This year, at the Presbyterian General Assembly, LGBTQ people & allies of the upcoming generation will claim their birthright at members of a just & inclusive church.

20 June 2008

Why it's not "trendy" for churches to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality

Last summer, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (which, despite its name, is the largest and most liberal Lutheran body in the U.S.) voted recently at their bi-annual Churchwide Assembly to allow their bishops the leeway not to remove or punish gay clergy in committed relationships. It was a major step forward, as it basically allows liberal bishops in the church to ordain openly gay clergy as they see fit.

Here was Cal Thomas' reaction, as published in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” section:
“The Evangelical Lutheran Church bishops have embraced trendiness and abandoned the very scriptures that are their basis for evangelizing. If these bishops choose to
violate God's instruction book, church members have two choices, should they wish to continue to honor the authority of scripture and its Author: They can remove the bishops from office or they can leave the denomination. To remain in the denomination and do nothing makes members co-conspirators in the bishops' apostasy."

We’ll leave aside for the moment that his theology of the bible is indistinguishable from that of a seven year-old—or Christopher Hitchens. What I’d like to comment on is his denunciation of the denomination’s “trendiness.”

As an evangelical and a former spokesperson for Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Thomas is not expected to have attended a national meeting of a liberal protestant denomination like the one where the Lutherans made their decision. These conferences happen during the summers on annual or bi-annual or tri-annual schedules. Thousands of Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Congregationalists get together in massive convention halls in a protestant-palooza of worship, meetings, and committees. The proceedings usually resemble Congress more than church, with measures and counter-measures being voted on, reports being issued, and bishops and moderators elected. For the last 15 to 20 years, the pressing issue at these national mainline meetings has frequently been gays.

What Thomas doesn’t know (or chooses to ignore) is that these mainline denominational meetings are full of good, mainline people. Red state and blue state people. The kind of people that, as Bill Clinton used to say, “work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules.” And these good people agonize over the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in their churches. Should they be ordained? Should they be married? What does this say about the state of the family in our church and in society? And good people disagree—often speaking on the floor and voting with tears in their eyes—then hugging members of the side that has “lost” the vote. These are not trendy people. They’re not hippies smoking pot and handing out condoms to teenagers. They’re mostly white, middle class, increasingly aging, and rending their Polo shirts trying to make a decision that is just, compassionate, and Christian.

The reason they struggle is you can’t go to one of these national meetings without getting to know the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members of the church. Gay rights affinity groups in the denominations have made a distinct effort for the last 20 years to make themselves known in their churches. What these gay Christians are doing is telling their churches who their ministers, organists, Sunday school teachers, and deacons really are. And how they live their lives. And who they really love.

And you can’t be a member of any church, whether liberal protestant, evangelical, or Roman Catholic, without knowing about the tragedies. Like Reverend Brent Dugan, beloved pastor of 18 years at Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon, Pennsylvania, who checked into a motel room in November of 2006, took a bottle of aspirin and washed it down with alcohol. Before he died, he left a note speaking of his "profound sorrow and sadness, and sense of solemn grief and embarrassment, about what he thought would come to be known about his personal life." His former lover was threatening to expose him as a gay man to the local media. As a Presbyterian I can tell you the Presbytery of Pittsburgh is one of the most conservative in the country. No sir, they’re not trendy. They know what’s what. Thank God they never gave into the “gay agenda” long enough to let Reverend Dugan come out of the closet. He might have gayed up the whole damn church.

Responding with compassion to the tragedy of those who have died because of their struggle with their sexuality is not licentiousness. Looking at a public servant like senator Larry Craig taking a ridiculous risk because he is so desperate for the touch of a man and wondering if maybe there’s something wrong with society, not with him, does not go against the Gospel. Listening to members of your church who are sharing a profound spiritual truth about themselves is not being trendy, that’s loving people. You know, like Jesus did.

But the Cal Thomases of the world will continue to sneer at the mainline churches for going down the path to cultural accommodation. They will insulate themselves from the very real struggles of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their churches by calling it “trendy.” They will shake their heads ruefully as they chalk it all up to meta-theories of a hedonistic society run amok. Meanwhile, gay people will fight for their lives.

from the desk of Richard Lindsay

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