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Presbyterians Move Towards Acceptance

Timothy Kincaid

February 25th, 2009


Charlotte, NC, is home to many Presbyterians. So many that the Charlotte Presbytery is the fourth largest in the PCUSA denomination.

Charlotte Presbyterians have, historically, not been particularly supportive of gay ministers. But this has changed.

In a close vote Saturday that reflected deep division, Presbyterian church leaders representing the Charlotte area officially ratified a proposal to end their denomination’s long-standing ban on gays and lesbians becoming pastors and elders.

But this significant victory does not speak to the eventual outcome of the proposal.

For the change to take effect, it will have to be endorsed by 87 of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries by mid-May.

Currently the national tally is 46 presbyteries against the change and 36 for it. The odds are against passage, but it is expected to be much closer than a similar ratification effort in 2002.

Meanwhile, the largest Presbyterian church in Arkansas isn’t waiting for permission.

Little Rock’s Second Presbyterian Church elected Michael Upson as a deacon, along with several other deacons. Upson is openly gay, and has been in a relationship with another man for over twenty years.

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buster
February 25th, 2009 | LINK

A quick correction: The current tally is 46 opposed to the ordination of gays and lesbians, 36 in favor. There has been a remarkable shift toward equality since 2001, but it’s still uncertain whether or not this change will be approved.

Richard Rush
February 25th, 2009 | LINK

This move within the PCUSA is certainly welcome and represents continued progress, but as an example of Christians not all being a bunch of homo loathers, it’s not all that impressive. While large numbers of people who self-identify as Christian (or nominally Christian) have become fair minded toward us, it is not churches that led the way. The relatively secular society has been leading the way, and some churches are being forced to follow. And so far it is the mainstream denominations, such as the PCUSA, that are finding enough wiggle room in their doctrine to make it happen. And even in the PCUSA it still looks like a steep climb.

Religions seem to have an irritating habit of taking credit for all positive outcomes while deflecting responsibility for any negative ones, and of rewriting history. I fully expect that many years from now Christians will take full credit for ending society’s persecution of homosexuals, while deflecting responsibility for the additional decades it took to happen due to Christian resistance.

Timothy (TRiG)
February 26th, 2009 | LINK

I agree (again) with Richard Rush. We seem to be scarily alike. Religion has ever been a retarding influence on moral progress.

Religion has often been on the right side of moral questions, but it very rarely gets there first.

Cf. Sam Harris, The End of Faith.

TRiG.

SharonB
February 26th, 2009 | LINK

In my NoVa PCUSA church (PW county), although I am a member, the discussion that was held a couple of months ago caused me a great deal of consternation. The clear direction of the majority at the meeting was that we should vote AGAINST, the proposal, with a great deal of irritation expressed that it was even coming up for a vote again. “Didn’t we decide this already? Why is this coming up again?”

I had thought my church was more progressive than this. It does present me with a dilemma of whether to support them monetarily.

Mark F.
February 26th, 2009 | LINK

This church believes in the Calvinist dosctrine of predestination. Since everything is predetermined, why does either side bother to try to change events? One can’t change God’s predetermined plan.

David C.
February 26th, 2009 | LINK

One can’t change God’s predetermined plan. —Mark F.

Since you appear to know the mind of God, would you care to share with us which plan that would be exactly?

Timothy Kincaid
February 26th, 2009 | LINK

I am saddened when anti-religionists see religion in the same way the anti-gays see my community. ‘Believe all evil, deny all good’ seems to be the mindset.

Mark F.
February 27th, 2009 | LINK

David:

I don’t believe in God.

Timothy:

I’m just noting a doctrine of the Presbyterian Church. Do you deny this is a core belief of Presbyterians? Or have core doctrines changed recently? I’m just asking a question. I’m sure many Presbyterians are generally fine people. They also believe people are predestined to hell by God. Google “John Calvin” or “Reformed Churches.” I’m just wondering why they bother arguing over anything if they believe they can’t change God’s predetermined plan. It’s a simple and reasonable question.

Cris B.
February 27th, 2009 | LINK

Richard Rush? I have to disagree with you about “Christians” and the persecution of homosexuals. Truthfully a true “Christian” a true lover of God does not go around persecuting homosexuals, infact we pray for them that God shine his merciful light upon your soul, path and lives that God open your eyes and allow you to stop contridicting what his word truly speaks about. If his word says somthing why go around it and try to find loop holes to get “religion” to accustom to you? If you are truly in love with God and abide by his word, homosexuality wouldn’t be a concern for you to be defending. Confusion is not of God. God bless you all

Jason D
February 27th, 2009 | LINK

Truthfully a true “Christian” a true lover of God does not go around persecuting homosexuals, infact we pray for them that God shine his merciful light upon your soul, path and lives that God open your eyes and allow you to stop contridicting what his word truly speaks about.

Considering that the evidence against homosexuality in the bible is vague, ambigious, especially when juxtaposed with clear regulations such as “thou shall not kill”, how can you reasonably claim that we are the ones in contradiction? It is entirely possible that on this subject, Cris, it is you who are mistaken about God’s word, not us.

You are definitely mistaken about “confusion”. Gays are not confused, at least those of us outside the closet are no longer confused.

Mark does bring up a good point. If we all have been stamped with “Heaven” or “Hell” at birth, what would be the point of having a discussion about homosexuality? We can’t change God’s plans, nor we can we change our part in them. Predestination has never made much sense to me to begin with, this makes it seem even more incomprehensible.

Timothy Kincaid
February 27th, 2009 | LINK

I’m not a Calvinist, but I don’t think that the theology of predestination is quite the bumper sticker fatalism that is being portrayed here.

If you want to debate Calvinism, you’re probably not going to get much of an informed discussion on this thread.

Cris B.
February 27th, 2009 | LINK

So what you are trying to say is we are all pre-destined by God, and our paths have already been chosen? Makes no sense whats so ever. So we amongst ourselves as humans, have so called, (in what you have tried to explain)been “STAMPED” of heaven or hell? A quick scripture that many know, John 3:16 (no reason to quote and take up space read the verse and you can than see why I do not agree with you). Bible tells us by our fruits is what we are judged upon.

Me confused? I am human and when I find a sense of confusion upon me, I pray to God and ask for him to make things clear, and nothing is more clear than his word.

Leviticus 18:22 ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.

God is merciful and he shows his mercy within this passage. I am not here to say that God hates, dislikes or does not love homosexuals, For the God that I serve loves all of us equally, But I will say through his word God may love us all equally, but if our actions are not in accordance to what he has expressed through his word as doing right, than people we are in the wrong.

It’s easy to sugarcoat his words and twist his words around to make things a lot more accustom to what makes you feel like your doing right. But when his word specifically says do not lie with a man the way you would lie with a woman (vice versa) I don’t know how much more clear he needs to put it.

I would say look deep in your heart and ask yourself do you feel your living in accordance to God’s standards? Or are you living in accordance to the your own standards and hoping God accepts them?

Cris B.
February 27th, 2009 | LINK

Jason D. [quote]You are definitely mistaken about “confusion”. Gays are not confused, at least those of us outside the closet are no longer confused.[quote]

If you feel your actions are leading you to keep yourself trapped in a closet, and your freedom is coming out of it and hoping for acceptance.

I believe your confused.

Timothy Kincaid
February 27th, 2009 | LINK

Cris B.

You make a number of assumptions that do not work in your favor.

First, while many of our readers are Christians, many others are not. Many of those here hold your scripture as no higher authority than the Koran or the Egyptian Book of the Dead. While you may think that the Bible is authoritative, appealing to scripture is pointless for convincing those who do not share your faith. It’s no more effective than someone quoting the Koran to you.

Second, you assume that those here that do adhere to Christian faith are less familiar than you with Scripture. You seem to think that if you just quote Leviticus then you will prove some point.

Sorry.

But most of our readers are more informed about the “clobber passages” than you. We, for example, also know that abominations include eating shellfish and wearing cotton-poly blend. And we know that the original intent of the scripture you quote related to establishing religious differences with the Canaanite peoples (the remnants of the Hittite Empire) who had temple prostitution.

We know that Jesus spoke about sexual minorities but also warned us that some, like you, would not have ears to hear. We know that he healed the pais of a Roman – most likely his male concubine and that the very first non-Jewish convert to Christianity was a sexual minority.

It’s easy to forgive you for your religious arrogance, your self-righteousness, and your willful condemnation. You simply aren’t well schooled or knowledgable.

I do suggest, Cris B., that before you go off to evangelize again that you let go of your presumptions of superiority and holiness, that you come listening rather than expounding, and – most importantly – that you have a clue about what you are talking about.

Emily K
February 27th, 2009 | LINK

Hey Cris B., I guess that leaves lesbians like me in the clear. I’m not a man, and I do not lie with other man.

That is the literal and clear meaning of the text, is it not?

(btw, don’t try quoting “new testament” verses at me b/c i’m a big fat Jew)

Richard Rush
February 27th, 2009 | LINK

Timothy (Kincaid), you are a good man, and I am sad that you are saddened (I’m not being sarcastic, in case it sounds that way).

I understand that the focus of this blog is certainly not religion. But, as I read this blog (and others) that chronicle the battle for gay equality, there is one thing I see consistently present in nearly every posting, whether it is explicitly mentioned or not mentioned at all. That one thing is the presence of religion as “the elephant in the room” which is so often ignored. I see virtually 100% of our organized opposition as based on, or supported by, religious belief.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think moderate Christians, in general, tend to view fundamentalists as a “them” being substantially different from themselves. I, in contrast, as a non-believer, tend to see both groups as being closer together, and more on a continuous scale with a blurred area in the middle, but with significant distinctions between the opposite ends of the scale. There are certain basic things which I presume even the most moderate Christians believe, and they include Jesus being the son of God, the virgin birth story, the resurrection story, viewing the Bible is the inspired word of God, and that prayers are actually answered. I think that if one believes those basic supernatural things, then it is not that great a leap to becoming more fundamentalist. I have personally seen some people make that leap. I think even moderate religious belief needs to be publicly challenged because that belief helps enable and feed the expansion of fundamentalism.

As a non-believer there are things that jump out at me in the media (and social interactions) that Christians don’t even notice due to their living in a Christian-dominated or Christian-centric world. As gay people we should all be able to understand that feeling from living in a heterosexual-dominated/centric world.

Oh, and by the way, I grew up in the PCUSA.

Jason D
February 27th, 2009 | LINK

[quote]It’s easy to sugarcoat his words and twist his words around to make things a lot more accustom to what makes you feel like your doing right.[quote]

These words easily apply to you as well. How do you know it is not YOU that is twisting, sugarcoating?

Timothy Kincaid
February 27th, 2009 | LINK

Richard,

I know that you believe the things that you are writing. Which is what frustrates me.

It is tax season and it would take me an hour to respond adequately (which I don’t have) to your presumptions about relion. But you are mistaken, deeply and thoroughly.

So… quickly (and inadequately):

1. No most Christians don’t view conservatives as “other”. They see them as brothers with whom they disagree. And that is one thing that slows down true advancement, that liberal Christians very cautiously and carefully seek not to force their “radical new” ideas on those who aren’t there yet. They pray together and hope for unity next year. And the year after that…

2. Religion is not the basis for the 100% of the animus against gays. It’s probably not the basis for the majority.

Read that again.

Even if there weren’t seven clobber verses, there would still be anti-gay animus. We are different from at least 90% of the populace and folks have a really hard time with what is different. Whether or not there are words in a sacred text.

Religion acts symbiotically with culture. Seldom does religion dictate, more often it reflects the culture around it.

Currently there is some “but its a sin” stuff from people who are simply parroting their church or their culture, but (and pay attention to this) church adherents are no more likely to obey the dictates of their church than are gay people likely to obey the dictates of the Human Rights Campaign.

We know that it is laughable when anti-gays talk about Homosexual Leaders and their evil agenda that is blindly followed by poor deluded gays. It truly is equally laughable to think of churches and believers the same way.

And when it comes to politicians, very few are motivated by some fear of a vengeful God. Especially Republicans.

As the culture moves, so does religion. And (cuz I see it coming), no religion is not what’s holding culture back. In many instances, it is leading culture.

Why, exactly, is it that culture has changed; because gays are so very very influential and did it alone? No.

Just look at the history of the Quakers and the Unitarians and the UCC and others who were advocating for gay rights long before Stonewall.

When people have biases, they need to hear that it’s moral and correct to give up those biases. And churches have for decades been saying exactly that.

I know that this will instinctually be hard to take, but it’s true: if there were no gay-supportive churches, there would be no gay-supportive laws. It is the ambiguity coming from the faith community that allows society to accept us.

Doubt that? Look at areas that have only one dominant anti-gay faith (e.g. Utah). And look at those with many diverse faiths (e.g. California).

3. At the risk of offending you, I think perhaps you’re looking for offense from religion. So, yeah, you find it.

I’m not trying to convert you or any other non-believers to some belief system but I don’t want to be converted either. So the constant anti-religion stuff gets tiresome.

If I say, “Luterans support gay marriage”, there is from some here a knee-jerk reaction, “Ohhh. Religion. Bad!!” I say, “Presbyterians elect gay deacon” and the response is, “Ohhh. Religion. Bad!!”

It truly is possible to note advances and positive steps in some religious communities without having to be constantly told, “but they are religious, and that’s evil evil evil”.

Jason D
February 28th, 2009 | LINK

Timothy,
In the old days the harshest punishment wasn’t death, it was exile. Being tossed out of your community, your world, away from your loving home, and the shelter of civilization to deal with the harsh world alone, to fend off predators, scavengers, murderers, thieves, rapists, hunger, snow, ice, rain, on your own was a fate worse than death.

Many gays have been exiled just for being who they are, and this was justified by faith.

And that is why you hear “ooh, religion bad”. I’m not defending their viewpoint, I am merely saying that if the one thing that was supposed to protect and love you rejected you and tossed you out to fend for yourself, especially at a young age, you wouldn’t exactly be up for hearing about it’s better qualities, or how much it’s grown, now would you?

I would urge to you accept the fact that some people have been two deeply cut by the church to ever truly hear or believe anything positive you have to say on the matter. When people are abandoned by their faith, they tend to abandon what they have been taught — like forgiveness. Which is not to say you should give up, just that it’s probably time for a new set of tactics, if not a new perspective.

Richard Rush
March 1st, 2009 | LINK

Timothy, thank you for responding. You have given me some things to think about. The following is not just a response to your comments, but some is.

There are two issues that I see as often getting tangled up. The issue of god-existence is, or should be, completely separate from the issue of religion being positive or negative (or some of both),and including how we have been treated by a religion’s adherents.

I was well along the path to becoming a non-believer long before developing any negative opinions about religion. For me, it was never a matter of it religion being “evil,” it was just that I saw much more logic and reason on the side of non-belief. And any difficulties that I experienced growing up gay I perceived as from society in general, not from religion.

Many Christians find it convenient or self-comforting to say things like “you hate God (or reject God) so that you can indulge your sin without any guilt.” That allows them to ignore that there may be good logic and reasons for non-belief, while demonizing the non-believer at the same time.

Timothy suggests that I find “evil” or “offense” in religion because I’m looking for it. Not necessarily. Initially, any negative attributes found me, I didn’t go looking for them. While it’s true that accepting negatives becomes more possible when one is a non-believer, I think of it in terms of me just being more unbiased (I’m sure you’re laughing at that, Timothy). It is also true that, as a non-believer, it is difficult to see anything positive from encouraging belief in things that are not true, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily evil. Given that (daily) for some years now I have been reading blogs (such as Boxturtle) and websites of anti-gay groups (all Christian-based I must note), it should be understandable that I find virtually nothing positive. And eight years of the Bush administration wound up tight with right wing Christianity didn’t help.

I really do try to remember that the Religious Right does not nearly represent the full spectrum of Christianity. But they are motivated, loud, persistent, organized, and well funded for anti-gay campaigns, while I perceive other Christian groups as relatively unmotivated, quiet, and not organized or funded for any campaigns on our behalf.

Timothy cites the Quakers, Unitarian/Universalists, and the United Church of Christ as examples that have been “advocating for gay rights long before Stonewall.” I admire those groups (for more than just their gay stance), but combined they are a very small percentage of American Christians.

Timothy wrote, “Religion is not the basis for the 100% of the animus against gays. It’s probably not the basis for the majority.” I didn’t say it was. I said “virtually 100% of our organized opposition is based on, or supported by, religious belief,” and I still stand by that.

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