Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Church of the Heart

Dr. Michael Adee, Executive Director and Field Organizer for More Light Presbyterians, spoke at the National Celebration Dinner about a church of the heart. At the end of his speech, he celebrated new More Light Churches.

Church of the Heart, Part 2

Here is the Flickr Photo Set of the Reception and the National Celebration Dinner.

Pro-LGBT Equality Cynthia Bolbach Elected Moderator

Cynthia Bolbach, a pro-LGBT equality candidate, was elected Moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA at the 219th General Assembly. In response to the Presbyterian Voices for Justice question on the role of LGBT people in the PCUSA:
I sense that there are some within the PC (USA) who want the ongoing debate over the role of lesbian/gay/bisexual/ transgender people in our denomination to just go away. The reality, though, is that the time for deciding when this issue gets resolved is in God’s hands, not ours. Until then we must continue the conversation, even if we feel that there are no new voices to be heard. Those in favor of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in our life together – and I include myself in that group – believe that we fail to satisfy the Gospel imperative of inclusiveness as we continue to exclude gays and lesbians from leadership in our church. But there are also many within our church who believe that homosexual behavior is a sin that violates Scripture’s mandates. I respect their beliefs, and I want to continue in conversation with them about this basic issue. “Come, now, let us reason together” seems an appropriate principle to guide us as we continue this conversation.

More Light Presbyterians Reception and National Celebration Dinner

You are invited to join More Light Presbyterians for a Reception and the National Celebration Dinner tonight, July 3. Members of the media are welcome (MLP Press Kit). The Reception is free and located in the Hilton Minneapolis (1001 Marquette Ave) Ballroom E between 4:00 and 5:00 pm. For the Dinner, you will need a ticket for the meal, but you are welcome to bring a sandwich and join us. The Dinner is located in the Hilton Minneapolis in Ballroom F and G between 5:00 and 6:45 pm.

Here is the program for the National Celebration Dinner.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Scarves: Reflecting God's Love for All God's Children

With the noise of a busy Exhibition Hall in the background, Janet Edwards places a scarf on Susan Craig and gives her a charge: "We want the church to reflect God's love for all God's children."

In a Presbyterian News Service article about the scarves:
Bright colors of yarn are used to symbolize diversity and call for the inclusion of LGBT members (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) in every aspect of church life from ordination to marriage. The scarves are being made for the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in Minneapolis July 3-10. They'll be worn by participants who support LGBT rights within the church...

The rainbow has a long symbolic history, starting with the Biblical account of God’s covenant with Noah after the flood. Ancient South American cultures, including the Incans, used rainbow imagery. Reformation-era German theologian Thomas Muntzer is often depicted with a rainbow flag. In the 1960s, an Italian rainbow flag became an international symbol of peace. The first gay pride rainbow flag was flown in 1978 and has become the icon for the LGBT community.

"The rainbow is a natural sign of God's love for all, and so a lifeline of hope to any group who feels left out," Edwards said. "Since the time of Noah, God’s covenant has included all creation. The scarves are an invitation to the church to join in what God is already doing."
Based on the number of scarves arriving at the General Assembly, More Light Presbyterians will reach their goal of having 1,500 scarves!

Keeping It Simple at General Assembly

Reposted with Permission from Time to Embrace.

For the third time, service on the board of More Light Presbyterians takes me to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), this year, in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. Today I am working at the More Light booth, greeting friends, blessing rainbow scarves upon the shoulders of former strangers, now sisters and brothers, and preparing for all the events, official and unofficial, of the coming week.

General Assembly continues to be a daunting, almost overwhelming experience with so many people, so many pressing concerns, and so many voices yearning to be honored.

This kind of complex, fraught gathering is not unique, and human beings have forged helpful wisdom through time to guide us all in such confusing situations. We often tell one another, “keep it simple.” Another that I have long carried with me is the maxim used by Al-Anon, the wonderful organization that supports those living with alcoholism in their families: “Do the next right thing.” In other words, we need not take in the whole vastness of a complex situation at once, but rather take it one step, and one interaction, at a time, at each step seeking the right thing to do in that moment.

We do well to adapt these aphorisms to our Presbyterian selves as we watch and participate in the proceedings of the PCUSA General Assembly. So I encourage us to keep it simple at this GA by, at each moment, doing the next Presbyterian thing. What exactly might that be?

The answer I have come to treasure is simply to have the next conversation with the next person we meet, listening with an open heart.

Our particularly Presbyterian insight is that no one person knows the mind of God. We discern God’s will through honestly and courageously sharing with another or in groups — we call them committees, sessions, presbyteries or assemblies — what the Spirit says to our own minds and hearts. We also attend carefully to all the others who speak, listening for God’s Word to us just as carefully as we listen to Scripture in Sunday morning worship.

As Paul suggested in a variety of ways in each of his letters, we will know how to live in Christ by sharing with one another. In Romans Paul speaks of harmony (Romans 15:5-6). To the Corinthians, he commends eating together (I Corinthians 11:17-34) and testing their faith together (2 Corinthians 13:5-8).

So this week at the GA, I will listen carefully to all I meet, open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in that moment. I will also speak up when the Holy Spirit inspires me, with the trust that others, too, will listen to me with an open heart. This is the Presbyterian thing to do; this will keep my heart centered in Christ.

Everyone at General Assembly is a good Presbyterian seeking to know and serve God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. If we all keep it simple and do the next Presbyterian thing — have the next conversation with each next person we encounter, listening with an open heart — at the end of the day, all shall be well.


Reverend Janet

(Photo: Michael Adee and Janet Edwards)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Arc of History is Bending Toward Justice

"The trend among Christian churches in the United States has also been toward acceptance," writes Candace Chellew-Hodge on Religion Dispatches. After long struggles for equality, the arc of history is bending toward justice.
Overall, in a different Gallup survey, those saying gays and lesbians are “morally acceptable” stands at 52 percent. Barely 34 percent thought so back in 1982.

The trend among Christian churches in the United States has also been toward acceptance. The United Church of Christ, on July 4, 2005, became the only mainline denomination to affirm its support for marriage equality. Other denominations, like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), have moved to remove bans on the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers.

The Presbyterian Church (USA), remains on the verge of giving that right to its gay and lesbian clergy. The General Assembly removed restrictions during its 2008 meeting, but the measure did not receive enough support among the presbyteries to pass. Supporters remain hopeful as the denomination begins its General Assembly in Minneapolis next week.
Lisa Larges, head of That All May Freely Serve, said, “Faith traditions are moving toward a new understanding of God’s diverse creation. The time for policies based on our love of God and call to serve has come. Churches are learning to affirm gifts for ministry rather than reject ministers because of whom they chose as a life partner.”
Several pro-gay measures are on the agenda for the PCUSA including benefits for same-gender spouses and domestic partners of church employees, the right of clergy to perform legal weddings in the states that recognize them, the final removal of a ban on gay clergy, and a review of a creedal statement viewed as anti-gay.

Press Release: Presbyterians Celebrate Progress in LGBT Equality

Coalition Media Contacts:   

Michael Adee, More Light Presbyterians (505) 577-0086
Pam Byers, Covenant Network of Presbyterians (415) 310-0371
Lisa Larges, That All May Freely Serve (585) 615-0613
Mieke Vandersall, Presbyterian Welcome (917) 776-0292

July 1, 2010 — Presbyterian advocates of equality for all members of the church, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT), are announcing they are ready to celebrate continuing progress at the upcoming General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), July 3-10, in Minneapolis. 

 “We have come so far toward fully including everyone in the denomination, we have reason to celebrate, even as we work for fuller inclusion.  As we move forward, we will continue to lift up our core belief that we are all created in the image of God.  We know that the church is living into a future that allows Presbyterians to follow their God-led consciences as they consider each candidate, rather than requiring exclusion,” said the Rev. Tricia Dykers Koenig, National Organizer of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.

As the denomination gathers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, many are aware that in the same hall, one year earlier, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American voted to allow ministers in partnered same-sex couples to be listed on the official roster and to serve the church.  All requirements to limit participation were dropped and Lutherans are living into the new policies by receiving clergy back into the church.

Lisa Larges, head of That All May Freely Serve, said, “Faith traditions are moving toward a new understanding of God’s diverse creation.  The time for policies based on our love of God and call to serve has come.  Churches are learning to affirm gifts for ministry rather than reject ministers because of whom they chose as a life partner.”

The PCUSA currently allows gay and lesbian people to serve in official capacities if they maintain “chastity.”  An amendment to lift the requirement for “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness” was passed at the 2008 General Assembly, but after the long process of voting by regionally based presbyteries, the constitutional amendment did not garner the required number of presbytery votes. 

What was impressive was that presbyteries in relatively conservative areas like Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky, southern Illinois, rural Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Montana voted to support equal acceptance of all those who feel called to serve the church, including those in same-sex committed relationships. 

“There is a growing consensus among Presbyterians that we have spent enough time trying to keep people out of church leadership and it is time to celebrate our progress and our common heart for service,” said Mieke Vandersall, head of Presbyterian Welcome.
  • The General Assembly will consider a wide array of business items requiring a vote, including:Possible provision of benefits to same-gender spouses and domestic partners of employees in church positions.
  • Affirmation of the right of clergy to provide pastoral care to their members by performing legal weddings and services, in the growing number of states allowing same-sex marriage or domestic partnerships with all the rights of marriage.
  • Removal of all barriers to ordination for lesbian and gay Presbyterians.
  • Continued review of translations of a creedal statement containing a misleading anti-gay phrase that was not present in the original language.
"Only God knows what decisions will be made at this General Assembly," said Michael Adee, Executive Director, More Light Presbyterians, "but we do know that the Presbyterian Church (USA) understands now that it baptizes and nurtures the faith of its own gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender daughters and sons. Presbyterians, from all walks of life, are expressing their faith and believing out loud that we are all children of God.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

LGBT and Christian Communities Seek Common Ground

The work at General Assembly is really about Nick Koberstein, a freshman at the University of Illinois, who wanted to find a church in which he could be open about his sexual orientation and be fully accepted. Fortunately for Nick, there is such a place in Champaign, Illinois.
Like the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church has a process and a title for individual parishes to become more welcoming to the LGBT community.

McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church, 809 S. Fifth St., is a More Light Presbyterian church — part of a program whose mission is “to work for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church,” according to the More Light website.

“For us, there’s much more focus on the spirit of the law than on the letter of the law,” the Rev. Keith Harris, associate pastor for campus ministry said.

Although McKinley has been a More Light Presbyterian church since the 1980s, not all Presbyterian churches are this way. Harris said the denomination as a whole is continuing to struggle with answering whether being a pastor and a member of the LGBT community negates their ministry.

People that are openly gay or lesbian are currently not allowed to serve as ministers in the church, but discussion is taking place among church authorities about whether this should be changed, Harris said.

Yet Harris said to only highlight McKinley's open stance on the LGBT community would be to overlook the real purpose of the church as he sees it.

“It’s more to reach out in the name of love and justice to people in need,” Harris said.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Candidates for Moderator

Rev. John Shuck, pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, TN, ranked moderator candidates from the most to least friendly for helping to advance spiritual, ordination and marriage equality for LGBT persons in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He based his ranking (for the most part) on Presbyterian Voices for Justice's questions to the candidates. (Photo: Candidates, left to right--top row: James Belle, Cynthia Bolbach, Jin Kim; bottom row: Maggie Lauterer, Julia Leeth, Eric Nielsen).
Here is my rank from friendliest to least based on their comments:
Maggie Lauterer (Pro-Equality) "Perhaps when we can speak with a strong majority on matters of human sexuality, we can move on with our mission."

Cynthia Bolbach (Pro-Equality) "Those in favor of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in our life together – and I include myself in that group – believe that we fail to satisfy the Gospel imperative of inclusiveness as we continue to exclude gays and lesbians from leadership in our church."

Eric Nielsen (Dodge but...) "Assessment of the gifts for ministry of Elders, Deacons, or Ministers of Word and Sacrament should be returned to congregations and presbyteries. They know their people and churches best." (Not sure if Eric agrees but the only way to succeed at this is to remove G-6.0106b. Didn't see any comment on marriage equality)

James Belle (Dodge) He quotes the Bible and Westminster with the slickest non-answer to the question.

Jin Kim (Anti-equality, but keep chatting) "My reflections on the life of Jesus lead me to reject both complete equality in the matters of either ordination or marriage, and ruling out any further GA consideration of these questions for years to come."

Julia Leeth (Anti-equality) "I pray the Assembly maintains the traditional definition of marriage as supported by the Bible..."
John's blog is much more entertaining to read than ours, so be sure to read his whole entry about the moderator candidates.

A Soulforce Equality Rider's Perspective on GA

In 10th Grade, Brian heard his Presbyterian youth pastor say, "We don't even need to talk about why gay is wrong, right?" Years later with a Soulforce Equality Ride under his belt, Brian writes about where he is today and what he hopes for at the 219th General Assembly.
Today, I attend Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Marble is the oldest Protestant church in North America and the founding member of the Reformed Church in America, a denomination which, like the Presbyterian Church (USA), still does not treat LGBT people as equals. My faith, and passion for justice, has been kindled at Marble, mostly by my pastor David Lewicki, who is ordained in the PC(USA) church. I recognize now that the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, the Christ we worship, the early Church, and Christians throughout the ages have been voices for an ever-widdening circle of inclusion and acceptance and of justice for the oppressed. We are convinced that the circle must include queer, trans, and gay people.

I would not be where I am today if it were not for the inspiration of Jack Rogers, the guidance of David Lewicki, and countless other saints and sheroes. I do not know where I would be, but I am almost certain that I would not be a Christian. It is also under Rev. Lewicki that I have returned to many traditional aspects of Christian teaching: prayer, ritual, original sin, repentance, action, and the importance of church communities.

And so I look with expectation to the upcoming General Assembly in Minneapolis. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a remarkable opportunity before her. She can join with voices throughout the ages who have struggled for justice, she can boldly speak the truth even if it is unpopular or costly, she can be a light for the world, and she can save the lives of untold young people who are sitting in their churches and classrooms wondering “Is there something wrong with me?”
Soulforce plans to hold a pray in at the 219th General Assembly.

Monday, June 28, 2010

15 Overtures, Years of Debate; Gay Ordination on GA Agenda

The Presbyterian Outlook takes a look at the 30-year conversation about sexual orientation in the Presbyterian Church (USA). As this General Assembly approaches, there are some significant changes all around.
But the persistence of the debate, and the glazed-over look some Presbyterians develop when it revs up again, can mask some incremental but significant developments that observers are noting.
Among them:
  • Last August, in a dramatic and emotional vote, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – the third-largest Protestant group in the country, with 4.6 million members – voted to lift a rule that forbade gays and lesbians to serve as pastors unless they were celibate. The denomination’s Churchwide Assembly removed the ban on pastors living in “lifelong, monogamous, same-gendered relationships.” Almost immediately, some Lutherans who say the new policy does not conform with Biblical teaching began to discuss the possibility of leaving the denomination. 
  • In July 2009, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops voted that any ordained ministry is open to gays and lesbians – ending a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops passed in 2006. This spring, a majority of bishops and dioceses in the Episcopal Church approved the election as suffragan, or assistant, bishop of Mary D. Glasspool, a lesbian from Los Angeles who has been involved in a same-sex partnership for more than 20 years. That’s likely to further accelerate divisions within the global Anglican family. The Anglican Church in North America, officially organized in 2009 with 700 congregations and in disagreement with the direction of the Episcopal Church, has elected Robert Duncan as its archbishop and established full communion with Anglican churches in Uganda and Nigeria.
  • In 2009, a majority of the PC(USA)’s 173 presbyteries voted, for the third time, not to remove the “fidelity and chastity” standard. But there are some signs of shifting opinion – the vote of 94-78 was by a narrower margin than the last time the presbyteries considered it, in 2001-2002, and includes more than 25 presbyteries that flipped from wanting to keep the current standards to favoring change. Some interpret the vote as the PC(USA) standing firm, yet again, on fidelity and chastity. Others say it’s only a matter of time until the rules change – for them, the question is not if, but when.
  • Some of the congregations most opposed to gay ordination have already left the PC(USA) – many of them moving to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. That represents a dynamic other mainline denominations are experiencing as well – with debates over gay ordination in the Episcopal, Methodist, and Lutheran denominations leading to shifting alignments. Following the Lutheran vote last summer, for example, a conservative group called the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal began developing a proposal for the “reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism” and is discussing forming a new denomination, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).
  • A case now is pending in the PC(USA)’s judicial system that could present a direct test of whether the denomination will allow the ordination of a gay man in a committed partnership. In February, John Knox Presbytery voted 81-25 to ordain to the ministry Scott D. Anderson, who has been in a committed relationship for close to 20 years and who set aside his ordination as a minister in 1990, after members of his congregation publicly revealed that he is gay.
  • Following the approach suggested by the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the PC(USA), of which he was a member, Anderson had declared a “scruple,” or an objection based on conscience, to the fidelity and chastity standard. Some who disagree with the presbytery’s decision have filed a remedial case with the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, and a stay of enforcement has been entered until that case is resolved.
  • Depending on how things proceed, Anderson’s case could present the first direct question to the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission of whether a governing body can ordain a gay or lesbian in a committed partnership who has declared a conscientious objection to the fidelity and chastity standard.
 All of this is just the back story.