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