Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Day of Some Grace

Another day, another opportunity to testify. Today it was back into the ongoing struggle over ordination issues in the church. Here are my remarks to National Capital Presbytery on the overture from Clarendon to delete G-6.0106b from the Book of Order:

... I want to raise two brief concerns.
First, some of you may question the timing of this overture given the Birmingham General Assembly's endorsement of the Peace, Unity and Purity Task Force report's call for a season of discernment. On the other hand, some of you may also say, "we've been discerning on these concerns for more than 30 years."
Wherever you find yourself on that, I think it's clear that we tend not to talk about these issues absent a moment of decision. After all, it's been two years now since the PUP task force issued its final report and 18 months since GA endorsed it. For the past 18 months there has been a great silence across the church, broken for the most part only when candidates for ordination are questioned on the floor of presbytery about their sex lives.
The time has come either to delete "b" or recast it in language more faithful to our Reformed heritage, for it is clearly failed legislation that has, for the past decade, undermined the peace, unity and purity of the church. It has done so in part because it has only ever been used to target gays and lesbians and never to cast a light on those of us who, for example, regularly fail to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.
So to the question of timing I would say simply, the timing is right, for it is never the wrong time to correct an error, and it is always the right time to do justice.
Secondly, I raise a simple pastoral concern. Last month a young woman visited us for worship at Clarendon. She was among that highly desirable "young adult" demographic. At the door after worship when I greeted her she said, "I'd like to ask you a question."
I was intimidated, but I said, "fire away."
She told me that she'd checked out our website and noted our claim that "all are welcome." She wanted to know if it was true, as we claimed, that we "treat all Presbyterians equally without regard to sexual orientation" and include all members in the full life of the church.
I assured her that this was the case, and then she told me that she'd come to worship that morning on behalf of two friends -- a lesbian couple -- who were afraid that they would not be welcomed ... afraid that they would not be safe.
I was deeply saddened and also angered that a couple who obviously wanted to come to church would feel that they needed to send an emissary to see if they would be safe.
The toxic language of the present "b" ensures that millions of folks -- gay men, lesbian women, and their friends and loved ones -- will continue to eye with deep and well-grounded suspicion every church sign that says, "all are welcome," because the language in our constitution clearly tells them that some are not.
It is from deep theological conviction and deeper pastoral concern that I urge your support of this overture. The time has come.

The overture was endorsed on a voice vote and will go to General Assembly this spring. By a 60-40 margin, an additional overture that simply deletes G-6.0106b also was endorsed. A day, perhaps, of some grace.

Monday, January 21, 2008

King Day

King Day, 2008, falls in a season of hope and peace and dreams that are profoundly American – and a season of sadness and anger that we still live so far from the realization of those dreams.
Yesterday I gathered with a small group of hardy souls to continue our monthly witness for peace at Lafayette Park, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. It was cold – 18 degrees – and as we sang “We Shall Overcome” our breath hung as frost in the January air.
As I walked to the park across the closed portion of roadway directly in front of the White House, I was struck again by a deep sense of gratitude for living in a country where one can gather in front of the elected executive’s home and lift a voice of protest. Listening this afternoon to a song that mentions Tiananmen Square reminds me of the privilege of living in a country that still has space for speaking truth to power -- and of the responsibility for doing so.
Oh, to be sure, I am just as cynical as any about the nature of this particular executive’s use and abuse of power, and I am deeply angry and saddened by the atmosphere of fear and paranoid security that surrounds my home city. As our witness moved toward its conclusion last evening I was summoned to speak with one of the guards because I held the permit for the witness. I sent back word that I’d respond when Fr. Joe Nangle was through praying. Joe prayed long enough that the officer had moved on to someone else, and I headed off into the night un-accosted – still full of the mix of hope and anger, sadness and dreams, and imagining a future otherwise.