This General Assembly stepped away from one of those momentous opportunities. While the amended Overture 11-05 is being spun as a move forward, in the end it was a tepid "safe" response to to the original call for a strong acknowledgment of harms done to the queer community. What we discovered at this assembly is the growing conservatism and increased caution of progressive organizations. Organizations that will more readily side with the unity of the church and outside issues of public legislation than anything that might actually put the denomination boldly into the position of leadership. A leadership we have fought to attain in making a difference in the lives of queer people that show us as Christians in ways we abdicated long ago.
From the beginning of GA, there was every indication of what we should expect in terms of the leadership when outgoing moderator, Heath Rada lifted up Paul Determan of the Fellowship Community (formerly the Fellowship of Presbyterians) and Brian Ellison of Covenant Network as leaders who exemplified the ways within which that we could work together, especially surrounding controversial (read "queer") issues. It was a stunning rebuke to any of the organizations, That All May Freely Serve, included, which might be to left of Covenant Network on positions or legislative initiatives. It was as stunning a rebuke, I think, as well of The Lay Committee (The Layman), who is to the right of The Fellowship. And it was no surprise.
It was no surprise to hear conservative, cautious and insular references coming from Moderator Rada, who was intentionally distant from lifting up any of the changes for queer folk in the Presbyterian Church (USA) during his two years as moderator. So odd and frustrating, especially since his was the first moderatorial term during which the PCUSA stepped into the world with changes in place that identified us as one of the most welcoming and inclusive denominations on the face of the planet. One would think that such a witness and welcoming would be Good News to many, especially to our queer family. Yet, even some of our queer leadership found this a difficult voice to balance with being Presbyterian. So, quietly we went into the night after forty years of struggle. Add that, I guess, to the list of harms for the next round.
Sadly, what seems to have been totally lost is that which was always difficult to raise: the plight of queer folk outside of the church who are affected by the church's behavior and decisions. If there was ever a time to move more boldly into humble and honest solidarity it was at this assembly, just days after the heinous attack in Orlando. Instead, it was as if the world outside our church did not exist for those leading the opposition against 11-05. Just as disappointing was the way that the major opposition used its influence to persuade commissioners that theirs was the path of caution and careful language that would not alienate those who were once (and many, still are) our oppressors. If there is a "Beltway" in the PCUSA, we saw it in full display in these hearings and the final outcome on 11-05.
From the start, the arguments against 11-05 were weak and timid. It was not a debate of content, although we tried to make it so. Instead, it became a demonstration of who had more power and networking capabilities to persuade commissioners, to the point where even in the committee hearings, commissioners took the mic and said that the substitute motion of Covenant Network was the right way to go. I think more than a few folks were taken aback that CovNet had penetrated the committee to such an extent, despite all the other strategies they employed to table or dilute the overture, just in case it made it to the floor at the plenary session. Collegiality, mutuality and trust were set aside until after the vote, when those who succeeded attempted to shake hands, as though there was truly any sentiment beyond the requirement of doing so as might be considered good sportsmanship in another venue. This was never a contest.
The queer voice was shut down at GA222, with overtures that started out strong and eded up with language that regretted how we might have felt harmed (our fault, you see); or other actions that were so far off the radar that passage raised no eyebrows, at all (such as reparative therapy), but could be lifted up as a critical move forward by organizations fighting for their place in the future church.
Yes, the queer voice that expresses the real world beyond the strategies and agenda of the institution of the church was overwhelmed with an aggressive oppositional campaign by Covenant Network and the relative silence of More Light Presbyterians and others with regards to 11-05. Our role in ministry and history at a time of national grieving was woefully inadequate; perhaps even shameful. Words and laments will continue to be spoken about violence and the sadness and the need for change by all these organizations and a continuing request for funds to keep up the fight. However, at least at this GA, when the time came where voices and actions could really make a difference - well, in the end - as we have heard so often before, "It just wasn't time."
And, as we've said before, "Bull sh*t."
The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author Ray Bagnuolo and do not reflect any other individuals or affiliations, unless they so choose to endorse these comments.