My Most Controversial PCUSA/10A Post All Week

Well, I think it is, anyway. I’ve written two other posts related to 10A this week. (Amendment 10A changes the ordination standards to permit gay and lesbian people in committed relationships to be ordained; more here.) But more than the other two, this post has me quaking a bit, because I want to be as precise as I can.

Preface: I am with Bruce Reyes-Chow, former moderator of the PCUSA, in placing a high premium on graciousness, even and especially when one’s point of view prevails. I write this in that spirit.

There’s a lot of stuff floating around the intertubes since this decision—here’s one great list of responses. There is a concern, or perhaps just an awareness, that congregations might be leaving the PC(USA) over this decision. Some already have—one estimate is that 100 congregations (out of our 11,000) have left in recent years over this.

One item zipping around the ‘tubes is a letter to those who are troubled by the decision—when I see a copy on the Internet I’ll link to it. It was written by a couple of pastors in Chicagoland, but signed by several other folks, including some friends of mine. I was asked to sign this letter but opted not to. This blog post tries to explain why.

In essence, the letter expresses gratitude for the passage of 10A. At the same time, it asks those who are disappointed not to leave the denomination. The PC(USA) would be poorer without you and your voice, as we believe it would be without us and our voice, the authors write. I have heard this sentiment expressed from many quarters—24 former moderators of the PC(USA) offered a similar letter, saying, We believe that the Presbyterian Church (USA) needs the voices and gifts of all of us, whether we agree with Amendment 10-A or not. Our unity is strengthened by our diversity, and vigorous debate as well as mutual forbearance is essential to the body.

This sentiment is practically sacrosanct in certain liberal circles (not that all of our former moderators are liberals). And I completely agree that a denomination is strengthened by hearing a diversity of voices. This is fundamentally theological: we are united in Christ through our baptism, not our opinions. We are adopted into this family, this crazy, cranky, contentious, sometimes and unexpectedly beautiful family.

And engagement with people of differing views helps strengthen and hone one’s own view. And sometimes, people’s hearts are changed. I need my heart changed on a great many things. Not to mention the fact that, while I might disagree with people about GLBT issues, I might agree with them, and even find common cause with them, around other issues. We are not a single-issue denomination.

That said, here are a few reasons why I can’t sign on to pleas for people to stay:

1. Public witness to those outside the church: Yes, community across theological lines is important. But at one point does unity compromise our witness? I have a number of friends, non-religious friends, who find issues of GLBT equality to be a complete no-brainer. (In fact, it’s worth mentioning that the number 1 view of Christians from young people outside the church is that we are “anti-gay”.) It’s hard enough for them to understand why I would remain in a denomination in which so many people oppose gay rights and the full equality and participation of gay persons. What does it say to them about my conviction on these matters when I start begging people to stick around who don’t value that? What does it say to GLBT people who have been hurt by the church?

This works the other way too. For people who feel that they are being biblically faithful by opposing GLBT inclusion in leadership, perhaps it dilutes their mission and ministry to remain in fellowship with me, who clearly interprets the Bible very differently. More on this in #5.

2. It acknowledges our post-denominational, decentralized reality. I recently heard a lament that there are 38,000 denominations world-wide. Though it might be heretical to ask this, why is this so bad? Is our goal really one big super-denomination? We already have that; it’s called the church universal. I think 38,000 denominations is a good thing. If anything, we could stand to be even more decentralized. The Internet provides manifold ways for congregations and individuals to connect—we no longer need a bureaucracy to do that work for us.

Also, if the Presbyterian Church down the street leaves the denomination, it’s not like I’m suddenly going to brand them as evil. They’ve just… left the denomination. They are still my brother and sister in Christ. Perhaps it’s because I’m relatively new to the PCUSA, but I simply do not understand the grief over this. This is not the Civil War. This is denominational affiliation—something people care less and less about when “shopping” for a church.

3. Theologically: it makes an idol of unity. We are called in our ordination vows to uphold the “peace, unity and purity” of the church. Pleas for people to stay seem to elevate unity over the other two. People have been saying, “this allows people to ordain those whom they deem suitable, but nobody’s going to be forced to ordain gay people.” I totally get that and am not arguing for quotas or anything. But isn’t this trying to have it both ways? Do we value the full inclusion of GLBT people, or do we only value it up to the point that other churches begin to leave?

4. From a systems perspective. Simply stated, I don’t know how a self-differentiated leader justifies going after people who threaten to leave, trying to talk them into staying.

Granted, I have only had one person threaten to leave a congregation. (I know, give it time.) Here is what I said to that person:

“That is a significant threat that you are making. I need you to know that I take threats to leave very seriously. And I will not try to talk you out of this. I will be sad to see you go, but you need to follow what your conscience leads you to do. Please let me know what you decide.”

I don’t know how a self-differentiated leader does otherwise. Sure, there are some issues that can be ironed out. I’m not saying you boot someone out the minute they make a threat. But let’s be honest. Some folks threaten to leave just to yank your chain, or to hold a community hostage. Others do it because they sincerely can’t go where you’re going. In both cases, it seems to me, the reaction should be the same—to take the request seriously and not be captive to it. Which leads to…

5. (and most important) It seems disrespectful to the other person’s point of view. To ask people to stay belittles how important this issue is to them. For many folks this is nothing less than an abandonment of biblical standards. While I obviously don’t agree, and can scarcely even put myself in the place of understanding such a view (though I try hard), it is nonetheless a deeply held view. It seems to me that saying “No no, please stay” does not honor the dignity of the other person’s deeply held view.

I hope it’s obvious that I’m not saying “We win. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Quite the opposite. I have quoted the Princess Bride many times on this topic, which I picked up from a training many years ago. That is, that if you sincerely feel that the Spirit is leading you a certain direction—as a denomination, as a congregation—and someone really cannot or does not want to come along, the most faithful response is to say, like Wesley, “As you wish.” And remember, “As you wish” always meant “I love you.” I love the people who are hurt by this. If they really and truly do not feel that they can remain in our denomination, then I want to bless them on their way.

One of the basic foundations of love is freedom.

Love does not make threats, but love does not beg, either.

42 thoughts on “My Most Controversial PCUSA/10A Post All Week

  1. esperanza says:

    Well said, and Amen, sister.

  2. Rev Dr Mom says:

    As an Episcopalian who has been there done that already I TOTALLY agree with you!

  3. abbiewatters says:

    Exactly right. That’s probably the best analysis I’ve seen. Thank you.

  4. MaryAnn says:

    Oh come on people, I said CONTROVERSY! 😀

  5. Songbird says:

    I’m shocked! Shocked I tell you!!!
    (Is that better?)

  6. Pen Peery says:


    My sister from another mother…you asked from some push-back from your friends, so here you go.

    There are a couple of places where I would quibble with your reasons. First, I am not sure that a letter from some leaders in the church to other leaders in the church is intended to be a public witness. I recognize that in an age of transparent communication, we don’t get to chose what is public or private – but the public witness of 10-A is what churches and presbyteries will do to live into its passage…not how they communicate internally in order to tend to their fellow colleagues.

    Secondly, while you have provoked me to think about the fact that we may have made denominations (our own) and unity into an idol, I think the question can just as easily be reversed. In our acceptance of post-denominational reality, have we not made boutique denominations (like-minded?) into an idol? I have vague recollections of reading H. Richard Niebuhr on this…and would caution that an easy embrace of “as you wish” ecclesiology could hurt the sharpness of our theological convictions because there would be no one to hold us accountable but the people who think like we already do.

    More, in our asking (maybe even begging) for people to stay – even if they end up leaving – is, I think, an acknowledgment of a dynamic of the love that should hold a connectional church together. There is grief in schism. I know it hurts those who feel like they might need to leave, but I want them to know that more than simply understanding why they hurt, I am hurt by their leaving, too.

    • MaryAnn says:

      Good critique.

      And like good Reformed Christians, we get right into the competing idolatries. It’s funny, really—this is really the preferred method of ownage in our arsenal:
      “You’ve created an idol: BURN!”
      Sigh… we are so unhip 😉

      I know you’re not really doing that, it just makes me laugh.

      It’s a tough thing, because idols are to some extent in the eye of the beholder. When a community/denomination/individual says, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” is that idolatry of a particular point of view? Or is that a faithful stand in service to the gospel? And who decides?

      So OK, maybe unity isn’t an idol. But when people who have fought like hell for a justice issue publish a “please don’t go” to the people who fought like hell on the other side of that issue, it does, to some extent, undermine the strength of the former group’s proclamation on that issue. Is that a bad thing? Maybe not. As the PUP report said, In a world in which people kill each other over their differences, a church that proclaims an alternate vision will be compelling and counter-cultural witness.

      So maybe a better question than idolatry is, “What is our highest value? And can two ‘competing’ values (1. unity and 2. a stand on GLBT inclusiveness which not everyone affirms and some people actually find repugnant) coexist?”

      We will find out.

  7. John Allen says:

    Thank you for your words, I agree that idolizing unity is counterproductive. I would perhaps strengthen the point you make in #3. No only ought we not to make an idol of unity, but we ought not to grant credence to homophobia as an option among others.

    Part of what has been so painful about the way this process unfolded is that the conversation was frequently conducted as if either side could be right and it was just a matter of disagreement. This sort of attitude perpetuates a culture in which homophobia is regarded as an opinion on an issue, rather than anathema.

    To you who support the full inclusion of queer persons in the church, do not back down, you are in the right, those who oppose you are wrong. We need not gloat, but let us claim this boldly.

  8. Keith Snyder says:

    I was about to say something that I realize is actually in opposition to a small part of this, but it’s mostly a phrasing-and-framing thing. Still, since you won’t rest til there’s been a rumble…

    It’s only a threat if, as you said, it’s chain-yanking or hostage-taking. If it’s merely that somebody can’t go with you anymore, I’m don’t think “threat” is the appropriate term.

    That’s the best I can find to pick on. The rest is like, welcome to taking a step away from cruelty and fear.

  9. s says:

    interesting. My undergraduate campus minister was the only member of the presbytery to vote against reunion. His prediction? If we reunite, it will take 20 years to gain justice for gays and lesbians. Close, Charlie. 28. His perspective, which I share (and which it sounds like you share, too) is that he works best with the more conservative branches of the Reformed family when they are members of the local ministerial society—rather than members of the same presbytery. Now I know that is an over-simplification of the reunion controversies. I know it was more than a conservative-liberal split, but I kind of feel like Charlie was right. I have had great collegial relationships with those who oppose my ordination (let alone LGBTQ ordination). I know I wouldn’t be as open if we were in the same denomination.

    I don’t want to beg people to stay. yes, 38,000 denominations is too many. (I disagree with you, there, Maryann!) But I don’t think the resolution to that is in begging a couple hundred PCUSA congregations to stay with one denomination over another (assuming that most of them are headed to the EPC or PCA). Those groups exist. If their numbers plump up a little, so be it.

    I don’t want to see gargantuan property fights out of this. That’s what I fear most. I’d be happy to dissolve any church that makes a reasonable offer. I’d probably even dissolve some unreasonable offers. Let’s move on. Let’s get on with the work of Christ, and stop being so freaking apologetic. I’m so tired of saying, “well the denomination is here but we really do love and value you and expect change to come soon.” I’m so ready to move on.

    Be on your way, conservative brothers and sisters. I wish you no ill, so long as you take up your fair share of helping with the annual Thanksgiving dinner for the senior citizens.

  10. As a church worker for years I see people leave the church all the time. Its the biggest play a hurt and powerless individual has. It is often not the last card they have either.

    When these churches and people leave we will be poorer. American youth might not see an issue here but our connections to the global church will be weakened as most cultures do not view these issues as some of us do here in the US. Also when they leave our denominations theology ethics, and values shift. As one on “the right” I believe I need my Christian brothers on “the left” to pull me toward the center. I think the opposite is true too.

    Secondly, this is their denomination too. They have loved by their congregations, discipled in its walls, and nurtured between its stain glass. They might disagree with you on this matter but if this is the matter you find so egregious that we can not find the a way past it than we have created an idol out of sexuality instead of unity.

    I am not of the “please don’t go” mentality. But I am of mind set that says. “First, lets all take a deep breath. Put down our spears and see what can be salvaged.”

    • MaryAnn says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      I don’t find their presence egregious. Rather it is many conservative congregations who are finding it hard to stay. I’m not urging anyone to go. And I’m certainly, emphatically, and unequivocally not urging anyone to go who feels this is their home, their church, worth remaining in, worth arguing over, worth living in the messiness of this in-between time when we don’t even know what this thing’s gonna look like. I am specifically addressing the case of congregations who have been talking about leaving, literally for years. I am taking them at their word when they say that this situation pains them and they don’t know if their consciences can bear the status quo any longer.

      I totally agree with your mindset, BTW. Taking a deep breath is a good course at this juncture. But I’m also putting myself in the shoes of a congregation that feels that this longtime shift toward inclusiveness has led us from the core of the gospel—and has felt that way for a long time. Telling them to “take a breath” does not seem pastoral to me. It feels like a belittling of their long-held beliefs.

  11. Prof says:

    A consistent implication is that you also support allowing churches to take their property with them as they leave. If you support these sorts of divisions then it seems that they should be encouraged amicably.

  12. laurelpres says:

    Really? To acknowledge that some may not agree with a decision of the body to point of considering leaving and to ask them to stay is “making an idol of unity”? I don’t see anyone (yet) at the denominational level running after someone who has already left and begging them to come back, nor have I heard anyone at that level say, “If you stick around then we’ll change it back.” No one is allowing the minority on this vote to hold the denomination hostage. Yet to simply write a letter to congregations who may feel compelled to leave, acknowledge the disagreement with a decision that has been made, and ask them to stay and do the hard work required to be truly connected as Troy mentions above does not, in my mind, even come close to idolatry. Acknowledging grief and pain and asking someone to stay in it for awhile before making a major decision seems just fine systems-wise to me. That’s pastoral care, and we do it all the time in session meetings and in people’s homes.

    Rereading your post again, I think I see the letter from the former moderators differently than you do. And frankly no, it’s not obvious to me you weren’t saying, “don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” because that’s the effect you would eventually have – silence from leadership that is deafening. Not to say that a letter from Louisville will be heard by these congregations, but my point is that it doesn’t hurt nor is it sinful to try.

    • laurelpres says:

      Sorry, didn’t realize it would only show up on Facebook if I commented there. Silly, but I tend to think something I write one place magically is shared on another.

      • MaryAnn says:

        That would be nice—but only when you want it to do that.

        What we need is a computer that will read our minds… oh wait, that would be a little scary. I’m already convinced Google is reading my mind…

    • MaryAnn says:

      I addressed the idol language in my response to Pen, and I think it applies here too. If that language is a stumbling block, set it aside and consider the other ways of framing it that I offered. I still think there are issues worth addressing here.

      Also see my response to Good Seminarian.

      I reject the implication that the only alternatives are what the moderators have offered and deafening silence. There are a variety of pastoral ways to convey care and concern, and even grieve with those who grieve. I’ve asked one of the signatories of the moderator letter to offer thoughts here. I hope that person does, but one thing that the person said in passing was, “I’m less of the ‘please don’t leave’ mindset and more of the ‘let’s not destroy each other.'” I am totally on board with that message. Even “let’s sit with this for a while” is different in tone and effect than “please don’t go, we need to stay together.” Again, to assume that people can assent to a vision of unity belittles those people’s deep convictions on this matter. I take that seriously and defend their right to have them, though I disagree.

      Twice, the moderator letter says that we need to “move forward.” What does that mean? Does that mean we’re done with this? How does a conservative church (again, that has been fighting this change for years) hear that? Do they feel acknowledged, or do they feel that “you lost, deal with it”? Perhaps some find the letter comforting and helpful. But I’m trying to imagine how I would have heard that in 1996 after the passage of the original “amendment B”.

      “Moving forward” feels less like Job’s friends sitting for seven days in silence than it does the rest of the book, which is all about “aren’t you over that yet?”

      I’m really glad you commented.

  13. A Will says:

    I love this as a conversation that needs to be had and have spent most of my afternoon since you posted it on Twitter debating and deleting responses. I graduated from a seminary formed from the reaction of “The Baptist Split” and it has always bothered me that time and time again it was obvious that it was a reactionary move and not one discerned and done in response. Now one could easily argue that reactions are sometimes needed, but without discernment, change will not stick (IMO).

    So I’m not quite on board with everyone who wants to walk should get an “As you wish.” I am now the DEM in a church where the Head of Staff is “obsessed” with PCFellowship. To the point that all responses he’s sent to the session are from them thus far. It is very uncomfortable for me as someone who is celebrating that “our human language no longer blocks the movement of the Spirit” and the only other full time staff. Yet part of the reason that I ended up in the PC(USA) is that we don’t all believe the same thing, and I know that to be very true of my congregation. We are very diverse theologically, ideologically, politically, and other ways. I am personally comfortable with ambiguity, but I know a lot of people do not like the place where things are unknown, or where they feel that things as they know them are threatened. (People tend not to change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change)

    I have serious worries about denominations and groups consolidating into like-minded pockets. We have to have voices of dissent, they are what push us forward in discernment. Those voices that don’t agree with our own make us look at what we think we know and reconsider it in light of new information. I think faithfulness is essentially a journey where we have constantly discern things. It isn’t made of starts and stops but a journey together.

    I agree that we can’t idolize unity, but nor can we idolize the like-mindness (Pen states this case I think better than I can here, so go read his post on that item). Diversity is essential, as is I think some level of uncomfortableness. Part of faithfulness, in my eyes, is being in constant discussion and discernment with those who are in our community and inviting others to be part of that community. This is not easy, especially if we feel we have “the answer” and others are in contradiction with that answer.

    That being said, we need not beg people to stay, some (individual and groups) will walk regardless, and I agree that those should be allowed to go “as they wish” with a pat on the back. I don’t though want to be part of something where we all think the same way. (On the other hand I’d really prefer to not go through the discernment process that comes for those on split staffs and in split churches if I end up needing to be the one who has to walk away). This is an issue that currently feels much more personal than it may be, and in that I worry that even what I have written here is more reactionary than any kind of discerned response, but I cannot say all that I just said in private regarding community, discernment, and differing viewpoints and not actually act on my beliefs.

    Thank you for being a voice in this that actually has things to say.

    • MaryAnn says:

      Thanks—great comment. It stands well on its own and I don’t feel compelled to go point by point. A couple of things do come to mind in response though.

      You lift up the messiness that even a “gracious separation” would create. Just because the pastoral leadership and/or session is on board with a particular view doesn’t mean that everyone is. For this reason, I suspect that fewer churches will separate than might appear at first glance.

      I also think we need to be clear that if people leave the denomination, that there will still be diversity of opinion. Plenty of it. As a friend of mine noted on Facebook, the EPC and PCA are united about certain issues, so they might seem attractive destinations for those who seek people of “like mind” (a big Fellowship term). But even they have their diversity on a great many things. I just think that in a world as complex as ours, with problems as great as the ones we face, we have plenty of opportunities to argue with one another 😉

      Not to mention the power of social media and our mobile, connected society which enables us to bump up against all kinds of different people.

      What may be at the root of all for me this is a basic question—what is the purpose of a denomination? And can that pushing/growing/accountability function occur in other ways? (Hint: it already is.)

      Again, thanks.

      • A Will says:

        I concur. (sorry for the longwindedness). I probably put more weight on denominations because I spent most of my life outside of them, and didn’t find who I was theologically until PC(USA), but I will agree that in many ways those functions occur outside of denominational confines as is. My experiences just place me at a different point in my journey.
        Thanks for giving me more to think on.

  14. Andrew Kukla says:

    Random interlude maybe… I have come more and more to place where I have a convoluted relationship to the Trinity… but I”m reminded that Shirley Guthrie claimed that all Christian heresy is, at its roots, a trinitarian heresy.

    I think that as any trinitarian understanding has to wrestle with the balance of oneness and separateness we are also having these struggles (but mostly unnamed) with regards to what we mean by unity in the life of the church.

    Belhar for instance would push us beyond any spiritual unity (we don’t get to claim an invisible church) to require a visibly manifest one-ness. As I study Belhar it strikes me that it argues for uniformity and not unity and it errs on the side of wanting to flatten the inner-relationship of the separate persons who are part of the dance – it wants one dancer so the message is not tainted by differentiation.

    Pushing towards theologically similar non-geographic Presbyteries (which has all sorts of intriguing other problems… not least among them, what happens when the next theologically controversial thing happens – do they all split again within their own selves? again and again?) seems to me to push in the opposite direction to overly claim the separateness of the individual dancers who really aren’t all dancing together after all (that may already be true anyway however.)

    I have no answers here… except to say that I think Trinitarian mystery has something to say to us about unity… and until we are a little more clear on unity its hard to argue a correct ethic of maintaining unity.

    {and rather than have two posts let me say one other random thing, share it actually. Charles Whiley from teh Office of Theology, Worship and Education recently spoke at our Presbytery and pointed out the denominations that the PC(USA) gets along with the least are the denominations with which we share the Westminster Standards… and this saddens me – doesn’t surprise me, but saddens me. Something in the great similarities of who we are makes it so that when we do disagree on something its incredibly threatening to us.}

  15. john shuck says:

    Excellent post! Treat people like adults.

  16. Byron Wade says:

    Nice post!

  17. Joe Clifford says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful words. The quality of the responses above is a testament to your gifts, MAMD! You’ve got quite a following. As I head to my Systems Workshop in Boston, I think you’re right about “togetherness” trumping self differentiation.

    However, according to 1 Corinthians 12, we are one whether we like it or not. It doesn’t say we should be one. We are one in Christ. We are one with the Roman Catholics. We are one with the MCC. We are one because of what God has done in Christ, whether we like it or not. That is in the indicative.

    The imperative that follows is, “Live like it.” The hand cannot say to the foot, “I have no need of you.” That’s one of my main problems with those who have said for 30 years to LGBT folks, “We have no need of you.” It’s just flat wrong. To the degree we recognize that we are one and we’re stuck with one another, whether we like it or not, I think we’ll be more faithful. Truth be told, we’re stuck with them even if they leave. And they’re stuck with us, even if they think we’re heretics, because we are one in Christ.

    My signature on that letter is an effort to live into the reality created by Christ. I think our growlingly polarized world where people herd into like minded camps desparately needs the witness of a community of diverse theological convictions. I hope and pray the PCUSA can be that. I’ve tasted that fruit in our congregation, and I’d love to see it in our denomination.

    Besides that, the only way their views will ever be transformed will be through relationship with gifted leaders who are gay. If they take their toys and go, they will miss an opportunity to be transformed!

    I’m so thankful for your gifts and your wisdom, and for this conversation.

    • MaryAnn says:

      Canon Clifford, as usual you are wise and wonderful. Your critique of my critique is well said and spot-on.

      Thanks for stopping by my little Blue Room…

  18. Laura says:

    I think there are two ways to leave- both valid and Bjblical (another handy buzzword). Some of these folks are shaking dust from their sandals, feeling that they have faithfully offered the gospel and been ignored, shunned, etc. Others are feeling called away, as Abram was called to leave his home.

    There are others who are just upset and angry that they didn’t get their way in a power struggle. While these are the crew i’d most like to see out the door, I wonder about the need to leave with intention (as above). Will they find a new place where God will use there gifts to edict the Body and usher in the Kingdom or will they sow seeds of bitterness wherever they go? I don’t know that we need to pursue them for the sake of unity, so much as the sake of righteous parting/gracious leave-taking.

    Been thinking on this as I consider my own affiliation with a congregation whose views are not aligned with my own and have caused my family pain. I feel this week that I am being called away from there and into another community.

    Thanks for posting!

  19. I am one that sees the need to allow a pastoral/gracious way out for those who need it (for whatever reason) – a la the “gracious dismissal” policies GA called on presbyteries to create in 2008.

    I am also one who personally sees this (PCUSA) as my home and family, even if I don’t agree with that whole family (who does?)… and so I would share this prayer:

    Good post and great discussion!

  20. MAMD

    Great writeup. I agree will almost everything you said. Two things, though – #4 – I don’t think saying, “We need you. We’re poorer if you go” has to stand against self-differentiation (though Dr. Clifford should correct me.) I think it would be a problem if the letter said, “we need you to stay so much that we’re willing to give up a piece of who we are if that’s enough to make you stay.” Granted, I haven’t really seen the letter. I think it’s fine to share with someone (some group) how you feel about their departure.
    From my memory of the letter (read to me :-)) I was more disturbed by the language to the effect that “we will fight for your right to say no to GLBT ordination” presumably in conservative congregations and presbyteries. The idea there seems practical and gracious in the short-term. And those of us who support the ordination of qualified GLBT candidates should not confuse legislative change with the hard, relational work of transformation. But if you’re somebody like me that really believes that sexual orientation should not be grounds for denial of ordination, I think that’s a dangerous statement to make. If you don’t see it any different from allowing congregations not to ordain people of color or women because of their skin color or because of their gender, then saying that you will fight to protect that right is saying you will fight to protect their right to discriminate. That is where the self-differentiation breaks down in my view. It’s saying, “we will give up what we really believe to keep you here,” or it’s saying “GLBT folks really aren’t as important to us as keeping you in the denomination.” That’s my bigger bone to pick with the letter.

    Still, I think we are poorer without conservative voices. In fact, the whole conservative/liberal thing is kind of ridiculous in my mind anyway. The truth is that most individuals and congregations alike are conservative on some things and liberal on others. But that’s another post for another day. . .

    • MaryAnn says:

      I agree with you 100% and may not have said it clearly enough, but yes, that’s where things get a little wonky from a systems perspective for me. I think what you describe in your second paragraph IS a “giving up of a piece of who we are” for the sake of keeping people here.

      • Andrew Kukla says:

        I understand where you are going with this thought – and in this circumstance I think I agree with both of you. However in my own little ambiguous world feel the need to say that this is slippery slope because I think what you describe is also exactly what we are called to do, and be, as followers of the way of Jesus Christ – who himself emptied himself to become one of, and with, us. Jesus Christ who calls us to sacrificial service that isn’t about serving me, but serving the whole – serving others.

        This has, in my own life, played out in ways that are sometimes painful – both in my individual family and my larger community. Sometimes we do have to set aside a piece of who we are for the sake of keeping the community whole… because the alternative begins the move to Sheila-ism (to borrow from Habits of the Heart, the idea that I am my own religion basically).

        Now to be clear again… I don’t think that is what you are doing in your original statements – but I do hear that in this last statement. And just as its a word to ourselves – it is also a word to the whole community, and those who want to take their “toys” (to borrow from Joe) and go home.

      • Andrew Kukla says:

        Reflecting further on that – because its a strange place for me, this area of self-differentiation. And something seems important about the centrality and the sense of how much is the “piece of who we are” we would have to give up. In my own journey I can think of two major times (and a probably thousands of small instances) that I have done that – once when it was too big a piece (much like telling any qualified person who is GLBT that they can’t be ordained and follow the passion that is at the center of their lives… thats too big a piece). The problem that arises for me is how quickly our culture (church, social, and political) jumps to think that any piece is too big a piece.

        (As an aside I would love at this moment to hear a reflection from someone who is GLBT to say what kept them in a denomination that required them to either deny their calling or to deny a major part of who they were in a way that wasn’t required of me to accept that calling. Because many did, and do, and yet why aren’t we able to do something similar (and yet much less giving up) when it comes to seeking a community that doesn’t need to schism over this conversation?)

      • MaryAnn says:

        By the way, pertaining to your previous comment. I don’t generally like arguments employing a slippery slope. I don’t find them helpful. I think that intelligent people can look at the circumstances before them and assess them on their own merits, not on imagined consequences down the road.

        Anyway, here is what the Chicagoland letter says at the end:

        These are critical days for our church. We believe our church will be stronger and more faithful if we defend your right to say “no,” just as we are grateful for this day when we can say “yes” to ordain those whom we believe God is calling. And we look forward to working together with you into the future to which God calls all of us.

        It’s the bolded part that Andrew FC and I are reacting to. It’s one thing to acknowledge that people ‘just aren’t there’ on the ordination issue, and even to foster a big-tent atmosphere in which they feel like they can stay. And while I’m not sure what “defend your right to say ‘no'” really means, I think it goes beyond a simple coexistence and into a place I can’t go in good conscience. I’m going to accept that there are a great many churches/presbyteries in the PCUSA that see non-celibate gay people as categorically unordainable, and I’m not going to boot them out, and I’m going to affirm without reservation that they are brothers and sisters in Christ—but I’m not going to defend their view on this issue.

      • It won’t let me reply specifically to the comment that directly quotes the “we defend your right to say no” part of the letter, but that is a very significant phrase, and I completely understand and support 100% your unwillingness to attach your name to it.

      • Andrew Kukla says:

        Your confused, or not reading that statement correctly. Defending the right for someone to disagree with you is not defending what they are saying. I hope we haven’t gotten to the point of being unwilling to allow people to have a different voice from our own – but that is what you are saying.. that you do not wish to allow them the right to disagree with you, and that saddens me.

        I don’t like their voice… it keeps me up at nights wrestling with it, it is a challenge to me of grace (of me being gracious, open, dialogging). But I can’t make myself deny them the right to their voice – its just not in me, and it seems unbiblical (as scripture so often provides testimony and counter-testimony).

        However (and this is a big however, an essential however) it also doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to be the counter-testimony to their voice.

        What I understand the letter to be saying is that we need to keep our testimony and their counter-testimony linked together in ways that force each of us to continue to be in conversation (in way that we have ceased to do with the PCA brothers.. and just saying brothers is intentional in this case). I’m not convinced that this is necessarily true, which is why I applaud your courage to say what you have said. However, I hope its not about our unwillingness to allow counter-voices in our community, and is more about not creating pseudo-communities (false community) in the name of unity where no real community or unity exists.

        Its been a fruitful conversation clearly – thank you for the post and helping me continue to wrestle with the question of unity, community, and the challenge of living into them.

      • MaryAnn says:

        Well, I’m not sure that the language is as unambiguous as you suggest. Do I defend the right for them to have a different view? Yes… from a POLITY perspective. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and I defend their right to disagree with what will now be the law of the church. I defend their right to bring further overtures to GA. I defend their right to argue vociferously for their point of view. I defend their right to try and convince me. I defend their right to write letters to the Outlook and place ads in church publications. I defend their right to form affinity groups. And, yes, I defend their right to deny ordination to GLBT persons in their congregations. From a POLITY perspective.

        But I do not defend their “right to say no” from a SCRIPTURAL or a THEOLOGICAL perspective. As if discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is just one valid opinion among many. I believe, as humbly as I can, that it is not, just as I believe discrimination on the basis of race and gender is not. I admit I may be wrong about what scripture says. And I believe they come at their interpretation honestly. But I will not “defend their right to say no” on scriptural terms.

        Now, it may be obvious to you that of course the letter-writers intend the former—that the signatories intend to defend their rights from a polity perspective. And I’m sure my friends who signed it are going for that. But I think the language is very unclear.

        I think it also depends on who we’re defending these views TO. That’s not clear either. Folks outside the church don’t give a crap about the finer points of our judicial system. They want to know whether I’m going to defend that view, defend people’s “right to say no” to the full inclusion of GLBT people, as a valid choice given what the scriptures say. I just can’t do that. And maybe we shouldn’t concern ourselves with people outside the church right now while we’re having this family squabble. But I don’t know how an evangelistic people even does that.

        Let me give you an example. There are denominations that do not use instruments in worship. There are denominations that view the Lord’s Supper as an ordinance and not a sacrament. There are denominations that do not baptize infants. In each and every case, I can defend that view scripturally, even though I don’t hold it. I can defend the Baptists’ “right to say no” to infant baptism. I can point to passages or theological works that back those views up, even though the PCUSA comes down differently. What I am defending is their right to read the scriptures in the way they do. Do you see the difference, and why I can’t do that in the case of opposition to 10A?

        I realize this feels like so much grammatical hair-splitting. The person who sent me the letter admitted that it’s rare that a letter like this says everything exactly the way we would like it to. But for me, it was just too unclear.

        So instead I wrote a blog that’s generated 38 comments. Yeah, THAT’S clear 😉

  21. Rachel Heslin says:

    I think there’s also something to be said to differentiate between signing a letter on behalf of a large organization and reaching out to your own congregation. You are actively doing the latter, as you mentioned in

    When you are building relationships with members of your congregation, you are creating the opportunity to show an open heart, a willing ear, and respect for their position on a very personal level. An open letter doesn’t provide the same sort of invitation for equality of communication and connection.

  22. Andy Acton says:

    amen sista and nice critique, insights from PP and AFC.

    Next topic: Jesus had two dads, discuss 🙂

  23. Hi MaryAnn,
    I’m an evangelical and I’m staying, but not because anyone asked me to! I posted a couple of my reasons for staying over on my blog:, but for me it all boils down to the fact that my freedom of conscience is still being respected. It seems silly to leave unless it is no longer protected, and weak to leave without putting up a fight to defend it.

    That said, I really respect your points here! I hate being condescended to. (Who doesn’t?) And now I really respect you. I don’t need for you to think I’m right just in a different way. You can think I’m a fundamentalist bigot for all I care, because I know that I’m not. So thanks for the great post. See you on Twitter!

    • MaryAnn says:

      I actually read your post yesterday and liked it… thoughtful stuff, AND a Simpsons reference!

      I don’t think you’re a bigot, just incorrect 😉
      I hope someday it will all become clear to each and all of us… in the sweet by and by?

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