...This afternoon my church denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), voted to approve two measures at our General Assembly in Detroit, concerning same gender marriages.
Earlier, I posted this on Facebook:
ai yi yi. I don't have the stomach to watch another GA debate marriage. I'll check back when the youth mailing is done.
But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
‘Commit your cause to the Lord;
let him deliver—let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’
So I finished the mailing (thank you, JoAnn), and as I was addressing envelopes and writing little notes to students, the news came back from GA that the overtures regarding same gender marriage had passed General Assembly. Hallelujah!!
1) An authoritative interpretation (AI) of our Book of Order, amending the Book of Worship to allow teaching elders and commissioned ruling elders (aka pastors) to perform same gender marriages in states where they are permitted by civil law. The text of 10-03 can be found here, although I don't swear this is the final language as I am not present in Detroit.
This is a "freedom of conscience" ruling, which allows pastors and churches to decide for themselves whether they will be involved in same gender marriages. As always we retain the freedom to officiate a marriage or not, based on our evaluation of the circumstances.
Authoritative interpretations take effect immediately and do not need ratification by the presbyteries. Effective
immediately Saturday, after the close of General Assembly, pastors in the PC (USA) may officiate same gender weddings in states where it is legal without fear of reprisal or recrimination from ecclesial courts. Hallelujah!
2) The General Assembly also passed an amendment to the Book of Order, modifying the definition of marriage. It used to say marriage should be between a man and a woman; if the amendment is ratified it will soon say "between two person" without reference to gender identity (claimed, perceived, assigned, or otherwise). (Update: language stating "traditionally between a man and a woman" would not be binding, but will be present.)
Amendments require ratification by a majority of our (173?) presbyteries. The presbyteries will cast their votes over the next year. If ratified, this amendment would take effect in
two years about a year (again, I am not a policy wonk, so feel free to correct). This means that although the General Assembly has approved the change in definition, it is not currently in effect and cannot be acted on.
The Authoritative Intepretation, however, means that regardless of whether the definition is altered, pastors may perform same gender marriages in states where civil law permits.
I did not think this would happen--maybe ever. I had become very cynical from watching the last two General Assemblies. There will be much analysis done over what changes in our church allowed this to happen at this time, but I give thanks to God and to the commissioners who have opened new doors for our ministries.
It used to be like this:
"Hi. I'm thinking about God a lot lately and thought maybe I'd come to church."
"Wow, that's great. We meet Sunday at 11am. Let's get coffee this week."
"My partner is thinking of coming too."
"Great! We are an open and affirming church!"
"We've been thinking about getting married in the church, actually."
"Oh. I can't do that. I mean, we're working on it. And I have some colleagues in xyz denomination who will gladly officiate."
"I see. That's...sort of distasteful."
"It is, isn't it."
"Well, I'll think about it."
So now we can just say, "Great! Let's meet when you're ready to talk more about marriage!"
There is an easing of the tension in my soul today because the last legal barrier to tending to lgbtq folks' pastoral concerns has been dismantled. We just can be pastors through all of our people's life transitions. Nobody has to ask me to risk my livelihood for their own marriage. We can simply pastor. This doesn't mean we'll be perfect pastors to lgbtq folks (we have a LONG way to go with trans folk). But it means there's one less structural barrier/excuse.
There is an easing of the tension in my soul today because the last legal barrier to my own same gender relationships is gone. I can date freely and do not have to worry about whether I will ever have to lose my ordination because I am partnered with a woman. For a single, cat lady like me, who knows if this will ever be relevant to me. But gone is any need to have a conversation about the loss of my ordination if I should happen to fall in love with a fabulous woman.
Two years ago, when we approved the ordination of non-celibate lgbtq persons, I wrote a blogpost titled "Joyful Submission". I think that post explains the easing of tension and the reclamation of trust better than I can say it today, so go read that. But here is a piece of it:
And then after the presbytery meeting where I was received as an inquirer, I was asked to sign a code of conduct. It was required of all pastors, candidates and inquirers under care of the presbytery. Mostly this was a formality--a piece of paperwork that had been forgotten in the process. I should have signed it before I was presented to the presbytery or at least been allowed to consider it. The last item on this fairly standard code of conduct was a clause which stated that I would not participate in or condone homosexual activity.
This brought me up short. I was married to a man, and only had the vaguest inkling of my own queerness--it just wasn't something I thought about in relationship to myself. But my oldest, closest friend is a lesbian. And many of the youth I worked with identified as queer in some way. I very nearly refused to sign that code of conduct, but I also refused to walk away from this call. Truthfully, I did not grow up in the church, and I had no idea that unmarried, sexually active individuals could not be ordained as an elder, deacon, or minister. It sat wrong with me. I had just become an inquirer, and I suddenly realized that this church was not what I thought it was. In some very deep way my trust with this church was fractured, and the peaceful connection with God that I had discovered became fraught with tension, rebellion, dislike, and the desire to run.
The tension of being at odds with this denomination I love so very much did not ease. The discussions about sexuality have been difficult. The rage I feel when same gender love is equated to pedophilia is something I can't describe. And I have been shaped by that. My spiritual practices have been shaped around the need to rebel against what is not God in the midst of the church--this deliberately narrow heterosexual framework imposed upon every member.and finally this...
The passing of 10A has returned the possibility of building trust with the church and her people. I felt today, as I was walking, a great deal of joy at the possibilities for the church and queer folk. But deeper within I could feel the Spirit moving again peacefully, in a way I have not felt since 2005. I no longer am living under threat of shame and discipline. I can risk again deep vulnerability with the people of this church.
For six years I have submitted to the church and to people, and it has damaged me in ways I hope I can repair. The passing of 10A returns my submission to Christ. In a way that was previously only possible by leaving this church, this church has restored my faith. My words here fail to express this fully, but I have been liberated from a deep pain, and I thank you.Oh, thank you, my dear church! What a gift you have given me today!