Monday, July 20, 2009

Comments to the Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage

Friends: The Committee has asked for feedback as they prepare their report. The press release can be found at The Presbyterian News Service. Please consider writing to the committee.

The following is what I forwarded on July 20, 2009. Thanks for your courage and your voice in commenting.

Comments to the Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage
Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament
Gay Member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community
July 20, 2009

  • How could the PC(USA) not honor marriage for people of the same sex in the very same way we do such relationships between a man and a woman?
  • How will we be faithful to God and to our sisters and brothers in this Body of Christ and undo the harm that has been caused by years of marginalization of the LGBT community in the PC(USA).
  • In light of the young children finding love and safety in homes with parents of the same gender, how could we relegate them to the status of a “diminished family” in the eyes of the church? How could we ever expect such families to find God in our midst, when we see less of God in theirs?
In the lives of the LGBT community in the PC(USA), the same sections of our constitution always present the biggest challenge. I will ask you to set them aside in your work. I recommend that you accept the premise that the constitutional barriers will be resolved, so that you may be bold and just in your recommendation. Please avoid recommendations that generate more studies, more arguments, and muted leadership in the face of continued exclusionary violence to our LGBT community.

Witness the work of The Theological Task Force on Peace Unity and Purity of The Church in attempting to resolve the ordination standards practices. The Task Force did much good work, but did its recommended methods of opening a path for ordination of folk who are LGBT succeed? Considering that since the time of the report not one openly gay candidate has been called, examined, and ordained to minister of Word and Sacrament, I would say no. In fact, if my statistics are correct, the last openly gay candidate who was called, examined, and ordained was in November of 2005, months before the acceptance of the task force’s report at our 217th General Assembly in 2006. Since then, of all the candidates that have been called, examined, and ordained as ministers of Word and Sacrament – not one has been openly LGBT.

And, that is not because there are none to be called. It is because G-6.0106b continues to be used to discriminate against the LGBT candidates and the majority of presbyteries find the work around of the task force too weak and uncertain. It would have been more prophetic had the Task Force recommended that G-6.0106b be deleted. The impact and the results might have been substantially better, especially considering the recent voting on the ratification for the substitute to G-6.0106b, Amendment 08-B, that was sent to the presbyteries for ratification by the 218th GA.

The recent near-passage of 08-B supports the growing recognition by presbyteries that the constitution can no longer be used against our baptized sisters and brothers who are LGBT. The inherent risk-taking of Christian love is real; Christian love and all its risks have always been the praxis of welcoming, justice, and true hospitality in our church – except, institutionally, when it comes to LGBT folk. There is no way to compromise Christian love. It doesn’t work, as far as I can tell.

I believe there are lessons in these past experiences for the task ahead of you. Even now, some of what has been suggested as possible recommendations for the committee sounds like compromised approaches; considerations that if embraced fall under the heading, once again, of the LGBT community “waiting and less than.”

For example, one solution offers a blessing to same-sex couples, but not marriage. Another is to forego marriage (with or without a blessing) and support the civil union idea. A third is even a recommendation that we do away with marriage altogether, suggesting that the church should have no interest in the “marriage business” in the first place.

Fears? Absolutely. Such “shadow solutions” are all about fear and worse, when it comes to people who are LGBT.

Consider the lengths some suggest we should go to in preventing same-sex marriage. The idea of actually eliminating church marriage altogether to keep it from same-sex couples is glaringly indicative of how deeply ingrained the disease of homophobia has become in our thinking. As for eliminating marriage in the church – fine. First, grant it to all. Then we can talk about its elimination. Equality for all first. Then consider change as a whole community.

Yes, the PC(USA) has made some progress, but in too many cases it turns out to be more binding than loving. As a minister of Word and Sacrament, I can “bless” holy unions as long as I do not use the language of/or mislead the same-sex couple to believe that I am conducting their marriage. In truth, I have no way of parsing the mystery of God’s love in such covenantal relationships – nor could I be faithful to my ordination by doing so.

Endorsing some tethered solution of civil unions and a blessing is lukewarm, at best, and insulting at worst, elevating the “heterosexual status,” once again; feeding the homophobic and violent fringe of society with another diminished status for those we call sisters and brothers in Christ. I don’t believe we can have it both ways. We cannot be sisters and brothers in Christ, with some “just a little less sisters and brothers in Christ.”

Lastly, as an openly gay man ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament, I can assure you that we who are your LGBT sisters and brothers are not issues. We are not the “ordination issue” or the “marriage issue.” We are living, breathing, loving, baptized members of this church and our community. Our lives continue to be directly affected by the decisions of this church.

It is my opinion that your recommendation should not be based on whether the church can accept it. Your recommendation should be based on what faith demands it to be. Let the acceptance and wrangling that follows be what it may, but let your voice be one for all those marginalized who need to hear and know that they have not been forgotten and are loved in the PC(USA) as equals.

May you have the courage to be the prophets you have been called to be.