Monday, February 23, 2009

Letter to the Editor of Presbyterian Outlook

Dear Editor:

In defense of Leslie Scanlon, she probably wrote her news and analysis piece for the February 23rd edition Enough Already? Presbyteries, people consider yet another vote on ordination (pages 6-7 in the print edition) before Western North Carolina Presbytery, on January 31st, became the first of several presbyteries to flip-flop and approve Ordination Amendment 08-B after consistently voting to maintain G-6.0106b in previous years. Therefore she could not have noted the symbolic irony in that Western North Carolina Presbytery is the presbytery in which Parker T. Williamson, editor emeritus of The Layman, resides and is a member.

I take exception with her opening sentence that “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is in the midst of voting, yet again, on whether to ordain sexually-active gays and lesbians.” We are not voting on that but rather on removing thinly veiled pejorative language that restricts congregations and presbyteries from exercising their right of discernment and at least consider ordaining sexually-active gays and lesbians. This distinction may seem like a matter of semantics but as followers of the Word made flesh we ought to be more careful about what words we use.

In her final paragraph she notes Michael Adee saying “We’ve spent 30 years on this. Let’s just come to a solution and move forward.” I presume the “30 years” is a reference to the 189th General Assembly (1977) of The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) authorizing the creation of a task force to study the church and homosexuality in response to overtures from the Presbytery of New York City and the Presbytery of the Palisades seeking definitive guidance on the question of the acceptability of an avowed practicing homosexual as a candidate for ordination to professional ministry. It has now been 32 years since the creation of that task force, 32 years since the 1977 PCUS document, The Church and Homosexuality: A Preliminary Study, and 31 years since the 1978 UPCUSA document, The Church and Homosexuality, which gave us “Definitive Guidance”. In other words, it has been about a generation since the question was first asked.

Any Hegelian would argue that there is no need to question an opinion everyone agrees with. As soon as the question was asked change was inevitable.

The Scriptures remind us that while it took only one night for the enslaved children of Israel to get out of Egypt, it took forty years of wilderness wandering to get Egypt of the children of Israel. The generation that experienced enslavement in Egypt, including their leader Moses, had to pass away before a new generation led by a new leader, Joshua, finally entered the Promised Land. Along the way there was much quarreling and testing, and even a desire to return to the good old days of enslavement. Why should we be any different?

By such a rendering we have another eight to ten years before our debates focused around G-6.0106b are resolved. If 08-B is not passed in this round of voting it will return in one form or another in six to eight years and will eventually pass. Such change is inevitable. It is the conclusion of the trajectory established in 1977 when the Presbytery of New York City and the Presbytery of the Palisades asked for definitive guidance.

Even if 08-B does pass in this round of voting there will still be work to be done regarding its interpretation and implementation. New questions will be asked. A new generation that has not personally experienced definitive guidance, authoritative interpretation and the former G-6.0106b will begin living, serving, worshipping and finding their own way in a land of promise.

In Christ,

John E. Harris


LittleMary said...

good letter. glad you wrote it!


John Shuck said...

Good post, John! Thanks! Two assumptions in her article may not be accurate:

1) People are tired of this argument. I'm not tired. I am energized for justice.

2) Debating this takes away from other issues. This is a guilt trip argument against those who work for gay rights, that we should instead work for more important things, like caring for the poor. We will always find a reason not to care for the poor. It appears to me that those who work for gay rights are most likely to work for social justice issues in other areas.

John Edward Harris said...

I agree with John Shucks observations.

People whose ministries are safe and whose lives are not questioned may be tired, but those whose voices have long been silenced are just learning how to be heard.

Debating this issue does take away from other issues, but I think the shoe is on the other foot. It was conservative opponents of GLBT ordination that filed a remedial case preventing Janie Sphar from being installed even though she had been ordained prior to 1978. It was conservative opponents that brought us an Authoritative Interpretation. It was conservatives that gave us G-6.0106b. Progressives have been forced to defend themselves against disciplinary and remedial cases filed by the conservative opponents. I agree that this issue has kept us from engaging other important social justice issues like environmental stewardship and the integrity of God's creation, justice for women and minorities, and economic justice in a society with an increasing disparity between the rich and the middle class and especially the poor. Until justice, love and grace become the norm on this issue, however, I am afraid it will not become the norm on any of the others.

dr. sheltie said...

In your link to Leslie Scanlon’s article, she quotes Terry Schlossberg who mentions “people sitting on the edges of their chairs…[who] won’t remain in a denomination that won’t hold the standard that’s the biblical standard.”

I would change that last phrase from “the” to “a biblical standard.” Of course, this deals with how we interpret scripture and how we view inspiration of scripture. Ignoring the ways the Bible presents varying viewpoints on a great number of questions shows that we’re not listening—to it, to each other, and certainly, to God.

John Edward Harris said...

Dr. sheltie makes a good point. Church history teaches us that Biblical standards have changed with the times and that Christians of good conscience have come to read, understand and interpret the Bible differently than previous generations. That is what makes the Bible a living document and ours a living Faith.