Wednesday, May 11, 2011

About Last Night ...

Yesterday the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) took a leap of faith into a future that looks more like the rich garden of God’s good creation. The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area became the 87th presbytery to affirm a change to the denomination’s constitution that will allow for the ordination of faithful, called and qualified gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender candidates for clergy and other ordained church offices. With the vote last evening, more than one half of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries have voted to affirm a change adopted by last summer’s 219th General Assembly (which, by coincidence or providence, also met in Minneapolis).
My wife and I celebrated the change over dinner with the first openly gay, partnered elder in Virginia, his partner of more than 20 years, and another friend. This dinner by coincidence, or providence, had been arranged by the friend well before we knew that yesterday, May 10-A, would be the day that would see passage of amendment 10-A, as the measure has come to be called.
The dinner had nothing to do with the church’s politics, and everything to do with my congregation’s long-standing, deep commitment to radical hospitality. The soup for dinner, as well as the idea for this gathering, came from a young woman who has been worshipping with us for a few months. She is the victim of what I would call theological abuse or church malpractice. The details of her story belong to her, but I will simply say that when she suffered a debilitating illness as a teenager her fundamentalist pastor told her adoptive parents that the disease was a result of her sinfulness, and her parents threw her out of the house. To say that she is leery of church is a profound understatement.
But she has found a new experience of faith community at Clarendon, and a huge part of that has come in the incredible hospitality and generosity shown by the couple we shared dinner with last night.
Their lives – their whole lives – testify to their deep faithfulness, and they are not alone. Our little church has dozens of deeply faithful people who welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, care for the lost and the least, and also happen to be gay or lesbian or bisexual. A healthy handful of those men and women have been ordained to the office of elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in defiance of the long-standing ban on such ordinations. They have served (and some continue to serve) their terms of office in good faith, “submit[ting] joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life,” as the newly adopted language puts it.
Like many (some straight, some not) these faithful men and women did not live in “fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness,” as the Book of Order has read from the mid-1990s until today’s change (which becomes effective after the final presbytery votes on July 10.) They lived, instead, in fidelity in same-gender relationships – marriages as true as my own to my beloved of 29 years.
As a new day dawns for the Presbyterian Church, my prayer is that the entire church will get to experience the full range of gifts from the full range of our membership. Together we can bring more light to the vast parts of the nation and the world that still dwell in such deep darkness when it comes to the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Together we can witness more fully and faithfully to the love and justice of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Letter to Jim Wallis

May 10, 2011
Dear Jim,
As a long-time Sojo reader, subscriber, and fan, and as a friend who has worked with your interns and worshipped with your community, I write with deep respect and great fondness, but also with deep disappointment in calling you on Sojourners’ rejection of the “Believe Out Loud” ad. More than calling you on this decision, I feel that I am calling you back to your own organizational commitment to “confront and dismantle discriminatory behavior wherever it may be manifest.”
It is a grace-filled coincidence that I write you on this May 10, the date when my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will finally affirm its own welcome to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community by lifting our long-standing ban on ordaining otherwise qualified, called queer folk.
I know you have a deep, long-standing commitment to justice. I have heard you speak eloquently about your own crystallization of consciousness concerning racial justice in America and, in particular, in the evangelic branch of the church. I know also of your evangelical commitment to scriptural authority.
I have heard you speak powerfully about economic justice, and know that your convictions there are rooted and grounded in scripture. I have heard you tell the story of the Bible from which your seminary classmate cut out all references to the poor to underscore God’s abiding concern for economic justice. You called it, “a Bible full of holes.”
It occurs to me that if you took from the Bible every reference to the word “homosexual” you would still have an intact Bible. Indeed, the word “homosexual” did not exist when scripture was written. Even if you removed all of the verses that conservatives use to condemn same-gender relationships you would have to search pretty carefully to find the handful of holes.
But if you tried the same experiment with reference to welcome to the outcast, love for the stranger, compassion for the least of these you would have another Bible full of holes.
In a week that may also see final passage in Uganda of a bill that could impose the death penalty on those found “guilty” of being gay or lesbian, who is the outcast, the stranger, the least of these in whose lives we are called to see Christ?
As Christians we share an incarnational theology. We understand that in Jesus the truth was made flesh in the world, and thus we understand truth through a relationship with Christ. If we take Matthew 25 seriously, we also understand that part of our relationship with Christ is bound up in our relationships with one another, and, in particular, in our relationships with those who are hungry, who are imprisoned, who are marginalized by systems and cultures and institutions, even and especially the church.
Toward that end, all I can do is offer testimony. I am a witness here, and my understanding of what it means to try to be a faithful follower of Jesus has been shaped in part by my relationships with people of faith who happen to have a different sexual orientation than I have – people in whom I have seen Christ.
Thus I invite you, for the sake of your own faith journey, to come and worship with us at Clarendon. The trip over on a Sunday morning won’t take you more than 25 minutes. Don’t let the Potomac stand in your way; at Clarendon we are dedicated to bridging every divide. You’ll find a gracious welcome from this community where we truly believe that each and every one of us is a creature made in the image and likeness of a loving Creator.
Yours in Christ,