So I'm Presbyterian, a pastor in the PC(U.S.A.), and for a very many years now we have been wrangling over questions of ordination and queer folk. As it stands right now, any person who is ordained as an elder, deacon, or minister of the word and sacrament (pastor) must meet several requirements including "fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness." What this means is that ordained officers of the church are prohibited from having sex outside of marriage. Although "sex" is not defined, marriage is defined by our polity as "between one man and one woman." This clause is used to keep queer folk out of ordained positions as the church does not recognize same gender marriages or civil unions.
Actually, I could write for hours on this topic, but let me focus. A friend started this meme on Facebook and challenged a few of us to write on the following questions. You are welcome to cut and paste and do it too. Link back to me here or to Bruce Reyes-Chow's original post.
New language has been proposed to replace the "chastity & fidelity" clause. I've placed the language from Amendment 10a at the bottom for those who wish to read the specifics. But essentially the new language shifts the focus to the individual's call to ministry and willingness to follow Christ. Frankly, this may cause most of us as many problems as fidelity and chastity, but at least it would apply to queer and straight alike (on paper).
Amendment 10a was approved by our General Assembly in the summer of 2010. Over the next year, presbyteries will vote on whether to ratify it.
2/3 A majority of the presbyteries must ratify the amendment in order for it to pass. Ministers of the word and sacrament and elder commissioners to presbytery have the right to vote.
All right then, the meme.
1. Name, City, State Rev. Katie Mulligan, Lawrenceville, NJ
2. Twitter and Facebook profiles @grammercie (Twitter) jakeisacat (Facebook)
3. Presbytery and 10a voting date West Jersey, tba
4. Reason ONE that you are voting "yes" on 10a is..
I identify as queer.
5. Reason TWO that you are voting "yes" on 10a is...
Sexual standards are very difficult to define, enforce, or investigate. To do so requires a certain voyeurism that is sexual and exploitative itself. We could have a long and painful discussion about what is sex, what is gender, is anyone actually really straight, and are we born or do we choose to be straight/queer. Or we could focus on the person identified for ordination and see if they fit the call. Hmm. (Sexual assault and abuse of power are covered in other sections of our book of discipline, and should not be mistaken for consensual, adult sexual activity.)
6. Reason THREE that you are voting "yes" on 10a is...
The chastity and fidelity ordination standard has caused us to sin grievously as we interact on both sides of this argument. The level of contempt, distaste, disgust, and outright nastiness within our denomination on this subject churns my stomach. Not because I'm queer (although there's that too), but because it's mean. It's beneath us. We are better than this. If I walked up to any straight colleague and told her or him that what they do with their spouse in the bedroom is disgusting and unholy, and that in order to follow God they should leave their spouse and repent, that colleague would object strongly. And rightly so.
7. What are your greatest hopes for the 10a debate that will take place on the floor of your Presbytery?
I hope for kindness to prevail. That people will think "what if this was my life being dissected?" before they speak.
8. How would you respond to those that say that if we pass 10a individuals and congregations will leave the PC(USA)?
Individuals and congregations will leave the PC(USA) regardless of whether this amendment passes. While this is a lightning rod issue, there are many other reasons why more "conservative" churches are leaving the denomination for the EPC and PCA. I believe that like marriage, we are sometimes called by God into relationship and sometimes we are called by God out of relationship. Leaving the PC(USA) may be the most faithful response for individuals and congregations on either side. Our own polity calls us to take risks for what is right and not to fear the death of the church.
9. What should the Presbyterian Church focus on after Amendment 10a passes?
A general direction for the entire church? I know I'm not qualified to answer that. Regardless of whether Amendment 10a passes, there are many initiatives and ways of serving the world the PC(USA) is already involved in. Saying that homosexuality is our big issue and everything is on hold until we solve that is a straw man argument designed to create fear and frustration. For the little church where I pastor? We'll focus on keeping our doors open and figuring out what God is calling us to next.
10. How does your understanding of Scripture frame your position on 10a?
Like many of us in the PC(USA) I understand Scripture to be the unique and authoritative witness to God, written by (mostly) men in different times and places (see Confession of 1967 for exact wording). I do not ascribe to a "literal" understanding of Scripture for reasons too many to list. In five minutes a more conservative minister could give you a Scriptural argument for why homosexuality is evil. In the same time I could pull up Hosea 2 and make a creative argument that Gomer taught Hosea and God that punishing bodies and souls for perceived sexual transgressions is not the way to foster love and care. We could then go back and forth for weeks with our proof texts. I fully acknowledge the flexibility of Scripture and the possibility of multiple readings. Those who don't, there are many other denominations where a more rigid interpretation is encouraged. And for myself, if 10a does not pass, I will have to think carefully about my own options as well. Neither the Spirit, nor the Scriptures, nor our polity call us to a monolithic belief (and no, that is not a replacement Trinity).
Love to you all.
AMENDMENT LANGUAGE IS AS FOLLOWS:
Shall G-6.0106b be amended by striking the current text and inserting new text in its place as follows:
STRIKING: “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
AND INSERTING: Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”