PORTLAND, Ore. — In the end, most commissioners might have felt that if the painstakingly crafted language was good enough for both Robert Galloway and Chris Davis (two voices from opposite sides of the divide over sexual orientation), it ought to be good enough for the entire Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Not until the very end of a long day of deliberations on June 23 did the General Assembly arrive at a measure (11-05) dealing with one of the most longstanding, and painful, sources of division in the church — and for that matter, in society at large.
At issue was this question: Did a compromise measure worked out by the Social Justice Issues committee acknowledge frankly enough the harm that Presbyterians and the church as an institution had done to people based on their sexual orientation?
The language recommended by the committee, and ultimately approved on a 463-51 vote by the General Assembly, stops short of an outright apology to people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer or questioning.
It offers them the church’s regret “that, due to human failings, any person might find cause to doubt being loved by God.” It expresses “deep sorrow” over the members and congregations that have left the church over disagreements having to do with sexual orientation. And it challenges “all Presbyterians to reflect upon, and repent of, the ways we have mistreated one another, and to seek reconciliation.”
But it doesn’t frankly say the PC(USA) was wrong in the way it has treated people based on their sexual orientation, and it doesn’t apologize to them directly. That’s what the original recommendation to the committee by the New York City Presbytery would have done.
Several commissioners urged the assembly on June 23 to restore that original language. Shannon Smythe, a ruling elder from the Northwest Coast Presbytery, said the first step in healing has to be “to tell the truth about what has happened.” John Monroe, a teaching elder from Monmouth Presbytery, said the committee had watered down “a much needed apology from the church” to make it more acceptable.
But Galloway and Davis both said the committee’s version did a better job of bridging that gulf than more pointed language would have done.
Galloway, an openly gay theology student at Princeton Seminary who was a Theological Student Advisory Delegate member of the Social Justice Issues committee, said during debate on the assembly floor that if the aim is reconciliation, pointing a finger of blame isn’t helpful.
“We should not respond to those who disagree with us by rejecting them as well,” he said.
The committee’s effort to avoid doing that clearly resonated with Chris Davis, a teaching elder from the Northern Kansas Presbytery who acknowledged his conservative views on sexual orientation.
Davis said the committee had succeeded at a task he had thought was well-nigh impossible. It “has bridged a gap,” he said. “This resolution speaks for both of us.”