General Assembly – Portland 2016 – Friday, part 1

25 06 2016

So before I offer my take on Friday at General Assembly, and without wanting to in any way neglect the election of J. Herbert Nelson as the denomination’s new Stated Clerk, I think it’s important for us to be clear about something!

On Thursday evening, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) received a report from our Committee on Social Issues, and approved an overture regarding the church’s treatment of the LGBTQ/Q community over the past . . . I don’t even know how many years! We expressed ‘regret’ for all that we have done to make them feel as though that by simply being true to who they were created to be, they somehow fell outside of God’s grace and love. And if there were any reservations in anyone’s mind about the appropriateness of such action, the events in Orlando two weeks ago should have quickly resolved such doubts.

Now there’s no question that this was kind gesture. It was nice, the way the church likes to be ‘nice’, to  display our sensitivity to having hurt their feelings. And it was sweet of us to extend our hand to try to make up. We’ve told them for years and years that they had abandoned Scripture, and that the expression of their sexuality was deviant and an abomination to God. So it was . . . sweet . . . of us to let them know we ‘regret’ that they have been so hurt by our words and behavior . . . sweet . . . like a big, glass of thick, unhealthy, southern sweet tea!

Sweet or not, our actions fell woefully short of both the intent of the original overture from the Presbytery of New York, as well as any attempt to be faithful to call of Jesus. And we need to be clear about that!

The title of the overture was “On the Admission of, and Apology for, Harms Done to the LGBTQ/Q Members of the PC(USA), Family and Friends.” However, there was no apology in the motion, and more importantly, there was absolutely no confession of sin on our part.

Expressing ‘regret’ over having hurt someone, is not apologizing. And I know, because I’ve weaseled out of making real apologies with just such language . . . on more occasions than I’d care to admit.

“I regret that I made you feel that way.” “I regret than you are so upset my words.” “I regret that you have been so offended by my actions.”

Some may have thought I was apologizing to them with those kinds of statements, but I was not. What I was doing, was avoiding responsibility for my actions. I was refusing to admit that I had done anything wrong; and instead, simply recognizing the others persons’ pain, while at the same time putting responsibility for that pain, on them! And that is what we have done with this motion. We’ve basically blamed the LGBTQ/Q community for their own alienation, rather than taking responsibility for it ourselves. And that is not what an apology or a confession are all about.

An apology, a genuine and authentic apology, involves the one making the apology taking responsibility for the offense. It is me, admitting that I have done something wrong. It is me, saying I am sorry. It is me, asking for forgiveness.

And confession? Confession involves me actually repenting! It’s about ME, admitting that I have acted in ways that deny the Gospel, and acknowledging the error of my ways. When we offer prayers of confession to God, we don’t say “Hey God, I regret that I’ve offended you and your Spirit!” We don’t just say “We regret we’ve done things that we should not have done”; or that “we regret leaving undone the things we should have done.” Repentance is so much more than mere regret. It is important, but it is only a part of the larger acts of confession and repentance!

Further, not only does the first paragraph of the overture fail to truly apologize and confess the sin of our church; in the second paragraph, in an attempt to be ‘inclusive’ of all people and churches, the overture expresses “deep sorrow” over the number of individuals and congregations who have left our fellowship as a result of recent decisions to fully include the LGBTQ community in our church.

Deep sorrow? Really? What exactly does that mean?

Am I sorry that there are still people in the Church who are unwilling to allow people with a different sexual orientation to live their lives as they believe God desires? Well yes; I have deep sorrow over that! Am I sorry that there are people in the Church who are unwilling to accept that there is more than one way to read and interpret Scripture? Of course, I have deep sorrow over that as well? Am I sorry that there are people in the Church who would choose to separate over a matter that we in the church believe to be vital matter of justice? Most definitely – deep, deep sorrow over that!

But do I want to express deep sorrow that those people who think there is only one way to understand sexual expression, one way to read the Bible, or who want to single out one specific group of people in the church and claim that they are unworthy of the justice demanded in the Gospel. . . do I want to express deep sorrow that they have chosen to move on?

Well, I don’t know! Do I? Do you?

Fifty years from now, will the Church look back on this decision, and scratch their head, puzzled? Will they ask themselves, why did the Church never express ‘deep sorrow’ for those who left the church when we first began ordaining women, or when we first began taking a stance on integration? Will the Church of the future say to themselves, “wasn’t that overture kinda’ like Dietrich Bonhoeffer expressing ‘deep sorrow’ over those who left the church because of it’s opposition to Nazism!”

I don’t mean to be harsh here . . . honestly, I don’t! But it’s taken us 400 years to understand what we did to Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Hawaiians, and to then offer an apology. It’s taken over 60 years to apologize for our actions in No Gun Ri, during the Korean War.  And I just don’t want to take that long this time around. When it comes to issues related to the treatment of the LGBTQ by the Church of Jesus Christ, they deserve a REAL apology; and any feelings of ‘deep sorrow’ should be directed to them, and only them!

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2 responses

25 06 2016
Keith Barber

I am a Presbyterian Ruling Elder who is a gay man. I was dragged through the PJCs repeatedly for nearly a decade in challenges to my service and the service of other suspected LGBTQ people on the session of what was then my home church. I have objected to this ill-advised and divisive demand for an apology since first becoming aware of it. We have already won what we sought. The church stopped doing what we objected to and made room for us to openly and freely be celebrated as part of the Presbyterian family. The ninth step of the popular 12-step programs to deal with varoius addictions calls for making “amends” to those who have been harmed by previous behavior. Not apologizing. Making amends. Presenting oneself as an amended or changed and improved person. The church has essentially done this and has swallowed hard in the face of member losses (along with their financial support) occasioned by doing what is right. To demand further apology, to denounce the additional conciliation offered because it attempts to build bridges with those who disagree with us, I believe is divisive and wrong-headed. We are far better to seek common ground and to find paths we can trod together for the greater good of the church and for the furtherance of the Kingdom.

26 06 2016
stephe Koontz

Then they turn around and try to revert the marriage language back to “one man and one woman”. 117 voted to revert it. I doubt those 117 are sorry about the way they treated or continue to treat LBGT people.

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