When Justice Cries Out, Mutual Forbearance? (PCUSA General Assembly)

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The 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) convenes this week in Pittsburgh.  On the docket, among many other things, are sundry pleas regarding the ordination of openly gay non-celibate Christians.  Some for, some against, some seeking to overturn the 2010 decision opening the way for partnered gay clergy, some seeking a reaffirmation of that decision, some seeking some kind of Congregationalist middle ground.

I respect what the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area is trying to do by asking the GA to recognize “that faithful Presbyterians earnestly seeking to follow Jesus Christ hold different views about what the Scriptures teach concerning the morality of committed same-gender relationships. Therefore, while holding persons in ordered ministry to high standards of covenant fidelity in the exercise of their sexuality, as in all aspects of life, we decline to take an action that would have the effect of imposing on the whole Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) one interpretation of Scripture in this matter.”

Leslie Scanlon uses the right phrase, mutual forbearance, for this approach.  But if this really is a justice matter, which I believe it is, I can’t finally come done on the side of mutual forbearance, can I?  I can’t. And so I don’t.

One of the things I respect about Twin Cities’ attempt, however, is the onus it puts on everyone to admit that saying “we” or “they” base a given view on “a faithful reading of Scripture” doesn’t really say anything about who we are, what we believe, or what we’re doing.  We’re all trying to read Scripture faithfully.   Faithful reading just so happens to mean different things to different faithful Christian people.  The more truth-telling we do about the diverse ways of being faithfully Christian, or of reading Scripture of of telling the Christian story faithfully, the better.

And yet, of course, I bristle, in my gut and in my heart, at the suggestion that all ways of reading Scripture or of being Christian are faithful.  Certainly, some are more faithful than others.  Certainly, in my study of Scripture and, more importantly, my experience of the Holy Spirit, I’ve been convicted that the kind of Christianity that would exclude partnered gays and lesbians from Christian ministry is not nearly as faithful or as just (on that issue and its implications for the whole mission of God) than the kinds of Christian expressions that welcome the ordination of GLBT sisters and brothers called to ministry.

A practical question:  What would a working-out of the Twin Cities’ call look like?  Radical Congregationalism?  Some presbyteries recognizing ordination standards and others not?  Some presbyteries recognizing clergy and others not?

I’m not willing to mutually forbear on this issue, but I am willing to say that Christians of good will and good intention and growing faith can certainly disagree on these issues without malicious intent.  And there again, I find myself wondering “but for how long, Lord, how long?”

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4 comments

  1. If there are Presbyteries that refuse to ordain GLBT people – how does that affect you? The 2010 decision allows you to find a Presbytery that does accept GLBT ordination which should remove your concern so you can get on to doing God’s work. No one forces anyone to go to any church, so how is this a justice matter? GLBT Christians have tremendous options now to attend churches that accept them — they have had these options for many years outside of the Presbyterian faith. I’ve always thought of this to be a really minor issue.

    As an aside: either a GLBT lifestyle is sinful in God’s eyes or it isn’t. No human is authoritative on this. It is also true that every single person who is ordained is a miserable sinner regardless of his/her sexual orientation. I think we’ve done a very human thing in listing a group of sinful actions and drawing a line that says – commit any one of these sins and you cannot be ordained. What’s the criteria for such a list? Aren’t those sins equally as forgiven by God as the others committed by the rest of Session and our Pastors?

  2. I should also say that it DOES affect us if our national expression, or our parallel regional expressions, are wrong on justice issues. I think it’s a big deal. I’m not a woman, a person of color, gay, an immigrant, homeless, HIV positive…I’ll never REALLY know what it’s like to face systematic injustice. But I think I know it when I see it, and this is it.

  3. Interesting and well written article Christopher. I’m curious to understand though, when you say: “I’ve been convicted that the kind of Christianity that would exclude partnered gays and lesbians from Christian ministry is not nearly as faithful or as just (on that issue and its implications for the whole mission of God) than the kinds of Christian expressions that welcome the ordination of GLBT sisters and brothers called to ministry.”

    What are your convictions based upon? Revelation by the Holy Spirit? Insight from Scripture? A general belief that its wrong to exclude anyone from ordination or ministry? I’d really like to understand.

    Phil, there have always been standards to determine whether a person is qualified for a certain office or task, clergy included. The issue isnt whether we sin, that’s a given obviously.., the issue is whether we continue to live in sin. There is a character and moral difference between someone who lied once as a kid, versus someone who is a habitual liar with no intent to stop. I’d hate to have a pastor who is lying constantly.., unless they lie everytime, then I would just reverse everything they say.

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