Rev. Emily C. Heath

The Limits of Full Inclusion

Filed By Rev. Emily C. Heath | May 12, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: marriage, PCUSA, Presbyterian Church (USA), religion, same-sex marriage

A few weeks ago I wrote in anticipation of the Presbyterian vote regarding LGBT clergy. Tuesday the final needed vote came in, and an amendment was passed that allowed for the possibility of LGBT ordination in some areas. It does not mention LGBT people by name and it is not, as is being widely reported, a universal acceptance of LGBT clergy. ghpcsymbol.gifIn many ways this means the debate in local governing bodies will now be intensified, and more personal. Still, some progressive Christians are hailing this as "full inclusion" for LGBT in the Presbyterian Church.

And yet, there is this on the very next day. A statement yesterday from Cynthia Bolbach, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on the likelihood of the church finally approving same-gender marriages. As quoted originally by WFPL News, "It was decided that we simply weren't at the point where we wanted to consider whether we wanted to approve same-sex marriage. It's been asked that the church study the issue, but I think that's a different issue than the issue regarding ordination standards."

In other words, we not only won't approve it. We won't even consider it yet.

Full inclusion? It sure doesn't sound like it.

I left the PCUSA in large part over their treatment of LGBT folks. For years I struggled with leaving because of the issue of clergy inequality. But in the end it was the simply request of two women I knew in Massachusetts who wanted me to legally marry them. I couldn't under PCUSA law. And that's when I knew I had to leave. I couldn't be a representative of a denomination that would deny a blessing to a couple simply because they were gay.

Celebrate the step. Look to the future. Hope for the best. But recognize the reality that this is not full inclusion. Not yet.


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Leigh Anne | May 12, 2011 6:20 PM

The Presbyterian Church (USA) doesn't have a pope, we don't have cardinals, archbishops or bishops. Our pastors aren't even "in charge" of local congregations!

As a result, we don't have Universal anything. But a formal barrier to ordination has been removed. Still, nobody is required to ordain anybody.

So don't run into your neighborhood PC(USA) church building and expect that people have been told to accept you -- except in the Bible, of course.

No, it's not everything. But it's something!

Agreed. This does make change slower for Presbyterians, but it also makes it more, I don't know, concrete(?) to have the entire church body voting in favor of a resolution instead of it being handed down from on high like in the Catholic church.

This is, however, an interesting moment for the church to examine its sexual ethics. Since the General Assembly refused to discuss or vote on marriage amendments, yet still passed the removal of the fidelity and chastity requirements for ordination, this leaves the question open: what are the ethical boundaries of sex within our understanding of Christianity? For a very long time the answer has been "marriage = sex is good" and "unmarried = sex is bad." This particular moment may open up a discussion of other ethical considerations such as consent, pleasure, mutuality and reciprocity, and safety.

If we had approved same gender marriage last year, the fidelity and chastity language would have been left in place. This would have resulted in all sexually active unmarried inviduals barred from ordination, straight or queer.

I hope that the PC (USA) will move to broaden the definition of marriage to include same gender loving couples. In the meantime, I hope we take up the challenge to our sexual ethics created by this particular turn of events.

Someday, somewhere, somehow people will absolutely blown away when the truth of sin is revealed.

Set the scene......
Jesus has just finished healing thousands when he is approached by the Pharisee who seek to lay a trap. "master please tell us if these two people of the same sex should marry"?

Jesus responds...."Is it not written that what is sin for one is not sin for another? If then a person loves another of the same sex would it not be sin for that person to marry someone of the other sex? What God has joined together let no man put asunder".

Ummm, this is completely made up and doesn't really sound like anything Jesus would say. Somehow Scripture is less powerful when it isn't real. Also, the idea that it's a sin for an LGBT person to marry someone of the opposite sex -- where on earth is that from?

Better texts to support gay marriage might be Genesis 2:18, "It is not good for the man to be alone," and Ecclesiastes 4:9, "Two are better than one." At least those are actually in the Bible.

I enjoy your perspective. Romans 14 does speak to this. Yes, that is the very same epistle which contains the clobber verses in Chapter 1. And you could say that chapter 14 is about disputes over dietary matters but that would be trivializing the underlying focus of living to God and not judging others.

Not to worry. What the PCUSA decrees is largely irrelevant to countless thousands of us anyway. Organized religion abandoned us years and years ago, and those of us unwilling to allow ourselves to be vilified based solely on a single attribute, found our spiritual answers elsewhere, beyond the stultifying grip of the faithful and their so-called communion. Amen....

Actually the bigotry of religion was actually the impetus to set me free from religion all together. I was not raised in a particularly religious household but for awhile we were the Christmas and Easter Catholics. We were raised to believe in God. I waffled through my 20s at one time saying I was agnostic to for awhile starting to search for a church to attend. As I approached my 40s I started having doubts and that time about 4 years ago my brother joined the Presybterian USA parish here in Towson, MD.
After he joined his views all of a sudden started to become anti-gay. This coupled with my own doubts made me sit down and evaluate why I felt the way I did. Would I believe in God if I was born in India or Bora Bora? Why did I believe? Solely because it is what my parents have indoctrinated me into? What proof do I have that the Christian God exists but no Allah or Buddha or the gods worshipped on tiny remote islands? And why was I easily dismissing those gods but saying mine existed?
It ultimately me along my path to athieism. The anti-gay views of my brother ultimately destroyed our relationship and as brothers go we were very close up to that point.

Tall Stacey | May 13, 2011 11:28 AM

I share your journey away from the bigotry and hypocrisy of organized religions Tim. Now in my 60s however I realize that I am not an atheist but a non-theist. I don’t know if I evolved to that or just came to the realization – I think a little of each. I believe in my loving God, just not any particular religious dogma, and certainly not hate. Try it, you may like it! The truth really does set you free!

Tall Stacey | May 13, 2011 11:46 AM

As usual this does nothing for those of us T. A very dear friend is at this moment being dismissed from her PCUSA ministry not because she is transsexual, but because her husband of 28 years announced he is transitioning. The Minister wife was told she could stay, but she would have to divorce!

Inclusion, what's that? Hypocrisy & bigotry are alive and thriving!

Oh Stacey, what a horrible thing that is being done to your friend. My experience is that understanding of the trans community and their partners is just so lacking in most of Christianity. There are a few exceptions, but mostly lots of misunderstanding. I still remember a trans woman being rejected from even studying at my seminary while I was there. I know other folks who have now been ordained. I see glimpses of hope, though. Last year when I lobbied for trans rights at the Mass. state house I was pleased to see so many Episcopal priests and UCC ministers there. I also heard recently (though this is unconfirmed) that ministers in my denomination can have surgery paid for under our insurance. This is so little, so late, but I think it's a sign there is some movement. I hope your friend may be able to transfer her ordination to a more supportive denomination. A religious body mandating divorce is just unbelievable.

Leigh Anne | May 13, 2011 4:20 PM

That is bizarre!

And not based on any policy of the PCUSA as a whole. As I mentioned before, we don't have a lot of cut and dry rules.

In fact, Amendment 10A removes any judicial justification for this action! But we're presbyterians, and a pastor can be dismissed for a lot of reasons. Like most things, it's a local decision.

Still, it brings shame on the church.

Actually, the PCUSA does have a lot of cut and dry rules. The Book of Order is well over 100 pages long. The rules cover everything from administration of the sacraments to proper jurisdiction. And, for the most part, they're not bad. But saying Presbyterians don't have a lot of rules is just false. In fact, there is also an ironic pride about that. That's why every minister has to pass a church polity exam before ordination. And 10A does not remove all judicial justification for this action. At all.

On trans issues my sense is that the PCUSA, like most denominations, doesn't really have trans folks on their radar yet and therefore there are no policies. Yet. There wasn't a policy on LGB folks until the church figured out we were there. I can say I know trans folks who have been denied ordination. I also know one trans woman who transitioned after ordination. But overall, it's just not something most churches even start to understand.