Monday, June 8, 2009

For Pete's Sake!

Actually, his name was Peter.

Peter Dellegrazio. Later, Peter DeLeo. He was a soulmate and friend. He had a spirit and charm that burst across a dance floor and sparkled in any conversation. Think Danny Terrio. Think George Stephanopoulos. He's been gone now for more than fifteen years, taken away physically by the virus, but never more than a thought away for me and many others who loved him.

Peter would have been with us in our struggle for justice. He was that kind of guy. A native Chicagoan, he bristled at the marginalization of any group, especially within the LGBT community. He came to his "pride" like many of us, following struggles that tested everything about us. Like many in our community, Peter made it through, and became stronger and more caring with each hurdle overcome. Some folks become bitter along the way. With Peter, it seemed that the upheavals made him more loving and compassionate, in other words - stronger. He knew people in a way that knew their suffering and their spirit, never thinking of them as issues or causes. He reached out all the time, seeking ways to help others avoid the mistakes and the pain, without losing the heart or the welcoming smile. He could enter a struggle and move beyond it, offering others a path to follow to a place of new horizons, rather than rotting in place.

Peter did what we have been doing through these last months of the ratification process on 08-B. He stayed with the people and never sought to move ahead by excluding others. It was a gift he had. I'm not sure he saw it in that way or thought of it as God-given. I knew, though, and I still know today. He was full of God and full of God's Spirit.

I'm not surprised that Peter comes to mind as I begin to gather my thoughts around the process we've just been through. A good deal of the heart I know today comes from our friendship, and this has been all about heart for me in the most personal and Eastern of ways.

Throughout the entire time of ratification and working with MLP and other progressive partners, I could feel the pulse quickening across the nation as we came closer to becoming a unified church. The sheer number of presbyteries that shifted positions in favor of 08-B was astounding and heart-warming. We who worked for ratification sought our full inclusion without losing our identity. We went forward with the Gospel in action, modeling the church we were hoping to become.

With others, I had the privilege of calling hundreds of ministers in presbyteries across the country, as they prepared to vote. While the conversations took different directions, they were among the most powerful of interactions I have had in all my time as a minister of Word and Sacrament. I could feel the connection we shared in our faith, beliefs, and experiences, even in the midst of strong differences. The are many stories, including the retired minister who seemed surprised to be contacted by anyone. He was well into his eighties and had long ago thought others believed his usefulness as a minister had retired with him.

When we got onto the topic of voting at his presbytery, he was clear that he would never favor the ordination of gay people. And, he went on to explain why at some length. I listened mostly, feeling saddened at his own marginalization, regardless of his voice or opinion. As we prepared to say good-bye, I thanked him for sharing with me, and I asked if there was anything I could do for him. Quietly, he said, "Well, I sure would like to preach once in a while; I wonder if I'm still on the pulpit supply list at the presbytery."

I told him I'd find out for him and wished him well. After the call, I dialed the presbytery office and got a hold of someone who knew him, explained who I was, and why we were making calls. I told them of the minister's request. There was a moment of silence on both sides for a minute, then the person on the other end said something like, "Well, look at you!" She said she'd give him a call and that they'd make sure he was given some of the attention he deserved, which had somehow been forgotten. She was thankful I had called and wished us well.

Looking back, I hope he went to the meeting and voted his heart. I hope he has since been preaching.

I think that too much is made of winning or losing, frankly. The paradigm is broken, as long as it somehow creates the belief that this division in our church can be resolved by votes. However, G-6.0106b has been voted in and it appears that the only way to remove it is to vote it out. I hope we don't make such a mistake again, "voting in" such a fear-based amendment into the church that is the incarnation of Jesus Christ in its mission and relationship with the world.

As we go forward, I need to say that I am not in favor of a revised G-6.0106b. I supported 08-B, but I still feel "B" should be gone. Gone. There should be no special conditions or "safety nets" for calling qualified individuals who are LGBT. There should be no special requirement for LGBT folk, just as there should be none for heterosexual folks. In short, the requirements to serve in the full work and worship of the PC(USA) should be the same for all God's folk! Period.

Clearly, we will continue this work on many levels, including advocating for same-sex marriage and changes in the language that discriminate against LGBT folk in any parts of our constitution. Already an overture to change or delete B is before one presbytery and more will follow. Times have changed and the votes, with steady prayer and perseverance, will come. The redirection of energy and ballots to the Theological Task Force on Peace Unity and Purity over the previous 8 or so years is no longer affecting the clear movement toward a time in the near future when G-6.0106b in its current form will be gone. In fact, the work of the Task Force and the recent decision of the GAPJC to allow scrupling of G-6.0106b leave the door open for LGBT folk to be called in friendly/progressive presbyteries.

That said, it is my hope that dozens of churches in the country will call qualified LGBT Candidates to educate, challenge, and unify the church through their examinations, becoming certified and cleared to accept such calls.

It calls for risks, yes. Being Christian has always called for risks in this world...

We are on the brink of a way of being the Church of Jesus Christ in the PC(USA) that can heal the anguish and marginalization of our sisters and brothers that no secular or political organization could ever hope to achieve. By creating a church that welcomes all God's people as full members, not only will our diversity become ever more our strength in mission, but our Love and Spirit will be witness to the Gospel and who we are in relation to God and one another.

Thank you to all who gave careful prayer and discernment in the entire process of ratification, including those with whom we might disagree. I abide by the belief that our disagreement is never enough for division if our Love is centered in the One who sends us forth, together.

For Pete's sake, and many others, let's leave the struggle behind and enter into a union of faith and community, differences and all.

Ray Bagnuolo
Minister of the Word and Sacrament
Gay Member of the LGBT Community
Called Pastor and Head of Staff to Jan Hus Presbyterian Church, NYC
Board Member of More Light Presbyterians