Posted on May 19th, 2011 | Filed under Challenges, Community, Congregation, Featured, Interfaith, Intra-Faith, Leadership, News
Tagged with Approach, Attitude, Belief, Clergy, comments, Disagreement, Gays, LGBTQ, PCUSA< Disagreement, Presbyterian Church, Sobering
Last week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) came out as a denomination that affirmed the ordination of LGBTQ clergy. For me, and many who share my convictions, this was a joyous moment within the life of our church. Normally, I avoid gatherings of large people on weeknights with the same irrational vigor I use to get out of dental procedures, but not that night. That night I eagerly I went down to Hyde Park to celebrate with a few dozen Presbyterians. This celebration was bittersweet for many reasons.
While many Presbyterians accept and affirm, if not happily embrace, the ordination of LGBTQ brothers and sisters, there is a significant amount of disagreement on this issue. As a straight woman, I’ve never had any sort of “coming out” experience, but my friends have shared their experiences with me. Unsurprisingly, I have learned there is a huge difference between coming out and having people accept and affirm that true identity. There seem to be parallels in the PC(USA)’s coming out story.
That the PC (USA) came out as a denomination that affirms the God given gifts of its LGBTQ members brought hope to many, but the actual affirmation and acceptance of this decision by the whole denomination is a long way off. The thing is, while the shift in language is more inclusive of LGBTQ individuals, the exclusion of people who identify as such, even in subversive forms, is still normative.
I spent some time reading through some of the comments and articles in opposition of this move towards inclusion. I did not need to do this – I am familiar with all of the arguments, having previously believed many of them myself. Reading some of the comments was heartbreaking. It is not the disagreement that I found so sobering - disagreement will always exist. I was struck, again, by the idea that becoming more inclusive as a denomination equated becoming less Christian or less Christ-like. There were all sorts of arguments for this claim, many of them stemming from various literal interpretations of the Bible.
(Nevermind that the ministry of Jesus was primarily concerned with making “the promise” more inclusive - especially to those society deemed unworthy. Is the church less Christian when it promotes standards that openly include more within the promise of God than it excludes? Apparently that question is still up for debate among the Presbyterians. I digress. )
I know there are different interpretations of this issue, but I cannot get my mind around how one interpretation makes someone less Christian. I thought about writing my own interpretation about Biblical sexuality but decided aganist it. This has been done before – and probably by people who have a much wider “conservative” readership than I could ever hope to have. Constructing Biblical arguments supporting inclusive ordination standards are needed and necessary, but they are not the key, in my mind, to overcoming the current challenges in order to make the change that is warranted.
This shift in Presbyterian polity changed policy but not practice, yet: churches that opposed LGBTQ ministers will still oppose them, and the bodies that affirmed them a few weeks ago will continue to do the same. This constitutional language shift does not require churches to accept ordained clergy regardless of their sexual orientation, it just provides a way for open and affirming communities to now honestly ordain those they would approved for ministry anyway. Many churches will probably leave the PC(USA) because of the decision - because they believe the denomination has gone "astray."
Change will happen once the challenge to affirm LGBTQ clergy (or at least respect those who do affirm it as equally Christian) has been taken up by advocates and allies around the country. It will come only as people become better acquainted with the ministry, talents and skills of ministers who identify as LGBTQ. It will happen as a theology is preached that demonstrates God’s continual commitment to God’s creation. I wish dearly this sort of change would occur absent many congregations leaving the PC(USA), but this does not seem likely.
This challenge that is ahead must be met through fostering relationships between opposing parties on this issue, as painful as that may be. I can think of plenty of people who either oppose or support the ordination of LGBTQ clergy, but few of them are on speaking terms, much less in relationship with one another. It is just easier to only make nice with people you like and agree with – it is safe, comfortable and known. This is a big problem. Maintaining only comfortable modes of interacting will prevent growth needed to sustain any community.
Eventually, and I am not sure when, the shift towards inclusion of LGBTQ clergy will be normative not innovative. I believe that, similar to the civil rights movement or giving women the right to vote, people will eventually come around to the idea of equality and inclusion– even within ordained offices.
And I share this here because I know this sort of struggle exists in other communities of faith, secularism and humanism. I write this here because on this blog there are allies, people who disagree with allies and those who identify as LGBTQ - all who are wonderfully talented. I wish more people knew you all and I think it is people like you that will make the difference and inspire the sort of change that needs to occur.