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