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Can We, Can We All Get Along? Section 2

By Mark D. Roberts | Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Part 6 of series: The End of the Presbyterian Church USA? Revisited
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

In my last post I continued my reflections on the crisis in the Presbyterian Church USA. Given our disagreements and divisions over many things, centrally, the ordination of active gays and lesbians, is it possible for members of the PCUSA to compromise, to find away to move forward without major reorganization or separation. In the classic question of Rodney King, “Can we, can we all get along?”

I answered this question with a clear yes . . . and no. Yes, we can get along in many ways, the ways we Presbyterians get along with folk in other denominations. But the division in the PCUSA over the issue of gay ordination is so deep, and the convictions associate with it so strong, that I have come to believe we can’t get along as a united denomination, at least not in the forms of our past.

This conclusion is one I have arrived at slowly. It has come, substantially, from my having listened for years to folks on both sides of the issue. As you might well expect, I have found it easier to listen to those with whom I agree. But I have also spent many, many hours listening to those with whom I disagree, hearing their concerns, their pains, their hopes. I have heard their resolve, their passion, their commitment to their side of this issue. This has led me to conclude that neither side in this debate is apt to be persuaded to change its mind, and that neither side is apt to give up the matter as inconsequential.

I will try to explain this as best I can, beginning with the side that affirms gay ordination. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that this is not my side. I will try to be fair, nevertheless. I do have quite a few friends on “the other side,” as it were. And, though I disagree with them, I have respect for them and their convictions.

For Supporters of Gay Ordination: A Matter of Justice

Those who support gay ordination see it as a matter of fundamental justice. They believe that the PCUSA has been oppressing gays and lesbians, denying them their basic rights as Christians and as members of the PCUSA. Folks on the pro-gay side believe that it is not always sinful for people to engage in homosexual activity, and therefore it is wrong to preclude the ordination of all active gays and lesbians. In fact, supporters of gay ordination differ widely on the conditions required for same-sex intimacy to be okay. A few would argue that it’s acceptable only if two people have a lifelong, monogamous commitment to each other, a gay marriage, if you will. Most on the pro-gay side do not limit acceptable sexual expression only to such a relationship. They see sex between two mature, loving people (gay or straight) as potentially blessed by God even when there is no religious or civil union.

When people believe that the ordination of homosexuals is a matter of basic justice, then they’re not going to drop it, even if they continue to lose the votes in General Assembly or the presbyteries. They will continue to fight for what they believe in, even if the fight goes on indefinitely. They feel justified in their cause. They are convinced that God is on their side, or, that they are on God’s side, the side of justice.

One who appears to take the justice side in this debate is the new moderator of the PCUSA, Bruce Reyes-Chow. Here’s what he writes on his blog about homosexuality and justice:

The fundamental dilemma . . . is where one places homosexuality itself. At the core of the debate is whether or not one considered homosexuality a sin or a natural God-created trait. I obviously hold the latter way of thinking. Much like race - and this is a huge debate in the brown community - I see sexual orientation as the same created gift as gender and race. I think as long as it is still seen as a SIN, the “love the sinner, hate the sin” is simply a friendly gesture to maintain some facade of civility. Yes, you are not screaming for outright violence, but there is still a message of division that is shared. On the other hand, if one does NOT think homosexuality is a sin, then one engages differently and focuses on what I would consider more shared human areas of brokenness: poverty, oppression, violence, etc. (Photo: Bruce Reyes-Chow running for moderator)

It’s easy for me to understand why those who support gay ordination, as people who are committed to justice, believe that they’re acting in accord with God’s will. The Bible is filled with the call to justice, especially on behalf of those who are marginalized or oppressed. Thus, many Christians have seen advocacy for gay and lesbian people as a part of their faithfulness to God, even to the Scripture that calls us to do justice. The PCUSA, in their view, has marginalized and oppressed gay people by not ordaining them. Divine justice requires a change in ordination policy, and they will fight for this change.

From their point of view, those who deny ordination to gays and lesbians are perpetrators of injustice. Thus supporters of gay ordination can’t sit back and “get along” with the other side as long as it prevails. They must fight for justice until they win. So, when the PCUSA votes to deny ordination to gays and lesbians, they don’t stop fighting, but press on to seek what they believe to be divine justice.

For many on this side of the issue, they believe they’re not only on the side of justice, but also on the side of love. They often have close relationships with gay and lesbian Presbyterians who have been hurt by the church’s ordination stance. Thus, compassion for those who have been excluded seems to demand a change in Presbyterian polity, in addition to a call to justice.

When people believe they are on the side of God’s justice, and when their hearts are moved by compassion, they are apt to be steadfast and immovable in their convictions and in their efforts to foster institutional change. This is exactly what we have seen in the last thirty years in the PCUSA.

But then there’s the other side. In my next post I’ll explain how those who oppose gay ordination see the issue.

Topics: PCUSA: End of? |

18 Responses to “Can We, Can We All Get Along? Section 2”

  1. Scott Williams Says:
    July 15th, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Mark, thank you for laying this out. Do you (or anyone else reading) know what scripture they use to support this position and how they reconcile it with the various scriptures that seem to say that homosexual acts are sinful?

    While I do not agree with their position, I must point out that their commitment to justice is commendable. If only the whole of the church would make such a commitment to all those who are marginalized…

  2. Matt Ferguson Says:
    July 15th, 2008 at 12:10 pm


    I have talked to a good number of progressives on this issue and you are right on target from what I have learned. Once orthodox folks understand it is a justice issue for progressives, orthodox folks should then realize the progressives cannot stop at simply getting the right for some to ordain non-Celibate gays and lesbians. All churches must be open to this issue of justice for any gays or lesbians in their midst. For a progressive to settle for less would be unthinkable, if they are to be consistent with their beliefs.

    Of course, the flip side is true for orthodox types. If we believe same gender sex is sin, a sexual sin (a type of sin dealt with in a stronger manner than most other types of sin in the Bible) then how can we do anything less than uphold the type of standard we (and nearly 100% of all church groups throughout time) have had?

  3. C Larry Says:
    July 15th, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    Mark, one cannot get very far into Genesis 2 without recognizing that God’s plan for human sexual relationships is precisely related to the complimentary biological components of the male and female. Only by ignoring Genesis 2:21-24 could one conclude otherwise. This passage clearly demonstrates that the fullest expression of humanity made of the image of God can is found in the re-union of the male and female.

    That Jesus would endorse this specific scriptural view in of human sexual relationships in Mark 10:6-9 *should* be very telling. I believe that Jesus knew exactly what he was saying, and he was speaking specifically about the complimentary nature of the human sexual union, and that this union is itself the fullest expression of the divine image of God.

    But it never will be so for those who make the category error of equating race with human behavior, a determination based solely, as far as I can tell, on personal experience and anecdote (alas, this includes our Moderator and too many commissioners to General Assembly).

    Jesus’ words also make it very difficult to conclude that divorce is never a sin (as is the currently philosophy of many in the church today). In fact, divorce is the breaking of the union given by God for the glory of God’s image. To be clear, those who are divorced certainly deserve the compassion of those who experience the deep trauma of broken relationships, but they need to also know the truth that something larger is at stake than just personal feelings. In fact, divorce breaks down the image of God and causes unavoidable harmful divisions in the larger community. Attempts at reconciliation are essential.

    Fortunately, Scripture clearly demonstrates that none of these behaviors (including others that many would conclude are far worse), with sincere repentance and restoration, can exclude us from the love of a just God who wants to be in relationship with us. I remain convinced that is the Good News of the Gospel, and that it is infinitely preferable to the bland form of cheap grace currently being peddled by so many of the denominations.

    One more word: Ordination is not a right predicated on faithful membership in a church. Ordination is simply the recognition of God’s call to particular forms of service in the church. Those called into such service are rightly expected to conform to the authoritative witness of God in Holy Scripture. How this authoritative witness could exclude behavior in the bedroom has never been adequately explained to me, particularly given that God is so intimately concerned about us that “even the hairs of your head are all counted.” (Matt 10:30-31 NRSV)

  4. Dale Says:
    July 15th, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Thanks for posting the “other side” of the debate in a clear respectful manner. While I don’t agree with thier views, I do wish they were more often treated with at least some kindness.

  5. Michael W. Kruse Says:
    July 15th, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Bruce’s characterization of homosexuality as “… a natural God created trait” is one of the positions I most frequently encounter. This begs the question.

    Because something is “natural,” is it therefore “God created?” I have two siblings with rare forms of muscular dystrophy. It was inherited genetically. Is this therefore “a God created trait” we should celebrate and embrace? If we can find genetic or natural causes for a behavior does that make it an acceptable behavior?

    Ultimately, we are back to a question of scripture and theology. If we live in a corrupted creation and in corrupted societies, then we can’t reason from what “is” to “what ought to be.” We have to look to revelation on these issues. But we disagree profoundly on the nature of revelation and how to apply it, so here we are.

  6. Tim Woolsey Says:
    July 15th, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    I do not see how the moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly can say that homosexuality is a “natural God created trait” when the Bible clearly states in both the old and new testaments that not only homosexuality is wrong, but all types of immoral sexual activity is wrong. My interpretation is that immoral sexual activity includes, but not limited to homosexuality, sex with animals, sex with relatives, sex with your neighbors, premarital sex, sex outside of the marriage,etc. I guess according to Mr. Reyes-Chow, having sex with a animal is a “natural God created trait”? What about someone molesting their young daughter or son? If we say that homosexuality is ok, then are we not saying that all immoral sexual acts are ok? If we say that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, then doesn’t mean the whole Bible, including scripture that says homosexuality (Lev. 18:22) is wrong is true scripture to be followed? Doesn’t the Bible call for Christian leaders and teachers of the Word to live in high moral standards? If we start changing the Bible to fit our lifestyles even when we know they are wrong, and I will never believe that any Christian who reads the same Holy Word of God as I do that immoral sexual acts is not a sin, then how can we expect to rejoice in the heavens with our Lord and Savior? His word, we tell others, is the blueprint to salvation. And the true Word, The Bible of the God of Jacob, Issac, and Abraham, which says Christ is the Living Word, also says that all immoral sexual activity, including homosexuality, is a sin! Doesn’t Jesus teach us that when we are saved, that we are born again and that we are to to turn away from our sinful past? Please, someone explain to me how we can ordain a teacher of the Word when that person is still living in sin?

  7. Sam Huffman Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Blather, blather, blater…bloviate, bloviate, bloviate.

    All of your words are meaningless without action, Mark.


  8. Thomas Buck Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Sam, what course(s) of action do you recommend?

  9. Cynthia Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 11:36 am


    Thank you for this posting. It provides a big piece of the PC(USA) puzzle for me. I couldn’t understand why the ordination of practicing homosexuals could not be settled despite the continual reaffirmation of the fidelity and chastity clause by the presbyteries. Thank you for explaining the pro-ordination viewpoint so that I can grasp why the battle still rages and will not end in the foreseeable future. Dialogue cannot lead to consensus.

    I do disagree about one point in this series. In my opinion, the struggle over ordination and sexuality is not the main issue in the PC(USA). The ordination battle grows out of the main issue and is the battle that seems to receive the most attention.

    The main issue that separates the “camps” in the PC(USA) is core differences in basic Christianity – beliefs about who God is, who Jesus is, and the inerrancy of the Bible. We are very far apart on these essential tenets. This may sound like more than one issue but it’s actually just one. The differences in beliefs about these basics are serious, even amazing. The consequences are predictable and in some ways, tragic. “A house divided against itself…”

    Eager to read future posts about the opposing viewpoints and your thoughts about a possible path forward for this fractured denomination.

    Cynthia Summers

  10. Sam Huffman Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    The ONLY possible course at this stage is:

    1. Withhold ALL per capita from your congregation and call on all other evangelical congregations to do likewise

    2. Call a spade a spade: the PCUSA is hopelessly apostate and the so-called evangelicals at PFR and on the PuP Task Report have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage — that is, favor with Louisville.

    3. Donate sacrificaly to congregations challenging the beast in court, now that GA has approved a $2 million warchest to fight the faithful. Those congregations are fighting on our behalf.

  11. Sam Huffman Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    To paraphrase Sherman Edwards from his wonderful musical “1776″:

    You see, we piddle, twiddle, and resolve
    Not one damn thing do we solve
    Piddle, twiddle, and resolve
    Nothing’s ever solved by
    Mark Roberts’ blog!

    (It may not rythme, but you get my point!)

  12. Thomas Buck Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Sam: re #10 - Why not leave the denomination and go somewhere else? Seems like that is also a viable choice.

    Re: #11 - Sam, that was in poor form, and unnecessary.

  13. Sam Huffman Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Merely leaving requires two unfaithful choices: first, leaving without the congregation’s property breaks faith with generations of our forefathers whose legacy is that property, and abandons it to the beast; second, leaving without fighting gives aid and comfort to the enemy and in addition to ignoring our responsibilities, empowers the enemy.

    As to your opinion as to my opinion, we are each entitled to our own. I take back NOTHING. Speaking of nothing, I have nothing but scorn and compempt for those who have faith but not works. When the house is on fire, it is the height of negligence to limit your comments to sophistry. For all his words, Mark Roberts has done NOTHING to fight. With friends like that, who needs enemies? Or, put differently, for evil to triumph, all that is required is for men of good will to do nothing but talk.

  14. Thomas Buck Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    The property is certainly a legacy, but the salvation of those who’ve gone before us and that of the current generation is the primary legacy.

    Focusing on the property may be wise to a degree, but when does the focus become greed and a desire to win?

  15. Sam Huffman Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Mr. Buck:
    You are all talk and no action. I have nothing further to say, except: TO ARMS, TO ARMS!

  16. Gene Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    Obviously the new moderator has neglected to read any of the actual scientific studies on the topic of whether sexual orientation is innate, or genetic. There is absolutely no conclusive proof for a genetic origin, but there seems to be some combinations of physical characteristics and environment that, in some cases, may lead to sexual identity disorders. (I am not speaking here of the rare cases of chromosome abnormality, which is an entirely different field.) Read the research before jumping to conclusions that this is merely a matter of justice or fairness. A good place to start is WWW.NARTH.COM

  17. Bruce Reyes-Chow Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Hey Mark - Was wondering where all this traffic to that post was coming from. this was one of the posts that, at the beginning of my moderator candidacy, there was talk about expanding, refining, etc. Unlike your blog which is far more in depth and thought-provoking [Read: better] there are some things that are lacking around that particular post: scripture backing, fuller explanation of how i see “God created” etc. So most of the critiques are valid for this particular post. I would however point you to this one as well in terms of the idea about “getting along” abd “agreeing to disagree” -

  18. Brett Says:
    July 17th, 2008 at 5:52 am

    Okay, let me see if I have this straight (pardon the pun):

    The pro-gay side prefers on the one hand to ignore the clear mandates of Scripture and argue against the identification of homosexuality as “sin” by appealing to the innate concept of “justice” that we all are gifted with by this God who commanded that we abstain from this practice because it’s incompatible with His “righteousness”. Right so far?

    So, God, of whom we know all of His characteristics through His inspired record of His revelation to mankind, says that homosexuality is not consistent with one of His major attributes, His righteousness.

    But, the argument goes, since we are His creatures, created in His image with some sort of innate concept of justice that we possess apart from growth in grace and in direct contradiction to His revelation, we should ignore all that we confidently know, respect, and trust (i.e., love) about God and just disobey Him and His clear admonitions, and instead follow our inborn yearnings to plot our own destiny by satisfying whatever urges our bodies tempt us with. Same argument could be made for committing any sin on those terms.

    On the other hand, the pro-gay side wants to ignore the divine ordinances of marriage and baptism (dying to sin) so they may be able to participate in the ordination to offices of the church, such as elders, deacons, teachers, and pastors, the sum purpose of which are to promote the teachings of the revelation of the afore-mentioned God which forbids the practices upon which they base their lives in direct rebellion to that God’s commands.

    What parts of those arguments haven’t those of you with common sense been able to destroy with simple logic over a period of thirty years? I think it’s a miracle that you’ve held it together this long.


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