Guest commentary by Jeff Winter
Editor’s note: In the weeks following the 223rd General Assembly, on Fridays we will publish commentary expressing opinions on and responses to the actions of the assembly.
While the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was embroiled in the sexuality debates in the 1990s, the organization, OnebyOne was formed in 1995 to be a conservative voice within the church. For the past 23 years, this organization has been a non-political, gospel-focused ministry that has addressed issues of human sexuality.
Since the 1995 General Assembly in Cincinnati, OnebyOne has been represented at each GA. This year, as the chair of OnebyOne, I submitted an application to the Office of the General Assembly for OnebyOne to host a luncheon gathering at the St. Louis Hall of Fame Grille located across the street from the convention center. Two months after sending in the application, J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the denomination, sent an email to me stating he had reviewed the OnebyOne website and concluded that we do not adhere to the intent of the overture that was passed at the 222nd General Assembly in Portland. “This policy,” according to Nelson, “directs the General Assembly to refrain from supporting, sponsoring or implementing therapies or ministries to alter a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” Though OnebyOne does not support, sponsor or implement any therapy that attempts to alter a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, we were denied our request to host an event at the 223rdGA in St. Louis.
The board of OnebyOne, as well as many others in the PC(USA), are deeply troubled that OnebyOne was prohibited to be a part of this year’s General Assembly. Gale Watkins, senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Phoenix, recalls a statement by former stated clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick who said, “In the PC(USA) we have always honored dissent, but not defiance.” This sentiment was pertinent in the 1990s for those who were conscientiously opposed to the “fidelity/chastity” language in our constitution. It is apparent that the present stated clerk will not honor dissent if an organization disagrees with the denomination’s prevailing support of homosexuality and transgenderism. Watkins further states, “There are thousands of Presbyterians remaining in the PC(USA) who continue to hold to the beliefs on human sexuality that are affirmed by OnebyOne.” Maria Cardenas, a former lesbian, board member of OnebyOne and an elder at Christ Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California, says, “With the exclusion of our organization at the General Assembly, the PC(USA) is no longer the big tent committed to theological diversity and there is no room for testimonies of changed sexual lives in our denomination.”
There are others in the denomination who are also very concerned and angry that OnebyOne was not allowed to participate at the General Assembly. Stan Wood, a PC(USA) church planter and missiologist, said: “I was disappointed to learn that OnebyOne was banned from all GA events. Treating OnebyOne with a ban is not the way Presbyterian leadership treated advocacy groups representing the More Light perspective when our Book of Orderand our[Book of] Confessionsspecified views contrary to their advocacy. Banning OnebyOne from all GA events seems to me to be a form of progressive fundamentalism that lacks forbearance, inclusivity and Christian respect.” Doug Hucke, senior pastor at Sandia Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says: “I find the hypocrisy in our denomination very sad and alarming. OnebyOne has been in attendance at the GA for a long time. Now, because one side of the sexuality debate has won, the other side is not allowed to participate. We are no longer an inclusive denomination.”
As the chair of OnebyOne and someone who was an observer at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit when same-sex marriage was affirmed, the spirit of this GA was to not dismiss or marginalize those in the denomination that disagreed with this decision. With the banning of OnebyOne, it is evident that this spirit was rejected. Frankly, it is quite disingenuous and hypocritical to disallow an organization like OnebyOne not to participate when for years the denomination allowed organizations that strongly spoke against what the Book of Order and theConfessionsclearly stated about homosexual ordination and marriage to participate in the General Assembly. Organizations like Light, Covenant Network, That All May Freely Serve and the Witherspoon Society were all allowed to host lunch and dinner meetings and to give witness in the assembly hall without impunity.
Several months ago, I wrote to Nelson and asked him these questions: Where does the PC(USA) give voice to Presbyterians who have changed and no longer express themselves as gay or lesbian? Where do they find their place in the denomination? I am still waiting for his answer.
It comes as a surprise to many people to find out that one of the most marginalized and rejected in our country is the “ex-gay” and “ex-trans” person. These persons make the break from the LGBT community because they are convicted by Scripture they need to change. Others make the break simply because they no longer want to identify as gay, bi or trans. But for making that break, they pay a steep price. Often they are mocked, maligned and bullied by the community they once called home. They are told they do not exist; that they were never homosexual or trans in the first place. All of this, simply because these former gay and trans people want to lead a new life. No longer do they embrace their same-sex attractions or their gender confusion. And so, I ask Nelson and other denominational leaders, where do ex-gay and ex-trans people find their place in the PC(USA)?
During my 23 years helping to lead the ministry of OnebyOne I have found that the LGBT community doesn’t want to engage with “ex-gays” and “ex-trans” because their stories challenge theirs. There is no room for reasoned discussion of different or opposing viewpoints. If those who support homosexual expression and same-sex marriage don’t like what OnebyOne or similar groups proclaim, they throw a negative label at them (homophobic, hate-filled, intolerant, bigoted) leaving no room for dialogue or debate. Again, where does the PC(USA) give voice to former homosexuals and transgendered persons?
Not allowing OnebyOne to participate at this year’s General Assembly unmasks the prevailing view of the PC(USA) that conservatives are not welcome. Mark Patterson, senior pastor at Community Presbyterian Church in Ventura, California, states: “Though the PC(USA) vigorously boasts of its inclusivity and relentlessly announces its celebration of diversity, this is obviously not true. The banning of OnebyOne from even having a luncheon at the assembly reveals such declarations are little more than dishonest claims and self-righteous boasts. Conservatives are welcome in the PC(USA) only if they remain silent and without influence.”
OnebyOne will continue to minister the life-changing power of Jesus Christ to transform lives, even a person’s same-sex affections. However, it is clear that the leadership of the PC(USA) does not want OnebyOne and its traditional view of biblical sexuality to be a part of any ongoing dialogue. Only those who favor same-sex marriage and advocate for all sorts of other sexual identities and expressions are welcome at the table.
JEFF WINTER is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Haines City, Florida. He has been married for 44 years and has three children and eight grandchildren.