you stay or go, we are still the children of the same God, His mission is our mission from whatever venue we choose to profess Him from. may His love, mercy and compassion follow you, strengthen you, keep you holy and always within eyeshot of His glory.
much love and hope. pj
Hi PJ –
Indeed, blessed are all…No admonishment; just observation.
Best to you,
What a profound articulation of the tensions created by the old G-6.0106b! Thank you for so poignantly reminding us of the great, great importance of passing Amendment 10A.
When the stone is finally rolled away, I will treasure your meditation upon the meaning and value to you of the revised standards for ordination (G-6.0106 a and b) in the PCUSA. And I will delight, as I do now, in your sacrificial service to Christ in the church and the world.
I second (in good Presbyterian Robert’s Rules fashion) all that pj writes in response to you!
I expect you remember that the first question in the Westminster Catechism is “What is the chief end of man (sic)?” and the answer is “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” So you bring us back to the most essential point–thank you for that strong reminder of what we are always to be about.
The way I say the same thing is to connect witness to God’s love for all God’s children, including God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender beloveds, to the Gospel, the good news of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us all.
Do you think we are saying the same thing? I am very interested in your response and that of pj and anyone else listening in.
Peace be with you all, Janet
Hi PJ: I will try to answer some of the questions you asked but not until after I finish some other things first…sorry…
But let me say this: I write here to learn, willing and unashamed. And I do think this issue focuses on win-lose, rather than the win-win that would come from focusing on what can be achieved for God’s glory.
If I’m wrong, tell me how I’m wrong. Someone please talk about the win-win scenario and how it will bring God glory.
hi donna. i really hope that janet or one of the other more learned folks will speak up here…your question points out my ignorance and inadequacy.
i’ve been trying to think of similar choices the church made that are related in scripture. all i can come up with (that ended up clearly win/win) is the highly volatile question about circumcision. i think paul paints it as a bit more volatile then does luke in acts, but the story is essentially the same. the jewish brothers felt that the followers of the way must be jewish, either by birth or by conversion, but circumcised none the less. their position made a lot of sense at the time. Jesus and all the disciples were jews and followers of the laws of moses. paul’s call was to the gentiles primarily and he could see no need for conversion. as peter said after his vision just before his meeting with cornelius and his return to the brothers in jerusalem…”why should we put a yoke around the necks of the gentiles that even we and our fathers could not bear?” i think they were still stumbling about, not truly understanding what this “new covenant” really was all about, so they came to what might be a compromise…james, and the others agreed, suggested that they not require circumcision, but would advise against eating animals that had been sacrificed or strangled, or eat blood and avoid “sexual immorality.”
stumbling about, i think.
but, here i do see a win/win. the jews saved face, the gentiles were not yoked and the glory of God and His Son, our Savior, was opened to the whole world, just as the prophets had said it would be.
i think we can say that whenever the glory of God is proclaimed in word and in action…it’s a win/win. i think you are entirely right, His glory is shown when His will is realized.
it may only be “in the long run”, and there will most surely be people who feel like losers when 10a comes to pass, but, in my humble opinion, that will be an expression of His will…in the same spirit as removing the impossible yoke from the necks of all gentiles, 10a will remove the same impossible yoke from the necks of lgbt presbyterians.
i’s sure this falls way short of what you are talking about but it’s a start. i truly hope that you will now share your thoughts on the win/win. as you write to learn “willing and unashamed” i hope you will consider: “by teaching i’ll be taught.”
asking for you much love and hope. pj
Thank you for wonderful thoughts…my apartment building recently caught fire and I have other issues to contend with, so my apologies for not writing more. I am content to leave the PC(USA) for the UCC.
God’s blessings on you and all –
Dear Donna and pj,
I am so glad to see dialogue growing between the two of you that I hesitate to jump in.
I do want to agree mightily with you, Donna, that the persistence of win/lose thinking in the church debilitates us all. It is so utterly contrary to the way Jesus worked in the world. Nevertheless, in the PCUSA where we use debate and vote to reach conclusions about God’s will for us, the win/lose paradigm is easy to fall into.
It is important to me to remember that win/lose is just a way of seeing and talking about things. We can choose another way to speak of what we do in church. I am choosing to do that, exploring other perspectives than win/lose.
I expect you both are too. I am very interested in your alternatives and hope you share them with us all.
Hi Janet & PJ:
In my initial post the raising of Lazarus by Jesus was done for the glory God, and was not an act of justice, but of pure, Godly love. God in Christ bringing about an act of glory for God, as was everything – every healing, every preaching – Jesus did on earth. If the church is the representation of Christ (the body of Christ) on earth, then this is a model to follow. On the issue of GLBT inclusion, this is one tomb the church can (and now has) opened and brought forth at least GLBT ordination candidates.
What troubles me is that GLBT people see it as a civil right when we have no standing to demand anything of God. Everything we have, including the breath we breathe, is a gift. A GIFT. We have no right to exclude or demand, and the best we can do is be about doing God’s work in this world and leave to God what judgments we cannot possibly reconcile on this earth.
People who disagree need not “like” each other, but in the love of God, can love enough to make room for each other to co-exist, without judgment, without strategies to prove one another right or wrong, without win-lose – in understanding that all of these selfish behaviors only take away from the church’s and God’s call to bring others to Him.
The UCC came to this conclusion years ago, yes, from a top-down approach, but from a forward-looking vision with service to God as a mission/vision. Gladly, the PCUSA has also come to this decision, albeit in a different way.
When I asked what an inclusive PCUSA “looks like” what I see resulting is one tomb opened, and other such tombs opening one at time with further labor, and more of the same argument, which is why I am content to leave to PCUSA for the UCC.
This call on churches, all churches, to include GLBT people is a movement of the Holy Spirit that will not end. I think the UCC recognized that, knowing that those who dissent will be touched and gathered in by the Holy Spirit as the church itself moves forward in inclusion while also staying focused on the mission of Christian witness.
Hopefully this clarifies my viewpoint. I’ve seen too much I think in the past six years as a Presbyterian to believe otherwise. I’ve learned about the church, and about people, amidst this struggle. Indeed the church will survive, but this isn’t about the church and whether it will survive the struggle. It’s about people and what witness is borne to them throughout.
Thank you so very much for sharing your insights here about our Christian life, the church and how God in Christ works in this world.
It is hugely important that your perspective be heard by everyone in the Presbyterian Church and the world-wide church right now. I prayerfully hope that some, who would otherwise not encounter Christians like you and me, read your words here and reflection upon them.
If they do, I know they will be blessed.
Indeed, as you insist, our purpose is to glorify God and your words certainly do. Where ever you land, giving of your gifts in service to God through the church, the people there will be blessed.