Amendment B fails – Where Do We Go From Here?

April 28, 2009 by · 9 Comments
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.