The Rev. Dr. Barron’s commentary addresses some important aspects of the matter but does not point the way to future unity of belief and practice. He appears to accept the common but debatable view that reliance on the Bible for guidance leads inexorably to embracing the notion of homosexuality as sin (substantial evidence to the contrary can be found in the writings of Jack Rogers, Daniel Helminiak, Peter Gomes, and other authors.) Exploring Holy Scripture with an open mind and debating its content respectfully but cogently is central to building the consensus that we so desperately need. This will require moving beyond the current focus on a handful of verses whose full meaning is controversial, and taking a wider view that includes reflection on what Jesus might say and do in today’s world.
As Dr. Barron notes, others have spoken favorably of using personal experience as a basis for deciding what one should believe about homosexuality. This strikes me as an unreliable and potentially misleading approach. Individual perceptions vary widely, in substantial part in response to disparate events in the lives of different persons. For example, long-time congregants in conservative congregations where the gays present are typically quiet and relatively “invisible” will predictably have different perceptions than members of “Open and Affirming” congregations where homosexual people feel loved and welcomed and respond with smiles and acts of Christian service. Either of those perspectives will differ from that of school counselors who work at times with children who are feeling scary emotions that they are often ashamed to reveal. It is also necessary to differentiate between random events in the lives of individuals and the disciplined, structured experience (it’s called research) of mental health and other professionals. All of these perceptions are relevant, but they are useful only to the extent that they are shared and analyzed effectively.
The coming vote of the presbyteries about revising ordination standards cannot change the hard reality that a 53 percent “victory” at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly is not a consensus. Our conflict will continue because neither side will accept defeat this year as evidence that they should abandon their position. This observer has been led to favor an alternative, proposed in the pages of The Presbyterian Outlook and elsewhere, in which presbyteries would consider voting to postpone action on the merits of the proposal indefinitely. Such a motion is easily made, does not cut off debate on the main proposal, and requires a simple majority vote. It would send a message to the next General Assembly: let us keep our priorities straight. The issue of homosexuality in the pulpit is very important, but it is not crucial enough to justify tearing us apart as a denomination. If that requires us to “agree to disagree” for a few more years, so be it.
ROBERT D. GILLETTE is an active elder in Poland Church in Poland, Ohio. He has recently completed a one-year term as moderator of Eastminster Presbytery.