Presbyterian Church, USA: Strong Progress on Inclusion

The Presbyterian General Assembly last week displayed strong progress to full LGBT inclusion, on two fronts – ordination, and marriage.

I have already noted that the defeat last week of a bid to provide for same – sex marriage in the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA) should be seen as a victory – because the result was so close. An email from More Light Presbyterians explains just why this was an historic achievement – and also reports on a second important result, which I had not yet been able to find in the mainstream news reports, on continued support for LGBT clergy.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY: THE STORY WITHIN THE STORY

The Preparation

Progress to inclusion in church does not simply happen of its own accord: it takes work and planning. This is some of what went into it, by MLP:

As the dust settles, the headlines don’t capture “the story” within the story of the 220th General Assembly. We had a strong GA Team of two dozen people working on the ground in Pittsburgh; a legislative team working on marriage, ordination and the Confessions; offering 4 major events; the MLP Booth in the Exhibit Hall; a hospitality suite throughout the week; and a communications team.

1,500 Rainbow Scarves knitted by Presbyterians who have been praying for this Assembly came from all over the country were worn as a sign of God’s love for all persons including God’s LGBT children and their families. Bishop Gene Robinson gave an amazing keynote at our National MLP Dinner to a crowd of 300 affirming the work of “holy chaos” that challenges the old prejudices that prevent everyone from experiencing the Gospel and God’s love for them.

Clergy

With the proposal on marriage dominating the headlines and reports, an attempt to roll back earlier progress on clergy got little attention. Two years ago, General Assembly approved language that would permit (but not require) the ordination of openly lesbian or gay clergy, and candidates for seminary training, subject to approval by local Presbyteries. The following year, the proposal secured the required ratification by local presbyteries, and has since come into effect. This year, there was an attempt by conservative groups to undo that decision on the grounds that it was said to be divisive, and leading some people to leave the church.

But if the proposal for reversal been successful, it would have been even more divisive, and could have led to others leaving. The MPL email does not go into detail, but it is clear that the proposal was soundly defeated.  In the Presbyterian Church, acceptance of LGBT clergy is here to stay (and expand).  Victory number one for inclusion:

This was a remarkable GA many ways. It officially received the ratified Amendment 10-A ordination equality policy, now G-2.0104 in our Book of Order. Attempts to repeal 10-A were soundly defeated.

Marriage Equality

The more dramatic achievement, the headline – grabber, was the vote on marriage.  Similar proposals have been put to GA before, but what I had not realized before getting this email, is that this was the first time the matter had made it to a floor vote – where it went down by just a narrow margin, 48% to 52%.

A historic first was achieved: this was the first time a marriage equality overture was debated and voted on the plenary floor. This is only the third GA to have marriage equality overtures. An overture to amend W-4.9001 to expand the language of marriage from a “man and a woman” to “two people” nearly won by a vote of 308-338 which is 48 to 52%. We see this action as losing forward and believe that marriage equality can be won at GA in Detroit in 2014.

Start All Over Again

 So: after this defeat, even if it is a defeat “going forward”, what’s to be done?  Well, if work was required before this GA, more will be required before the next, where there is every possibility of success – and if not then, surely by 2016. Marriage equality is on the horizon, in the Presbyterian Church of USA.

This Assembly calls us to new work on marriage, Heidelberg and Belhar. Stay tuned for educational resources for the 2 year study on same-sex marriage and a new marriage equality campaign. Get ready to help our Church be on the right side of history and stand on the side of love.

Well done, More Light Prebyterians.

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