Quashing Dialogue: The Sound of One Hand Clapping


Of course I was disappointed and saddened that our community here in Pittsburgh voted No on Amendment 08-B, the proposal to revise the ordination requirements in a way that will open ordained office to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender faithful in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). That outcome is not what grieves and perplexes me. It is the repeated votes to limit the discussion, to prevent any meaningful dialogue among us that brings me close to despair for our church.

Throughout the thirty years of disagreement in the PCUSA on the place of GLBT people in our midst, those of us who support inclusion of the GLBT faithful, myself included, have made an effort to reach out and talk with those whose faithful conclusions on this are different from ours. At a personal level, I have sought to understand our disagreements and to test my conclusions by what I hear. And when I respond to what I have heard from colleagues so they can hear where we are coming from, persuasion has not been my purpose. I do pray St. Francis’ prayer every morning: “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand.”

Our community needs to foster conversation and understanding. Dialogue is one of the essentials of the Reformed Christian tradition. John Calvin said, “No one person knows the mind of God.” We have to talk together to discern God’s will for us. The Presbyterian Church emerged from the bloody centuries of Christian violence in Europe with a polity that balanced the majority and the minority through continued talking together. We abandon one of the distinguishing characteristics of our branch of the Christian family when we quash debate.

So what is the sound of one hand clapping? It is the sound of a dialogue in which one side refuses to speak.

Around the country, some who oppose even discussing marriage or ordination of GLBT people have already left the PCUSA for more conservative Presbyterian denominations. Many conservatives here in Pittsburgh have chosen to stay and “to fight” for what you believe to be right. Good, because it takes both wings for the bird to fly.

So no matter if we agree or disagree, if you are here reading these words and even more, if you would respond, then you are one of those who are helping the PCUSA to fly. And for that, I thank you.

Reverend Janet

4 Responses
  • Donna on March 28, 2009

    I write in response to the word “despair,” but bear with me in the process in getting to it.

    At age 19, I came out as a lesbian and subsequently left my church (which was very strict, charismatic, fundamentalist, non-denominational), and afterward for 20 years I wanted absolutely nothing to do with organized religion, although I kept the foundations of my faith: a personal relationship with Jesus, a firm belief in the power/presence of the Holy Spirit, and a God of justice who abides with His creation. Those foundations carried me those 20 years until God saw it fit to “call” me back into community with other Christians, GLBT Christians. This is a fact: it was God’s power and calling that drew me back and sparked the desire, overruling my own resolution against and deference to what I deemed as otherwise hurtful organizations, and guided me to a church where the wounds of my spiritual coming out experience were healed. This experience begs the question: If God calls GLBT people into Christian community whether as members or clergy, doesn’t that action alone dispel any myth of God’s loathing for GLBT people as is proposed by some Christians? If there is a myth, I propose that it rests in the human condition: that we who are finite can claim full understanding of the infinite. God calls and those who are called cannot refute it.

    Some would say, perhaps, that God called me back to the fold to redeem me, for the purpose of salvation, to which I say that my salvation remained intact. Another fact, the result of arduous prayer during my coming out process, is the assurance from God that God made me as I am. Fully within the born-again tradition I earnestly sought healing and cleansing. (For those of Pentecostal faith or understanding, this was was weeks of prayer “in the Spirit.”) God’s answer, however, was “I made you as you are.” I didn’t need to be healed or “fixed” or cured. God’s meaning was clear: my being gay is not an infirmity, physical or spiritual. God knew me before I was born, knew who and what I would be and become, redeemed me and “filled me,” and, most importantly, has never stopped loving me.

    To me, these are tangible facts, personal and experiential. But there are more in terms of witness.

    In the six years since I’ve returned to church, I have been purposeful in my observation of GLBT Christians, and what is poignant to me is that there is no difference between GLBT faithful and non-GLBT faithful. In all of the ways that one can “measure” faith through actions, there is no difference between attendance, worship, giving, study, and social or social justice community involvement. When disaster strikes, GLBT people faithful respond. When the hungry need to be fed, GLBT people help feed them. When the church coffers are low, GLBT people give. The GLBT response to God’s call is the same, with the same level of love and compassion and purity as non-GLBT faithful. In terms of prayer and commitment of those who I know on that level, there is no difference in the degree or love of God. The commonality is true faithfulness. The difference that does arise is not under God’s boundless call but under the human finite structure of the church which says that for GLBT people, that faithfulness, while enough for others, is not enough to lead, not strong enough, not pure enough, not true enough. It is a peculiar double-standard (stumblingblock) that exists because those who are strongly against GLBT inclusion in the church don’t take the time to understand the infinite possibilities of God’s creation.

    GLBT faithfulness to God IS enough and IS pure, comparable to non-GLBT faithfulness.

    Your despair in presenting this to the church is understandable, but, I would hazard, that it is also a test of your faith. You have the answer, though, and you state it clearly: God has called you to make the presentation – the persuasion is left to God. I encourage you then, fully within your calling, to deliver the best presentation you can possibly deliver. Two things come to mind in this encouragement: Isaiah 43, where God says “I work and who can hinder it?” and the many times Jesus’ disciples sought to hush or marginalize those seeking to be closer to, speak to, or healed by Jesus, but that Jesus made it a point to gather those seekers in or to present himself to them. Do not despair, Janet. You are a voice to voiceless.

    Again, GLBT faithfulness to God IS enough and IS pure, no different than non-GLBT faithfulness. I think the church knows this. As history shows, however, in all situations, that any excuse in support of division over unity rests itself in the fear of a perceived loss of power or control, and the need to feel superior over someone else. The church fails to see the potential benefits of equality for GLBT people (unity) as opposed to its already preconceived notions of liability. Some benefits I see are a greater outreach, a greater membership, a greater outpouring of God’s Spirit (as it thrives in unity), and a greater fulfillment of God’s will and work in this world. For example, when my church (COR) worked at the food bank, it was not a matter of GLBT or non-GLBT hands doing the work. It was many loving hands helping to feed the hungry. However, had there been no GLBT hands, the result in production would have surely been far less.

    So, I pray for GLBT rights and inclusion within the church, yes, because the current situation is unjust, but also, perhaps more importantly, because I see how GLBT exclusion diminishes the full potential of the work of the church. In that prayer, two ideas are joined: imagine what we (God and us) can do together when the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

    In this I encourage you onward…and pray that all GLBT faithful find the courage to stand with you.

  • Mike F on March 31, 2009

    Dear Rev. Janet, I hear your frustration and I share it. What is the harm in dialogue? When considering such an important matter as ordination standards the concern, to my way of thinking, is sharing too little not too much.

    Perhaps the thinking in the presbytery was that dialogue was for the listening sessions and the special meeting was for the vote. Further, that people had made up their minds on the matter given the amount of time and reflection that had been built into the process. No need to over talk a settled matter at the general meeting. I am just trying to rationalize and understand the lack of willingness to spend the time at the special meeting discussing the issue.

    Given the lopsided outcome of the Pittsburgh Presbytery’s vote on ordination standards it would appear that you have been spared a different version of the sound of one hand clapping…. that is everybody talking and no one listening. Mike F.

  • Mike F on April 1, 2009

    Dear Rev. Janet, I’m not sure which is worse. Using the metaphor of the sound of one hand clapping is it better that one side refuses to speak or that everyone speaks and no one listens.
    It seems to me that it would have mattered very little in the final outcome if everyone got a chance to speak. The biggest difference is at least people could have spoken their mind and thereby felt more invested and engaged in the process.
    The local outcome on the vote to change ordination standards was a freight train coming down the track. No stopping it. Mike F.

  • Donna on April 6, 2009

    To amend one line in my previous post: You are a voice for the voiceless (not “You are a voice to voiceless”).

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