Friday, January 21, 2011

More than the ratification of 10-A

The continuing struggle for the full welcoming of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) faithful into the work and worship of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has become a cycle unto itself. The wheel of change continues to spin, with arguments for and against full inclusion. Messages often blur as the motion of the debate goes around the center upon which it turns.

Any movement relies upon a working structure, whether in the laws of motion or the polity of a church. However, in the PC(USA) a breakdown appears to have occurred, in which parts of its design have become litmus tests of its members’ faithfulness. As a result, the center and central mission of the PC(USA) has come under question based on how welcoming we will be depending upon a vote for or against this amendment. The answer is once more perceived to be wrapped up in a decision on ratification of Amendment 10-A, currently before the presbyteries. Simply, the answer to the question of our faithfulness cannot be scripted by any amendment. The ratification of 10-A can only bear witness to the deep faithfulness that long preceded any debate, overture, or constitution, for that matter. The ratification will bear witness to how we choose to love one another, reflecting how we see God’s love for us. This is about much more than the ratification of 10-A.

Surely, study, examination, and review are important to the foundations and direction of the PC(USA), those it serves, and the world in which it witnesses. Problematic is that in any community of faith such methods only go so far. They cannot travel to the fullness of the heart or its design by God, let alone define God’s intentions. No one can. The mystery of God’s presence in the heart is limited in human understanding. Rather, God offers us an invitation to the mystery and wonder of giving of one’s self, one’s community, one’s world unto the care of God through the longings and listening of the heart, as well as the study and examinations of the mind. In short, a response to God as Love calls us to love and welcome others – including every baptized brother and sister into the full work and worship of the PC(USA). To do otherwise is to ignore the heart and the mystery God has given us; a heart yearning for us to trust more than to study. Any study that points otherwise must be flawed.

Perhaps, this time, there will be enough constitutional arguments and shifting within the PC(USA) for the ratification of Amendment 10-A, making this church a prophetic witness and model for others to follow. Certainly, thoughtful individuals who are expert, scholarly, and faithful in the ways of the PC(USA), its Constitution, and its traditions have provided ample paths to making such a choice.

Whatever the exchange, no argument or position can claim God or Love for itself, alone. Further, no argument can claim God or Love to exclude what God has created. Lastly, what no argument can claim is that God as Love would ever accept or tolerate the violence that is inherent in any decision toward marginalization and oppression of those God has created and those God continues to call. We avoid the discussion of violence, perhaps because given the choice in such terms would easily end the separation we now practice. None of us wishes to be complicit in hate crimes or their foment, and yet, our language of distance, amplified by being a “church,” indeed has impact that causes others harm.

When all debate is exhausted and biblical scholars have made their considerable contributions, the last question to answer in choosing whether to ratify Amendment 10-A will be “How do we Love?” Or, perhaps, “How do we welcome others to God?”

The choice in favor of Amendment 10-A is a choice of Love. There are enough arguments to provide ongoing debate, even suggesting a pause. That will always be so, until our faithfulness goes beyond the debate, into the Love that precedes all – all. These guiding questions for final consideration in voting for ratification are suggested:

a) Can we be faithful by excluding our baptized sisters and brothers who are LGBT from the full work and worship of the PC(USA)? Is ours a God who excludes those God has created?

b) Can we be faithful to the teachings of Jesus and the Church by fostering a climate of violence towards our LGBT sisters and brothers, affirming others’ hatred and homophobia with our decisions to marginalize?

c) Can we be a faithful reflection of God as Love by using our Constitution or fears to create a class of people less welcome or worthy than others?

Were that this was simply a matter of making a decision about loving one another as God loves us. It may be that such love is still growing in us, but with a decision to ratify Amendment 10-A, it may be much closer than we think in leading us to the family and witness we are meant to be.

Ray Bagnuolo is an openly gay minister of Word and Sacrament. He currently serves Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House and its inner city ministry in NYC. He was one of the few openly gay Candidates for minister of Word and Sacrament examined and cleared to seek a call since the passage of G-6.0106b, refusing to abide by the G-6.0106b as a matter of conscience during his examination in 2005. Ray also serves on the Board of More Light Presbyterians.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Corrosive & Distorting Power of the Closet ~ by Karen Kavey

Dear Ray,

Thank you so much for your recent YouTube "It Gets Better!" video!

Your words and those of all the participants who have stepped forward with such powerful witness and encouragement will help countless young people.

In honor of the project, I would like to write a bit about the corrosive and distorting power of the Closet.

As you know, the "Closet" is a metaphor used to describe how people hide important parts of themselves, typically their sexual orientation or gender identity. We know that many LGBT folks cannot be open; the world is just too unsafe for them right now. Families and friends of LGBT people can also find themselves in a kind of Closet, as they may fear that telling the truth will expose them and their loved ones to harm.

The Closet can protect people, but it also inflicts great harm on the world, as those within it are rendered silent and invisible. Individuals and communities may express hostility to LGBT people or indifference to homophobic prejudice because the Closet prevents them from seeing the pain that they cause. Others may even exploit the power of the Closet, knowing that their hostility will further drive LGBT people and their loved ones into silence.

Regardless of a particular person's motive, those who do not appreciate the corrosive power of the Closet fail to realize that it leaves us all with an incomplete and distorted view of our communities and the world.

The influence of the Closet on members of the church (both LGBT and straight people) has been particularly powerful.

The Closet has always impeded understanding in our faith community, replacing thoughtful study with a series of repetitious and divisive interactions. Ministers who have freed themselves or helped free others from the Closet and all those ministers who courageously dare to treat LGBT persons as equals face censure, lawsuits, and other forms of pressure. The message to those who remain in the Closet is painful and tragically clear: Stay where you are, silent and invisible.

Clarity, mutual understanding and the Closet simply do not go well together.

Certainly the power of the Closet is understood by those who use it strategically and by those who have felt its weight and burden, keeping them anxious and intimidated.

However, I think many Presbyterians are unaware of the magnitude of this power, given the Closet's silencing effect. And most importantly, it is not clearly understood that the power of the Closet is NOT a spiritual one.

It is a potent secular and cultural force, based on fear; it relies on the human need to survive and negotiate within one's world. All institutions that exclude LGBT people, both adults and teenagers, use the Closet as a tool.

And it is not a benign tool.

Insisting that some people feel shame and guilt for a core part of their identity and existence (much less for living and thriving on an equal footing) is - at its heart - an act of aggression.

This is true whether or not one acknowledges (or is aware of) this dynamic or whether its negative consequences are intentional or unintentional.

Teaching young people (be they heterosexual or LGBT) that there are two groups of humans - one group that is entitled to full equality and inclusion, and one group that is not - is especially damaging.

The outcome may even, as we have recently witnessed in these teenage suicides, be deadly.

For the Closet's existence is based on powerful manipulation; BUT it is also a means of control that is diminishing in the world at an increasingly rapid pace.

It is breaking apart in a seemingly sudden way. And as it fades, it releases its relentless grip on all of us: gay and straight, open or not, conservative or liberal or in-between.

For we have ALL been influenced by the Closet, as it has distorted our view of the world and of each other.

As the Closet crumbles, we will see how this change will affect our lives, our denomination and the lives of the younger generations who will, we hope, live in a world without it.

Those who have opposed equality within faith communities (and within the secular world) are perhaps beginning to realize that some of the "success" they have enjoyed historically may not have been due to the strength or accuracy of their ideas, but rather owes much to the Closet, which has left countless people silent, invisible, and afraid.

Elie Weisel has stated so clearly:
"Silence never helps the oppressed. Only the oppressor."

Understanding the basic fact that most people are heterosexual and some people are not will be a necessary part of the way forward. Without the distortion of the Closet, this fact is becoming more apparent with each passing day.

I agree that thirty years clearly is a long time for Presbyterians to study this reality and still be so baffled and at odds with each other.

The confusion has probably been compounded by the oft-repeated, defensive notion that "No one is being forced into the Closet around here! We don't know what you're talking about."

This is actually just another layer of the classic "Silent Contract" of a troubled relationship: "Don't 'name' what has actually been happening."

Because we know that whenever it IS safe, people (both LGBT folks and their families) are usually open. When LGBT people and their loved ones are intimidated into silence, it only adds insult to injury to pretend that no one is being manipulated.

In spite of all this, I remain optimistic! Thanks to you, and your courageous colleagues, the world will be a safer place for the upcoming generations. The "It Gets Better!" initiative is creative, life-affirming and generous.

Perhaps in some way it will help the church break free, recognize the Closet for what it is, and make it a relic of an ungracious and often cruel age, replacing age-old distortion with clarity and a spirit of openness.

Warm regards to all,

Many thanks,
Karen Ellen Kavey
Non-ruling Elder, PC(USA)
Confirmed May, 1958.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The price: Arizona and More

This is an excerpt from a sermon delivered this morning at Jan Hus Presbyerian Church and Neighborhood House. I had to write something about the terrible tragedy in Arizona and make it part of this morning's worship. It is, I think, exactly where it belongs.  [Excerpt follows] Full sermon posted later.

...but before I go any further, a disclaimer: I don’t believe that the pulpit in a congregation is a place for political debate. Policy issues, yes; politics, no. It is one thing to mobilize people for or against a policy and quite another to galvanize folk behind a particular politician or party. Not every cleric sees it that way.

So, this is about policy and practices that have led us to another horrendous and violent tragedy in Tucson, Arizona. A horror, yesterday, in which an individual on the fringe with anti-government tendencies, and in his early twenties, entered a supermarket center, where Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with her constituents. The individual approached the congresswoman and fired, continuing to spray bullets into the crowd. Six people died, 13 are injured, with the Congresswoman, herself, in critical condition. He is in custody and a potential accomplice is being sought.

Last year, following Congressman Giffords vote in favor of health care reform legislation, her office in Tucson was vandalized. The 40 year-old-congresswoman, had this to say at that time:

“This is a situation where people really need to realize that the rhetoric of  firing people up really has consequences.”

Our prayers are with all those caught up in this terrible tragedy. My prayers are also that the practice of politicians and media in promoting or discounting policy decisions through lies, derision, misinformation, bigotry and deception cease. Just stop.

Just as our actions of following the teachings of the Gospel in the Spirit in which they were intended somehow brought us and others here, the deception that had become part of the policy making process in this country is producing the opposite results that anyone – from any party or any agency – could ever – should ever condone.

For a very long time, I have charged this and other denominations with being complicit in the violence toward the LGBT/Q community because of the practices of exclusion and bias in refusing full participation to gay people. The policies of a church that prevent people from being members feed a segment of the population with an endorsement for their hatred and an added impetus for a Second Amendment remedy or worse.

When Matthew Shepherd was murdered in October 1998, I was sure, hopeful that people would wake up about the violence foisted on people who were marginalized, in general, and gay people in particular. It’s taken a long time and there’s still more to go. Some changes? Yes.

You are sitting in a church this morning, one of the few in the country, who would call an openly gay person to serve as its minister. So, the fact that I serve here in the temporary position of Stated Supply Pastor as a gay man is something that would not happen in the great majority of the 11,000 Presbyterian churches in this country, simply because I am gay.

Still, I hope that the tragedy in Arizona stays in the media long enough for us to change. It will take a while. That’s no reason to give up, in fact, it’s the opposite.

This compartmentalization of people, marketing of lies and fear, elevated hyperbole toward outcomes of particular decisions – in religions and governments, alike, has to stop.

Just as we, this morning, are not well pleased with the viral hatred that has shown its ugly self once again in Tucson, let us not lose heart. Instead, let us call this church, our temples, our places of worship, our government, and all others to a higher standard of justice and equality for all.

Surely, both God and we will be well-pleased in however we can help that to happen.

May the slightly modified words of Isaiah be words that can be attributed to us, as well:

“Here are my servants, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon them; they will bring forth justice...”


Friday, January 7, 2011

Jean McFaddin and Susan Falk! Thanks for leading the way! As always...

What a day! More at
Jean McFaddin, Susan Falk Published: September 11, 2010 New York Times
Jean Eleanor McFaddin and Susan Elaine Falk were married Monday at their home in Ridgefield, Conn. The Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, a Presbyterian minister, performed the nondenominational ceremony.
More    Video

Janie Spahr: Minister puts her faith in 'yes': Presbyterian doctrine won't let her officiate at same-sex weddings. A lesbian herself, she says she won't quit the church she loves.

Metro Desk, © 2011 LA Times; By Maria L. La Ganga, January 4, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO -- The first time the Rev. Jane Adams Spahr was brought to trial by the Presbyterian Church, the prosecutor in the 1992 case likened her to an "addictive gambler," a "confirmed bank robber" and a "habitual child abuser."

The third time she was brought to trial, by the church she loves and refuses to leave, a religious tribunal found her guilty of violating the Presbyterian constitution. But then several of its members apologized to Spahr, and their decision admonished not the faithful minister but the faith itself.  More