“It's been a long, slow, painful death.” So, begins a widely distributed article by Bob Burney
. In it, he predicts/acknowledges the death of a denomination, specifically the PCUSA. Why is it dead? Well, clearly you've not be following the religious news. It is dead because it loves homosexuals. Admittedly, even though Mr. Burney opens the article saying “the church has abandoned its denominational commitment to traditional marriage,” he does say that, “The issue here is not homosexuality. The core of the matter is the authority of scripture.”
Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” It's a great fit for this situation; it's also not the original quote. The original quote
is an even better fit: “The reports of my illness grew out of his illness, the report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Mr. Burney's article is riddled with inconsistencies, presumptions and poor logic. It also exhibits an argumentative style of a person who has little to no ground upon which to stand. It would seem that his fundamentalist point of view is going under in the PCUSA and he, and those for whom he is presumably a representative voice, are grasping at straws in the death throes of their position.
They have resorted not only to thinly veiled ad hominem attacks on anyone who doesn't believe what they do, but also to thinly veiled threats as they hold membership numbers hostage with the argument of “play by our rules or we will take our ball and go home.” (It's what I call “the playground mentality of the frozen chosen”).
(Mark is a member of Salem Presbytery, PC(USA), which will be voting Saturday, April 9 on Amendment 10-A to "The Book of Order" concerning ordination standards. [UPDATE: 10-A passed in Salem Presbytery: 186-107-2. UPDATE #2: PC(USA) passed Amendment 10 making it possible for local governing bodies to ordain LGBTQ members.)
Here's the thing. There are gay ministers. Always have been, always will be.
Surprisingly, at least if you listen to the Anti-Gay Minister Movement (yes, that's a name I just made up), the church hasn't gone to Hell in a hand basket because of it.
The thing that confuses me, to a degree at least, is the fact that the very people who want to keep gay minsters silent (effectively living a lie in order to follow the call which God has put upon their heart) would also recognize how important it is to live a life that is real and honest if you ever hope to grow closer to God. Some of them may even go as far as to agree that the ability to fully be who God made you to be and to be fully loved at the same time is a gift of the grace of God. Yet, they are not willing to extend that same grace for a specific group of people: gays called into ministry.
No single group is as marginalized in the Christian church, particularly in relationship to ordination, as the gay community. Interestingly enough, the only thing Jesus ever said about homosexuality was, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Oh wait, that wasn't about homosexuality at all, was it? Come to think of it, that was about all of us, wasn't it? Well, food for thought nonetheless.
At some point, those who stand against ordaining people whose sexual orientation happens to be homosexual are going to have to admit that they believe two things that most of the rest of the Christian community do not see as core values in the teachings of Jesus: 1) that God's love comes in degrees; that God loves some people more than others; that if you are gay you are less worthy of that love and hence less capable of being called into ministry and 2) they personally know better than the individual who feels called into ministry whether or not God is actually calling them into ministry.
Personally, I have to say, I'm completely over the archaic arguments of "it's a sin" or" it's a choice that can be 'cured.'" To even engage in these arguments is to accept that they are rational, reasonable and have some hint of the truth in them. I suspect, but would never presume to say I know, that God laughs every time we do engage in those arguments. Well, maybe not every time. The way biblical texts are contorted and misused for the express purpose of marginalizing this specific group of people probably comes about has close to ticking God off as I imagine God might get. If these same people had fought to keep me out of ministry (I'm divorced; but they wouldn't do that being that many of them are also divorced) and were picketing Red Lobster every Friday night with “God Hates Shrimp Lovers” signs, I might feel a little bit differently, but they don't, so I don't.
For that matter, why aren't we already ordaining lesbians? Out of some 31,000 verses, the Bible only has one verse that is even remotely judgmental about two women having a loving relationship and Leviticus alone has multiple verses condemning the consumption of shellfish. It just may be that this is less about biblical perspectives and more about personal preferences. Kind of ironic isn't it? People who claim being gay is a choice are making the choice to condemn begin gay in the face of a largely missing condemnation of it in the Bible particularly when compared to other 'sins' which the Church has, in large part, chosen to overlook. Just a thought.
My argument for ordaining homosexuals into ministry? We already do it and many of them are among the wisest, hardest working, nurturing, insightful, creative, inspiring, spiritual and loving people in ministry. They do it even though many in ministry want them out, profess to “hate their sin” (but love the sinner – how nice), criticize them, judge them, marginalize them and use them as scapegoats for everything that goes wrong in the world (particularly those things insurance companies call “acts of God.”). I submit, as my main witness in this debate, the works of already ordained gay ministers. We straight ministers should be as forgiving, loving, positive, giving and hopeful in the face of criticism, accusations and judgment as they are. What a wonderful world that would be – Kingdom of God like, even.
I'm not asking you to agree with me or disagree with me. Your choice is your choice. I'm just a bit weary of the hypocrisy in the Church over this particular matter and needed to say it out loud. It's time to stop the divisive infighting. It's time to turn outward to the world and get to worrying about the things about which Jesus actually did have something to say: loving our neighbors, advocating for the marginalized, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, healing the sick, mending up the broken hearted and proliferating peace. What a wonderful world that would be – Kingdom of God like, even.
"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness,and to walk humbly with your God?"
Today, Oct. 11, is National Coming Out Day
. The fact that we even have to have this day is a sad statement about how committed we are as the Body of Christ to justice and to equality. It is also a sad statement about the hate and fear-mongering that continues throughout The Church. There are still untold numbers of people who must pass for someone they are not, out of fear for how they will be treated.
Yes, we live in a nation where, for some people, being the people God created them to be must be feared and hidden... “In God we trust,” indeed. Justice is blind? From what I've seen, it is not nearly blind enough.
In terms of seeking equal rights for our gay brothers and sisters, we have been traveling in the right direction for some time now, but we have been traveling too slowly, to begrudgingly and by asking too many to hide too much of the reflection of God that is uniquely revealed in them. Justice delayed, certainly is justice denied. And as Dr. King reminded us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Today I ask my minister friends and my straight friends to stand with me on this National Coming Out Day. Stand with me and our homosexual brothers and sisters who were made equally in the image of God and should be treated equal in this great nation of ours. I ask you to come out for equality.
Fear can be overcome with knowledge. So let's let those who have had to pretend to be someone they are not for so long know
that not only does God love them, but we love them – that not only does God stand with them, but we stand with them.
Equality is not up for biblical questioning my friends. We are all created equally in God's image. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
So I ask you to step up and speak out. Share the HRC
logo on your FB page, on your Twitter page. Post quotes about equality, loudly claim your love for all of God's children and demand that they ALL be treated with the same grace, dignity, respect and rights that are afforded to you.“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
In light of the hate crimes that continue to make news, crimes directed at homosexuals or anyone who others might believe to be gay or to be a lesbian, I have to make a statement about it's relationship with The Church.
But first, let me start with an apology. If any of you are uncomfortable about hearing about homosexuality and words like ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ in discussion of the church, then I am sorry. I am sorry, that we ministers have done such a poor job of addressing the topic. We have been afraid to talk about the pink elephant in the room. Instead of talking about the way we Christians have committed sometimes subtle (and sometimes blatant) hate crimes against gays and lesbians, we talk in vague code about inclusiveness, open door policies and the Christian call to love the sinner. We have done a grave and unjust service to the life of the church and to our homosexual brothers and sisters.
We have let our fear control our faith, rather than letting our faith control our fear. We have let our fear override our God, rather than letting our God override our fear – the very God whose messengers tell us over and over again in the Bible, “Do not be afraid.”
An article by John Fisher, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, entitled, “The Separation of Church and Hate” talks about how the larger population has started to associate hate with the church. In part it is also about how we have put more trust in ourselves than in God. There is no better example of hatred in the church than in the way some churches have handled the issue of homosexuality.
The article reminds us, The Church, what Jesus had to say about hate: “Hate has no place being connected in any way to a follower of Christ. Jesus went as far as to equate hatred in the heart with murdering someone. And of course, John wrote that God is love, and it is impossible to claim to love God while hating anyone.”
When I was presented before the Presbytery as a Candidate for ordination, a group of people who are considering forming their own Presbytery because of their condemnation of homosexuality, stood up and asked me, and the others being presented that day, questions about, among other things, our sex lives. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife), my parents, many of the members of the church I would soon be serving as a Minister of Word and Sacrament were there that day. In front of everyone, including the other ministers who would soon be my colleagues, I was reduced to answering a question about my sex life. I have nothing to hide, but somehow it felt degrading and belittling. Their fear reduced a calling that I had been working toward for years down to a question about sex rather than questions about faith.
It happened at another Presbytery meeting. One minister, in order to save his wife the embarrassment of being asked about her sex life from a male stranger, stood up first and asked his own wife in front of hundreds of people if she had practiced fidelity in their 15 years of marriage – if he hadn’t asked they would have. Now you might think that would have driven the point home of how their fear (and possibly hatred) had pushed them to the point of absurdity, but it didn’t. A few minutes later a man stepped forward to ask the first Mexican woman ever presented for ordination in the Presbyterian Church in the US or in Mexico, with her children in the room, about - her sex life.
Some of these very people want to leave the church. The church leadership is trying to foster dialogue (using vague language that doesn’t actually address the core issue of homosexuality) in hope of convincing them to stay…I say…let them leave. I believe it might actually be the most loving thing we can do. In part, that is because I am for the separation of church…and hate.
Maybe this is a watershed moment in the life of the church. Maybe God is transplanting God’s church to the riverside. After years of barren discussions in the wilderness of disagreements over homosexuality, after years of the church digging its roots in deep to search out a common ground but coming up dry, after years of seeking relief from the internal struggle…maybe, just maybe, God is now doing a little gardening.
Transplanting each group in a place where it can be nourished. Transplanting each group in a place where it can get to doing God’s real work – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, visiting the imprisoned – instead of focusing so much on something that biblically matters so little.