Just this week, there have been four votes in favour of ratifying G10-A, which will remove the major obstacle to ordaining openly gay or lesbian, partnered clergy in the Presbyterian Church of the USA. This included one more switch from No to Yes – that of Florida on Tuesday, which went from went from 47% support previously to 57%, a change of 10%. Le High also voted yes on Tuesday, confirming its previous support, and Missouri Valleys and National Capitals did so last night.
Two of the remaining three votes still needed are likely to come within the next 10 days: Twin Cities and Pacific are due to vote Tuesday next week, and both voted yes before (Twin Cities by a large margin). This will leave just one more needed. That will likely come from New York, which previously voted with 75% in favour. It’s not yet a done deal: a switch from Yes to No is still possible in Pacific (less likely in the other two, where support is strong). This would require a balancing switch from No to Yes elsewhere, which can never be taken for granted. Continuing work is still required – but the possibility of defeat is now looking remote.
With ratification now so close, it’s time to take a closer look at the immediate consequences for the PCUSA. (I will consider the wider implications for the churches as a whole, and for civil society, once ratification has been confirmed).
It’s important to understand that this ratification is not a clear statement of approval for queer clergy – far from it.
As Rev. Emily C. Heath points out in Presbyterians, Gays, & the Ramifications of Being Lukewarm at The Bilerico Project, the scope is very limited indeed. All it does is remove same sex relationships as a firm bar to ordination, in all cases. It does not prevent local presbyteries making it a barrier in their own local decisions – and ordination decisions are taken at local level.
What this means is that every governing body will make the choice to honor or not honor the diversity of God’s creation. So only in some places will a gay pastor have a shot. Are you gay and in Baltimore? You can probably be ordained. Gay in South Carolina? No chance. Gay in Atlanta? Well, that depends on how the vote goes on that particular day.
Individual presbyteries will likely become either open or not open to out clergy. Some will become theological battle grounds where votes on a specific person’s ordination will become debates about homosexuality in general. It will continue to be a personally painful process for many out clergy.
So you’re a progressive church in a conservative presbytery and you want to call a gay man to be your pastor? Too bad. You’re a third year seminarian in a divided presbytery? You’re in for a rocky road. You’re a pastor with a partner? In some places your relationship may be used as grounds to vote to bring you up on charges and strip you of your ministerial standing.
So: a step in the right direction, but not the end of the journey. Still, these steps are important. There are many more of these being taken by others as well, and they all lead to the same place: the full inclusion in Church that is surely coming, just as racial segregation in Church is no longer generally acceptable.
The immediate impact will be two-fold: just as was shown by the corresponding ELCA approval last year, this means that the many LGBT clergy who are already serving but closeted, will finally be able to come out, and serve honestly, openly, and with accountability to their congregations. It also means that queer candidatess for seminary or ordination will have at least the possibility of success, even if it means having to be selective in the region where they hope to study and serve.
In the longer term, it will have a profound effect on the Presbyterian discourse on sexuality. Many individuals and regions will continue to believe that homoerotic relationships are sinful – but with the increasing visibility of openly gay or lesbian pastors in the pulpits, some of them moving into positions of leadership and influence, it will become correspondingly difficult to argue that this is “obviously” so: they will have to support their statements with evidence. They will find that this is far more flimsy than they assume, and will have their arguments countered. Public attempts to defend prejudice will diminish, and in time disappear.
With the acceptance of openly queer and partnered clergy, pressure will build for church approval of same sex marriage or blessing of civil unions in church. The motion to approve marriage was rejected last year, as it had been many times previously, but will be resubmitted again, and again, until it too is passed and ratified.
Three former moderators of the Church have argued strongly in favour of ratification, in an open letter to the church. Here are three extracts:
Each of us brings unique gifts, and also uniquechallenges, to the practice of ministry in the service of Jesus Christ. It has always been the role of local congregations and presbyteries to weigh the giftsand the challenges of each candidate and to determine whether that person isgenuinely called by God to the service at hand. Amendment 10-A reaffirmsthat history and places the obligation for such discernment back where itbelongs once again.As a result, several generations of faithful followers of Jesus who have beencategorically excluded from service will feel welcome to explore their callwithin our denomination. Folks like my fifteen year old, whose life experienceof people who are gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender has only beenpositive, may begin to feel like the church is worth a second look.
In any case, this is the right thing to do. Let’s affirm our shared gifts, and ourshared brokenness, and get on with the work of healing the world and buildingup the reign of God. I’m grateful for the movement of God’s Spirit asAmendment 10-A nears passage, and hope that you will add your voice andvote toward the movement of that Spirit.
Bruce Reyes-Chow writes:
I am humble enough to know that I will never fully understand the will of God and the mindof Christ about anything, but I am just as confident that God is moving thePresbyterian Church (USA), even in the midst of our deep division, to a placeof full inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. For as deeply as Iunderstand my limitations, if I do not stand up and vote for inclusion, I do nothonor the God that Christ has lead me to know. Now is not the time forsilence, waiting or further posturing, now is the time to vote yes and I urgeyou to do just that. I am trusting in the unfolding of God’s reality for us all.
In the beginning God created heaven and earth andsometime after that: humans…of two varieties. And God claimed them asGod’s own and God’s own son came among us to guide our lives and evoke allthat was good about us. And we multiplied, made good and bad choices, lovedand hurt each other and we discovered we are not all the same. For some loveleads to marriage and that covenant calls to everyone who enters it and to allwho live in the same world with them to honor them as God obviously did anddoes in creating them. And God kept and keeps calling us back to what wasintended: that we love and care for the earth and each other. For every “each other”, even those who make us uncomfortable. Comfort is not the criterion…faithfulness is
- Methodist Church Billboard: “Being Gay is a Gift from God” (queeringthechurch.com)
- Presbyterian Inclusion: Ratification Now Imminent (queeringthechurch.com)
- Presbyterians, Gays, & the Ramifications of Being Lukewarm (bilerico.com)