I recall telling him I was a little uncomfortable with the debate then over whether to ordain William Silver as an openly gay candidate for ministry. The pastor laid out the company line about why the denomination declined to ordain gays, and I was left wondering how I would explain this to the gay couple living next door.
As I write this all these years later, the PCUSA is about to do the right thing and change the constitution to allow otherwise-qualified gays and lesbians to be ordained. It both thrills me and pains me.
I’m thrilled because biblically and morally it’s the right decision. It pains me because I fear it also will lead to further division, more angry words, sadness.
Progress and doing the right thing almost always lead to backlash. It happened after 1956 when we finally began ordaining women. It happened whenever it was that congregations quit using Communion tokens. It already is happening in anticipation of Amendment 10-A’s approval.
Friends occasionally call me a cockeyed optimist, a charge to which I sometimes plead guilty. But my hope in the case of 10-A is that the folks who wanted to defeat it will do what folks who have wanted to pass it — but lost repeatedly — have done: stay in the church.
Those of us who have favored getting rid of G-6.0106(b) have remained in the church even though we’ve had to live with something we believed was wrong. Why did we stay? Because we love the church — and by “church,” I mean the people in the church, even the people with whom we disagree.
I have three sisters and sometimes have disagreed with them. But I’ve never considered declaring them (or me) outside the family. Between us, my wife and I have six children and six grandchildren, some of whom sometimes have made choices we don’t like. But it’s never occurred to us to cut them (or us) out of our family.
In the title of a sermon I once gave, water is thicker than blood. By which I mean that the water of baptism creates a family more eternal than the family created by blood relationships.
Now, sometimes people choose to place themselves outside the church family by doing something so beyond the bounds of propriety that rules of church discipline necessarily come into play. And for sure we need such rules.
But for most areas of disagreement, my approach has been in harmony with what one of my former pastors used to say: “Believe in Jesus — and in everything else hang loose.”
Imagine what a wonderful model it would be for others if we Presbyterians held together after 10-A’s approval. After all, as one 10-A supporter put it: “It would mean that governing bodies would be permitted to determine a candidate’s fitness for ordained office using the same historic principles and standards that have served this denomination well for the past 232 years.”
I didn’t leave before. And I hope 10-A opponents won’t leave now.
BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. E-mail him at [email protected].