Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Church Politics

I'm on the Bills and Overtures Committee of National Capital Presbytery, and we met last night to consider two overtures that would delete the section of the denomination's constitution that is used to bar the ordination of gay and lesbian candidates for ministry (and other ordained church offices). A friend asked me this morning for my reaction to the meeting, at which the committee decided to offer neither endorsement nor opposition to the proposed overtures. Here's what I told him:
I'm not at all clear on where things are headed within NCP. The conservatives seem to me to be the ones actively organizing right now. They have championed the change in the way we select commissioners to General Assembly. They have made specific pledges to uphold "b" a public litmus test for ordination. They have asked candidates to pledge to live in chastity or fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman, and thus raised Victorian sensibilities to the status of confession.
The call last night was OK -- neither a win nor a loss. I did not think it worth a fight for a small victory of marginal importance in that venue, so I voiced the opinion that sending the overtures to presbytery without comment from B&O seemed a faithful action. I believe that it was. I hope that compromise might be received as a small conciliatory gesture by conservatives who will be angry that anyone has the temerity to introduce an overture to delete "be" in the wake of the Peace, Unity, Purity task force report's call for a moratorium on legislation related to "b." Personally, I think we are seeing within NCP the continued toxic effects of "b" on the life of the church, and we've had a decade to discern that "b" does not further the peace, unity or purity of the church. How much discerning is necessary? When candidates are regularly subjected to inquisitions on the floor of presbytery concerning their sex lives, it's clear that the system is broken.
That said, I'm all for efforts to replicate the relationship building experience that the members of the task force enjoyed in their years together. Progressive and conservative members of that small body build something powerful and important together. But I don't think that is possible on a larger scale as long as "b" is in the constitution because it prohibits in advance the equality necessary for authentic relationships.
I lack the imagination to envision a non-legislative process for moving beyond this point, which is why I will continue, as long as I remain in the church, to stand with those who bring measures to delete "b" from its constitution. Not to put too grand a spin on it, but this is the Martin Luther moment for me -- here I stand, I can do no other.
Of course, conservatives will accuse us of grandstanding when we support another presybtery's overture. I look at consurring with the Hudson River overture as giving witness to our deepest convictions, even when they are not likely to prevail within the polity at this moment. Further, within our polity, such "grandstanding" is the way to have our voice heard at GA. It's only when a presbytery is willing to concur on a proposed overture that it can send someone to the assembly to advocate for it.
This is how we witness within the legislative arena of the church.
As you will have noted by now, I'm rehearsing a bit some of the points that we'll have to raise when arguing this before presbytery when it gets to that point. I'd much appreciate your perspective on all of this.