In Support of 11-05

In Support of Overture 050: That All May Freely Serve

Overture 11-05: On the Admission of, and Apology for, Harms Done to the LGBTQ/Q Members of the PC(USA), Family and Friends—From the Presbytery of New York City.

In a speech before Covenant Network of Presbyterians in Atlanta, Georgia in 1999, Barbara Wheeler, Former President of Auburn Theological Seminary referred to John Fife, Former Moderator of the PC(USA) in her comments, as follows:

“As I noted earlier, our condemnation of homosexual practices reinforces hatred of homosexuals throughout this society. Former Moderator John Fife once said that every time a gay teenager commits suicide, there is a sense in which that goes on the Presbyterian Church’s chart.” (See resources below for full text of this excerpt and more recent comments in opposition to 050.)

Clearly, our struggle in the church has had impact far beyond our denomination. In the same way that we hope that our gospel witness will transcend any boundaries, it is also true that our former unaffirming practices have negatively affected many who long suspected they were unwelcome in the church because they identified as LGBTQ/Q.

We gave them, their families, their friends and the pubic at large good reason to believe that was true. It’s time for that to change; it’s time for our light to shine out from under the bushel basket.

Everyone knows that over the last forty years, the PC(USA) has been engaged in a struggle that has often been far from kind. Such an extended conflict produced harm that has been truly regrettable. Colleagues in ministry have been refused calls, brought up on disciplinary charges, denied pension benefits, outed against their will, estranged from family and friends, and in many cases had their calls and careers in ministry abruptly halted. Our denomination and its leadership should never have permitted these actions and procedures to occur in such an assaultive way.

Instead of spreading the gospel message, too often we found ourselves caught up in spreading an unrecognizable “gospel”, aligned with homophobic and exclusionary actions targeting one particular group. In this way we fueled discrimination and separation in the wider society beyond the church.

As John Fife stated, there’s much on the Presbyterian Church’s chart it’s now time to address.

None of us knew that we would be considering this overture at the 222nd General Assembly as we reel from the murders and injuries sustained in the Orlando attack — an attack against us all, targeting individuals because they identified as or associated with the LGBTQ/Q community. This hatred and bias is deeply rooted. ThisThursday, during a time when the sadness and sorrow still overwhelm us, two members of the U. S. Military were brought under investigation for posting a photo of one of them in uniform holding an AK-47 beneath the heading: “Coming soon to a gay bar near you.”

The conversation needs to change. We can change it. Our voices need to be heard. We are powerfully called to speak and upend the message of violence toward the LGBTQ/Q community.  Yes, there is much on our chart, but we now have the opportunity to clear that chart and start afresh.

We truly hope that Overture 11-05 initiates a call for broad-based healing within the church; it was always intended to initiate such an institutional commitment. However, this process cannot postpone what we need to do today, now. We do not need to “study” or delay what we already know needs to be done. If we don’t know that now, today – then when?

Whenever we are in a time following a tragedy— in this case the largest mass murder in the history of the United States of America – whenever we are in such a place everything is compressed and intensified, including the impact of our actions. The consequences of what we do next have the potential to influence our national and theological recovery and discussion in profound ways.

For a moment, consider the impact of the news that might follow this assembly were this – or something like it – to be the headline:

“Presbyterian Church (USA) Admits Harms Done to LGBTQ/Q Community and Apologizes for Past Actions, Vows to Do Better, Encourages all to do the same.”

This would immediately give meaning to the suffering of the past many years, and would have a profound effect on those who have lost trust in us, not believed in us or our teachings, not felt welcomed or considered as equals in faith communities – including the PCUSA.

This overture makes it possible for a mainline Protestant denomination to lift up the gospel and its voice to make it clear we abhor violence, embrace God’s creation in all God’s diverse and wonderful ways, and are humble and faithful enough to say we have been wrong and apologize.

This overture makes it clear to all those who came to our church in a time of struggle and were turned away; to all those who found closed doors in our sanctuaries when all else in their lives had failed them — we failed, too, in the worst of ways by forgetting who and whose we are as an institution.

Overture 11-05, if passed, will make it clear to families whose children are LGBTQ/Q that they’re seen by this church as equal and deserving of their love. Above all, this act of humility and grace lifts up the Love of God, the Presence of the Holy Spirit and the Risen Christ in our midst— heart to heart; soul to soul, in a pastoral way that has long been absent.

We are in a moment where a simple act of acknowledging the harms we have done, apologizing for them, and vowing to do better because God loves us all— can change the direction of the world and lessen the impact of violence that can only be changed by such love.