My denomination, The Presbyterian Church U.S.A., has a way of processing issues as they arise and waiting for the wisdom of God as we listen to each other.
Two years ago our national governing body, known as the General Assembly, met and decided to change its ordination standards. The change was to lift the ban on gay ordination, something that a pastor with my own perspective felt was long overdue. Decision-making in our church requires elected members and clergy to discuss, pray and debate issues like this.
The changes were welcomed and celebrated by a good many Presbyterians. I’m one of them. I believe that church should be a place of welcome, healing and inclusion for all people. Congregations across the country are now able to practice such hospitality and even include gay and lesbian people at all levels of leadership, which affirms their many gifts and insights.
This is new for many Presbyterians. In making this change to ordination standards, we follow our friends in other denominations including the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Episcopalians, just to name a few. For being new and for many other reasons we join these same communions in what can be called a new season of conflict and consternation.
My local governing body, known as the Presbytery of Olympia, is reconfiguring as several congregations in this region leave the denomination in protest over the PCUSA’s decision to be more inclusive. To them it represents a loss of integrity about sexual practice and lifestyle.
To me, and many other congregations, such a decision represents not a loss but a gain in faithfulness to the Bible and to the way of faith Jesus proclaimed, one that includes people and welcomes them into the kingdom of God in the variety of ways each are created. Among other things, we welcome the refreshing prospect of worshipping together in a setting where we are more focused on praising God and serving others, instead of the details of a person’s private life.
This year our General Assembly met once again. It did not retract its decision about ordination standards. It did consider an overture on the definition of marriage. The proposal was to change from stating that marriage is “between a woman and a man” to “between two people.”
With a vote of 338-308, the Assembly voted against the proposal. Instead they voted in favor of a two-year study of the issues at hand.
I was hoping the more inclusive definition of marriage would pass so that we would be consistent in our welcome. But, as we continue to search for God’s will in such matters, with the requisite discussion, prayer and debate, we will have to exercise patience and mutual forbearance.
In the meantime those with whom I disagree remain my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have struggled with them to understand their point of view, and they have done the same for me. The changes in our polity have put tension on our ability to demonstrate the love of God.
While holding various positions on subjects like this one, congregations across the country strive to love both those we disagree with and those who have been excluded because of the disagreements.Dr. David R. Kegley is head of staff at Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Olympia, where he has served for nine years. Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.