UPDATE: The Social Justice Committee’s recommendation on Item 11-05 was approved by the General Assembly on Thursday, June 23, by a vote of 463 to 51.
One item of business that has garnered some attention at the General Assembly this week, Item 11-05, is an overture calling for an “apology” to LGBTQ people by the church. The Covenant Network supports the action being recommended by the Assembly’s Social Justice Committee, which is to answer this overture with an alternate statement. You can follow the Assembly’s action online, here. The recommendation reads:
The 222nd General Assembly (2016) resolves to continue the journey as a denomination to become more open, understanding, and accepting of our LGBTQ/Q family and does the following:
1. Issues the following statement: “Followers of Jesus Christ know that no person can claim divine favor through personal merit, but only by the grace of God. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) acknowledges that actions we and our members have taken over the years have at times led God’s beloved children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning to feel that they stand outside the grace of God and are unwelcome in the PC(USA). We deeply regret that, due to human failings, any person might find cause to doubt being loved by God. We affirm the God-given dignity and worth of every human being, and renew our commitment to ‘welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed [us], for the glory of God.’ [Romans 15:7]”
2. Expresses the deep sorrow of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) about all individuals and congregations who have left our fellowship, affirms our commitment to continue to pray with them, and acknowledges our sincere appreciation for those who have maintained relationship despite profound disagreement.
3. Challenges all Presbyterians to reflect upon, and repent of, the ways we have mistreated one another, and to seek reconciliation.
4. Celebrates the diversity of those called by God into the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
5. Calls the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to deeper conversations about our differing understandings of what Scripture teaches about faithful living, recognizing that our relationships as God’s children are not ultimately dependent upon agreement.
6. Encourages congregations to reach out actively to those who have experienced marginalization due to decisions of the church, across the spectrum of theological understanding.
7. Encourages presbyteries, when assessing readiness for ordered ministry, to take into account the preparation of those whose ordination process was interrupted by policies that are no longer applicable [G-2.06].
8. Urges presbyteries and congregations to be in ministry respectfully, justly, and graciously together with those with whom they may disagree in regard to ordination and marriage policies and procedures.
9. Prays that all Presbyterians, empowered by God’s grace, work to cultivate a renewed spirit of partnership, to live as one community, moving forward in mission and ministry together in faith, hope, love, joy, and peace.
We believe the committee’s new language best reflects an honest and hopeful word for today’s church. It acknowledges that actions of the church have led some of God’s children to feel they stand outside the grace of God, and expresses regret for the harms suffered. At the same time, the statement looks forward, calling on congregations and councils to take concrete steps to reach out to those who have been marginalized, to affirm the need for reconciliation, and to work for continued change.
The Covenant Network, together with other advocacy groups, worked over the last three Assemblies for changes in the church’s Book of Order that lifted up freedom of conscience, supporting the right of councils to ordain whom they chose and affirm the marriages they chose, in accordance with the Spirit’s leading and their understanding of the Scriptures. This has opened the door to LGBTQ people’s gifts and love finding expression in the church. It is our conviction that our work has integrity only when we preserve the freedom of all—including those who disagree with us—to continue exercising their discretion in these matters. Meanwhile, dialogue continues and more eyes and hearts are opened every day to the work of God in the lives of LGBTQ people.
We would be deeply saddened if the overture’s original language, naming as harmful the acts of those who were living out their faithful convictions, coupled with an apology that might express a narrow majority’s view but alienate many in the church, were to be approved. It would be ultimately harmful to LGBTQ people, making their struggles for ordination and marriage more difficult in many congregations and councils. For their sake, we hope the committee’s language is affirmed.
The language approved by the committee strongly affirms LGBTQ people, acknowledges and expresses regret for the harms done to them, and maintains an openness to those who disagree and seek to act faithfully on their convictions. We commend it to the General Assembly and to the Church.
Brian Ellison, executive director, Covenant Network of Presbyterians