Part 6 of series: The End of the Presbyterian Church USA? Revisited
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series
In my last post I continued my reflections on the crisis in the Presbyterian Church USA. Given our disagreements and divisions over many things, centrally, the ordination of active gays and lesbians, is it possible for members of the PCUSA to compromise, to find away to move forward without major reorganization or separation. In the classic question of Rodney King, “Can we, can we all get along?”
I answered this question with a clear yes . . . and no. Yes, we can get along in many ways, the ways we Presbyterians get along with folk in other denominations. But the division in the PCUSA over the issue of gay ordination is so deep, and the convictions associate with it so strong, that I have come to believe we can’t get along as a united denomination, at least not in the forms of our past.
This conclusion is one I have arrived at slowly. It has come, substantially, from my having listened for years to folks on both sides of the issue. As you might well expect, I have found it easier to listen to those with whom I agree. But I have also spent many, many hours listening to those with whom I disagree, hearing their concerns, their pains, their hopes. I have heard their resolve, their passion, their commitment to their side of this issue. This has led me to conclude that neither side in this debate is apt to be persuaded to change its mind, and that neither side is apt to give up the matter as inconsequential.
I will try to explain this as best I can, beginning with the side that affirms gay ordination. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that this is not my side. I will try to be fair, nevertheless. I do have quite a few friends on “the other side,” as it were. And, though I disagree with them, I have respect for them and their convictions.
For Supporters of Gay Ordination: A Matter of Justice
Those who support gay ordination see it as a matter of fundamental justice. They believe that the PCUSA has been oppressing gays and lesbians, denying them their basic rights as Christians and as members of the PCUSA. Folks on the pro-gay side believe that it is not always sinful for people to engage in homosexual activity, and therefore it is wrong to preclude the ordination of all active gays and lesbians. In fact, supporters of gay ordination differ widely on the conditions required for same-sex intimacy to be okay. A few would argue that it’s acceptable only if two people have a lifelong, monogamous commitment to each other, a gay marriage, if you will. Most on the pro-gay side do not limit acceptable sexual expression only to such a relationship. They see sex between two mature, loving people (gay or straight) as potentially blessed by God even when there is no religious or civil union.
When people believe that the ordination of homosexuals is a matter of basic justice, then they’re not going to drop it, even if they continue to lose the votes in General Assembly or the presbyteries. They will continue to fight for what they believe in, even if the fight goes on indefinitely. They feel justified in their cause. They are convinced that God is on their side, or, that they are on God’s side, the side of justice.
One who appears to take the justice side in this debate is the new moderator of the PCUSA, Bruce Reyes-Chow. Here’s what he writes on his blog about homosexuality and justice:
The fundamental dilemma . . . is where one places homosexuality itself. At the core of the debate is whether or not one considered homosexuality a sin or a natural God-created trait. I obviously hold the latter way of thinking. Much like race – and this is a huge debate in the brown community – I see sexual orientation as the same created gift as gender and race. I think as long as it is still seen as a SIN, the “love the sinner, hate the sin” is simply a friendly gesture to maintain some facade of civility. Yes, you are not screaming for outright violence, but there is still a message of division that is shared. On the other hand, if one does NOT think homosexuality is a sin, then one engages differently and focuses on what I would consider more shared human areas of brokenness: poverty, oppression, violence, etc. (Photo: Bruce Reyes-Chow running for moderator)
It’s easy for me to understand why those who support gay ordination, as people who are committed to justice, believe that they’re acting in accord with God’s will. The Bible is filled with the call to justice, especially on behalf of those who are marginalized or oppressed. Thus, many Christians have seen advocacy for gay and lesbian people as a part of their faithfulness to God, even to the Scripture that calls us to do justice. The PCUSA, in their view, has marginalized and oppressed gay people by not ordaining them. Divine justice requires a change in ordination policy, and they will fight for this change.
From their point of view, those who deny ordination to gays and lesbians are perpetrators of injustice. Thus supporters of gay ordination can’t sit back and “get along” with the other side as long as it prevails. They must fight for justice until they win. So, when the PCUSA votes to deny ordination to gays and lesbians, they don’t stop fighting, but press on to seek what they believe to be divine justice.
For many on this side of the issue, they believe they’re not only on the side of justice, but also on the side of love. They often have close relationships with gay and lesbian Presbyterians who have been hurt by the church’s ordination stance. Thus, compassion for those who have been excluded seems to demand a change in Presbyterian polity, in addition to a call to justice.
When people believe they are on the side of God’s justice, and when their hearts are moved by compassion, they are apt to be steadfast and immovable in their convictions and in their efforts to foster institutional change. This is exactly what we have seen in the last thirty years in the PCUSA.
But then there’s the other side. In my next post I’ll explain how those who oppose gay ordination see the issue.