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At The Intersection of Belfast and Saint Louis Park, Part 1

As is the case with all posts on this blog, the following is the opinion of Rev. Andrew Meyers and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members of Laurel Presbyterian Church, its session, or the Presbyterian Church (USA).

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:1-6

On May 10 at Peace Presbyterian Church in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota, the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area voted in favor of Amendment 10-A of the Book of Order. As of Tuesday, a majority of presbyteries across the country have voted to ratify this amendment to the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Amendment 10-A replaces the current language of the Book of Order used to bar active gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from being ordained as deacons, elders, or Ministers of Word and Sacrament. As of July 2011, the language found in G-6.0106(b) will state:

“Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

While there is much discussion of what this wording actually implies, one thing is clear: a presbytery can no longer categorically deny ordination to actively gay persons. For some this is a momentous victory – for them justice has finally begun for our brothers and sisters in Christ who hear the call of God to ordained ministry and yet also are gay. For others this is a crushing defeat – for them the church has capitulated to cultural norms instead of standing firm in the Gospel of Jesus Christ who calls all to new life in him. For Presbyterians on both sides, the past three decades have been a civil war in which for them the very Gospel was at stake.

While a student in January of 2002 I had the opportunity to visit Northern Ireland with a group of my seminary colleagues. We went to witness firsthand efforts to bring peace to a region dominated for decades by violence ostensibly between Protestant and Catholic Christians. (The conflict in Northern Ireland is more about identity as Irish or British rather than religion, but religion has played a tremendous role in the conflict.)

I came away from our travels to this beautiful country with two main thoughts. First, war affects everyone including the innocent. Children in Northern Ireland were brought up during “The Troubles” to identify other children as us or them. Protestants and Catholics were highly segregated into neighborhoods which reinforced loyalties and perpetuated myths for us and against them. Even those who never even considered violence against the other lived in a world constantly divided between Protestant and Catholic.

Then there were those who lost loved ones in the war, those whose grief and need for revenge was palpable. And it seemed everyone knew someone who had died in the Troubles. Everyone was affected, and everyone was put on a side whether they wanted to be or not.

Second, I learned that extricating one’s self from a war requires long, hard work. It took the two most radical parties in Northern Ireland being voted into power for the region to have a semi-stable government. I remember watching a speech by Martin McGuiness on the floor of the Northern Irish Parliament at Stormont. McGuiness, leader of the Sinn Fein party, collaborated with the IRA. At that time he was Minister for Education. I can’t help but wondering how a Protestant mother or father felt sending their children to schools run by a former member of the IRA.

While violence in the region is down, tensions still run high even now. There is a constant threat of a flaring up of violence, and the need for peacemaking is still great. Relationships must be built without reference to sect.

The PC(USA) as a denomination has been at war over GLBT folk for over 30 years now, and the war has taken its toll. Candidates who were not able to be ordained because of sexual orientation have left for other denominations such as the United Church of Christ and Metropolitan Community Churches. Congregations incensed that the denomination would even consider ordained gay clergy and elders have left for other denominations such as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or the Presbyterian Church of America. The constant debate has sapped energy, intelligence, imagination, and love from local leaders which could have instead been focused on ministry and evangelism to the poor, to the hungry, to students, to young families, to the middle aged, to the elderly.

Everyone, even the innocent or the apathetic, has been affected. Everyone has chosen a side or has been placed in one. There are those who have lost loved ones in the fight, and they grieve and maybe even want revenge. There are those who have been brought up to determine if their brothers and sisters are either us or them. We have been factionalized as a denomination, and the factions run deep. Even if we call this vote on 10-A an end to the war or just another battle in it, we still live in a denomination divided.

To extricate ourselves from this war will take a long time, require hard work, and depend on an abundance of Christ-given grace. We will need to take seriously our call to be in real relationship with God, with the Scriptures, and with each other. We will need to learn how to stop viewing each other through the lens of “Biblical or inclusive,” “conservative or liberal,” “us or them.” We will need to resist the temptation to rejoice in victory over our brothers and sisters. We will also need to resist the temptation to give up on relationship saying, “Relationship cannot be salvaged,” or, “I cannot be relationship with an apostate.”

We need to come together in the healing arms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We have proven time and time again through vote after vote that we are not capable of reconciling ourselves to one another. Only God can heal us and make us whole. Only Christ could possibly accomplish the massive transformation of our life together that must take place. Only the Holy Spirit can provide us with the daily opportunities to relearn how to live as the church – the body of Christ in the world.

As a new era begins in the PC(USA) I am left only to say again that which I say every Sunday, the blessing Paul gave to the Corinthians so long ago which we need to hear again and again: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all, now and forever. Grace. Love. Communion. We certainly need it.

(For more information, including a letter form the leadership of the PC(USA), visit the PC(USA) website.)

Part 2 of this post can now be found here.

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