“Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope.” ~Psalm 119: 116
In the powerful documentary, Two Rivers, whites and Native Americans in the Northwest find their way into an honest conversation about their tragic past and their strained present. One of the Native Americans in the film says to everyone in the group, “we need to speak from the heart.”
Some of the white people in the documentary confessed that they didn’t really know what it meant to “speak from the heart.” Some of them even felt like they could not do it. They shared about how they were more comfortable with ideas and with issues. The documentary is a testament to the power of what can happen when we find the courage to speak from the heart in situations of brokenness and harm.
For most of my lifetime the Presbyterian Church has been disagreeing and legislating back and forth about sexuality and the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people (LGBT). Biblical authority, sexual morality, and Presbyterian polity have mostly been the way we have framed these conversations. Finally, in the latest round of this painful conversation a critical mass of Presbyterians figured out that we are not going to agree on this issue. Our most recent legislation changed our Book of Order to make space for people of faith on both sides of these issues to discern together who has the gifts for ministry. There is no mandate for church members to adhere to one or the other opinion.
I’ve been hearing and reading a lot lately about how lots of people who want there to be a ban on ordaining LGBT people are organizing to leave the denomination. Here is where I want to speak from the heart.
For years I have prayed, listened, discussed, studied, and listened some more and I have grown a lot on this issue. Through the years I’ve come to have a solid conviction that LGBT people should not be disallowed from ordination. At the same time I have heard my brothers and sisters in Christ who feel differently and I have been an advocate for there being room for all of us to be church together. In fact, I have advocated among people on both sides of this issue that we need each other to be church. I feel like we have finally arrived at a place where this kind of being church together can happen. Instead of living into this together, some of the people who did not get their way are planning on how to leave after just a few weeks of this new situation. This hurts the church and me deeply. I feel like those who are leaving are refusing to see me, and all who think differently than they do, as worthy of being in Christian community with them. That is a harsh rejection and it is deeply painful.
As a woman, I also hear the echoes of arguments of my own ordination in many of the difficult conversations I have had with people opposed to LGBT ordination. Underneath their rejection of LGBT ordination on biblical grounds are the verses about women not speaking in church and centuries of women being locked out of church leadership. The Presbyterian Church split on that issue not too long ago, too. This current threatened split vibrates with that same need to draw lines and keep people out who feel God’s call to ministry in their lives. I feel sad to think that, to many of the people who cannot abide by the way I read the Bible, that I am a disgrace and I am a heretic. And for some with whom I have been in community and sacred conversation, they feel this way toward me and others because of the very way God created us. That is a brutal rejection and it is deeply troubling.
I’ve heard people say that, when in doubt, they are going to follow centuries of church teachings on these issues of ordination. As a student of theology and a woman, that statement makes my blood run cold. The Reformed tradition was born from the impulse that we needed a way to follow God’s lead even when it takes us into uncharted doctrinal territory. Centuries of church doctrines have tried to stagnate God’s mysterious capacity to challenge and change us. If we choose to fall back on church history and the way “its always been,” we are refusing to see how God has moved over and over again in human lives to open eyes and hearts to something altogether new.
Mostly what I feel is disappointed. After all this work together on this issue over the last 30 years we are reduced down to this painful parting. Maybe it has to happen, but if I speak from my heart then I have to say that I was hoping for something else. I actually risked believing that we could find a way to be church together. I am ready and willing. It hurts to hear so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ saying they can be church better without me.
(for more info about the “Two Rivers” documentary go to www.greenleafstreet.com)