Amendment B fails – Where Do We Go From Here?

April 28, 2009 by
Filed under: Religion 

This article tries to answer the question “Amendment B failed, but it got closer than ever to passing.  What do we do now?”  This entire article is my personal opinion and not the opinion of any organization or group that I belong to.  This is also likely to upset folks – particularly those at the more extreme ends of the political/theological spectrum.

Let me also lay out my personal beliefs on the issue.  I believe that gay ordination should be allowed, and that gay marriage should be allowed both by civil authorities and by the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I do not believe that any congregation should be forced to meet some quota of gay officers, and I would like to see people work out a way to ordain called officers who happen to be homosexual without violating the conscience of those doing the ordination.  I believe that the biblical standard for a homosexual relationship is similar to that for heterosexual relationships – two people in a long-term committed relationship, with some outward sign to God and the community of their commitment (ie. a marriage).

The short version:  We need a pause.  Take the next General Assembly off from this issue.

I’ll address my remarks to three groups:  progressives, conservatives, and moderates.  My writing is a combination of what I believe to be the right thing to do, and what I believe is practical.


While what I write here may upset you, I consider myself one of you on this issue.  My statement on the issue is posted above.

I believe that it’s time to pause on this issue.

We’ve changed lots of hearts and minds.  Some of those who were against us have retired, died, or left the denomination.  The combination of those two produced the “flips” in many presbyteries.  I also believe that there is a generational shift going on regarding this issue.  I work with a youth group.  On the rare occasions that homosexuality comes up, the youth mostly are confused about why we see a problem – homosexuality is for them something that is a trait and acceptable.  Admittedly I live on the East Coast in the NYC/Philadelphia corridor, and it might be different elsewhere.  But if we wait long enough, the tide will turn on its own.

A study of the votes on this issue in the presbyteries from 96/97, 97/98 and 01/02 show an increasing number of votes against our position.  I believe that this was due to issue-weariness – to the “do we have to vote on this again?” factor.  People got tired of talking about and voting about this issue that never seems to go away.  And they took out their anger and frustration on the people pushing for the change.

While all of this is going on in the church, it’s going on in society.  States are now voting to allow gay marriage (as opposed to judicial rulings).  There have been many times in the church where society was ahead of the church in getting to the scripturally correct place on an issue.  Slavery and women’s rights are just two of those.  Our polity is designed so that the ship turns very slowly intentionally – to prevent the “fad of the season” from taking over our theology.  Normally that’s a good thing.  Sometimes, particularly for justice, that’s a bad thing.

I believe that if we push this issue at the next General Assembly, it stands a fair chance of being sent to the presbyteries again.  I believe that if this were the case, it would fail again at the presbyteries and some of the flipped presbyteries would flip back.  The next General Assembly will be considering the Form of Government again, and that is going to create its own backlash (just look at how the conservatives are already arguing about single words).  I suspect that there will be a wholesale backlash against ANY Book of Order amendment then.

So here’s what I’d do.  Take the GA off.  Re-group.  Work on education.  Hold listening sessions in presbyteries again, but without any particular reason (like an upcoming vote).  Don’t push overtures now or any time before the next GA.  Let the waters get still, and let the clarity shine through.

Some of you will tell me that I do not feel your pain, and that you cannot stay silent against this injustice.  You’re right – I will never be able to feel this specific pain.  But I’m writing this out of practical concerns.  Pushing too hard now isn’t gonna work and will hurt the cause.  If you must, then you must, but realize that you will provoke a response and may end up delaying your goal.

A word on how we progressives deal with conservatives.  Conservatives are people.  Just like us.  For the most part, they have come to their understand of Scripture and God in the same way that we have – through prayer, study, personal experience, and other people.  They have come up with a different result than we have.  They are not evil.  They are not (mostly) living their lives to hurt us.  They are trying to speak the truth in love just like us.  Their definitions are different, but their goal is still the same – to bring people to God.  Please try to remember that.  I am amazed at how we can treat people of other denominations and religions with respect but we tear into those closer to us.
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A word on how to deal with straight people.  I’m a very strong supporter of this cause.  In the past year I’ve been called a homophobe twice – once by someone from the GLBT community and once by a straight supporter.  I’ve been told that I have internalized homophobia no matter what I think.  The facts are this:  I find male-t0-male sexual activity icky.  That has never stopped me from supporting people’s rights.  I am VERY outspoken.  It seems, however, that if I don’t follow the “company line” on strategy or each iota of belief, I’m against you.  You may feel that way.  But here’s the thing I want to tell you – nothing turns supporters against you faster than telling them that they are against you already.  After each of those events I mentioned I took a lot of time off from supporting this cause.  I saw opportunities to correct inaccuracies and to state my opinion when presented with the opposite, and I remained silent.  The danger for you is not turning friends into enemies – it’s turning friends into bystanders.  Be careful – if you’re going to label someone be prepared for the result.


You’ve all read what I wrote above.  And you and I disagree on this issue.  I do have some thoughts and suggestions for you.

First, I believe that the Presbyterian system only works if there is mutual respect.  Too often we (both sides) use differences on specific issues to define the other person out.  It makes us feel better – we are IN, and they are OUT.  But I do not believe that God has called us to act like that.  God wants everybody IN.  There are limits to what beliefs we can tolerate and what behaviors we can tolerate in our worship places.  But I do not feel that this issue is enough to tear apart the community.  Why can we speak so respectfully to rabbis, Baptist preachers, Catholic priests, Methodist ministers, but we cannot speak respectfully with our own people?  What I said above about people coming to their beliefs honestly through the same methods applies here – progressives may be wrong in your eyes, but they are honestly wrong rather than wrong with an ulterior motive.

Second, do what you gotta do.  Stay, fight or not, leave – whichever God calls you to.  If you want to fight then please take the high road and fight fair even if your opponents do not.  If you want to leave, then outdo others in grace and openness and let God take care of the other side.  But PLEASE let each person make up their own mind.  It’s not your job to lead congregations out of the denomination.  If they want to go on their own, then please remind them that it’s also not their job to lead their fellows out.  We are an educated denomination.  We pride ourselves on individual study with collected discussion.  Let each member make their own decision.  And let the majority rule.  You are not personally responsible for the spiritual health of each member.  You ARE responsible for guiding them, but you are not expected to coerce them.  Let them be adults and make their own decisions.

Third, you’ve won this round.  As I said to progressives after the General Assembly meeting last June, please be a good winner.  There is no need to do a victory lap.  Doing that only causes the division to widen.  Let progressives lick their wounds.


You are by far the most important group at this time in history.  You are the largest group, holding the center and the vast majority of the membership.  On some issues, I am one of you, but on this issue I’m not.

I have a few things that I’d like to ask you to do.

First – Take a stand.  Stand up and state your opinion.  Let others know where you are on this issue.  This issue is not going to go away all that soon.  If you feel that we need to leave it alone, then say so.  If you feel that one side or the other is right, say so (this is not the same as joining that side).  Most importantly – any compromise is going to have to come from the center.  If you have an idea, let us know, and don’t stop talking about it until it becomes reality.

Second, please help to heal those at the extremes.  There are people who are wounded out there.  Go to them, help them, make them realize that the church isn’t just them and their opponents.  Remind them that church is about much more than this issue.  Be honest about your beliefs, but respect theirs.  Show the people from each side that you want them to be with you.

Third, please be a conduit for reconciliation.  Sometimes it takes a neutral party to get two opposing parties to talk to each other and resolve things.  Be that enabler. We are called to work for reconciliation in the church – be the face of Christ to your more politically involved brethren.  “I don’t care what you think about X – I want you to be here” is a very powerful thing to say.

Fourth, be the voice of reason.  Curb the excesses of thought and speech from both extremes.  Name the truth as you see it.  Be a devil’s advocate (in a very Godly way).  The truth is somewhere between the extremes.  You live in most of that territory.  Help us find the truth.

In summary – I believe that we need to take 2 years off from this battle.  There are many other problems in the world today that need us more than this – the economy, war, health, etc.  Let’s concentrate on some of those and stop our internal bickering.


9 Comments on Amendment B fails – Where Do We Go From Here?

  1. Alan on Tue, 28th Apr 2009 11:27 am
  2. Obviously we disagree. I think we need to continue the momentum that’s been building and take it to a win. I don’t think we can win by hugging it out.

    We’ve had 30 years of committees and reports, and studies, and blah, blah, blah. If people aren’t ready for it by now they never will be. That’s their problem. Frankly, I’m tired of doing this on their schedule. We were told after the first try not to try again. We were told after the second try not to try again.

    The last time we did this little dance was 2001-2002. We took a rest, a long rest, waiting for the promised PUP report, that wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on by the time it came out. That’s plenty of a rest, and I’m not that sleepy anyway. 🙂

    There is one and only one way that G-6.0106b gets removed or amended. Hugging isn’t gonna do it. This is where I part from my liberal friends. I actually want to win. I don’t think this political fight is dirty or unseemly or unChristian. Nor do I think as some liberals do, that everyone needs hand-holding, cookies and milk, and security blanket, and extra hugs to come to the right conclusion.

    Momentum only continues as long as there’s actual velocity. Stop, and momentum stops.

    As you likely know our Session has already passed a new version of B to send on to presbytery for 2010. I’m praying for an avalanche of them.

  3. Mark on Tue, 28th Apr 2009 11:33 am
  4. You are welcome to your opinion.

    I believe that pushing forward relentlessly, particularly with a “I don’t care about the other side at all” attitude, is destined to fail. I’m not talking about right or wrong here – I’m talking about what’s gonna happen.

  5. Alan on Tue, 28th Apr 2009 12:11 pm
  6. I didn’t say I don’t care about the other side at all, which you know, Mark. Getting rid of these injustices will be good for them too, whether they realize it or not. Keeping discrimination around isn’t good for anyone. Amendment B is a blot on their souls too, and getting rid of it will free them as much as the rest of us.

    If you have another suggestion for how to get rid of B or amend it without a GA vote followed by Presbytery votes, I’d be glad to hear it, but I think that’s the only avenue we have, as Presbyterians.

    We’ve been doing studies and dialogue for 30 years. What did we get? AI’s, G-6.0106b. Report after report. The court cases go on and charges keep getting filed. Yesterday I heard about new charges that have been filed. In fact, every time we’ve had yet another “sabbatical” we’ve either gone nowhere, or taken two steps back. Pushing forward this year moved us at least another 28 presbyteries toward the goal. If we do half as well in two years, we’ll win with room to spare … and so will they.

  7. Stushie on Tue, 28th Apr 2009 12:51 pm
  8. Excellent post, Mark. Most of the people I know are “issue weary.” If there is a relentless push for this to be raised again in 2010, I believe there will be an exodus of weary people. The cutbacks will continue and we will reach a point of no return.

    Thanks for your well thought out and eloquently expressed post.

  9. Quotidian Gracej on Wed, 29th Apr 2009 9:32 am
  10. Excellent post, Mark. Thank you so much for this word of sanity and grace for all sides in the church.

  11. john shuck on Wed, 29th Apr 2009 7:01 pm
  12. Thanks for your opinion, Mark.

    Those who do not want to see change (ie. QG and Stushie) will applaud your efforts. The point is moot. There are going to be resolutions send to GA 2010 not only to remove g-6.0106b, but to expand the definition of marriage, and to create liturgies suitable for both same-gender and opposite-gender couples.
    Moderates will have the choice to vote no or yes. There is no in between. Justice delayed is justice denied as I know you have heard before.

    If I truly felt you knew the right strategy for removing G-6.0106b the fastest, I would validate what you are saying. But I don’t see it. The fastest way is to allow the GA to deal with the groundswell of overtures from people who want it out. If it doesn’t happen in 2010. That will be a disappointment. We’ll go for it again in 2012.

    I don’t think you meant what you wrote in your last sentence. Justice for God’s children is not “internal bickering.” We are voting. We are using the legislative process. Voting on amendment B took nothing away from those who wanted to deal with healthcare, peace, justice, and whatever else. If folks don’t want to work on any of those issues one excuse is as good as another. As for me and my church, we worked on all of them and still somehow managed to be inclusive to our LGBT members.

  13. Mark on Wed, 29th Apr 2009 7:42 pm
  14. John,

    Thank you for your opinion as well.

    Time will tell whether or not your strategy will work. I do agree that your strategy will be the one that goes forward, rather than the one that I suggest. My prediction is that the next General Assembly may or may not choose to amend G-6.0106b, but if it does the move will fail by a greater margin than Amendment B. I hope you’re right, but I fear that I’m right.

    My church has also managed to work on all of those issue while still being inclusive of our LGBT members. What is not happening is the willingness of the two sides nationally (and even in some presbyteries that have become dysfunctional) to work on those issues. In places we are becoming congregational because of the inability of conservatives and progressives to work together, and the inability of conservatives to trust the denomination’s offices and staff. I hear blanket condemnation of anything that comes from the Louisville or Washington offices simply because it originates there. THIS ISSUE is the reason for that distrust. We will not be able to rebuild that trust while this issue continues to be fought.

    Our unity is already shredded. When we have conservative bloggers writing about winning and losing when it comes to our disagreements, then it’s over. We can’t stand together if we have people assigning points and calling winners. Having both winners and losers is for football, not for God’s work. God calls us to make winners of all.

    Justice for God’s children is my goal, but not at the cost of losing our focus and losing our family. Love is God’s goal, and that goes for both sides.

  15. john shuck on Wed, 29th Apr 2009 10:07 pm
  16. I can’t predict what will happen if GA2010 sends delete b to the presbyteries. I didn’t think we would get this close this year. We were a great deal closer than even the presbytery tally suggests. I have no idea what could happen next year. Who knows what will happen in our society by June 2010?

    I do know that you don’t receive unless you ask.

    Again, one excuse is as good as another if folks don’t want to work with others. I work with my colleagues at the presbytery level on all kinds of things.

    For those who have decided they don’t like or trust Louisville or whatever, well, I have heard that when the issue was about women, clergy with odd theology (like me), Angela Davis, civil rights, Israel, you name it, there is always a reason for some not to want to play with others.

    The problems of the church (distrust, loss of $$, loss of members) are NOT the fault of my lgbt sisters and brothers. The World Trade Center collapse and hurricane Katrina might be their fault. : )

    They want to serve the church and it is right for them to do so. It was right 33 years ago. It is right today. How others respond is their free choice. It is not that I don’t care about them, it is that I am not going to be co-dependent with them.

    Like Alan said, discrimination is bad for everyone.

    There is no reason theological or otherwise that is a good enough reason to keep a law that discriminates against them.

    Justice never comes at a convenient time. The time is always both inconvenient and right.

    Do you really think those who oppose gays are going to like us more in 2012 than they do now? Do you think there won’t be nasty behavior within the church if we wait rather than act?

    I haven’t been through the whole struggle. I have been ordained through about half of it (17 years). The waiting times or the discernment times never meant anything except court cases and bad legislation.

    We are almost there. It is not the time to be slack. We need to make this final push while we have the momentum. There will be those who will leave the denomination. But…we will have a much stronger and unified denomination.

    More important than any of that, we will have a Christ-centered denomination, fully welcoming those whom Christ calls.

    I appreciate your words, really, I do. We may see things slightly differently (and I do emphasize slightly). Each of us has a role to play. I honor the role you play in this and I do take heed with what you are saying.

    Peace Friend…

  17. Dan W. Boles on Thu, 14th May 2009 10:24 am
  18. What ever happened to consensus? Why is it necessary to push everything through a democratic process? Especially in matters of faith and religion? Doesn’t that seem a little irreverent? And prayerless?

    Let’s think about this metaphorically for a moment…

    Your a Youth Leader. It’s time to select your Student Leaders. There are two common ways of doing this… “by election” (democratic process) or “by selection” (authoritarian process). Which do you choose and why? They both have their flaws. Either way you fail.

    If “by election” – the popular kids win the election, who may or may not (and probably aren’t) gifted leaders, or the right leaders. Those who might possess strong leadership skills, strong potential, or spiritual gifts but are marginalized are left on the outskirts of the ministry with no chance to lead. They are left out, and it becomes a club for the popular kids – and likely, you end up in a constant struggle for power, with little ability to truly minister.

    If “by selection” – you inevitably create resentment among other kids who weren’t selected. Your leadership is ultimately undermined, and your youth group slowly dies. You’ve broken the “trust” by selecting “that student” instead of “this student.”

    But there’s another way. It’s called “The Objective Process.” If you lay out – up front – expectations and responsibilities, and you clearly communicate those along with the selection process (e.g., Application, Reference Checks, Recommendations, Interviews, etc.) and you stick to the process as it’s communicated, everybody understands how things work. The clarity of the standards and the selection process are the keys to making this work. As long as you clearly hold up the standards during this process, people know what they’re committing to – and everything works out.

    Wny do I use this metaphor? Because I believe we’ve become so rigid, broken, structured, and dependant on “Roberts Rules” and “The Book of Order” and “Democratic Process” that we’ve put ourselves in bed with the issues, and now we’re so far under the covers that we can’t find our way out. You ever see a dog get buried under the covers that can’t find it’s way out???

    The way out, is listening to The Gospel, as The Holy Spirit guides us. And since it’s an “us” – the only way (in my opinion) that we can truly listen to The Gospel as The Holy Spirit guides us, is by truly listening, and determining whether or not there is a consensus. Clearly – by the close margin of the votes – there is NO CONSENSUS today. And that should tell us something.

    But… I am sure, because we are the broken, deprived humans that we are… we’ll continue to rely on the “democratic process” – aka: Popular Vote.

    I seem to remember another popular vote in history… it went something along the lines of “Crucify Him! Crucify! Crucify!”

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m one of the Moderates according to YOUR labels. But I truly prefer one label and one label only. I am Dan W. Boles, a follower of Christ. And I take a stand on one thing, and one thing alone: The Gospel. I think we can agree on the fact that the central and greatest theme in The Gospel, is that of God’s unwavering and undeserving love for us. All of us.

    To God alone be the praise and glory.

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