I’m currently in Detroit at the General Assembly of our church. I’m here to serve as committee support for one of the committees, and am thankful for that opportunity. The church has done so much for me throughout my whole life, that it is a gift to be able to give back to her.
Anyhow, while I was busy in the Social Justice Committee, the Assembly did a few minor little things–we passed an amendment to our Book of Order that, while acknowledging the traditional definition of marriage is between a man and a woman, it changes the wording to “two people”. This means that if the amendment is approved by a majority of the presbyteries this next year, our constitutional documents would change.
Please pray for the presbyteries as they vote on this. While I celebrate it enthusiastically, I recognize it would be a difficult thing for many other people. My celebration is tempered by the acknowledgement that some churches will leave our denomination. When the body of Christ is broken, we all hurt.
The second vote in the Assembly was to approve an Authoritative Interpretation to the Constitution. In this action, the Assembly said that clergy should have the discretion to officiate at same gender weddings. It takes effect on Sunday.
This is a big day for our church. Other denominations have addressed this issue years ago, so we are certainly not at the front of the issue. But this allows us to live into our calling to welcome ALL people, to baptize, to feed at the Table, to nurture, to care for, to celebrate their marriages.
Preserved in both of these votes is the discretion NOT to participate in, endorse, or celebrate same gender marriage. If a congregation chooses to not allow same gender marriages, they have that right. If a minister does not want to participate in a same gender marriage (or a “traditional” marriage, for that matter) they have the right to say no.
In the news reports about these votes, many people are pointing out that many churches will leave and many international church partners will sever ties with us because of these changes.
I’m sure that’s true.
But I want to ask them why?
How are you being hurt by allowing a persecuted minority group the rights and privileges you have long held, without removing your rights and privileges? Why do you need to leave our fellowship if nothing is being changed in how you worship, serve in mission, and live out your life in faith?
To the ecumenical international partners who may leave, have you not heard of mutual forbearance? We extend it to you in order to be in relationship with you. Many of our international Christian partners don’t recognize the gifts of women in leadership. That doesn’t mean we don’t talk to you.
One of the gifts of being Presbyterian is that our polity, our history, and our structures allow for a great degree of difference. We have long sought unity, not uniformity.
It makes it complicated, I know. You can walk into a Presbyterian Church and find a conservative evangelical congregation. Or you might discover an LGBT welcoming progressive congregation.
But the complication is always worth the work. I am so grateful for my colleagues in Boise Presbytery who don’t see things the way I do. They gift me with their friendship and support without requiring me to pass a litmus test of doctrine.
To those churches or people who are thinking about leaving, let me say this. You don’t have to go. None of us want you to. We don’t want you to have to change the way you live out your life in faith. We have just been working for that same privilege to be extended to everyone in our fellowship. Now that we have equality, we hope you won’t feel the need to leave.
And to our international partners, we hope you’ll stay in relationship with us as well. We trust our faith is strengthened by your witness, no matter how different our culture, our context, or our biblical interpretation might be.
Also, in all the talk of the churches that might leave, where is the talk about the churches that might actually thrive and grow?
The congregation I serve is growing AND we welcome full inclusion in the church. I meet people every day who have no idea there are churches that are NOT homophobic. In a world where ever growing numbers of young people define themselves as religious “nones”, in part because they have only been told what the church is against, how can we not see these votes as good news?