Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Myth 2: Timing is Everything

Not here. Not in terms of how we must always keep the voice of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk in front of the church, at all times, in the strongest of justice-loving ways, and in spite of any “odds” of changing the church at one point or another.

In our work, in our lives, we have only the present. The rest is in God’s hands. Time is important, if only as a reminder. A reminder of how long this difficult struggle has been taking place. A reminder that for nearly forty years our baptized sisters and brothers have been marginalized and rejected by this church, except in the most limited of ways. If you are LGBT you are only partially accepted in this church, which means you are not accepted at all.

Whatever time may be, it has not been something in our favor. It is a myth to suggest that time will change our situation for the better. If anything, “the waiting for the right time” has been an albatross hung around the neck of this Body of Christ; a yoke that bears the signature of all but Christian love. To delay in any way to set our face to the General Assembly with other than the full and unconditional inclusion of the LGBT community in our hearts and on our lips is to favor our own comfort at the expense of our sisters and brothers. That, my friends, goes against every Christian tenet and principle I have ever learned.

Honestly, I don’t get it. What is the reason for waiting? Are we not “done” yet?

There can be no silence when others who are oppressed and excluded are unable to speak for themselves. In that place of imposed silence, we who can speak have a sacred responsibility to do so, regardless of the outcome of any proposals. It is not the proposal or the possibility of its passage that frames this call, but the voice we have been given to speak: as one, together, unmistakably in concert, heart, and soul. The LGBT community and all others who are excluded from this church have to hear that they have not been forgotten. We need to continuously invite this church to join us in this God-given, fundamental call that we share for inclusion, justice, and love.

In the recent decision of the GAPJC regarding Janie Spahr and her marrying of same gender couples, the ruling stated:

“It is acknowledged by those who have heard this case at every level that Spahr has acted in light of her call and the church’s call to participate in a caring and compassionate ministry to persons who have been marginalized, who are faithful Christians, and who wish to be accepted in every way as full members of the body of Christ. In this, Spahr may consider herself to be acting in the role of a prophet to the church, while others would reject such a characterization. Prophecy contains risk and uncertainty both for those who would speak and for those who listen. The role of a prophet carries consequences.”

What we do carries consequences. It is not the outcome that carries consequences, but what we do now. Let us embrace the consequences of action and prophecy that embody faithfulness and justice, love and courage. These are not the products of time, but gifts of the Spirit. Such gifts are given us because we need them to do the right thing, which is always in the present.

Once again, I call for all the progressive groups to come together for this General Assembly with one voice and embrace the call to cure this church of the twin soul-sicknesses of procrastination and homophobia. What are we waiting for?

Here’s what I believe we are called to do: Remove G-6.0106b from the Book of Order, strike the Authoritative Interpretation of 1978/1993[1], change the language of marriage in the Directory for Worship, and correct the Heidelberg Catechism in our Confessions.

To say we are loved but it’s just not time, is to really say we are not loved, at all.

A better time for justice? Just another myth.


by Ray Bagnuolo, Gay and Minister of the Word and Sacrament
©2008 Ray Bagnuolo; Permission Granted for All Reprints

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

GAPJC Overturns Janie's Censure

This is an important ruling and a complicated one. It acknowledges the role of prophets, like Janie, in this church and world, but it also leaves us with much work to do. The Spirit released by this decision can only grow, as it becomes clear that the call one hears from God must always come first. From there, the Spirit, as it has here...will create ways for the rest to happen. Thank you to Janie, her family, attorneys, friends, and all those who have ever been willing to sacrifice and risk themselves for justice. Links for the ruling and to the PCUSA News Service can be found here. Peace.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Myth 1: We Threaten the Unity of the Church

Myth 1: We Threaten the Unity of the Church
by Ray Bagnuolo, Gay and Minister of the Word and Sacrament

The PC(USA) will not split over the inclusion of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) persons in the community of called individuals serving as Elders, Deacons, or Ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

Ever since the church’s beginning, LGBT people have served the church in ordained and non-ordained status. Today, along with those who are open about their gender and sexual identity, there are thousands serving in quiet ways; thousands who have never identified themselves as LGBT. These are called individuals who understand, too well, the consequences were they to “come out.” Clearly, their service has not caused the church to split. Quite the opposite, for decades these leaders have made the church a meaningful place for a great many seeking God. They have, in many ways, kept the church together.

We all recognize the importance of being open witnesses. We also acknowledge the important work of our LGBT community serving the church, without the freedom of fullness enjoyed by our heterosexual sisters and brothers. As a result, it is difficult to agree with those who suggest that our community is asking for protection or insulation in this struggle for justice. What is more reliable is the belief that our LGBT community depends on those who are able to insist publicly that this church change. What is clear is that this community depends on leaders to provide a voice for those unable to speak for themselves. Such a charge and call is not negotiable.

The presence or increase of LGBT people in ordained and leadership roles in this church is not a threat to its unity. What is a threat to the unity of this church is the misleading of its members. It is a misleading teaching that insists upon diminished status for the LGBT community, in order that the church remains “whole.” This great error is at the core of the threat to the unity of God’s church, not those of us who are LGBT. It is an error that has taken on a near-mythological status. And, there are other myths.

Another myth, for example, is that “…given enough time, we (LGBT people) will no longer be an ‘issue’ in the church. Given enough time, everyone will be used to the idea of our being around and there will no longer be any conflict. We will, in effect, ‘blend in.’” As is often true, myths are accompanied by a moral, in this case in the form of a caveat: “If the attempt proceeds to move change along ‘ahead of schedule’ it will cause great harm to the church, culminating in certain schism.” The potential danger of such thinking cannot be underestimated. Such a direction is built upon the foundation that marginalization, oppression, and exclusion – however temporary (going on forty years, now) – is a “livable condition” in order to achieve a greater good. And at the root of the problem lurks G-6.0106b, AI, and the discriminatory language of marriage. The resistance to removing such impediments must be to keep LGBT folk from serving this church fully, regardless of all protests to the contrary. What other reasons could there be that justify a diminished status in God’s church for any child of God?

Our LGBT community has been constitutionally relegated to a footnote in the history of PJC’s, assemblies, and annotations in the Book of Order. On one hand the injustice is swept away with the promise of a better future, and on the other, juxtaposed with a demand for willingness to accept continued dehumanization as an reasonable sacrifice for order and a false grasp on unity.

All the while, the power for change is in our hands. We must come together as progressive partners and stem the illness that is consuming the soul of the church. Our LGBT community is not the cause of this sickness; instead, it is we who are called to bring a healing and unity to the PC(USA) that really means something.

I continue to call on all progressive advocacy groups to publicly join together to lead us in change of the PC(USA) and a new realized commitment to justice with a unified and strategic presence at GA218.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Fresh Air and Sunlight

After a week of hectic activity: a time to sit and think about - what else? - the movement of this church toward justice, inclusivity, wholeness, and an efficacy in changing the world with the power of the God, joined together with others in the many ways they know God.

I have to refer to God in that way. In fact, those of us who are advocates for full church inclusion of people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender are sometimes accused of having a "different God" than those who oppose such unity. A different understanding of God, maybe - in some ways, but a different God - no, I don't think so.

And, that is what makes a place like the Presbyterian Church (USA) such an important location for the "new thing" we often say God is doing. It is here, in the gathering of Presbyterians and their long and important history, that real worldwide change for families, equality, justice, and God's love in all its grace and healing power sits ready to embrace our Good Friday world. A world that is broken and breaking apart more each and every day.

I cannot believe that the "new thing" God calls us to is to further divide, marginalize, separate, exclude, and close the doors of God's churches and religions upon members of its own family. I know from my own ongoing experiences the anger that is often directed at our LGBT community. Anger and reasons that may be possible to posit in intellectual and theological arguments, however a debate created upon a fundamental flaw: that we are not as much of God as any member of the church.

Arguments and practices that use rational methods for their development do not make the supposition upon which they are applied - true or false. Arguments, papers, and debates that look good and sound good -- don't necessarily make them true -- just crafted properly. All arguments that are based on the premise that people who identify themselves differently in terms of gender are excluded in their fullness as members of the church - are simply all wrong.

This is very important to remember, for me - maybe for you, especially when the voices are sometimes as strong as they are and we are blamed for unrelated and unfounded fears across a broad spectrum.

That said, I do get the fear of others and believe we need to work together to help assuage that sickness, the root cause of all the problems we face. Instead of working together to address the fear of this world and what it is doing to the world, we end up in arguments trying to explain why we are not the root of the problem. In the meantime, the forces of this sickness grow and multiply while we miss the opportunity to end the pandemic that pushes God away.

The beginning for the "new thing of God" my just be to demonstrate to one another and the world that we are willing to do more than others and enter into a "free setting" that opens the ordination process to all. An open process, without the presence of amendments or definitive guidance or other limitations on those who are members of our excluded community. Our requirements and standards are just fine. The elimination of G-6.0106b is not going to suddenly do away with years of seminary, examinations, and process. Those ultimately called will be ready, as they are now - and the "now" will include our entire family.

It may be that more important than the ordination standards being "open," this process will draw us more closely together as a church, not push us further apart. There is no way to resolve our fears and differences without bringing them with us into a time of trust and risk, in the same way Jesus did when he set his face to Jerusalem. This will be good for us, but that is not the main reason to trust. This type of ministry and witness can chase the fear away around the globe. We are not fighting one another, my friends; we are fighting the fear that surrounds us. Fear is the illness we need to work together to cure.

I think that the LGBT Community is here, in this church, to unify it with all our brothers and sisters into a new and fresh face of God in this world. The first thing we need to do is to open the windows and let the fresh air and the sunlight in!

These thoughts on Friday, April 4, 2008 - on a day remembering The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.