The proponents of the amendment – which would have eliminated the ordination requirement of “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness” – have now met defeat in four denomination-wide referenda.
Opponents of the amendment have seen a wide margin of victory enjoyed in 2001-02 (46 presbyteries to 127) shrink considerably; they see shadowy phrases appearing on a wall somewhere, like “it’s inevitable” and “it’s unstoppable.”
Has support for a more inclusive position grown? Well, in the 159 presbyteries that have voted as of our publication date, the positive votes of ministers and elders for 08-B number 9,867; seven years ago Amendment 01-A (local option) in those same presbyteries garnered 9,937 – approximately the same. The number of folks voting to maintain the fidelity-chastity policy did change: in those presbyteries 13,095 opposed 01-A and only 10,346 voted against 08-B. About 150-200 of those absentees represent churches that have departed from the PC(USA). Of the other 2,500 or so, most simply did not show up to vote.
Much anecdotal evidence suggests that many folks have grown weary of the battle and chose to stay home. In other words, the close margin probably has less to do with persuasion than attrition.
So what does this all mean, and what shall we do about it?
The obvious conclusion is that the church remains far away from reaching a consensus with regard to the roles of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in its leadership.
Another conclusion is that many folks don’t want to keep arguing about this.
It’s clear that the proponents of change do win the perseverance award; that reflects human nature: change agents often outlast status quo protectors.
Yet another conclusion: not much has changed. To all those conservatives who keep warning of the falling sky, please look around and chill out! Your dire predictions of a flood of illegitimate ordinations haven’t materialized. The few LGBT folks who have taken office in by one means or another have not turned the PC(USA) into an orgy of promiscuity.
Then again, to those who are striving for a church more welcoming toward sexual minorities, keep in mind that the San Jose GA (2008) trimmed down some of the decades’-old ordination barriers to the size of hurdles. Yes, it takes an exceptional person to jump over all those hurdles and not all candidates will succeed; but some may who could not have succeeded before.
To all who want to create the denomination of their dreams, education is a better tool than legislation. If truth is on your side, cannot truth well spoken persuade, cannot witness well expressed convince? And, by the way, if your way is the best way, where’s the evidence to prove your point? Is your congregation growing in number due to your effective outreach — via your chosen means — to sexual minorities?
If you’re not walking the walk, stop talking the talk.
One other point.We’ve been debating the wrong issue ever since a presbytery in 1976 asked the GA for definitive guidance regarding their desire to ordain a gay man. That set the matter of sexual orientation into the context of a complicated theology of ordination. The more seminal question would have been to ask about the role of grace in committed same-sex relationships, particularly for those partners who wish to enter into a life-long covenant. That’s not an easy topic, but we have formed a task force to study that and to make recommendations (see Outlook, April 20, p. 6). Let us turn our attention away from ordination legislation to partnering consecration; let us suspend the ordination debate long enough to allow us to ask what it looks like for grace to be operative in the lives of same-sex couples.
In the meantime, let’s do what the 2006 GA urged: stick together; meet together across the theological aisles to do Biblical and theological study; seek alternative means of discernment in our governing bodies; rigorously and responsibly examine ordination candidates’ beliefs and practices, disqualifying them only when points of departure jeopardize essentials of theology or polity.