You may have noticed a recent article in The Citizen that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has changed its Book of Order to affirm that Christian marriage isn’t limited to only those between one man and one woman, but also includes those between same-sex couples, too. This measure was approved last June by our national governing body, the General Assembly, but it had to be ratified by a majority of our 171 regional bodies, or Presbyteries, before it would take effect. On Tuesday, March 17, a Presbytery in New Jersey voted yes, giving the amendment its 86th yes vote and putting it over the top. The voting of Presbyteries will continue through the end of May, but the yes votes are outstripping the no votes by a two-to-one margin.
This is a major step. I believe it’s a very good one, and long past due. For almost 2,000 years, the church has been hostile to LGBT people. Directly and indirectly, church teachings and scriptural interpretations have been used to justify the suffering, and even the death, of countless gay and lesbian people. The people who perpetrate the worst examples of hate and violence against LGBT people frequently justify their actions on religious grounds. And the number of LGBT people, both youth and adults, who commit suicide because their religious leaders have told them they’re an “abomination” and going to hell because of their sexual orientation is staggering. We Christians have a lot to repent for over the harm that we’ve caused to millions of LGBT people throughout history.
This decision certainly can’t make up for all that harm. But it’s an important step in the right direction. Along with our decision several years ago to permit the ordination of LGBT deacons, elders and ministers in the church, it’s of great significance to me personally, as an ordained minister who also happens to be gay. But, much more importantly, I believe it’s just the right thing to do. My belief is based not on “throwing the Bible out the window,” as some have accused the PCUSA of doing, but rather, based on studying the Bible in even greater depth and academic rigor than before. The best biblical scholarship points not toward rejection of LGBT people in the church and society, but toward welcoming and affirming them — us — as part of the great diversity and wonder of God’s creation. All human beings have been created in God’s very own image, and that includes one’s innate sexual orientation.
I also believe that the experience gained by many people in recent years, as more and more of their own relatives and friends have come out as LGBT has been earth-shaking. It’s led to more and more people recognizing that the negative stereotypes and religious prejudices about LGBT people are utter nonsense. I think that something very important is happening here: I believe discovering that someone you know and love is gay — and that they’re every bit as good, and decent, and very often every bit as spiritual as you — is a way that God’s own Spirit is speaking to us and drawing us onward, closer to God’s will. Some will denounce this move on the part of the PCUSA as the denomination bending to societal pressures as opposed to following God’s will. On the contrary, history has shown us over and over that quite often, God has spoken truth into the world that was first accepted by “secular” society, and has gradually moved from society to the church. So are we bending to society? Maybe, but maybe that’s actually paying more attention to God, not less. I believe that currently, we’re seeing God speaking greater truth and greater love into the whole world, both church and society simultaneously.
Westminster Church has been welcoming, affirming and inviting to LGBT people into participation in the full life of the church, for quite some time now. Our theology and our understanding of the scriptures — even that handful of so-called “clobber verses” of the Bible that supposedly condemn LGBT people — are open and accepting. This church has worshiped together with LGBT people, enjoyed Communion with them, prayed with them, rejoiced with them, mourned with them, been led by them, and buried them. Now, thanks be to God, we can also marry them. I think that’s a very good, and very Godly, thing. Grace and peace to you all this week.