Monday, June 23, 2014

Bending the Rainbow Arc, Part III

In the months prior to the 2006 assembly, the local MLP board endorsed an overture to delete “b” from the Book of Order. Such efforts have, for me, marked a key distinction between the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and MoreLight Presbyterians. It’s too simplistic to leave it a labels such as “MLP equals progressive” and “Cov Net equals moderate.”
As with many labels, there is some truth, but the distinctions between the two organizations have always struck me at a deeper level.
Cov Net has always struck me as an organization of church insiders whose primary concern is “the church” and the work of creating “a church as generous and just as God’s grace.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s different from working “for the full inclusion of GLBTQ people in the life of the church.” MLP has always struck me as a gathering of the marginalized seeking to speak from the margins to the center, whereas Cov Net is the broad center speaking to the whole church about those on its margins. I suppose I’ve always just been more comfortable at the margins than in the middle.
The Birmingham assembly was a celebration of the great middle, and it endorsed the final report and recommendations of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church, including its controversial authoritative interpretation that gave local governing bodies – church sessions and presbyteries – greater leeway in interpreting Book of Order standards. The new interpretation specifically pointed back to an old tradition with the Presbyterian church of granting individuals the right to “declare a scruple” with regard to aspects of the church’s doctrine that their individual conscience led them to disagree with.
“God alone is Lord of the conscience,” has long been a particularly prominent aspect of Presbyterian thought and practice, and the PUP report leaned on it heavily in making its recommendations.
In embracing the report, the 2006 assembly rejected about 20 overtures that would have deleted  or replaced “b,” including the one endorsed by MLP. At the same time, the assembly also rejected several efforts to codify antagonism to same-sex marriage.
In this blog space eight years ago I wrote:
This report does not do justice for queer folk, but it changes the terrain and, perhaps, opens a space in which we may stride toward that justice. I may be mistaken in that hope, but it is the only hope before the assembly right now.
(As an aside: it’s amazing to me that I’ve been posting stuff to a blog for ten years! And, looking back at the posts from the Birmingham assembly, it’s also amazing how much younger I looked then! Wow.)
On the bus from the assembly hall to the Birmingham airport following the close of business, I happened to find myself sitting next to Jack Rodgers, who had served as moderator of the General Assembly that created the PUP task force. Rodgers’ personal journey has taken him from the conservative evangelical wing of the Presbyterian church to his current elder statesman role as an outspoken advocate for GLBT justice. On the ride to the airport he expressed his hope that the action of the 217th General Assembly would be recalled as the turning point for the church on ordination issues.

Looking back, I’m not sure if the work we did in Birmingham changed the church, but I am certain that the church changed.

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