Tuesday 17 August 2010

Gay Clergy: God's Spirit at Work (Huff Post)

The decision by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the USA to ordain openly gay and lesbian clergy has not yet been ratified (and may not be), but as I wrote at the time, ratified or not, this still represents a gain for LGBT inclusion in church. How so? Because the requirement for local ratification guarantees that Presbyterians right across the country long after the summer has been forgotten. These discussions will not affect only Presbyterians - and experience has shown that the more people discuss these things with open minds, the more their thinking shifts from the old assumptions, to one of greater acceptance and understanding. A story by Rev Peter Wallace at Huffington Post neatly illustrates how this plays out.
Rev. Wallace is not a Presbyterian or a clergyman, but a journalist. However, he does have a Master's degree in theology, and is executive producer and host of the "Day 1" national radio and internet program, the "voice of the mainline Protestant churches." It was in this capacity that he was drawn into the debate - by a friend (Susan) who is also not a Presbyterian, but a progressive Buddhist. Susan was drawn in by her cousin, who is Presbyterian - and wanted some advice on how to respond to the decision at local level. Do you see how discussion of the national decision in Minnesota,earlier this summer, is now rippling out across the country?
By the sound of it, Susan's cousin is not an obvious gay rights supporter - she initiated the discussions because she found the resolution "troubling", and her husband is clear in his opposition. It could easily have ended there 0 but didn't, because Susan has an open mind an believes she needs to investigate the issues afresh. She may well end up rejecting the proposal - we shall never know. However, there will be many thousands more like Susan, at least some of whom will be convinced by the arguments and books that Rev Wallace has, indirectly, passed on to Susan's cousin.
The actual content of the advice from Scripture that he gave will be familiar to readers here, and I will not repeat if. But there are other features of his reply worth stressing. First, he notes how the Mainline Protestants are clearly moving towards a consensus in favour of gay inclusion - a consensus on an idea that first emerged further back than most people would realize today:
Even so, one by one, the mainline denominations are coming to a consensus:
  • Last year, after studying and debating the issue for years, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also voted to allow gay clergy in committed relationships.
  • Some years earlier, The Episcopal Church made the leap by electing and consecrating a gay bishop, the Right Rev. Gene Robinson
  • And way back in the 1980s, way ahead of their time, the United Church of Christ affirmed LGBT clergy among their ranks.
Writing about the ordination of Gene Robinson, he recalls the sombre mood, the feeling of apprehension that permeated the occasion - a mood which has been described in similar terms by many other observers.  But just two weeks later, at the UCC synod where the matter had long been settled, the mood was entirely different .
.....two weeks later I attended the UCC's General Synod in the same Minneapolis Convention Center, and was struck by the joyful freedom and vibrant mission focus of a denomination that had already, much earlier, decided the issue.
It is also worth noting how much less controversial the matter is right now in the Episcopal Church, just six years later.  he selection of Mary Glasspool as bishop in Los Angeles last year caused hardly a ripple, compared with the world-wide uproar over Gene Robinson in 2003. As other denominations take the same steps, they too will have to deal with internal dissent and controversy, just as the Episcopal church did for a while - but the opposition will pass, and they will emerge , as the UCC and Episcopalian churches, stronger and happier for it.
it seems that once this issue has been resolved, usually after decades of wrangling, the denominations (or what's left of them, anyway) begin to experience a new freedom and energy to pursue their mission to serve the world in Christ's name -- they can actually focus on the desperate physical and spiritual needs all around us. Their churches are able to offer a welcoming place for all to come to worship together, grow in the faith, and minister enthusiastically to their community and their world.
We have witnessed the effective, authentic ministries of gay and lesbian clergy such as ELCA pastor Bradley Schmeling and newly approved Episcopal Bishop Suffragan Mary Glasspool.
We have come to understand that the Spirit of God is moving in fresh, trustworthy ways -- just as in the case of slavery and women's leadership in years past. (Is it ironic that Susan's cousin, a woman, was recently installed as a deacon in her church?)
And as more and more people realize that they know and love LGBT folks in their families, communities, and workplaces ...... it's only a matter of time before we all catch up to the work of the Spirit of God moving us forward in the love of God.
In this gradual acceptance and movement to inclusion, he sees the "Spirit of God" working, He is right - but I also see the Spirit working by expanding the discussion way beyond the few people immediately affected, to a much wider community, in a way that guarantees that win or lose the specific ratification this year, the discussion and its slow acceptance will continue everywhere, and the cause of LGBT inclusion in church continues to advance.
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