A year ago today, right at the start of worship, two elders of the church I serve stood before the congregation to communicate a resolution that had passed that would make permissible, upon routine session approval, marriages between any two people for whom it is legal. In other words, the session made the statement that weddings between same-sex couples would be considered and approved according to the same process and standards as weddings between opposite-sex couples. Our church would not discriminate against same-sex couples seeking God’s blessing on and the church’s recognition of their marriage. The sermon I preached later in that worship service is here.
The decision and its announcement were the culmination of several years of on and off discussion about sexuality more generally and a deliberate discussion about marriage and sexuality more recently. I wrote about this whole process here and here. The very short version explaining how I designed our conversations is that I didn’t set out to try to convince anyone of one side of the argument or the other. The diversity of Reformed theology within our members and participants, the intensity of the discussion on this issue locally and nationally, and our own Reformed heritage led me instead to try to craft conversations and a discernment process that prioritized our unity in our diverse beliefs over unanimity of position. The question for us was not “Which side is right?” The question became “How can we make a decision that binds the conscience of disciples the least?”
Personally and publicly, I rejoiced with the decisions made both nationally and locally, by both church and state, that have recognized marriage equality. At the same time it is not lost on me that these shifts in our culture did not come effortlessly or over night. The battles have been fought on the backs and marriages and ordinations and families of countless faithful people who identify as LGBTQ and their allies. I can’t begin to truly understand the courage that has taken or the pain that has been inflicted, pain that in one way or another I may have been a part of causing. I don’t think this conversation is over at all, nor do I think we can just move forward as if nothing happened and the church has always been this way. Something happened over the last several years and the last two years in particular. Something huge happened, and we are doing ourselves a disservice if we think we can sweep under the rug these years of conflict and pain.
That said, I can’t support an overture that has been made to the 222nd General Assembly asking for a communal confession and apology for past teachings and actions that have marginalized sisters and brothers and characterizes beliefs that are held by some within our denomination as erroneous even though as a church we have not made new theological declarations of such. The full text of Overture 50 (Item 11-05) “On the Admission of, and Apology for, Harms Done to the LGBTQ/Q Members of the PC(USA), Family and Friends” is here. I’m struggling with this because I do think there is a need for authentic apologies and confessions. I resonate with much of the language and intent in the overture. I simply can’t support this overture as an effective way to move us to toward authentic reconciliation.
I don’t think it honors one of our foundations of polity, the freedom of the conscience. I think it pushes the Assembly to say words on behalf of the church that would be empty for many among us. In my own context it would say, “We didn’t really mean it when we said that people of faith can understand this in different ways as long as we don’t bind each other’s conscience. We just said that to get the decision we wanted.” Additionally, I wonder if a close vote (I imagine a close vote) has the potential to ring hollow to those who would receive such an apology.
What I appreciate about this overture is the naming of some of the pain, maginalization, and injustice that has been a part of the experience of many in the church. I appreciate the reminder that passing “legislature” in the church is not enough. I appreciate the call to examine my own participation in a system that has hurt so many, driven people away, and demonstrated a way of being the church that did not reflect the gospel. I appreciate it as a call to individual and local confession and apology that could move us toward reconciling statements and actions nationally.
So for me, I am sorry. I am sorry for times that I didn’t listen hard enough to hear how difficult the struggle really was, for times that I let my privilege act as a barrier to empathy for children of God who identify in the LGBTQ community. I am sorry for the opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue with people of a different understanding on sexuality and marriage that I let slip by, and I’m sorry that I didn’t work to create more of those opportunities for dialogue. I am sorry for bringing my presence and my financial support so late to the organizations and interest groups who were working day in and day out for a more inclusive church.
I am thankful for the statement from the Board of Directors of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians. I have seen the spectrum of responses that are already coming at them for their decision not to support this overture, and I appreciate their willingness to step into the conversation and continue with their work toward meaningful, lasting, inclusive change in the PC(USA).