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Committee votes to approve formation of Advocacy Committee for LGBTQIA+ Equity

On its first day of meeting, the General Assembly Ministry Coordination Committee focused on LGBTIA+ inclusion in the denomination.

Sonia Suarez-Cualia (REC-Del Suroeste, left) and Olga Ricketts-Peart (Chicago, right) in the General Assembly Ministry Coordination Committee meeting. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Louisville, Kentucky – The General Assembly Ministry Coordination (GA-MC) Committee of the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) began its first day of work addressing an overture to create an advocacy committee for LGBTQIA+ equity, to join a number of other advocacy committees that support the work of the assembly.

The overture came from the LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Task Force formed by the 223rd General Assembly (2018) to investigate if there was a need for such an advocacy committee. If approved, the committee would consist of seven members with four-year terms.

The GA-MC voted 30-5 to recommend approval of a slightly modified GA-MC-05, which includes financial implications estimated at $142,698 for the first two years, 2023-2024. About $30,000 is expected to come from per capita, increasing per capita by $0.01 in 2023 and $0.02 in 2024.

In the rationale for the overture, the task force commented, “The PC(USA) has been and continues to be served well by More Light Presbyterians, Covenant Network, That All May Freely Serve, and PARITY, by way of grassroots campaigns to help bring about changes within the PC(USA). These affinity groups continue to work for the good of the LGBTQIA+ community, but they work from an external position without direct access to the General Assembly or the Presbyterian Mission Agency granted to the existing advocacy committees. … The General Assembly has recognized the need for those who have been silenced or ignored by the power structure to be given direct access to decision-making tables through committees specifically called to focus on justice and equity for particular marginalized constituencies. … What the church is recognizing today is that among these silenced and ignored voices are those of the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Samuel (John) Taylor (TEC-Coastal Carolina) speaks in the in the General Assembly Ministry Coordination Committee meeting. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Jen Fraser, teaching elder commissioner from Santa Barbara Presbytery, stated concern about increases to per capita (the amount of money apportioned to each member that congregations pay to support the work of GA and mid councils). She told the committee her presbytery has a per capita cost of $83 per person.

After further discussion, Fraser again addressed the committee to the approval of the overture, telling the Outlook after the vote, “We considered a lot of important business, but I teared up when we voted on GA-MC-05 and 07 [on including gender-inclusive options on statistical reports, approved by the committee 28-8]. As the mother of a transgender young man who loves his church and who has been embraced by his church, I know we are doing good work as a denomination in becoming more inclusive. We have more work to do, but it has real value and is worthy of the resources devoted to it.”

John McKell, a commissioner from North Alabama Presbytery, spoke against the motion, saying, “I am a White, cis-gender, heterosexual male. I feel this denomination is moving towards a way to tell me I should feel guilty for who I am and the problems I have caused. Well, I don’t feel guilty. I have worked for 34 years now trying to build up this church and to speak God’s truth in love and to care for all people in this denomination. So I resent the moves of this denomination to exclude my voice.”

“In speaking to this particular motion,” McKell continued, “I have been through all the work of finally making it acceptable to be bi, gay, and lesbian, and I understand that is something coming from ‘within.’ … ‘TQIA+’ is something coming from outside. Society tells us this is how we should be because of the gender assigned at birth; that our focus should be on the societal understandings, not on saying that God was wrong to assign me that, so I should change. We should be transformed, not conformed to the world.”

Heather McIntyre, teaching elder commissioner from Charlotte Presbytery, commended the PC(USA) for the actions already taken to extend ordination to LGBTQIA+ ordination and affirm same-gender marriage, “at least on paper” she added. McIntyre then said, “The fact of the matter is, the work is not done. There are micro and macro aggressions against LGBTQIA+ siblings in Christ every day at different levels of our denomination. … What I think this [committee] would do is, not to tell people to be ashamed of who they are or make people to feel guilty, but to give people a place to go when they have concerns, and to have someone who can speak to them, who understands the concerns, and who is willing to be that advocate to say that we truly are invested in being the open and affirming denomination we proclaim ourselves to be.”

Other objections to the overture included a concern that the needs of the local church are not being met, stating that the Office of the General Assembly is too focused on such advocacy issues.

Kyle Hite, teaching elder commissioner from Trinity Presbytery, said, “I speak against this partly because of the allocation of resources. I’m in favor of accepting and advocating for all groups and embracing everyone in love. But it’s important to have advocacy for the ministry of the local congregations. … For someone in a local congregation, who calls General Assembly periodically and gets no response, … I see that we are allocating our resources now towards advocacy groups, as opposed to the survival and growth and evangelism and stewardship and the proclamation within local congregations.”

LydiaGrace Gray (TEC-Whitewater Valley) in the General Assembly Ministry Coordination Committee meeting. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Upon the committee’s approval of the overture, Brian Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, which has advocated for full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ persons since 1997, told the Outlook, “We’re thrilled that the recommendation to form an LGBTQIA+ Equity Advocacy Committee is moving forward to the assembly. So long as advocacy committees are a part of the way issues of justice and inclusion are lifted up in the church, it is important to understand LGBTQIA+ people as among those whose voices have long been silenced and for whom equity has not yet been fully realized. … We also urge the General Assembly Nominating Committee to include those currently active with groups including the Covenant Network of Presbyterians among those who serve on the advocacy committee, ensuring that our work across the denomination for justice is unified and not divided.”

In other business, the committee voted 32-4 to approve GA-MC-11 on changing the use of “AIDS” to “people living with HIV” in the Presbyterian Planning Calendar and in new PC(USA) publications. It voted 30-6 to approve GA-MC-12 to update the 2004 study, “Transforming Families,” stating “Presbyterian churches deserve new and instructive resources to assist their ministry with diverse families in a rapidly changing culture.” The committee made quick work in approving GA-MC-02, voting 35-0 to approve updating the video resources “Who Are We Presbyterians.”

The last item for business for the day was beginning the discussion of GA-MC-15, on determining the format for the 226th GA in 2024, scheduled to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Today, commissioners heard from and were able to ask questions of members of the Committee on the Office of General Assembly (COGA) and other resource people. GA-MC-15 is scheduled to be voted upon tomorrow afternoon.