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Building Gracious Space in the PCUSA: Shared Service

God alone is Lord of the conscience,
and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men
which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship.
(Book of Confessions, 6.109, The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, F-3.0101a)

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—to tell the truth, the Church Universal—has struggled for generations over interpretation of Scripture, each specific disagreement roiling the church. The Protestant emphasis upon personal relationship with God in Christ through reading the Bible has been the foundation for one controversy after another. The most recent is over the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people among us.

For most of this time we had one solution to the challenge of holding together when we disagreed on God’s will for us: we shared in service to others. I have participated in this, as you have, I expect.

For example, four or five times, I joined the More Light Presbyterians Rainbow Corps, traveling to New Orleans to work with other Presbyterians under the auspices of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to help rebuild homes after Hurricane Katrina. All us volunteers were Presbyterians from across the country from all kinds of churches.

When we gathered in the morning for prayer and directions from our site leader for the day, what mattered was your skill in carpentry or strength of back or willingness to learn and follow orders. It didn’t matter that I am a bisexual person or that my partner assigned to measure and cut dry wall with me is certain that Romans 1:26-27 settles any questions about God’s judgment of LGBT people. We could build common ground by building houses.

This is only one instance of how we have tried and tried in the PCUSA to build gracious space by commitment to sharing in what we all agree upon: service in Christ’s name to those in need. To everyone’s dismay, the decades-long exodus of churches and the enclave mentality of left and right suggest that this has not worked particularly well. Why?

Here’s my answer: in the midst of our shared service, we fail to share ourselves with each other.

One of the memories of MLP Rainbow Corps I most cherish was the year we were assigned to demolish the inside of a ruined home with a group of Presbyterians from Burlingame, California. We Rainbow Corps volunteers were intentional in wearing t-shirts that declared we were from More Light, known as the LGBT group in the PCUSA. After several hours of pulling nails—that was my low skill job—and other tasks, the whole crew sat down together for lunch.

We shared from our sacks and we cautiously shared of ourselves. It turned out their church is a pretty conservative one. Conversation was superficial at first. Then, questions were asked and we all answered them honestly from our hearts. Tough situations some of them faced, like a gay grandchild, were shared. How Scripture informed our faith was offered and received respectfully, if not with agreement.

This was freedom of conscience in action. Our shared service in Christ to the needy brought us together. Our shared respect for one another as Christians and Presbyterians prompted us to delve below the surface of casual conversation. I like to think that our conversations that week in New Orleans helped keep that Burlingame church in the Presbyterian fold. God knows.

One way to encourage that conversation is to provide service opportunities that prompt serious conversation in sensitive areas of disagreement. For example, most Presbyterian congregations are in areas that struggle with the problem of homeless youth. Research shows that a large percentage of those homeless will be LGBT youth, often shunned by their religious family and their church.

Why don’t Presbyterians, who disagree on Scripture’s word regarding LGBT people, work together in service to the homeless? Might the plight of the homeless spark deeper conversations? Curbing bullying and support for LGBT asylum seekers fleeing criminalization in their home countries are two other needs that offer the church gracious space for sacred conversation.

Shared service is good. It’s a start toward being the church together. What we need to add to it is the respect for one another assumed in the PCUSA tradition we call “freedom of conscience.” With this, shared service to the needy becomes a fertile gracious space in which we build together the PCUSA of the 21st century.


Other Posts in the Building Gracious Space Series:

Getting to wonder

Building Trust Through Kindness



Shared Feelings

Bisexuality 201

“There are more things in heaven and on earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”                        – Hamlet

Bisexuality has been too long oversimplified in the Church. We had some deep discussions within the Family, in our own LGBTQ+ people-of-faith circles, but censored ourselves in front of non-ally straight folks as we presented to Sunday School classes or testified at GA, so as not to confuse them. (As we used to say, it’s not that bisexuals are confused. It’s that I’m bisexual; you’re confused.) In our attempt to simplify matters, there are some things we just didn’t talk about in church.

Identities Defying Categorization

For example, too often we let a one-dimensional Kinsey Scale of sexuality suffice to describe  the range and variation in our human community. By now even most Presbyterians have probably learned to place same-sex attraction on one end of a scale, and opposite-sex attraction on the other, and to think of bisexuality as somewhere in the middle… but there are other less linear dimensions of sexuality we don’t discuss. For example, Fritz Klein expanded Kinsey’s work to consider not just sexual orientation but also affectional orientation, sexual behavior, sexual fantasies whether they are acted upon or not, social preferences, and self-identification. He recognized that these experiences change over time for individuals. You can take a Klein quiz here; be warned that taking this quiz might provide multiple new perspectives on your sexuality.

Bisexuality is a sensibility that can hold multiple truths; you might score one way on sexual orientation, and another way on affectional orientation, and this multiplicity is accepted as part of who we are. This brings us to a second oversimplification: presenting (or not correcting) a definition of bisexuality as attraction to “both” sexes or “either” gender, which problematically reinforces the gender binary.  But as several bi bloggers have recently reminded us, the “bi” in bisexuality has long been about resisting binary constructs. In the case of Kinsey or Klein we defied categories by positioning  between, as simultaneously neither and both “homosexual” (attracted to genders like our own) and “heterosexual” (attracted to genders different from our own).  The quintessentially queer potential to radically re-define heterosexuality as attraction to multiple genders other than one’s own is intriguing indeed.  Why couldn’t we talk about this in church? In reducing bisexuality to attraction to “both” genders, we have set limits on our own understandings of how God has created us, and failed to extend full welcome in particular to bi+ and trans* folks.

I say bi+ because, as with trans*, in efforts to broaden or blow up restrictive categories, multiple related identities have proliferated into a bi+ family of identities, including ambisexual, omnisexual, pansexual, fluid, and unlabeled. This is in addition to reclaimed labels some bi people use like dyke and queer, as well as related but distinctly not-bi labels like heteroflexible, homoflexible, bi-curious, and questioning.  Bi+ people hold every type of gender identity including trans* and cis-gender identities. Churches may find it challenging to stay up to date with new labels and no labels, but the starting place is to get to know the bi+ community.

Challenging Mononormativity

There is something about this potential to love people of any (or at least more than one) gender that puts some monosexuals into a promiscuity panic. This is so even though many monosexuals have the potential to love individuals with, say, any eye color, but no one assumes that means they are interested in a hazel-blue-brown menage a trois.

Because there was (and still is) a stereotype of bisexuals as promiscuous (with judgments following), we did not question the mononormative  narrative. But can we go there for a minute? What does the Church have to say about polyamory or other post-mononormative relationships? Let’s be clear: research on sexuality and monogamy suggests a broad swath of folks regardless of sexual orientation both aspire to and successfully practice monogamy, and at the same time there are also members of all sexual orientations who choose instead to make polyamorous commitments, who are monogamish (mostly monogamous; faithfulness means honesty but not exclusivity), or who make monogamous commitments but fail to keep them (i.e. cheat). The three cannot be morally equated because while the latter is a betrayal and breach of morality, the former two are commitments that entail explicit and exacting ethics deserving discussion in faith communities.

So why bring all this up in a post about bisexuality? Because this dance we have been doing, this “love me, I’m not like the other bisexuals, I’m monogamous,” is itself biphobic.  Psychology studies have generally not found increased rates of non-monogamy among bisexuals but a recent study interestingly found differences in attitudes toward monogamy.  As a blogger discussing the findings noted, these data don’t mean bi people are incapable of practicing monogamy (in fact large majorities of bi  men and women in the study reported practicing monogamy), but it does suggest that  “the same flexibility that allows bisexuals to defy societal constraints on who they can love also allows them to defy social constraints on how many they can love, and how. Their attraction to both sexes may be just an additional impetus for questioning the monogamy norm.” And as we know from Klein, this questioning could take many forms along different dimensions from theory to practice, and from affectional to sexual.

As it happens, queer theology has already gone there, decades ago. For example, Presbyterian and Professor of Christian Ethics Marvin Ellison put it this way in his book Erotic Justice:

Some marriages make room for additional sexual partners. Others thrive only by maintaining sexual exclusivity. Although justice requires relational fidelity, the precise requirements of this fidelity cannot be determined in advance (86).

The sexual ethic Ellison puts forward of justice-love — based on the substance rather than the form of relationships — is as challenging as it is liberating:

Living comfortably with change and ambiguity requires maturity and a willingness to delight in difference and novelty. It also requires confidence in our collective ability to make meaningful moral distinctions and responsible choices. Religious communities should not be policing people’s sex lives, but rather educating them about this real world of sexual diversity and expanding their moral imaginations (88).

Can we face the ambiguity demanded of us? Do we have the moral imagination to comprehend how polyamorous partners can develop highly principled faithful relationships, or how monogamish couples might reflect Rita Nakashima Brock’s observation”that human needs are met in a variety of ways”? It’s complicated, yes. But we owe it to our community to be honest with ourselves and the Church. It is not enough to leave it at “I’m bisexual; you’re confused.”


By Donna Riley on August 15, 2014

Donna Riley

A life-long Presbyterian, ordained deacon, and bisexual woman, Donna Riley served as the first webspinner for Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns starting in 1995, as a member of the national boards of PLGC and MLP from 1997-2005, and as Co-Moderator of MLP from 2003-2005. She has been a member of Sixth Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA, Jan Hus Presbyterian Church in New York City, and Treasurer of the Western Massachusetts House Church. Since 2001 her day job has been teaching engineering at Smith College, the first US women’s college to house an engineering program. She will be spending the next year in Washington DC and looks forward to reconnecting with the Open Doors chapter and More Light churches in the area. She is currently working a federal government detail in Washington, where she is a member of Church of the Pilgrims.

Bring Many Names

The Magnificat, or the Song of Mary, is one of the best known and most loved prayers in all of Christendom.  At a time when an unmarried, pregnant teenage girl was justifiably distracted by her circumstances, she takes time to give thanks to the Creator.  It is an amazing act of spiritual maturity that I’m not sure I would have been able to pull off, if I were in her shoes.  Luke 1:46b-55, records the Magnificat this way:

1:46b “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

I wonder how different the Magnificat would sound, if Mary lived in our post-modern time.  Would Mary have been so quick to refer to God using strictly masculine pronouns?  How much more expansive would this amazing prayer have been if Mary’s perception of the Holy One had not been so limited?  I like to think that a 21st century Mary, unbound by 1st century cultural restraints, would have chosen language that reflected a bigger, more inclusive, view of God.

I get that viewing the Creator as male has dominated the culture since well before Mary’s time.  It is the view that most of us, of a certain age, grew up with and it is still the predominate view of the vast majority of our fellow sisters and brothers in the church.

But what do we lose when we assign a specific gender to God?  I wonder what perspectives we deny ourselves when God is seen as a man?  I believe we lose the possibility of viewing God in a manner that is affirming to all of Creation.

Viewing God as “Father”, “King”, “Lord”, etc. can be valid expressions of the Divine, however, these views are often used to justify a patriarchal world view that marginalizes anyone who isn’t male.  Throw in the fact that many who view God in this manner often have no issue with seeing the Creator as white and heterosexual and, Houston, we have a problem.  Witness the sexism, racism and homophobia which still run rampant in our society and in the church.

The full nature of our Creator is far beyond our seeing.  To limit our view of God to a specific gender or race places us in a box which blocks us from receiving God’s abundance and allows us to deprives ourselves and others the totality of our Creator’s grace and mercy.

This Advent season, let us sing a new, 21st century version of the Magnificat.  Let us sing to the glory of a God who is beyond all comprehending.  Let us sing to God bringing many names.

Bring many names, beautiful and good,
celebrate, in parable and story,
holiness in glory, living, loving God.
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!

Strong mother God, working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation, genius at play:
Hail and hosanna, strong mother God!

Warm father God, hugging every child,
feeling all the strains of human living,
caring and forgiving till we’re reconciled:
Hail and hosanna, warm father God!

Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,
glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and hosanna, old aching God!

Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and hosanna, young, growing God!

Great, living God, never fully known,
joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
Hail and hosanna, great, living God!

Bring Many Names: Words: Brian Wren
Words © 1989, revised 1994 by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188.


Nathan Sobers is a Ruling Elder in the PC (USA), and the Co-Moderator of More Light Presbyterians national board of directors. He and his husband, Michael Kuntz, live in Seattle where Nathan is currently completing a Pastoral Internship at Lake City Presbyterian Church.

A Lesson Learned

Ten years ago I volunteered for a marriage equality non-profit in Connecticut called Love Makes a Family (LMF).  I was a passionate Divinity School student eager to stand up as an ally for LGBTQ rights.

As part of my work on LMF’s Speakers Bureau, I attended a workshop that trained us as public speakers and advocates for same-sex marriage in the state.  One of the exercises was to come up with a 30-second introduction to ourselves that communicated why we were advocates for marriage equality.  I thought this would be a simple exercise.  I thought the hardest part would be squeezing as many reasons for supporting LGBTQ rights into my 30 second spiel as possible.  But as I tried to jot down ideas, I quickly discovered I didn’t know what to say.  No, wait.  That’s not quite right.  I had a good idea what to say.  The problem was that I didn’t know how to say it.

Time ran out, and my speech was not ready.  But, thankfully, others volunteered to stand up and tell their stories.  At first, I didn’t listen with full attention, but kept working on my own speech in my head.  And then my attention was seized by the story of one man, whom I’ll call Bill.  Bill and his partner had wanted to marry for some time.  But that was no longer possible because his partner was not a U.S. citizen and had recently been deported.  His partner’s chances of gaining admittance back into the country were slim.  If Bill had been able to marry the man he loved, he never would have been deported.  International travel wasn’t financially possible for him, and he wasn’t sure how their relationship would survive.  His voice quavered as he told this story, and everyone in the room was shaken by the reality that Bill and his partner would never have the life together that they so longed for.

He sat down.  Another person stood up to speak, and then another.  I listened with full attention.  And with each story I heard, I learned the most important lesson any ally can learn.  When I had started writing my speech, I made the giant mistake of thinking it was my job to speak for the LGBTQ community.  That’s not my job.  Bill’s story is not my story.  It was my job to listen, to learn, and — only then — to speak from my own experience about why I fight for justice for LGBTQ persons.  So I stood up and told my story.

My name is John.  I am a heterosexual man in love with and married to a woman.  I have never felt uncomfortable holding my partner’s hand in public.  I have never questioned whether my parents, friends, or church will approve of our relationship.  I have never worried that moving to a new state with different marriage laws could complicate how my partner and I are able to care for one another and our children.  And I advocate for LGBTQ rights because no one should have to worry about these things.


John Anderson
John Anderson is a stay-at-home dad and a scholar with a Ph.D. from Loyola University Chicago and a Masters from Yale Divinity School.  He has taught at numerous colleges and is published in the Journal of Religious Ethicsand in the book, Queering Religion, Religious Queers.  John is passionate about bridging the gap between the academic study of theology and the church, and teaches and leads discussion groups in congregations whenever he can.  He is especially interested sexuality education as a ministry of the church and is a certified facilitator of Our Whole Lives, a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum.  John lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with his family.

National Committee (NC) of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship


As some of you may know, the National Committee (NC) of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has made a serious commitment to address racism and to begin by making anti-racism a part of each of our meetings.

At our most recent NC meeting in September a new group of members brought new life to an effort for us to take a look at our own whiteness. The awful grand jury decisions of recent weeks has caused us to realize that now is the time for us to step up and do what we say we want to do on this matter. It’s time for us to march in solidarity with our African-American sisters and brothers.

Please join me in DC for the Justice for All March (#justice4all) this Saturday, December 13, 2014. Let’s meet at the corner of 14th and E at Freedom Plaza at 10:00 a.m.and join the families of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Akai Gurley, the mother of Tamir Rice, the family of Trayvon Martin, the Reverend Al Sharpton for this gathering and march to the Capitol. Look for me with the PPF banner.

Email me at if you’re planning on coming so we can be on the lookout for you.

peace always,

Rev. Fritz Gutwein
Associate Director
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

Why Trans* Rights Should Matter to the Church

My coming to faith and my coming to consciousness about gender identity have strangely run in tandem. I came out as bisexual in 1995 at the age of 19, but felt somewhat unsettled by the “T” in our LGBT alphabet soup; I had a difficult enough time understanding how I could be attracted to persons other than women, so wrapping my head around “being born in the wrong body” was just too much. I had no frame of reference, so I defaulted to the comfortable binary of “us” and “them.” Over the years, as I was sometimes not fully accepted by some gay men (who thought I only had one foot out of the closet) or by certain heterosexual women (who felt distrustful of me because of my open attraction to men), I began to understand what it was like to be an outsider, even within a community of outsiders. I befriended trans* persons who also felt the sting of ostracism from the community. In developing deep relationships with trans* persons, I began to realize that I had internalized a lot of cultural assumptions about gender, especially as it relates to sexuality: we are either male or female, gay or straight, butch or femme, top or bottom. Even the term “bisexual” reflects an “either this or that” approach. (From more information, read my fellow MLP blogger Donna Riley’s excellent piece “Bisexuality 201.”)

Similarly, being raised as an atheist, it took the suicide of my schizophrenic brother—and my own version of a Damascus Road experience—to realize that Christian identity can be much different from what our culture portrays.  It took me some years to realize that not all Christians are literalists; not all followers of Christ are homophobic; not all church communities will cast you out of the vineyard if you believe in a woman’s right to choose, if you regard all persons as made in God’s image, or if you dare question the authority of Scripture. Not all communities are like this, but finding those that are not can sometimes take a good deal of work. From the ages of twenty six to thirty one, I searched for a spiritual home, finally finding a church community filled with people who were giving God—and organized religion—one last chance, a place where the phrase “not that kind of Christian” did not need to be spoken because it was simply understood. I found a community that nurtured my call, and supported me all the way through ordination. After a long journey, I am blessed to be a UCC pastor serving a More Light PC (USA) congregation in my hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio.

But not everything is hallelujahs and amens. In Ohio, it is still legal to fire a person because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Amazingly, I see more and more people in the State—people who still have rather conservative social views in other areas—coming around regarding the inclusion of GLB persons. Sadly, though, I sense the same sort of cultural uncertainty about trans* persons as I personally felt in my early twenties. I know empowered, forthright trans* and gender-fluid persons who are willing to educate and inform, but I also know of their fatigue. I know that they feel as though their gender identity is almost always guaranteed to be a topic of conversation (replete with rude, invasive questions) nearly every day. As a person who has a seemingly endless supply of privilege (I’m White, Christian, male, educated, and in a “traditional” relationship, as I’m married to a woman), I feel called to use my voice to help bring change to those areas in which I wield influence.

Inclusion of trans* individuals and couples is central to following the Gospel. Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:28 that, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV). While we should not use this passage to dismiss the gender identity of any person, we should see that God is directing us to see what unifies us as persons. The call to Christian life is a call to see that all are created by and called to fullness of life by God. Further, we confess that God creates human persons in God’s image: “male and female God [elohim] made them.” The Hebrew word elohim is fluid, being used both to designate singular or plural and male or female (see, for example, 1 Kings 11:5). It does not seem too great of a stretch to think that God’s own image can include a person who has one set of sex organs and another gender identity; it is does not seem too much to think of God as being intersex, a reality that will unsettle many, given the recent discussions regarding Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ self-described girlfriend ( And, at the risk of sounding too bold, it may be time for us to consider that if God is to have any gender identity at all, God most certainly is gender-fluid.

In the end, the interesting theological questions take a back seat to the very real, immediate, and pressing need for the Church to be present in the suffering of trans* persons. We are called by God to address issues of injustice, to affirm the inherent dignity of all created in God’s image, and to be a people of hospitality and radical love. Conversations about trans* inclusivity are difficult, and require education and patience, but it is essential that we who are allies engage and don’t leave the task solely to our trans* siblings. For tips on how to be an ally, see GLAAD’s excellent resource:

This Advent, let us challenge ourselves to think about how to make room in our own inns; let us acknowledge that the Holy Family is not typical, but is unusual: a woman who has not been touched by a man; a human father ready to adopt a child not of his seed; and a child who will grow up with a sense of having two dads. This is not a Hallmark card; this is the tough reality of family being complicated. God is in the business of bringing people together, of challenging us to love in radical ways. Advent and Christmas can be an especially lonely time for trans* persons, so the need for loving, affirming, and supportive church communities are legion. Let us enter into the fullness of congregational life, flinging open our doors and calling in all persons made in God’s image, and knowing that the blessings come with seeing God more clearly when we do so.  


The Rev. Aaron Maurice Saari is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, currently serving First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs, a More Light PC (USA) congregation in Ohio. An academic, Aaron has taught at numerous universities and is best known for his book, The Many Deaths of Judas Iscariot: A Meditation on Suicide. He is passionate about social justice, GLBT rights, and multifaith dialogue. He also serves as Interfaith Campus Minister at Sinclair Community College.


Featured Holiday Image: Courtesy of


In Southeast Asia, if you’ve been examining a vendor’s wares, then turn away, most sellers will quickly pull out another item in a similar style or color and say, “Look! Same Same But Different.” This is such a familiar come-on that folks in those countries also sell a t-shirt with the words “Same Same” on the front and “But Different” on the back.

I was raised in a church that has a lot in common with the PC(USA), a church in the Reformed tradition—Same Same. My parents were missionaries in the Navajo Nation, and my father groomed me to follow in his footsteps. I loved my church, although not uncritically, and I fully hoped that one day I would receive a call from God—not to be a minister, because as a woman that wouldn’t be allowed, but to be someone who served in God’s kingdom.

What God called me to be was a lesbian, but by the time I was sixteen, I knew that there was no place for me in the church I loved. I spent almost the next forty years wandering in a spiritual wilderness. A rabbi friend of mine taught during a Seder, “When the people of Israel left The Narrows (Egypt), they entered the wide-open place, the wilderness. The wilderness belongs to no one; hence, it belongs to everyone. This signifies to us that spiritual teachings are for everyone. No one group can lay claim to any one teaching.” For me, wandering in a spiritual wilderness meant being taught by many traditions—among them Judaism, Tantric meditation, Buddhism and also Christianity, though not within the Church.

All that time, I kept trying to find a spiritual home. I finally realized that I was looking for a place that was “Same Same But Different.” I was looking for a place where the form was similar to what I grew up with—a liturgical service, some familiar hymns, and similar church government—but where the spirit was different. Most of all, I was looking for a Christian community that welcomed me as I am—a lesbian committed to social justice, who no longer believed everything that I had been taught was a requirement for being a Christian. On my first Sunday at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, the outreach elder said, “We welcome you wherever you are in your faith journey,” bringing on the first of many tears of reconciliation that I would shed.

I was looking for a community where I could fellowship and serve God in the world. I was heartened that the PC(USA) had by that time allowed LGBTQ ministers in committed partnerships to serve. Each time another step has been taken by the PC(USA) toward equality for all Christians, I have rejoiced, not only for myself but for others who, like me have been turned away from the community that should have been the safest, the most loving, the most supportive place for us. After all, Jesus said, “Come unto me, all of you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Surely that welcome, that comfort, must also come from Jesus’ church.

Now the PC(USA) is on the brink of another decision—whether or not to welcome us LGBTQ Christians fully by describing marriage as “between two persons.” At this time in my life, I don’t think it is likely that I will marry, but I see an inclusive description of marriage as essential to full membership for LGBTQ persons within the Body of Christ.

I have shared a little of the story of my journey to a place that is “Same Same But Different” for two reasons: 1) because I am a new member of the MLP blogging team and wanted you to get to know me a bit; and 2) more importantly, I believe that our stories are powerful, that they help to change people’s minds and hearts. In future posts, I plan to share other peoples’ stories—LGBTQ Christians in the Church; ones who have left church, whether with satisfaction or still longing for home; Christian allies; “straight” Christians struggling with whether or not they can be allies—to name a few.

We all have stories to share—that is our richness. Do you have a story you’d like to share? If so, please do leave a comment, sharing your story right here and now, or leave me a message, and I will contact you. I can also be reached through my website:

Anna Redsand was raised in the Navajo Nation by missionaries in the Reformed tradition. She left that church at 25 because of its policy regarding LGBTQ Christians. She spent nearly 40 years learning from other spiritual traditions and also Christianity. She joined St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque three years ago. Anna is the author of Viktor Frankl: A Life Worth Living and The Silver Cup: My Journey from Loss of Faith, Through Exile and Beyond, which will be released in Spring 2015. Her daughter lives in Denver.

Expecting Injustice: My Reaction to White America

Recently on the train, there was small group of black people being rowdy, listening to music and rapping, gathered on one side. On the other side of the train, where I stood, more white people began to gather along with all the black people who weren’t rowdy. We all got on the train at the same time. It was happenstance that we were segregated from one another. The black woman closest to the rowdy group eventually got frustrated and further distanced herself from them. One of the men from the group got upset and called her “horse face” and told us all on this side of the train that we were white. He assumed the three of us assimilated to white culture, thereby disregarding our identities as black people. When he and his friends exited the train to participate in the Ferguson protest on Michigan Avenue, an older white gentleman sat down and told her, “No wonder the police shoot them. I’m sorry but that’s just unacceptable.” He assumed, she wasn’t one of “them.”

I felt a tear roll down my cheek. Like my fellow rowdy people of color, I was deeply angry. For me, it wasn’t okay that they were rowdy, but I understood. Just as I am not proud of the riots, but I understand. Last week, mass media kept reporting the surprise at the outbreak of riots and the anger people of color showed after the non-indictment against Darren Wilson. The patronizing, victim blaming report of, “the people of Ferguson did this violence to themselves” reinforces the stereotype of black on black crime. There was little attention paid to the National Guard and militarized police failure to even attempt to protect black businesses.

MLK said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” I believe he is correct. Peaceful protests are tools designed for people to actively listen and create change. I was hoping an indictment would be a sign of some sort of acknowledgment of violence done to people of color. Not only of police brutality towards people of color, but also of the historical and very present violence of racism. Mike Brown was shot and lay on the pavement dead in the August heat for 4 hours. And mass media was surprised at how angry people were?

And now we find ourselves just a week later with the non indictment of Eric Garner. Again, I’m not surprised at his murder or the lack of indictment. As a person of color the lack of justice is normal. However, that doesn’t make me any less angry, sad, or frustrated. Anger, sadness and frustration are healthy and normal responses to police murdering people of color with impunity. Of course we will protest, of course there may be riots, of course it will be another momentary spectacle for all except people of color.

Especially in times like this, as a person of color it feels like my life and other people of color’s lives don’t matter. It feels like white people are more comfortable with the normalization of our deaths, than with doing anything about the racism that inherently exists in white privilege. It feels like many white people stand in solidarity with people of color in theory, but are complacent in practice. The fact is racism is an oppression. It’s systemic. It only benefits white people, the same way heterosexism only benefits straight people. It remains clear to me; people of color are expendable. Mike Brown was no more than a drop in an ocean who was “lucky” enough to be named and given attention. I have always felt this way, far before Mike Brown. It is a hard, but truthful reality all people of color do not have the luxury to ignore. I am naming a reality which mainstream media, society and churches still refuse to name.

We as created beings are all connected. Part of our beauty is a recognition of this unity. Christ called us to love our neighbors as ourselves. In order to do that we must first love our self. So my call to action and reflection for white people is this, do you love yourself enough, to care about the kind of person you become when you are complacent?

Annanda Barclay Annanda Barclay (MLP Board Member) is in the ordination process under the care of Mission Presbytery. She obtained her M.Div. at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Annanda is a member of Central Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX. She is a 2012 Fund for Theological Education Ministry Fellow. Currently Annanda, is continuing pastoral formation as a part-time student chaplain at a local area hospital. She believes the Church is not a silo, but is called to actively advocate for the welfare of all God’s creation. She serves and works with various groups to strategically advocate for intersectional justice, love and kindness. Annanda, her partner M, and their two dogs reside in Chicago, IL.

Building Gracious Space in the PCUSA: Getting to Wonder

God alone is Lord of the conscience,
and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men
which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship.
(Book of Confessions, 6.109, The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, F-3.0101a)


Our beloved Presbyterian Church is on the verge of something remarkable and holy. Starting with the amazing General Assembly in June and continuing in this period of presbytery discernment concerning their recommendations for action, we are beginning to see the outline of God’s will for us together as church in the 21st century.

For me, a new understanding of this holy ground came during a recent conversation with Marc Benton. He and I are both Presbyterian pastors but, until recently, had been on opposite sides on the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in God’s heart and in the church. This past summer he publicly asked forgiveness from those he had harmed for his actions in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) against marriage for lesbian and gay couples. As I am one of those people, I went to see him.

I was saying something, I think, when he literally lifted out of his couch and exclaimed something like, “What you are talking about is ‘fusion of horizons.’ I learned about it from a Palestinian professor who was virulently against the Jews but came to see how the very words each group used for the same event were different. Their horizons were different, limited by their experience of the same happening. Grasping that the moment, itself, is larger than each of our experiences—a fusion of horizons–can hold us together.”

I tell you the room sparkled with excitement at this recognition. I might not have used his words but I cherish exactly what he was describing and yearn desperately for it in the church. We were suddenly on holy ground. Our conversation had become sacred. Wow. We had gotten to wonder.

I learned when I got home that the German philosopher of hermeneutics, Hans-Georg Gadamer, developed this concept, “fusion of horizons.” The way I would describe it is this: The fusion of horizons comes from both the strength of our own vision and the humility that comes from knowing God’s whole is larger than anything we can see. Then we are blessed to know that our view is a valued part of the whole and to receive the gift of a wider perspective that brings us into communion with others within the even larger, mysterious wideness of God.

How can we do other than sit there in wonder together?

For me, this shed new light on freedom of conscience and how it holds us together. We are free to have our own horizons—our conscience before God—and do best when we also accept that our horizon is not all there is. When we do that—hold our view sincerely and humbly acknowledge it is limited—then we can be together with others in a gracious and exciting space created by our fused horizons. Marc can be evangelical; I can be liberal; we can be together in God’s larger space that includes and extends beyond our own perspectives.

I like to think that fusion of horizons was what our ancestors were getting at in their own way in the Westminster Confession of Faith section on freedom of conscience. We cannot know for sure. Still, I find it exciting to consider that God alone being Lord of the conscience led them to this same place of wonder.

And, it strikes me that this is one way to explain how Marc and I came to the same conclusion about marriage for same-gender couples. We both came to know LGBT people with horizons different from our own and shared gracious space with them. I happened to do that when I was a child with my Uncles George and Johnny while Marc did it in the past few years with students at the college where he teaches. This is strong testimony to me for how crucial the gracious sharing by LGBT people and our allies of our experience—our horizons—continues to be. When we get to wonder by sharing our horizons in sacred conversation, things sparkle.

This energy of wonder gives me hope in the PCUSA. This is the joy we can have when we create gracious space among us by honoring our freedom of conscience; seeking out sacred conversations and watching God fuse our horizons.

I can’t wait to get to this place of wonder with others—will you join me in this quest?

Ferguson: A Pastoral Response

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O God, you are our Creator; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O God, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

In times like these, when marginalized communities sense the threat of violence for their own livelihood and well-being, words fail. Words fail because the injustice seems insurmountable. Words fail because the system that is supposed to bring justice feels irreconcilably broken. Words fail because we can’t fully articulate the profound anger, sadness, and frustration that this decision engenders in us. But, as Audre Lorde so importantly reminds us, our silence will not protect us.

As an organization that works for the full inclusion of all persons, the injustice of the events surrounding the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, and a decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who committed the murder rings out as a clear cry that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We as More Light Presbyterians cannot stay silent, and we also recognize that we can not say enough. We must step forward, not back, to stay in relationship with those who are counted as other, marginalized, and disconnected from systems that help them to flourish. The violence that has been perpetuated against Mike Brown and the Ferguson community by the non-indictment of Darren Wilson not only minimizes the violence against black bodies, but also affirms a sense of dominance over marginalized communities. We need to affirm, as the hashtag did that emerged after Mike Brown’s shooting, that #blacklivesmatter.  We have a role to play in dismantling the racism that allows for such violence to go unchecked by our legal system.

However, we also need to recognize that Ferguson goes beyond race to bigger questions that demand our solidarity and personal ownership of our own privileges. (see this link) Yet, what Ferguson exposes most clearly is that the black / African American community continues to be threatened due to the militarization of the police. Just a few days ago a 12 year old boy was shot by a police officer in Cleveland. In the face of this injustice we cannot stay silent. As followers of Jesus, we must name the racism inherent in the culture that led to the death of Mike Brown, and we also name that a racist system privileging whiteness does harm to all of us, regardless of the color of our skin. We know that no one is fully free until we are all free. In the midst of this, we also see the need to join together with our black sisters and brothers to help usher in lasting peace and justice.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, beginning a season where we wait expectantly, hopefully, watchfully for the impossible, for the heavens to open up and God to descend down upon us. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims in today’s lectionary text, when God did deeds the people did not expect, that was precisely the moment when God was with us. As those who work for racial justice and peace, it can feel like waiting and working for the impossible, especially when injustice is so clearly perpetrated against our brothers and sisters. As Isaiah reminds us, it can be tempting to too easily only identify as those who are righteous and ignore our own iniquities. In this season of Advent, we can watch and wait for the mountains to move and the impossible to be made possible and dwell among us, but we cannot stay silent in the face of injustice.

We must respond to the events in Ferguson from a critical and pastoral place—a place that demands attention to the particularities of difference that threaten our collective flourishing; we call this an intersectional place, despite recognizing the reality that words fail in this very moment. It is the recognition of our shared kinship that demands this intersectional response from MLP. The LGBTIQ movement demands justice for all persons, remembering that it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who modeled for us a way to be peacefully resistant to politics and policies that only serve self and bring calamity to the marginalized. When words fail us, perhaps it is the moment to turn to the God of Love, whose passion for the flourishing of all humankind is beyond the capacity of our words to contain. We can rely on the Spirit who “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). By crying out to the divine who is beyond words, we can be heard into voice, so that we might find the words to speak God’s love into the depths of human pain. This moment in Ferguson calls all of us to remember those that have struggled for justice (whatever the injustice has been) that in their work is rooted a collective memory and imagination for a better world. Now consider, we are ALL God’s people.


Photo credit:  ABC News