Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pissed-off Presbyterian Pastor Passes on President to Pitch Pots

I’m a beginning potter, or more accurately I am taking a beginning pottery class, so perhaps I can be forgiven for pitching pots instead of throwing them, but I am a lifelong Presbyterian so I know process, and I know when process is being used to obfuscate rather than to clarify.
This evening National Capital Presbytery voted down an overture to General Assembly from the session of the congregation that I serve seeking concurrence with an overture already passed by the Presbytery of East Iowa seeking an authoritative interpretation from the Assembly affirming that pastors in civil jurisdictions that have legalized same-gender marriages can solemnize such vows without fear of being brought up on disciplinary charges in church courts.
That’s Presby-speak for saying we wanted assurances that pastors can conduct legal same-sex weddings, including signing marriage licenses, without worrying about be defrocked by the church and we wanted National Capital Presbytery to go on record supporting that position.

I’m not pissed that the overture was defeated. Disappointed, yes, but not angry at the result. If I have any anger at the result it is entirely self-directed because I failed to do the organizational legwork to get out the vote tonight, wrongly assuming that the long pattern of NCP voting about 2-1 in favor of GLBT-related issues would hold.
The first (or maybe second) speaker against the motion introduced a motion to defer arguing that the Presbytery needs time to talk about marriage. I suppose since it took the church 30 years of “talking” to get to the point of ordaining gay and lesbian clergy and lay officers there may be a point to that perspective. After all, we’ve only been “talking” about marriage for about a decade. The first overtures on same-sex unions came to and through the General Assembly in the late 90s.
But the truth of the matter is, and always has been, we only actually talk about any of these “uncomfortable” issues when someone proposes an overture and we vote on it. Up or down. The denomination empaneled a study group that issued a lengthy report on marriage at the 2010 assembly and invited the entire church to engage the question. As far as I know, nobody in NCP took them up on it.
The bottom line is now and always has been this: a motion to defer is a motion to do nothing at all until the next time somebody forces a vote.
To suggest otherwise is simply disingenuous, and I’ll stick by that charge until the maker of the motion invites the long-time married same-sex couples in my congregation to dinner for some conversation on the meaning of marriage.
I use the word “disingenuous” perhaps disingenuously here, for that word was what really pissed me off tonight. The makers of the motion – that would be my session, and, let’s be perfectly “out” here, that would be me – were called “naïve and disingenuous” during the debate on the overture tonight, and our capacity for compassion was called into question.
When colleagues who have performed same-sex weddings in jurisdictions where they are legal have been brought up on charges in church courts (and they have) it is not disingenuous to ask for clarity from the General Assembly.
When pastors in this Presbytery (including yours truly) are being asked to perform legal same-sex weddings in the District of Columbia, it is not disingenuous to seek some assurance that the church courts will not be used to block us from following the dictates of conscience and pastoral responsibility.
And when a same-gender couple who has been together for more than 20 years asks a pastor about the possibility of being married in the church, is it disingenuous to suggest that the call to compassion might have something to do with that couple’s suffering?
Supporters of the motion tonight were asked to consider the suffering of our conservative sisters and brothers, and, in particular, the ones who met in Florida last week to talk about forming a new denomination. As I noted at the beginning, I am a life-long Presbyterian. I am sorry, truly, that some folks feel like they no longer have a home in the PC(U.S.A.). But if the call to compassion has any meaning whatsoever in this debate, it must begin with consideration of persecutions, pogroms and pink triangles. Conservatives are not being bashed, beaten, or killed. Queer folk still are right here in this Presbytery. Conservatives are not being harassed to the point of suicide. Queer teens still are. If you want to talk about the passion, let’s begin there.
So, yes, the evening pissed me off – enough that I skipped the State of the Union Address entirely in favor of session two of my pottery class. I threw my first pot tonight. I’m far from an artist, and this piece of clay will never shout out for gallery space. But as I sunk my fingers into it and worked it at the wheel, I realized that the clay wanted to be a cup – not really a chalice because even if that’s what the clay wanted the potter’s hands were not up to the task. I also realized that the cup wanted, eventually, to find its place in the home of the married, gay, Presbyterian elder who introduced the motion tonight. Clear a spot Travis!