Asked on Facebook – from John

March 29, 2016

Dear John,

I appreciate your patience in this long response.

First, thank you for your question. You articulate a response to the overture that reflects the concerns of others, as well.

This overture does not stand in the way of anyone or their conscience and beliefs. One’s conscience is between that person only and the God who loves us all. I have stood along side those with whom I’ve disagreed on issues but absolutely believed in their decision and spoken to their right of conscience.

I do hope that one day our LGBTQ/Q community will not be seen as “sin” and that our place in the church and elsewhere will not be categorized as “neutral,” for the comfort or benefit of others or an institution, itself. It has often mystified me that some folks who know nothing about who we are, how we live into our faith, or how we love our families and friends oppose us and are ready to condemn us in the name of God, simply because we identify as LGBTQ/Q. Yes, I do hope that will change; yes, I do believe that the PCUSA has an important role in this change and the broad healing that needs to occur. And, yes, I believe that folks who identify as LGBTQ/Q deserve an acknowledgment that there have been harms done to them that they never deserved. Further, I believe the world needs to hear that and in so doing come to know the PCUSA as a place for them — whoever they may be.

From the tone of your note, I believe you would agree with me that God has called us to love one another – even in our disagreements. It is there that we have failed as an institution – for generations – in not clearly addressing the teachings and behaviors of the church (the PCUSA and others). We have failed by the proselytization of erroneous rationales for exclusion; unintentionally contributing to the subsequent violence that LGBTQ/Q folks continue to experience: violence that occurs both within the organization and outside of it, in part the result of a failure by the denomination to break its silence in speaking against exclusion, while speaking in “love” to those being denied. I admit to having difficulty with that stark contradiction.

Item 11-05 (formerly OVT 050) calls for the institution to admit that it has caused harms to others by decades of charges and trials against faithful people, simply because they identified as LGBTQ/Q. It calls for the institution of the church to state clearly that which has been constitutionally decided: that while we disagree in many congregations, this is a church which includes congregations that fully welcome and affirm people who are LGBTQ/Q for membership, leadership, and to honor their marriages and families as any might be honored. That is not suggested as judgment of those who do not welcome and affirm our community in its fullness, which is still the dominant perception within the church and its sphere of influence. There just needs to be intentional leadership to balance all these things in ways that honor who and whose we are, instead of the apologetics too often spoken with pithy comments about “not returning to the past, but moving forward.” As disruptive as it may seem this is about unity, reconciliation and healing. And, yes, in this world – seeking such a way is, indeed, disruptive. Ignoring the past, “moving forward,” simply makes it all worse.

John, unless such a voice is heard from within our denomination, the witness and struggle and harms done over the last forty years will die as footnotes to be forgotten or ignored, instead of a witness of the life-saving presence and mystery of Christ and the gospel in our lives. Our prayers and hopes – and the reason for our support of Ovt 050 – is to begin the healing needed from this long struggle; not to bring us “to neutral” but to begin an engaged conversation and relationship that embraces one another and all the work we are called to do in this world – even with our differences.

Not long ago, I asked one of my self-identified Conservative Evangelical minister-friends if he would officiate the wedding of his child is his child and partner were of the same gender. His sadness in acknowledging that he would deny their request touched me deeply. I really felt for him. At the same time, I hope he was grateful that he was part of a denomination in which there would be a place for his child to be married; a place where he could attend and celebrate the wedding, even if he needed to abide by his conscience and refuse to officiate: celebrate their love, even if he thought they were wrong. In so many ways, that is reconciliation and healing we seek.

I suspect that there are many who are equally grateful that there is in the PCUSA a heart and a home for those they know and love, even if they are not fully welcomed in their particular congregation.

An apology for the harms we have done one another, a true desire to welcome all in our denomination, and a commitment to make sure that in this world – at least from the voice of the PCUSA – no one should ever think that we support any discrimination or violence toward others because they identify as LGBTQ/Q – that is the heart of this overture that we support. Further, we believe that all of us have been called to this new time to work toward a peaceful reconciled place that witnesses God’s love for all whom God has created.

Lastly: about prosecution. John, the only ministers or leaders ever prosecuted in this long struggle have been folks who are LGBTQ/Q or our allies. I cannot even recall one instance where charges were brought against those opposing us – it was we who were always being brought to church court and suffered its actions.

Reconciliation is not retribution, nor do we seek retribution of any kind. We just believe that the world needs to know who we are as a denomination – and for that to be heard nothing can be quite as humble and powerful and helpful as an admission of harms done one another and a true commitment to go forward in God’s love, clearing the wreckage of the past.

Our constitution has changed and for important reasons. We believe that it’s time to end the illusion of a “neutral church” and accept our unity without requiring uniformity of each other. We are charged now, as a denomination unlike any other in the world, to bring love and compassion to this long and harmful struggle. I am among those who believe God has called us to this time and place because we are uniquely able to handle the challenge and its complexities with faithfulness and God’s Love, something that we and the world truly need in all the abundance we can find..

Thanks again for your comment, John.

Ray Bagnuolo, Chaplain & Minister Director
That All May Freely Serve; 914-217-4173