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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

Friends,

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 fritzg@presbypeacefellowship.org if you’re planning on coming so we can be on the lookout for you.

peace always,
Fritz

Rev. Fritz Gutwein
Associate Director
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT

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: http://www.annaredsand.com

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

Trans* Day of Remembrance

Every year on November 20, communities communities gather throughout the United States and internationally to commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). In the past year alone, over 268 people (see this link for more information) have been murdered because they are transgender. Just last week Gizzy Fowler, a transgender woman from Nashville, TN was found shot and killed. The local newspaper reported the murder under the headline “Man found shot to death wearing women’s clothing in north Nashville.” Sadly the newspaper’s account of this murder reflects the frequent erasure of transgender people’s gender identity in the reports of violence against them. The TDOR website reminds us that “The Transgender Day of Remembrance was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.”
We celebrate communion in remembrance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In a similar way, on TDOR we gather together as a community to mourn the deaths and murders of Trans* folks. Understanding Transgender Day of Remembrance as similar to our ritual of communion helps both celebrate the reality of transgender lives and mourn the systemic violence and hatred that caused these deaths. When we come to the communion table we partake of the bread and cup to connect both with our fellow brothers and sisters and also with the Divine Creator who shows us the way to live by following the ways of Jesus. Likewise, remembering the deaths of Transgender individuals and giving thanks for the ways in which they lived authentically is akin to our celebration of the life of Jesus in the ritual of communion.
When we remember the transgender people who were killed in the past year, we also remember that the Divine Creator participated in helping them become who they are. We actively renounce the violence that has taken their lives, and we give thanks for their courage to live into who they felt called to be. We remember these lives in an effort to expand our community of difference and use this opportunity to try and create new modes of hospitality in our communities.
This Trans Day of Remembrance your congregation is invited to honor TDOR in some way during worship to both raise the visibility of Trans* issues in the church and to include Trans* lives as part of the liturgy. You are invited to say a prayer for the lives and safety of transgender people, read all or an abbreviated list of names of those who were killed, prepare a ritual to honor and uplift the courage being transgender requires in a world where you can be murdered for simply being who you are. Jesus life, ministry, and resurrection calls us to practice radical hospitality to those on the margins. We have a clear opportunity to do follow this call on for transgender people on TDOR and every day until the violence stops.

For more information, please see the TDOR site: http://tdor.info

#translivesmatter

On the Sixth Circuit Court Decision: A Pastoral Response

I am privilege. Perhaps more exactly phrased, I am privileged. I’m male. I’m White. I’m Christian. I live in Ohio. Born and raised. From an early age, I knew that I liked girls.

And boys.

I thought boys were super cute in the ways that the girls were not; they could talk about He-Man and Tears for Fears because they were both super cool. I thought the girls were super cute in the ways that the boys were not: they could take about He-Man and Tears for Fears and how they made us feel funny in a way we couldn’t quite explain.

Hi. My name is Aaron. Well, Rev. Aaron Maurice Saari. I’m a pastor. I’m bisexual. I’m married to a woman whom I love almost as much as I love God. Pleased to meet you. I feel guilty as hell right now because the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled that the relationships of so many people I love are somehow invalid. Thousands of couples, right now, are dealing with the reality that they are legally married in the eyes of surrounding States, but in Ohio they are no more than friends.

I think how things might have been different for me had I married Michael instead of Miriam. To be clear, Michael is fictional. Well, not fictional. I’ve loved men before. But no one named Michael. But I am married to Miriam. Happily so, thank you very much. For me, gender never mattered. So I got to choose, in a way. I got to choose whether or not I would be able to receive benefits of the State. It was a lottery I never wanted to win. Given the recent decision in Ohio, I just won it. So many citizens have lost, simply because they love in a way that others find puzzling.

I have dedicated my life to following Jesus. He is the man in my life. And I love him. I love him because he helps me be a better person, to love more radically. More fully. More authentically. But I see his name bandied about as a reason why people should love less. I hear my beloved Jesus invoked as justification to shut the doors on equality, to banish people to the outskirts of citizenship and community. I read “love the sinner and hate the sin,” a condescending and non-Biblical justification for prejudice and homophobia. I take all of this in, and I find it hard to love my enemies and to pray for those who persecute others.

However, I keep loving. And praying. I keep reminding myself that we all have a choice to make in this life. We can decide that it is easier to fear those things we don’t understand; we can decide that loving someone so different from us is too hard, too confusing, too unsettling. Or we can live into the grace. We can understand that love is so radical that it cannot be controlled. We can feel the hand of God lift us ever upward; a loving hand that supports us while we dive into the depths of our inner selves, discovering that God’s image is much more than we can fathom. We can know that justice is what God calls us to pursue, and that if we walk humbly with our God, we will live with a fullness that only love can provide.

And let the people of the church say…

 

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.

PCUSA Common Ground: Building Trust through Kindness

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)

A good friend of mine, a fervent activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was visiting. As a born and bred Pittsburgh Presbyterian, I was sharing with him some of my presbytery’s history.

I said, “Of course, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) decision in the Kenyon case is really important to many around here.”

He replied, “You know, I’ve heard that name but I have no idea what it was about.”

I tried to explain how, in my view, the Kenyon case planted distrust so deep and wide in the PCUSA that healing this wound is still crucial to the well-being of the PCUSA. Here’s how I understand it. Around 1974, Wynn Kenyon was a candidate for ordination in Pittsburgh Presbytery who, in his oral trials, shared that he could not, in good conscience, participate in the ordination of women.

The presbytery approved his ordination. Remedial charges were filed against Pittsburgh Presbytery for this action on the grounds that equality between men and women was an essential of reformed faith and polity and every person ordained in the PCUSA was required to assent to ordaining women. The GAPJC upheld that argument and, in the end, Wynn Kenyon was never ordained to ministry in the PCUSA. Presbyterians who thought as Kenyon did were forced to swallow their more literal interpretation of Scripture in order to remain in the church.

At the same time, this besieged wing of the church saw the power of judicial action to enforce a majority position on controversial issues. Over the next forty years, they used it liberally to attempt to discipline pastors and sessions that ordained LGBT members and presided at weddings for lesbian or gay couples. Now, a whole other wing of the PCUSA has come to distrust their colleagues in ministry. We all feel besieged.

How can we proceed together in the PCUSA with such distrust of one another? We can’t. How do we begin to rebuild this trust required of us, not only by our ordination vows, but also by Jesus in His prayers in the gospel of John?

Here’s my suggestion in a word: kindness.

Please, by this I do not mean polite courtesy or affability, skating over what is deeply held, or might hurt. Benign niceties toward one another have prompted a tendency toward parallel groups of friends and separate spheres of ministry. It has led us to live beside one another, not with each other, together, in the Body of Christ.

I mean what Paul calls a spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22): kindness.

Kindness seeks that which is of God in every person we meet. Kindness sets aside all assumptions about who the other is, what the person thinks or believes. Kindness keeps an eye out for the pain or problem challenging the other. Kindness says what it means and means what it says, communicating, always, with compassion. And it expects the same from others.

I imagine you could add other qualities of kindness from your experience of practicing this discipline and receiving it from others. I also fear that you could share exchanges during debates in presbytery or conversations with colleagues who disagree on church matters where kindness was hurtfully absent. What are we to do with these moments?

Talk about them and practice kindness.

We are the Body of Christ when we love God and love our neighbor. These are only possible when we practice kindness. There are many places and times when kindness prevails in the PCUSA, sparking joy and growth. We know how to be kind in lots of different situations.

Right now, we need to be kind to one another across our lines of difference. Trust arises from this and only this. And trust is required for us to live together into the future as the Body of Christ.

Since we all eventually felt some blow rising from the Kenyon case, we can begin to practice kindness and build trust by talking across old lines. This would be the best foundation for the coming discussion on the proposed amendment 14F to the Directory for Worship 4.9000, the section on marriage.

Freedom of conscience is at the heart of that recommendation. It is the solution our Presbyterian ancestors gave us to be the church even with inevitable theological differences.

The future vitality of our church requires trust, and trust requires kindness.

Building Gracious Space in the PCUSA: Weeping

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)

I would not have said I was anxious as I drove to York, PA to visit with Marc Benton, the Presbyterian pastor who had asked to be forgiven for bringing the judicial charges in 2000 that led to many church court proceedings against me and other ministers providing the pastoral service of weddings to LGBT people. What tipped me off was the fact that I twice misplaced the directions to his home, making it harder to find my way to him.

What made actually getting to him, to forgive him, so difficult? Was I really ready to release him from the sentence of my judgment?

For almost twenty years I have had the habit of repeating the Lord’s Prayer when I fill the gas tank of my car. We say it in church every Sunday after the offering. Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12).” I come from a family of Presbyterian bankers, so I know what forgiving debts entails. This verse has probably had the deepest Scriptural impact on my understanding of forgiveness.

That understanding was immeasurably enriched when I read Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy. It’s a reflection upon the Pennsylvania Amish community that forgave the man who killed their children in a schoolhouse shooting in 2006. I have not forgotten their sense that God would not forgive their sins if they did not forgive him.

I went with the intention to formally forgive him. In fact, I thought I already had.

Marc was as described to me: stolid and earnest, a lot like me, I’d say. It strikes me that we both struggle to express emotion and are deliberate in thinking things through. I knew from reading his statement to Hudson River Presbytery that we had this in common: Yale Divinity School was our seminary. We discovered that Henri Nouwen, professor there in the 1970’s, had a lasting impact on us both.

We told one another our stories, our journeys as Presbyterian ministers. He shared how he brought the case against his presbytery and how heated things became there. I shared how I came to preside at Nancy and Brenda’s wedding, how the Holy Spirit truly fell upon that ceremony, how I knew there was no prohibition against it in the PCUSA Constitution nor in the Benton decision. We came to an amazing, sacred place in our conversation that I will share another time.

We were immersed in that discussion when I realized I had not spoken about his repentance and my forgiveness. I had forgotten, and so came back to it. I formally released him from any sentence of my judgment. He volunteered to tell the story of his change of mind about the place of LGBT people in God’s heart if that might help the church have the same kind of conversation we were having. If I think of that as a kind of penance, he freely offered it.

Some days have passed since then. As a slow feeler, I needed time to feel the feelings the morning in York broke open in me. Articulating them may be beyond me. What I can tell you is this: I weep.

I weep with a sadness of which I see no bottom. I weep for the harm done by the breach between followers of Jesus like Marc and me. I weep for all the LGBT people who fell into that chasm through despairing suicide, or hate crimes or indelible scars on their spirits. I weep for the defiling of our witness to Christ by our fighting, our hardness of heart.

I weep with relief. The breach has been crossed with Marc Benton and that eases some great tension in me. Because Jesus prays that the church be one, I feel a serious responsibility to heal that breach in the church. If Marc Benton of “the Benton case” and I can find our way in a sacred conversation, then I have hope for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

It took this weeping to truly forgive Marc Benton.

That weeping is an element of freedom of conscience is a new idea for me. We must weep when we understand that there can be dangerous consequences of disagreement—inevitable for every group—when we fail to honor the freedom of another’s conscience by listening with respect.

I will now approach disagreements with a new readiness to create a more gracious space for us by letting my soul weep when I forgive. Let me know how this goes for you.