Saturday, February 26, 2011

By Grace Alone

Rev. Arlo Duba
I was graciously granted an interview that is on the Outlook web site (http://www.pres-outlook.com/amendment-resources/10900.html). Please read that, and then this theological addition:

Dear Presbyterian friend,

I have serious questions about the theology of those who are voting “No” on 10-A. I sense that they are speaking of law, law, law, without any mention of grace. I sense that those who oppose 10-A are failing to stress the gospel that we are saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. From my study of the Bible during the last two or three years, I see grace, not law. It is on the basis of that study that I urge you to vote “YES” on Amendment 10-A.

No one will deny that Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts provide a continuously growing inclusiveness in the Judeo/Christian tradition, from calling Anna a prophet, calling Levi as the fourth disciple, to the Macedonian Call that brought the gospel to Europe (for which we Euro-Americans are indebted). I am convinced that Jesus himself willed that inclusiveness by repeatedly going beyond the restrictions of the Books of Moses. I believe that this growing inclusivity reaches a penultimate point with Peter’s dream and the conversion of Cornelius and his household.

Those who oppose 10-A don’t seem to emphasize that we are saved by grace, not by works. Some of them make it sound as if they have discovered the unforgiveable sin. I believe that the Bible will not support considering any decree of God as unchangeable, except one: that we are saved only by the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.Jesus himself said, “You have heard it said by those of old time, you shall not . . . . , but I say to you . . . . Five times in Matthew 5.And I am finding in most who object to 10-A, that there is hardly a hint of the saving gospel. Rather, they lean on a doctrine of works, not of grace. We Presbyterians have always believedthat we are saved by grace, not by our works, not by our practices, lest anyone should boast.

Let those who boast, boast in the Lord. Read again Romans 3:9ff. Read again Romans 7:7 through chapter 8. Yes, this is the same Paul who wrote Chapter 1. Paul reminds me of John Calvin who would excommunicate for a list of sins and sinners that would include virtually every human being. In the next paragraph he says “yet, while we abide in this world . . . we are all poor sinners. . . Yet for all our faults and sins—which are too many to count—humbly and lowly in heart we ask mercy of our very good Father” who invites to the Lord’s Table all of us who ask God to look not on our iniquities, but on Jesus. Read again the account of Peter and Cornelius. Read in particular, Acts 11:1-3. Note that it was those disciples from Jerusalem who challenged Peter. The thing that was bothering them was not Peter’s theology, but his failure to keep Levitical law. They were appealing to a theology of works.“The circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’”

In response Peter retold his story, ending with verse 17: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should hinder God?”

That is the question that Candidates’ Committees should be asking: has God given this person the gift of Christian commitment and the gift of leadership ability? In this Bible study I noted what I now believe God has been trying to show us, ever since Isaiah 56:3-8, and Jeremiah 38 that God is no respecter of persons of different identities. Luke’s writing picks this up more graphically than any other books of the Bible.He does this through the sequence of Philip’s preaching to previously outcast Samaritans and then to the Ethiopian eunuch, whose gender condition I believe is a metaphor for people who are gender and/or sexually “different.” He climaxes that by the vision of disgustingly different and inedible creatures to Peter. God caused Peter to “see through” this as a metaphor, showing him that he should call no human being “profane or unclean.”

Then I believe Peter would ask us, if we turn down a person who is a believer, who has gifts for ministry, though he or she is of a “different” sexual or gender condition, are we hindering God? I pray that we will not find ourselves as those who hinder God. God’s grace is greater than all our sin.

I will not consciously hinder God any longer. I urge you to do the grace-filled thing, of letting God call whom God will. If we refuse, are we putting ourselves in the place of God? I believe Peter would say, we may be hindering God. Let our presbyteries deal with candidates, not according to some identity or practice, but only by examining their call, if it be of God, whose grace surpasses all that we could ask or think.

I believe that covenant faithfulness is what God desires, a faithfulness between two persons with each other and with Christ, and none other; yet who will boast only in the grace of God and the love of Christ, living out their covenant of faithfulness to each other and to God, God’s will, and God’s reign.

Yours in the service of the gospel,

Arlo D. Duba

Rev. Duba is the Former Director of Admission & Director of Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary and the Former Dean at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Presbyterians Move Toward Acceptance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Ministers

Patrick Evans Leads MLP GA Choir
More Light Presbyterians
Media Release
Media Contact:
Michael Adee, Executive Director
505.577.0086

February 25, 2011

Presbyterians Move Toward Acceptance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Ministers

For the first time ever, voters in the Presbyterian Church (USA) who favor dropping exclusionary policies against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are in the lead in a nationwide vote. In 2010, the national body approved an amendment that would allow LGBT candidates for ordination to be evaluated on their spiritual call to ministry and their abilities. The amendment then went to the 173 regional presbyteries across the country for a vote on whether or not to ratify the amendment.

Approval requires a 50% majority of the presbyteries and the count now stands at 48 approving, 34 not approving. Of the four times in the last 14 years that an amendment to remove exclusionary provisions was approved by the national voting body, this is the highest level of support ever as the denomination nears the halfway mark.

Nine presbyteries, including places like Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma, have changed their vote to support full inclusion since they last voted in 2009. If the 50% approval rate is reached, Presbyterians would join the millions of members in Lutheran, Episcopal and United Church of Christ denominations that now allow LGBT people to serve in leadership. “So far, the majority of Presbyterians are voting to return to the tradition of rooting ordination in a person’s call from God and their gifts to engage in ministry,” said the Rev. Janet Edwards, Co-moderator of More Light Presbyterians. “Finally, we may allow faithful and qualified LGBT Presbyterians to serve the church with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.”

“Presbyterians take great care in how we live together in our denomination. The repeated votes on ordination standards and a commitment to the process shows how strongly we believe that the offices of the Church are called discern the mind of Christ and will of God for the PC(USA). The consistent movement toward dropping all exclusionary policies tells us that God is still calling the church to its highest calling—the call to love God and neighbor,” said Rev, Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator, 218th General Assembly, PC(USA).

“Amendment 10-A is receiving great support because people appreciate the return to ordination standards based upon faith and character, not upon who people love or other human differences. A growing number of Presbyterians do not want to be part of a Church that discriminates or teaches that God loves only certain kinds of people. They want to be part of a Church and world that reflects God's heart, " said Michael Adee, Executive Director.

In 2009, an amendment gained historic levels of support. Now, in 2011, with ever more presbyteries voting to support one standard for ordination the Presbyterian Church (USA) may join with other faithful Christians to say “We are all equal in the sight of God.”

More Light Presbyterians is a national grassroots organization working to end discrimination and achieve equality for LGBT persons and their families in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the world. www.mlp.org

At the Religion News Service

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Amendment 10-A Voting Analysis: January-February Season

The Numbers


* Note 1: This post makes reference to 08-B and 01-A.  These were amendments passed by the General Assembly in 2001 and 2008 (but were both voted down when voted on by presbyteries) that were similar to Amendment 10-A in intent.  As such, voting records from those years are held up alongside current presbytery votes for comparison.

** Note 2: The Presbyteries of Northern New York, Utica, Cyuga-Syracuse, Long Island, Redwoods, Winnebago, voted in favor of the amendment, but they took an unrecorded “raise your hand” or voice votes.  As such, they do not have any data other than their final “yes” vote, rendering it impossible to tell whether or not they trended one way or another.

*** Note 3: The Presbytery of Glacier voted against the amendment, but they took an unrecorded “raise your hand” or voice votes.  As such, they do not have any data other than their final “no” vote, rendering it impossible to tell which direction they trended.

Long story short: The January-February voting season (and this past weekend in particular) was HUGE for supporters of Amendment 10-A.  With 27 overall victories and 6 presbyteries prayerfully shifting their their hearts and votes from “No” to “Yes” since mid-January, the overall voting tally currently has supporters of Amendment 10A in the lead; whereas our last post listed the voting tally at 21 “Yes” presbyteries and 22 “No” presbyteries, the current tally is 48 “Yes” Presbyteries and 34 “No.”  In other words: 10A is winning, even in places that weren’t expected to turn.  Nevertheless, there are a LOT of presbyteries that still haven’t voted, and we’re still only about halfway to the 87 needed to formulate a deciding vote.

The Good News:

As mentioned, the past month of voting was very good to supporters of 10A.  Not only do supporters currently hold the lead in the overall voting after “flipping” several presbyteries, but this round of voting also saw support for 10A continue increase across the board.  Of the past 38 votes, all eight “recent convert” presbyteries (meaning that they voted against 01-A in 2001, but switched their support to support 08-B in 2008) maintained their support for equality and voted for 10A this time around.  What’s more, only 5 of the past 38 votes voted less in favor of the amendment than they did in 2008 (although, admittedly, three presbyteries are missing data in this regard).

Perhaps the most dramatic example of this past round is that of North Alabama presbytery.  Although members of the presbytery voted down 01-A and 08-B by substantial margins in the past (only 38.5% in favor of 08-B), this year’s vote - after much thought, prayer, discernment and several moving speeches/testimonies by those attending the vote - ended with the presbytery moving to support the overture by 36-28 vote - that’s a 17.75% increase in support!

In short, this past voting season was clearly exciting for those who wish to see a more open, more inclusive, and more loving PC(USA).

Looking Ahead:

While this past season has been good for supporters of 10-A, the upcoming votes will definitely still be contentious.  As mentioned, many (although not all) of the presbyteries who voted in this cycle had supported 10-A before, but this will not be the case for many of the presbyteries here moving forward.  In fact, we’re not even halfway through: there are 91 more presbyteries left to vote, so there is much more work to be done!

Stay tuned for more updates as they come!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gathering at the Welcome Table

MLP Board Member Rev. Madeline Jervis
Sermon by Rev. Madeline Jervis at MLP's National Board Meeting in Kansas City Missouri, February 18 to 21, 2011.

Isaiah 55: 1-13
I Corinthians 1: 10-31

Wisdom/Sophia has built her house...has set her table...has sent out her serving girls. She calls...”You that are simple, turn in here.” And to those without sense, she says, “Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine I have mixed; lay aside simpleness, and live...” (Prov. 9:1-6). Isaiah proclaims, “You that have no money, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price.”

For poor people in a desert land; for a people in exile; for those who labor under heavy burdens, God’s presence, God’s restoration and salvation, is, in our Scriptures, often described as a banquet... a feast of good things prepared for the needy...a lavish table spread for those who are hungry and thirsty for kindness. Wisdom/Sophia invites the unwise...and Isaiah calls the impoverished exiles to come and buy, to eat rich food, to delight themselves in fatness. “Let everyone who is thirsty come to me,” Jesus said, “and let the one who believes in me, drink.” (Jn. 7:37-38)

For human beings in need of grace, God has spread a welcome table. Come, eat of my bread, and drink the wine, and live.

From the beginning of the church, maybe from before the foundation of the world, there has been division among us about this. There has been trouble, as those who got there first, cry out like the Mad Hatter at the tea party, “No room! No Room!”

Long before the birth of Jesus, the Hebrew people went back and forth about racial and ritual purity. Was it an abomination or not, to marry foreign women? What about King David’s granny Ruth, the Moabite? Was it an abomination or not, to eat with Gentiles or sinners?

In Paul’s time, it was also about table fellowship and purity. Could followers of the Way break bread with Gentiles? Or eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols? Was circumcision necessary for admission to the community of faith? (Some of us might have a more acute interest in this question than others.)

Later, the fathers of the church discussed the eligibility of women for salvation. Are women really created in the image of God? Or shall they always sit below the salt, at table in the realm of the Holy One?

This question is only now being answered as women take their places in equitable numbers as Deacons and Elders in our churches. For women ministers, the final answer is not yet in.

A generation ago, in the civil rights struggles of the 50’s and 60’s the division was about race. Back then, in our white churches Scripture was cited for...and against...the proposition that our African-American sisters and brothers were also children of God, and so ought to be (or not) welcome at the table of our Lord. This question is still open for the church. Even as lunch counters and other public accommodations are largely desegregated, our churches are still mostly segregated...a scandal to the Gospel.

And now, in this time we are divided over whether Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender people are really welcome at our table, are really members of our body. Shall we accept these, our sisters and brothers in a category of second class membership...ineligible for elected office in the church as women once were? Shall we accept these our children, sons and daughters, only if they keep silent about who they are, so we can pretend we don’t know? This has been the question before the church for the past thirty years. Even if, as we hope and pray, Amendment 10-A passes, this question will still need to be negotiated, discussed, and prayed for, for some time to come.

Ralph Carter and Susan Robertson at MLP Board Meeting Worship
And still, God has spread a welcome table for us.

And still, instead of breaking bread together with glad and grateful hearts, we have continued to quarrel among ourselves...fencing the table against one another, instead of welcoming each other as sisters and brothers in Christ...instead of welcoming each other as Jesus has welcomed us.

In the name of the purity of the church, in defense of our own sense of righteousness, over two millennia, we Christians have claimed ownership of the Lord’s Table, by nation and race, by marital status and gender, by denomination, and lately by gender identification and orientation. We have forgotten Paul’s admonition: “As many of us as were Baptized into Christ are now clothed with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, of all of us are one in Christ Jesus...and heirs of the Promise. (Gal. 3:27-28)

In fact, around this table, we all stand on level ground. On our own merits, none of us is worthy, no one of us is more deserving to put out our hand for the cup, to break the bread, to say the words of blessing.

The scandal of the Gospel is that Christ died for the undeserving...while we were enemies of God. The foolishness of the Good News, is that God’s love and mercy invites us, unmerited, into the wildly inclusive realm of God. By God’s grace alone we stand; and it is in Christ alone that any of us dare to claim wisdom or justice or holiness or redemption. We have one Savior, who is Christ Jesus, and our equality in faith, our authority in ordination or ministry lies in our Baptism, in which we put on Christ...in which we recognize and gratefully receive God’s claim on us. Those of us who by virtue of our education or ordination claim wisdom and righteousness to be ours...those of us who by virtue of our piety or worldly status claim holiness to be ours are out of step with the Gospel as Paul describes it.

In this established and establishment denomination, many of us are wise by human standards, and have the doctorates to prove it. And many of us have power in the world, movers and shakers in government and industry sit in our pews. Most of us grew up privileged; well fed, housed, and educated. In our comfortable and complacent assurance that all is right in our world we take as allegory or hyperbole these words of Paul: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”

But these words are not allegorical or hyperbolic, but the simple truth...good news to those who are weak and suffering, who are rejected and outcast. God chose the poor, the exiles, and invited them to the welcome table. God chose slaves, and women, and Gentiles...nobodies...to destroy the pretentions of the somebodies...and invited them to the welcome table.

And while we were and are yet sinners, secure in our sense of entitlement and righteousness, Christ died for us. And with our titles and pomp, with our wealth and privilege, we also are invited, just as we are, to the welcome table.

Why do we spend our money for that which is not bread, or our labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, says the Lord, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. The table is spread.

You are welcome.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Our Love for Young People and Passing Amendment 10-A

“91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers … describe Christianity [as ‘anti-homosexual.’]..." This was just one of the speeches prepared by an elder commissioner ready to speak for the ratification of Amendment 10A in the Presbytery of St. Augustine. The presbytery ratified Amendment 10-A by a vote of 87 yes to 66 no. Their vote shifted from no in the 08-B season to yes in the 10-A season.

Impact on Youth

I think it is safe to assume that everyone in this room loves young people as the future of our denomination.  Yet I think we have contributed to the despair of teens and young adults who are different from the majority because they are attracted to people of their own gender.  Our denomination has said it is not OK to be a leader while in relationship with a person of your own gender.  Furthermore, the effect of our current policy of exclusion may contribute to youth homelessness, hopelessness, and suicides (1). 

The Center for American Progress released a study showing that youth who are attracted to their own gender are about four times as likely to be homeless  as heterosexual youth.  Ten studies found consistently high rates of attempted suicides among youths attracted to their own gender — in the range of 20% to 42% (2). 

“91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers … describe Christianity [as ‘anti-homosexual.’]…. When young people were asked to identify their impressions of Christianity, one of the common themes was "Christianity is changed from what it used to be" and "Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus." These comments were the most frequent unprompted images that young people called to mind (young non-Christians (23%) and born again Christians (22%)]” (3)

Jesus invited all to come to Him, not just some of us.  If we are to err on this issue, I pray that we err on the side on inclusion, not on the side of exclusion.  I urge you to vote “FOR” Amendment 10A.
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(1) http://www.365gay.com/uncategorized/homeless-youth-disproportionately-lgbt/
(2) http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/282/13/1291.full
(3) http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/94-a-new-generation-expresses-its-skepticism-and-frustration-with-christianity

In another speech, prepared but not delivered on the floor of presbytery, this elder spoke about fulfilling the law in a way that appears to be breaking the law.

Fulfilling the Law

I know friends and colleagues who oppose Amendment 10A on the basis of their understanding of scripture.  It is perhaps presumptive for an elder to speak to Biblical interpretation and theology, but I cannot help but reflect on this week’s lectionary from Matthew 5:13-20, the story of salt & light and the fulfillment of the law. 

I’ve read enough commentaries and scholar’s opinions to know that sincere people may reasonably interpret the same scripture differently, but I also see a consistent call to the discipleship of love.  Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor makes the point that Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets by bringing scripture to life. 

“By example, [Jesus] taught his followers that there would be times when this fulfillment would go further than the Torah on the page – that was the dangerous part.  There would be times when the deepest possible obedience to God would look like disobedience to the keepers of the traditions of the elders, and no amount of arguing would settle the dispute about which commands were weighty and which were light.

This dangerous teaching of his – and our equally dangerous decision to believe it – still reverberates in our life together.  It still fuels many of our church fights about how to remain obedient to God in a changed world. Do we follow the Torah on the page or the torah we are led to by the spirit of Jesus?” (1) 

I think we have such an issue before us today and I myself am called by Jesus’ ministry of inclusion.  I urge you to support Amendment 10A.
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(1) Barbara Brown Taylor, Seeds of Heaven, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2004, pp. 6-7

Download all the prepared speeches by this elder commissioner.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Faith Journey and God's Call to Serve

Meghan Kaskoun and Melinda Tarter
Some say a picture is worth a thousand words. This photo is of Megan Kashoun and her partner, Melinda Tarter dancing together at Megan's birthday party. Meghan serves as an Elder at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, a welcoming and affirming More Light church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Meghan was the Elder commissioner for Mount Auburn and spoke at the recent Cincinnati Presbytery meeting.

"Madame Moderator, Meghan Kaskoun, Elder commissioner for Mt. Auburn. I am here to speak for the amendment.

To paraphrase Henri Nouwen: “God's love for us existed before we were born and will exist after we have died. God's love is from eternity to eternity and is not bound to any time-related events or circumstances. … God desires to enter into relationship with us and wants us to love God in return.” My faith journey has been an interesting and winding one, as I’m sure many of yours have been too. But I know God has been steadfast with me, even as life has presented lessons to struggle through.

I know I am loved as a child of God, as are all gays and lesbians, as are all persons. My efforts to be in relationship with God are part of a desire to serve the church I’ve grown to love, in my heart I am answering God’s call. To deny any gay or lesbian person, me, the opportunity to serve as an Elder and Deacon is to deny our call to be in relationship with God through service to our faith community.

What we are asking for today is your support of God’s call to us to serve our national and local faith community openly and honestly, like we support yours, as an extension of our faith and relationship with God. I hope that you will lovingly and prayerfully consider our need to answer our calling by God to serve, and approve this amendment to the Gifts and Requirements standards."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Our Faithfulness Through God's Grace

Abby Mohaupt
Abby Mohaupt is a candidate for ministry and student at McCormick. She served as a Theological Advisory Delegate on the Church Orders' Committee at the 219th General Assembly that approved 10-A. Here is the statement she shared with her presbytery, Blackhawk. She reminds us that our faithfulness as followers of Christ is possible because of God's grace. May all of us remember this as we strive to create a Church that reflects God's heart.

"My name is abby mohaupt, and I am a candidate for the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament in this presbytery and a senior at McCormick Theological Seminary. This summer, I represented McCormick and Blackhawk at General Assembly as a Theological School Advisory Delegate. I sat on Committee 6, the committee that discerned, prayed about and recommended the language which is now Amendment 10A.

As a committee, we spent two days in worship and prayer as we sought to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. We listened to people from around the country with all different opinions about ordination standards. We wept together. We laughed together. We prayed some more together.

We saw the struggle of those who came to speak to us--and we recognized that each person who spoke--regardless of their opinion--sought to be faithful followers of Christ.

When we turned to the overtures that presbyteries had sent us (and there were over 20 of them!)--we felt the language that has become 10A best encompassed our deep desire to be faithful. We recognized that we have been called to submit to God's will with our whole selves--not just part--and we can only do that through trust in Jesus Christ.

While I do not get to vote later today, I know that your decision will directly affect me (as a candidate for ordination) than it will affect most of you (as already ordained people). I also know that I am asking you to challenge me to submit my whole self to Christ--not just my romantic relationships. This is an impossible standard--how can I possibly hope to fulfill it? Only by God's grace, embodied in Christ.

Thank you."

Blackhawk voted to ratify Amendment 10-A by a vote of 66 yes to 46 no. Blackhawk changed their vote from no on 08-B to yes on 10-A.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It Happened in Cincinnati, It Can Happen in Your Presbytery!

Rev. Hal Porter
Last night Cincinnati Presbytery approved 10-A with a vote of 99 to 72 with 3 abstentions. Cincinnati became the 6th presbytery so far to have a transformed vote. They had a tie-vote last time which was counted as a "no" vote to a "yes" vote yesterday. Rev. Hal Porter, pastor emeritus, Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio was one of four persons from Mount Auburn church who spoke at the meeting. Mount Auburn is celebrating its 20th year as a welcoming and affirming More Light church. Rev. Porter has also served on the National MLP Board of Directors. Here is his statement:

Madame Moderator,

Thirteen years ago when this so called “chastity and fidelity clause” was first voted on, this Presbytery voted against it. It would have been wise for the whole church to have done so because G-6.0106b has not brought peace, unity, or purity to our church – only discord, confusion, double standards, unequal rights, frivolous judicial proceedings, personal injury, and the tarnishing of our witness to the amazing Grace that is in Christ Jesus.

Such should have been the expected results, however, when we try to amend our constitution to support a purely cultural view that only some in our church hold to. And that view was the anxious and fearful need to revamp our ordination standards so that gays and lesbians would be prevented from ordination.

It would have been one thing to change the constitution with simple and straightforward language stating that homosexual persons cannot be ordained in the Presbyterian Church. But that would make it seem we are a homophobic church and we have indeed declared homophobia a sin!

So, instead, the effort was made to employ virtuous values, which chastity and fidelity surely are, as the applied test for all candidates for ordination. But how could homosexuals have fidelity in marriage since marriage is denied them?! And why should they choose chastity in singleness when what the church really means by chastity for them is celibacy?!

Our church has offered its homosexual members only two options that would make them eligible for ordination: become heterosexuals or live a life of strict celibacy – both uncharitable and impossible demands.

Dear Colleagues, it is long past time that we end this hurtful double standard charade in our church.

Rev. Hal Porter in support of Amendment 10-A before the Presbytery of Cincinnati, February 8, 2011.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's Hard to Build a Church as Big as God's Love

Rev. Steve Runholt
"It's hard to build a church as big as God's love," said Rev. Steve Runholt to the Presbytery of Western North Carolina on January 29 with regard to the 219th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 10-A. Runholt serves as pastor of Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church in Asheville, NC.

Here is his statement:

Here we are again, Mr. Moderator. I think we’re all frustrated to be here again, having this same debate. But we’re here because it’s hard to build a church as big as God’s love. It takes time. Centuries even.

It takes time because it’s a scary thing to extend the levers of leadership to people who are different from us—African Americans, women, Gentiles, Northerners. It was scary for the disciples and it’s scary for us.

At least it has been for me. For much of my life I would have voted to keep our current ordination standards in place.

For years I thought the Bible was crystal clear on this matter. “They are filled with every kind of wickedness,” Paul writes about apparent homosexuals in Romans 1. “Full of envy, murder, strife, they are God-haters.”

How can you argue with that? Except that none of my gay and lesbian friends and congregants are like that. Quite the opposite, in fact. They love God and are full of mercy and grace. Many are conspicuously gifted for leadership and ministry.

So I looked closer. And I came to understand Romans 1 is not about them. It’s about sexual practices in pagan temples in ancient Rome, not about loving, faithful same-gender relationships of the kind known by our congregants who are gay.

Then I made the real discovery. This passage is not about my gay and lesbian friends, it’s about me.

Having whipped his readers into a frenzy, Paul then delivers the knockout punch: Therefore you have no excuse, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you . . . are doing the very same things.

When I judge anyone, I am the guilty party, not them. That’s the real point of the passage, and it changed my life. It’s why I’m standing here today.

And here we are all again, because it’s hard to build a church as big as God’s love. It was hard for the disciples and it’s hard for us. But one simple way to do that is to vote “Yes” on this amendment.

Steve Runholt, Pastor
Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church
Presbytery of Western North Carolina
January 29, 2011

The Presbytery of Western North Carolina ratified Amendment 10-A by a vote of 145 yes to 99 no.