Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Living Together WIthout G-6.0106b - Response

Regarding Mr. Talylor’s Letter: A response to letters by Bagnuolo and Cullen October 1, 2007
I want to thank Mr. Taylor for his comments of 10/1 regarding my letter of late September, suggesting that we could expand the ways in which we worship and live together into a time when G-6.0106b is removed from our Constitution.

I accept Mr. Taylor’s position but do reject the suggestion that the faithful men and women I know who are working for a welcoming and inclusive PC(USA) are trying to “have our way.” We are doing our best to find ways together beyond this continuing circular saga that has plagued our church for decades. Further, I would say that were those who oppose the removal of G-6.0106b being excluded as a result of their opposition – that most of us who were gay would step up, doing our best to open the doors to welcome those sisters and brothers of ours being excluded. It has to be that way or all of this is as hollow as many suggest.

And, I do understand the suspicion Mr. Taylor referred to. Many in this struggle have long-existed in a place of mistrust, and, it is easy, very easy to lift up fears and objections that have become institutionalized in the PC(USA).

I don’t know how we can resolve those lingering sentiments, let alone identify them all. I do believe that we do not have to split and that neither of us needs to “get our way.” We need to come together and acknowledge what has long been true: the PC(USA) will continue to be a place where we have shared and will continue to share differences – and remain faithful.

Each of us can make our own historical arguments to support what once was and has since changed. It is time for us to put this next unnecessary and divisive argument about the inclusion of LGBT folk in the full work and worship of the church behind us. It is time to move on, while witnessing to the world a Christianity that embraces hospitality, if not always one another.

For me, if we are unable to do such things, then our role in this world as called Christians is greatly reduced. We cannot be satisfied, in my mind, with leaving this world the same as we found it or in more fragmented condition than when we first arrived. We are stuck here in this rut, too dangerously close to a grave. We have too much work to do together to let this continue to take our time, energy, and good will away from those in such need.

Lastly, just let me say that my “intentions” are as stated: to find ways to move beyond G-6.0106b without G-6.0106b. The suggestion that we are promoting a “promiscuous agenda” is the sort of rhetoric that has propelled us into our struggle, fueled by fear and inaccuracy. We need more language of the heart and less intentional darts to derail conversation.

The only agenda I have any support for is one that helps us come together in a loving, Christian way that leads us all closer to the God that has called us together in the PC(USA). All of us…together.

Thanks to Mr. Taylor and Mr. Collins and others who have commented.

Ray BagnuoloMinister of the Word and Sacrament, Palisades Presbyterian Church, Palisades, NY’

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Finding ways to be together without G-6.0106b

Sent to http://www.layman.org/ in response to: There is one thing worse than a lie: a half truth

Posted by The Layman on September 27, 2007

I want to thank The Rev. Dr. Allen Kemp for his writing, comments at presbytery, and faithfulness. Whatever disagreements I may have with others who see G-6.0106b as an important checkpoint for church leaders, I have always felt that such individuals come to their beliefs and responses with the same conviction and call that I feel in my own being. It is what makes this such a difficult process, seeking a welcoming place in the full work and worship of our church for people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender, along with all our sisters and brothers. The use of these words, alone, evokes such a response that it is often near to impossible to enter into a safe and Christian space, where we can each hear each other and listen to how God speaks to us in our own hearts. Dr. Kemp and others, while maintaining their positions, have always been able to do that. I appreciate their witness and practices in this and many other ways.

I am not writing to fight, to divide, or to persuade anyone to change their minds about gay people. We've all tried that. I have sat with Biblical scholars, each taking a position on verses from Scripture, giving clear and impassioned interpretations of those verses, with those who agree supporting their respective speakers. In the end, both sides walk away feeling good about what they have done and nothing changes. We return to our own sides of the PC(USA), faithful witnesses and still apart. General Assembly committees often reflect this dynamic.

Yet, I see us in our presbyteries and at General Assemblies. We worship together, debate, seek justice, truth -- all of us together -- and the ceilings of the churches and civic centers don't fall down upon us. Somehow, we manage to walk and work together, even though our theological positions may be very far apart. Maybe there is something in that practice that we can use to figure out how to be faithful and together even in our greatest of differences.

Most everyone knows someone who is lesbian or gay. I am an ordained Minister of the Word and Sacrament serving the Palisades Presbyterian Church in New York. I am a man who is openly gay and was ordained as such. I also teach high school in the public school system in Westchester County, New York. In both roles, I have heard from people who have experienced the pain and suffering of discovering that a member of their family was different. I have counseled young people tossed out of their homes when they came out to their parents or guardians: seeking acceptance only to be rejected. Somehow, that has always struck me as the sin, not that they might have been created as a person who was gay, nurture and nature arguments aside for now -- but rejected.

There are many more stories; many of you have your own. Whenever I work with someone or hear about someone who has been marginalized or tossed out - I think that we, our church and other churches, have failed to grow enough in God's love and hospitality to possibly err on the side of compassion and love in taking the risk of opening our doors to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community as full members. Instead, we draw lines of separation because of different sorts of fear. We become more entrenched in our own beliefs, maybe so much so that we forget the risks Jesus took to save us all.

There must be a way that we can find space in our understandings of God and Scripture that makes it possible for us to make the PC(USA) an example of God's love, not based on certainty but on trust that God would prefer we take the chance, rather than shut the door on one another. God has to be bigger than our arguments. Has to be...if we could just rely on that bit of faith.

Look, there will always be congregations that will have their own methods of worship and interpretation of Scritures. If a person who was gay showed up at the door of a church who loved but could not welcome a gay person, they could simply say to them: "We have a sister church where you will be more welcome than here..." or something to that effect. And, in the other way, someone who seeks a more literal interpretation and traditional worship service could be directed to sister church - so that none were lost or rejected. There must be a way we can work together so that none are lost.

Yes, I absolutely believe G-6.0106b needs to go because it divides us. I am pleased that our presbytery voted to send an overture to do that to General Assembly and I am deeply aware of how this hurt some of our members. Someone always seems to be hurt in this ongoing difficulty we share. Maybe we can heal with each other and limit such unnecessary pain and fear.

And, I disagree that the removal of G-6.0106b will open our church to all forms of sexual impropriety. G-6.0106a is fully able to maintain required guidelines for appropriate behavior, along with the other requirements of the Book of Order and protocols required of candidates in being cleared to seek a call, and they are considerable. Ask anyone who has gone through them.

What G-6.0106b does is eliminate is LGBT folk from serving since it calls for requirements in "marriage," a sacred commitment not yet availble to gay people. We end up using the this to exclude people from our church: good people, friends, family, faithful called people. That can't be the best way to be faithful for any of us. Yet, some of us are so sure we are right that we are ready to split the church. In a world already dividing up into smaller, more ragged, violent, and isolated peices - how could this ever be God's call to any of us.

I will not debate or argue here. Neither of those will achieve anything near consideration of a sacred trust and a way of being together that really takes a risk based on all we hold true. Our world needs this church: all of this church and all of its members. Our diminished numbers have more to do with ways we exclude people than ways in which we include them. At least I think so.
I, and others I know, will be happy to meet in forums or person to help work at being church together. I do not see us as liberals, conservatives, or other political groups. I see us as members of God's family, sharing the same Baptism, with differences that do not need to divide us. We can work this out. We can pray and practice this out faithfully. I have to believe that, and I hope some of you will, as well. Then, once we work it out, we can teach the rest of the world how we did it. That's witnessing that would humble us all in the power of the Holy Spirit it might just unleash.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

In prayers, always, and in peace,Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of the Word and Sacrament
Palisades Presbyterian Church, Palisades, NY

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Presbytery of Hudson River and the Palisades Overture

Hello Friends -

As you move forward in your presbyteries to consider concurring with the Hudson River Overture or crafting one of your own to delete G-6.0106b and a New Authoritative Interpretation, I thought you might be interested in a little more background information on our meeting, earlier this week.

There were considerable efforts by some of our leadership to prevent the overture from coming to a vote. The overture was sent to the presbytery on August 18, twenty-three days before the meeting on the eighteenth of September. It arrived there the day (or maybe two) after the council had met to assemble the docket. There had been a mix-up on my end on the days when the council was to meet. As a result, there were some references stating how the overture had been submitted late and how the timing had been inconsiderate towards the presbytery and the planning for the agenda.

Nonetheless, the overture was received. It was sent to the Faith and Orders Committee for their recommendation. I requested that I be able to address the committee, since - as far as I knew - there would be no other LGBT folk present or on the committee. On September 10th, I was graciously given that chance.

Since the committee did not have a quorum present, they would not be able to make a recommendation for approval of the motion at the presbytery meeting. The committee did later inform the presbytery that those present were in favor of the overture. Correctly following procedure and avoiding irregularities, the committed decided to make their report to the presbytery, noting the lack of quorum, and recommending that a motion from the plenary be made on the overture.

Eight days to the meeting...

Over the next several days, it was clear from correspondence and discussions that several leaders in our presbytery were strongly in favor of following the procedures recommended by the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity and the 217th GA.

I should mention that everyone in the presbytery was sent a copy of the Palisades Overture with the rationale after it was sent to the presbytery. We wanted to be as open and transparent as possible.
Susan Andrews, our General Presbyter, former Moderator of the General Assembly, and strong advocate for a new way of working through controversial amendments supported a non-vote approach. Susan would have preferred that we give voice to every member of the presbytery on the overture, establishing small groups and discussions, following a different process of discernment on the overture. The overture would then be sent to a future presbytery meeting -- perhaps as early as December 4.

One of the main concerns of Susan and others was that the minority voices in our presbytery -- those who consistently vote against more inclusive status for LGBT folk -- were being excluded. Some in our leadership felt that another vote would further marginalize these groups. Additionally, there were concerns that following Robert’s Rules to a vote would deny newer members of the presbytery a chance to have conversation on the implications of the overture. Susan, who has been a strong supporter for a path to inclusion for LGBT folks in the church, believed then and now that we were contributing to the divide in the church by adhering to the old ways of doing things.

While this may sound like the stage for a confrontation was being set, that is not so. It is difficult to disagree with advocates for a different way in the church, but we managed to do so (and continue to do so) with much grace. Fortunately, grace is freely given – so there is always abundance at hand!

And we did disagree. The Session of the Palisades Church, now joined by a concurrence of the Session of South Church in Dobbs Ferry, felt that going forward was important for many reasons, including the following:

(1) Intimacy: The Presbytery of Hudson River, as a body, is intimately familiar with what is at stake. Long a supporter of motions to the General Assembly for the deletion of G-6.0106b, we believed that we had already had the small group discussions and gone through enough discernment, to bring this forward for a vote. Our actions in ordaining qualified Elders, Deacons, and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament who were openly LGBT gave support to such a position. In other words, to a great majority, we were already there.

(2) Exclusion of Others: The idea of excluding others is troubling and should always give one pause. Once considered, it becomes clear, however, that in this case we were not being exclusive. The LGBT community and its supporters in our church do not ask those with opposing positions to leave the church. Our call to work toward a more inclusive church has never been a call for those who disagree with us to leave. It is true, though, that those who oppose the ordination of LGBT folk - require that we change or be denied. This is really a form of self-chosen exclusion, rather than anything the LGBT community in the church seeks to impose on our sisters and brothers. It is a choice not in our control, nor one which should restrict us from seeking justice.Perhaps the only real inclusive and equitable possibility in this scenario, would be for a moratorium on all ordinations – until our discussions and discernment processes were complete.Otherwise, we need to keep seeking removal of G-6.0106b.

(3) Healing: We also felt that moving forward on the Palisades Overture was far from an affront. It might be seen that way by some, yet it was really a call for this church to change. It was also a chance to have an extended period of time to work together so that we might arrive at GA218 following months of retelling our stories and extending our invitation to the full church to come together. We were not proposing the overture to split the church, although the spectre of schism was referred to more than once.

(4) Regarding the recommendation of GA217 and the Theological Task Force's suggestion for a new process for discernment: We are grateful to the 217 GA and the Task Force for working to find a way to come to unity. While some might feel that the Palisades Overture was in response to the Task Force's inability to create change, for me that is only partially true. The larger truth is that the only reason for bringing forward the Palisades Overture was to remove G-6.0106b from the Book of Order and for the call for a New Authoritative Interpretation (one not necessarily linked to the other). It was the sense of South Church, others, and Palisades that any report or overture which allows G-6.0106b to remain in the Book of Order and be "interpreted" was not acceptable. G-6.0106b, as Joe Gilmore has often called it, is "barbed-wire" around our sacred humanity. Until G-6.0106b is gone, LGBT persons and others will be kept out of this church by that barrier. It needs to go. That’s why many have brought it forward in the past and we continue to do so now and until it is gone.

(5) Robert’s Rules: Regarding the use of the Task Force process and GA217's suggestion to do so, we questioned why the relatively "new" process had to be used to decide the fate of LGBT folk in the church. Robert's Rules continues to be used throughout presbyteries and Session, Synods and General Assemblies. The LGBT community already has enough on its shoulders without the burden of being the “test case” for changing the decision-making process of our church. Also, we are not calling for an end to dialogue or discussion, quite the opposite. The discussion should continue across our church as we move forward. We are not saying, have never said – that we should stop talking with one another. We say this in spite of the fact that at times those conversations, frequently promised to be held in a spirit of safe-haven, have been used against members of the LGBT community. We still need to find ways to ensure that no longer happens.

(6) Why can't we wait? During the weeks leading up to the meeting, there were questions about why we needed to be first. Why not have a first reading and then return at a later meeting for a second reading, following the discernment process outlined? Having referred to the discernment process already, I'll speak for a moment to the "being first" idea. This overture was not about being first, itself - but about taking a leadership and hopeful role for our LGBT community. It takes a lot of courage to be prophetic and present for LGBT and other oppressed communities in the face of a church with our history toward many marginalized groups. We hoped that by bringing this overture to our presbytery early in the church year that we would be able to assure our LGBT community - locally and nationally - that they would not be forgotten at presbytery or at GA218. We also hoped that by sending an early overture to GA218 that other presbyteries would have more time to consider an overture, rather than crafting their own (unless they chose to) and comfortably meet the 120-day deadline for submission of overtures to the GA. Further, it was hoped that this might make it possible to arrive at GA218 with fewer overtures and more concurrences on one overture to delete G-6.0106b, allowing us to speak in a louder and more unified chorus. Lastly, we believed that our presbytery and others have a long history in seeking full inclusion for LGBT folk in the full work and worship of our church. Our voices of welcoming AND willingness to work with those who disagree with us -- is not a matter of strategy but call. These were some of the reasons we worked to have the overture considered early in the year.

(7) Not Winning. Why, according to some, would we bring an overture at this time when it was not possible for it to succeed at General Assembly based on where our church and its presbyteries are today?Whatever the outcome at General Assembly (or odds of that outcome), we felt that our LGBT sisters and brothers needed to know that our commitment to a more just and loving church was not a strategy but a commitment to call. The outcome of General Assembly will be what it is – and either way will never decide for anyone or any group whether or not they are created equally and loved by God, in this case sharing the same baptism as others who keep saying, “Not yet. Not us.” As Elder Bigelow Green of the Palisades Session said at the meeting: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”For many of us, it’s about faithfulness, not winning.

At the Presbytery of Hudson River Meeting: September 18, 2007:

Shortly before the motion, Susan Andrews gave part of her General Presbyter Report, which can be viewed online at http://www.hudrivpres.org/ . In her comments, she encouraged us to consider strongly the guidance of the 217th GA and The Theological Task Force Report on Peace, Unity and Purity in making decisions regarding some of the controversial “issues” that were ahead in the evening’s work.

The Palisades Overture came up late in the meeting, which began at 2:30 P.M. It was around 8:00 P.M. when Faith and Orders gave their report.

Joe Gilmore of South Presbyterian Church made the motion to accept the Palisades Overture. It was seconded and discussion began. Several spoke in favor of the motion, including the Revs. Joe Gilmore, Paul Alcorn, Bruce Baker, Peggy Howland, Elder Bigelow Green of Palisades, and me. There were also voices who spoke against the motion, including the Revs. Allen Kemp and Jean Risley.

It seemed that we would be moving toward an early vote.

It was then that a member of the presbytery, the Rev. Ken Wonderland, proposed a substitute motion to send the overture back to the Faith and Orders Committee to devise a method of meetings, small groups, and discernment to further discuss the motion and bring its report to a future meeting of presbytery. The motion was seconded. Discussion continued along many of the points already considered in this report.

A process of perfecting the main motion and substitute motion followed. Next, there was a vote on whether the substitute motion should replace the main motion. That was defeated. We then returned to the main motion, which passed by a large majority with 3 or 4 abstentions. The presbytery decided on a hand vote, rather than a paper ballot.

The process took a bit more than an hour, as I recall.


This information is offered to use in whatever way might be helpful. Some closing thoughts:

(1) Celebration: Following the vote and in the days that ensued, it was once again made clear that this is not a cause for celebration – to me. What has been re-affirmed is how relentless we need to be, how so many are affected by our actions, and how there are no winners or losers when it comes to the deletion of G-6.0106b – it simply has to go for all of us, including its proponents. We have to return to dialogue not defined by unjust amendments or layers of recommendations that keep us from getting to the heart of the exclusionary practices and polity of our church.In the process, not everyone will agree with us, many will be heartened and hopeful, many will be distraught and see their gospel being reduced to tatters. The idea that we could split the church to resolve these differences is counter to all we work toward. The idea that we could make a case for waiting more than we have for sacred justice – is unconscionable.So our greatest gift in this and all we do is love – a strong, welcoming, unswerving, courageous, compassionate love – towards all, relying on the Holy Spirit for the rest.
(2) Leaders: We need our leaders in this movement to be prayerful, clear, loud, present, compassionate, cooperative, and inspiring. At the meeting, we were reminded that most of those who spoke were “the old guard” who had been speaking about this for twenty-five years. “Where were the newer voices?” we were asked (suggesting we had silenced them by refusing to follow the Task Force and GA’s recommendation for process).Many of us know where they were: they were hiding. It is dangerous to speak out as a person who is LGBT, let alone ordained and LGBT – and, in many ways, it is dangerous to even be our supporters and align oneself against the powerful voices that call us to do otherwise or differently.Yes, we need more voices and leaders, but that is no reason for the voices we have: the Gilmores, Alcorns, Bakers, Howlands, Kemps, Risleys, and Greens – to be quiet. We need ALL the voices – then maybe we can do better at speaking with one another.“Will your voice be next?” I ask. “Will you be in our out?”
(3) Us and Them: There is nowhere in these comments that you will find the words “conservatives, moderates, or liberals.” I do not use them. Not only do they divide, they are inaccurate in what they describe. I challenge us to find a new language that includes others, identifying our disagreements clearly and openly, but describing them and us – not as part of some demographic or political description – but as faithful seeking to serve the God that has called us all.One of the things I like to remind people is that over the last two years of serving Palisades Presbyterian Church that I have led over 100 worship services, celebrated Communion, married folks, baptized children, brought children’s’ messages, installed and ordained elders and deacons, stood with families during farewells to loved ones, moderated Session meetings, attended committee meetings, and ate more than my fair share of strawberries at our Annual Strawberry Festival (to which you are all invited). I have done all these things not because of who I am, but because I was called and given the opportunity to serve. I was cleared by the Presbytery of Hudson River and called by the Palisades Presbyterian Church as a gay man who refuses to abide by G-6.0106b. In other words, I have served as every other minister in parish ministry does – and the church has not fallen apart!

Nor will it, once G-6.0106b is removed and all are given the same opportunity to serve.

Please let me know if there are any questions or things you would like to discuss based on these or other comments.

I hope it is helpful.

Thanks for all your prayers and support, even when we disagree! J


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Overture for the Removal of G-6.0106b

Link to the Overture from Palisades Presbyterian Church NY

On Monday, September 10, 2007, the Faith & Orders Committee of the Presbytery of Hudson River, New York will consider an Overture from the Palisades Presbyterian Church, New York for the deletion of G-6.0106b and a New Authoritative Interpretation, which would remove the amendment and language from the Book of Order that is most frequently used to prevent sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay. Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) from serving as leaders in the PC(USA).

The committee will consider the options available, which include sending the overture to the September 18th meeting of the Presbytery at the Presbyterian Center at Holmes, Holmes, NY. If approved, it would then be sent to the Office of the General Assembly as an overture to the 218th General Assembly to be held in San Jose, California, June 21 - 28, 2008.

The Presbytery of Hudson River is in a unique position to lead in moving the overture, which is virtually the same as the Heartland Overture with which it concurred prior to the 217th General Assembly. The presbytery has long been a supporter of amendments for the deletion of G-6.0106b, as well as calling openly LGBT individuals to serve in positions of leadership. If the overture is sent to the September meeting of the Presbytery and approved, it would provide other presbyteries across the country with an opportunity to concur, and ample time to meet the 120 day deadline prior to the General Assembly, the cut-off for overtures and concurrences.

In presenting the Palisades, NY Overture, which could become the Hudson River Overture, it is hoped that a clear and focused debate will take place on G-6.0106b and the Authoritative Interpretation, a conversation which has been somewhat obscured by other legislation over the last several years. It is believed that even those who might oppose the deletion of G-6.0106b, while voting against the overture - will find some measure of willingness to move forward since such proposed legislation would refocus the conversation on the amendments of Constitution, rather than interpretation of the Book of Order using such methods as "scrupling," based on the 1724 Adoption Act. While these methods and others recommended by such reports as the Theological Task Force of Peace Unity and Purity are important considerations, the continued presence of G-6.0106b and the Authoritative Interpretation are deep wounds to the church that cannot begin to truly heal until they are removed.

The overture is a prayer, in itself, for healing and fnding ways to move ahead with our differences, rather than drawing lines to separate us.

We ask for your prayers as we move forward over the next several days. We welcome your comments, which will be passed along to the committee, and we thank you for entering into this sacred place into which the Spirit has led us.

In hope, prayer, and peace,
Ray Bagnuolo, Openly Gay Minister of the Word and SacramentPalisades Presbyterian Church, Interim Minister

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Simon says, "What?!"

Simon says, “What?!”
Sermon delivered to the Palisades Presbyterian Church
© 2007 Ray Bagnuolo

This time last week, I was in a worship service at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester New York. I was there on behalf of Palisades Presbyterian Church and the broader community of those who have supported Janie Spahr and the work of That All May Freely Serve. For those who might not know,

"That All May Freely Serve began in March 1993 when a Presbyterian court ruled the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr, was not permitted to accept a co-pastor position at Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York because she is a lesbian.

In response, the Downtown United Presbyterian Church invited Janie to become an evangelist, under the auspices of a new mission project called That All May Freely Serve. Since that time, That All May Freely Serve has become a national organization encompassing eight regions, all working together to fulfill its mission:

Called by the life and teachings of Jesus, compelled by our faith, and changed by our conscience, we advocate an inclusive church for all who are disenfranchised: A church that honors diversity and welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons as full members. Full membership includes eligibility for ordination to the offices of elder, deacon, and pastor." (The quote is from TAMFS' heart and literature.)

Janie retired this week and passed the torch to Candidate for Minister of the Word and Sacrament, Lisa Larges. Lisa is also a lesbian and has been a candidate for the last 22 years, denied being cleared to be called to serve as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament because she is a lesbian and in a loving relationship with another woman for the last several years.

A member of the San Francisco Presbytery, Lisa continues to encourage the Presbytery to find its prophetic voice by remaining present and knocking at the door with a relentless love that certainly surpasses my patience.

Last week’s celebration and worship brought home to me, once more, just how much this congregation and the Presbytery of Hudson River that honored your call to me is at the leading edge of the life and teachings of Jesus in this broken world of ours. It may be that the importance of the radical hospitality of the Palisades Presbyterian Church has become so much of who you (and we) are – that it loses some of its “denominational and societal impact” in our day to day work with one another. It is apparent to me that this congregation is far from content to be a hamlet church, focused on itself, cut off from the communities and world of which it is a part. Were we ever to become such a place, I have a feeling the music would cease and the doors would close. We would disperse and the denomination would lose a particular voice of the Spirit that has brought courage and hope to many.

This is all true, you know. I’m not making any of this up. “Called by the life and teachings of Jesus” as we are here has made and continues to make a national difference in the lives of people seeking to be faithful and shake off the antiquated, stifling, domineering prejudices that give many elsewhere comfort in their lives, freeing them from the sacred and difficult work of questioning, challenge, dissent, even disobedience, and change.

Imagine if Jesus sought such comfort. Imagine if he never left home; never listened to the voice that called him. Listened to what others told him to do. Imagine if those who preceded him and followed him had done the same.

Or, imagine if he stopped short of “setting his face toward Jerusalem,” saying: “OK, we’ve gone far enough. This is a nice spot to settle down and draw a nice little circle about ourselves and just remain here, just taking care of one another and forget the rest of the world. He tried that once, remember?” With the Syrophoeneician woman who caused him to re-examine his call?

We don’t know with accuracy everything that transpired those many years ago, but we do know that there was no retirement plan for Jesus and seemingly little rest.

And this morning’s first reading of Hebrews encourages us to look at this restless Jesus in a cosmic way that has impact beyond anything we could understand.

A bit about Hebrews: Author? Unknown. Sometimes attributed to Paul or one of his followers, but – not sure. Audience? Unknown? Date written. Unknown (thought to be somewhere in the early second century, but not sure).

What is sure about this piece of writing is that it identifies Jesus as the high priest who has perfected the faith by his life, death, and resurrection. He is the key to all that needs to be opened in the universe for all of humankind.

Hebrews is a relatively short work with beautiful poetic language. In many ways, the author describes the Jesus many of us know in out heart:

- a better hope through which we draw near to God (7:19)
- he [Jesus] is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always makes intercession for [us] (7:25)
- we are of those who keep faith and keep [our] souls (10:39)

The author’s writings and this morning’s reading is all about faith: Faith in the unseen and what is beyond our experiences. It is about the faithful of all times who lived their lives from such a place, a place that eventually led to the intercession of God and Jesus in this world in such a way that faith became incarnated in this man and Son of God. Jesus, according to the author of Hebrews has perfected faith by his life, his teachings, and his transition to heaven. He came out of the world that was just a shadow of God and the Heavens and transcended the darkness, the angels, and more… and took all humankind with him. He was the last of the necessary sacrifices, his blood on the cross making all other blood offerings meaningless. He was and is, according to Hebrews, atonement and forgiveness of sins for all times.

The author’s fervent conviction is soothing; a balm in its own right. The gravity of such truth in an ancient’s mind and heart cannot be lost on us. Like those before the author who lived their lives based on faith, this believer was doing the same. Faith was guiding the author in the same way it had guided those who had come before and after this work.

The pause to consider this is important. It is important because deeply in many hearts, we would just love to alight in such a place as this writer: peaceful, certain, assured, absolutely assured, approaching a perfect faith, clearly outlined, easily described, convincingly taught, no need to go any further. Whew! Done. Arrived.

The work shortened the space between God and humankind for its times; it spoke to the general belief by many that the world was now ready to come to its end – just a matter of time; that the plan was complete; take care of one another while we wait, and believe: The kindom of God is at hand.

It is no coincidence that Paul is often thought to have been the author or an influence on the author.

But the end has yet to come. The dust of ancient times remains but is out of our realm of experience. The figures of the times are unseen, more mythical sometimes than real, again – shadowy reflections of what was so clear to the author.

We have gone through 2000 years of interpretations, revisions, discoveries: archaeological, linguistic, spiritual, revelatory – and with each one, something we thought was sure has become a little less so; something we once believed as certain as those that once believed the earth to be flat, have now found themselves curved a bit – like the light that was once thought to travel through space and time in a rigid, unwavering straight angle from point-to-point. It is natural to long for certainty, especially in matters of eternity.

While a more confusing world today; it is also, in some ways, a bit softer. In both ways it is definitely more upsetting to those who wish to control the message and the truth, neatly, in an organized and – for those so inclined – faithful way.

I began by talking about my trip to Rochester. Just about this time last week during worship, I offered the Children’s Message. It was centered on the game Simon Says. Accessible to the children as well as the adults, the message moved to a point where someone had broken the rule of not following Simon’s directions because it was clear to them that Simon was telling them to do something wrong – in this case break an object: one of these [held up small figurine].

Resisting all pressure to play by the rules, all the voices of those insisting that you had to do what you were told to do – the individual refused and those in the game gathered around him, protecting him from Simon and his unacceptable demands.

They might has just as well said, “Simon says, What?! What, Simon? Are you crazy?!”

The lesson went on, talking about what to do when you are asked to do something that is wrong, even if that someone who is insistent is strong, powerful, respected – and threatening retribution. The adults got the connection to Janie, the risks she and many churches have taken, continuing today in the progressive movement for inclusion that finds itself struggling with a Simon of a Constitution. A constitution many feel is wrong and unjust and cannot be followed. That All May Freely Serve and this congregation encapsulates that struggle and the courage that it takes to stand fast, say “What?!”, and live into their faith regardless of the consequences, trusting in the Spirit, the teachings of Jesus, and the God who created us all.

I continue to believe that it is exactly this type of eternal justice that Jesus lived and died for, teaching us to do the same.

Luke’s reading this morning, which has a parallel in Matthew – with references to the unknown source we refer to as Q, gives some idea of what type of disruption living into faithfulness can cause to the broader society, comfortable in its ways. From the reading of Luke:

"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

To the ancients, fire meant change. I think it’s easy to see why, considering how fire does alter things. The reference to baptism is clearly a reference to Jesus’ death. And I think it is interesting that there is an acknowledgment of the stress all of this had on Jesus and those around him. The writer of Luke makes it clear that the paradox of the peacemaker was known even then: Those working for peace often stir up conflict in the process.

Towards the end of the reading, the reference to the hypocrites from the Greek hypokrisis for “pretender,” is often thought to refer to the fact that those leaders of the time knew what was happening and could see it just as well as they could see the change in the weather, but they refused to acknowledge what needed to be changed, preferring to remain in their own denial. Standing by, watching the wrongs, the marginalization, oppression, and violence – and not seeing a thing.

Sort of like Sergeant Schultz of the desert!

Well, Jesus called them out by reaching into their comfortable domineering lives in a way that frightened them so much -- that they ultimately executed him.

I have always said that Christianity is a risky business, calling those who follow the teachings of Jesus (as with other great prophetic leaders) to places that call for sacrifice in many ways. Yet, it is the way of faith to do such things – believing in the unseen often beyond our experiences and leaning into such a place, willing to take the risk, bucking the trend, letting go of comfort, seeing others – really seeing others and reaching out to them because it is what Jesus did and what we who follow are called to do.

As we say, “Thank you to Janie and Godspeed in retirement,” we now call forward others like Lisa to lead, to step into the same prophetic, courageous place that demands reliance on what is unseen and, in many ways, unexperienced. Our prayers go with Janie and Lisa and all others who work to bring the Kindom of God closer to this shadowy place in which we live.

Postscript: In the time I have remaining here, you will hear me say it more than once that this congregation takes the risks, with such grace and faithfulness that it is almost taken for granted. You are the faithful that Hebrews wrote of; you are the fire that Jesus has kindled; and you, I believe, are called to continue to say. “No!” to Simon when Simon simply cannot be followed. It is what makes us who we are and carries us beyond these four walls.

God bless you and Godspeed to you all.


Friday, June 8, 2007

In Response...How to stay connected?

THe following was sent to the blog for the Candidates and Inquirers Retreat currently taking place in Michgan. You can view the blog here at: http://www.bookofdis-order.blogspot.com/

How to stay connected without bleeding over the church?

Good question. Especially for those on the path to ordination who identify themsleves as queer.

Yet, a more important question, I think, is how not to allow our need for comfort and our fear of rejection prevent us from being honest and transparent with those who will bring their lives to us as their ministers.

The answer to both questions, for me, has been to embrace the possibility of not being ordained (I was) and losing the ordination (not yet!) by being honest and out from the start. When I finally realized that I did not need to be ordained to the degree that I would be other than who I was in such a sacred process, well - I think a lot of the bleeding stopped. It was the realization that my call was to stay on the path with the voice and life I had been given and leave the rest up to God. It took a while, but once I got there the freedom and the path opened in ways I never would have imagined.

For me, the idea of quietly shutting down part of the sacred gift of my identity to accommodate those who might approve me for ordination was to participate in the violence that nearly took my life and my soul. It would mean that I was to become complicit in perpetrating the silence that has been imposed on queer folk by the same instruction that invites us in, if we will just be quiet. For me, that is not an invitation to serve. It is an invitation to something quite different and, well, dysfunctional.

Not bleeding over the church may only be possible when we don't hold on so tightly to the church that we find ourselves impaled on the deceptive violence we hope to overturn by eliminating G-6.0106b from the Book of Order. True ministry is always about those we serve, and for me they deserve the greatest gift of all from their ministers – transparency that reveals the heart and creation of the God who calls us to this work in ways that welcome them with the same radical hospitality of Jesus -- alive and well in these limited days of ours.

I hope you find the retreat to be a blessed time of discernment, truth, and courage as only the Holy Spirit can make happen!

Peace and Namasthe,
Ray Bagnuolo, Palisades Presbyterian Church, Palisades, NY

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On the Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell...

I never really thought I would be writing about the Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell.

So much has been broadcast and written about him in the past few days, that at times I barely recognized the man.

Having been privileged to serve at several memorial services, it has often been the case that when those gathered speak about the one who has died, they frequently find out information they never knew about the individual. So, I am not surprised that we are finding out many things we never knew about someone as public as this man, especially as the special reports and editorials continue. We are learnng more about his faith, relation to his family, and other honorable qualities he exemplified, and I join with all who know the sting of loss and the promise of eternal glory, including the Falwells and their friends and followers. I share this time in prayer for them and all those who are navigating the sacred space of letting go of someone they loved.

It is true for me, though, that those with the bully pulpit (in religious or public life) who have spoken out against gay people from whatever their convictions may be -- these individuals have been responsible for spreading hatred and violence. Have we forgotten that in the last few days?

What is more disconcerting is that individuals with a wide following and even universities established in their names - leave behind them legacies that gain fervor in seeking to honor those who have passed.

Would it surprise anyone that the next one to step into the position left vacant by Dr. Falwell's passing would exert their authority as a leader of the moral majority on the backs of gays and the protection of the family? Certainly there are other examples of this, most recently in the succession of Pope John Paul II. A simple Internet search of recent days makes that very clear.

On many occasions, I have sat and spoken with those who some might call my enemies. I really don't feel that I have enemies. It may be true that I do, but I look at everyone as a brother and sister with respect and love. I am called to do that as an imperfect follower of the teachings of Jesus. However, when I finish my conversations with those who were intent on changing me or condmening me, however charming, public, well-known, or powerful they might have been -- it was always clear to me that they were wrong in their position that we (the LGBT community) were somehow "less than" or a "second-class" because we were gay. How could we feel otherwise?

When these same folk used their influence to marginalize us and galvanize others to do the same, they were not only wrong -- they had become dangerous. When someone like a Dr. Falwell cited us as a contributing factor to the destruction at Ground Zero or threats to the family - we have a responsibility to love such people and then speak out strongly and transparently to let folks SEE us and know us, as best we can.

Probably the greatest damage of the teachings of zealots is that they use the fear they condemn to dominate and quiet those they wish to exclude. The fear and the repercussions that are real or imagined from such campaigns and pograms force gay people more deeply into the closet. We become represented by an out few and a blessed group of supporters. We hear others speaking about and for us -- rather than our speaking about and for ourselves. We reinforce that we have something to hide, by hiding ourselves.

I believe that until we grow into a community that is willing to take risks across a broad spectrum to address these systems doing their best to controlling our lives, we will be ineffective in meaningful change during anything that looks like our lifetimes.

So, the answer for many of us is that we walk alongside those who wish us silent, waiting to be recognized and admitted into their hearts and voices. We join in the throngs who see someone like a Dr. Falwell as worthy of being honored for his work against us, as helping us in our own movement. Really?

Early AIDS activist goup "Act-Up" had as their slogan: "Silence = Death." If we really want to make a difference, we all need to find ways to end the silence. Let's not be quiet about those who seek to destroy us in life or in death. There is no honor in their actions for us, nor is there any gain in our silence.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Triumph of Fear

I sat in my faovrite pizzeria on Sunday. It's become my usual stop after service and coffee hour at church. My Sunday mornings begin about 2 A.M., as I finish the final draft of my sermon and last minute bulletin changes. It's a good time for me to write. Anyway, somewhere around 12 hours later, I'm on my way home, hungry, and then ready for a Sunday nap.

As I waited, the normally genial pizza guy was in something of a tizzy, railing against the church to a customer, connecting his angst with an early childhood experience in which he was tossed out of church. It seems this priest of his childhood had made a comment about Jesus being lowered through the ceiling. Kids, being kids, took the image and converted it into an animated discussion about Jesus coming through their roof, in that church, right then and there!

As a teacher, I see it as a perfectly understandable, teachable moment. Back in the 50's, the humor wasn't so readily embraced. In this case, it was seen as being disrespectful, inattentive, and maybe even sacriligious. Fifty years later, sometimes, it seems as though not much has changed. Jesus is still foisted on many in narrow, overly-defined ways - in other words, as a hostage to particular beliefs or ideas. Jesus, not being used to inform beliefs or ideals, but used in the most unlikely of ways as ballast for individual or institutional agendas - many about as far away from Jesus as you can get. And it's become serious, too serious.

Ever wonder if we are missing the joy and even good time that Jesus had in his ministry, amidst his work. As his ministry grew and he matured, the wonder of the diversity and inclusiveness of those who were disenfranchised and found hospitality and welcome with him must have been a great source of joy and fulfillment. Those who were welcome no where else, were welcome with him. We keep missing that lesson, especially when we get close to the idea of a church, in particular the Presbyterian Church USA, embracing LGBT folk as we do, basically, all others.

What might it have been like if we had gotten the message sooner and took the same risks Jesus did in his hospitality and welcome? Imagine gay kids growing up and feeling perfectly comfortable and affirmed by their church; yes, their church, too. The world would be a different place.

But somewhere along the way, we gave up that invtation to prophetic sanctuary and shelter in favor of our own fears. And the fears are many: fear of "catching gay" (whatever that means), fear of losing a place in heaven, fear of children being in danger around gay people, fear, fear, fear.

Since fear cannot be acknowledged for what it is, it has to be renamed and framed in more acceptable terms. And so, bias and prejudice become disguised as things like righteousness, faithfulness, protectiveness, love (if only you would change, they say - we love you, but we hate your sin), and on and on.

What happened to the two greatest commandments of all? Since when did love one another bring with it a manifesto to change others to fit a mold? We love you, let us change you.

No, it's more like: "We're scared to death of you and what welcoming you means to our comfortable, well-planned out lives and after-lives. It's best we keep you out of this church, out of wedlock, and out of our sight - at least until things change."

Fear triumphs in ways that change otherwise good and kind hearts into calcified and cruel instruments that beat only with the blood that passes through them. The warmth, the love, the willingness to risk for the sake of others has gone and in its place self-centered fear has taken up residence, disguised in the most comfortable of ways.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Myth of the Middle

With less than 1% of the US population being Presbyterian and a dwindling amount of those folks being active members in terms of church attendance, it would seem that our middle is looking more and more like the rest of us - thin and thinning.

The dominant strategy, as I have observed it, during my 12 years in the PC(USA)- as it applies to welcoming LGBT/Q folk into the full work and worship of the church - has been largely based on changing the hearts and minds of the "middle" of the church, that group of believers who are not sure they want to see change -- but are sure that whatever change occurs should happen slowly and in an orderly, consitutional way. Churches, individuals, and groups who call for faster change or even more strident "enforcement" of the constitution - frequently have found themselves further marginalized by this "middle group," in a variety of ways.

The primary goal of the "middle church" and its most visible leadership is to keep the church together at all costs - even if that means creating or sustaining situations that make it intolerable, unhealthy, unsafe, and spiritually violent for the marginalized to stay. I am absolutely sure that this is far from their intentions -- however, it is frequently the end result of their actions. PUP, for example, supported to a large degree by the middle majority at the last GA, has done more to drive a wedge between groups working for change than any action short of adding G-6.0106b to the Book of Order.

Speaking of the Book of Order, I actually think the Book of Order is en eloquent, generally faithfully inspired and loving document. One example has to do with G-3.0400, where the church is called to risk and to trust in its mission:

The church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting God alone as the author and giver of life, sharing the gospel and doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themsleves to the new reality of Christ.

There is diagreement. What is the new reality of Christ? What do the Scriptures and the words we use, pointers at best to more than we could ever know, what do they mean? As my seminary professior, The Rev. Dr. Barbara Austin-Lucas once said, "When you read the Bible, it reads you." I believe that, so I cannot tell you what is in your heart. I can tell you that I don't believe that the new reality of Christ is:

  • Violence as the price of order
  • Marginalization as a device of unity
  • Domination as a method of instruction
  • Rejection of consecrated love between same-sex couples
  • Patience that takes no risk
  • Exclusion of God's creation based on human judgments

No, the myth of the middle is that it is actually a place of fear, not a place of action. Like the human body that immediately sends the blood to its middle vital organs when threatened, so too are the current methods and designs of efforts like PUP more a warming blanket for the fears of those who are least affected by their own actions or inactions -- than real and immediate movement for those living under the debris of years of ineffective and unconscionable practices.

Next, how did we get to this place of faith trumped by fear?

More to come...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

PC(USA) and the LGBT/Q Community

G-6.0106b must go. It's that simple. Anything other than a direct and concerted assault on G-6.0106b is palliative care for everyone except those who suffer daily because their church treats them like second-class children of God.

I know, you say that's a little harsh. Is it, really? This struggle has been going on for thrity-plus years. During the mid-eighties, dozens of my friends died before they got much older -- for the same reason: fear.

The same fear that kep a president from mentioning the word AIDS even once from the bully pulpit in the midst of the crisis during his eight years in office -- is the same fear that is keeping this church from being the prophetic, inclusive, courageous Christian church it's leader gave his life to provide us.

Hyperbole? Rhetoric? Calm down? No!

See, that's the problem. People think we can take our time, strategize, find other ways to "not upset the mainstream church," while we work things out. Too many folks are living as though this is an "issue" - the "gay issue." Well, we are not "issues," but living breathing human beings who are dying -- yes dying because churches can't get it right -- and when they do, like the Episcopal Church almost has -- they get nailed with intense pressure to back-off, "you're going too fast, slow down."(Sounds a lot what some were saying to Martin that prompted his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail .)

No. We can't slow down, take it easy, -- or at least I can't -- and I won't.

GA2008 is about 15 months away. There's going to be all kinds of spin coming out on why we should leave the consitution intact, work around it, establish test cases for ordination, scruples, essential tenets. That's the language and action of delay, by many well-meaning souls, but none the less -- it is unacceptable.

So join me in this grass roots movement to do everything we can to keep the focus on removing the barbed wire, as others have said, from around the sacred sexual intimacy and life that God has given our LGBT/Q sisters and brothers and others for whom G-6.0106b is an act of violence. In a word, all of us.

More to come...