Shut Up, They Explained (PCUSA Edition)
Last summer, the Presbyterian Church (USA), upon receiving a majority from its 173 presbyteries, removed a provision in its ordination standards that required celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage. This opened the door for the ordination of sexually active homosexuals. This was achieved only after many years, multiple votes in which advocates lost, and endless talk. Now that they have gotten what they wanted, some of the advocates have a new message for this who disagree: sit down, shut up, and bow down to the New Order.
One such collection of advocates resides in the denomination’s Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, which is not an interest or issue caucus, but an official body reporting to the General Assembly Mission Council, the PCUSA’s “mission and ministry” agency, from which it receives its funding and support. It speaks, not simply as a random collections of activists, but as one of the official voices of the denomination. It has taken positions that are suggestive of what the future holds for dissent from the New Order.
At next month’s General Assembly, several overtures are being brought on the subjects of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and ordination. The ACWC has offered its comments on some of them.
On Overtures 13-15 and 13-16, which call for a continued dialogue within the church between those who hold differing convictions on homosexuality, the ACWC writes in disapproval:
While the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns affirms the need for respectful dialogue and the importance of treating one another as sisters and brothers in Christ even in disagreement, this overture has the potential to stand in the way of a continuation of the progress the church has made in removing discriminatory and marginalizing practices in the ordination process that target a specific group of people.
Even if God has not blessed the church with a clear consensus on the issue of same-sex marriage, God has blessed us with a clear call to do justice. To call for waiting for clear consensus to do justice is to lift a standard of acceptance of discrimination while we wait. This particular issue on which we do not yet all agree is not simply an abstract theological principal or doctrine, but a community of people living, moving, and serving in our churches while being denied full inclusion.
The dialogue must certainly continue, but to take a general stand on not taking any action that imposes one interpretation of Scripture in this matter has the potential to be used down the road to impede the progress we have made toward just treatment of LGBTQ members of the PC(USA).
Translation: if we even keep talking to these people, some onlookers may get the idea that we consider them something other than knuckle-dragging Neanderthal homophobes. Therefore, we should stop talking to them, and seek to shut them down wherever possible.
The ACWC naturally stands for changing the denomination’s stance on same-sex marriage, and supports Overture 13-01 to give sessions discretion on whether to give permission for them this way:
The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns concurs with the rationale given in this overture. The practice of excluding people who are gay and lesbian from marriage has its roots in the persistence of patriarchal standards for the lives of women and men. The notion that men and maleness are superior dictates that men and women behave in particular ways that abide by the constructed rules their sex has been assigned. For this reason, same-gender loving women and men are perceived as a direct threat to the norms that patriarchy lays out, as they, in their loving, challenge the models of prescribed masculinity and femininity determined by patriarchy. Gay men are a threat as they are often perceived as “too feminine,” and lesbian women are perceived as “too masculine.”
In withholding the right to marry from same-gender loving people, the church is upholding this patriarchal standard for humanity. As a group committed to standing against patriarchy and its effects within the world and the church, ACWC advocates giving access to the commitment and covenant of marriage to same-gender loving women and men in the PC(USA). The ACWC draws particular attention to the vulnerability of lesbian women in this exclusion, as they find themselves in this and many situations excluded and marginalized both for their gender identity and sexual orientation.
As we watch as state by state people in the U.S. are standing against this form of discrimination, we challenge the church to act now with a prophetic voice that joins in this justice movement, rather than responding after marriage equality has been established across the country.
Not only that, however, but the ACWC, while not trying to eliminate pastoral or congregational discretion in the matter, opposes Overture 13-02, which would make explicit that the same discretion that exists for straight marriages exists for gay ones. Their rationale is extraordinary:
While ACWC does believe that allowing teaching elders to conduct marriage ceremonies of same-sex couples is a movement in the direction of progress in the church, we hesitate to endorse an authoritative interpretation that explicitly states also the allowance of refusal to conduct services or give use of church property. The authoritative interpretation ACWC has chosen to support in Item 13-09 certainly does allow for refusal to conduct a ceremony, as no teaching elder is forced to conduct any marriage ceremony, regardless of the sex of the couple. It simply is not explicitly stated. As the church continues to make progress on this issue as state-by-state we see acceptance of same-sex marriage increasing widely, leaving the allowance for refusal unstated will make for easier movement toward full access for same-sex couples to marriage in the church in the long run.
So even as it recognizes that discretion will remain, ACWC wants to muddy the water, presumably so the less well-informed will think that the PCUSA Book of Order requires them to do same-sex marriages, even as it continues to allow them to refuse to do heterosexual marriages! The absolutely shameless support of duplicity in the advancement of their agenda is breath-taking, even in a mainline denominational office.
Finally, there’s the matter of ordination of sexually active gays, and on this ACWC makes clear that there is no turning back. It opposes Overture 07-03, which would return to the status quo ante:
After more than thirty years of debate on this issue, the 219th General Assembly (2010), followed by a majority vote of the presbyteries, passed a resolution that removed the very language this resolution suggests reinserting into the Book of Order. The language now affirmed by the majority of the denomination moves us forward in this debate, calling for high standards for ordination that no longer single out a particular group of people for exclusion. The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns believes that the Holy Spirit works in and through our denomination and is present in all of our processes of discernment, including that of the last General Assembly and the presbyteries over the past two years. The language we now have in the Book of Order as a result of that process reflects a movement of our church ever further in the direction of the grace and love expressed to us by the One in whose image we are all created. To reinsert the suggested language would be a reversal in both process and progress.
I also have to throw this in from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, another GAMC body, which points out the obvious:
The effect of Items 07-02, 07-03, 07-06 and 07-16 would be to reverse the action of the 219th General Assembly (2010), which has since been ratified by ninety-seven presbyteries, ten more than needed. Essentially, presbyteries would be asked to vote again on the same issue.
Duh. You know, just like they voted on the same issue five times in the last two decades. Of course, now that the libs have gotten what they wanted, there’s to be no more voting. The Holy Spirit who apparently slept through the previous five votes, has now spoken, and that is that.
SO SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, AND DO WHAT WE TELL YOU!!!
(Hat tip: Viola Larson, who has blogged on the ACWC position as well.)
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