Friday, March 18, 2011

Amendment 10-A Allows for Honesty and Integrity

Nathan Sobers
Nathan Sobers is an Elder at Madrona Park Presbyterian Church in the Seattle Presbytery. Amendment 10-A did not pass in the presbytery, but the 103 to 126 vote reflects an 8% improvement over 08-B.

I speak in favor of the amendment.

15 years ago when Madrona Church called me to be an Elder, they weren’t trying to be trailblazers by calling an openly gay man. They weren’t trying to thumb their collective noses at the Presbytery or the denomination. Madrona was simply living out the Gospel, as they understood it then and as they understand it now. Galatians 3:23-28 perfectly describes how the Gospel is lived out in our congregation, particularly verse 28, which reads: “There are neither Jew or Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is an exceptionally powerful passage for a congregation where the majority of members are descended from slaves and one that continues to guide and shape our actions as a part of the body of Christ.

One of the things that I find most appealing about being a Presbyterian is the knowledge that I don’t have to check my intellect at the door. We are not required to think alike nor are we bound by one narrow interpretation of scripture. In fact the Confession of 1967 explicitly reminds us “The Bible is to be interpreted in the light of its witness to God's work of reconciliation in Christ. The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written.” We are able to disagree and argue; we are able to hold diametrically opposite views and remain in community with each other. What we can’t do is tell those who don’t agree with us that they don’t belong. In 1 Cor. 12: 21 we read “The eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you! And the head cannot say to the feet, I don’t need you!” Verse 27 goes on to say, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

G-6.0106b has forced those of us who are Gay to either deny our God given gifts or to “fly under the radar”, separating us from the body of Christ. Neither of these options allow for honesty or integrity. Both hurt the person and the church.

We your Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender brothers and sisters want nothing more then to be able to follow Christ, worship God and serve the Church. 10-A will allow us to do all of these things with integrity and honesty.

Thank you

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Amendment 10-A Voting Analysis - February through Mid-March

The Big number

Currently, the overall, denomination-wide voting tally for Amendment 10A stands at 67 in favor, 48 opposed.

Some Other Numbers

Long story short: The February-March voting season has been exciting for supporters of Amendment 10A, with several interesting developments.  The numbers speak for themselves: 19 overall victories, 24 presbyteries voting more in favor of equality than they did in 2008, and 4 presbyteries prayerfully shifting from “No” votes in 2008 to “Yes” votes in 2011.  At the moment, 10A maintains the lead in the overall vote tally - 67 presbyteries in favor, 48 opposed.

In other words, these are good numbers for those hoping for a more inclusive, more loving PCUSA!

Behind the Scenes/"The Exciting Number"

While 10A is in the lead in terms of support, there are still 58 presbyteries left to vote, many of which chose to overwhelmingly oppose amendments like 10A in previous years.  Clearly, there are a lot of calls to make, conversations to have and prayers to offer up before 10A gets the 87 yes votes needed to pass the amendment. 

There is, however, a really important number to remember: 12, or the net number of presbyteries who shifted from a “No” vote in 2008 (against 08-B) to a “Yes” vote in 2010/2011 (in favor of 10A).

Why is the number 12 important?  Because it is three more than another number 9, or the amount of presbyteries by which 08-B lost in 2008.  The final tally in 2008’s denomination-wide vote on 08-B was 78 in favor, 94 opposed, and 1 presbytery not voting.  If 9 more presbyteries had voted in favor of amendment 08-B, it would have passed.

But this year - specifically in this past month - we’ve seen a shift.  13 presbyteries have prayerfully searched their own hearts and changed their votes from “No” to “Yes.”  One presbytery switched from “Yes” to “No,” creating a net gain of 12 more presbyteries - so far - voting in favor of 10A than did 08-B.

Translation: the numbers are shifting, good things are happening, and we are inching closer and closer to passing Amendment 10A.

These exciting new developments however, do not imply a forgone conclusion.  The reality is quite the opposite: many of the votes of this past month have been incredibly close (Mission Presbytery only voted in favor of the amendment by .8%) and some presbyteries are voting less in favor of 10A then they did for 08-B (the presbytery of Eastminster - which voted 60.6% in favor of amendment 08-B - only passed 10A this month by one vote, or 46-45).  Clearly, this conversation is far from over.

Yes, the voting tallies are encouraging so far, but there is, again, a lot of work left to do!

Let’s get to it!

* 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, Cayuga-Syracuse, Long Island, Redwoods, Winnebago, voted in favor of the amendment, but they took 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 Presbyteries of Glacier, San Fernando and Noroeste voted against the amendment by taking unrecorded standing, “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.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Two Questions for our Church: What are we hoping for and what are we afraid of?

Rev. Debra Avery (left) at 219th GA
Grand Canyon Presbytery 10-A Floor Speech by Rev. Debra Avery, Pastor of Palo Cristi Presbyterian Church, Paradise Valley, Arizona. Grand Canyon Presbytery passed 10-A by 84 to 53.

I speak in favor of the amendment. I don’t have a radical conversion story or an encyclopedic knowledge of scripture and our confessions. What I have is a journey of faith-filled hoping and some obedient steps in the direction I believe God is calling me to go. There are two questions that I believe we need to ask ourselves before we vote: What are we hoping for and what are we afraid of?

1. Some here might be hoping that the church will win the culture wars, either by restoring a culture of orthodoxy or by fostering a culture of openness and inclusion.
I wonder if we might find hope in our confessional tradition that calls us to a culture of reconciliation, forgiveness, and humility as we trust that the Holy Spirit will work in and through the messiness even when we don’t have it all figured out.
2. Some here might be hoping for the return of a biblical worldview. But I worry that it will be a worldview like the one held by some Christians who told me I needed to stay in a broken marriage with an addict because divorce is an abomination; or the one taught by some of my extended family to advise me to give up seminary and my call because women are to remain silent in the congregation.
I wonder if we might consider the biblical truth that says tithe: sell all that you have and give it away and then follow me; or the one that says that the body of Christ must be diverse, for if the whole body is an eye, where would the hearing be?
3. Finally, some of us are afraid: Afraid that a yes vote will cause a complete rupture of the denomination; that it might cause us to be rejected by family members, colleagues, members of our congregation, by God.
I cling every day to sola gratia—trusting in God’s grace alone to know that nothing stands in the way of God’s love. More and more I am afraid that we might be like the rich man who for years told Lazarus “no” only to find that he suffered eternally for refusing to offer a welcome to that man who lay just outside the gate.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mission Presbytery 10-A Floor Speech by Rev. Kelly Allen

Rev. Kelly Allen
By Rev. Kelly Allen, Pastor of University Presbyterian Church, San Antonio, TX. Mission Presbytery passed 10-A by 201 to 194. They were a transformed Presbytery that tied on 08-B.
I do not believe the Presbyterian Church should ordain anyone who feels called by God. This is not how we do things. Not everyone is suited for ordained ministry, and we should be honest about that. The community must humbly decide that the sense of the Holy Spirit you feel is not a delusion or indigestion, but is the call of God.

I believe our moral standards for ordained people are not where they should be. I am aware of ministers who……..
Plagiarize sermons
Refuse to visit people in hospitals
Mock Scripture
Break confidentiality
Show little respect for members of their own congregations
Leave addictions to substances or pornography unaddressed, or
Engage in sexual misconduct (all things forgiveable of course, but sometimes foreseeable as well)
While keeping our standards high, perhaps it is time to consider that those of integrity, strong gifts for ministry, and a deep love for God, who HAPPEN to organize their family life around the love of two members of the same gender, might be equally considered for positions of ministry as anyone else. 10-A allows for this possibility.

This is not compromising the truth of the Bible. We believe the great truth of scripture still stands even though we now believe marriage should be a choice, not the Biblically expected economic arrangement between male heads of families. We have moved away from the Biblical idea that a nonfertile wife is cause for adding another. And we have resigned ourselves to women being given authority over men, despite Paul’s admonishment to keep us silent. In the 19th century it was argued that our weak morals and tendency toward sexual promiscuity should keep us from such authority.

The people about whom we have been deliberating, debating, theologizing, examining, and voting are the first person I ever buried in my pastoral ministry, my cousins, husband’s uncle, my church administrator, my friends, my daughter’s friend at school, and my closeted colleagues in ministry, lay and ordained, Surely it is possible to consider that scripture guides us to receive the fruit they bear in their lives as worthy of the kingdom of God.

And if we are wrong –at least it can be said that we erred on the side of grace.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Reflection in Support of Amendment 10-A for the Presbytery of Utah

Rev. Paul R. Heins
By Rev. Paul R. Heins, First Presbyterian Church of Logan, Utah

I believe that it’s time.

For the past two months, our congregation has been working through the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth. As I have read and reflected upon the apostle’s words, listening for God’s living Word, it struck me how much things change...and how much they stay the same. Sure, they struggled with the question of whether or not to eat meat offered to idols and we can’t wait to vote for the next American Idol, Paul advised them to moderate their free-flowing, unintelligible words spoken in tongues in corporate worship and we question the precise meaning of every single word (especially the one’s on the tongues of those whose views are different than ours), but at the heart, our struggle is the same: how do we live Christ? We wrangle over what constitutes faithful Christian living, and too many times this wrangling threatens our life together. When this happened in Corinth, Paul wrote, “For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations (1 Cor. 3:3)?” (1).  In the apostle’s view, the very fact that there was profound division in Corinth was an indicator that the believers there were not resting with both feet in the kingdom of God. There’s news.

It’s still news.

At our next presbytery meeting, we will be voting on whether to amend G-6.0106b in our Book of Order.  The present text goes like this:

Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

The amendment under our consideration would replace the present paragraph with the following:
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
Wrapped up in these paragraphs are the questions of whether or not we can/should allow the ordination of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, who gets to make decisions about this particular boundary issue, and how we interpret Scripture and the confessions of our tradition along with it.

We have been wrestling with these issues of sexuality, ordination, and faithfulness for decades now. There has been plenty of religious zeal on all sides of this ongoing debate. As we have wrestled, our ‘human inclinations’ (like the Corinthians) have too often been splayed out like a peacock’s tail. I guess we just have to realize that until Christ returns, we will always have one foot in the kingdom of God (by God’s grace), and one foot in the...well, that other kingdom where we see less clearly and love less dearly than we ought.

Given this reality (or maybe in spite of it?), I believe it’s time. I believe it’s time to make room for those of different perspectives to live together in love, grace, and faith.

Since G-6.0106b was added to our constitution in 1997, with its hard edge drawn in one particular area of life over all others (“fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness”), it has been a source of division and pain, particularly  to those who, because of that language, are denied the blessing of exploring their call to ordained ministry. In turning away the gifts for ministry of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers, and at a time when the church needs to use all the gifts God has given, our eye has said to the hand, “I have no need of you (1 Cor. 12:14-26),” I believe that we, as a community of faith, are the lesser for it.
Amendment 10-A makes room for those who have different perspectives on ordination standards and related issues. It does so while upholding standards that are high (“submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life”) along with offering specific criteria for measuring the suitability of each candidate (“expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination”, “guided by Scripture and the confessions”). It places the responsibility for discernment in the hands of those who have traditionally held it: the governing bodies who are in the best position to discern whether a brother or sister is called and fit to serve in ordained ministry. Those bodies who don’t come to the same conclusion as a previous body will not have to call that, or any, particular candidate to serve among their particular community. All that happens is that we welcome and respect each other as children of God.

I come out of a very traditional background. At the beginning of my own journey toward ordained ministry, I believed very strongly and with a sincere faith in a perspective similar to the one that gave birth to G-6.0106b. Since that time, I have wrestled profoundly, and I believe that God has spoken to me loudly (yes, loudly, I have a thick skull).

I have come to understand that the meaning of the few bible verses that mention same sex acts is not as clear as I had thought. I have come to discover that the meagre biblical evidence condemning same sex acts is dwarfed by the Scriptural counter-story of inclusion and welcome. The widow, orphan, eunuch, foreigner, leper, tax collector, samaritan, the prodigal and elder son, even the pharisee and scribe, all of them are welcomed into God’s full embrace. (phew! That includes me!) Like Peter the Jew in the house of Cornelius the Gentile, I have witnessed the power of the Spirit in my sisters and brothers who happen to be gay, and exclaim, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality...(Acts 10:34)” In my view, with the Lord’s intention so clearly displayed, I’d prefer to try and live together and welcome fully rather than draw lines in the sand and risk finding myself outside (Matt 7:21–22) (2).

I know there are others who feel differently. I recognize that my brothers and sisters who oppose this amendment, and who oppose the possibility of ordination for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, have a foot in the kingdom of God. Their faith, I know, is sincere, as is their passion for the truth of the gospel.

I also recognize that I, and those who share my perspective, still have one foot in the kingdom of this world, falling far short of the glory of God.

So here we all stand, one foot on the promise, and one foot in the mire. Instead of wrestling, how about we dance? How about we make room on the floor for all who would follow Jesus our Lord, and dance each other out of the muck and into the kingdom?

I think Amendment 10-A allows that dance. It even invites it.

The dance is beautiful, and the picture of us dancing together (in addition to maybe looking rather comical) is, I believe, a powerful statement in and of itself to a world of fighters. Perhaps we might just get both feet in the kingdom, or at least another toe (3).

I believe it’s about time. I pray you do to, and encourage you to vote in support of Amendment 10-A.

(1) Interestingly, the word for ‘jealousy’ can also be translated ‘religious zeal’ cf.Phil 3:6, Rom.10:2
(2) The discussion here is necessarily short (though it might not seem so ;). I am always open to, and love, discussing Scripture.
(3) I don’t mean to make light of the issue with talk of dancing and toes and such. I just want to “submit [a little more] joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of [my and our] life.